For the first time in American history, if you wanted to legally consume an alternative mind-altering substance to alcohol, you have the chance to do so. The cannabis market is evolving from a illegal market to a legal one — for those with enough privilege to avoid the criminal system, anyway — which means retailers and consumers alike have the opportunity to access proper information about the products they desire, and be selective about what they want to smoke.
If this sounds familiar, you might stand to benefit from some proper information about the differences between hydroponic cannabis and soil-grown cannabis.
Hydroponic growing is dramatically different than soil growing. When done correctly, it can encourage a plant to grow at least as efficiently as a plant grown in soil. However, there are distinct differences. Let’s start with the pros and cons of hydroponic growing.
● Cannabis grows much more quickly in a hydroponic medium. Growers can maximize the number of harvests they can pull yearly and therefore grow considerably more cannabis. If a grower is to find a plant that can complete its flowering cycle in six weeks, it is likely that she could then complete the entire life cycle of the plant, from clone to mature veg to mature flower, in eight weeks or less.
● Bulk cannabis grown hydroponically can be manipulated much more easily than soil-grown because hydroponics puts all the chemistry that would normally be accomplished by soil life into the hands of the grower. Therefore, measures can be taken to enable the plant to create large, bulky buds.
● It's more wasteful to grow using hydroponic techniques. A nutrient solution is created and circulated through the growing system that is compiled of mineral salts and organic salts that have been mined or produced by chemical means.
● Nutrients must be made available to plants by some form of chemistry. Normally, this chemistry is accomplished by soil organisms like bacteria. For instance, nitrate from animal urine (NO3) is converted to available nitrogen ions by nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Without soil, the hydroponic grower must see to it that these ions are made available to the plant before putting them into the growing system. After the nutrient solution is spent, it will need to be dumped and treated as a pollutant. Spent medium must also be disposed of.
● Resistance to pathogens — This is not likely to present an issue to the consumer, as all products will be tested under recreational licensing for contaminants like pesticides or powdery mildew. However, it does present an issue for the grower. Many of a plant’s natural pathogen resistances rely on the presence of soil biology.
Secondary metabolites and plant root exudates as well as compounds produced by soil biology all play a part in supporting a plant’s immune system. These are much more difficult things for a grower to replicate in a hydroponic system, and therefore hydroponic growing requires more attention to prevent pathogens. While many growers and consumers alike prefer to smoke hydro, many other artisanal connoisseurs have come to prefer soil-growing techniques.
● Don’t panic, it's organic. Using soil technique is the only way to acquire an organic certification. In fact, MOFGA has created a “Clean Cannabis Certificate,” which requires the employment of soil techniques.
● Soil growing, when done outdoors in containers that connect to the earth, actually regenerates local soil biology and therefore improves the health of the local ecosystem. It is known as “regenerative farming” and is an aspect of permaculture.
● Complex soil biology and the presence of terpenoid (the volatile organic compounds found in cannabis resin) laden soil amendments result in a more complex flavor profile.
● This technique is extremely cost-efficient. A grower, regardless of the scale of their garden, will spend a fraction of the cost of hydroponic techniques. This is because soil can be recycled and used over and over again, without the need of bottled nutrients. Cheap soil amendments like kelp and neem seed are sufficient to supplement a soil container for years, given the right technique.
● It takes a long damn time. Making proper soil is a process that can take a month, and plants do not grow as quickly in soil as they do in hydroponics. Whereas a hydroponic grower can complete a cycle from clone to mature flower in as little as two months, a soil grower will likely take three or more depending on the strain.
● Unless you're an expert with several tricks up your sleeve, it is unlikely that you will get the same yields as quickly using soil techniques as you would with hydroponics. When using the no-till technique, soil gets better with age and therefore yields improve over time: but generally, soil will not produce the same football-sized colas that you might expect from a large hydro operation.