While the exact origins of marijuana aren’t well known, most experts trace the plant’s roots to the steppes of Central Asia — southern Siberia and Mongolia, a region noted for its dry air, dry soil and high altitude. So how, halfway across the world in the exceedingly moist air and soil of the Pacific Northwest, do cannabis plants flourish?
Because Oregon and Washington state were some of the earliest adopters of legal, recreational weed, growers in that part of the country have had time to develop massive grow operations to meet the high demand of marijuana users in the region. Here’s how most growers in the PNW combat the sometimes-incompatible weather for their valuable cash crop.
There aren’t good estimates concerning what percentage of the Pacific Northwest’s weed is grown inside — but suffice to say: It’s a lot. Growing marijuana indoors is perhaps the most viable option for wet, cool places like Seattle, where marijuana is in high demand but doesn’t naturally thrive. As mentioned before, the PNW is notoriously damp, with over 150 rainy days per year and an average humidity of over 70 percent.
This weather typically contributes to a lush, green landscape, but cannabis doesn’t much appreciate the overcast, wet conditions. Cannabis much prefers a dry climate, around 40 percent humidity, with well-draining soil; too much water can interfere with the plant’s ability to take in nutrients, causing it to wilt and die — or else fail to grow THC-filled buds. Additionally, cannabis likes a good amount of sunlight, which PNW’s cloudy days, especially during the cold season, cannot accommodate well.
Indoor growth typically takes place in greenhouses, which can control how much light and moisture the crop receives at all times. Not too long ago, indoor grow operations consisted of a home or warehouse where dedicated growers manually tended their cannabis crop without attracting the attention of authorities. Even today, smaller operations rely on human observation and labor, though they can grow legally with the right permits. More intensive grow operations have state-of-the-art greenhouses, with automated systems like UV lights, sprinklers, ventilators and more, all designed to combat the PNW’s natural weather and offer the crop the best growing conditions possible.
While indoor growing does deliver the best-quality marijuana on a regular schedule, it isn’t particularly eco-friendly. All the equipment required to supply marijuana with the right growing environment draws enormous amounts of energy —particularly the lights, which can comprise more than half of a greenhouse’s total energy use. In Portland, the Pacific Power energy company has endured several blackouts, which were traced back to marijuana production facilities. Indoor growers in the PNW should be careful to structure their electricity use correctly and rely on green energy solutions as much as possible.
Much less popular in the PNW but gaining traction is a form of outdoor growing called seasonal growing. The climate in Washington and Oregon simply prohibits outdoor marijuana cultivation during the winter; the entire PNW is shrouded in cloudy skies and moist mists, and the late sunrise and early sunset keep temperatures too low and deprives cannabis of much-needed sunlight. As a result, growers who want to rely on the soil and sun are largely restricted to growing in the summer, which means planting in the late spring and harvesting in the early fall.
Seasonal, outdoor growing is much less cost-prohibitive than indoor growing. The PNW has delightfully fertile soils, and in the warmer seasons, the region experiences a good amount of sunlight and just enough rain to keep plants thriving. Typically, outdoor growers need only invest in meager amounts of fertilizer, compost, and other soil amendments. Though the crop is less controlled — meaning that growers might end up with a variable amount of saleable marijuana — the effort is much less expensive and also less taxing on the environment.
The perfect PNW weed starts with a commitment to cultivating a cannabis crop, which demands research into the right conditions for growing as well as the resources available to the individual (or organization) doing the growing. Fast-growing, high-yield crops tend to come from greenhouses, but seasonal, organic marijuana growing is possible, even in the moist environment of the PNW.