10 Steps for Starting Your First Hydroponic Garden
We’ve discussed the complexities of soil grows—preparing the soil, watering the plants, and why companion plants are so important—but we’ve hardly touched on the subject of hydroponics. This alternative cultivation practice is favored for many reasons, and it’s not nearly as difficult as it sounds. In this guide, we’ll provide the 10 simple steps for setting up your first hydroponic cannabis garden.
Choose the Right Spot to Grow Your Weed
This guide will focus on indoor hydroponic gardens, and your choice will depend on the available space. A closet, attic, or other out-of-the-way space is acceptable, but a dedicated grow room is the best choice. When selecting a space for your hydro garden, consider these factors:
- Level of airflow
- Access to clean water
- Concealment (to minimize the risk of theft or discovery)
- Consistency of temperature
- Electricity (there should be enough electrical power to run everything)
Grow areas need fresh air from outside or another room, or additional carbon dioxide to replenish what the plants consume when the grow lights are on. Hydroponic systems, as the name implies, need water to work. It may be easier to carry water to a smaller system than it would be to set up a larger system near a steady water supply.
If it’s available, choose a room equipped with an exhaust fan, air conditioner, or air-cooled lighting. These will help to keep the room’s temperature consistent, even when the grow lights are in use. Some growers set their hydroponic gardens up in basements, as these rooms often contain drainpipes that make it easier to clean up spills.
After you’ve decided where to grow your garden, you’ll need to keep the area clean. This involves cleaning equipment, scrubbing walls and floors, and removing the carpet if possible. Everything in the grow room should be thoroughly cleaned and then sanitized with bleach, Lysol, or another germicide. Consider lining the walls with Mylar material to reflect light at the plants and minimize energy wastage.
Select an Indica- or Sativa-Dominant Strain
Before you start growing, you’ll need cannabis clones or seeds. There are two species from which to choose: Indica and Sativa. Though there are thousands of different strains, most grown today are Indica-dominant, Sativa-dominant, or a mixture of the two.
With all other factors considered, Indica-dominant strains are preferred by new hydroponic growers. They’re simpler to grow, they don’t get that tall, and they don’t need as much light. There’s only one major drawback; the product of these plants typically has less THC than buds derived from Sativa-dominant plants.
For the first several crops, stick with an Indica-dominant hybrid that’s simple to grow. As you gain experience, try cultivating a more challenging sativa-heavy strain. When considering the strain to grow, also take note of the rating criteria we use to divide the different kinds of seeds. In case there is any confusion, let us be clear that indoor cannabis seeds will always be more suitable for hydroponic applications than outdoor seeds, simply because of the genetic traits they have been bred for.
Find the Right Hydroponic System for Cannabis Cultivation
Hydroponic systems are made to cultivate plants in the absence of soil. The necessary nutrients are combined with water and sent to the plants’ roots by pumps or other methods. When the plants get fed in this way, they use less energy to build roots in search of nutrients. The energy they save is then used to develop flowers and leaves faster than if they were grown in topsoil.
If you’ve already chosen a location and a cannabis strain, the next step is to select a hydroponic system. There are several options to consider, and your choice will depend on the number of cannabis plants to be grown and the size of the root containers you’ll use.
Find the Proper Lighting
Mature cannabis plants do well in plentiful light. Ideally, sunlight would give the plants everything they need, but it’s tough to get indoors. Therefore, grow lights are needed. Most hydroponic gardens use fluorescent, LED, metal halide, or high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights.
- Fluorescent light is good for the germination, seedling, cloning, and vegetative phases. However, it shouldn’t be used during flowering because it may make the harvest smaller and the product less potent.
- Metal halide lights are often used during the early stages for faster growth. They’re also good for the flowering stage, as are high-pressure sodium
Many cannabis cultivators choose fluorescent lighting for seedlings and the vegetative stage, then switch to HPS lights as the plants mature. As lighting is such a crucial component of successful cannabis cultivation, it’s important to do your research before starting a hydroponic garden.
Germination, Nutrition, and pH
After you’ve got the supplies for your grow room, it’s time to get started. Set up the hydroponic system and check all lighting and accessories to ensure proper function. If everything is working well, add water to the system.
In most hydroponic gardens, water is combined with nutrients and stored in a holding tank before being pumped to the Big Bud or Amnesia Purple plants’ roots. Add the water to the tank, turn on the pump, and check it for leaks before adding the nutrient solution. Use only a small amount of the nutrient until you see leaves and roots forming.
Hydroponic cannabis plants do best at a pH of 6.5-7.5, which means you will have to frequently measure and occasionally adjust the nutrient solution’s pH balance. When the garden’s pH is kept at an optimal level, the plants will become healthier and mature faster.
Monitoring the Plants During the Vegetative Stage
As your Black Domina x GSC or Auto Amnesia Haze plants grow, a few leaves may wither and die. Remove these leaves by cutting them away rather than pulling them off. In an indoor hydroponic garden, the cultivation process usually takes about four weeks from germination through the end of the vegetative stage.
To encourage plants to flower, put them on a 12/12 light/darkness cycle. Bring your plants into the flowering stage when they’re healthy, robust, and have strong roots. If the plants get too tall before the flowering phase starts, the crop yield may be reduced. If you are growing an autoflowering strain like Auto Sour Diesel Haze, then you won’t have to switch to a 12/12 cycle. These seeds have the built-in intelligence to start flowering after a set number of weeks in the vegetative phase, no matter how much light they are getting.
Getting Through the Flowering Stage
The flowering stage is a crucial time in a cannabis plant’s life because that’s when it produces almost all its THC. Because THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the reason most people grow weed, this stage is very important. When your plants are ready to enter the flowering stage, turn off the lights and leave them off for a full 24 hours before entering the 12/12 cycle mentioned above.
The plants will continue to grow taller for several weeks after the 12/12 light cycle begins. If you’ve chosen a Sativa-dominant strain, it will grow taller than most Indica-dominant varieties. After a few weeks, the plants will slowly stop growing and they’ll divert energy toward flower production. You’ll know that female plants are starting to flower when you see pistils, or tiny white hairs, forming at bud sites.
Separating and Removing Male Marijuana Plants
When female cannabis plants do not produce seeds, the product is known as sinsemilla. If a plant doesn’t produce seeds, it can devote more energy to THC production during the flowering phase. The only way to grow sensimilla buds is to remove male plants from the garden before they can fertilize the female plants. It’s much easier to grow sensimilla in an indoor hydroponic garden than it is to grow it outdoors.
If you’ve started a garden from clones or using our premium feminized seeds, there’s no need to perform this step as all the clones will be female. However, if you’re growing from regular seeds, you’ll have to remove the male plants from the grow room, unless you’re trying to produce seeds for a subsequent crop.
Harvesting, Drying, and Curing
In an indoor hydroponic garden, expect to harvest your crop about seven to ten weeks after the plants have shown the earliest signs of flowering. For the health, vitality, and quality of your crop, it’s important to pick your buds at the right time. If they’re harvested too early, the product won’t be potent; if you wait too long, you’ll just end up with a lot of low-quality weed. The right time to harvest a crop is immediately after it has reached its maximum THC production level.
An easy way to tell when your plants are ready to harvest is to wait until about 80% of their pistils have gone from pale white to dark red or brown. Other important clues include a pungent aroma, swollen calyxes, and frosty-looking buds. The most reliable way to determine when it’s time to pick your buds is to wait until certain trichomes mature. These trichomes are rich in THC and other beneficial cannabinoids.
After the buds are harvested, remove the largest leaves, cut the buds away from the branches, dry them, and cure them. The drying and curing process will ensure the best taste and highest potency. Not only will they taste better, but some of the plants’ non-psychoactive compounds will be converted into THC.
Storing Your Buds
If you’re planning to store your cannabis crop for any length of time, it’s best to put it in airtight containers and store them in a cool, dark, and dry place. Air, light, and heat should be avoided, as they’ll degrade the THC and make the buds less potent.
Hydroponic systems are a great option for cultivators who want to maximize crop yields and control their grow ops. However, they can be costly and complicated for new growers. Not only are there many options to consider, but these systems are also time-consuming to set up and difficult for first-timers to monitor. If you’re ready to grow marijuana in a way that lets you control conditions and maximize the available space, a hydroponic garden is a great choice.
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