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5 Ways to Grow Your Weed Hydroponically

By Dan Vaillancourt | Last updated: July 21, 2021
Presented by GreenBroz Inc.
Key Takeaways

There is nothing wrong with growing in soil, but if you really want to accelerate root development and plant growth it might be time to consider hydroponics. Hydro proponent Dan Vaillancourt explains some options for your growroom.

“You have control of your growroom, now take control of your roots.”

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Growing in soil is inexpensive and easy to get started in, making this a great starting block for many beginners growing cannabis. The downside to this style of growing includes bringing soil into your clean indoor grow environment, which is an invitation for bugs and molds among other things. Soil will restrict the speed of your root growth and slow crop turnover time. The reason soil restricts the root-growth speed boils down to the resistance the roots push through. The less resistance your root system must push through, the faster it will grow. Growing hydroponically will give you more control, as well as faster, cleaner growth. Depending on the hydroponic system, there is minimal to no area for salts (nutrients) to build up and cause problems. Flushing and cleaning your system is much easier, leaving a 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 which can make picking a system seem daunting at times.

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In this article, I hope to shed some light on this as there is a hydroponic method that suits every budget, skill level, and production license or style. Growing hydroponically is truly the only way to have complete control over your plant’s root system and what it needs, offering the largest, healthiest, and most boutique-quality yields.

I will go over the top five hydroponic methods for growing cannabis from easiest (and best ones to jump into from soil) to the most difficult and high maintenance.

Stonewool Drain-To-Waste (DTW)

In this method, the plants commonly sit on benches or grow tables in stonewool cubes and slabs that come in various sizes. The nutrient solution is delivered to each plant and the runoff drains away. This hydroponic system is the easiest and best for people switching from soil. That’s 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. The growing properties are the same, and you will 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 they would in other more advanced hydroponic systems. This is because the nutrients do not recirculate throughout the growing system.

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This growing style requires a higher plant count at roughly 32 plants per 4x8-foot growing table, and because of this, it is best suited for high plant count ACMPR license holders, micro-cultivators, or licensed producers.

(Read also: What’s Better: Growing Cannabis in Soil or Hydroponics?)

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You will see stonewool drain-to-waste systems in many large-scale grow operations as well as ACMPR license holders with high plant counts looking to automate things. It is an inexpensive way to get started, easily scalable, and great for people coming from soil.

Stonewool drain-to-waste is best suited for plants growing two to three feet in height with above-lighting focusing on top flowers.

This system can have compact vegetative growrooms because the cubes aren’t in fixed systems like other styles. The mother plants you will need for this system will make up for 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.

Young cannabis plant growing in clay pebbles

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

With this method, plants grow in a pipe or sealed buckets with the nutrient solution falling over the root base and returning to the main controller bucket in a 24-hour cycle, or timed intervals. Although this technique involves more adjusting (one to four times daily) of your nutrient solution’s pH levels to keep them in the desired range due to the recirculation of the growing system, it will offer faster root growth compared to stonewool and can be a great setup for stadiums, low-plant count, or ACMPR license holders wanting to set up 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 (piping, containers, hydroton rock, etc.). This system is diverse in how it can be built, which is why it was the first-ever recorded hydroponic setup built by the ancient Babylonians in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Tree-Tech

The tree-tech method is a hybrid hydroponic technique combining the best of all four mainstream 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 than 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 are reduced by 95 percent as opposed to soil, stonewool, or coconut-husk growing.

(Read also: The Latest Automation Options for Cannabis Cultivation)

This reinvention of the traditional hydroponic 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 stonewool or nutrient film technique to set up. This system offers higher levels of dissolved oxygen for your roots than any other growing system.

Indoor cannabis plants

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

Deep water culture is a system of buckets or containers with high-flow nutrient recirculation and aeration in every tank. Your roots grow into the 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 than some of the other systems as it requires regular pH adjusting and cleaning. Water consumption is reduced by more than 90 percent compared to soil, coco, or stonewool 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. You can fill a large area with a low a number of plants as it requires only a fraction of the plants you would need for a stonewool cube and slab method.

Aeroponics

Aeroponics house 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 the air. This method will also use the least amount of nutrients 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 closely stacked rack-style stonewool vertical farms and allowing more canopy space.

Oxygen absorbs best into your water at temperatures between 64-66°F. It is important to keep optimum oxygen absorption while keeping a comfortable temperature for the roots. To ensure success, all recirculating hydroponic methods (NFT, TREE, DWC, AERO) absolutely must operate with a water chiller. It is recommended for stonewool or coco drain-to-waste growing as well but is not as crucial.

(Read also: 5 Keys Steps for Trimming Cannabis Plants)

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 avoid growing bad bacteria, use a low dose of clean nutrients, and keep your growrooms tidy. Saving time by automating your system allows you to keep the growing environment and system clean, spending more time with the plants and less time working.


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GreenBroz, Inc. provides industry-leading automated harvesting systems to the legal cannabis industry. Committed to high-caliber engineering, reliability, exceptional quality, and customer service, GreenBroz is dedicated to helping companies thrive.


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Presented By

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Written by Dan Vaillancourt | Owner of 4Trees Cannabis Building Ltd.

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Dan has designed and built hundreds of growing facilities as well as grown thousands of plants himself and spent countless hours in both the grow room and consulting. He owns 4Trees Cannabis Building Ltd., a company that designs and constructs growing facilities for both ACMPR as well as recreational (Micro-cultivation, LP). He is proud to be shaping Canada's cannabis industry.

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