It seems that cannabis can grow anywhere and it has been one of the oldest agricultural crops in existence. Growing indoors is a result of prohibition; staying out of sight was initially a way to protect the grower from the laws against cannabis. It’s almost unfair to put outdoor and indoor cannabis growing in the same category: Outdoor grows rely on nature to control the most important variables, while indoor gardening techniques will allow you to control the same factors with ease.
Controlling temperature, light source, CO2 production, and humidity creates a stable habitat to optimize your plants’ growth without having to risk outdoor elements. The indoor grower typically finds cosmetically pristine flowers with higher THC percentages. On the other hand, no bulb can produce the same spectrum of light unique to the sun which, in turn, limits indoor gardens with smaller yields and less vigorous plants. Outdoor farming, however, requires a climate suitable for cannabis production – good sun exposure, hot days, warm nights, and low humidity.
Indoor climate control systems can cost a small fortune to operate, whereas a majority of the costs associated with outdoor grows are in the startup of the operation. Labor costs for indoor and outdoor gardens also varies drastically. With continual turnover in an indoor garden, there’s always work to be done. Pruning, trellising, watering, feeding, and harvest work are ongoing and more demanding for smaller yields. Outdoors, the grower is working one crop throughout the season. Many outdoor farms with large outputs can operate with up to four employees full-time until harvest, when additional workers need to be brought in.
The high costs of indoor farming may be recouped through breeding projects, year-round harvests, and potent products that have higher selling points. Furthermore, manufactured indoor environments allow growers to cultivate strains that would otherwise be unsuitable for their local outdoor environment and climate. However, with the rising cost of energy and an increasing demand for more flower in the marketplace, outdoor farming may be able supply the market with quality products at a more reasonable price. Indoor production also consumes a tremendous amount of power.
Today’s commercially produced indoor cannabis relies mostly on industrial fertilizers and pesticides to control the pests that rapidly flourish in enclosed monocultures. Growing under the sun provides a natural, bio-diverse environment that keeps these pests largely at bay due to natural competition. Also, synthetic fertilizer or pesticide residues can be toxic when smoked or concentrated.
Indoor flower has long been recognized as the top-of-the-line product. Being able to control your environment and expedite breeding has resulted in aesthetically beautiful strains with magnificent flavor profiles. Introducing higher CO2 levels than in the natural environment increases bud growth and produces THC levels that are difficult to obtain outdoors. Additionally, indoor cannabis does not have to deal with rain, wind, or any of the other natural elements that can damage an outdoor crop. The buds remain in pristine condition and only start to degrade once handling begins. The scale of most indoor operations generally allows for crops to be harvested in peak conditions and for the product to be cured in a controlled climate.
Outdoor flower is, of course, subject to the whims of the natural environment. Though the end product may not look as perfect, the taste, effects, and aroma should still be there. Some consumers find sun-grown organic cannabis to be preferable to the cosmetically pristine indoor alternative. Many stereotypes about outdoor cannabis exist for one key reason: legality. A large majority of outdoor cannabis seen by consumers has gone through a gauntlet of post-harvest abuse. Partly due to conflicts between state and federal law, many outdoor cannabis farms have to take risks to cultivate their product. As a result, oftentimes the harvest is rapid, curing is nearly non-existent, and aggressive handling is necessary to get it to market. As the laws change and outdoor facilities are able to take their time in processing, the market should see an increase in quality from outdoor grows.
The fact is that outdoor growing produces a complexity and a richness that simply can’t be replicated in the lab-like conditions of an indoor grow. Indoor growing is precise and clean. It yields a consistent and predictable product. Indoor grows produce those perfect, textbook-looking buds. But outdoor-grown marijuana has a level of complexity, richness, individuality, and nuance that you just can’t get from an indoor grow. Is one better than the other? It kind of depends on what you’re looking for. But one thing’s for sure. The more that cannabis becomes legal, the more we’ll all be able to start enjoying the one of a kind experience that comes from smoking high grade, outdoor-grown cannabis.
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