Mediums and Methods to Maximize Your Indoor Grow
Considering growing indoors for the first time? There are several different grow mediums and hydro methods to consider. Monica Mansfield breaks down your options.
You’ve decided to start an indoor grow and now it’s time to design your setup. The first thing you need to choose is the type of medium you’ll be growing in. You have plenty of options, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
You’ll want to consider your knowledge and experience level, how much money you want to invest, your time commitment, and whether you want to grow organically. Although these are all important factors, at the end of the day it comes down to personal preference. The following mediums can all produce beautiful crops as long as you study up on the system you choose and put in the daily work.
If you are a beginner, soil is probably your best choice. It is by far the most forgiving medium and acts as a buffer to your plants’ roots. If your nutrient levels are off, or you didn’t water on time, you’ll have a better chance of not killing your plants. Soils that are rich in organic matter release nutrients slowly over time and retain moisture, which helps to protect your garden from common newbie mistakes.
If you’re a beginner, there’s a lot you don’t know about growing in general, let alone all the different types of equipment required for various hydroponic systems. There is a learning curve to growing, and many mistakes are made along the way. Soil is the easiest place to learn. Once you master the basics, you can move on and learn about other grow systems and all their moving parts.
Soil is the most affordable option for your growroom. Hydroponic systems can be very expensive. Not only do you need to buy the system, but you’ll need pumps, air stones, tubing, controllers, and meters. The costs add up quickly. With soil, you need pots, saucers, and soil, which is much less expensive.
If growing organically is important to you, you’ll want to grow with soil. You can build your soil with organic amendments and inoculate it with beneficial microbes and mycorrhizal fungi. This makes nutrients more readily available and protects against diseases.
(Read also: 4 Easy Steps to Super Soil for Thriving Cannabis Plants)
High-quality soil creates a much better flavor than plants grown in soilless mediums have. Cannabis grown in rich soil will have a superior terpene content as well, which means beautiful buds coated in sparkling crystals.
Although growing in soil has all these benefits, it does come with some drawbacks. Soil is an ideal environment for pests and diseases to flourish, especially indoors. One bad bag of soil can introduce fungus gnats, thrips, or the dreaded spider mite to your growroom. Inspect new soil carefully before bringing it in. Check your plants regularly for pests and diseases so you can treat problems quickly and have a better chance at eradicating them. Another drawback is plants grow slower in soil because the roots have to push through a more dense environment compared to hydroponics, so that is something to keep in mind as well.
Although it feels a lot like soil gardening, growing in coco coir is considered a hydroponic method because it is a soilless medium and you’ll be feeding your plants with a nutrient solution. It is a great way to learn more about how to run a hydroponic grow without having to use automated equipment.
You can also use coco coir in hydroponic systems. For example, you can use a coco coir mat or coco-filled pots with an ebb and flow system and get great results. Coco also tends to be more forgiving than other hydroponic setups.
Coco coir makes a great substitute for peat moss when mixing your own soil. Most potting soils contain peat, however, we are currently harvesting peat moss at an unsustainable rate. Coco coir, on the other hand, is a byproduct of the coconut industry and needs to be used so it doesn’t end up in a landfill. Its role in the agriculture industry means it is a widely available and a renewable resource, making it an even more sustainable option.
Researchers at Auburn University and the University of Arkansas found coco coir performs on par with peat. It aerates the soil and improves its moisture holding capacity with less water than peat needs. Coco coir retains water well while also having excellent drainage.
(Read also: Why Growers are Crazy for Coco Coir)
Coco is resistant to pests and has natural antifungal properties, so it’s unlikely fungal diseases and root rot will develop.
Having said that, coco coir can be problematic for some growers. The quality of coco products tends to be inconsistent, sometimes even from the same company. If the product wasn’t processed properly, your garden can have nutrient issues, such as nutrient lockout. Coco is naturally high in sodium and potassium, so most manufacturers soak their coco in a buffering solution to leach the salts. However, some growers may still experience calcium and magnesium deficiencies as a result.
If growing organically is a priority for you, coco coir may not be the way to go. Organic fertilizers don’t usually yield good results in this medium. Coco needs nutrients made specifically for coco, but most if the fertilizers available are salt-based and not organic.
Many gardeners prefer hydroponics, or growing plants in water, because plants can grow 30-50 percent faster with a larger yield at harvest. Hydroponic nutrients are chelated and easily absorbed by your plants, causing them to grow quickly. Some say this comes at the cost of flavor, while many others prefer cannabis grown hydroponically.
As the grower, you have full control of the nutrients your plants take up. Your plants will be sensitive to what you put in your solution, including any mistakes you make. You need to be sure to check your solution’s pH, EC/PPM, and temperature regularly and adjust as needed.
Although one of the benefits of growing this way is the ability to automate your system, you still need to check on your garden daily. Catching a problem early can be the difference between a successful crop and a dead one. The slightest bit of root rot can travel through the system quickly and destroy all your plants.
Hydroponics is completely reliant on electricity. One power outage, or even just a pump dying on its own, can be detrimental to your garden. Many growers have flooded their rooms this way.
(Read also: What’s Better: Growing Cannabis in Soil or Hydroponics?)
An automated garden is a wonderful thing. As long as you monitor your garden daily and nothing goes wrong, you’ll enjoy not having to lug around a five-gallon bucket to feed by hand every few days.
You’ll also save water with hydroponics. Recirculating systems can save up to 90 percent more water than a soil grow. Many consider this a checkmark in the eco-friendly column, however, the amount of electricity you’ll use probably evens things out when it comes to sustainability.
Another drawback: electricity is expensive, and so is the hydroponic system itself. It may or may not make sense for you to spend that kind of money to set up and maintain your growroom.
Growing organically is difficult to do in a hydroponic system. Although there are some organic fertilizers made specifically for hydro, most organic fertilizers are too thick. They clog the tubes, emitters, and air stones and can wreak havoc on your system. If growing organic is important to you, it’s best to stick with soil.
Aeroponics is a type of hydroponics where, instead of growing in a medium or directly in water, roots hang free in the air and are misted or fogged with a nutrient solution. Aeroponics has many of the same advantages and disadvantages as other hydroponic systems.
The main advantage of aeroponics is the massive growth rate and higher yields. Because plant roots are always exposed to oxygen, they absorb nutrients at a much higher rate, often yielding three times the harvest as other methods.
These systems are also compact and mobile. Their design allows them to easily be stacked, or grown in a tower, taking further advantage of vertical space.
Although these systems don’t require much labor (for the most part), the root chambers do require regular cleaning and disinfecting to prevent bacterial growth and fungal diseases from developing.
Aquaponics is a hydroponic system with fish added to the equation. Fish are grown in a tank near your plants. Their waste fertilizes the water and is then circulated through the system to feed your garden. Instead of just growing your plants, you are now growing your own meat and creating your own natural fertilizer. You can’t get more organic and sustainable than that. Your main input into this garden will be fish food.
There is a learning curve with these systems. It will take time for you to learn how to balance your ecosystem so that both your fish and plants thrive. Unfortunately, most growers need to make their fair share of expensive mistakes before they get the hang of aquaponics.
You have a lot of options when designing your growroom. Take these pros and cons into consideration so you can choose a system that best suits your needs. Happy growing!
(Read next: The Pros and Cons of Growing Cannabis Using Aquaponics)
Written by Monica Mansfield | Homesteader, Owner & Writer of The Nature Life Project
Monica Mansfield is passionate about gardening, sustainable living, and holistic health. After owning an indoor garden store for 5 1/2 years, Monica sold the business and started a 6.5-acre homestead with her husband, Owen. She writes about gardening and health, as well as her homestead adventures on her blog at thenaturelifeproject.com.