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Hydroponic Vs Soil Cannabis Cultivation

The debate over cannabis growing mediums is not likely to end soon. With all the information available, it can be hard to make this decision regarding your own grow-op. We’re here to help you choose!

Contents:

With the continuous momentum of cannabis legalization, a lot of people are starting to take a swing at growing cannabis. Smoking your own home-grown bud is one of the most gratifying experiences a stoner can have. But when starting out, most people don’t know where to begin. In this article, we’ll be covering hydroponic vs soil-based growing operations. This will help the inexperienced and even the experienced grower decide on the correct medium for their next grow.

In 2017, when we talk about soil vs hydro plantations, we’re usually referring to indoor vs outdoor growing. This is because indoor mediums are rarely 100% soil. People tend to use substrates like coco coir and rockwool, which are soilless mixtures. Most fully-soil operations out there will be found in outdoor plantations. Let’s dive into what the differences between hydroponic and soil growing actually are.

THE ESSENTIALS OF EACH METHOD

As you probably know, soil is the green part of our “blue planet.” Although it only dominates 30% of the Earth’s surface, it’s where most plants grow and have done so for millions of years. Because of this, soil has accumulated minerals and organic matter that is very hard to replicate with any other method. That is why a lot of traditional cannabis aficionados will only grow and/or buy cannabis that is cultivated outdoors in soil. But it’s still important to note that most soil growers will add nutrient solutions or nutrient-rich materials like earthworm castings and manure to enhance their medium.

Hydroponic, on the other hand, takes away all the unpredictability of soil. The term hydroponic is now very commonly used for all mediums other than soil. Water-based growing operations without a stationary medium are referred to as “solution culture.” Because of this, we’ll be defining hydroponics as methods where the roots of the plant are in constant contact with a water solution. Nutrients are then added in liquid form to the water, creating a new solution. This will consist of only the absolute essentials for the plant and will give the grower much more control over the end result.

THE PROS AND CONS OF EACH METHOD

What differentiates these two methods is mainly a matter of yield vs quality. Growing outdoors with a soil medium will generally allow for much higher yields. Outside, there is no height limitation and with soil, the roots can grow and branch out freely. With proper care, a soil medium can help you grow plants that are 2m tall, offering more than 400g of quality bud per plant. Using hydroponic methods in an indoor operation won’t allow for cannabis this tall. Therefore, yields won’t be as high because the roots are limited by the size and volume of your coco coir, mesh pot, water bucket, grow room, etc.

Quality works in the opposite way. It’s much easier to control an indoor hydroponic plantation. You’ll be giving the plant the exact nutrients it needs under the perfect lighting conditions in an environment with the ideal humidity. This will also allow you to automate most of the growing process.

Soil is not as controllable. When growing cannabis outside, there will be temperature changes, uncontrollable wind, and even humidity variations. These are hard to predict and impossible to master. One can only adapt to the outside environment and hope for the best. Soil also contains organic matter and bacteria that might not be too favourable for your plant’s health. These will be hard to identify until visual changes manifest on the plant.

You’ll have to base your decision on finding the best combination of quantity and quality for your situation. Soil is a much more familiar medium than hydroponics and is more advisable for first time growers. There is a lot of information out there. Conduct further research to make a more informed decision.

NUTRIENT REQUIREMENTS

When growing a complex plant like cannabis, changing the medium will affect its requirements. You’ll have to adapt nutrient feeds so you’re not left with an unwanted deficiency. This is a very common problem in cannabis plants that a lot of growers don’t know how to deal with. Making sure your products are the appropriate ones and your pH is ideal will go a long way in preventing deficiencies or nutrient lockout.

Whether in the form of mineral powder or dissolved in water, macronutrient products will have three basic elements: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These nutrients are summarised by the N-P-K ratio composed of three numbers on the front of a nutrient bottle. Each value represents the percentage by volume of the corresponding nutrient in the solution.

In a soil medium, manure can be added, which is a nutrient-rich material. This is something that a hydroponic solution can’t replicate. Soil is filled with microbes that help turn organic material like guano and worm castings into usable nutrients for your plant. In hydroponics, you’ll have to feed your plants the full quantity of micro and macronutrients. Independently of the quality of your soil, you’ll likely need extra supplements in order to obtain the best results. This is where the hydroponic system differentiates mostly from a soil-based medium.

Micronutrients like iron, copper, and magnesium are widely available in most soil mediums. Therefore, hydro solutions must contain more of these to compensate. They also require more nitrogen, a macronutrient abundant in soil, but not as much in water sources. This is why hydro nutrients during the vegetative stage have a higher percentage of nitrogen.

MAKING A CHOICE

This is the part where you’ll have to decide what to do next; which materials to buy and how much area to dedicate to your plantation. Let’s recap on what we explored above.

Growing in soil will be the best choice for you if you want to keep the natural essence of the plant. You might prefer the flavour outdoor soil gives the flowers. Only consider soil if you have access to high-quality soil mediums. Soil growing is perhaps the best option if you’re not growing full-time. Soil will require much less of your attention as it will be doing the bulk of the work for you.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for the highest cannabinoid presence, hydroponic will be your choice. This is where you’ll get those deliciously frosty 28% THC buds. It is also smart to choose hydroponics if you want an automated system. You won’t be able to fully automate the process, but with methods like drip irrigation, it will reduce your chores. This will be the best method to try out if you’re experienced, but have never tried it before. It’s always positive to learn how cannabis grows and behaves under different conditions. You’ll probably achieve better results growing hydroponically, assuming you know what you’re doing.

Remember that the best choice will be the one you make. You’ll make it work whether you’re experienced or not. It’s the motivation and passion you have that will ultimately determine your success. Even though people have been growing cannabis for thousands of years, only recently has real research gone into it. Perhaps you’ll be the one to figure out the next trick or hack for growing the best cannabis flower. Go out there and experiment; just have fun!

THESE STRAINS ARE A GREAT PLACE TO START

Whether you choose soil or hydroponics, both are capable of producing top-quality cannabis. However, if you are not sure which strain to start with, we have a beginner-friendly suggestion for both methods.

Soil is the traditional growing medium that has served growers for centuries. As we have alluded to though, soil can be a little tricky to manage, especially if it is your first time cultivating cannabis. With that in mind, we have picked a strain that is more forgiving than others to offset any small mistakes.

SOMANGO XL

This flavoursome beauty benefits from indica-dominant genetics, and can be harvested in as little as nine weeks. Not only is that less time for things to go wrong, but Somango XL is considered ideal for both newbie and experienced growers. Her hardiness allows simple mistakes like nutrient fluctuation to occur without significant repercussions.

Struggling to decide which grow method to go with? Here, we'll go through everything you need to know in order to make the best decision for your situation!

Hydroponics Cannabis Growing Guide

Hydroponics is a method of cultivating plants, specifically cannabis in this case, in a solution of water and nutrients.

Contents:

As the name may suggest, hydroponics is a soilless method of growing cannabis using water as the primary medium. Within a hydroponic setup, cannabis plants are grown in buckets or baskets filled with an inert growing medium, and are suspended over a tank full of water. The water is filled with all of the nutrients plants need to survive and thrive, and air stones are used to aerate the tank. This basic model manifests in many different forms and systems, with different growers preferring different setups. There are many advantages to hydroponic cultivation, all of which will be covered in this article. But first, let’s delve into the history of this fascinating art form.

THE HISTORY OF HYDROPONICS

Hydroponic cultivation might initially seem like the result of modern advances in technology. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The origins of growing plants in water goes back thousands of years into human history. The famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, created in 600 BCE, are theorised to have utilised hydroponic principles. The region located next to the Euphrates was naturally dry and arid. It’s believed the crops of the garden were nurtured using a trickle-system starting at the river.

Moving closer in time to the 10th and 11th centuries, the Aztec civilisation was also known to utilise hydroponics to provide sustenance to their society. After being forced from their land via conflict, these people settled at Lake Tenochtitlan. They proceeded to build floating rafts topped with soil, allowing crops to grow through the tap layer and spread their roots into the waters below.

More recent, but still distant, examples of hydroponic growing involve the English scientist John Woodward in 1699. His work involved cultivating spearmint plants in water. He found that the plant species grew faster within a water source mixed with soil.

The history of hydroponics has shown how effective this method can be in many different settings and scenarios, with cannabis cultivation being no exception. Let’s explore the advantages of this interesting method, and how to apply it to growing great weed.

THE ADVANTAGES OF HYDROPONIC GROWING

If you talk to a grower who has experience with hydroponic growing, one of the first things they’ll probably tell you is that their hydroponic plants grow much, much faster than those in soil. This is a prime advantage of this method of cultivation—hydroponic plants usually grow 30–50% faster and often provide larger yields. A large reason for this is that nutrients within a hydroponic system are much more readily available to plants. The nutrients are suspended in water and enter directly into the root system as there is no soil to navigate through. In contrast, plants growing in soil must search through the medium in order to uptake nutrients from below. Easy access to nutrients allows plants to preserve energy, which is then diverted to growth efforts instead.

MATERIALS NEEDED TO MAKE A DIY HYDROPONIC SYSTEM

If you go the DIY route, check out the brief guide below. The list covers all of the equipment you need to construct a basic indoor setup. Simply find the product that suits you for each listed item. Buying your gear separately allows you to invest more heavily into important items such as lighting while reducing the cost in other areas.

Here’s what you’ll need:

a) Lighting (LED or HPS)

b) Lighting hangers

d) Hydroponic reservoir and tray

e) Airstone and pump

f) Growing medium (e.g. coco coir)

g) Net mesh planting pots

i) Ventilation fan and ducting tubes

j) Carbon filter

k) Oscillating fan

l) Hydroponic nutrients

m) pH and PPM meters

THE COST OF GROWING WITH HYDROPONICS

When thinking about hydroponics, you might picture a high-tech setup: automated switches, flashing lights, ticking timers. However, the cost of a hydroponic system all depends on how much money you’re willing to splash. They range from a simple plastic bucket all the way to self-draining and flooding systems. To save time, invest in a cheap hydroponic starter kit. These include all of the materials you need to get from seed to harvest. You can purchase one for around £200 (€235).

1. CHOOSE A GROWING MEDIUM TO GET THINGS STARTED

Now that we have covered the history and benefits of hydroponic growing, it’s time to get things started. To begin, you’ll need to select a growing medium—a substance that will hold in place the intersection of the stem and roots. From this location, the roots will grow down into the water in search of nutrients. The inert medium also allows good air access to the top of the roots. There is a huge list of different media used by cultivators, with those below being the most common. Each medium has its own unique benefits, and some work better with different systems. It’s all about experimentation when starting out to see which works best for you.

  • CLAY PEBBLES

As one of the most popular options, clay pebbles are excellent at aerating root systems. Clay pebbles sometimes require that growers alter the pH in order to provide an optimal growing environment, however, pre-altered pebbles can be purchased. You’ll need to place clay pebbles into a plastic hydroponic basket that has spaces for roots to grow through.

As one of the most popular options, clay pebbles are excellent at aerating root systems. Clay pebbles sometimes require that growers alter the pH in order to provide an optimal growing environment, however, pre-altered pebbles can be purchased. You’ll need to place clay pebbles into a plastic hydroponic basket that has spaces for roots to grow through.

  • ROCKWOOL

Rockwool is another popular choice, and is a substance created using volcanic rocks with a wool texture, hence the name. Rockwool has a tremendous capacity to retain water, which allows for good hydration of the upper root system. Rockwool can be placed within a hydroponic basket, but can also be lodged directly into the top of a bucket or tank lid without.

Rockwool is another popular choice, and is a substance created using volcanic rocks with a wool texture, hence the name. Rockwool has a tremendous capacity to retain water, which allows for good hydration of the upper root system. Rockwool can be placed within a hydroponic basket, but can also be lodged directly into the top of a bucket or tank lid without.

  • PERLITE

Perlite is a volcanic glass that expands when exposed to high temperatures. It’s often used in garden soils to provide aeration, which is exactly why it’s beneficial to use as a hydroponic growing medium for cannabis.

Perlite is a volcanic glass that expands when exposed to high temperatures. It’s often used in garden soils to provide aeration, which is exactly why it’s beneficial to use as a hydroponic growing medium for cannabis.

  • COCO COIR

Coco coir is a good sustainable option for a growing medium. As the fibre from coconuts, coco coir allows for good aeration and moisture retention. Coconut fibres are also known to protect roots from infection due to the presence of plant-stimulating hormones.

2. CHOOSE A HYDROPONIC GROWING SETUP FOR YOUR PLANTS TO THRIVE IN

Now that you’ve selected a growing medium, it’s time to choose which type of hydroponic setup to use. All systems are similar in that they utilise a nutrient-enriched water solution. However, setups can vary widely depending on factors such as water exposure and circulation. Most of the following systems can be purchased, but those with DIY skills could easily make them by using buckets, drills, pumps, and air stones.

DEEP WATER CULTURE

Deep water culture is a good place to start for beginners, and is likely the cheapest option. Plants are placed in buckets filled with a nutrient solution and an air pump provides a constant supply of oxygen.

EBB AND FLOW

An ebb and flow (also known as flood and drain) system features water that, well, ebbs and flows. These systems consist of several buckets suspended above a growing tray that features a water inlet and outlet. Both of these waterways are connected to an external tank that contains nutrients, an air stone to aerate the water supply, and a pump to move water into the growing tray. The roots in these systems are not continuously submerged within water. Instead, water periodically floods the growing tray with fresh oxygen and nutrient-enriched water. Once the pump cycle ends, all of the water drains back into the external tank.

This system allows for periodic feeding. The time when the growing tray is empty allows growers to easily tend to plant roots and harvest plants.

DRIP SYSTEM

A drip system in hydroponics is very similar to a drip irrigation system when growing in soil. This system consists of a large tray filled with growing medium, such as clay pebbles. Plants are placed directly into the medium, and each has its own drip pipe nearby. An external water tank with a pump and air stones constantly supplies a drip feed of water over each plant. The roots of these plants are constantly exposed to air, and the excess water drips down the medium and back into the external tank.

NUTRIENT FILM TECHNIQUE

If deep water culture is the equivalent of growing cannabis plants in a pond, then the nutrient film technique is the equivalent of growing weed over a river. This system involves placing plants into a tube that is angled, so water can enter at one side and exit at the other via gravity. The roots grow down into the tube, where they are exposed to the flowing water. The water enters from a tank with an air stone and pump, and returns back once the cycle is complete.

WICK SYSTEM

A wick system is a basic hydroponic setup that uses a growing tray similar to the drip system filled with clay pebbles. Under the tray is a tank of water, from which several wicks exit and enter the growing medium. Water travels up the wicks and passively hydrates the medium. No pump is required for this system.

AEROPONICS

Aeroponics is perhaps the most futuristic version of hydroponic growing, and uses misted water dispersed through the air to optimise aeration and hydration. Plants are placed into the top of a large tank of water filling the bottom 25%. Under the water is a pump that sends water into misters underneath the root systems. This fine mist constantly soaks the roots, allowing plants to receive massive quantities of air and water simultaneously.

3. PREPARE YOUR SYSTEM TO ENSURE A SUCCESSFUL GROW

After choosing your system, it’s important to prepare it well to prevent any detrimental situations. The damp and dark nature of water tanks is an ideal growing environment for a host of pathogens. Before running your system, you will need to sterilise your equipment to minimise the chances of contamination. Wipe down all of your buckets, trays, pipes, and tanks with rubbing alcohol, hot water, and peroxide. Once your system is sterilised, begin following the instructions to set it up correctly.

YOU’LL NEED TO MAINTAIN YOUR SYSTEM REGULARLY

Every hydroponic system requires frequent maintenance to provide an optimal growing environment. Below are all of the major factors you need to be aware of.

A) ALWAYS MONITOR PH

You’ll need to constantly test the pH of the water to ensure an optimal growing environment. Nutrients are more available to plants when the environment is slightly more acidic. Therefore, a pH of 5.5–5.8 is required. Use a pH testing kit to take regular readings, and be sure to change the solution weekly to maintain this range. During flowering, a pH of 6 is preferred.

B) TRY TO KEEP YOUR WATER TEMPERATURE AT AROUND 20°C

Hydroponic cannabis has an ideal temperature of 20°C. This factor can be monitored using a water thermometer and altered using a water heater if the temperatures are too low.

C) PROVIDE THE CORRECT QUANTITY OF NUTRIENTS

Hydroponic plants require the same nutrients as their soil-based counterparts. The easiest way to go about feeding your plants is by purchasing hydroponic nutrient solutions that contain all of the required substances for both the vegetation and blooming periods. Products will also describe how often to add nutrients back into your system and how much dilution is required.

D) KEEP THINGS CLEAN TO AVOID CONTAMINATION

Both growing trays and tanks require emptying and cleaning around every two weeks. This process will keep the roots of your plants safe against invading pathogens and diseases. Repeat the same process mentioned above when initially preparing your system.

E) SELECTING A STRAIN FOR HYDROPONIC GROWING

Strain selection is an important factor of hydroponic growing. Plants grown within these systems are free to uptake nutrients extremely fast, which often results in explosive and rapid growth. For this reason, selecting a large, towering sativa variety won’t be your best choice, especially if your system resides within an indoor grow tent.

Smaller and more compact strains are ideal for indoor hydroponic systems. Beginning with a smaller strain is advantageous for several reasons. For one, it will let you cultivate several plants within a smaller space, allowing for more diversity and potentially bigger yields. Additionally, if your plants do go through a growth spurt, you’ll have room to deal with such sudden surges in height.

Below are two strains that we recommend for hydroponic growing.

WHITE WIDOW

White Widow is a perfectly balanced hybrid strain that features 50% indica genetics and 50% sativa genetics. She was created using parent strain White Widow S1, and provides a well-balanced high that stimulates and excites the mind whilst relaxing and stoning the body. A THC level of 19% ensures a powerful psychoactive experience that lasts several hours. These flowers contain a terpene profile that emanates grounding tastes and smells of earth and pine.

White Widow will reach a height of 60–100cm when grown indoors, making her an ideal candidate for the spatial demands of a hydroponic growing operation. Expect good yields of 450–500g/m² after a flowering period of 8–9 weeks.

Hydroponics is a method of cultivating plants, specifically cannabis in this case, in a solution of water and nutrients.