What Is Hydroponic Weed? [Beginner’s Guide]
Every beginner grower needs to know this
The term ‘hydroponics’ is a Latin term that translates to ‘water working.’ In terms of growing weed, it relates to the process of producing the plants in highly oxygenated water that is enriched with additional nutrients. In basic terms, hydroponic marijuana is cannabis that is grown without soil. There are several ways to grow weed hydroponically. You can suspend the roots of your plants in Rockwool, clay pellets, water, coco peat, sand, or gravel.
Regardless of what you use as a growing medium instead of soil, you have to apply a nutrient-laden solution to the roots. The water that isn’t absorbed by the roots gets recycled through the system for later absorption.
A Brief History of Hydroponics
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon was one of the Ancient World’s Seven Wonders. Theories of where and when they grew vary. One version suggests that Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar II, created them in the early 6th century BC. Another story credits Assyrian King Sennacherib, who built the Gardens in the early 7th century BC in Nineveh.
Regardless, the gardens were potentially created using hydroponic methods. It is also likely that the Aztecs used hydroponic techniques at Lake Tenochtitlan in the 10th century AD.
In the modern era, this form of growth has helped create some of the world’s best marijuana strains. As cannabis cultivation has increased, improvements in hydroponics have emerged. Although there are many different forms, several of which we look at below, hydroponics is ostensibly the practice of using soilless systems to grow plants.
What Is Hydroponic Cannabis?
Hydroponic marijuana refers to a means of growing using a soilless hydroponic system. In other words, you cultivate plants using an inert growing medium and nutrient-rich solutions. Previously, the assumption was that hydroponic setups were complicated and expensive affairs designed solely for commercial growth. In reality, however, you can engage in weed growing with hydroponics using something as simple as a few pots that contain the inert medium. By all means, you can opt for a more complicated option, but it requires significant setup time and a ton of maintenance.
Growing cannabis hydroponically has become an increasingly popular method because of the issues associated with using soil. It is a much better option for indoor growers who face the following problems when growing weed ‘traditionally’ using soil:
- A constant need to monitor the pH of the soil
- Ascertaining the correct level of nutrients is hard
- There is always a potential problem with pests
- You might not be able to recycle the soil you use
- You have to choose the best soil because its quality dictates the size and potency of your final product.
A Balancing Act
The biggest hurdle to overcome by using soil is nutrient intake. Organic matter decomposes in soil and then breaks down into nutrients such as Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K). The nutrients are dissolved in water and absorbed by the plant’s roots.
Everything needs to be balanced perfectly in the soil if you want your marijuana plant to get the ideal nutrient intake. When using soil, you have to contend with biological imbalances, insufficient organic matter, and contamination, which makes perfect balance an impossibility. With a hydroponic system, you can provide cannabis with the right nutrient balance and ensure that it goes straight to the plant’s roots.
Overall, soil loses a lot of nutrients, and it is difficult to measure its pH. When you use a hydroponic setup, it is much easier to determine pH and adjust as necessary. In soil, you can only dissolve the nutrients when you water your plants.
When you grow weed hydroponically, everything is dissolved in water automatically, ensuring there is always plenty of moisture. Also, as these systems are sterile, you reduce the threat of pests significantly.
With a hydroponics setup, you are responsible for providing the plant with all of its nutrients. If you get it wrong, your plants will die or produce a small and unsatisfying yield. On the plus side, a hydroponic system ensures that your marijuana plants’ roots easily find nutrients and don’t waste energy looking for them.
All hydroponic systems must provide oxygen, water, and a host of nutrients to marijuana plants. Nutrients include:
Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium are the essential nutrients, however. Most solutions contain 15% of each, also known as a 15-15-15 solution. If you grow weed in temperatures below 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you need higher amounts of nitrogen. Other possible solutions include 20-20-20 or 23-19-17.
During the flowering process, increase the level of potassium so that it comprises at least 20% of a solution. Be wary when fertilizing the plants, because too much kills them while too little slows growth. When your reservoir’s water level gets low, add three-day-old tap water. It is also a good idea to change the nutrient solution every two weeks and use hot water to clean out all the equipment you use, especially the pumps and reservoir.
PPM & EC Considerations
It is common for nutrient solutions to be deficient in magnesium. If this is the case, use Epsom salts. Depending on your crop’s growth stage, it is necessary to adjust nutrient levels to optimize growth. It is also important to change your solution regularly to avoid nutrient deficiencies. When checking the pH, be especially wary of it becoming more acidic because of cationic exchange.
You should be easily able to find nutrients for your hydro growing system online or in a gardening store. They tend to come in a pre-mixed liquid or powder form. The powder is less expensive, but liquids mix with water more efficiently and are ideal when growing smaller crops.
When adding nutrients to your marijuana plants, take pH and EC (electrical conductivity) readings. The EC rating measures mineral content, the more minerals there are, the higher the EC reading. Typically, an EC rating of 0.8 – 2.0 is apt for growing weed. As you’re probably aware, younger plants require more nutrients than a flowering plant.
We mentioned PPM measurements above, but let’s go into greater detail. In the industry, there are ‘500’ and ‘700’ scales. You multiply the EC rating by either 500 or 700, depending on the measurement you’re using. For instance, with the 700 scale, an EC reading of 1.5 converts to 1050 PPM (700 x 1.5), but it would be 750 PPM with the 500 scale (500 x 1.5).
As we mentioned earlier, the ideal PPM depends on the growth stage. Here is a quick guide:
- Seedlings: 100 – 250
- Early Vegetative Stage: 300 – 400
- Late Vegetative State: 450 – 700
- Early Blooming Stage: 750 – 950
- Full Bloom: 1,000 – 1,600
Setting Up Your Hydroponic Cannabis Growing System
There are several hydroponic gardening systems to choose from, and all of them are suitable for growing cannabis indoors. Regardless of the method you use, the overall tactic involves the use of a reservoir containing the nutrient solution. You then place it beneath a growing tray. This tray holds the inert growth medium of your choice, such as sand, gravel, or Rockwool.
Hydroponic weed involves growing the plant in the medium, where it develops a set of roots and a stem. The roots grow through the medium and into the nutrients, and you use a small pump with a timer to fill the bottom layer with the nutrient solution. After an allotted period where the plants are fed and watered, the timer shuts off the pump, and the solution drains back into the reservoir.
The hanging root structure of the plants means they are exposed to air constantly, and the result is a crop of flourishing plants. Your cannabis plants can use their energy for the sole purpose of maximizing growth. With soil, they waste energy trying to find air, food, and water. This is why weed grows so spectacularly in a well-designed hydroponics garden.
There is a multitude of indoor hydroponic systems to choose from, but we will only focus on the best known.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
This is a unique method because you don’t use a growing medium. Most growers tend to use a tiny amount to root a cutting or germinate the seed, however. The roots of the marijuana plant are suspended mid-air inside a chamber kept at 100% humidity. You must use a fine spray filled with nutrients.
This form of feeding enables the roots to absorb large amounts of oxygen. As a result, the plant can grow up to 10 times faster than it would in soil, with practically no water loss through evaporation. If you use this method, be wary of clogged misting valves as they could prevent moisture from getting to the roots; this will kill your plants.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
This is one of the most straightforward hydroponic systems to use, which makes it ideal for beginner growers. All you have to do is put the plants in separate containers and place each one in a grow tray that gets suspended in water. Your water tank will have an air pump that ensures the water remains oxygenated, and you add nutrients to the water to feed the roots. Although you submerge the roots in water, the oxygenated air pumps ensure they receive ample oxygen.
This is a popular commercial option because it saves a lot of water. You need to place small droppers beside the roots of the plant, which are in pots containing the growing medium. Little drops of this nutrient system drip out regularly and feed the plant. It offers a low level of evaporation, and, as it is silent, it is perfect for a clandestine operation to keep your grow area protected from thieves.
Ebb & Flow
This is different from several hydroponics systems because it does not involve the continuous submersion of the roots in water. It works similarly to an ocean tide, as it fills a tray with oxygenated water and treats the plants and growing medium. When it is full, the pump switches off, and the solution drains back down into the reservoir. It stays there until you are ready to flood the garden again.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
NFT is a complex system and involves pumping your water solution from the reservoir to your planting tube. It is common to use large PVC tubing angled at a slight decline. This tactic ensures that, when the water drains down the pipe, it passes by the roots of all marijuana plants before it gets recycled in the container.
One of the most significant problems with this system is that the water solution could fail to leave the tube, stagnate in the channel, and kill your plants. This is why you need to make sure the tube is cut at a steep enough angle to allow for easy passage of the water.
This is another easy-to-use system. It works like a DWC system insofar as it uses a material such as a length of rope through a PVC tube. You pull the solution up the line and place it in the tray. With the wick system, you don’t need to bring the water to the plants. Although it may not result in plants that grow as quickly as they would with more complex systems, it is the ideal way to learn hydroponics through practice.
What Are the Most Common Hydroponics Growing Mediums?
While there is a wide range of growing mediums, five of them stand out. Please note that each option varies in its ability to retain water and allow oxygen in.
Although they are light enough to work with efficiently, clay pellets are still sturdy enough to support marijuana plants, and they are reusable! They wick moisture up to the roots and enable oxygen to flow through due to the size.
This medium is popular because it retains moisture exceptionally well. It consists of thin rock fibers developed by heating rock to very high temperatures and spinning it into tiny threads. If you purchase Rockwool as a hydroponic growing medium, soak it in a solution with a pH of 5.5 for up to 12 hours. Make sure its pH is between 5.5 and 6 before use.
This is a more environmentally-friendly option than Rockwool because these fibers come from waste products. As well as retaining moisture and allowing in more oxygen than Rockwool, coconut fibers contain hormones that keep infection and disease at bay.
This porous white substance retains and wicks moisture exceptionally well. Generally speaking, you should purchase large chunks rather than small granules. The surface of each perlite particle is covered with tiny cavities – the result is a vast surface area that holds nutrients and moisture. It is a sterile substance, so there is no danger of pests, insects, or disease.
This is another crushed volcanic rock medium like perlite and is also known for its terrific drainage. Although it is sterile, vermiculite is not generally used as a growing medium by itself, with growers electing to mix it with perlite. If you decide to use it, ask the seller where they got it from, as vermiculite that comes from Africa is very alkaline, with a pH of up to 9.0.
The Pros & Cons of Hydroponics
- It allows for higher yields from smaller growth areas.
- Almost total control over the growing process, which typically means better quality cannabis.
- Weed grown using hydroponics matures faster, and experienced growers can complete six crops in a single year.
- As there is no soil involved, you don’t have to worry about a myriad of pests, which means no need to use pesticides.
- Assuming you monitor everything correctly, there is a lower risk of water stress than with crops grown in soil.
- As you have full control, you can even tailor feeding schedules to the needs of a specific plant.
- You won’t get your hands on a decent quality system for mere pennies. If you are a recreational grower, this kind of system is probably more trouble than it’s worth financially.
- Although you reduce exposure to disease, there is a unique danger associated with waterborne plant diseases. They spread incredibly quickly and are extremely difficult to remove.
- Barring the Wick and DWC systems, it is a complicated process that requires knowledge and patience.
What About Additional Equipment?
Be aware that proper hydroponics gardens require a significant amount of equipment. You can, of course, choose a simple system to minimize what you need, but for the best results, it is worth investing in measuring instruments. Remember, useful hydroponics growing involves constant monitoring of nutrients so you can quickly correct imbalances. As a result, you should strongly consider investing in a pH and PPM meter.
- pH Meter: In general, most marijuana strains grow best hydroponically with a pH level of 6.0. With a pH meter, you can measure your nutrient solution’s pH daily to keep it at an optimal level.
- PPM-EC Meter: This measures the water’s electrical conductivity, which is higher when more minerals are dissolved in the water. With this meter, you can prevent under- or overfeeding.
- PPM-TDS: This is a more sophisticated meter that measures the amount of plant food in the water. If you want an accurate PPM measurement, measure your water’s PPM level, add nutrients, and measure again.
Overall, you should keep the pH level between 5.8 and 6.3, although you will get away with a range of 5.5 – 6.5. As for PPM, make sure the range is between 900 and 2800 depending on your marijuana’s growth phase.
You should be able to find so-called ‘plug and play’ hydroponic systems that provide everything you need to get started. Even so, here is an essential list of things you’ll need for a starter system:
- One large (3 – 5 gallon) bucket per plant
- A water pump
- An air pump
- A reservoir tank
- An air stone
- A grow table
- A growing medium such as Rockwool or clay pellets
- Plastic tubing
- A drip line and up to two drip line emitters for each plant
Tips for Growing Your Hydroponic Cannabis
It should go without saying that using a hydroponic growth system is very different from traditional methods of growing weed indoors. As a result, there are a few things to consider when trying to grow marijuana plants in a hydroponic garden system.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of using clean equipment at the very beginning. All tanks, reservoirs, filters, pipes, and other equipment must be sterile to prevent the development and spread of bacteria. Although hydroponic systems are less susceptible to diseases, they will run rampant if left unattended. It is a good idea to have multiple bottles of hydrogen peroxide and isopropyl alcohol on hand to disinfect your equipment.
Make sure that pH neutral water at 7.0 is circulating through your hydroponics system. You can create a reverse osmosis (RO) method to generate and provide pH neutral water. Alternatively, purchase distilled water until you’re able to develop the RO system.
It is best if the water flowing through your system is at a temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the ideal temperature for nutrient absorption, and it also prevents algae buildup. As for your growing room’s temperature, keep it at 75 degrees Fahrenheit, to begin with.
When growing pot indoors, maintaining the right humidity levels is a constant challenge. You have to begin with relatively high humidity and dial it down as your plants grow. As seedlings and in the vegetative state, keep the moisture in the 60-70% range. Reduce by up to 5% weekly until it is at around 40% during the blooming stage. You may need to purchase a humidifier and a dehumidifier to achieve these targets.
There is no ‘right’ lighting setup, only the best one for your grow space and budget. For example, if you have a large room with excellent ventilation and airflow, you can purchase High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lights.
If you have a smaller growing room, try Light Emitting Diode (LED) fixtures or Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) if you have a more modest budget. Overall, choose lighting that produces a sufficient amount of light between 400 and 700 nanometers.
Good airflow helps keep temperatures at the right level. Invest in a few fans and place them strategically in your growing room.
Regardless of whether this is your first grow or you’re a veteran, it is essential to keep detailed records of your crop’s growth. It is not unusual for novices to enjoy spectacular success, only to realize that they failed to record any data. Important notes include pH levels, planting dates, EC measurements, temperature, and humidity.
Final Thoughts on Hydroponic Marijuana
There is a lot to like about hydroponic marijuana. It enables you to grow a lot more weed per annum, and you only need a relatively small growing area to get started. It lets you grow high-quality cannabis in areas where you usually can’t grow in soil. There are fewer pests, and the overall quality of well-produced hydroponic weed is exceptional.
However, it is a tough skill to master, and the initial set-up costs are considerable. If you fail to keep the grow area wholly sanitized, your entire crop could succumb to disease in double-quick time. It is not something you can learn overnight, but if you have the time, money, and patience, learning how to grow weed in this way could yield tremendous dividends. However, I don’t recommend it for recreational growers, as it works best when cultivating large amounts.
The term ‘hydroponics’ is a Latin term that translates to ‘water working.’ In terms of growing weed, it relates to the process of growing the plants..
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!
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.
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.
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!