Hydroponics vs. Soil
The debate over cannabis growing mediums has been around for a while and it won’t go away anytime soon. With all the information available, it can be hard to make this decision regarding your own grow-op. With this guide, you will have everything you need to choose!
Now that South Africa has legalized personal use, a lot of people are starting to test their green thumb. Smoking your own home-grown bud is one of the most satisfying experiences a stoner can have. However, most people don’t know where to begin. In this post, I will be covering hydroponic vs. soil-based growing. This will help the inexperienced and even the experienced growers decide on the correct medium for their next grow.
When we talk about soil vs. hydro grow operations, we are usually referring to indoor vs. outdoor growing. This is because indoor mediums are rarely 100% soil. People tend to use substrates like coco coir and rockwool, which are soilless mixtures. Most fully-soil operations will be found in outdoor grows. Let’s see the differences between hydroponic and soil growing actually are.
Each Method and Their Essentials
As you probably know, the soil is the green part of our “blue planet.” Although it only dominates 30% of the Earth’s surface, it’s where most plants grow and have done so for millions of years. Because of this, the soil has accumulated minerals and organic matter that is very hard to replicate with any other method.
That is why a lot of traditional cannabis connoisseurs will only grow or buy cannabis that is cultivated outdoors in soil. But it’s still important to remember that most soil growers will add nutrient solutions or nutrient-rich materials like earthworm castings and manure to enhance their medium.
Hydroponic, on the other hand, takes away all the unpredictability of soil. The term hydroponic is now very commonly used for all mediums other than soil. Water-based growing operations without a standard medium are referred to as a “solution culture.” Because of this, we will refer to hydroponics as any method where the roots of the plant are in constant contact with a water solution.
Nutrients are added in liquid form to the water, creating a new solution. This will consist of only the essentials for the plant and will give the grower much more control over the end result.
Pros and Cons
What differentiates these two methods is mainly a matter of yield vs. quality. Growing outdoors with a soil medium will generally allow for much higher yields. Outdoors there is no height restriction. And with soil growing the roots can grow and branch out freely. With proper care, a soil medium can help you grow plants that are 2m tall.
This can offer you more than 400g of quality bud per plant. Using hydroponics indoors won’t allow for cannabis this tall. Therefore, yields won’t be as high because the roots are limited by the size and volume of your grow medium, pot size, grow room size etc.
It’s much easier to control an indoor hydroponic grow. You’ll be giving the plant the exact nutrients it needs under the perfect lighting conditions and in an environment with the ideal humidity. This will also allow you to automate most of the growing process.
Soil is not as predictable and controllable. When growing cannabis outside, there will be temperature changes, uncontrollable wind, and even humidity changes. These are hard to predict and impossible to control. One can only adapt to the outside environment and hope for the best. Soil also contains organic matter and bacteria that might not be too good for your plant’s health. These will be hard to identify until visual changes happen on the plant.
You’ll have to base your decision on finding the best combination of quantity and quality for your set up and grow. Soil is a much more familiar of a medium than hydroponics and is more suited for the first-time grower. There is a lot of information out there. Go and do further research to make a more informed decision.
When growing a complex plant like cannabis, changing the medium will affect its requirements. You’ll have to adopt nutrient feeds so you’re not left with an unwanted deficiency. This is a very common problem in cannabis plants that a lot of growers don’t know how to deal with. Making sure your products are suited to cannabis and your pH is ideal. This will go a long way in preventing deficiencies or nutrient lockout.
Whether in the form of mineral powder or dissolved in water, macronutrient products will have three basic elements:
These nutrients are represented by the N-P-K ratio composed of three numbers on the front of a nutrient bottle. Each value represents the percentage by volume of the corresponding nutrient in the solution.
Manure can be added to a soil mixture as this is extremely nutrient rich. This is something that a hydroponic solution can’t replicate. Soil is filled with microbes that help turn organic material like guano and worm castings into usable nutrients for your plant. In hydroponics, you’ll have to feed your plants the full spectrum of micro and macronutrients. Besides the quality of your soil, you’ll likely need extra supplements in order to obtain the best results. This is where the hydroponic system differentiates mostly from a soil-based medium.
Micronutrients like iron, copper, and magnesium are widely available in most soil mixes. Therefore, hydro solutions must contain more of these to compensate. They also need more nitrogen which is found in high numbers in soil. On the other hand, water sources do not contain a lot of nitrogen. This is why hydro nutrients during the vegetative stage have a higher percentage of nitrogen.
Making a Choice
This is the part where you’ll have to decide what to do next. What type of materials to buy and how much area to dedicate to your new grow. Let’s do a quick summary of what we explored above.
Growing in soil will be the best choice for you if you want to keep the natural aspect of the plant. You might prefer the flavor that outdoor soil gives the bud. Only consider soil if you have access to high-quality soil mediums. Soil growing is perhaps the best option if you’re not growing full-time. Soil will require much less of your attention as it will be doing most of the work for you.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for the highest cannabinoid content than hydroponics will be your best choice. This is where you’ll get those deliciously frosty 28% THC buds. It is also smart to choose hydroponics if you want an automated system. You won’t be able to fully automate the process, but methods like drip irrigation you won’t need to do as much.
This will be the best method to try out if you’re experienced but have never tried it before. It’s always positive to learn how cannabis grows under different conditions. You’ll probably achieve better results growing hydroponically as long as you know what you’re doing.
Remember that the best choice will be the one you make. You’ll make it work whether you’re experienced or not. It’s the motivation and passion you have that will ultimately determine your success. Even though people have been growing cannabis for thousands of years, only recently has real research gone into it. Go out there and experiment and just have fun!
Written, December 2018
~ Medical Cannabis Seed Bank