Indoor growers are initially faced with a very important choice. Do they go with an expensive hydroponic grow system, or soil? On one hand you have soil, the traditional growth medium that has been used for thousands of years to grow plants, and on the other you’ve got hydroponics, a more recent practice of growing plants with water and nutrients but with no soil.
For a first time grower it is popular opinion that the “better” more convenient setup is soil. Hydroponics makes plants grow faster, but when first starting out, unless you learn extremely quickly it generally won’t make your buds more potent than soil (at first). Hydroponics should be attempted after you have a few successful foundational soil crops under your belt, or if you feel you will be able to jump right in successfully without becoming overwhelmed. If you are starting from seed and growing for personal use, soil is the practical growing medium. If the crop is started with clones and is commercial, a hydroponics setup is then definitely more practical.
It is of popular opinion that soil is far superior in terms of quality factors such as bud taste and flavor. People pay fortunes for the best quality, so soil is ideal for this reason. The problem is, soil is harder to mas-produce, so it is not ideal for commercial varieties, unless used outdoors. Which as we;ve discussed, sacrifices overall quality (in some cases) depending on the growth environment and strain (genetics) chosen. It is also much cheaper on your wallet. Many growers also find that soil is more forgiving. If you make a mistake with hydroponics the damage can be drastic and irreversible. Plants “burn” and get severely injured due to the heavy chemical concentrations. Soil is easier to fix damage, you just repot the plant! Hydroponics tends to be a bit more tricky.
A hydroponics garden’s nutrient and root setup typically aids in faster plant development, but it takes a lot of monitoring. Hydroponic gardens benefit the overall growth of the plant in terms of size – root systems are spread throughout soil in order to increase surface area and the chance that the plant will absorb minerals and water that permeate through the grow medium, as well as vastly increasing oxygenation of the roots, which aids in yield and growing time.
With hydroponically grown plants, the nutrients are present all throughout the liquid mixture. That way, the root system does not have to be as extensive as with soil-based plants. This means that the plant can devote more nutrients and energy to growth above the root system, which is the kind of foliage vegetative matter growth that leads to big potent exotic buds.
As plants grown in soil begin to grow larger their root systems begin to cramp. They must then be placed in a larger container, or transplanted. (Please note that hydroponically grown cannabis does not need to be transplanted.) This saves time and increases growing efficiency greatly. Hydroponically grown plants do not have to deal with problems such as “transplant shock”. It is very easy to move them around, depending on the setup of your system.
Hydroponic grow mediums are definitely an improvement over traditional soil when it comes to speed of production and overall yield, but it is much easier to grow marijuana in soil.
It is not that difficult to set up and operate a hydroponic system, but one detail like a faulty irrigation timer can cause devastation if not immediately corrected.
The hydroponic solution must be monitored closely and kept balanced, while a well prepared soil solution may not need any additional fertilizers for the entire life of the plant. As long as you water the soil when it gets dry the plant will thrive and be happy.
Soil-grown pot is considered by many to have a more palatable taste than hydroponically grown herb, but there are always exceptions to such rules. Some growers get the best of both worlds by experimenting with organic hydroponics, but most use basic stock solutions that contain fertilizer salts and plant nutrients chemicals in a readily available form.
These salts are easy to administer in tried-and-true formulas, but the problem is that these stock solutions tend to leave a metallic taste in the precious produce. Experienced growers know to leach their plants before harvest to remove residual salts from the buds, but it appears that few bother to leach sufficiently for a truly clean, pure taste.
A milder feed solution will prevent the build-up of excess fertilizer salts in the bud. Leaching time varies from grower to grower, from two days to two weeks. Some use plain or distilled water, others simply use a very diluted feed solution.
For the newbie grower, soil is definitely a great choice. A Hydroponics setup takes up more room, is less stealthy (along with the noise), plus the care and monitoring of the system, and high costs are often too much for a newbie first starting out. But, as cannabis cultivation gains widespread popularity, easy to use inexpensive all-in-one hydroponic grow systems are becoming increasingly available for purchasing.
(For tips on choosing the right hydroponic system for you, please refer to the hydroponic chapter in this guide.)