With the continuous momentum of cannabis legalization, a lot of people are starting to take a swing at growing cannabis. Smoking your own home-grown bud is one of the most gratifying experiences a stoner can have. But when starting out, most people don’t know where to begin. In this article, we’ll be covering hydroponic vs soil-based growing operations. This will help the inexperienced and even the experienced grower decide on the correct medium for their next grow.

In 2017, when we talk about soil vs hydro plantations, we’re 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 out there will be found in outdoor plantations. Let’s dive into what the differences between hydroponic and soil growing actually are.

THE ESSENTIALS OF EACH METHOD

As you probably know, 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, 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 aficionados will only grow and/or buy cannabis that is cultivated outdoors in soil. But it’s still important to note 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 stationary medium are referred to as “solution culture.” Because of this, we’ll be defining hydroponics as methods where the roots of the plant are in constant contact with a water solution. Nutrients are then added in liquid form to the water, creating a new solution. This will consist of only the absolute essentials for the plant and will give the grower much more control over the end result.

Cannabis Soil

THE PROS AND CONS OF EACH METHOD

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. Outside, there is no height limitation and with soil, the roots can grow and branch out freely. With proper care, a soil medium can help you grow plants that are 2m tall, offering more than 400g of quality bud per plant. Using hydroponic methods in an indoor operation 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 coco coir, mesh pot, water bucket, grow room, etc.

Quality works in the opposite way. It’s much easier to control an indoor hydroponic plantation. You’ll be giving the plant the exact nutrients it needs under the perfect lighting conditions in an environment with the ideal humidity. This will also allow you to automate most of the growing process.

Soil is not as controllable. When growing cannabis outside, there will be temperature changes, uncontrollable wind, and even humidity variations. These are hard to predict and impossible to master. 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 favourable for your plant’s health. These will be hard to identify until visual changes manifest on the plant.

You’ll have to base your decision on finding the best combination of quantity and quality for your situation. Soil is a much more familiar medium than hydroponics and is more advisable for first time growers. There is a lot of information out there. Conduct further research to make a more informed decision.

Outdoor Grow

NUTRIENT REQUIREMENTS

When growing a complex plant like cannabis, changing the medium will affect its requirements. You’ll have to adapt 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 the appropriate ones and your pH is ideal 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: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These nutrients are summarised 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.

In a soil medium, manure can be added, which is a nutrient-rich material. 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 quantity of micro and macronutrients. Independently of 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 mediums. Therefore, hydro solutions must contain more of these to compensate. They also require more nitrogen, a macronutrient abundant in soil, but not as much in water sources. 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; which materials to buy and how much area to dedicate to your plantation. Let’s recap on what we explored above.

Growing in soil will be the best choice for you if you want to keep the natural essence of the plant. You might prefer the flavour outdoor soil gives the flowers. 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 the bulk of the work for you.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for the highest cannabinoid presence, hydroponic will be your 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 with methods like drip irrigation, it will reduce your chores. 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 and behaves under different conditions. You’ll probably achieve better results growing hydroponically, assuming 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. Perhaps you’ll be the one to figure out the next trick or hack for growing the best cannabis flower. Go out there and experiment; just have fun!

Soil vs Hydroponics

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