Alaska may not be the most obvious place to grow marijuana and yet you will find plenty of Alaska-grown cannabis sold in dispensaries.
This is mostly due to practical reasons. Most cannabis is grown in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Federal rules and regulations, however, forbid the transportation of cannabis across states or on federal roads and transportation means such as planes, trains, and buses. Alaska being where it is, this means that it has no connection to the lower 48 states. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Alaska cannabis dispensaries often turn to local growers for cannabis flowers and products.
Most cannabis strains grow in warm but not hot climates with plenty of sunshine. They need proper watering and usually flower within 10 to 14 weeks from seeding. Thus, Alaska has a very short growing season that often lasts no more than 90 days. As early as late August, some Alaska parts see snow and freeze: under these weather circumstances, cannabis plants simply can’t survive.
Even so, you could grow cannabis in Alaska with the right cannabis strains and a good grasp of how cannabis grows. In practice, Alaska cannabis growers have two options: either grow fast-flowering cannabis strains outdoors or grow cannabis indoors in controlled greenhouse environments.
What Do Cannabis Plants Need to Grow?
Cannabis likes warm temperatures ranging from 68 to 86 Fahrenheit for seedlings. From flowering to harvest, temperatures should ideally hover between 64 and 80F. Temperatures should drop gradually into the night. Big and abrupt temperature changes can shock cannabis plants. Perfect night temperatures are 8 degrees lower than day temperatures.
Cannabis also likes water—in moderation. The soil should remain moist but not muddy, which means that cannabis plants should be watered two to three times a week, depending on the heat and sunlight exposure. Too much rain or water will prevent the buds from flowering and the plant could develop mold and rot.
As for temperature, high temperatures degrade the terpenes, THC, and other cannabinoids present in cannabis. The resulting flowers are less flavorsome and less potent than would normally be expected of the strain.
When temperatures drop below 55F, the cannabis plants start suffering and slowly go into shock. A one-off drop in temperature will not permanently harm a plant but successive days with cooler temperatures will stop the flowering process altogether.
How Can You Grow Cannabis Outdoors in Alaska?
Bearing in mind the particularities of cannabis cultivation, growing it in Alaska can be challenging but not impossible.
Potential growers must choose strains that have short maturing seasons, ideally around 9 to 10 weeks. For example, Sativa strains that have been grown in the tropics where cold weather is unheard of, require a full 14 weeks to mature. Such strains will not succeed in Alaska.
On the other hand, Indica strains need less than 10 weeks to mature, which makes them better suited to the Alaskan climate. Indica strains dislike humidity and heavy rains. If the area you are planning on planting has a relatively dry climate, indica strains could be a possible candidate.
Above all, though, it’s the lesser-known Ruderalis variety that has the greatest potential in Alaska. Ruderalis varieties used to be grown in cold areas of Central Asia. They have a very short growing season and, most importantly, are auto-flowering.
What does auto-flowering mean? Most cannabis plants flower according to the light cycle. They need on average 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness. Alaska in summer has 21 hours of daylight, which disrupts the light cycle of Sativa and Indica strains.
Ruderalis, however, matures not according to the light cycle, but 30 days after seeding, no matter the light circumstances. As a result, Ruderalis varieties are not bothered by the almost constant sunlight of Alaska’s summer.
Additionally, most Ruderalis varieties mature within 70 days from germination, which works great with the short growing season.
While most Ruderalis varieties are low in THC and high in CBD, there are many strains with varying THC potency. Nowadays, growers are cross breeding varieties to combine the benefits of Ruderalis with the higher THC content of other strains.
Growing Cannabis Indoors in Alaska
Growing cannabis indoors is also feasible. Greenhouses keep the temperature, light conditions, and humidity at optimum levels at all times for cannabis cultivation.
A cannabis greenhouse requires a robust heating system to warm the greenhouse when outside temperatures are very low. Also, the greenhouse should have a blackout system to block the sunlight during the summer. Remember that Alaska has 21 hours of sunlight per day in the summer, which troubles cannabis strains that mature according to the light cycle. Ideally, the greenhouse should have dimmable lights and a lighting strategy that mimics the natural rhythm that appeals to the particular cannabis strain grown.
In short, a greenhouse helps cannabis growers keep everything monitored and checked. As a bonus, growers can easily watch for mold growth or any other unpleasant intruder.
Indoor or Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation?
Some cannabis growers are trying to grow cannabis outdoors during the 90 days of sunlight and warm weather, from June to August. They first plant their seedlings in protected environments and transplant them into the field when the temperatures and weather conditions are suitable. With the right choice of cannabis strain, growers can have a good cannabis crop.
Others opt for greenhouse cultivation to ensure their production, productivity, harvesting, and yield.
If you choose indoor cultivation, you will have increased costs for the actual greenhouse, energy, gas, and lighting. This could dent your profits.
Outdoor cultivation has its own problems: sometimes the weather is unpredictable, so you could lose part of the marijuana crop if, for example, there is prolonged heat, hail, or heavy rains. You may not have the costs of a marijuana greenhouse but could end up with a smaller crop than expected.
Don’t forget that individuals may grow up to 6 plants of cannabis for their personal use, as long as they are adults. Only 3 cannabis plants can be in maturity at any given time.