Like any grow method, hydroponics has its benefits as well as some challenges and limitations. Some growers suggest that hydro is the superior method, claiming that since the grower has greater control over nutrient intake plants grown using this method not only grow faster but can yield more smokable flower. To find out if this is true, we asked master grower Jorge Cervantes. What are the major benefits and drawbacks of using a hydroponic system and is there a difference in the quality of the flower produced hydroponically rather than grown in soil?
“On the positive side,” Cervantes says, “hydroponic systems require an inert substrate (growing medium) that does not react with fertilizers. A grower can control the exact fertilizer mix and not worry about extra chemical activity in the root zone. Hydroponic systems are very efficient indoors and in greenhouses. Water can be reused and hydroponic systems are clean.”
However, this system can also be a bit tricky because it does require so much intervention from the grower.
“Diseases can spread through a system quickly, imbalanced nutrient levels are recirculated in some systems and manufacturing and transporting components creates an expensive environmental carbon footprint,” says Cervantes, recommending readers look at the Container Culture and Hydroponic chapters in the Cannabis Encyclopedia for more advice.
According to studies conducted by D.R. Hoagland and D.I. Arnon in the 1950s, hydro does not produce higher yields like some growers claim. Yet a side by side view of soil and hydro-grown cannabis—examples of which can be found easily on YouTube—clearly show that plants can grow faster hydroponically. That is because the plant can absorb its food much faster than it can through soil and its roots systems have more access to oxygen than they ever would in soil. However, as Cervantes points out, soil will hold its nutrients a lot longer than a hydro system and require less tending to.
What is a Hydroponic System for Weed?
Hydroponic weed refers to any cannabis that is grown without the use of soil. Instead of the natural nutrients found in soil, growers will apply their own nutrients throughout the grow process using a variety of growing methods.
While hydro grows are usually less likely to attract pests, hydroponic systems can expose the roots to damage if there is a pump failure or you run out of water. Hydroponic grows also require more maintenance than soil grows because more things can go wrong, a lack of water for a little while or a slight change in pH levels can set back the crop or destroy it. This is why it’s important to start with one of the simpler processes as a beginner.
Despite the extra care required, hydro grows offer growers far more control over the nutrients that go into the plants and allow the water that is not absorbed by the plants’ roots to be recycled back into the system.
The different types of hydroponic cannabis growing systems
The term hydroponics can refer to any method of non-soil weed growing system. The different types of hydroponic growing systems are:
- Bubbleponics / Deep Water Culture (DWC)
- Ebb and Flow
- Nutrient Film (NFT)
- Drip systems
Some of the popular soil-less growing mediums used in hydroponic systems are:
- Open Air
- Coco Coir
- Clay Pebbles
- Peat Moss
Hydroponic growing methods vary slightly, but instead of being buried in a pile of dirt to absorb nutrients and oxygen that happen to be in the vicinity, hydroponic growing techniques tend to give roots more direct exposure to nutrients, water and oxygen with the hopes of growing plants faster and larger.
Best All Around Hydroponic Method
The deep water culture (DWC) method is when the plant roots are fully submersed in nutrient water. Air stones in the grow bucket reservoir are constantly oxygenating the water for the plants to use.
Deep water culture (DWC) is a pretty popular method with weed growers. There are DWC kits readily available for sale that are very close to plug and play.
As you can see in the image above, most deep water culture kits are a bucket design with a net pot in the center where you place your seedling. Inside the bucket you have the nutrient water reservoir, air stones, and a pump usually on the outside.
Benefits of DWC cannabis
The benefits to growing cannabis via deep water culture are:
- Plants have easier access to all the oxygen and nutrients they need via the roots sitting in the water.
- Done right you should experience faster more robust growth than growing in soil.
- Some people claim potency is higher with hydroponics grown weed.
Drawbacks of DWC cannabis
The main downside to deep water culture weed is when you initially plant your seedling into the center of the DWC net pot, it can take a while for the roots to reach the nutrient water below.
There are two ways of dealing with this: first is to keep the roots hydrated until they reach the water (you don’t have much of a choice, actually). The second solution is just get a bubbleponics setup instead.
Enter Bubbleponics (recirculating drip)
The difference between DWC and bubbleponics is one simple feature to address the initial stage when the seedling roots haven’t reached the nutrient reservoir yet.
For most growers this initial phase of deep water culture can be a hassle because you have to manually keep the roots moist until they grow into the reservoir.
Bubbleponics setups include a water line that runs from the reservoir into the net pot grow cup area of your DWC setup where your seedling resides.
This modification became known as “bubbleponics,” or the more proper “recirculating drip.” This modification considerably accelerates the growth of seedlings in the first few weeks. That’s because the constant drip is feeding the seedling roots when they’re still above the main reservoir.
The bubbleponics variation of growing is a lot more effective than manually keeping the rockwool/roots moist until they grow down into the nutrient water reservoir.
Once the roots reach the water, the recirculating drip feature doesn’t make a difference. But the bubbleponics method is still significant enough to have its own place in indoor growing.