A recent tale from experienced grower friends in the United Kingdom turned me onto a new growing technique that appears to be an organic hydroponic setup. Normally, the grower is faced with the option of organic or hydroponic and never the twain shall meet (more on that later). Well, it seems that they have met and after the introductory tale, I’ll go into the specifics.
A Cheesy Tale
One of the advantages of living in the cultural melting pot that is Brussels is that it’s not too hard to get ahold of some of the best cheeses that Europe has to offer. In Belgium, it’s easy get a fine selection of French, Dutch, Belgian, Italian, or British cheeses.
Recently, a new cheese has hit the menu. There is a strain of cannabis that existed in clone form only and originated from the UK. It has a fine pungent aroma and goes by the not too subtle name of “cheese”. If you haven’t tried it yet, then I highly recommend tracking it down. Besides the fine smell and taste (rather like gorgonzola), it gives a great social high that is perfect for fun times with friends, enjoying a walk in the park, or even a visit to your local museum or gallery. It is an easy to grow indica dominant hybrid which leaves the consumer happy, relaxed, and at times euphoric. It is said that the strain helps for those suffering stress, pain, or depression. It has become popular in Dutch coffeeshops and especially on the streets of the UK.
Recently, I heard about a special batch of cheese that had been grown using a new product called BioTabs, which are slow release fertilizer tablets. According to my UK grower friend (who wishes to remain anonymous), “The taste and smell were something else, no one believed that it was actually the strain cheese. It was so good people started to specifically demand “BioTab Cheese” even though it was way more expensive.”
He caught my attention. How was this wonderful BioTab cheese grown? It turns out the setup could be described as a hydroponic- organic system. Something that, until that point, I had always been told was impossible.
Let’s rewind a little and cover some of the basic principles here. Just so we are all on the same page.
Hydroponics is the art of growing plants in an inert medium. Normally, the nutrients are added to the water which is then consumed by the plant. Here lies a problem for those of us who like things organic. If you were to add organic nutrients to the water, that is then supplied to the plants through fine tubing, the organic goodness would promote algae growth which would then block up the aforementioned pipes. It’s for this reason that hydroponic growers use artificial nutrients to help keep the system running efficiently.
If we look at the very big picture we have another issue. Technically, cannabis growing is illegal at a federal level so there are no federal guidelines as to what companies who make nutrients for cannabis have to adhere to (people shouldn’t be growing it, see?). They may be safe or they may not be safe, and the problem is companies are not forced to test whether these products are fit for human consumption. No authority is controlling what is in the nutrients on our grow shop shelves, let alone defining any limits or rules. Not an ideal situation when the most frail in our society are turning to cannabis as a medicine. This is a pretty convincing argument as to why not to use these products on your personal cannabis grows.
On the plus side, hydroponic grows have a great reputation for high yielding harvests and ease of watering. Indeed I have found this to be true in my own personal experiences. However, many growers (particularly those growing for themselves or friends and family) prefer the improved quality of organically grow cannabis so much that they happily forego the larger harvest.
Organic grown cannabis is grown in a living medium, in which the nutrients thrive within the “soil” itself. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to grow organically and hydroponically? Giving the grower the best of both worlds, great taste and heavy yields? Well, thanks to the nice BioTab cheese story, I heard it seems that there is a way.
The trick is that all the nutrients that the plant will need throughout the grow already exist within the pot. BioTabs are small tabs packed with organic goodness that are released when you add some special ingredients to activate them. Aside from this special additive that you add at the start and at week five, you only need to give the plants plain water. You don’t even need to adjust the pH. If you have experience growing, this is quite exciting! No more messing around adjusting the pH and mixing in nutrients to your water.
And it gets even better.
You could use BioTabs in your pot as you would grow a regular organic grow (I recommend trying a fabric pot to promote root growth) or you could use a special automatic watering system that only provides the pots with plain water (a hydroponic system).
One such system is available from a UK based company called AutoPot. The AutoPot watering systems consist of a piece of technology called an AQUAvalve, a pot and tray combination and a reservoir that holds the water for the garden. Each pot is placed in the tailor-made tray along with an AQUAvalve. The valves are then connected to the reservoir with irrigation lines. Gravity pressure pushes the water down the lines, through the valves and into the trays. An AQUAvalve allows ¾” of water into the tray and then stops the supply of water. When the plant has consumed all this water, the valve reopens and the tray then automatically refills. The only watering that the grower has to do is to keep the reservoir topped up throughout the grow.
BioTabs are added to the soil mix. Make sure you keep it light and airy by using a 50% mix of perlite. This mix is put in an AutoPot, which are available in three pot and tray combinations – with 2.2gal, 3.9gal or 6.6gal pots – depending on your needs and space. You add plain water to your main reservoir that will then automatically water all the plants as they need it. This is called “Plant Controlled Irrigation”. If the plant needs less water, it simply takes less water. When it needs more, it takes more. The system is completely automated and operates using gravity pressure, so requires no electricity. You can have multiple pots per system. The more pots you use, the larger the reservoir you will need.
This setup is so cool on many levels. You don’t need to adjust the pH of the water, you don’t need to mix in nutrients, you don’t need to worry about watering the plants, you can leave the plants unattended for extended periods (no more skipping vacations to tend to your plants), yields are high and the resulting cannabis flowers have the great taste and smell that is associated with organic grows.
This setup can be used indoors, outdoors or in your greenhouse. It can be small scale for a hobby grower or scaled up to a commercial grow.
The brainchild of Dutch organic growing expert and author Karel Schelfhout, BioTabs are a relatively new product to hit the market. They originate from the Netherlands and are becoming more popular across Europe. The company is starting to distribute in the U.S., so hopefully they will be readily available for American growers soon. Check out their website for more information on how they work and where you can buy them. I highly recommend their starter pack that not only includes everything you need for an entire grow, but also has fantastic and clear documentation to ensure your plants benefit from all the nutrients held within the tabs.
AutoPots originate from the UK but are distributed in the U.S. so you should be able to track them down. Their website has some excellent information on how to set up your garden using this system as well as information on distributors.