Nico’s Nuggets: Hydroponic Growing for Beginners

Dearest Nico,
First – Thank you for the years and years of articles, videos and seminars. We are huge fans here in NorCal and have used your info for years to help in our outdoor gardens. Your reporting, photographs and experience has been great fun to read and watch!
Now we are thinking of building a small hot house (sheet metal variety) to house an indoor grow up on our mountain. We are thinking about growing hydroponically (looks fun) but we don’t know much about it. Can you lend us some info or photos to help introduce us to the practice? – The Barre Family (we have three generations of family growers here with us!) sent via


Dearest Barre Family,
Thanks for the kind words and an even bigger thanks for passing the torch of cannabis cultivation through the generations! ‘Tis true, the family that grows together, stays together!

As for your endeavor, it is both right-minded and – as you stated – a lot of fun to grow hydroponically indoors. Of course, it is quite different from an outdoor grow! Let’s take a look at some of the basics for a larger indoor set-up that I think might suit your taste buds!

Hydro 101: Irrigation Systems

Strictly speaking, hydroponics is the growth of plants in a soilless medium. Thus, there are technically quite a few grow mediums available these days that would fit this category of growing: Rockwool, clay aggregates, lava or volcanic rocks, coco-coir, perlite and vermiculate – just to name a few. Then there are soilless mixtures that look and feel very similar to actual earth topsoil, but are actually peat moss or sphagnum-based.

Another major component of hydroponic gardening that isn’t actually part of the definition of “hydroponics” (but is almost always a part of any hydro system) is the automated water delivery methods associated with the various system types. (You likely already have experience with this from your outdoor gardens). The hydro system depicted in these photographs is known as a top-feed drip emitter system, though the drippers are actually high-pressured spray emitters. The plants themselves sit inside tray tables that are traditionally used in flood-and-drain (or ebb-and-flow) hydroponic systems. However, in this growroom the plants are top-fed and the nutrient solution is allowed to run out of the container bottoms, then collected by the trays, and drained-to-waste (or potentially back to the reservoir to be recycled).

Recycling nutrient solutions can be a dangerous move though, as it requires diligent measuring of pH and EC levels. Reusing nutrient solutions can cause large fluctuations in these levels with each use and subsequent run-off and re-collection. This creates the need for more reservoirs changes, measurements and man-hours. Recycling systems are not for growers who want to simply plug-in systems and walk away. Thus, most hydro growers like those responsible for the garden depicted in this post, use drain-to-waste systems that simply drain the run-off to sewer drains, never to be used again.


Notes on Hydroponic Mediums

The medium used in hydroponic systems can ultimately be the deciding factor in whether or not the nutrient solution is reused and it can also determine the type of system a grower chooses. Hydroponic grow mediums can be very finicky and the type of medium used should be the first consideration of a grower when choosing a hydro system. Some hydroponic grow mediums offer much less stability when it comes to buffering, or protecting, fragile root systems from intense feeding programs and salt build-ups.

The easiest and most widely used hydroponic grow mediums for new hydro growers are the soilless mixes. Beginner growers can use store bought mixes such as the Pro-Mix or Sunshine brands, while the most advanced growers tend to buy the essential soilless components and mix their own concoctions to suit their gardens’ needs. These mixtures, whether manufactured or homemade, generally use the same media bases; peat moss, sphagnum or coco-coir. Additives such as wood chips or lava rock help create an airy medium so that oxygen can get to roots. Other additives such as perlite and vermiculate not only keep the medium loose but also retain moisture long after watering occurs to help prevent roots from drying out and plants from getting thirsty in between feedings.

Advanced hydro growers, such as those who constructed the featured growroom in this article, often choose soilless mixes as well because they come as close to real earth soil as possible – with all the benefits and none of the hazards. Natural earth top soil will often times carry insects and disease and may have high levels of clay or low levels of nutrients necessary for plant growth. These growers choose coco-coir as their base medium. Coco-coir is simply the fibrous insides of coconuts that has been processed and sterilized. Coco comes in a variety of formats including longer, stringy fibers, to more condensed, smaller chips or cubes, to even more finely ground particles and powder. Coco-coir is an excellent option because it hits on all three major medium aspects; it keeps mediums airy, it holds a lot of moisture and it surrounds and buffers roots systems nearly as well as soil.

Thanks for reading everyone and remember: Grow… And help the world grow, too!

Got questions? Email ‘em over to Nico at and be sure to put “Nico’s Nuggets” in the subject line!
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