Choosing the Right Growing Medium For Your Needs
So, you may be asking - why does the medium matter, and how will my choice of medium affect me?
Choosing the right setup and medium to meet your needs can be a difficult and overwhelming task, especially for the new grower. Mediums require different priorities, needs, setups and skill levels to reach their potential and deliver optimal results.
Where to begin? Choosing the right setup and medium to suit your personal needs is a very important decision; this will affect your yields, the quality of your product, the amount of work you’re putting in, the method/s you use to grow, and your day to day experience while growing. From coconut coir and soil, to hydroponic mediums, and rockwool… we’ll cover the basic medium types so you can ‘cut to the chase’ and find the right solution for your needs.
How Do I Choose the ‘Right Medium’ for my Grow?
A growing medium can contain plants and other living organisms, along with minerals, nutrients and microbes.
Plants develop their root zones within mediums – these root zones are critical for the nutrient uptake of the organism. Optimal nutrient uptake is essential in strengthening a plant’s natural defences against pests, along with building a healthy infrastructure upon which to fruit.
Some people prefer the simplicity and practicality of soil… while others prefer to minimise their risks through increased levels of control and responsiveness, using mediums like Coconut Coir… or going ‘full hydroponic’. Every medium has its pros and cons; there is no single ‘best’ medium, only the best one for your needs. At the end of the day, though, for as long as the plant roots can access water, nutrients and oxygen… they will grow.
Using Soil and Compost in Hydroponics
Growing in soil is a ‘classic choice’ for a reason – it’s simple, easy and cheap. Other methods may be more conducive to higher yields… but with the right care, tried and true soil can still provide amazing yields… with the added benefit of high quality produce with strong, complex flavours.
The main advantage of soil is its approachability – it’s a very beginner-friendly medium, as there is less to finetune.
Advantages of Soil
- Cheap as chips! All you need is seeds, a pot, some soil and a little love.
- Many soils contain enough nutrients to kickstart your grow for weeks - or even sustain themselves!
- pH swings have less of a detrimental effect, compared to hydro.
- Soil is the gold standard when it comes to natural, organically-grown plants.
- Soil can provide some of the best quality product possible
Disadvantages of Soil
- Higher risks of pests, infestations, mould and fungus.
- Soil generally results in a lower final yield. It’s quality over quantity, with this one.
- Plants grow a little slower, so problems might not appear as quickly.
- Not all soils are optimal for the plants you’re growing.
- Poor retention and drainage, in comparison to other methods.
If soil sounds like ‘your beat’, we recommend checking out the Australian-made Easy as Organics Living Soil – packed with microbial life, and featuring organic compost, biochar, kelp, fish meal, grade 1 gypsum, plus loads more.
Using Coconut Coir For Hydroponics
|Cost||Low to Medium|
Coconut Coir – which is essentially coconut fibre – is extracted from the outer husk of coconuts and used as a growing medium.
Think of Coco s a hybrid between soil and deep water culture; it’s a physical medium, much like soil… but it is hydroponic in the sense that the coco is inert. It contains no nutrients, which means it therefore requires a complete and routine/scheduled input of nutrients.
Think of coco as a blank canvas – whatever you put in the top is what sits in the pot. Coco has incredible aeration properties, and can mitigate overwatering; which is a major cause of failure for new growers. Coco gives you full control over the medium, and allows you correct mistakes or errors immediately.
- As a hydro medium, the potential is huge! Massive yield potential with the right care.
- You have full control over nutrient and pH levels, allowing you to minimise risk.
- Coco is a renewable resource, so you can help the plant world in more ways than one!
- If you dot your I’s and cross your T’s, coco can be just as easy as soil.
- Most of the advantages of dwc hydroponics, without the requirement for extra equipment and investment
- Coco requires nutrients throughout the entire grow, and can be more expensive as a result.
- You do need to monitor your EC and PH levels closely. A mistake can lead to problems, fast.
- Two words. Fungus gnats.
You must water frequently, as Coco wants to get wet and stay wet. 1 watering per day at minimum should be expected and ideally 2.
If you’re feeling a little cuckoo for coco, we’d recommend Professors’ Prewashed and Prebuffered Premium Coco.
Using Rockwool in Hydroponics
|Difficulty||Medium to High|
|Effort||Medium to High|
Commonly used as an insulation material, rockwool has made enormous gains in popularity over the years… as it has become an important medium for use in horticulture. Similar to coconut coir and perlite, rockwool is an inert medium that contains no nutrients.
Rockwool is made from basalt rock, which is spun into a fibrous material. It has incredible moisture retention, and comes in a range of sizes and shapes. Rockwool is a great way to start seeds reliably and consistently!
- Rockwool as an inert material has very little risk of pests, disease or infestation.
- Like coco, you have full control over PH and EC levels, allowing you to maximise your results.
- You can germinate some seeds in rockwool cubes, which allows safe and reliable transplanting.
- Like coco, rockwool requires a full nutrient regime from day 1.
- You need to watch your levels closely to maintain the correct ranges.
- It can’t be used in organic settings!
- It requires soaking in pH balanced water before use.
- Rockwool isn’t natural, and doesn’t biodegrade. Reuse isn’t recommended.
If you’re thinking about ‘getting your rockwools off’, check out these awesome little cubes which can be used to start seeds for almost any setup.
What is a ‘True’ Hydroponic System?
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|Effort||Very Low to Low|
There are loads of different forms of hydroponic systems; with each featuring their own unique qualities and variations… and all of them coming with their own advantages and disadvantages.
From aeroponics – where the roots are suspended in air, and sprayed with nutrients – to drip systems… or from nutrient film tech, to deep water culture – where the roots are fully submerged, and receive oxygen through a pump and airstone.
If you want to enter the world of hydroponics, you should do your due diligence and research the many different options available to you. Regardless of the precise setup you go with, hydroponics is about hydro – water. These setups can save up to 95% of water wastage, and have substantial potential for both future commerce and sustainable agriculture uses.
Hydroponic systems are notorious for producing huge yields and large healthy plants, as they typically have a large supply of water and nutrients fed directly to their rootzones. Hydroponic growing also tends to be much more resistant to pests and infestations.
- Fast, large growth for big yields.
- Similar to coco, you have total control over the nutrient levels; allowing you to dial your process in and react to problems immediately.
- Less water and nutrient is wasted.
- Very low risk of pests and diseases found commonly in soil.
- Flavours may be diminished based on the quality of care.
- Initial setup can be more involved and costly, require more planning, education and research.
- Monitoring and maintaining PH and EC levels is critical to prevent problems or failure.
- Hydro can require some work or preparation around tank maintenance, such as cleaning or preventing algae.
- Requires full nutrient schedule from day 1.
One of the most popular mediums for a hydroponic setup are condensed hydro clay balls; these are able to support your plant without retaining any water whatsoever. These are also inert, and have the added benefit of being rewashable and reusable.
So… What is the 'Best Hydroponic Medium'?
As mentioned earlier, there really is no best medium.
It’s demonstrably true that each and every medium has its own distinctive characteristics and properties. There’s no way around it – all of them support a different range of potentials, therefore suiting different needs.
The upside to this is that your choice of medium is where you can customise a large proportion of your growing experience. There’s an option for everyone! Keep in mind that if you keep growing, you can eventually try them all.