April 11, 2017

Growing in Soil vs. Hydroponics


   Part of what you need to decide before embarking on your mission of growing cannabis is what you are going to be growing in. If you’ve ever met a marijuana grower, then you know that people tend to get very particular when it comes to what growing method they believe is the correct one. Many people swear that soilless or hydroponic systems produce the best results, while others wouldn’t dream of using anything but soil. Here is a little breakdown of soil vs. hydroponics to help you decide what method is going to be best for your situation.


   If you have already grown plants in soil such as tomatoes, than you already know much of what it takes to grow cannabis in soil. Most people who are just starting out growing will start with growing in soil. Soil is about as close to set it and forget it as you can come with cannabis. When growing in soil, there’s a synergy between the chemicals emitted by the roots of the plants and the metabolic processes of microorganisms in soil. When soil has access to plenty of healthy microbes, fungus, and oxygen, compounds like iron, magnesium, essential oils and essential fatty acids are able to be created. They then become available in plants. Giving your plants access to a diverse and plentiful amount of healthy bacteria and fungus means a greater opportunity for positive interactions and healthier plants. The healthier your plants are, the more opportunity there is for vast terpene expression and nutrients. Many growers believe that soil-grown cannabis tastes better. 

   Cannabis plants prefer rich soil that allows for maximum drainage. Growers have been known to switch out soil for perlite to maximize the drainage that they can get from their plants.  If the soil you are using seems heavy, it may be beneficial to add 30% perlite and 10% vermiculite to loosen soil. Plants absorb nutrients from soil, so during the flowering stage it’s important to use just the right kind and amount of nutrients to maximize your yields and prevent any nutrient deficiency. Common cannabis soil mixes include Fox Farms Happy Frog and Fox Farms Ocean Forest. Although, even with the best soil you will still need to supplement some nutrients to maximize your results.

   For those who don’t want to worry about soil pH or adding nutrients throughout the grow, there is the option of amending and composting your own super soil (or buying it already composted) specifically made for cannabis plants. Nutrient rich materials like earthworm castings or manure can be added to improve the health of your plants and make sure the crop gets everything it needs.

   Growing in soil can be more forgiving than growing in a hydroponic system. The plant will be getting some nutrients from the soil and you are not providing everything to the plant. This is where the set it and forget it comes in. You can be a little less attentive with soil growing and not really run into major issues because of it. The downside to this is that there is a level of uncertainty when you do have deficiencies. Because you are not adding all the nutrients your plants could be receiving, it can be a bit more difficult to identify and solve a problem when one does present itself.

   Soil is organic material, and there are many types of bugs that can live in soil. Often, soil-growers seem to suffer more often from pests attacking their plants than hydroponic growers. Because there are thousands and thousands of different microbes and fungi, you really want to make sure you’re picking up a quality product before you plant your seedlings. The last thing you want is some improperly processed compost contaminating your whole harvest.


   While technically any growing medium besides soil is considered hydroponics, when most people think of “hydroponics” they think of a water reservoir. Hydroponic systems come in different forms, here are the top 6 common forms: aeroponics, deep water culture, drip irrigation, nutrient film technique, ebb-and-flow, and coco coir.

   Aeroponics uses a grow chamber to suspend roots in the air with no medium inside of a closed-loop system. The plant's roots are placed in misted air. Water and nutrients are sprayed on the bases of these plants as they hang in the air. By providing an oxygen-rich environment, the microbes on the plant are able to digest and process the nutrients for its circulatory system.  This method gets more oxygen to roots than almost any other system. 

   Deep Water Culture is a method of growing which uses a bucket of nutrients, also called bubblers. The plants are suspended over the nutrients as the roots grow into the nutrients below. The bubblers’ mixture is filled with air using an aquarium pump. The oxygen and fertilizer enriched mixture work wonders for the end product.There are lots of different variations of the DWC method.

  The Drip Irrigation System feeds each plant individually in its own chamber. Nutrients are administered by a dripper, and then the solution is recycled, much like the already mentioned methods. Each plant is located in separate chambers where the nutrients are fed to the medium by means of a small dripper. Basically an automated watering system. Plants are provided water via top-feed from a reservoir of water. There’s lots of variation on drip systems. For example, sometimes these systems are re-circulating, and sometimes the water is discarded after being dripped through the roots. Sometimes the water feed in on a timer, and sometimes the water flows constantly.

   The Nutrient Film Technique is a hydroponic method which involves a nutrient solution being pumped onto a tray or gulley to form a shallow and slow moving film that moves through the plant’s roots. A water pump drips water from a reservoir to the roots of the first plant, and a shallow stream of water flows down the ramp over the roots of all the plants, one at a time. These roots grow into the solution, creating a large root mat in the tray. Having round the clock access to water and nutrients along with more than enough oxygen for the roots, makes for rapid development with maximum yields. The roots are in containers on a tilted surface.  At the end, the water is usually drained back into the main reservoir to be recirculated. It is called nutrient film technique because there is a film of nutrient water flowing over the roots at all times.

   Ebb and Flow replaces soil with a medium like rockwool to produce very large yields. This type of system stimulates a natural cycle of rain and the time in between it, therefore giving off a more natural environment for your grow. The plants roots are placed in container which is flooded with water and drained on a timer. The plants get plenty of nutrient water at the roots as well as oxygen.


 Coco Coir is a lot like growing in soil except that you have to provide your plant with all of the nutrients it needs to grow and yield properly. You are much less likely to obtain a pest from coco coir than you are from a bag of soil.