Glen Thomas was researching the best systems for growing cannabis when he encountered a space-age solution.
“I stumbled on some old NASA technologies from the 1970s,” said Thomas, an inventor and the owner of Quantum Leap Hydroponics. At the time, NASA scientists were “trying to figure out what would happen to plants in the weightlessness of space, because they really didn’t know.”
NASA developed a “plant rotational device”—a kind of rotisserie designed to manipulate the plant’s geotropism, or its natural sense of gravitational direction that instructs the plant to grow roots toward gravity and grow leaves away from it, he said. In the process, NASA discovered that this system causes the plant to release hormones that significantly increase its growth rates, potentially by three to five times.
Thomas adapted this technology for the cannabis industry, creating a hydroponic system in which plants are rooted in a continually rotating drum. Once the system’s lighting is perfected, he believes it could yield up to 40 pounds of cannabis, he said.
His mechanical plant growth accelerator is one of several systems that represent the many trends in hydroponic growing.
Hydroponic cultivation, or growing plants without soil, is a diverse field that encompasses a wide range of techniques and technology.
One of them is deep water culture. In this method, the plant’s roots are submerged in fresh water. Mario Magliozzi, director of creative development for HydroBuilder.com, believes this method is the future of hydroponic growing. “The performance output is leaps and bounds above other styles of products,” he said.
“Having roots constantly submerged in a nutrient solution gives you direct control over the nutrients” that the plant is taking in, he added.
Hydroponic growing techniques, including deep water culture, often yield higher growth rates. However, there’s a risk associated with the added reward. One major problem in a hydroponic system could potentially kill an entire crop. By contrast, “soil gives you a buffer, so you have a little bit of breathing room with soil,” Magliozzi said.
To mitigate that risk, growers can use hydroponic dosers. These devices put computers in charge of managing the most critical aspects of your hydroponic grow. They are “computers that will automatically add nutrients, additives and pH adjuster to your reservoir with full data logging, remote access, text and email alerts,” said Kelley Nicholson, sales director of North America for Autogrow America.
From what she’s seen, hydroponic systems are becoming more popular among large-scale indoor growers. The reason: Hydroponics is easier to manage, Nicholson said. She added that in addition to receiving increased growth rates, indoor growers using hydroponic systems can more easily deliver “very specific tweaks to very specific strains.” And, like Magliozzi, Nicholson believes deep water culture is where the hydroponic market is trending.
“Deep water culture systems are by far the ones that I’m dealing with the most,” she said. “So, I would say the deep water culture is definitely the trend for indoor farmers.”
The hydroponics market offers other options. These include substances like Growstone, a lightweight, porous material manufactured from recycled glass. “It does more than just aggregate in the soil. It also helps absorb water and release it,” said Bryan Dehaven, head of marketing and sales.
In his view, one of the greatest evolutions in the hydroponics market is the growers’ approach to their craft.
“What’s really nice is that everyone’s open to change and is OK with doing things a little differently,” Dehaven said. Education plays a role, too. “A lot of these growers are getting educated on how to grow properly,” he said. “It’s more of a profession than a hobby, and a lot larger scale.”
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