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Hydroponics Cannabis Growing Guide

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

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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.

How to Grow Hydroponic Cannabis at Home

Hydroponics is when you grow your cannabis plant in an inert medium like coco or a reservoir of water, and provide all the nutrients to the plant directly in the water.

Growing in coco coir can be considered a type of hydroponics since it naturally contains no nutrients and you must provide all the nutrients in the water. However, when you say “hydroponics” most people think of this:

When it comes to hydroponic cannabis…

Differences Between Soil & Hydro

  • The optimum pH for coco and hydroponics is 5.5-6.5, while the optimum pH for soil is 6-7
  • Nutrients must be provided from when a hydroponic plant is a seedling (in seedling doses to start), otherwise the seedling will grow slower because it only has what’s contained in the seed itself. In soil you don’t need to add nutrients for a few weeks since there’s already some in the soil
  • Growing in coco coir (a growing medium that looks somewhat like soil but is actually made of dried coconut husks) gives you results that are somewhat between growing in soil and growing in a hydroponic reservoir of water – you get a lot of the benefits of both

Pros of Hydro

  • Plants in hydroponic setups generally grow faster in the vegetative stage than soil-grown plants
  • Less likely to get bugs
  • Buds can feel more potent
  • If growing in a reservoir you don’t have to worry about watering your plants when they’re dry, over/under watering, or removing runoff. Everyone is different but I find maintaining a hydro reservoir easier than moving the plants around or watering and using a wet vacuum to remove runoff (but we all have our personal preferences!)
  • If growing in a reservoir you use a very efficient amount of nutrients since you only mix up new water a few times a month, and only toss old water after the plant has already used up a lot of nutrients, which can save quite a bit if you’re using expensive nutrients and is better for the environment (compared to drain-to-waste)
  • You have more control over nutrient levels, PPM, and pH – for the mad scientists among us who want to get the most out of our plants as possible!

Cons of Hydro

  • Hydro usually takes more preparation/setup than growing in soil. You’re providing more for the plant instead of letting the soil do some of the work for you
  • It can be easy to get root rot in hydro if you don’t provide your plant with a good-bacteria supplement like Hydroguard.
  • Soil-grown buds may have a more complex or stronger smell than hydro-grown buds, especially if grown in composted living soil without any liquid nutrients
  • Growing in soil is more intuitive for many people, and some people already have experience with soil from other types of gardening!

Is Hydroponics Good for Growing Cannabis?

Have you seen cannabis plants growing with their roots just floating in a reservoir of water? This type of hydroponics is known as Deep Water Culture (DWC), and has been around for over a 100 years! As more growers gain experience with this medium, DWC has become increasingly popular for growing cannabis. Hydroponic setups are really neat and offer some big benefits over growing in soil!

Benefits of Hydro Over Soil

  • Plants grown in a hydroponic reservoir tend to grow faster in the vegetative stage, resulting in bigger yields and faster harvests
  • Hydroponic buds tend to be more potent and often cost more at dispensaries
  • Once a hydroponic reservoir is set up, it does not take a lot of work or time to maintain. Instead of regularly watering plants and removing runoff, a hydro reservoir only requires you dip a PH Pen and top off with more water or adjust as needed.

Cons of Hydro

  • Takes more time and effort to set up than soil or coco
  • Buds grown in soil without added nutrients tend to have a stronger smell than buds grown with liquid nutrients like in a hydroponic setup (though if you’re trying to keep things low odor this might be a benefit).
  • Unless you protect your roots by using the right supplements and equipment, your plants may struggle with root rot. Luckily if you follow the steps in this tutorial you don’t need to worry about root rot killing your plants!

Hydro is a no-brainer for me. Whenever I go back to a hand-watered grow like coco coir, I am always surprised by how much extra time it takes to water plants and remove the runoff. The most intimidating part of hydro is just getting started – after that it’s actually really easy to take care of your plants. In my opinion, hydro is far easier and less time consuming than growing in soil or coco coir once you’re set up. If you are interested in hydro, go for it! If you follow this tutorial you will succeed!

Today I’ll teach you how to set up your hydroponic reservoir for growing cannabis, and I’ll show you what you need to do each day for optimum growth 🙂

How to Grow Cannabis in DWC

So there are five major parts to getting set up. You need….

  • Grow Environment – I personally recommend a grow tent as opposed to building your own environment from scratch.
  • Grow Light – If you don’t already have a grow light, I recommend getting a 250W, 400W or 600W HPS grow light for your first grow. They are the most consistent type of grow light and get really great results in DWC.
  • Nutrients – I highly recommend getting GH Flora trio, Calimagic (Cal-Mag supplement) and Hydroguard.
  • Seeds – Learn where to get seeds
  • DWC tank – Learn how to build your own (it’s surprisingly hard to find a pre-made tank considering how cheap all the parts are!)

Once you’ve got your gear and supplies, it’s time to get set up and start growing! Here’s a quick overview.

Seedling Germination & Daily Care

  • Set up reservoir – Water, seedling nutrients & pH. Make sure to add beneficial bacteria
  • How to start seedlings – Make sure top feed is not butted directly against Rapid Rooter
  • Top off reservoir regularly with nutrient water. In order for the beneficial bacteria in your reservoir to make a strong, healthy colony it helps to avoid doing a complete reservoir change for the first 3-4 weeks. Instead, top off your reservoir with vegetative strength nutrients when the water level gets low. This will slowly raise your nutrient levels from seedling to vegetative stage strength without stressing your plants, and giving your root colony as much a chance as possible to get established on your roots before you completely change the water.
  • Train plants to grow flat
  • Switch to flower when plant has reached half the final desired size

Flowering Stage & Harvest

  • Switch to 12/12 light schedule
  • Considerdefoliation
  • Stake up big buds (yo-yos or stakes)
  • Lower nutrient levels after week 6-7
  • Harvest

How to Grow Hydroponic Cannabis at Home Hydroponics is when you grow your cannabis plant in an inert medium like coco or a reservoir of water, and provide all the nutrients to the plant directly