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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.

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.

The Essential Guide to Hydroponic Systems For Marijuana (& Other Plants)

While growing in soil is an easy and straightforward process…

Growing hydroponically is a cultivation method that is bound to fail without the right knowledge and preparation.

But once you have the knowledge and take the right preparation steps, there are some amazing benefits:

  • Quicker harvest cycles
  • Increased yields
  • Easier to get higher quality or more potent yields
  • Higher density planting leading to increased yields per square foot
  • An easier time controlling the whole growing process

Which is why in today’s post we’ll look at the different hydroponic grow systems that you can use and give examples of some amazing complete hydroponic grow system kits which you can essentially just ‘plug and play’.

But first a quick explanation on what hydroponic growing exactly is…

What Is Hydroponic Growing?

For your plants to grow they need nutrients, water and light.

In nature, these nutrients are provided by the soil in which the plant is rooted.

But for the plant it doesn’t really matter where it gets its nutrients from…

It might as well get them through a different source like…water.

And that’s exactly what hydroponic growing is:

Hydroponic growing is the cultivation of plants in nutrient-enriched and oxygenated water, usually mechanically supported by an inert medium like pebbles, rockwool or coco coir.

Cultivating your plants in this way does bring some challenges with it…and if you’re a beginning grower, you have to realize starting with soil probably is a better idea.

Because growing a hydroponic system is less forgiving for beginning growers.

Especially mistakes like:

  • Getting the wrong mix of nutrients
  • Unbalancing the temperature, pH or strength of your nutrient solution
  • Growing in too high or too low humidity-levels…

…can mess up your crop in a very short period of time.

Soil is also quite a bit cheaper to start with…although hydroponic growing can earn its high initial captial cost back over time through increased yields and an increase in harvest cycles.

But even though it’s a harder growing process than soil…

Once you get through its learning curve…

Hydroponic growing is an extremely rewarding way to grow your plants…and you’ll probably fall in love with it once you’ve got the basics down.

The Different Hydroponic Growing Systems

Although ‘hydroponic growing’ is the general term used for growing in water instead of soil…

There are different types of hydroponic growing systems all with their own pros and cons.

It’s important you really understand the differences well, so you can make the right choice for your space, specific setup and personal requirements (do you have the time to be on top of your grow project daily, or do you only have time to check up on your project every few days for example).

Deep Water Culture (aka DWC or the Bubbler): Cheap & Easy

This is the cheapest, yet simplest to set-up hydroponic system for a beginner to grow on a small scale.

Here’s how it works:

  • You have bucket(s) full of nutrient-rich and oxygenated water;
  • Your plants are seated at the top of the bucket and held in place with an inert medium like clay pebbles;
  • The roots of your plants hang in the nutrient-rich and oxygenated water for 24/7.

Your plants having access to nutrient-rich and oxygenated water for 24/7 obviously means your plants are going to grow extremely quick.

They’ll grow faster than in most other hydroponic system because it’s a continues flow system.

A continues flow system means that the roots of your plants are constantly exposed to nutrients, which sets the stage for a powerful growth curve.

Getting bigger plants is also easier because of this growth acceleration.

It’s not all roses though…

The main downside of DWC is temperature regulation.

In any hydroponic system, it’s important to keep your nutrient solution cool (70°F), this is to keep oxygen levels at an optimal level…

But in a DWC system this is ESPECIALLY important, since your plants are exposed to the nutrient solution 24/7…and this can be a problem if you’re living in a warmer climate.

Another downside is that maintenance can be a bitch:

  • The water must be changed periodically to provide fresh nutrients and water for your plants and you need to do this manually.
  • To prevent malnutrition of your plants, it’s also important to check pH value of the water often…and if you really want to put all the odds in your favor, to check the nutrient strength/profile with a PPM meter…and more importantly adjust the pH and/or nutrient strength profile when things are out of balance.

But even with these downsides, DWC probably is the best hydroponic system to start with if you’re a beginner and you’re just going to grow 2-6 plants.

Great, I want to grow with a DWC system…where to start?

Although you can build your own DWC system…

There are some high quality and ready-made ‘plug and play’ DWC systems available which will save you a good amount of time and which I highly recommend:

If you want to save yourself some time maintaining your system I recommend checking out a Recirculating Deep Water Culture System like this one:

In a system like this you don’t have to check each individual bucket for pH or ppm values, because there’s a single control bucket from which the nutrient solution flows. And this will definitely save you some time.

Each bucket can hold a single plant. So get as many buckets as the number of plants you’re going to grow.

Next up we have another hydroponic system which is well suited towards beginners…

Ebb and Flow (aka Flood and Drain): Simple but Effective

Ebb and Flow is another GREAT hydroponic system for beginners.

It’s easier to maintain and a bit more forgiving than a DWC system in case you mess up the temperature, pH or nutrient profile.

The downside is that it’s a bit more expensive to start with and if you’re into ‘Do It Yourself’ (DIY), it’s a bit harder to setup than a simple DWC system.

Here’s how it works:

  • Your plants are sitting in a pot, supported by an inert medium like rockwool or pebbles.
  • There’s a nutrient reservoir from which nutrient-rich water gets pumped to your plants roots and then back into the nutrient reservoir, at set interval periods.

This means an Ebb and Flow system is not a continues flow system like DWC where your plants are submerged in the nutrient-rich and oxygenated water 24/7.

Your plants only get exposed to the nutrient-rich water during the ‘flow’ period, which is a few times a day. The rest of the time they’re left to ‘air out’…and this is exactly what makes Ebb and Flow a much more forgiving system than DWC.

Even if the temperature, pH or strength of your nutrient solution is too high/out of balance, a few of these ‘out of balance’ flows to the roots of your plants won’t completely destroy your crop.

If you interfere on time and restore the temperature or balance of your nutrient solution, your grow will be fine.

Great, I want to grow with an Ebb and Flow system…where to start?

Just like with a DWC system it’s doable to build a ‘Do It Yourself’ (DIY) Ebb and Flow system…

But if you want to save yourself the hassle check out these pre-made systems:

Next up we have one of the more sophisticated hydroponic systems…

Drip Irrigation (aka Drip, Dripper, Top Feed Drip System or Recirculating Top Feed)

Although drip irrigation systems are still relatively simple in how they work…

If you’re a complete beginner to hydroponics, the sophistication of this system makes its setup and maintenance less simple than the previous systems. But more on that later.

Here’s how it works:

  • Your plants are sitting in a pot, supported by an inert medium like rockwool or pebbles.
  • Nutrient-rich water gets pumped from the nutrient reservoir to the top of your growing medium.
  • Then slowly the nutrient-rich water drips from a network of pipes/tubes and emitters to the roots of your plants

A drip irrigation system is a continues flow system, which means it’s easier to get your plants growing FAST.

But if you’re a beginner, you really need to understand the things that can go wrong in a system like this…and prepare carefully.

For starters, if you’re into DIY, setting up a drip irrigation system takes more time and care to setup than the previous systems (Ebb and Flow or DWC).

Then there’s the danger of emitters clogging up and potentially ruining your grow…if you don’t keep your water and/or emitters free of nutrient build-up.

You also need to find the perfect balance on how much you expose the roots of your plants to the drip/flow. Dripping too much can easily lead to root rot or fungus…while too little can result in stunted growth.

Lastly, if your power goes off for whatever reason and your pump stops dripping, you basically have only a few hours to notice or else…you’re screwed.

OK, so why would I want to go for a drip system then…?

Drip irrigation systems are way more efficient than the previous systems (Ebb and Flow and DWC). A properly setup drip system will need less water and less nutrients than Ebb and Flow or DWC…

But this benefit only really starts showing when you grow on a larger scale.

If you want to grow on a larger scale (10+ plants), and efficiency is important to you…by all means go for a drip system.

I wouldn’t recommend setting up a drip irrigation system yourself (DIY) if you’re new to hydroponics.

Instead, check out one of these pre-made systems:

Next up we have the most sophisticated hydroponic system in our list…

Aeroponic System: Highest Risk, Highest Reward

If you’re a complete beginner…

Skip aeroponics and choose one of the earlier ones.

If you have some practical experience, let’s continue.

Aeroponic systems are the most sophisticated hydroponic systems.

If you get everything right, it’s also the system with will give the largest rewards in terms of yields and is the most efficient in terms of water- and nutrient-use.

Here’s how it works:

  • Your plant’s roots are sitting in a closed dark chamber (pot)
  • Tiny drops of atomized nutrient solution get periodically sprayed over your plant’s roots while they sit in this closed and dark chamber

Just like the drip irrigation and DWC systems, this also is a continues flow system. And because the oxygen levels are so high in an aeroponic system…

It has to potential to outgrow and out-yield any other hydroponic system.

But this potential comes with a price…literally:

Aeroponic systems are the most expensive hydroponic systems, they’re harder to maintain and unforgiving in case of mistakes.

Just like with the drip irrigation system, with an aeroponic system, it’s extremely important that you keep the sprayers from clogging up.

A few hours of blocked sprayers can completely kill your crop.

How to keep an aeroponic system clean?

Just keep EVERYTHING through which your nutrient solution passes clean: filters, tubes, pumps, etc.

PLUS get some high quality nutrients like those from General Hydroponics. Low quality nutrients can leave a lot of undissolved salt residue behind, which is bad news for your sprayers.

It’s also extremely important that you keep the temperature of your nutrient solution and humidity in the root-chamber at optimal levels:

  • Nutrient solution: 64°F
  • Humidity in the root zone: 100%
  • Humidity in the growth zone during veg stage : 60-70%
  • Humidity in the growth zone during flower stage : 30-40%

If you don’t keep your temperature and humidity levels in check, you risk things as root rot, algae and stunting the growth of your plants in general.

As you can see an aeroponic system is one of the harder hydroponic systems to maintain properly, you really need to be on top of your grow and constantly check your system.

But once you get through the learning curve and don’t mind the constant maintenance…

It’s the most rewarding hydroponic system there is.

The bottom line is:

Even though an aeroponic system is the riskiest and least suited hydroponic system for beginners in our list…

It’s also the highest yielding system with the quickest harvest cycles.

If you do decide to go for an aeroponic system, I would really advice to start with a pre-made system like the:

There are just so many things that can go wrong with building one yourself. But hey, if you like a challenge…go for it.

One Last Word…

Even though you’ve learned the basics of each hydroponic system in this list…

There are some general principles you need to keep in mind when growing hydroponically

First of all, always keep a close eye on the growth of your plants. Specifically check whether there’s any slowdown in their growth or whether they look like they’re suffering in any way.

And when it looks like they’re losing strength or suffering in any other way…

Always first check your growing environment:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Nutrients-strength (ppm)
  • pH values of your nutrient solution

Then check for diseases like root rot and/or pests. But always start with the growing environment. Because that’s usually the cause.

Secondly, if you’re serious about growing hydroponically, I would really recommend investing in a quality PPM + pH meter so you can actually objectively check your growing environment.

High quality PPM + pH meters can get pricey, but they’ll last you a long time, are easy to use (calibrate) and extremely reliable in measuring values.

This is the one I recommend:

The Bluelab Guardian Monitor will last you a LONG time and is easy to calibrate…which means you’ll have an easier time keeping your plants happy and increase yields.

For a cheap back-up meter I would recommend this one:

Get to know 4 hydroponic systems that will maximize the potency, quality and yield of your plants. Get started with growing hydroponically today.