I am starting an indoor cannabis garden. I would love to be able to grow outdoors, as indoor gardens have a large carbon footprint. However, my back yard is not very secure, so outdoor cultivation is not an option. But the need is still great out there, so indoor it is.
So far I have built out most of the space, and just finished installing exhaust vents and fans. I am nearing the point of being able to put up the lights and throw in some plants, which is very exciting.
This article is going to be part of an ongoing series in which I will post about my successes and struggles cultivating cannabis. I call my garden 'No Consideration Farms' as I plan to consume and/or give away all of my harvests.
The very first question I had to answer when planning my indoor garden, which will be the same question you will have to answer if/when you start growing, is whether to grow hydroponically or in soil.
The pros of growing in soil
As with just about anything, there are pluses and minuses to growing in soil. In this section I will discuss the pros of soil, of which there are many.
For starters, soil is much less temperamental than growing hydroponically. I have grown both ways in the past, and soil was much easier to trouble shoot, 'when in doubt, flush it out' was what I was taught.
If plants growing in soil look like they have received too much food, you can feed them lots of water and 'flush out' all of the excess nutrients. That is much more difficult to do growing hydroponically, as the water is in a closed loop system.
Growing in soil makes it much easier to incorporate organic cultivation practices, which is something that is becoming increasingly popular. A grower can use organic cultivation methods when growing hydroponically, but it's not as easy to do as it is with soil because a lot of what the plant needs comes from the soil, if done properly.
Additionally, growing in soil is much easier to setup than a hydroponic garden. Put some dirt in a bucket and put the plant in. Compare that to hydroponics which often involves and elaborate setup with tubes, tubs, and other hardware.
To piggy back off the last point, growing in soil is often cheaper too because of the need for less equipment. I say 'often' because it depends on how much money a person puts into their soil. I have seen some fairly expensive soils used, which in the long run could perhaps be more expensive than a hydro setup would be, nutrients included.
Finally, plants in soil can be moved much easier than a hydroponic setup. Also, the excess soil from the rootballs of the plant can be used in outdoor gardens to replenish nutrients. With hydroponics, the grower is just left with a rootball, which has some uses for sure, but can't be used as top soil in a vegetable garden.
The cons of growing in soil
One of the things that I liked about growing hydroponically, which is much harder to do in soil, is getting the garden automated. An automated system can be achieved via an ebb-and-flow flood system, but that's still not as dialed as a hydroponic garden can be.
When I was growing hydroponically years ago I had everything set up on a system to where all I had to do was add a little water to the reservoir every couple-few days, and add nutrients as needed.
Bugs and other diseases like to live in soil. As a result, soil growers tend to have to deal with pests and other nuisances more often than hydroponic growers.
The pros of growing hydroponically
Growing hydroponically involves using a small amount of grow medium, such as rock wool or hydroton, for the base of a plant, with the roots hanging in water. I'm assuming most people know what it is, but for those that don't that's a quick explanation.
Because there is no soil involved, hydroponic growers deal with less pests and disease than soil growers, as previously mentioned.
Hydroponic methods are very efficient at feeding plants, and as such, hydroponic plants grow faster than soil plants, and often yield quite a bit more. I have a buddy that knocks out 14-20 ounces per plant after just 6 weeks of flower. I've never heard of such a thing from an indoor soil garden (although it may exist!).
As I touched on before in the soil portion of this article, hydroponic gardens are much easier to automate compared to a soil garden since the water is in a closed loop system, and getting the water and nutrients to the plant is more streamlined.
Having no soil to deal with can be a benefit to some. I personally love being able to put my discarded soil on my vegetable garden, but not everyone has a vegetable garden or the desire to replenish their garden soil using discarded cannabis plant soil.
For those people, having big soil root balls can be a hassle. That same hassle doesn't exist with hydroponics, as you are just left with a root ball. To learn more about the health properties of rootballs, check out this great article we recently put out.
The cons of growing hydroponically
The biggest reason why I am choosing to grow using soil as opposed to growing hydroponically is that most hydroponic methods involve the use of heavy metal fertilizers. That's a deal breaker for me.
Heavy metals are not currently regulated in legal cannabis states (medical or recreational), and I don't think it's something that is on a lot of people's radars. However, it's something that I no longer want any part of.
Growing hydroponically doesn't have to be based on heavy metal fertilizers, but as I mentioned, it's much easier to grow cannabis organically using soil.
It was my experience that hydroponically grown cannabis plants are much more temperamental. One wrong move could ruin an entire plant or crop. Mistakes will happen in the garden too, but hydroponics is much less forgiving than soil.
Hydroponic gardens can be very elaborate, and thus take a lot of time and equipment to set up as a result. Once they are setup they are easy to automate, but getting to that point can be a very involved (and expensive) process.
Root rot is much more prevalent in hydroponic gardens. Root rot can occur in soil, but since hydroponics is basically all roots, root rot is a battle many hydroponic growers have to deal with.
Hydroponic gardens are nearly impossible to move around. That's not to say it's entirely impossible, as I did move a 10,000 watt hydroponic garden out of a house for a landlord inspection once. But, it was easily one of the lamest things ever!
Which Option Is Best for You?
In summary, there are a lot of benefits and drawbacks to growing either hydroponically or in soil. There is another method, aeroponics, which I will touch on in a later article.
Most people I know grow hydroponically or in soil, and that seems to be true in most areas. I always tell people to do their research and go with whatever method is best for them.
I personally have chosen to use soil - super soil to be specific. Super soil involves adding a lot of organic nutrients and ingredients to a base organic soil. After mixing it all together, it has to sit for 6-12 weeks to 'cook.'
My soil is 5 weeks old today! Soon my soil will be ready to use, and I will post an article discussing the soil recipe I went with, some modifications I made to the recipe, and how effective it was.
If there are some pros and cons to growing hydroponically or in soil, please place them in the comments below so that others can benefit from your knowledge!