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HowStuffWorks "Keeping Grow House Operations Under Wraps"

by Robert Lamb

Browse the article How Grow Houses Work

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Controlled Substance Image Gallery An oscillating fan cools down the crops in a grow house. See more controlled substance pictures.

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Introduction to How Grow Houses Work

Nothing spruces up a house quite like a few potted plants. They freshen the air, brighten your mood and really bring a room together. Plus, if just one of those house plants happens to be a Cannabis sativa, you could wind up with maybe a half-pound (227 grams) of marijuana worth close to $1,000, depending on the going market rate. Avoid going to jail and that's enough to add some serious pizzazz to any living room. But if one plant can generate that kind of cash, why not just fill the whole house with marijuana plants?

Sound like a great idea? Well, pot producers are way ahead of you. Indoor marijuana crops are big business for two key reasons. First, if you're going to grow an illegal cash crop, it's best to do it where police helicopters and passing motorists won't notice. Second, growing marijuana indoors allows you to cultivate stronger pot and more of it. So even in areas where growing marijuana is decriminalized or legal, it often makes more sense to take the operation inside -- often into residential homes.

If you devote a room in your house to cultivating marijuana, you have a grow room. Set aside most of your available indoor space to this investment and -- voila -- you have a grow house. It may sound extreme, but the practice is far from isolated. In fact, in some areas, the statistics are downright staggering. In Humboldt County, Calif., where cultivating medical

marijuana enjoys limited legal protection, law enforcement officials estimate up to 1,000 of the 7,500 homes in the community are grow operations [source: Los Angeles Times]. In Vancouver, Canada, the estimate runs as high as one out of every five houses [source: Cannabis Culture].

This may seem like a lot of effort just to grow a few plants, but billions of dollars are wrapped up in the sale of marijuana. Of course, not everyone who grows cannabis is in it strictly for the money. Some growers believe in the health benefits of the herb, while others simply like getting high. But many individuals and criminal organizations set up grow houses because the money is simply too good. As with any contraband item, the unregulated and illegal nature of the product pushes prices through the roof. And to cap things off, the market is huge. In the United States alone, at least 14.8 million people use marijuana -- and an estimated 6,000 people a day try it for the first time [source: NIDA].

In this article, we'll look at what goes into setting up a grow house, who runs them and how law enforcement tries to harsh everyone's mellow.

Setting Up a Grow House

For the avid marijuana grower, dealing with lawmakers, police officers and distributors can be quite a hassle. But on top of the various human demands, they have a plant to appease. Cannabis sativa isn't interested in medical findings, legal jurisdiction, bribes or profits. It needs sunlight, water, warmth and nutrients. If growers give the plants what they need, then they can harvest all the green gold they want.

Of course, most homes are designed to house human families -- as opposed to, say, a few hundred cannabis plants. To meet the needs of a large, indoor marijuana growing operation, some do-it-yourself additions are required. In larger, professional operations, the costs of outfitting a home can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, transforming the home into a closed growing environment. Some of these grow houses are home only to plants and the machines that keep them alive.

What kind of digs do these plants require? First, marijuana plants have to sink their roots into something. Most growers use a calculated mixture of nutrients, fertilizer and soil. Another method is to employ hydroponics, in which the grower uses nutrient solutions instead of soil and supports the plants in specially designed containers, trays and tables. Second, plants need water, which demands either manual or automated watering, such as a drip system. To

prevent overwatering and water damage to the house, growers have to make sure proper drainage is in place. Growers often try to lock all this moisture inside with airtight seals and insulation, but sometimes dehumidifiers are required if the air becomes too damp.

Water and nutrient-rich soil won't help a plant one bit, however, if it doesn't get enough sunlight. Given the limits of indoor growing, artificial lighting is required. Luckily for grow houses, horticulture and aquarium lights are readily available. After all, not everyone who grows plants indoors is in the marijuana business. Successful grow house operators recommend using 1,000-watt horticulture bulbs, each of which can sustain 15 to 20 plants [source: Cannabis Culture]. To put that in perspective, incandescent light bulbs typically range between 40 and 150 watts, while compact fluorescent light bulbs use between 9 and 52 watts.

By controlling how much light the plants get, growers can also speed up the growth cycle for the female plants that produce the valuable buds. It's as if your boss secretly set all the clocks in the office back a few hours to squeeze a little extra work out of everyone. During the initial growth period, grow house crops enjoy 16- to 18-hour days to hurry development. Toward the end of the growth cycle, growers shorten the days to cause the plants to flower. By employing this method and

Operating a grow house is a little more involved than remembering to water the plants everyday.

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