Rockwool For Hydroponic Marijuana Growing
Rockwool is a great medium for growing marijuana. You can take your strain of choice through the whole cannabis life cycle with rockwool. Growers of all levels, using a variety of hydroponic setups are harvesting heavier yields a whole lot sooner. It’s about time you tried rockwool too.
WHAT IS ROCKWOOL?
Well, originally this wonderful medium was exclusively used as insulation. Mineral wool, stone wool, or rockwool, it’s all the same. Interestingly, this material just so happened to have all the properties essential to a thriving hydroponic root zone by accident, rather than by design. Of course, modern horticulture-grade rockwool substrates have been refined and packaged specifically for cannabis cultivation. Nevertheless, rockwool is still a cotton candy-like fibre spun from basalt rock. Blocks, cubes, and slabs of rockwool come in a variety of shapes and sizes. These products are staples of any decent hydroponics store.
HOW TO USE ROCKWOOL IN HYDROPONICS
Before you can get growing in rockwool, you must first adjust the pH. Rockwool is naturally alkaline. Too alkaline for cannabis. It’s best to soak your cube or block in 5.8–6.3pH water for 24 hours in advance. Going forward, you will need to invest in either a pH pen or pH-perfect nutrients to maintain optimal pH levels.
CUBES FOR CLONES AND SEEDLINGS
Clones and seedlings will readily root in rockwool cubes. You can get a tray of 12–24 small rooting cubes cut to size for about €5. Tiny rockwool blocks are great for getting started, especially for those new to hydroponics. Seedlings and clones can tell you it’s time to transplant when roots start to poke out. All you really need to watch out for is algae. Keep the cubes covered with some plastic if they start turning green. Without light, the algae will die.
BLOCKS AND SLABS FOR BIGGER PLANTS
Transplanting couldn’t be simpler with rockwool. Simply cut a hole to size in the slab or larger block you plan to use. Then, sit the smaller block in place and let the roots do the rest. This is really handy if you are tight on space and/or working with large numbers of seedlings or clones. If a plant should ever get root bound, you can always get a bigger block of rockwool. Heavier mediums like soil can be awkward, and you risk doing more harm than good stressing the plants with transplant shock.
THE BEST HYDRO SYSTEMS FOR ROCKWOOL
Rockwool is commonly associated with advanced hydroponics like flood and drain, NFT, and DWC. However, it’s a pretty versatile substrate and works well with top feeding from drip irrigation to hand-watering. Rockwool slabs are preferred by high-volume cultivators, but you can also grow a monster plant in an oversized 50l+ rockwool block.
BEST FERTILISERS FOR ROCKWOOL
Brand name, cannabis-specific hydroponic nutrients, ideally formulated in a pH perfect solution are the smart choice. As rockwool is inert, the grower is in complete control of plant nutrition. This can be a double-edged sword. You can potentially pump-up bud production to the max with a high-quality chemical fertiliser regime. At the same time, it’s all too easy to over-fertilise. Feeding must be controlled. Unfortunately, most organic nutrients are too thick and often can become difficult to flush from the medium. Organic fertilisers are also notorious for causing blockages in water lines.
DISADVANTAGES OF ROCKWOOL
Take care to maintain optimal pH with each and every watering. The biggest downside of using rockwool is also its unique selling point: total control over nutrients. Unlike soil, this medium is sterile and very unforgiving. Being in charge of plant nutrition is a full-time job for the duration of the grow. Soil acts more like a buffer and doesn’t require the same kind of precision.
Organic growers will have the hardest time with rockwool. But to be honest, if you really want to grow organic cannabis, you should just use soil.
Rockwool is not really a natural product, so it won’t biodegrade. When you’re done with rockwool, it’s garbage. Old soil you can dispose of in the back garden or reuse. We can’t recommend either for this hydroponic substrate. Reused rockwool has a tendency to have a shifting pH that requires extra monitoring to keep in check. Play it safe and buy some fresh, clean media for the next crop.
Hydroponics is all about getting bigger, more potent buds, faster than a typical soil grow. We take a closer look at cannabis cultivation with rockwool.
Growing cannabis in Rockwool
How to grow in Rockwool
- History of Rockwool
- How to stabilise Rockwool
- How to germinate seeds in Rockwool
- How to root cuttings in Rockwool
- How to grow in Rockwool
- Recycling Rockwool
1. History of Rockwool
Eruption of a volcano in Hawaii
Rockwool is a product that was first conceived during the 20th century in Hawaii by observing natural volcanic action there. Upon this discovery, a Danish company named Rockwool began to investigate and develop ways to commercialise this technique, and in the late 1930’s released the first standardised stone wool product as we know it today.
To manufacture Rockwool, the raw material of basalt rock must go through several industrial processes, the first of which is melting of the rock in furnaces at extreme temperatures, up to 1600ºC, emulating the action of a volcano and leaving the rock in a natural state of liquid lava.
To obtain the fibres, an organic binder is added to the lava and the mixture is subjected to a mechanical process using centrifugal force, resulting in something resembling a woollen mattress. This wool is then compressed to varying degrees, the density and amount of air between the fibres depending on the projected end use, whether for acoustic or thermal insulation, fire-protection and, of course for it’s use in agriculture.
2. How to stabilise Rockwool
Rockwool Cubes and Slabs
Rockwool substrate is a product that needs to be treated before it’s use. Given that its initial pH level is quite alkaline, nearly 7 points, we should stabilize it to enable us to grow without mishaps from the very beginning.
We must immerse the slabs for 24 hours in a nutrient solution that contains a pH level of 4.5 with EC levels of 0.5-0.6 – ideal to start growing with seeds without worrying about nutrient deficiencies.
When we start to grow the pH level of the slabs should be at 5.5, if that isn’t the case, we should immerse them again during a few more hours checking the pH regularly until it is stabilised. An easy way to know if the pH of the slab is stabilised is to irrigate with water of 5.5 pH and measure the run-off with a pH meter. If the run-off is at 5.5 we can proceed to plant the seeds.
3. How to germinate cannabis seeds in Rockwool
Germination in rockwool
Once the Rockwool cubes have a stable pH as described above, we can proceed with the germination of the seeds we intend to use in our grow.
We will start the germination in two wet paper towels, placed between two dishes in order to maintain a constant humidity and facilitate the germination of the cannabis seeds. Once we see that the seed casing has cracked open and the root appears, we can very carefully transplant them into the stabilised Rockwool cubes and, once established, we can perform the transplant to the slabs.
To transplant the seedlings, we insert the small 3 x 3cm cubes into the 7.5 x 7.5cm Rockwool blocks taped to the slabs. As we do this, we must push gently and slowly until the small cube is well inserted into the larger block, taking great care not to break or damage any roots in the process.
4. How to root cuttings in Rockwool
The process of rooting cuttings in Rockwool is very similar to other cloning methods using jiffies or coco-coir (see how to take cuttings).
After the process of preparing the cuttings for cloning them, we place them in the Rockwool cubes (previously stabilised to pH 5.5) which should be moistened but not soaking wet, to avoid any problems with stems rotting.
Once the cuttings are placed in the cubes we can treat them exactly as if they were in jiffies or coco, monitoring the humidity every day and spraying the cubes to keep a constant moisture on them to ease the rooting. As time goes by it will be necessary to lower the relative humidity until we can finally remove the cover of the mini-greenhouse and start to acclimatise the cuttings so that they don’t suffer when transplanted.
Cuttings in Rockwool cubes
5. How to grow in Rockwool
As previously outlined, the growing medium must be stabilized at pH 5.5 with an initial EC of 0.5-0.6 during this first week of growth, not exceeding two waterings of 1 minute each, with a solution of around 60-70 ml per plant. In this way we will avoid water-logging and facilitate the root growth of plants in this highly absorbent and water-retentive substrate.
To ease the task of watering, using an automatic irrigation system will help enormously and is simple to assemble and use, as you can read in our post on how to install a hydroponic system.
We can maintain this irrigation schedule, varying according to conditions and demand, until the first week of flowering when we will start to gradually increase pH from the initial level of 5.5 , raising it slowly over the course of the week to a level of 5.8-5.9 suitable for this stage of flowering.
Hydroponic crop in Rockwool
From the second until the end of the third week of flowering, we will need to increase the frequency and duration of the irrigations, watering three times a day. The first watering should be of 2 minutes duration when the lights turn on, ensuring the plants start the day with energy. The second watering should be six hours later and 1 minute in duration, with an EC of 0.8-0.9 and a pH of 6.0.
Over the 4th week and until the end of the 5th week of flowering we will again have to increase the frequency of irrigation to 4 waterings at day. The first and the last irrigation should each last 2 minutes, and the remaining two waterings should be 1 minute, distributed evenly through the day. EC levels should remain at 1.0 to 1.2, always taking into account the condition of the plants. We should keep the pH at 6.0 allowing it to fluctuate up to 6.2 to lower it again to 6.0 with pH down.
During the 6th week of flowering it will once again be necessary to increase the frequency of waterings from 4 to 6 per day. The first and last irrigation should last 2 minutes each and the four remaining waterings will each be 1 minute. The EC should still be at 1.4 and the pH continues fluctuating between 6.0 to 6.2 as in the previous week.
In the 7th week of flowering period we will have to keep the same frequency and duration of irrigations; however, in this week, depending on the condition of the plants, we can increase the EC from 1.4 up to 1.6-1.7 and we can also let the pH fluctuate from 6.0 up to 6.3.
In the 8th week of flowering, plants will receive the same number of irrigations, at the same duration as in the previous week, although we can raise the EC to 1.8 depending on the condition of the plants.
In the 9th and last week of flowering phase we will have to increase the duration of all the waterings to 2 minutes, with the pH adjusted to 6.2 and with EC levels as low as possible. We can take advantage of this last week to apply a flush product to help us wash the roots, leaving the plants’ metabolism free of any remaining salts and nutrients and ensuring a far better, cleaner aroma and flavour in the end product.
Hydroponic cannabis grow using Rockwool
6. Recycling Rockwool
Rockwool can be a complicated product to dispose of, given that it isn’t biodegradable. However, today the technology is available to recycle surplus and used material and help to avoid the potential contamination caused by sending it to landfill sites.
In this post we focus on explain the functioning of a hydroponic crop with rock-wool, pointing out the different steps to follow to get a successful c