What is hydroponics, how they work, and how to grow autoflowering cannabis in hydroponic setups. Follow these steps to start weed seeds for hydroponics and get your plants off to a healthy start.
How to Grow Autoflowering Cannabis Plants in a Hydroponic Setup
A hydroponic setup is the way to go if you want to grow really frosty flowers with a high amount of terpenes.
- 1. What are ph and ppm levels?
- 2. Measuring and adjusting ph and ec levels
- 3. Hydroponic setups
- 3. a. Hydro setups: ebb and flow & continuous flow
- 3. b. Hydro setups: deep water culture (dwc)
- 3. c. Hydro setups: shallow water culture (swc)
- 3. d. Hydro setups: nutrient film technique
- 3. e. Hydro setups: aeroponics
- 3. f. Hydro setups: drip irrigation and continuous drip irrigation
- 3. g. Hydro setups: wick system
- 4. Best autoflowers to grow in a hydro setup
- 4. a. Orange sherbet auto
- 4. b. Wedding cheesecake auto
- 5. Most common mistakes when growing hydroponically
- 5. a. Ignoring ph levels
- 5. b. Using improper nutrients
- 5. c. Incorrect lighting
- 5. d. Not cleaning properly
- 6. Not ready for a full hydro setup, but want to dip your toes into the hydro world?
- 7. In conclusion
Hydroponics is a well-known technique for cultivating soilless indoors, this technique consists of soaking the roots in a nutrient solution and lots of oxygen. Using this method means that there is no soil and plants grow in a sterile, inert growing medium. The hydroponic method provides the nutrients, water, and oxygen directly to the roots. As there is no need for massive roots or extra energy to absorb the nutrients, the plants grow much faster and bigger, here’s a hydroponic grow guide and some tips to help you decide on the best way to grow autoflowers hydroponically in your growing space.
1. What are pH and PPM Levels?
Before talking about the different hydroponic setups we must advise that in hydroponic grow is essential to measure pH and PPM levels every day. We use the pH meter to know how alkaline or acidic our solution is and the EC meter is used to measure PPM levels (PPM means particles per million).
A simple way to understand it is we measure pH levels to be sure our plant’s nutrient intake is optimal. We measure PPM levels to make sure we are giving the right amount of nutrients to our plant and to ensure our plant is absorbing nutrients.
2. Measuring and Adjusting pH and EC Levels
In hydroponics, it’s essential to measure pH and PPM levels every day, preferably every time we feed our autoflowers. You should measure runoff and the solution going in, and compare. PH levels should be around 5.5-5.8. If they are too high or too low your plant will have problems absorbing nutrients. You can use a pH-adjusting solution (pH up or pH down) and measure again until it’s as close as possible to the desired amount. PPM levels go up for each stage so here’s a table to better visualize them:
Keep in mind, if PPM levels are too low or too high, your autoflower will show symptoms of under or overfeeding.
3. Hydroponic Setups
No matter which hydroponic system you choose you’ll need:
- a water pump;
- an air stone;
- a timer;
- a reservoir;
Make sure that you pick a large enough reservoir so it can hold enough water and nutrients for a couple of weeks. The reservoir has to have a lid so your solution doesn’t evaporate. You’ll need another reservoir to hold water where you can test and adjust pH. We recommend having a third one in case one of the other two breaks. The reservoir containing the nutrient solution should be insulated so you can control the temperature. Now, have in mind that there’s no such thing as the best hydroponic system for cannabis because the best one for you will depend on what suits you better and what you can afford.
Hydro Setups: Ebb and flow & Continuous Flow
This hydroponic system is quite simple and it’s the most popular choice within growers because it doesn’t require too much work, it’s low maintenance, and very productive. This system is ideal for beginners. Ebb and flow works by placing our reservoir under the growing bed. The water pump turns on to fill the growing bed (where the plants are) every 15 min with our solution. When it reaches its higher level, the pump turns off and the solution is then drained through a pipe. In this setup, you can use coco fiber, perlite, or clay pebbles to support your plant. Growing hydroponically you need some kind of medium so the roots can hold themselves onto something.
The hydroponic setup for Ebb and flow/Continuous Flow is basically the same with minor changes in the size and height of the drain pipes.
With basically the same setup as the Ebb and flow, the Continuous flow technique is the opposite. This method consists of providing a continuous flow of solution. The never-ending stream of water flows around the roots, allowing them to absorb what they need from it. As opposed to the Ebb and flow which fills all the way to the limit and then drains all at once.
|Easy to build||Problems with breakdowns|
|Nutrient abundance||Unstable pH|
|Low cost||Can result in nutrient deficiencies|
Hydro Setups: Deep water culture (DWC)
Deep water culture is a style of hydroponic growing that may or may not use a medium like perlite, coco, or clay pebbles. In a DWC setup, you have a reservoir filled with a mix of water and nutrients, the lid holds special pots or nets with their roots stretching down having part of them submerged in the solution, this way they have nutrients available all day long and can absorb nutrients when they want to.
As we know, oxygen is essential for plants, so you need to use an air stone in this setup to keep the solution oxygenated.
|Faster growth||Completely depends on the air pump|
|Little maintenance||Hard to maintain water temperature|
|No need for a lot of equipment||PH may fluctuate a lot in smaller setups|
Hydro Setups: Shallow water culture (SWC)
Shallow water cultures (SWC) is basically the same as deep water culture (DWC) but instead of growing in a bucket or big container, this system consists of a wide reservoir that’s no deeper than 20 – 25 cm, where plants get a constant flow of nutrient solution. SWC is considered more efficient in terms of space, however, it’s usually only used for clones because it’s super hard to maintain correct pH levels due to the nutrient solution and water in the reservoir needing to be monitored constantly.
As you may know, oxygenation is vital when growing in hydro so make sure the water is flowing properly or add air stones for the water to be properly oxygenated.
|Water flow provides enough oxygenation||Needs constant monitoring|
|Bigger yields||Works better when growing smaller plants|
|Uses less water and nutrients||PH can fluctuate a lot|
Deep Water Culture (DWC) vs Shallow Water Culture (SWC)
As mentioned, SWC is basically the same as DWC but instead of growing in a deep reservoir, you grow in a wide one so a shallow water culture setup may be more suited for growers with limited vertical space but plenty of horizontal space. Another important difference is that an SWC setup uses less water which allows you to save on water and nutrients but, due to using less water, pH levels can oscillate and the temperature of the water may fluctuate; This means that despite saving money, an SWC requires you to be precise and needs constant monitoring so it’s recommended for more experienced growers.
Hydro Setups: Nutrient Film Technique
The nutrient film technique consists of exposing the roots to the air permanently and keeping a thin flow of water along the bottom in which the tips of the roots are soaked, providing the nutrients they need while the rest of the roots are exposed to oxygen.
After years of utilizing this technique, growers realized the downsides to this technique which were quite bad, some growers quickly ran into problems such as root rot so they upgraded the nutrient film technique in a form where the roots are suspended in net pots which ended up being very similar to the Ebb and flow method but with thin layer of water constantly flowing underneath the roots.
|Easy to inspect roots for diseases||Cannot stop the water flow|
|Less water and nutrient consumption||Water can heat up faster than in other setups|
|Prevents nutrient build-up||Must check regularly|
Hydro setups: Aeroponics
Aeroponics is a technique very similar to the DWC technique mentioned previously. The setup is the same, a reservoir filled with a solution of water and nutrients. The difference is, instead of submerging the roots, we leave them hanging in midair, using a sprinkler to mist water directly on the roots every 3-5 min.
With aeroponics method the roots are hanging in midair and watered directly with a sprinkler every 3-5 min.
The reservoir must be lightproof and waterproof which helps create a highly humid environment. There’s no need to use an air stone as the roots are literally surrounded by oxygen.
|Maximum nutrient absorption||Requires constant attention|
|Easier to move plants around||Initial cost can be high|
|Healthier plants||Requires a bit of technical knowledge|
Hydro setups: Drip Irrigation and Continuous Drip Irrigation
The Drip irrigation method consists of having a large reservoir with tubes that is reaching each pot individually. On the tip of the tubes, there are drippers that are placed above the grow medium (this method can be used with hydroponic mediums or soil). You have to program a timer that controls the amount of solution and frequency your plants get fed. When the timer turns on, a water pump is activated, watering your plant for the exact amount of time you programmed, not a drop more, not a drop less. Normally they are watered in increments of 15 mins and for a duration of around 4 min. You don’t even have to be there to feed them. Ideally, you would be just checking if the system is working properly and that’s it.
This is a perfect option for beginners. Except checking on the system once in a while it doesn’t require much hands-on action.
There is an adaptation of the drip irrigation technique called Continuous drip irrigation. It uses the same setup but instead of watering when the timer turns on, the water pump never turns off, providing a continuous flow of solution for the plant. Like in the DWC technique, this way the plants can be fed whenever they need to and will result in faster growth and much bigger plants.
|Minimizer evaporation thus saving water||Must be controlled closely|
|Healthy soil due to optimal waterings||Tubing might get clogged|
|Little runoff results in a richer soil||Equipment must be on 24/7|
Hydro setups: Wick System
A wick system (aka wicking) is another method used to grow cannabis hydroponically but unlike the other methods cited before, this one is relatively low-maintenance, easy to use, and can be done for cheap so it’s recommended for growers that want to start growing hydroponically but want to start with a simple setup.
A wick system is the cheapest hydro system but it could be easier to get root rot so you have to be extremely careful.
This system basically consists of using the principle of capillary action to provide water to your plants so as your plants draw nutrients to the roots, the wick pulls the nutrient solution from the reservoir, basically watering the soil.
|Simple and accessible for beginners||Not suitable for big plants|
|Minimal maintenance||Not very efficient at delivering nutrients|
|Uses less electricity than other hydro setups||Easier to get nutrient build-up in the soil|
This is a huge benefit because it makes it almost impossible to overwater your marijuana plants, although due to the wicks being always moist, it’s possible to get root rot so it’s essential to maintain good growing conditions.
4. Best Autoflowers To Grow In A Hydro Setup
Growing hydroponically consists of feeding your plant and maintaining good conditions for the roots to grow in, just like when growing in coco or soil so any strain will do exceptionally well in a hydro setup.
Orange Sherbet Auto
If you have enough space in your grow room try cultivating one of the big yielders like our Orange Sherbet Auto. Hydroponic setup will let her fully develop resulting in a huge yield.
I grew this with other fast buds strains. I’m very happy how they all grew. I use soil, 19L pots on a 20/4 light cycle. They love it.
Growing this strain in a hydroponic setup will let her fully develop, growing up to 150cm and producing huge yields.
- We recommend LST to open up the canopy and allow light to reach the lower flowering sites, increasing yields even further.
- It’s most likely that you’ll need to provide support to the branches due to the heavy buds so make sure you keep an eye out to prevent the branches from snapping.
Wedding Cheesecake Auto
Another great strain to grow hydroponically is our Wedding Cheesecake Auto which grows up to 130cm with several side branches, just like the Orange Sherbet Auto
Beautiful plants, and consistent among the three. I topped all of them and got around 115g off each in 2 gallon pots. Very pleased
By maintaining good growing conditions throughout the whole grow cycle you can expect huge yields of up to 600gr/m2 so it’s definitely a must for hydro growers.
- This strain responds very well to LST so we recommend tying down the branches early in the vegetative stage to allow the buds to develop to the maximum.
- We recommend using bigger pots (11-12L) to allow your plant to develop to the fullest and allow your plant to show its full potential.
5. Most Common Mistakes When Growing Hydroponically
Even though you might get excited to get better yields and bigger plants, growing in a hydro setup is not super easy and it has a learning curve to be able to do it properly and successfully so here are the main mistakes that will bring problems into your cannabis garden.
Ignoring pH Levels
The pH level is vital for your plants to be able to absorb nutrients properly, if the pH level oscillates your plants will have a hard time absorbing nutrients, showing signs of deficiencies and ultimately dying.
So to avoid this you will need to measure the pH at least once a day and with a good pH meter, remember that your plants grow thanks to the nutrient solution that feeds them so if the nutrient solution is off, your plants might not grow.
Using improper nutrients
Using improper nutrients will not only prevent your plants from growing to their fullest but can also end up clogging your hydro setup because some fertilizers may not dilute entirely and can end up clogging tubes and drains so make sure you use the best hydro fertilizers you can.
Another super important factor is the light fixture, using the wrong kind of lighting or using a light that it’s not strong enough won’t allow your plants to perform photosynthesis properly and your plants won’t grow as strong and big as you would want to.
Now, there’s a lot of debate about which ones are better, LEDs or light bulbs but the truth is that you can get really good results with both, it’s just a matter of knowing how to use them but LEDs are usually preferred by growers due to their full-spectrum.
Not cleaning properly
It’s essential you clean your setup before using it and after every grow cycle because the nutrient solution can end up getting harmful bacteria or you can end up with a hydro setup full of algae so you should clean not only your equipment but the entire grow space your plants are in.
6. Not Ready for a Full Hydro Setup, But Want to Dip Your Toes Into the Hydro World?
Let’s talk coco coir! Ok, so now we have been through the whole process of setting up all the different types of pure hydroponic options. And while all of them will produce fantastic results, they are pretty complicated processes that take a fair bit of effort and funds to set up, and once the setup is done the work is far from over. Hydro setups need constant attention, far more than soil grows for sure. But, is there another option? One that offers some of the ease of soil growing mixed with the obvious yield advantages that a hydro setup offers? Yes indeed! Say hello to coco-coir.
But what exactly is coco-coir, and how can we use it to grow pot?
Well, to put it simply, coco-coir is the perfect mix of both hydroponics and soil. It offers most of the advantages of both styles of cultivation with almost none of the drawbacks. It is budget-friendly, easy to work with, and offers fantastic growth potential. Coco-coir is a totally inert hydroponic medium that is made from the shaggy outer layer that covers a coconut. Do you know the stringy, almost hair-like shag that you get on a coconut? That’s the stuff. But don’t go out and start buying up all the coconuts you can lay your hands on just yet.
Since it is a totally inert medium you need to add all the nutrients just as you would with a pure hydro setup. But, unlike pure hydroponics, where the roots are suspended in the nutrient solution, the roots are held in the coco-coir which acts in a very similar way to soil. This means the roots are far more protected from not only pests, fungi, and disease infestations but also to sunlight.
Ok, but what are the actual advantages of growing in coco-coir over hydro or soil?
We have briefly touched on some of the reasons why we love using coco as our growing medium, but let’s break it down:
- Coco-coir offers Huge harvest potential and increases the speed of the lifecycle – Plants grown in coco-coir propagate almost as quickly as with pure hydro.
- It offers amazing root zone oxygenation – some studies show that coco-coir holds up to 70% more oxygen in the root zone than pure soil. Root zone oxygenation plays a vital role in the speed of growth, the final yield, and potency.
- It is highly resistant to pests, fungal, and disease infestations – The natural resistance is a huge plus for both indoor and outdoor cultivators.
- It is renewable and environmentally friendly – Once reserved for the trash heap, these days coco-coir is being repurposed and can helo cultivators reduce their carbon footprint.
- It requires less water and nutrient usage than soil – Coco-coir receives and drains much easier than pure soil, meaning the watering requirements of coco-coir are much lower.
These days, every single nutrient supplier has a dedicated range of nutrients to use for coco. They can be applied in pretty much any way you see fit, but the most common applications are either hand watering or drip-feeding. If you go down the hand watering route (which most beginner cultivators do), remember to always fully douse the coco-coir until you see about 30% of the nutrient solution runoff. Remember to also regularly check the pH of this runoff to ensure the substrate is in good shape and the root zone is in the right pH range for the nutrients to be available. It’s no good to feed perfectly pH’d water or nutrient solution if the substrate is at the wrong pH.
Are there any obvious drawbacks of using coco as the main medium choice?
As with any cultivating choice, there is a balance of advantages and disadvantages that you need to take into account before you decide on which route to go down. The cons of coco-coir are :
- More work overall than using a soil-based substrate – While you can run an organic protocol with coco-coir, it is more complicated than using a good soil mix. Having to feed the plant with a nutrient solution is inherently more work than letting the plants feed naturally from soil.
- Nutrient and pH issues are more common than soil cultivation – Plants in coco-coir are more sensitive to changes in the nutrient solution and pH, but thankfully they are also easier to fix thanks to the ease of flushing with coco-coir.
- The terpene profile may not stack up against organic buds – Weed grown in coco will be strong as hell and taste amazing, but most cultivators agree that to get the absolute best terpene profile you need to use organic options.
7. In Conclusion
There’s no such thing as the best hydroponics system for cannabis, all autoflowers grown in hydroponic setups can grow much taller and quicker due to the constant feeding of nutrients and water as long as you do it properly. They can develop faster and produce frostier buds with more terpenes than plants growing in normal soil, resulting in overall better quality.
We highly recommend considering these techniques and we promise the end result (if done correctly) can be infinitely better than any plant grown in soil.
How to Start Weed Seeds for Hydroponics
Now that it’s legal to grow your own weed in dozens of states, many people are moving to hydroponics for their seed growth.
There are various benefits to this form of seed germination, but the process has to be done correctly in order to get your cannabis seedlings to form healthily. If you put the time and effort in at the beginning, you’ll create a hydroponic system that does most of the work for you later.
Creating Cannabis Plants From a Hydroponic System
Sure, it’s easier to buy an already germinated seed rather than taking the time to do it yourself.
But the costs add up quickly, whereas germinating cannabis seeds hydroponically yourself gives you a solid return on your investment.
Rather than buying sprouted seeds and adding them to your water system, you can have a successful germination rate. This process also takes away all the disadvantages of the seeds you get in the store.
Why You Need Hydroponics in Your Life if You Grow Cannabis
If you don’t want your cannabis seeds limited to what other people sell, growing seeds is the way to go.
Plus, you can avoid the concern of picking up diseases from store-bought marijuana seeds and spreading them to your young plants.
Once you get the hang of how to germinate cannabis seeds and tend to your hydroponic system, you’ll never want to grow seeds through any other growing medium.
Turning Quality Seeds Into Cannabis Plants
Because the root system in hydroponics never connects to the soil, any seeds sprouted stay safely floating until you’re ready to use your marijuana plants.
So, any sprouts emerging from your system stay healthy and untraumatized.
How do you take a few seeds to germinate, design a hydroponic system, and start growing marijuana yourself?
Here’s all you need to know about germinating cannabis seeds for the maximum yield possible.
Starting Your Hydroponic System
Ready to see how good it feels to watch your cannabis seeds germinate into a young plant?
Sprouting seeds is a simple way to increase your healthy plant yield. You end up with multiple cannabis plants rather than one healthy seed bought from a store.
To ensure you germinate seeds that can successfully grow into a cannabis plant, you need a hydroponic system.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, but the costs at the start will be more expensive than buying a sprouted seed.
Remember, though, that getting a few seeds over time will end up costing more than investing in and creating your own method of germinating seeds at home.
What Every Cannabis Seed System Needs
In a cannabis plant’s life, there are four main components.
As long as you learn these factors and use them in an organized manner, you won’t have to add too much more equipment or do a lot of work after the initial setup.
Germinated seeds in hydroponics don’t need soil growers like your average growing plants do when you use potting soil.
Instead, they just require the essentials: oxygen, water, a light source, and heat. As you start seeds in the system, the proper lighting and the right temperature are crucial.
A Simple Beginning that Anyone Can Do
Let’s begin the process of designing your first greenhouse hydroponic system starting small.
You’ll need a grow tray, some starter cubes, and a humidity dome to monitor the temperature and moisture levels.
Starter cubes aren’t necessary, but they do make a massive difference. They have the ideal nutrient solution, like peat pellets, to help those first seeds sprout.
Once the young seedling reaches the stage where it’s able to be transferred, you can easily move the planted cubes without disrupting the roots.
This helps prevent root rot from excess water and gives you the maximum yield possible.
Adjusting the Temperature
Within the dome, your grow tray helps your plants grow from feminized seeds into healthy cannabis plants ready for the flowering stage.
For your role, you have to monitor the temperature and humidity. If you see water dripping from the side of the starter cube or dome, there’s too much moisture.
A heating mat under the grow tray helps avoid cold temperatures messing with the starter cubes and the seedlings.
Because even warm water turns cold, this heating mat keeps the grow tray at the ideal temperature to nestle the seeds inside and encourage them to grow.
Finding the Right Light Source
When it comes to adding lighting in the room, you don’t necessarily need more light. You need something that the germinating seeds grow toward.
In the case of cannabis plants, many experts recommend a hydroponic LED grow light system.
Cannabis is a green plant, so it must have the ideal environment to encourage photosynthesis. Seeds sprout naturally when the lighting initiates this process.
Then, the plants capture the light and use it to change the water and the given nutrient solution into oxygen and the compounds you desire.
These little seedlings need intense light, which is found in an LED grow lighting system.
Enough light at the right intensity will ensure you get the maximum yield possible from younger and older seeds.
Sprouting Your Seeds
Now that your environment is set up, it’s time to start the process of germination!
First, take your starter cubes and let them soak in clean tap water. In an hour or so, take two or three seeds and add them to the cube.
You should use enough to ensure at least one germinates, but not so many that if they all do, they’ll be overcrowded. As they begin to grow, any plants that look like they aren’t as healthy as the others can be thinned out.
Move the Starter Cubes
Next, take your grow tray and add an inch of half-strength nutrient solution.
Place the lighting source and mat where they fit best, then add the dome to keep the temperature and moisture at optimal levels.
Add your starter cubes into the tray, add a little water (not too much, you want to avoid root rot), and that’s it!
It will take a few days for seeds to germinate, but you’ll see whether your system is working or not by the fourth day.
Get Ready to Transport!
The seeds are germinating, and you can see roots daintily hanging out of the cube’s bottom. It’s the moment you’ve anticipated since you started your basic hydroponic system.
It’s time to transplant your young plant!
Chances are, it’s only been a month or less, but it can feel like forever as you’re checking and double-checking the plant’s health.
Now, it’s the real thing, and you’re moving your seedling into your actual hydroponic area.
This is the bigger tank or pond where you’re going to hold your nutrient solution and let your plants thrive until you’re ready to cultivate them.
Gently Move the Cube
Once you have a place for the cube, use the paper towel method to hold under the roots as you gently pull it from its grow tray.
There isn’t anything that connects the roots to a soil system, so a wet paper towel is all you need.
The roots are going to need a little time to get used to their new environment.
While they try to absorb the system’s nutrients, you can add a little water to the top or use those wet paper towels to cover the cube.
As the paper towel dries out, you know it’s time to add a little more moisture. Within a day or two, your new seedlings should be enjoying their hydro system without help, and you can drop the paper towels.
Enjoy Your Hard Work
You’ve taken your cannabis from small, non-germinated seeds to a young, healthy, green plant. From there, you guided it and monitored its growth as it flowered.
Now, it’s time to cultivate the good parts and turn the leftover cuttings into more cannabis seeds.
The return on your investment starts now. Rather than heading back to the store to find more cannabis seeds to germinate, you have everything you need to repeat the process.
Your grow tray is ready to house some more starter cubes. Your light source is still intensely shooting out waves of photosynthesis-inducing light, and your humidity dome is set at the ideal temperature and moisture.
Go ahead and take those new seedlings from the plant you nurtured and turn them into new young plants. You’ll never have to buy your cannabis stash again!
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