There is no way to know who was the first person to grow marijuana hydroponically. That's not to say that there aren't a lot of people out there that claim that they were the first, or know who did it first, but there's no definitive proof. And let's be real, it's not easy to separate fact from fiction when it comes to marijuana cultivation and claims made by people.
I do think it's safe to assume though that from the very beginning of hydroponic marijuana cultivation, there was likely a debate as to which was better, hydroponics or soil. That debate continues on into today. I have many friends that swear that one is better than the other, and they will argue to the death with anyone that will participate. Which one is better is largely a subjective determination, and really depends on what you value most as a grower.
I have grow marijuana both ways, and definitely believe that both methods have their merits and drawbacks. One of the biggest drawbacks for growing marijuana hydroponically (of which there are various methods) is that it takes more stuff. With soil, especially outdoor, you plant the start in the soil, give it some fertilizer, water, sunlight, love, and attention, and you will be alright barring any setbacks from mildew, bugs, heat, etc. But with hydroponics, you need a bunch of other stuff.
Deep water culture seemed to be the easiest way to grow hydroponically that I tried, and even then, it required quite a bit of gear from the indoor garden store. Pumps, hoses, buckets, baskets, rock wool conditioner, and many, many other things. It made me long for the days of putting some good soil in a bucket in my indoor garden, and growing a plant in it in a much simpler way. Hydroponics is a much more sensitive system for growing marijuana. The line between the perfect amount of food and too much food is very thin when it comes to hydroponics, whereas with soil you can mitigate the problem a bit with 'leeching' your marijuana plants (feeding them lots of water to flush out the soil).
With that being said, growing hydroponically can result in more uniform buds. That can be done with soil too, but it seemed easier to achieve with hydroponics, assuming everything was dialed in. The crops grew faster hydroponically too. If uniform, quick yield is the name of your game, than growing hydroponically is probably your best bet. Hydroponics does pose some unique problems though. Hydro systems come with the possibility of getting algae growth in your water, which can wreak havoc on your plants. I have seen algae grow in soil before too, but it was minimal, easy to remove, and didn't have a huge effect on the plants. I have seen algae ruin an entire hydro crop, and the only way to get rid of it for once and for all was to tear down the entire system and clean the heck out of it.
You can grow hydroponics organically, but it's really, really hard for most people. There will likely be people out there that swear it's easy to do, and maybe it is for them based off of their skill set, resources, and experience (and I tip my hat to you!). But for most growers, growing hydro organically is way too difficult. Most hydroponic gardens rely on heavy metal fertilizers, which right now is not on most people's radars, but I assure you, it's an issue that will be addressed sooner than later. Growers that move towards organic gardening are going to have an edge on heavy metal based gardens in the not-so-distant future.
The main draw towards hydroponically grown marijuana is that it creates visually appealing marijuana. Since consumers shop a lot with their eyes, sparkly, crystal covered nugs that are uniform in size appeal to consumers, and growers know that. If growers are consuming their harvest, that doesn't matter as much. But if they are taking their crops to dispensaries and/or recreational stores, the way the end product looks is very important. So important that it's all many growers care about, and understandably so.
As I said previously, growing marijuana in soil is much less difficult, and is the way that new growers should start out. Trust me, it will save you a lot of headache. Then, as rookie growers build their skill sets and gain some experience, they can transition to a hydroponic garden if they see fit. Growing in soil presents it's own challenges though. Bugs and disease like to live and fester in soil, whereas in hydroponics many of those problems can survive since there's no soil involved. Keeping the soil clean, meaning picking out any debri as it falls on the soil, is very important.
I like soil setups because they are easier to move. If you own your house, and there's no chance that you will ever need to move your plants, than this isn't a big deal. But there was one time that I was renting a house, and had an inspection and had to move the entire hydroponic setup to a temporary location, then move it all back. It was a tremendous pain in the butt, and the harvest was negatively impacted to a big extent. Had I been growing in soil, it wouldn't have been nearly as big of a deal. Even if you own your house, growing in soil makes it easier to work in your garden space because you can move the plants around easily, assuming they aren't huge and staked all over the place.
Growing in soil makes organic gardening much easier, which is really the wave of the future for cannabis cultivation. More and more consumers want organic marijuana, and when the plants are used for making concentrates, it makes passing testing a lot easier. Testing requirements are going to be more stringent in the future, and like I said before, high concentrations of heavy metal fertilizers are not going to pass in the future, even though they do now. The tobacco industry regulates heavy metals, but the marijuana industry doesn't. That's not going to stay that way forever with marijuana, nor should it in my opinion.
When someone grows marijuana hydroponically or in soil, and they are a master at their craft, both end products are fantastic and it's nearly impossible to say for a fact which is better. It comes down to consumer preference. The same is true on the cultivation side. I know people that only grow hydroponically, and they swear it's the only way to go. On the flip side, I have a lot of soil grower friends that scoff at the mere mention of hydroponics, and swear that soil is the only way to go. I have one friend that grows both ways in his garden. I think that's very cool, and like to visit him often to see side by side comparisons with various strains. Most of the time there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to which one does better. What do TWB readers think? Which method do you prefer to use in your garden? And on the consumer side, which do you prefer and why?
If you want to start growing, you should download a free marijuana grow bible written by Robert Bergman. He knows a ton about cultivation, and since the book is free, you have nothing to lose. I always offer up that free resource. All top quality marijuana seeds are available at his marijuana seed shop too if you are in the market for those. Genetics are gaining in popularity as more and more people start growing, and I'd imagine if you are reading this article, you may fit into that category. For any growing related question you can also visit Robert's marijuana support page (including questions and tips related to hydroponic and soil cultivation), which is a forum that I check out quite a bit for advice and tips.