Which cannabis you should buy is down to your personal preference – there is no technically ‘correct’ answer to this question, truthfully speaking. It is too simplistic to give an answer based on a whole category, as it completely overlooks all of the nuance that goes into growing quality cannabis.
After all, would you prefer to buy a more expensive indoor flower that was grown by someone inexperienced, or a cheap sungrown flower that was tended to by a veteran grower?
While Indoor grown cannabis is preferred by many consumers, Sungrown cannabis has the potential to provide an even more enjoyable experience at a cheaper price point.
Why We Love Sungrown
As avid supporters of Emerald-Triangle grown cannabis – much of which is cultivated under natural light – a big part of our passion at Flore is to increase awareness of Sungrown and shine some light on the farmers producing craft cannabis.
This is not to take away from the pioneering work done by Indoor cannabis cultivators, who helped to develop the lineage of our beloved plant in clandestine grows across the world during times of prohibition. However, before the first-ever indoor grow, we have to keep in mind that cannabis has been flourishing in the great outdoors for millennia, so it only makes sense to us that it would be ideal to continue growing the plant under natural sun.
After all, the notion of growing a cannabis crop indoors is a practice that is only a few decades old, and that was largely due to its illegal status. As we look at a not-too-distant future marred by aggressive climate change, finding less energy intensive ways of producing cannabis is crucial.
Again, which cannabis is ‘better’ is a subjective matter, but by showcasing both Indoor and Sungrown cannabis, we hope to provide the insight that helps consumers make the most informed decision possible.
The Case for Indoor Cannabis
Indoor growing has long been considered the way to produce superior quality cannabis. As mentioned above, this is something of a misunderstanding, and part of this perception is due to the more photogenic nature of most Indoor grown buds. These pretty nugs have a visual “bag appeal” and are usually more carefully manicured and pristine, thanks to their near-sterile growing environments.
This level of environmental control means indoor flowers don’t get battered by rain, hail or strong winds; which means they generally are more aesthetically pleasing when harvest time comes.
Cannabis photography shown in well-known print magazines has also typically focused on indoor grown flowers, further reinforcing the public perception that Indoor automatically means ‘better’.
Prettier doesn’t mean better
However, many of us have been duped at some point by a nug that looked a lot better than it smoked. Anyone who has experienced this disappointment knows – or learned in that moment – that simply because a nug checks all the boxes visually, it does not mean that it will translate into an enjoyable smoke.
From this alone, we can see there is a lot more than meets the eye to growing a quality crop.
The advantages of growing indoors are numerous and significant. For example, indoor cultivators are able to control every aspect of the plant’s growing environment – from temperature and light exposure, to humidity and airflow.
Indoor cultivators can choose what medium they would like to grow the plant in, and exactly how much of each nutrient they would like to feed it.
Why indoor weed is still the mainstream choice
Much of indoor cultivation can be automated, meaning the growers can use tools and technology to turn lights on and off, control air conditioning units and water plants on a precise schedule.
Growing indoors, especially in larger warehouse settings, is also an excellent way for many cannabis producers to create a standardized product.
In our new legal market, these are considerations that directly affect the choices cultivators are making – knowing that they can produce consistency at scale means they are less likely to experience product loss when Quality Control time rolls around.
Indoor cultivation also allows growers to produce multiple harvests – up to 4 – in a calendar year, as the plant’s natural life cycle is shortened to speed up the production of flowers.
Challenges of Growing Under Artificial Light
For all the benefits of growing indoors, there are just as many obstacles and disadvantages. For starters, the price of setting up a legal indoor cultivation facility is astronomical. This certainly applies here in California and will unfortunately be the same for most, if not all, states with licensed cultivation.
First of all, aspiring cultivators have to secure a permit and a location – both require significant financial outlay.
Next is the equipment that has to be purchased – then installed by certified professionals to ensure it is up to code. Then there’s hiring enough trained staff to adequately manage the plants at every stage of growth & maintain all equipment in running order.
Finally, there’s the substantial costs involved with acquiring the proper licensing, completing all legal paperwork and meeting the regulatory bodies requirements for manufacturing.
This is before you even get to the ongoing energy costs of powering high-intensity lights, automated watering and HVAC systems. When totalled up, these financial costs are staggering, and often prohibitive to prospective cultivators.
A Costly Carbon Footprint
Furthermore, the cost of indoor flower is reflected in the price for the end consumer, and only made worse by the heavy taxes, which can quickly make it inaccessible to anyone on a modest budget.
The environmental cost is noteworthy too – producing cannabis indoors is far more energy intensive than outdoor cultivation, and as our natural resources become strained, it may become too burdensome to continue producing cannabis in indoor settings. There is also the more ethical question of whether growing plants in an unnatural environment – where they are manipulated and stressed to maximize flower production – should be how we do things as an industry.
The Case for Sungrown Cannabis
Growing cannabis under natural sunlight is the way it was done for thousands of years, long before any of the technology for indoor cultivation was even created. Agriculture in general seems to fare better in natural conditions – which is perfectly logical, as that is how they evolved to survive and thrive.
Cannabis is a plant after all – a plant that when separated by sex, grows flowers which ripen like fruit. It is a plant that has evolved to cope with the difficulties of reaching its full expression while battling the elements, which was then taken indoors when growing had to be done in secret.
Growing as nature intended
The relatively recent development of indoor cultivation has seen huge advances in our understanding of what the plant is capable of, and has been fundamental to developing the vast range of cannabis strains available to us. However, many of the plant’s most fervent supporters will argue that the outcome of cannabis is best for both the cultivator and consumer when grown under natural sunlight.
Growing the plant as nature intended is no less challenging than growing indoors, and has plenty of advantages of its own. The outdoor cultivator must be skilled in dealing with the elements, pests, adverse weather and more; to grow the best cannabis possible.
Allowing the plant to complete its full life cycle – known as “full-term” cannabis – means that there is a longer period of vegetative growth, and plants can grow much taller and bushier than they typically would indoors. This extra vegetative growth means greater flower producing potential, which becomes all-important when you only harvest once a year.
Growing cannabis with living soil
Sungrown cannabis in the outdoors must be grown in soil, with the roots of a plant feeding from a soil which is an active ecosystem of its own – a ‘living’ soil. The quality and contents of the soil directly affect the plant’s nutrient diet and absorption, so ensuring that this ecosystem is a healthy one is fundamental to successful growth.
Regenerative farming techniques
The careful preparation of the soil has benefits that go beyond growing happy and healthy cannabis plants, and actually replenish the land they are growing on.
Increasingly, we are seeing heritage growers in the Emerald Triangle use methods that are ‘regenerative’ – meaning they grow in a manner that maintains a fertile soil, as opposed to depleting it.
With each harvest, they reduce the environmental impact of cannabis cultivation, one of the most energy-intensive crops in California. At the same time, they ensure the land will be viable for future harvests, growing in a way that is symbiotic with nature.
The result: terpene-rich and effective cannabis
One of the most surprising aspects of sungrown cannabis is its terpene production. The variety and concentration of terpenes in a sungrown specimen is frequently greater than its indoor counterpart, as shown by recent testing. This is likely due to the exposure to the full spectrum of natural light, which even the most sophisticated grow lights cannot mimic.
As terpenes are directly responsible for the nature of the psychoactive experience, the argument could be made that sungrown cannabis is the superior variety. At its best, sungrown cannabis in its final form is virtually indistinguishable from indoor cannabis, and we love showing these flowers to folks at Flore!
Challenges of growing with mother nature
There are definite disadvantages to growing outdoors though, especially when it comes to protecting the plant from outside disturbances.
While pests can be equally challenging indoors and outdoors, indoor growers don’t typically have to deter wildlife from munching on their plants.
Other ways that growers can quickly lose a crop is the extremes of weather – in California, drought and wildfires are a constant threat, with farmers facing uncertain harvests every single year.
Aside from these difficulties, sungrown cannabis farmers also have to contend with the fact they will only have one harvest each year. If they are not successful in achieving their targets, they will have to hope they can stay in operation long enough to try again the following year.
Sungrown might be the hardest way to produce cannabis that creates the most diverse terpene profile, and indoor cannabis may be the easiest way of growing cannabis that tests high in THC, and both require tremendous skill, patience and good fortune.
Combining light deprivation and greenhouse grows: best of both worlds?
The ideal answer to satisfying the needs of cultivators and consumers, along with providing the necessary environmental relief, may be in using the best of both worlds. Growing in a greenhouse and manipulating the hours of light – known as ‘light deprivation’ – could hold the key for sustainable and manageable cannabis cultivation.
By growing in a greenhouse, cultivators can protect the plant from exposure to precipitation, wind and wildlife. Using fans, they can regulate the temperature and airflow in their greenhouse to create optimal conditions.
By using tarps and retractable roofs, they can control how much light the plant is exposed to, and trigger the flowering stage sooner than full-term cannabis growers. This means they will also be able to produce more than one harvest per calendar year, improving their odds and reducing their risk.
They are also still able to use natural sunlight, giving the plants the best and fullest light spectrum they can.
Greenhouse and light deprivation growing methods also make use of living soils, and are relatively inexpensive to set up, meaning that sungrown cultivators can modify their setup without incurring financial burdens.
If indoor cultivators were to transition to greenhouse and light deprivation, they would cut costs significantly, as well as reduce the carbon footprint of cannabis cultivation overall.
The best choice for California’s cannabis landscape
Evidently, we have some way to go before we find the best solution for growing cannabis in California, but we certainly have the climate to encourage a greater ratio of sungrown cultivation than we currently have.
When it comes to which cannabis is ‘better’, for consumption purposes the answer remains subjective.
What we hope is that more folks understand that sungrown cannabis can produce flower that is as enjoyable, if not more, than indoor grown buds.
We also hope that as more farmers adopt sungrown or greenhouse methods, that the public will come to understand the importance of cultivating the best cannabis, in the way that is best for our environment.
We encourage folks to consider sungrown cannabis as a cheaper, more sustainable choice, so that we may all continue enjoying quality cannabis for years to come.
Visit Us at Flore
Come check us out! Our beautiful dispensary is located in the Castro District of San Francisco, at 258 Noe Street, 94114. We carry the best selection of sungrown flower in San Francisco, and our in-house Flore brand focuses on Humboldt-farmed cannabis.
Terrance Alan has over 25 years in government advocacy creating both the San Francisco entertainment commission and the cannabis taskforce. He is co-president of the Castro merchant’s and co-chair of CMAC and C2K, both working on cannabis consumption. He designed, constructed and opened a boutique dispensary in the Castro District of San Francisco called Flore dispensary featuring carefully curated cannabis selections with an emphasis on small Humboldt far grown cannabis, social justice brands, equity brands, women owned brands and operates a compassion distribution program with Sweetleaf Joe.