Updated: Feb 13
"You have control over your growing environment, now take control over your growing system"
Growing in soil is inexpensive and easy to get started in. Making this a starting block for many beginners growing cannabis, however, bringing soil into your clean indoor grow environment is an invitation for bugs and molds among other things we will go over. Soil will restrict the speed of your root growth over most hydroponic methods reducing growth speeds and crop turnover time. The reason soil restricts the roots growth speed boils down to the resistance the roots push through, the less resistance your root has to push through, the faster it will grow. Growing hydroponically will provide more control as well as faster, cleaner growth. Depending on the hydroponic system you are growing in there is minimal to no area for salts (nutrients) to build up in and cause problems. Flushing and cleaning your system is much easier, leaving a much healthier plant with no toxicities under the right, low feeding program.
Hydroponics is a method of growing in anything other than soil, this leaves a wide range of systems both custom and mainstream to choose from, making picking a system daunting at times.
In this article I hope to shed some light on this as there is a hydroponics method that suits every budget, skill level and production license or style. Growing hydroponically is the only way to have complete control over your plant's root system and what it needs, offering the largest, healthiest, most craft quality yields.
I will go over the top 5 best hydroponic methods for growing cannabis on the scale of easiest and best ones to jump into from soil, to most difficult and high maintenance.
1) Rock-wool Drain To Waste (DTW) - In this method the plants commonly sit on benches or grow tables in rock-wool cubes and slabs that come in various sizes. The nutrient solution is delivered to each plant and the runoff drains away. This hydroponics system is the easiest and best for people switching from soil. The reason is because this is not a recirculating hydroponics system, being a drain to waste style growing system it is the most like soil growing and therefore easiest to switch over to. The growing properties are the same, check and adjust pH and PPM levels accordingly in your tank and feed to the plants. You will not need to maintain your pH levels as they will not fluctuate like in other more advanced hydroponic systems. This is because the nutrients do not recirculate throughout the growing system like the other methods. This growing style requires a higher plant count at roughly 32 plants per 4'x 8' growing table and because of this it is best suited for high plant count ACMPR license holders, micro-cultivators or licensed producers.
You will see rock-wool drain to waste growing in many large scale grow operations as well as ACMPR license holders with high plant counts looking to automate things. It is in-expensive to get started in, easy to scale and great for people coming from soil. Rock-wool drain to waste is best suited for plants growing 2' - 3' in height with above lighting focusing on top flowers. This style growing system can have compact vegetative growing rooms because of the cubes not being in "fixed" systems like other styles. Packing large amounts of cubes in small spaces for the vegetative phase. The mother plants you will need for this system though will make up for the space you saved with the vegetative room because you will need to keep many large mother plants on hand and cloning will be fairly regular depending on the size of the operation.
2) Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) - Plants grow in pipe or sealed buckets with the nutrient solution falling over the root base and returning to the main "controller" bucket in a 24hr revolving revolution, or timed intervals. This technique involves more adjusting (1 - 4 times daily) of your nutrient solutions pH levels to keep them in the desired range due to the re-circulation of the growing system, however, it will offer faster root growth opposed to rock wool and can be a great setup for stadiums or low plant count ACMPR license holders wanting to setup a low cost recirculating hydroponics method.
Nutrient film technique is an excellent step into recirculating hydroponics and can be very versatile in how the systems are built (pipe, containers, expanded clay rock etc). This style system is diverse in how it can be built, which is likely why it was the first ever recorded hydroponics built with the ancient Babylonians in the hanging gardens of Babylon.
3) Tree-Tech (TREE) - The tree method is a hybrid hydroponics technique that combines the best of all 4 main stream hydroponic growing styles. The nutrient solution is recirculated through a sealed, high flow container system with intense air being delivered through a much lower water volume then deep water culture, the root growth is explosive due to the nutrients frothing up into the root zone like a beer. Plants grow extremely fast and maintenance is lower than deep water culture or aeroponics. This method is great for growing large trees and can survive a power outage much like deep water culture. Water and nutrient consumption is reduced by 95% opposed to soil, rock-wool or coconut husk growing.
This re-invention of the traditional hydroponics growing methods came from decades of hands-on experience. Offering the best aspects of the top hydroponic growing methods with a twist. It's like a luxury spa for your roots, however it does cost more than rock-wool or nutrient film technique to set up.
4) Deep Water Culture (DWC) - Deep water culture is a system of buckets or containers with high flow nutrient re-circulation and aeration in every tank. Your roots grow in to oxygenated nutrient solution. Plants grow very fast in this growing system and it is excellent for licenses with low plant counts to maximize production as you can grow very large plants. It does require more maintenance then some of the other systems like drain to waste though, with regular pH adjusting and cleaning. Water consumption is reduced by over 90% compared to soil, coco or rock-wool growing but not as low as tree-tech or aeroponics.
Deep water culture is a classic water culture hydroponic method and is great for maximizing plant counts. Only needing a fraction of the plants you would need for a rock-wool cube and slab method you can fill a large area with a low number of plants.
5) Aeroponics (AERO) - Aeroponics hydroponics systems have the root system suspended in air, inside a sealed container or pipe with the nutrient solution delivered to the roots 24/7 or periodically throughout the day. Growing plants in this system requires the least amount of water consumption out of all the systems and can offer very large yields due to the lack of any resistance on the roots. However, if you have a power outage and no backup power supply you will lose your crop very quickly due to the roots being suspended in air. This method will use the least water and nutrient consumption out of the bunch but will require the most maintenance.
Aeroponics can be an excellent system for vertical farming when constructed in piping systems, being a smart alternative to the common rack style rock-wool vertical farms and allowing more canopy space.
Oxygen absorbs best into your water at lower temperatures (63F) which is why all recirculating hydroponic methods (NFT, TREE, DWC, AERO) absolutely must operate with a water chiller. It is recommended for rock-wool or coco drain to waste growing as well, but not as crucial. With a few simple key steps anyone can jump into hydroponics and be successful. Keep low water temperatures to achieve a high dissolved oxygen level and not grow bad bacteria, use a low dose of clean synthetic nutrients like General Hydroponics and keep things clean. Saving time by automating your system will allow you to keep the growing environment and system clean and spend more time with the plants.
- Full article featured in Maximum Yield Magazine early 2021