Aquaponics is a growing technique that takes two efficient systems and combines them to work symbiotically with each other: Aquaculture is the process of farming fish (such as tilapia, koi, or bluegill) or shellfish, while hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil. When the two are combined, you can create a nearly closed loop system that produces both plants and fish for consumption.
How Do Aquaponic Systems Work?
Aquaponics setup with a double-root zone. The bottom half of the double-root zone can be filled with a hydroponic medium or the roots can be suspended in water. Click to enlarge. (Elysse Feigenblatt/Leafly)
Aquaponic setups are nearly identical to hydroponics, the main difference being the source of the nutrients for the plants. Nutrients are no longer added to a water tank–instead they are produced by waste produced by the fish. The diluted fish waste is pumped out and delivered to the roots of the plants. The roots absorb the nutrients and purify the water before it is returned to the aquarium. Fish food is the only input you’ll need, and this can be grown or purchased for the system.
The primary nutrient produced from the fish waste is nitrogen with trace amounts of other minerals. Because of this, basic aquaponic systems are effective for leafy greens, but if you’re cultivating tomatoes, cannabis, or fruit and vegetables, you’ll need to add additional nutrients like phosphorus and potassium. This is remedied by a double-root zone.
A double-root zone allows you to divide the roots into two sections. The bottom half of the pot will be submerged in the water while the upper half of the pot can be filled with soil. This allows additional nutrients to be applied to the roots without contaminating the water. The two sections can be separated by burlap, which allows the roots to travel through while preventing the soil from reaching the water. When watering with additional nutrients, avoid oversaturating the soil to keep the water in the aquaponics system clean.
Advantages of Growing with Aquaponics
If running aquaponics with consumable fish like tilapia, you’re getting a two-for-one. As your plants grow, you’ll also be raising protrient-rich fish. Generally, tilapia take between 6-9 months to reach the desired size for consumption, but speed of growth depends on the water temperature.
Aquaponics is a truly sustainable system for growing cannabis. Fish food manufactured specifically for aquaponics ensures your system is free of toxins, and provides the fish with what they need to grow strong and healthy. Again, all you need is fish food as well additional nutrients for your top soil layer, and you’ll be able to grow both healthy cannabis plants as well as fish for consumption.
Aquaponics is a great method for fast-growing plants. By allowing the roots to take in high levels of oxygen, they are able to absorb more nutrients and grow quickly.
Estimates show that aquaponics systems use up to 90% less water than traditional systems by recirculating water.
Disadvantages of Growing Cannabis with Aquaponics
Setting up an aquaponics system is going to be more costly than establishing a hydroponic or soil setup. If you are looking for an inexpensive way to start farming, aquaponics isn’t the system for you.
Fish need water that is held between specific temperatures. If growing outside, you especially need to be mindful about heating and cooling water to keep your fish happy and the system running.
As with all hydroponic systems, there’s a lot of lingering moisture with aquaponics. This requires that you be on high-alert for algae growth that can be dangerous to your plants. Systems require cleaning and sterilization to protect the plants.
Aquaponics is a sustainable and effective method for farming, but it can seem like a lot to handle when producing cannabis. No doubt, aquaponics will increase your responsibilities as a grower, but some of you might be looking for a new challenge. Witnessing the full cycle of food turned into waste and then turned into food once again for your cannabis, you’ll come to better understand many aspects of raising both plants and aquatic life.