Once upon a time, the concept of growing your own high-quality weed was relatively straightforward.
You simply had to get your hands on some seeds from one of the most potent strains available at the time, germinate them, plant them in some good soil under a warm sun, add water, and let nature take its course.
However, with the advent of hydroponic growing techniques well over a decade ago, one of the biggest questions in the minds of many potential growers today is whether to cultivate weed hydroponically or not.
This is a guide that is intended to be used as a tool to assist you in learning more about hydroponic weed and hydronic systems in general.
What is Hydroponic Weed?
Hydroponic weed refers to cannabis plants that are grown in a soil-free environment that delivers all of the nutrients necessary to complete the growing process using a water-based system that can be more easily controlled.
However, while this type of hydroponic system may be less likely to attract pest infestation than when using soil, growing hydroponic weed requires a lot more maintenance than growing cannabis in soil.
As a result, a lot more can go wrong if you happen to be a beginner just getting started in hydroponic cultivation.
As an example, an interruption of water flow or even a slight change in pH levels could potentially destroy your crop before it even gets off the ground.
Nonetheless, hydroponic growing systems offer you far more control over the nutrients that go into your plants and allow the water that is not initially absorbed by the roots of the plants to be recycled back into the system.
Is Hydroponic Weed Stronger?
Generally speaking, hydroponically grown weed is likely to deliver a more intense high than its soil-grown counterpart because it contains a higher concentration of the plant’s natural cannabinoids due to the fact as a grower, you can control input variables, including light, nutrients, and water.
On the other hand, cannabis that has been grown in soil may have a smoother, more refined effect because it often retains more of a natural balance of cannabinoids, terpenes, and aromas found in any given strain.
However, as far as the end-user is concerned, in regard to overall potency, the specific genomes of the cannabis strain that you ultimately select for cultivation is a far more important consideration to ponder than whether or not your plants have been grown in soil or hydroponically.
The fact of the matter is that a weak strain is not going to become significantly more potent than its pre-determined genetic template simply because of the medium in which it happened to be grown.
Having said that, if you use the same strain to grow weed via a hydroponics system and in parallel outdoor, the former is going to be more potent overall.
How Is Hydroponic Weed Grown?
Hydroponic cannabis cultivation is a soil-free method of growing weed that uses water as the alternative primary medium.
In a hydroponic system, cannabis plants are grown in baskets or buckets that have been filled with an inert growing medium and then suspended over a tank full of water.
This water acts as a carrier for all of the essential nutrients that the plants need to survive and thrive, while at the same time, the tank is being aerated through the use of air stones.
This basic method can manifest itself in many different forms and systems, depending upon the expertise and sophistication of the grower involved in the process.
There are many different ways to grow hydroponic weed that can range from a small grow-out concealed in your closet to a huge commercial operation that requires a sizable staff to maintain.
Hydroponically grown weed can grow taller, faster, and provide larger yields than when grown using the conventional method. The soil requires the roots of plants to search for the nutrients that they need in order to grow.
In a hydroponic system, those very same nutrients are much more readily available and accessible for assimilation, allowing the plants to apply more of their energy to the growth and development of stems, leaves, and flowers.
Beginner Hydroponic Systems
Aeroponic hydroponic systems do not utilize water as a growth medium.
Rather, the roots are allowed to hang free in the surrounding air while all of the necessary nutrients are delivered via an aerosolized spray, which provides a nourishing mist for the root system that supplies everything that the plants need to grow and thrive.
The primary advantage of these hydroponic systems is that they allow for greater uptake and faster absorption of these necessary nutrients, which in turn translates into helping the plants grow bigger and faster.
Although it is still a viable type of hydroponic weed cultivation, a wick system does not rely upon pumps or air stones to get the job done. This feature makes the wick system one of the simplest forms of hydroponic growing.
The concept is based upon capillary action, which is a process where the water carrying the nutrients travels through a piece of specially fabricated cloth against gravity. The plants actually provide the lifting power to the solution, which pulls it up into the roots, rather than in reverse order.
To accomplish this, the wick needs to be long enough to remain submerged in the solution while being in constant contact with the plant’s root system at the other end of the wick.
Rather than soil, this technique requires the use of a substance such as perlite, gravel, or sand as a growing medium, each of which is far better suited to absorb and retain moisture.
Ebb + Flow System
Hydroponic grow systems that use this technique operate by flooding the grow trays with water-based nutrients that ultimately drain back into a dedicated reservoir for reuse.
They utilize a timer to operate the submerged pump that regulates the flow of the nutrient-filled liquid. These systems are generally considered easy to maintain, although they are occasionally susceptible to power outages, pump failures, and sometimes even a failure of the timer itself.
The dispensing reservoir is automatically drained and filled several times each day, which allows the roots of the plants to soak up sufficient amounts of both nutrients and oxygen.
The individual pots, which are filled with the selected medium, are then placed onto a specially designed growing platform capable of containing 1 to 4 inches of the nutrient-rich growing solution to feed the root system.
One of the best-growing mediums to use for this system is Rockwool because it is highly porous and, once the growing liquid has been completely absorbed, provides a sufficiently heavy base to keep the grow pots well anchored.
Ebb and Flow systems are greatly reliant upon the proper timing of the nutrient delivery. If your plants do not receive enough nutrients, their roots will die. However, too many nutrients can actually deprive the roots of oxygen.
Although the plants themselves may breathe CO2, the roots of the plants survive by absorbing oxygen, which is why it is vitally important to always ensure that the pump system is consistently operational at all times, and that tray is not being flooded with nutrients for more than 30 mins at any one time.
Deep Water Culture System (DWC)
The Deep Water Culture method is one in which the plants being cultivated are suspended over the solution containing nutrients.
An air pump is then used to feed an air stone that discharges nutrients and oxygen, which is then absorbed by the roots of the plants.
Plants are initially placed into a small pot, which is then situated inside of a larger pot that has been fitted with a hole that will accommodate the base of the smaller pot.
This allows the roots of the plants to remain suspended in air and free of any physical contact with the larger container. The result is that, as the roots of the plants dangle freely, they are allowed to soak up the nutrient solution in the lower receptacle.
Most Deep Water Culture systems keep the air stone pumping to disperse oxygen into the nutrient solution at all times.
When growing hydroponic weed with the DWC method, it is vitally important to allow sufficient drying time for the roots so that they can have access to oxygen and are not constantly submerged in the nutrient-based water.
Drip Irrigation System
This type of system is classified as an active hydroponic growing method, which means that it uses a pump to regularly supply plants with all of the water and nutrients that they will require to grow and thrive.
It is occasionally referred to as a trickle, or micro irrigation, system. As the name suggests, these types of setups rely upon small emitters, which drip the nutrient solution directly onto your plants.
Drip systems are not purely unique to hydro weed growing. This type of technique works equally well when using a soil-based medium and was originally conceived in Israel many decades ago for use in the outdoor cultivation of fruits and vegetables.
Advanced Hydroponic Systems
Top Feed Drip System
The Top Feed Drip hydro growing system allows you to automatically irrigate your plants effectively from above with tubing placed in the pot.
One of the main advantages of this type of hydroponic system is that your plants consistently receive all of the nutrients necessary for proper growth and development slowly and continuously while simultaneously oxygenating the roots.
Top Feed and hydroponic systems are particularly efficient in providing a dependably slow and steady feed of nutrient-rich growing solution into your chosen medium, which then drains back to a reservoir so that it can be pumped back up in a continuous cycle.
A complete Top Feed Drip System uses both a water and nutrient pump, along with an air pump that helps to oxygenate the growing solution within the reservoir.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The Nutrient Film Technique, which is sometimes referred to as NFT, has become a popular hydroponic growing system that is exceptionally versatile.
Somewhat similar to the Ebb and Flow system, it uses a pump to deliver a nutrient-rich growing solution to a growing tray, along with a drain tube to recycle the unused liquid.
The primary difference is that the Nutrient Film Technique allows the solution containing the nutrients to continuously flow over the plant roots, which is accomplished using the force of gravity.
The growing tray is then placed at a sufficient angle to allow the liquid to flow toward the drainpipe, while the new solution is constantly being pumped into the high end of the tube.
This helps to ensure that the plant’s roots are constantly watered and fed, but not completely soaked while making sure that the upper portion of the root system remains dry and still has access to oxygen.
Hydroponic System Mediums
Oxygen is a necessary element of a hydro grow system. Air-filled porosity (AFP) is the measure of the volume of pore space occupied by air after a saturated growing medium drains.
Rockwool is a sterile, porous medium, which is generally made up of granite or limestone rocks that are heated until they reach their melting point, and then are spun into super thin and long fibers.
The fibers are then compressed into cubes or small bricks in an assortment of sizes.
Rockwool protects your plants from dehydrating while giving plant roots continuous available amounts of oxygen.
It is considered an ideal growing material by many hydroponic growers because of its microbial immunity, as well as good air and water retention.
Perlite is one of the most common hydroponic growing mediums, which has been around for decades. It is a form of mined volcanic glass that has been subjected to rapid and intense heat to create tiny bubbles that are lightweight and porous.
It is an excellent choice for the wick-type hydroponic system because it possesses superior standing wicking action. However, it is not recommended for more forceful watering systems, like the Ebb and Flow, because it can be more easily washed away.
Hydroclay is considered an excellent growing medium substrate for hydroponics. It consists of spheres of expanded clay, which provide inert structural support for plant roots in hydroponic and aquaponics systems.
The clay pebbles are manufactured from special types of clay that have a low soluble salt content.
Water was the first medium that was used for hydroponic growing systems. Distilled water is preferred due to its lack of harmful contaminants.
Alternatively, tap water that has undergone reverse osmosis filtration is also a suitable choice.
Vermiculite is a form of hydrated laminar mineral that resembles mica. As with perlite, vermiculite is processed by exposing the base material to extreme heat, which expands into small, odorless pellets.
Vermiculite is one of the best mediums for hydroponic growing because it is non-toxic, sterile, moist-resistant, and has a nearly neutral pH factor.
Unlike perlite, this material is very lightweight and able to hold water very well. Yet, it does not support aeration as efficiently as perlite.
What You Need To Grow Hydroponic Weed
Nutrients for Hydroponic weed
Hydro growing requires a special regimen of nutrients that is defined by specific parameters:
- They must be specifically created for hydroponic cultivation.
- They should contain no raw organic matter.
- The mineral nutrients therein should be chelated, which makes it easier for plants to absorb the greatest range of pH levels.
- They should contain a rich supply of micro-nutrients to substitute for what might be present in a soil-based medium.
- They should provide optimum NPK ratios.
NPK ratios refer to the levels of Nitrogen (N) Potassium (P), and Phosphorus (K) that are best suited for the various stages of your plant’s development.
Generally speaking, NPK levels for plants in their growth stage is around 3:1:1.
However, once they begin to flower, the nitrogen percentages should be lowered as potassium and phosphorus levels are increased.
The early flowering stage requires a 1:3:2 ratio, which changes to 0:3:3 as it gets closer to full maturity.
Hydroponic Systems Equipment
- 3 or 5-gallon bucket (one for each plant)
- Grow table.
- Clay pellets (enough to fill each bucket)
- Rockwool cubes (one 1.5-inch starter plug per plant)
- Reservoir tank that will accommodate the size of the grow-out
- Water pump
- Air pump
- Air stone
Marijuana Strains Suited To Hydro Grows
While it is possible to grow virtually any strain of cannabis hydroponically, the genomes that are best suited for hydroponic cultivation are Amnesia Haze, Jack Herer, Northern Lights, and Bubba Kush.
Hydroponics VS Soil Grows
The dynamics of growing cannabis in soil have become well defined over the centuries.
Nonetheless, those who decide to grow weed hydroponically will discover that the process brings with it specific advantages as well as disadvantages.
- Your plants will tend to yield higher amounts of output from smaller growth areas than plants grown in soil.
- Growing weed hydroponically generally results in a better quality end product.
- Growing weed in a hydroponic setting allows you to avoid pesticides completely.
- Hydroponic cannabis matures much faster, allowing you to harvest up to six times per year.
- Growing weed hydroponically can be quite expensive and may not be suited to casual cultivation for personal use.
- Hydroponic systems require more technical knowledge and skill than does growing in a soil-based environment.
- Water-borne diseases are more likely to occur when using hydroponic systems rather than soil.
- Hydroponic systems rely upon electricity and can be totally derailed by a shorted circuit or power outage.
Hydroponic Weed Grow Tips
When growing weed hydroponically, it is vitally important to carefully control specific aspects of your operation.
These include the proper regulation of airflow and humidity to provide a stable growing environment, as well as constant monitoring of the lighting timing and proximity that conforms to each stage of plant development.
It is also important the properly monitor and regulate pH factors, in addition to regularly performing periodic ISO sterilization of all equipment that comes in contact with your plants.
Wrapping Up: Hydroponic Systems
In the final analysis, for casual cannabis growers who are primarily concerned with keeping their stash jar filled with tasty weed to enjoy, hydro growing may not be a practical option.
A hydroponic cannabis garden can require a substantial investment of time and money.
On the other hand, if you have the time, money, and motivation, hydroponic systems are an excellent way to grow more, potentially higher quality cannabis in far less time.
And, for those living in areas where growing weed may not enjoy legal protection under the law, it offers a far more clandestine method of growing than does soil-based cultivation, which is a much higher profile method that might subject you to unwanted legal scrutiny.
Ultimately, it is up to the potential grower to determine which set of parameters aligns best with their individual needs.