Soil, Hydroponics, and Aeroponics: Choosing an Indoor Grow Medium


                                                                                                                                         by Sheri Lupoli representing Team Trella

In our last post, we started talking about controlled environment agriculture (CEA) and the growing necessity for farmers to be innovative and resourceful in maximizing indoor spaces for growing food and plant medicine. Be it a shortage of farmable land, limited natural and economic resources, or natural disasters and climate change, people are turning to indoor farming to reproduce the ideal natural conditions for growing particular crops to meet the needs of an even faster-growing global population.

Scientists and researchers use CEA to test the most sustainable and efficient ways to propagate endangered, native plant and tree species for repopulation outdoors. In fact, the use of technology to gather and record the data that informs CEA processes has become so integral to developing future CEA systems, some universities such as the University of Arizona and Cornell offer full undergraduate degrees and other courses in CEA and sustainable plant systems studies. 

But there is one thing that cannot be replaced by technology (at least not yet!), and that is the indoor plant grow medium. At Trella Technologies, we understand the commitment that growers make when they choose a grow medium to work with. Once the difficult choice of medium is made based on the individual grower's needs, it is particularly frustrating to have to switch mediums in order to automate for CEA. It is discouraging to have invested so much time and energy working in one medium, only to be forced to start again with another in order to accommodate the technology you use. This is why we made sure that TrellaGro LST™ will easily accommodate all of the mediums listed below for a seamless transition to automated, indoor growing,

Whether you opt for soil, hydroponics, or aeroponics, the key is understanding what is required to keep plants healthy and thriving in the environment you choose. Here is a quick breakdown of these three mediums: 


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Soil is a great choice for those who are just starting out as growers and need room to experiment. It is said to be the most forgiving of the grow mediums, as it requires the least amount of regulation and nutrient adjusting. It also acts as a natural pH buffer. If you overwater or underwater a plant, you can often correct it quite easily without doing any permanent damage to the plant. However, soil alone is not sufficient to feed the plant and coax it into beautiful bloom. Plants require micronutrients, also called “trace elements”. The three most common of these elements are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (NPK), which fortify a plant from top to bottom. Cannabis in particular requires about 20 of these “trace elements” for optimal growth, including NPK, Iron, Sulfur, Manganese, Boron, Molybdenum, Zinc, and Copper. It is important to learn how to introduce these elements into your soil in the right amounts at the right time in your plant’s’ grow cycles.

KEY POINT: Soil is a common grow medium, especially for those who are just beginning to experiment with indoor grows. It is very forgiving, but also requires monitoring of trace elements and other nutrients that need to be incorporated. Soil can also be worked multiple times as long as it is kept rich with nutrients (composting and worm castings can help!).

***TIP*** Use micronized biochar in soil to help transfer nutrients from the soil to the root zones.


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Hydroponics is the use of nutrient enriched water rather than earth as a grow medium. Using a water-based system certainly eliminates the need for pots full of soil since water is the primary source of the plant’s vitality. This renders  it even more critical to make sure your plants receive the proper nutrients via appropriate feeding schedules. 

Other points to consider are that plants are sensitive to chemicals found in tap water, and that they require oxygen. It is important to understand the quality and composition of the water you are using. If you use tap water, consider testing it for pH, as overly acidic or basic water will need to be adjusted accordingly. Also test it for any traces of chemicals in the potable water supply that may be damaging to your crops.

Whatever type of water tray you use, it is important to filter air in, filter impurities out, and balance the pH. Much, if not all of this can be automated by placing nutrient delivery systems on timers, filtering water with reverse osmosis filtration systems, using digital pH testing kits, and automating air pumps that are adequately sized to provide the right amount of oxygen.

KEY POINT: If using tap water, be aware of the potential presence of chloramine. This is different than chlorine and does not bubble out via reverse osmosis. 

***Tip*** Try introducing plant probiotics to your hydroponic indoor grow. It can decrease your vegetation time and make for some happy plants. 


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If hydroponics can be thought of as introducing air into water, then aeroponics can be thought of as introducing water into the air. That is to say that with hydroponics, the roots of a plant are submerged in water and nutrients, with oxygen being filtered in. Conversely with aeroponics, the roots of a suspended plant are exposed and kept healthy by gently misting them with nutrient-enriched, water-based solutions. 

KEY POINT: Some growers prefer this method for its conservative use of water and nutrient solutions, as compared to hydroponics. It is important to note, though, that this system requires regular misting so that roots do not dry out. This can also be automated with timers,

***TIP*** Be careful of humidity when using aeroponics. Wet mist can become trapped indoors if temperature is not carefully controlled. 

Really, it’s up to you…

In the end, the best we can do as responsible growers is to research our options and understand our particular challenges. There will always be many interesting discussions between the folks of different camps when it comes to growing mediums and CEA, One thing that does seem to be universally understood is that technology will help us to collect the information we need to optimize indoor grow climates, and will enable automation of grow processes so that farmers may one day have the freedom to grow remotely. 

That’s where we come in. As a Benefit Corporation, it is part of our mission to give you all the freedom to grow what you want, where you want.  But we also believe that you all should have the freedom to grow how you want. TrellaGro LST™ is compatible with any grow medium you prefer. So, if you are used to growing hydroponically, keep on growing hydroponically! Prefer soil? Not a problem! Want to give aeroponics a shot? Go for it!  We build for you so that you can be yourselves and keep on growing strong. 

Until next time, stay well and connected. 

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