Organic Vs. Hydroponic Grows – What’s the Difference?

CANNABIS CULTURE – Growing organic Cannabis is a hard enough skill to master, then when you learn about hydroponics and the more complex method of growing with an inert medium, you begin to understand how plants truly function. Below is better explained the differences between growing organically and growing with a hydroponic system, as well as the pros and cons to each.

Growing With Organics

A rich organic medium will promote healthy roots

Usually the starting point for all Cannabis growers and the most traditional way to grow. What is great about growing with organics is that the plants use a buffering zone to absorb the nutrients. This means that as a new grower, you will have some time before signs of overfeeding or underfeeding occur. What is also great about organics is that as long as your plants have access to all the primary nutrients and trace elements, as we would have a full fridge of food, then you can safely feed water that is the correct pH for the plants. Cannabis plants prefers a pH of 5.5-6.5 in order to coast along the fine line of nutrients. Plants will struggle to absorb trace elements above pH 7.5. The best way to accurately test the pH of your water is to use a pH pen.

Beneficial bacteria and Mycelium live in the soil and form a symbiotic relationship with the root zone. These little helpers are active in the soil if there are plants present or not, yet once a root zone enters the growing medium and the microbial colonies can attach themselves as a host to the roots, then this is true life organics. The role of microbes and fungi are to create a network in the soil, which will create a spider web like structure between the organic substrate.

Simultaneously connecting the roots and food web in the soil. Most of the nutrients that are sold to organic growers will be shiny, dense, dark brown to black and will have a sweet aroma. The reason is these nutrients are usually a blend of blackstrap molasses which are basically refined liquid sugars. Beneficial bacteria require carbon to feed on, making blackstrap molasses an excellent source of liquid carbs. They also require a high oxygenated environment to live making them aerobic.

A plant growing organically, fed only water under SANlight LED

Organic compost tea is a process that involves actively brewing an organic substrate into water. The water must be aerated to allow the aerobic bacteria to multiply in the water source. You may have heard the expression compost tea, but it actually means just a brewing process. You can actually make a tea with most things but the main principle behind the 24 hour brew, is that the beneficial microbes now in the water, will be a super charged liquid drench for the soil or custom growing medium. By adding a new compost tea brew to your plants, will make sure that the soil science is at an all time level and the plants ability to absorb readily available nutrients is at a maximum.

Skill Level Required

The very basic version of growing organically is to use plain water and rely on hard food available in the growing medium. As far as skill level is concerned, there is not a great deal a beginner grower can do apart from learn the correct times to feed the plants. Knowing when the root zone is dried out and when to water will ensure the plants are never over watered and the roots sat in a soggy low oxygen environment.

A good tip is to feel the weight of your plant pot when the growing medium is as dry as can be. This will be point you will wait for again before feeding, whilst making sure that when you do feed, you flood the medium and allow a slow rate of drip through at the base of the pots. Using a range of organic nutrients is also usually straightforward and most nutrient companies will provide an easy to follow feeding chart to accompany the nutrients.

Expenses Involved

The initial set up costs to grow organically is cheap and if you really embrace the composting culture and sustainability aspect, then reusing your growing medium, or sourcing your nutrients from a worm bin or compost pile costs nothing. The cost of water is minimal and most commercial garden centres will always have a large stock of ready to buy soil blends, coco blends, compost blends,worm castings, diatomaceous earth, perlite and vermiculite for a good competitive price. You could probable drive home with a boot full of organics mediums ready to mix up for around £50 from a local garden centre without raising any suspicion at the same time.

The Pros and Cons

The pros to growing with organics is how basic the concept is. As a beginning grower, you cannot really go wrong following a nutrient chart, growing chemical free and especially feeding with pH corrected water. The start up costs to have a 250 litre custom mix of coco, perlite, worm castings, diatomaceous earth, bat guano and compost is inexpensive. Composting at home is the best way to supercharge your own growing medium and adding a worm bin is not only fun, it will help recycle those left overs at dinner time.

The downsides to growing organics is the overall yield in comparison to a hydroponically grown Cannabis plant. Whilst yield may be down, the actual final taste of organically grown Cannabis is second to none. I personally find organic Cannabis fed with an organic compost tea is what really makes the difference in cup winning flavours.

Growing With Hydroponics

A Hydroponic grown CBD crop in Switzerland. Growing under SANlight LED.

To grow in hydroponics means to grow with water. An inert growing medium such as coco, rockwool, perlite, hydroton clay balls or emerged in a reservoir of aerated nutrient solution. There are multiple systems available and they range from top feed dripper systems, flood and drain tables, nutrient film technique, deep water culture, aquaponics and aeroponics.

Considering no solid foods are available direct to the root zone, the nutrients must be supplied directly through the reservoir. Liquid nutrients for hydroponics systems are totally different to organic nutrients in terms of their compound and structure. Nutrients are made more readily available in smaller sized chelates, that the plants are able to digest. Feeding a thick organic nutrient into a hydroponic system will cause issues as well as clogging up drip lines.

E.C and pH must be checked in accordance with your feeding schedule as plants as far more susceptible to a shift in pH than with growing organically. Plants will drift along a fine line pH wise, as they access the available nutrients as they need them. This range will be between 5.5-6.5 but do not be too quick to adjust the nutrient solution, as the plants will secrets acids and alkaline into the water themselves.

The best way to check your E.C and pH is to use a pen that will read the exact levels. When you go down the hydro route, you will usually buy a 2 or 3 part nutrient, along with many other add ons, so learning to correctly mix your nutrients and taking accurate readings is essential with hydroponics. The relaxed style that compliments organic growing is certainly not replicated when growing with hydro.

Skill Level Required

It is a great tip to read a few different books about growing in hydroponics to get to grips with the way things work. Watch a few tutorials on Youtube before starting your first hydroponic set up. Once you know the basics and understand how important one slip up can be, then mastering the system can be greatly rewarding. The most important thing about growing with hydro is that the environment must be sterile clean. Ideally a grow room with hydroponic systems in should be spotless ensuring that the garden remains that way. Keeping everything clean and making sure between reservoir exchanges that the garden stays pathogen free is a priority.

Expenses Involved

Hydroponics is a expensive game and the initial set up costs to buy the systems, and nutrients to last the entire grow cycle can be quite an investment, in comparison to organics. After the first investment the systems should last for a lime time and pumps, drip lines, air stones and growing medium can always be replaced. For those growers who live in area where hard water is their local water source, then buying bottled water or using reverse osmosis can be an extra expense but certainly one way to counter a hard water source.

The Different Systems

Dripper Systems: The way these work is using a pump and drip lines. A nutrient solution is pumped to the tops of the plants through drip emitters. The substrate will be coco or rockwool and these systems work off a drain to waste method, so the nutrient solution is recycled and fed back to the roots.

Flood and Drain: A system that flood the growing medium and then drain away. This action allows the plants to access the nutrient solution and then to be exchanged with oxygen as the water is flooded back down to the reservoir.

Nutrient Film Technique: Using rockwool cubes and supplying a constantly streaming nutrient solution from the top of the drip tray, the plants roots will have access to nutrient solution for the entire grow cycle. Yields from N.F.T Systems can be very large when grown well.

Deep Water Culture: Roots will be permanently submerged in an oxygen rich nutrient solution. As the plants sit in the reservoir, they will be able to use nutrients at will as well as the high level of oxygen provided by an air stone.

Aeroponics: Using a fine mist to spray the roots, aeroponics then uses air to allow the roots to hang suspended. The application of liquid nutrient followed by air allows the root zone to thrive. The feeding regimes should only be seconds to moments long, so a minute segment timer is required.

The Pros and Cons

The primary advantage of growing with hydroponic systems is their ability to produce enormous yields. Used commonly in commercial scale farming of fruit and vegetables, Cannabis plants grown in hydroponics can exceed 3-5 times more the final yield than organically grown Cannabis. Whilst the overall flavour profile may be debatable to an organic grower, the yield is certainly one bonus.

The downsides to growing with hydro is it can be an expensive way to grow, that does require a certain skill level and prior knowledge. Reservoir changes can be complicated sometimes and a problem with the plants need to be quickly diagnosed and resolved, as the plants will respond much quicker to a deficiency or spike in pH. The overall argument could be quality over quantity with hydroponics but that is simply down to opinion.

 

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Cannabis Culture is an activist magazine dedicated to liberating marijuana, freeing pot-prisoners around the globe, and bringing an end to the vicious worldwide war on drugs.