Dark 'n' Light: Is It Better To Grow Marijuana Indoors Or Out?

Aug 3, 2014

As legal pot growing operations spring to life from urban King County to remote corners of Washington state, an ongoing debate has developed within this new farming community.

Should marijuana be grown indoors or out?

'As Nature Intended'

For Toni Reita there is no debate. The diminutive woman with flowing white hair has been a naturalist, an herbalist, a log home builder and now a full-on pot farmer.

Toni Reita, of Black Dog Acres in Goldendale, Washington, waters her starts.
Credit Joe Barrentine / The News Tribune

"It’s all going to happen as nature intended,” Reita said. “Those warehouses are beautiful, and those state of the art buildings and all the light spectrum … but it doesn’t matter what you pay for it, you’re not going to beat this.”

"This" being the natural sunlight, wind and organic mulch.

Reita said growing pot outdoors makes economic sense too.

“Under ideal circumstances, one crop annually will outperform four crops indoors.”

Reita’s fenced in pot grow, Black Dog Acres, is in a remote spot, past Goldendale, where narrow roads narrow even further before turning to gravel.

'A Win, Win Situation For Us'

About 40 miles away in the Columbia Gorge, Susy Wilson is also planning to produce a significant chunk of her pot outdoors.

Susy Wilson, of WOW Weed in Dallesport, Wash., says she plans to grow pot indoors and out.
Credit Joe Barrentine / The News Tribune

Wilson has a warm, mother earth vibe with her tie-dye shirt and white, wispy mohawk. She said she passes the long work hours by talking to her pot plants, aka her “ladies.”

Most of her plants so far are indoors, but she has big plans for her garden plot out back, and she has nestled tiny plants there in mulch and sand.

Wilson said Dallesport, right off the Columbia River, is a microclimate -- the “Mediterranean of the Gorge.” It’s sunny, warm and windy here -- and she said that’s a good thing.

“The wind stops bugs,” Wilson explained. “Bugs can’t hang on very well in this kind of wind, so that’s kind of a win, win situation for us.” 

She added that outdoor plants are just healthier and require fewer chemicals for pests or molds.

Consistent And Controlled

Still, the majority of the 120 licensed marijuana grows in the state are opting for all-indoor grows. Eric Cooper owns one of them, a warehouse operation called Monkey Grass just outside of Wenatchee.

Mikel King, 21, of Wenatchee, carefully snips the lower branches of a pot plant so that it will be more fruitful as it grows larger at Monkey Grass Farms.
Credit Anna King / Northwest News Network

Cooper believes a controlled environment is crucial for his business to make money. For example with an indoor grow, he said there’s never any down time -- like winter.

“We will crop approximately 150 to 200 plants every seven days,” Cooper said. “So that’s 52 crops a year.”

He said in a warehouse he can control the dark and light the plants get so they mature the buds properly. But keeping these lights cycling is expensive. That’s even with Eastern Washington’s cheaper hydroelectric energy.

Sunlight, of course, is free. Cooper is hoping that at some point soon the state will give out more licenses and he’ll be able operate an outdoor grow too.

“When we go outdoor, our crop size is going to increase dramatically,” he said.

If nature cooperates, outdoor grows can yield more pot -- but will customers like it as much?

Tim Thompson, one of the owners of the Altitude pot store in Prosser, Washington, said their customers haven’t had access to outdoor weed yet. But in terms of which they will prefer between outdoor or indoor, he said, “I really don’t think there’s going to be a difference.”

Thompson said he thinks it will come down to price. That theory will be tested in just a few weeks when farmers like Wilson and Reita bring their outdoor pot to market.


This project is a collaboration with Jordan Schrader of The News Tribune in Tacoma. Read his companion piece to this story. For more photos see our slideshow on Flickr.