While growing cannabis in soil is the preferred growing method for many, there is an entirely separate class of growers: the hydroponic cultivator. Some people seem to shy away from hydroponic growing because of the unknowns and the unconventional nature of this endeavor, but it’s really not that difficult. While you may benefit from prior experience growing cannabis in soil, even a beginner can grow good hydroponic cannabis.
Indeed, when it comes to indoor growing, some people believe that superior yield in a shorter amount of time is one of the advantages of growing hydroponically. Soil growers, on the other hand, will argue the opposite and claim their method is superior, and when grown organically, the final product tastes better and has just as much or more potency (higher potency is another common claim of hydroponic growers as well). No doubt this debate will continue to rage on well into the future. The objective truth of the matter is that both growing methods have their pros and cons.
First, A Definition
Before we begin to describe how to set up a basic hydroponic cannabis cultivation operation, let’s define exactly what it means to grow plants hydroponically. The process of hydroponic cultivation is growing plants in nutrient solutions, usually with an inert medium like coco coir or gravel to provide support. Although some sort of medium is usually used, plants can actually grow straight into the nutrient-rich water, with only the roots submerged. Growing this way makes it easy to evaluate water quality and make nutritional adjustments quickly if needed. There are a variety of nutrients on the market, including organic solutions, that are appropriate for growing hydroponic cannabis and were designed specifically for this purpose. Like some soil nutrients, some hydroponic nutrients have additives that automatically adjust water pH, making meter readings and adjustments unnecessary.
The legal cannabis industry is divided when it comes to which method to use for the best products and highest profits, but both growing methods are alive and well on the commercial level. Since growing is possible year-round indoors, and hydroponic growing is an indoor endeavor the vast majority of the time, indoor commercial cannabis growing will probably see an increase in hydroponic use. Soil growing is more flexible and can easily occur either outdoors or indoors, so the use of soil is probably more widespread overall when it comes to commercial cultivation.
There is nothing new about hydroponic growing and the practice has a long history, so this method is not exactly modern, just less common among home cultivators. If you want to take a less conventional approach to your home grow, by all means try your hand at hydroponic cultivation and be the first among your circle of cannabis-growing friends to do so. Let’s discuss what you will need to begin a hydroponic cannabis garden.
Once you establish where the hydroponic grow will occur, there is quite a bit of equipment to purchase and assemble. Have no fear, though, because there are a variety of retailers who are there to help with your purchases and questions.
If you’re a beginner and decide to assemble a hydroponic setup, some pieces of equipment are absolutely necessary, and others are less essential. Fortunately, hydroponic equipment dealers will sell you everything you need for success. Let’s discuss the essential items for setting up a basic hydroponic grow.
There are many grow-light options, and the best lighting choice largely depends on the size of the garden. High-intensity discharge (HID) usually in the form of high-pressure sodium or metal halide, compact fluorescent lights (CFL), and light-emitting diode (LED) will all grow cannabis just fine, depending on the grower’s preference and needs.
This important and large piece of equipment will take up much of your growing space. The function of the table and its tray is to contain and return excess water to the reservoir. The table will have a low point where water collects and travels back to the reservoir before circulating back to the plants again.
pH and PPM Meters
Growing hydroponically—or with soil—requires evaluating the water source used and making adjustments if necessary. Water adjustments may prove necessary with pH boosters and reducers.
Hydroponic nutrients are available in liquid and powder form. The majority of cannabis growers prefer organically grown flower, so organic nutrients are the best choice. Bottled nutrients are the easiest to use. There are organic options available—or as close as you can get to organic out of a bottle.
Although the plants are fed directly from the circulating water, a medium is necessary to provide mechanical support of the plants. A variety of substances are commonly used, including coco coir, gravel, and clay pellets. Rock wool cubes make a good starting foundation for young plants when they first go into the system.
Depending on the scope of the cultivation project, a range of pot sizes will work. Something in the 2- to 7-gallon range should suit your needs.
This reservoir tank holds the water that circulates through the hydroponic grow system. The size of the tank depends on the size of the grow.
Air Pump and Air Stone
The air pump should always be running to guarantee the water is agitated and well oxygenated. You want the water to be oxygenated and moving.
The pump drives the water circulating through the system, so you want to make sure it’s high quality. Again, the appropriate pump largely depends on the number of plants grown. Generally speaking, the larger the size of the pump, the better.
Usually constructed of plastic, tubing will be necessary to keep water circulating throughout the system, moving it between the reservoir and the plants. The plastic tubing will eventually have holes drilled into it and serve as a drip line.
Drip Line Emitters
You will want at least one drip-line emitter per plant.
Setting Up the System
After purchasing all of the necessary parts and assembling them, it’s time to build your system. Your equipment supplier may have good advice or instructions to share, so explore that as a possible resource. You want to take the necessary time to make sure it’s working properly well before introducing any plants.
The All-In-One Alternative
If do-it-yourself projects aren’t your bag, there are other ways to grow hydroponic cannabis. Just like grow tents and cabinets made for growing cannabis in soil, there are all-in-one self-contained systems for hydroponic cultivation. For people just starting out with hydroponic cannabis cultivation, these systems make a lot of sense and are a great introduction to the hydronic-growing process.
If you’ve been intrigued by hydroponic cultivation and always wanted to give it a try, by all means do so. The practice is not as difficult as it may seem, and most likely you will be a pioneer among your circle of cannabis friends. Before you know it, you will be sampling high-quality cannabis grown with the hydroponic method!