We’ve compiled our carefully curated beginner’s guide to growing marijuana in hydroponics with a mind to all our fellow cannabis growers who are still confused on whether or not to opt for this particular method of cannabis cultivation.
Quintessentially, the very term “hydroponics” is intricately related to the term “hydroculture.” Even though hydroponics is actually a subset of hydroculture, these terms are widely used as substitutes.
Both of these terms refer to the process of cultivating plants in the absence of soil.
But even in the absence of soil, plants still need to obtain the essential micro and macronutrients that will help them grow and flourish. So the way that hydroponic systems supply the vital nutrients to the plants is by utilizing a mineral nutrient solution solved in water.
It might be surprising to learn that earliest written evidence of growing plants in the absence of soil dates back to 1627 that’s when Francis Bacon’s book named Sylva Sylvarum or “A Natural History” was published only a year after his death.
It took almost three centuries of developing the soil-less techniques of cultivation before William Frederick Gericke of the University of California at Berkeley started to publicly promote the benefits of growing plants in the absence of soil in 1929.
Pros and Cons of Growing Marijuana in Hydroponic
Hydroponic growing has many benefits, and it might be one of the keys to sustainable cultivation of crop in the future.
In the last decades, NASA has been doing extensive hydroponic research. The efforts of NASA’s experts in researching hydroponics is related to the development of a Controlled Ecological Life Support System for space stations, abbreviated as CELSS.
According to Ray Wheeler who is a plant physiologist at Kennedy Space Center’s Space Life Science Lab, hydroponics are capable of creating tremendous advances within space travel, and in particular, when it comes to establishing a bio-regenerative life support system, as highlighted in Farming for the Future.
But, don’t get the intriguing facts concerning hydroponics and NASA the wrong way. Anyone can learn how to grow hydroponically, and even though this process might seem like getting involved in some form of an extraterrestrial, sci-fi mission at the very start, it is actually quite straightforward.
Hydroponic systems have developed immensely within the recent decades. Modern day hydroponic setups are tailored towards benefiting both beginners, as well as more experienced growers.
Pros of Growing Marijuana Hydroponically
1. Massive yields
If there’s any method for cannabis cultivation that can compete with growing weed outdoors in terms of getting massive yields, then it’s definitely hydroponic marijuana growing. Hydroponic cannabis growers can easily get about 20% – 30% better yields as compared to traditional cannabis growing in soil.
2. Fast growth
Growing weed hydroponically utilizes inert growing mediums, such as Clay pellets, Vermiculite, Rockwool, Coco Coir, or Perlite. In fact, there are hydroponic systems where there is no substrate at all (we’ll provide more information on that matter further in this article).
What is essential is that these inert growing mediums provide direct contact between the roots of cannabis plants and the nutrient solution that is dissolved in water. Because of this, the roots of marijuana plants don’t need to stretch and grow big in search of essential nutrients obtained from soil. Instead, the entire focus of the growth process is put on nurturing the upper parts of your green ladies meaning, the stems, leaves, and most essentially the succulent buds.
As your cannabis plants don’t need to spend so much energy and efforts into establishing a large root system, they grow rather faster in hydroponics than they could possibly ever grow in soil. This means you can reach the harvesting point faster, and get down to growing your next crop in a breeze.
3. High hygiene
The soil is a perfect shelter for many tiny intruders that no cannabis grower out there wants to deal with. But hydroponic systems are sterile there won’t be any pests or soil-borne diseases that will occur because of the growing medium. Due to the highly hygienic environment, you can grow healthier, more vigorous plants while encountering fewer issues on your cannabis cultivation journey. Nevertheless, pruning is out of your way when growing marijuana hydroponically as no overgrown weeds will occur in a soil-less medium.
4. Full control
Traditional cannabis growing in soil is often highly recommended for beginner growers as the soil is the most forgiving medium. That means your accidental mistakes can be fixed without harming your crop. However, when it comes to the nutrient schedule of your green ladies, the soil is difficult to control precisely. This isn’t the case with hydroponics. Hydroponic set-ups give you full control over the growing medium watering, pH balancing, and establishing the best working nutrient schedule is made dummy proof.
Cons of Growing Marijuana Hydroponically
1. Less place for mistakes
As briefly mentioned above, traditional cannabis growing in the soil gives you more space for fixing any possible issues that may occur during your cannabis growing mission. With hydroponics, even seemingly tiny mistakes can literally spell disaster. That’s more than logical to assume because hydroponic systems utilize highly concentrated nutrient solutions that need to be diluted and supplied within a perfect ratio and following a perfect timing.
2. Power blackout issues
If electricity is interrupted for whatever reason, your hydroponic cannabis growing operation can suffer great losses. In fact, this can even lead to the devastation of your crop. With this in mind, it is a MUST to consider a backup electricity source so that you can prevent such scenarios from happening.
3. Extra caution and care for autoflowering cannabis varieties
As a rule of thumb, autoflowering cannabis strains can respond perfectly well to hydroponic growing. However, autos are not heavy feeders, and that means you need to be extra careful when adjusting and applying the nutrient solution for your autoflowers hydro grow.
It is highly recommendable that you start with as little as 1/2 the strength of the nutrients that you would typically feed to regular cannabis varieties grown hydroponically. Most importantly, it can cost you a few trials and errors to find the best working nutrient solution strength. On the bright side, it can be worth going that extra mile considering the expected yields with hydroponics.
The Different Types of Hydroponic Systems
Probably the most confusing part for beginners who are trying to make their way with hydroponics is the myriad of different systems available.
But before you consider the increasing variety of hydroponic set-ups as something rather overwhelming, we want to give your positive vibes a major boost. The fact that there are so many different types of hydroponic systems on the market is actually a HUGE plus for us, cannabis growers. With some patience and careful research, you can find a hydroponic system that can truly cater to your personal needs and preferences.
Now, let us guide you through the labyrinth of hydroponic systems with some easy-to-digest tips that will help you out.
Deep Water Culture (Bubbleponics)
Deep Water Culture, commonly referred to as DWC, is also widely known as the reservoir method for hydroponic growing. DWC is considered one of the most suitable choices for beginners, and that’s for some good reasons. This method is also refereed to as “Bubbleponics”.
Firstly, DWC hydroponic systems are fairly easy to set up and get started. Fast growth is guaranteed. Meanwhile, investing in a Deep Water Culture system won’t break the piggy bank either.
This type of hydroponic system is named Deep Water Culture because of the fact the roots of your plants will be completely submerged into the nutrient solution. A simple reservoir and a water pump supply the nutrient solution by periodically flooding the grow tray. An air lock that is commonly used for fish tanks is added to ensure a proper flow of oxygen to the roots of your green ladies.
One of the most overlooked steps of growing weed in a DWC system is that you will need to clean the reservoir and the trays very carefully (and when we say very carefully, we mean it). Otherwise, you won’t be able to keep the growing environment hygienic, and hence, your plants will suffer.
Ebb & Flow
Another beginner-friendly hydroponic system, the Ebb & Flow is also known as the drain and flow method.
With this particular type of hydroponics, the nutrient solution is contained within a reservoir. Meanwhile, the reservoir is placed right under the growing tray. It is in the growing tray where the soil-less growing medium (typically lava rocks or Rockwool) is placed, along with the plants.
Easy to set up, as well as easy to use, the Ebb & Flow system also requires low maintenance.
The soil-free medium anchors the roots of the plants, providing reliable support. With the Ebb & Flow, the soil-less mediums are made out of highly porous materials so that both water and air can be well retained. The irrigation levels are easily customizable which of great assistance to us, cannabis growers.
Thanks to a simple pump that is connected to a timer, the nutrient solution is gradually drained within the reservoir as soon as the pump is shut down by the timer.
Without any doubt, aeroponics is one of the most highly advanced and advantageous types of hydroponics available nowadays.Just like the name suggests, the roots of your cannabis plants will hang in the air. With this in mind, aeroponics doesn’t require any growing medium at all.
The secret of the incredibly well working aeroponics hides in the smart way the nutrient solution is supplied. The solution is literally misted as the roots hang in mid-air inside a chamber. The fine spray mist method allows the roots to absorb the solution effortlessly while also remaining highly oxygenated.
As a result of the innovative configuration, little to no water is lost due to evaporation. This means that controlling the humidity levels becomes much easier. Nevertheless, your marijuana plants can grow 10 times faster when introduced to aeroponics, compared to traditional soil growing.
Recently, vertical aeroponics has turned into a massive blast on the market. Known as “tower gardens,” vertical aeroponic systems recycle all the water and they are saving tons of space which can be extremely beneficial for both indoor, as well as outdoor growers.
On the downside, even a short power blackout can cause irreversible damage to your cannabis crop when growing with aeroponics. It is a noisy system to work with, as compared with other types of hydroponics, and it is also quite costly in terms of the first investment you’ll make upon purchasing.
Generally, any hydroponic system that can provide a continuous flow of nutrients to the roots falls into the category of Continuous Flow hydroponics.
However, there are two major types of Continuous Flow hydroponic systems that are most widely used, namely the Drip Irrigation and the Nutrient Film Technique systems. More often than not, the nutrient solution is supplied through a PVC pipe that has numerous holes where the plants’ pots are placed.
Drip Irrigation minimizes the amount of water lost due to evaporation, and it can literally turn into a game changer for cannabis growers who live in regions similar to California (any Californian will agree that water issues can be a painful task to resolve!). Drip Irrigation systems release only well-controlled dosages of the water and nutrient solution little by little, literally drop by drop.
Nutrient Film Technique systems are also commonly referred to as NTF, and they function in quite a similar manner as Drip Irrigation set-ups. Being slightly tilted, the NTF system ensures proper flow towards gravity. Only the tip of the roots comes in direct contact with the nutrient solution, allowing the roots to absorb sufficient amounts of oxygen through the air.
Top 6 Tips for Mastering Cannabis Growing Hydroponic Systems
No matter what type of hydroponic set-up you may choose to opt for, there are certain tips that are crucial for every hydroponic growing enthusiast. By following these tiny yet smart tips, you can get the best results upon harvesting your green medication.
In a nutshell, here’s the neat cheat sheet of hydroponic growing tips you want to take advantage of.
- Pick a large reservoir that can hold on the water and nutrients for a full week minimum (and better yet, for two weeks). Otherwise, constantly having to change the solution can turn into a nightmare.
- Always have 2 spare reservoirs handy. Remember what we discussed about the tiny mistakes that can ruin your hydroponic marijuana growing mission? Not having a spare reservoir when you need it the most = an awful, painful mess.
- Make sure to locate your reservoir close to the water source. Or else? Well, let’s say that nobody likes wasting time doing extra work when this can be prevented, do you agree?
- Don’t underestimate the importance of lids for your reservoirs. Without lids, you will lose way too much water due to evaporation. This messes up with the humidity levels, and it also messes up with your budget.
- You need to keep tap water in one of your spare reservoirs for an average of 2-3 days so that chlorine evaporates fully. Even then, always use a pH meter and a ppm meter for fine adjustments and careful monitoring.
- Stick with using a complete set of nutrients that belong to the same brand. Doing so will help you keep the best track of what’s really going on during your hydroponic cannabis growing operation.
Growing marijuana hydroponically can be a lot of fun, and especially as you get to become more experienced. Switching from beginner-friendly to highly advanced hydroponic systems is a feeling that can’t be possible put into words, we would dare to compare it with receiving your Bachelor’s degree and heading straight to receiving your Master’s degree *laughing out loud*
Now, seriously – growing weed hydroponically is not, by far, the most superb cannabis cultivation method – or at least we do not want to put things out this way. We firmly believe that every marijuana grower is unique, and so is the every cannabis cultivation adventure. But we do want to encourage you to give hydroponics a try if fear is what blocks your path towards progress.
Equip yourself with high-quality nutrients, the effortless-to-use pH meter and ppm meter, and let the hydroponic cannabis growing mission begin.
Oh, did we mention that we would love to feel your support for our beginner’s guide to growing marijuana in hydroponics? Inhale the good vibes and exhale the bad vibes, remember? Let’s make this world greener and happier by sharing the know-how for all things cannabis-related.