August 03, 2020 8 min read

By George Mouratidis

Hydroponics has certainly gained a lot of hype amongst contemporary cannabis cultivators.

Indeed, you could say this soilless growing technique is making a “splash” in the marijuana industry.

Even diehard dirt fans are now hypnotized by the pros that hydroponics offers them.

Despite the growing interest in hydroponics, some home-growers have a terrible case of "hydrophobia." With all the complex lingo surrounding hydroponics, it's understandable why some novice cultivators feel a bit intimidated.

There are, however, many good reasons you should consider going hydro. 

In this post, we're going to discuss a few of the essential features to consider if you want to create a hydroponic grow room.

By the end of this post, you should have a basic understanding of what hydroponics entails and whether it's the right choice for you.

Hydroponics...What The Heck Is It?

Basically, hydroponics refers to a method of growing that uses a soilless medium. Confused? 

Instead of “old school” soil, a hydroponic system will use pure water and plenty of nutrient solutions.

The water and nutrients used in hydroponic units are stored in a reservoir, which usually has an air stone and a nutrient pump. Every hydroponic system has a different design, but they all transport nutrient-rich water from the reservoir to your plant’s roots.

Although a hydroponic set-up could rely on water, many units also require another inert material to keep your plants stable. The most commonly used inert materials include coco coir, rockwool, perlite, and clay pebbles.

We understand how many novice growers might think hydroponics is a revolutionary technique, but it has been around for centuries. In fact, most scientists believe modern-day hydroponics dates back to the 17th century.

Why Use Hydroponics Over A Soil-Based Medium?

If you're someone who gets good results with soil, then you're probably wondering why you'd switch to a hydroponic set-up. Well, here’s the main selling point: hydroponics growers generally enjoy higher yields in less time. 

Since hydroponic units bring nutrients to your plants, the roots have no reason to expend any unnecessary energy. This means your plants could spend all their precious vitality pushing upwards to create incredibly dense buds. 

Another major pro for using hydroponics is that you could exert far more control over your grow cycle. Although organic soil is naturally nutrient-dense, it's also incredibly imprecise. With hydroponics, you know the exact ratios of nutrients you're putting in at any given moment.

It's also worth pointing out that hydroponic units are far less susceptible to pest invasions versus soil-based mediums. There's also no chance of developing soil diseases or mold infestations with a hydroponic set-up.

Even though hydroponic units have many advantages, that doesn't mean they're perfect for every grower. Indeed, the main drawback of hydroponic systems is there's far less room for error. You can't rely on soil or fertilizer to buffer common nutrient deficiencies.

Honestly, the debate over soil versus hydroponics will never be resolved. Everyone has different growing preferences, so you have to choose the growing medium you feel most comfortable with.

What Goes Into A Standard Hydroponic System? 

No matter what hydroponic style you decide to use, there are a few essential features that go into every system. Here are a few elements everyone needs to know as they set up their hydroponic unit:

Grow table: Also called the "grow tray," this is the container where you will place your cannabis plants. Typically, you'll also put some inert material on the grow table to keep your plants upright.

Reservoir: This large tray contains the water and nutrients that will cycle in and out of your grow table. It's best to use a reservoir with a lid so water won't evaporate into the air. Also, be sure your reservoir will reflect light to decrease the risk of algae growth.

Nutrient pump: Usually placed inside your reservoir, the nutrient pump helps deliver essential minerals into the grow tray.

Air pump & air stone: The air pump is placed outside of the reservoir and is connected to an air stone. This device is essential for keeping your water well oxygenated as it circulates into your grow tray. Not only does this provide oxygen to your plants, it also gets rid of harmful bacteria.

Tubes: To keep water and air flowing throughout your hydroponic system, you'll need a tubing network to connect all of the pumps to the grow tray. For the best results, these should be made out of high-quality, BPA-free plastic.

What's The Best Way To Distinguish Hydroponic Systems? 

Often, new home-growers have trouble wrapping their heads around all the different hydroponic systems. Indeed, if you're someone just getting into cultivation, hydroponic terms can sound a bit like a foreign language.

To simplify these distinctions, it's helpful to keep in mind that hydroponics fall into one of two categories: active or passive. Unsurprisingly, active units push nutrients into grow trays via pumps. On the other hand, passive units use wicks to absorb nutrient-rich water and transfer it into your plant's root system.

Generally, cannabis cultivators prefer active hydroponic systems. Active systems can better provide roots with optimal oxygen, which often leads to healthier plants.

Of the many active systems now available, some of the most popular are deep water culture (DWC), nutrient film technique (NFT), and ebb & flow. Of these three, DWC is the easiest to set up as it only involves placing net pots with seeds and inert matter over reservoir buckets.

Ebb & flow systems have reservoirs underneath grow trays and work by pumping water with the help of an automatic timer. NFT set-ups are similar to ebb & flow, but the grow trays are slightly tilted, so you don't have to use a timer to supply or drain water.

To take advantage of all these methods, Everything But The Plant now offers high-quality hydroponic units that combine the strengths of these systems. Even if you're a total beginner, we recommend taking a peek at the diverse hydroponic systems available on this webpage.

Do I Really Need A Grow Tent For Hydroponic Set-Ups? 

Grow tents aren’t technically “essential” for growing hydroponically, but boy will they help you grow great ganja!

Indeed, if you’re growing in a small area like a closet, you simply won’t get good results without taking advantage of all the great features grow tents offer. 

One of the top benefits of using a grow tent is that it helps concentrate the intensity of your grow light thanks to an interior Mylar coating. Better light coverage equals trichome-rich buds! 

Plus, grow tents provide excellent insulation to make it easier to maintain humidity and temperature levels. Even if you live in cold climates, you won’t have any problem keeping your grow space nice and toasty with a professional grow tent. 

Since at-home cultivation has become increasingly popular, there's a fantastic variety of tent sizes that are perfect for everyone's grow space.

For more details on professional-grade grow tents, please check out Everything But The Plant's catalog.

Let’s Talk Nutrition: Are Soil-Based Nutes OK For Hydroponics?

A common mistake first-time hydroponics growers make is to use soil-approved nutrients in their reservoir. Unfortunately, not all nutrients are created equal, so you need to triple-check the nutrients you're buying are approved for hydroponics.

Remember, plants in hydroponics units don't have the advantage of all the minerals naturally present in soil.

Nutrient manufacturers consider this fact as they formulate their blends for hydroponics users. For instance, you'll notice nitrogen counts are far higher in hydroponic nutrients versus soil-based nutes. 

You'll also notice most hydroponics nutrients have a far longer roster of less significant minerals like magnesium, copper, iron, and sulfur. Plants don't have difficulty getting micronutrients in good quality soil, but they are prone to deficiencies if you don't put them into hydroponic systems.

By the way, you don't want to put any organic materials into a hydroponic unit. Any nutrients that contain substances like guano or fish emulsion can gunk up your reservoir.

Everything But The Plant now offers plenty of high-quality nutrients perfect for any hydroponic system. Be sure to check out our full line of liquid and powder nutrients by clicking this link.

How To Keep Perfect pH In Hydroponics? 

In addition to hydroponics-approved nutrients, cultivators need to keep their grow room well-stocked with pH regulating powders. Keeping your water within the 5.5 – 6.5 range is crucial for a successful hydroponics grow.

Since pH levels are so crucial in hydroponics, many home-growers use automatic pH dosing pumps to automatically raise or lower their water's pH levels. Although these pumps are pretty handy, please don't neglect using a pH scanner to manually monitor levels.

Water Wars - Is Reverse Osmosis Really Better Than Tap Water? 

People often assume you need high-quality water to make high-quality plants. While this makes logical sense, the truth is a little, well, "murky."

Yes, purification systems like reverse osmosis will remove contaminants from tap water, but it also strips your water of beneficial micronutrients. So, not only do you have to spend more to get a reverse osmosis machine, you also have to buy a comprehensive supply of micronutrients. 

On the flipside, tap water often contains traces of chemicals like chlorine that might hinder plant development. Many home-growers also don’t like the fact that they have no control over what compounds are in their tap water. 

However, tap water in developed nations is usually safe to use in hydroponic systems. For extra security, you could always look up your municipality’s water treatment procedures or use a water quality detector at home. Some home-growers also leave their tap water out overnight to evaporate traces of chlorine. 

If you’re someone who likes to work with a “blank canvass,” or you’re trying to grow a particularly demanding strain, then reverse osmosis might be for you. Just recognize you will have to spend a lot more time, energy, and money to produce this purified water.

A Quick Warning On Water Temperature 

While we’re talking about water purity, it’s worth pointing out the importance of water temperature when growing hydroponically. To ward off algae infestations and retain dissolved oxygen, you must keep your water between 64 – 70° F.

The easiest way to cool your water down is to throw a frozen plastic bottle in the reservoir, but there are other strategies you could employ.

For instance, some growers deflect heat off of their reservoir by painting the top white.

You could also use water chillers or cooling coils to great effect. Whatever works for your budget, please do all you can to keep your water within this temperature range. 

One Final Tip: Don’t Skimp On Sanitation! 

Every time you finish a growing cycle in your hydroponic system, you must give your unit a thorough clean to flush out unwanted fungi. In addition to preventing algae, thorough hydroponic cleanings help keep your tubes clog-free.

There are many different methods for cleaning a hydroponic unit, but most cultivators recommend using 35 percent hydrogen peroxide.

After giving your hydroponic unit a light scrub with a moist towel, refill the system with water and let it sit for about one hour. After one hour, add 3 mL of hydrogen peroxide per gallon of water into the reservoir.

Once you've poured the hydrogen peroxide, turn on your hydroponic unit and let it run for at least four hours. This long cleaning cycle will ensure the hydrogen peroxide gets into every nook and cranny of your device. Lastly, drain all of the hydrogen peroxide and give your hydroponic unit a rinse with pure water.

Also, don't forget to disinfect any thermometers or tracking devices that you frequently dip into your reservoir. Usually, a cotton swab with 75 percent isopropyl alcohol will get rid of any potential pathogens.

So, Are You Buying The Hydroponics Hype?

We won't lie; there is a bit of a learning curve involved in transitioning from soil to hydroponics. However, once you get used to working with this medium, you'll be amazed by the high yields hydroponics could help you achieve.

If you're just beginning your hydroponics journey, then we strongly suggest looking into the many easy-to-use machines on Everything But The Plant. You'll be shocked at how adjustable and beginner-friendly hydroponic units are nowadays!

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