Origins of the Indoor Yield-O-Rama Database Project
One Grower's Disappointing Path to Self-suffiency
Having grown outdoors on and off for about 15 years back in the 1960's and 70's, I became tired of dealing with the paranoia, work and bandits. Not wanting to pay dealers for what I could do myself, the decision was made to come up with a feasible plan to grow my own personal stash indoors under artificial light. Being an apartment dweller and living from paycheck to paycheck, I needed to know how much indoor space and lighting were required to grow a stash that would last me from one indoor harvest to the next. Once I felt confident that indoor space and electrical considerations would pose no problems for a renter, I could estimate equipment costs from a shopping list and get down to the business of turning the plan into reality. It was time to sort out some details.
When I started looking for this information back in the 80's I found all sorts of detailed production data at the public library for greenhouse flower and food crops, but nothing for indoor cannabis crops. The WWW hadn't been invented yet, but since I did have online access to text-based information I cranked up my 2400 baud modem til I exhausted those resources as well.... still no joy. Cannabis-specific grow books showed one how to grow but, unfortunately, not how much. Despite many of them containing dozens of detailed tables and charts cited from research on cannabis, none of them provided the yield information needed to plan an indoor garden space. Instead of finding a chapter on yields as I expected, detailed indoor production information was conspicuously absent. There were many yield increasing tips using vague terms like more yield or less yield, but they never stated more or less than what. Without real numbers or a point of reference, the books served no useful purpose in the planning of an indoor grow space, certainly not for the yield it could produce. And though the information would be helpful after-the-fact, it seemed that the-fact was being unceremoniously sidestepped by not being given a value of its own.
Not having any idea of the space or lighting needed to become self-sufficient, a small concealable space using fluorescent lamps was the starting point. Though indoor growing can be gratifying, there's nothing instant about its results. Each try at getting it right takes several months of work, and if the strain turns out to be problematic only two tries may be seen in a years time. To make a long story short, after two years I had a closet full of expensive equipment discards, revised and rebuilt the garden space several times, and while paying money to dealers for stash I should have produced myself since day one. All of these disappointments could have been prevented with some objective yield information upon which to base the original plan.
Sharing the Knowledge
As the 90's rolled in so did the popularity of the Internet, and with it came the ability to communicate with other growers. Helping new growers avoid mistakes learned through experience was a plus, but there were concerns. On many issues we could tell inexperienced people what did or didn't work for us, but couldn't tell them what would or wouldn't work for them in terms of their yield. So diverse were people in their needs to produce a given quantity of cannabis, and so diverse were the ways in which they grew it indoors, that no two had the same combination of yield influencing circumstances. Many growers didn't like being stuck with the vagueness of using the more or less wording, they wanted something more tangible than the eternal "yeah, but" - Yeah, but you have less light.... or experience, or more space, or use hydroponics, or don't use MH, and so on. These influences do have a yield value tied to them, somewhere, but nobody knew what they were or where to start untangling such a maze of interrelationships.
Prospective new growers still wanted to know in advance what their indoor gardens would yield, but still had no objective source from which to find that information. It appeared that growing cannabis indoors had become so personalized that there was no objectivity to share. Other segments of the agriculture industry (eg: for greenhouse food crops or floral crops) offered newcomers results of productivity research for their crops, unfortunately the low profile and clandestine nature of indoor cannabis cultivation keeps it out of the mainstream where this sort of research is conducted. And because cannabis isn't a food crop, and hasn't the reputation nor the clout to attract public funding, nothing in the way of indoor crop yield research could be expected from institutions traditionally lending this type of scientific support to an industry. If indoor pot growers were to have this information, it wasn't in their best interest to wait for a benefactor, they were clearly left to their own resources for the foreseeable future.
Influences on yield drew much attention and subjective opinion, but never anything objective and in a quantifiable form. Debates raged over hydro vs soil yields, MH vs HPS yields, yield from this-method vs that-method, ad infinitum. It was no wonder why influences on yield dared to be quantified, the online community couldn't even agree if one delivered more or less than the other, not to mention how much. Given the absence of a benefactor, and that interest in yields was high enough for growers to want to see beyond their own noses, it seemed a good time to start collecting some yield information.
Looking for a Quick & Easy Solution
The first attempt at collecting yields was to find as many prior reports as possible and enter them into a database. Unfortunately, that posed some overwhelming challenges. Apparently, each grower had his own way of benchmarking yields depending on what was important to him. For example, many former outdoor growers who continued growing full sized plants indoors often used yield per plant as their benchmark. While there's nothing wrong with being subjective about the way one conducts his own grow room operations, a diverse community of growers needs something that allows all of them to share a useful common ground. There's nothing useful to a SOG grower in the yield of another's full sized plants, and although both may have been happy using yield per plant within the confines of their own internal operation, a yield per plant benchmark had little meaning to a diverse external population of growers. Yields were given in a variety of different ways, but were so subjective, and on such different scales, that hardly any were compatible with the interests of other growers. A common ground was missing.
Another challenge was that the important information needed to help put crop weight on a comparable scale with the factors creating it was spotty at best, and non-existent at worst. For instance, the amount of light may have been given but not the type of light (MH, HPS, etc), or the space given without any light information, not to mention if the yield were the product of clones or seeds, or from hydro or soil based gardens, or if it was even manicured. Each time information for a garden's yield was broken down into pieces so it could be entered into a database there was key data missing. Growers supplied a good deal of ad hoc information but they didn't supply the same information where it counted, it was rare to find reports containing all the data needed to create a data set rich enough to be worthy of the effort. A quick and easy solution was not at hand, more was needed in the way yield information was given, than in the way it was collected.
For data to be useful it needed to be in a form every indoor grower could relate to. A standard for reporting garden performance and configurations was needed. It would insure that data contributed from a diverse body of growers contains all the information needed to find answers the YOR set out to discover. A complete data set would provide a basis upon which yields for a variety of flowering garden configurations could be analyzed, and then forecasted according to the major factors found to influence yield. A wide breadth of contributing growers, ranging from beginners to veteran growers with years of indoor experience, would provide the cross-section and comprehensiveness needed to reflect a community's growing experience. Not just the experience of a few, where the objectiveness found in diversity would be lost.
The only question was, would the community cooperate by going out of its way to report yields in a manner that might seem foreign or unconventional to some, and for a purpose that will only be known after enough data was collected. It could take years! Given that many such efforts to gain cooperation often fizzle out after a couple months, the community would at least get out of it exactly what they put into it, so all wouldn't be lost. It was worth a try.
In order to attract as many contributors as possible, and as quickly as possible, there had to be as few requirements as possible. When the project was introduced, and in order to be included in the database, submissions needed a minimum of only five required pieces of information - scaled yield, type of yield, scaled available lighting and type, type of growing medium, and the stock from which the crop originated. Along with several other optional fields introduced over time, the database would eventually have the capability of capturing close to 20 pieces of information for each record. Even if some data weren't displayed publicly in the database, growers were encouraged to supply any other information they had as it would provide some forward compatibility should that information be wanted in the future.
A Curious Matter of Controls
Shortly after the YOR was under way, another project known as CC1 (for Control Crop #1) was being conceived. It's philosophy was to recruit growers who wanted to participate in a real-time experiment. Growers would agree to set up an indoor garden with certain predetermined controls, and while growing genetically identical crops (from cloned stock to be shipped to the grower) they would fill in forms at given intervals throughout the term of the crop then email them to the originator. It was extremely well thought out, even the manicure had a protocol to follow, as did the drying and weighing of various plant parts.
With CC1 the idea was to set up some physical controls (space, light, etc) in order to manage influences that commonly vary between gardens and growers. With some variables already controlled for, and strict data collection a requirement, fewer crops would need to be grown to produce worthwhile data. The YOR, on the other hand, required no physical controls but needed more crops to be grown in order to use statistical controls for managing variables. I thought it curious how the science of physics and the science of statistics each have a way of lending their own degree of confidence to the things we do as growers.
The CC1 project had about 15-20 growers originally lined up to participate. And though the YOR was eager to see contributions from the project, due to security issues over mailing addresses and 11th hour drop-outs, the CC1 project was abandoned when the number of growers grew too small for it to be practical.
Growers not only cooperated with the YOR but offered a wealth of information over and above that asked of them. After collecting contributed data for five years, in 2001 an analysis of the first 160 contributions was conducted. They were found to contain enough data, and from a diverse enough base, to finally bring some objectivity to the question of yield and the indoor resources needed to produce it. As a result, new growers now had a viable alternative to guesswork and were no longer solely dependent on a few subjective personal opinions on matters of yield, experienced growers had the wherewithal to address yield concerns for which they could have no direct experience and had answers to some of the riddles that nagged at them for so long.
Every indoor cannabis garden is custom built to meet the needs of its owner, both in what he expects the garden to produce as well as the space into which the garden must fit. Considering the money paid to the black market during my awkward move to self-sufficiency, and the cost of equipment I didn't really need to purchase, not having this information available to me when I needed it cost me several thousands of dollars and two years of effective growing time. If the resources offered here assist anyone in reaching their goal sooner, with less unnecessary expense, or with fewer disappointments it would be a feather in the caps of all the growers who made it possible. Acquiring cannabis-specific yield information for indoor cultivators, from indoor cultivators and by indoor cultivators allowed us to become our own benefactors!
My sincerest thanks go to the people who contributed their time, effort and harvest information to the database project, and especially to Moon Doggie for his dedication, patience and attention to detail in analyzing its data.