Though cannabis is a natural plant that grows easily outdoors with minimal supervision, for high potency, and complex flavors, many modern medical marijuana cultivators use high-tech hydroponics systems to produce their cannabis for legal sale. Hydroponic growing has been around for decades, and it can be ideal for cold or dark climates that aren’t naturally hospitable to cannabis. Hydroponic growing can also produce stronger plants faster because the cultivator can tinker with the nutrients and conditions to influence the growing cycle and the production of flowers. Many hydroponic gardeners use these systems to grow vegetables or other crops, but let’s take a look at the basics of growing cannabis with hydroponics.
What is hydroponics?
Before we get into the specifics, it’s important to understand what hydroponic gardening actually is. The word hydroponic is made up of the Greek roots for “water” and “labor,” so it literally means “water working.” With this method, plants are grown in a porous growing medium as opposed to soil, and the potted cannabis plants are submerged either in a bath or a flow of water mixed with liquid nutrients and oxygen in a solution. In this way, the water is doing the work of nourishing the plant. Though the word “hydroponics” focuses on water, a hydroponic growing system for cannabis will also contain lights and a ventilation system to create the optimal conditions for growth. Cannabis grown hydroponically is said to be more potent and pure than soil-grown cannabis because of this increased control.
The Basic Components of a Hydroponic Growing System
Though there are various methods of hydroponic growing for cannabis, any hydroponics growing system has to have several interlocking parts:
- A reservoir where water, oxygen, and nutrients are mixed into a solution
- A large pipe or tank for holding the plants in the water and nutrient solution
- Specialized pots that allow for water and air flow
- A porous, non-soil growing medium like ceramic rocks, coconut fibers, or a mixture of vermiculite and perlite
- Hoses to deliver oxygen and water to the plants and to drain the used water back into the reservoir
- Pumps to move everything around
- Sensors to test the amount of oxygen, the pH balance, and the nutrient content of the water solution
- Special UV grow lights
- Fans or some way to move air over the plants
Depending on the method used to move the growing solution over the roots of the plants, the setup of these parts will vary.
Methods of Hydroponically Growing Cannabis
Every system of growing cannabis plants has the basic parts listed above, but the method of delivering the water and nutrient solution to the roots differs slightly.
- Drip Irrigation – With this simple method, gravity delivers water and nutrient solution to the plants. This method is often recommended for beginners, as you can make a system with plastic buckets, hoses, and an inexpensive fountain pump.
- Wick System – Capillary action pulls the solution up into the roots of the plants in the opposite way of drip irrigation. A wick hydroponic system is also relatively easy and cheap to set up.
- Ebb and Flow – Plants are grown in an inert medium and flooded with water and nutrient solution every once in awhile. The ebb and flow method requires timing and room, so it’s a more advanced method.
- Deep Water Culture – Plants are suspended in a deep bath of aerated water to provide constant moisture and nutrients. This system requires some advanced equipment to constantly aerate the nutrient solution.
- Nutrient Film Technique – This method uses a tilted water table that allows for a thin film of constant water flow over the roots of the plants. The NFT hydroponic method, as it’s known, can be expensive to set up, but it often produces very high-quality cannabis.
Nutrients for Hydroponic Growing
No matter what growing method you use, there are basic nutrients that all cannabis plants need. Just like fertilizers made for soil, hydroponic nutrient mixes contain nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), always listed on fertilizer packages in that order as N-P-K. You might have seen 20-20-20 on a fertilizer package, and this would mean there are equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. A 25-10-15 mixture would contain more nitrogen, etc. Cannabis plants require more of different nutrients during different stages of their growth cycle. For example, marijuana plants need more nitrogen when they’re growing stalks and leaves, and they need more phosphorus when they’re producing flowers.
Hydroponic growing fertilizers contain other macro elements or basic nutrients like calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S) in addition to N-P-K. The microelements or nutrients needed in smaller doses are iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), boron (B), and molybdenum (Mo). A good hydroponic nutrient mixture will contain all of these elements in the proper dosages, and the most cost-effective form is a powder that is mixed with water. Pre-mixed liquid nutrients are available as well for cultivators with a larger budget.
Advantages of Hydroponics Over Soil Growth
When plants grow in soil, the nutrients are produced by the breakdown of organic matter. These salts are dissolved in water when you water your soil, allowing the roots of the plants to take them in. When you remove the soil from the equation, you provide your plants with nutrients directly in the water. Having nutrients already dissolved in water means that your cannabis plants don’t have to work so hard and get more nutrients, so they can grow stronger and produce more of the chemicals which make them valuable. Hydroponic growing mediums are also sterile, reducing the risk of contamination by mold, harmful chemicals, pests, or plant diseases. For cannabis cultivators in areas with stricter marijuana laws, indoor hydroponic growing can have a lower risk of detection.
With the effort it takes to grow quality cannabis strains for legal sales, growers need packaging that will preserve their hard work. Since medical cannabis is a growing industry, cannabis growers need to be competitive, as well, so their packaging needs to be professional and attractive. Greenrushpackaging.com can provide the best packaging for your legal cannabis needs.