In this beginner's guide to weed hydroponics, you'll learn everything you need to know to start your own hydroponic garden at home. Starting your seeds hydroponically has many benefits, but many people are unsure how to go about it.
A beginner’s guide to hydroponic growing
As a cannabis cultivator, you have an array of choices when it comes to growing your own herb at home — outdoor, indoor, and greenhouse cultivation, to name a few. But what about hydroponic growing mediums? Could this futuristic-sounding, soil-free method be the right solution for you? In this beginner’s guide to weed hydroponics, you’ll learn everything you need to know to start your own hydroponic garden at home.
What is hydroponic growing?
Hydroponic growing is a horticultural method for growing crops, including cannabis, without the use of soil. In place of soil, growers use a mineral nutrient solution in a water-based solvent. Occasionally, growers may also use clay pebbles and sand.
Hydroponic growing is a horticultural method for growing crops, including cannabis, without the use of soil. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
How does hydroponic growing work?
A good water-based nutrient solution forms the basis of all hydroponic systems. Like other growing mediums, hydroponics requires the other building blocks of ample light, air, and space.
Is growing hydroponic easy?
While a soil-based garden may be easier to start, hydroponics facilitate easier nourishing of cannabis plants over time. Nutrient solutions allow for more precise dosing and direct feeding of the plants in a hydroponic grow system. The roots of the plant directly absorb the administered nutrients, often making growth an easier and more efficient process. Plus, once you’ve set up the hydro system reservoir, there’s not much maintenance to worry about.
Do hydroponic plants grow faster than soil-based plants?
A hydroponic garden may exhibit a growth rate that is between 30% and 50% faster than that of a soil plant. The combination of nutrients, water, and oxygen in the roots are responsible for this faster rate of growth in hydroponic systems.
What are the benefits of hydroponic growing?
Besides the two most obvious benefits of a hydroponic garden (easier nutrient delivery and faster growth rate), there are several other advantages for cannabis cultivators to consider.
Some benefits of hydroponic growing are easier nutrient delivery, faster growth rate, water conservation, space saving, and year-round growing. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Water conservation: In rain-deprived places like California, water conservation is crucial. A hydroponics system may use 20 times less water than traditional soil cultivation. Water in this type of growing medium can be reused, meaning that none goes to waste.
Space saving: A hydroponics system is a major space saver that may require 20% less room than soil cultivation.
Clean and green: There’s no need for pesticides in the sterile environment of a hydroponic garden, so you can go green and organic when raising cannabis plants.
Year-round growing: Hydroponics systems can thrive in a variety of environments, but an indoor garden is especially desirable as you can grow your cannabis plants year round.
Potency: Once you harvest the buds, there’s a good chance they’ll be more potent than if you had grown them in soil. Some dispensaries even charge a premium for buds grown in hydroponic systems.
As many benefits as hydroponic systems offer, the growing medium also comes with some potential disadvantages.
What are the drawbacks of hydroponic systems?
It can be time-consuming and expensive for those setting up hydroponic systems for the first time. There are two other main drawbacks to consider before trying this growing medium.
Monitoring: Part of the time investment involves near-constant monitoring of the garden to ensure the health of the plants. If one cannabis plant in a hydroponics system becomes diseased, the entire crop may fail and die. Damaging microorganisms also thrive in wet environments and could threaten the health of the plants before harvest time.
Technology: Hydroponics is a good method for the tech-savvy cultivator who understands that a power outage can spell disaster. Even if the system runs on a back-up generator, an extended outage could leave you watering your garden and administering plant food by hand.
If the pros of hydroponics outweigh the cons, you may be ready to try your hand at employing this growing medium in your home.
How do you grow hydroponics at home?
A dedicated space indoors is the best location to grow hydroponics at home. In addition to the hydroponics system, you can furnish your garden with supplemental grow lights to maximize the health and volume of the cannabis harvest.
For outdoor growing at home, a sunlit patio or deck make ideal locations. But if you live in a cold climate, it would be better to keep your hydroponic cannabis garden inside. Otherwise, the plants will be subjected to the elements and vital water could evaporate if you do not consistently monitor nutrient solution levels.
Before you get started, you’ll need to gather the following supplies:
- Hydroponics starter kit
- Oscillating fan for ventilation
- Carbon filter
- Grow tent
- Hangers for grow lights
- Cannabis seeds with the strain of your choice
Once you’ve gathered those basic supplies, here are some quick steps to take to get your hydro system started at home:
- Assemble the hydroponics system. Each system will be slightly different, but you can expect a starter kit to include a water tank, water pump (often part of a timed circulation system), LED grow lights, and a nutrient solution. Starter kits can be purchased online for less than $100.
- Combine the nutrients and water in the tank or reservoir. Start up the pump and wait about 30 minutes for the nutrients and water to blend. Add beneficial bacteria and keep an eye on pH levels. Between 5.5 and 6.5 is the sweet spot for hydroponic gardens.
- Plant the germinated seeds and monitor progress through the seedling stage, which lasts about 3 or 4 weeks.
- As plants move into the vegetative stage and flowering stage, you may choose to make a few adjustments. For example, during the flowering stage you may opt to try the cultivator’s strategy of defoliation to accelerate healthy growth. Nutrient levels should also be lowered during this phase as harvest approaches.
A hydroponic garden requires an initial investment of time and money but can be an excellent way to grow cannabis quickly and with minimal waste of resources.
Hydroponic Seed Starting 101: A Primer for Beginners
Starting your seeds hydroponically has many benefits, but many people are unsure how to go about it. Shannon McKee gives us a primer on the basics of starting your own seeds to expand on what you’re currently growing.
Many people skip starting their own seeds because of the time and effort to get them started, but there are some great reasons to start your own seeds hydroponically. It’s so much easier to just go to the store to pick up some seedlings to pop into your system and get growing, right? Well, store-bought seedlings do have some downsides that can be avoided if you start your own.
The first is that you’re limited to what you can grow in your system. You have to choose from the options available at the store. However, if you start your own seeds, you can grow anything. This means you can grow your favorite heirlooms or even rare plants that aren’t found at many nurseries.
Adding seeds to your hydroponic system means that they won’t go through any trauma or root damage from being transplanted into your system. This process may also introduce diseases or bugs into your hydroponic system from the store.
Also, you get the satisfaction of growing a plant from a tiny seed rather than just picking up a seedling. Plus, a packet of seeds can grow a number of plants for just a few bucks, whereas the cost of only one seedling can be the same amount.
Seeds are also more cost-effective than buying one or two seedlings in the long run, as you can save some for the following year. The germination rate can decrease over time, but often, you can still get quite a few to sprout over the years until you have to buy your next seed packet.
What You Need to Start Seeds in a Hydroponic System
The first time you start your own seeds for your hydroponic system may be a bit more expensive at the beginning because you need to buy more materials than in future years. Seeds need water, light, oxygen, and heat to grow. You really don’t need anything too special to grow your own seeds.
You can use a grow tray with a dome for your own miniature greenhouse to create an ideal environment. If you’ll be growing your seeds in an area that is cooler, you may want to invest in a heating mat that goes underneath the grow tray to keep it warm as this is a necessary condition for sprouting to occur. Light is good to have as well as this will help your seeds sprout.
Inside of your grow tray, it can be beneficial to use a pot that works for your seeds and their future as seedlings in your hydroponic set-up. You’ll want to use starter cubes, such as those made of stonewool (rockwool). The key here is to use something that can withstand being immersed in water without dissolving, as it could clog up your system after transplanting.
Step by Step Instructions for Sprouting Seeds in a Hydroponic System
- The first thing that you’ll want to do is to soak your starter cubes in clean water for about an hour. After they’ve been given a chance to soak, put a few seeds into the cube’s hole. You’ll want to add several just in case you have some seeds that don’t germinate. Once they sprout, you can thin out the weaker plants to allow the strongest to grow.
- Prepare your grow tray with about an inch of clean water or nutrient solution that is at half strength. Arrange the light source and heating mat as needed. You can keep the lid on to keep the heat and moisture in the tray.
- Put these planted cubes into the grow tray and add water or the half strength nutrient solution as the level goes down in the grow tray.
- After about four days, you’ll start to see some sprouts emerging.
Some people prefer to use a Ziploc bag, rather than a grow tray, when trying to get the seeds to germinate as it functions like a greenhouse. Seal the bag with a little bit of air and put it in a dark place for about four days to get the seeds sprouted. Then, you can put the starter cubes with sprouted seeds into the grow tray.
Step by Step Instructions on Transplanting
Keep your tiny seedlings growing strong with your hydroponic nutrient solution. Once they’ve gotten bigger, you don’t have to make the nutrient solution half strength.
You’ll start to see the seedlings’ roots coming out of the bottom of the cube, and this is the sign you’ve been waiting for, as it means you can start transplanting. This can take about two to four weeks depending on what plants you’re growing.
Clear up a spot in your hydroponic system’s growing media for the seedling – cube and all. Gently transfer the starter cube into your growing media, and cover it gently.
Give the root system a chance to naturally seek out the water and nutrients in your system by top watering it for a few days to give it a chance to grow the root system.
Voila! You grew your own seedlings into a strong plant for your hydroponic system. Depending on the type of plant, you’ll be able to get your first harvest about four to eight weeks from the time you transplanted your seedlings.
Cut out the dependency of only being able to grow the types of plants that are available as seedlings at your favorite gardening store. Take a little extra time to nurture your seeds so that they become strong seedlings ready to transplant into your system. You’ll be able to take pride in your efforts with how healthy your plants are and your overall system’s health.