Every grower’s goal is to produce sticky buds with high THC and CBD content, the epitome of a quality bud. Growing weed has now become more common than ever before, and consequently, different growing methods have been developed over the years. While soil is and will remain the most classic and basic method, lately, hydroponic methods seem to be taking the spotlight, promising those sticky buds.
If you’ve been curious about growing hydroponic weed, whether you’re a beginner or not, this article is for you. We’ll talk about what hydro weed is and introduce you to the different hydro setups and methods used.
The Basics – What Is Hydroponic Weed?
Hydroponic weed refers to the cannabis plants grown in highly oxygenated water rich in nutrients as the primary growing medium. Growing weed hydroponically is a soilless method that involves growing the plants in containers that are filled with an inert growing medium.
The containers are typically placed on a growing tray with a water tank placed beneath them where the nutrient solutions are added. The water gets enough oxygen through air stones that are placed near the tank. The plant root systems grow through the medium until they reach the water solution where they get the water, oxygen, and nutrients they need to thrive.
This is the most basic hydroponic setup and there are different versions of it, depending on which one the cultivator prefers.
Growing Marijuana Plants in Hydro vs Growing in Soil
One major difference between growing hydroponically and growing in soil is the growing medium itself and the advantages and challenges it brings.
Soil is an organic, “alive” matter because it has its own pH levels and it naturally contains nutrients and live microorganisms naturally found on the surface of the earth. These elements make soil a self-sustaining growing medium that you only need to water and correct any imbalances if found. The good thing about growing in soil is that the plants can survive more easily if exposed to unfavorable conditions, the bad thing being that they also grow slower.
Hydroponics, on the other hand, is a sterile medium that requires your full attention because it’s not self-sustaining. You will need to personally control the pH and nutrient levels. Hydroponics leaves less room for mistakes because it can inadvertently reflect your plant’s growth and quality. While some nutrient deficiencies, for example, may kill your crops in hydro, in soil, they will do only some damage.
Weed grows faster and more bountiful in hydroponics because they’re more optimized. Under a carefully constructed hydro system, you will get much higher yields because the plant roots don’t waste time searching for the nutrients like they do in soil. Instead, the nutrients and oxygen are readily available to them at all times. You just need to make sure that your system is set up correctly.
The Pros and Cons of Growing Hydroponic Cannabis Plants
Despite the little room for errors, many growers are choosing hydroponics because it gives higher yields by 30% more than soil. The high-control environment allows for high efficiency in feeding, which reflects in the yields in the end.
Additionally, since hydro uses sterile growing mediums, the risk of infestations is very small, compared to soil, which also means you won’t have to use any pesticides. And when done correctly, hydro is very suitable for smaller grow rooms because it will give much higher yields.
On the other hand, growing hydroponically is an investment, and it will require spending more money than growing in soil. It’s not innately beginner-friendly, though there are some methods that are great for inexperienced growers. Finally, there is still the risk of waterborne plant diseases which can be difficult to deal with.
There Are Many Types of Hydroponic Systems and Some are More Complex Than Others
Soilless growing mediums give such higher yields because all of the necessary nutrients are readily available to the plant, and the root systems don’t have to waste energy searching for them. Even though there are many things to control, weed can really flourish with hydro. There are many different growing systems used, all with varying complexity. Let’s review the most popular ones.
Aeroponics is a very unique hydroponic setup with quite a futuristic approach. Basically, aeroponics doesn’t use a growing medium. Instead, the water solution in the tank is taken and pumped into misters beneath the root systems that automatically spray the roots with large quantities of fine mist. This allows the marijuana plants to receive massive amounts of both oxygen and water at the same time.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
The deep water culture method is the best option for beginners because it’s simple and very straightforward. The cannabis plants are put in separate containers and placed in a grow tray submerged in the water tank. The tank can hold large quantities of water and it has an air pump that keeps the water oxygenated at all times. Therefore, even though the roots will remain submerged in water, they will get a constant oxygen supply.
Drip irrigation, or drip system, is a popular hydro method for growing commercially. This method saves a lot of water because it uses drippers placed in each marijuana plant’s grow medium. The drippers are supplied with water solution and oxygen by an external water tank and they regularly produce small drops akin to rain to feed the plant roots. The excess water that’s not absorbed is collected back into the external tank.
Ebb and Flow
Unlike most hydroponic methods, the ebb and flow technique doesn’t require the roots to be submerged in water all the time. In fact, it works like the ocean that ebbs and flows. The water solution periodically floods over the roots and the growing medium and when it’s full, it starts draining back until it’s time to go again. The ebb and flow cycle should be done several times a day, which is why most growers use automated hydroponic systems.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The nutrient film technique is among the more complex ones. Simply said, it’s like growing weed over a river. The setup involves putting the plants into a steeply angled tube so that the water solution can enter at one side and exit at the opposite side where it goes back into the holding tank until the next cycle.
The wick system is another beginner-friendly system that’s easy to use. It requires the use of a growing tray, just like the drip system. There is a water tank under the tray from which several pieces of wicks emerge upwards and connect to the tray. The most commonly used wick material is a rope, or any other absorbent material, like string or yarn. Basically, the wicks passively absorb the oxygenated water from the tank and feed the plants.
Most Commonly Used Hydroponic Growing Mediums
There are a lot of different growing mediums used to grow weed hydroponically, and they all vary in their ability to retain water and for oxygen exchange. However, the following five are the most commonly used by experienced growers.
Rockwool is a very interesting material with a wool-like texture. It’s made by heating volcanic (basaltic) rocks to very high temperatures until they start melting, and then spinning them into fine fibers. Rockwool is very commonly used for hydroponic grow because of its excellent water retention capacity that keeps the plants well hydrated at all times. The downside is that particles of dry Rockwool can be hazardous to the lungs when inhaled.
Coconut fiber, also called coco coir, is the fiber extracted from the outside of coconut husks and pulverized. It’s a more sustainable option than Rockwool because it’s an all-natural waste product repurposed into a grow medium. Coco coir is a popular choice among hydro cultivators because it has great moisture retention and allows for more oxygen to come in, plus, it naturally contains plant-stimulating hormones that protect the plant roots from diseases.
Clay pellets are small and porous pieces of clay resembling dog kibble. They are very popular for cultivating hydroponic marijuana because they’re easy to work with. Clay pellets allow for good drainage of the water which reduces the risk of overwatering, making them suitable for beginners. Being porous, they also allow for oxygen and nutrient solutions to travel through. The best thing is that they’re reusable, which makes them a sustainable and economical option.
Perlite is a lightweight naturally occurring material, a type of volcanic glass. Perlite is a great substrate because it’s very permeable and provides great airflow and circulation of water solutions, but it retains little to no water. Also, just like Rockwool, inhaling perlite dust particles can be dangerous.
Vermiculite is similar to perlite in that it’s also volcanic material. However, unlike perlite, it’s not very permeable and it retains a lot of water. Vermiculite expands with heat which makes it prone to disintegrate with time. That’s why growers like to combine it with other grow mediums like perlite (or even soil).
Bottom Line – Not Exactly Beginner-Friendly, but the Effort Is Worth the Result
If you’re an inexperienced grower, hydroponics may sound way too complicated, but in reality, once you learn the ropes, it’ll be like second nature. Admittedly, while it can be challenging to begin because you take on a lot of responsibility from the start, you should know that the effort will be worth it in the end. If you’re already an experienced grower with soil and are ready to move to hydro, you have our full support!