Vegetable gardeners, pot growers boosting hydroponics supply

Hydroponic and indoor grow operation supply companies have been opening and expanding since medical marijuana laws in Colorado allowed individuals to grow plants for personal use. Colorado gardeners trying to grow healthy organic vegetables out of season are hoping that the increased competition and research will help them grow their food plants better and more cheaply as well. Amendment 64 to the Colorado constitution, which legalized recreational use of marijuana under state law, allows adults to grow up to three mature cannabis plants and three immature plants in a private, locked space. Before Amendment 64 was passed, medical marijuana patients with doctor prescriptions have been allowed to grow the same number of plants since Amendment 20 was passed in 2000. Medical patients and recreational users across the state try to grow their own cannabis plants at home in addition to purchasing quality professionally grown product from medicinal and retail dispensaries. The hobby’s legal need for security, combined with the cold climates of the Rocky Mountains, have driven the frost-sensitive plants and their growers indoors. Supplying the lighting, nutrient and water needs of the plants has resulted in huge growth in hydroponics stores and grow operation supply retailers. According to a market research report published by IBISWorld, the hydroponic equipment retail industry has grown by 7.2 percent per year nationwide since 2009, with California and Colorado growing at a whopping 32 percent. Dozens of storefront locations have opened along the Front Range, in addition to countless retail websites. Online stores tend to highlight the vegetable-growing benefits of their products due to the federal and state laws that impact mail order advertising. Dual use of the products, both for higher quality marijuana and higher food density in vegetables, provide the stores with a diverse but growing target market. “The biggest benefit is neighbors aren’t looking at you weird anymore when you bring your bell peppers inside,” said Dr. Stephen Kutscher, chiropractor and indoor hydroponic food grower. “Having the ability to bring things indoors and how to provide the needs of any plants in an indoor environment came from studies about marijuana done in Amsterdam. Types of lighting, reflective Mylar, what methods to provide the most sun-like light conditions to provide the best vegetative, flowering and fruit growth is useful for both.” “Vegetable gardening and marijuana growing are two entirely separate cultures using similar methods,” said Shawn Speidel, soil fertility consultant. “You drive around Denver and Colorado Springs, and there’s a lot of these grow warehouse type places that have sprung up out of nowhere. That means there are many more options for the vegetable growers, ornamental plant growers as well as the marijuana growers.” Technology developed for growing marijuana can help gardeners trying to grow healthier vegetables at home. “There’s a greenhouse control system I’m looking at for a project that has clearly been influenced by marijuana growing,” Speidel said. “So some things have crossed over to benefit everyone.” Increased competition among “grow stores” and more social acceptance of the dual use technologies will reduce costs and increase availability. The grow store staff may need to work harder to adapt to dual use than their consumers. “It was funny when I went into one of the shops to buy supplies for my vegetable operation,” Kutscher said. “The guy wanted to tell me about how certain lights were for ‘flowering’ or other stages. I’m not trying to ‘flower’ my vegetables, dude. It’s legal now. If I wasn’t really using it for Swiss chard I’d say so.” Smaller nurseries, hardware stores and big-box home supply retailers may eventually start carrying dual use grow lights and hydroponic supplies because of the increasing popularity of indoor vegetable growing. “The retail aspect will pick up,” Kutscher said. “Hopefully people won’t have to say things like ‘I have to buy a grow light, I gotta look out for The Man.’ Likewise I hope that people who are growing marijuana for medical or recreational use will grow some food too for the nutritional benefit since they already have all the lights and supplies.” Until federal law is officially changed, the wink-and-nod dual use marketing methods will likely continue as grow stores serve both growing markets. “Maybe if you grow both, you can bake the most healthy and nutrient-dense cannabis zucchini bread ever,” Kutscher joked.