Aquaponics has been used a simple technology for cultivating fish and plants at the same time. The cannabis industry is just becoming interested in how this can be used in the cultivation of marijuana. To learn more about the aquaponics growing method and its application, read this crash course.
Although the art of aquaponics isn’t all that new, you might be hearing about this growing technique for the first time. To get it right with aquaponics, it requires a little bit of preparation. It is something like growing your plants in a fish tank (yes, with fish inside!), so getting the nutrient balance to be perfect for marijuana is a little bit tricky.
If you’re a novice grower, attempting this is probably not recommended. Aquaponics is recommended for those who have already had some experience growing weed because it’s tricky and involved. This article is a complete crash course on aquaponics for those who are ready to take the plunge.
What is aquaponics?
People liken aquaponics to growing weed in a fish tank. It’s a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture. To put it simply, aquaponics is a method by which you use your knowledge of fish and nutrients to create an ecosystem that is ideal for whatever you are growing.
In the case of marijuana, it would be a matter of making sure that the fish are pooping out high volumes of nutrients. Marijuana uses a lot of nutrients, and for that reason the fish are going to have to work hard. Basically, by feeding the fish, their poop feeds the marijuana that you have growing just above them.
What are the advantages of aquaponics?
Ok, it might seem completely unnecessary to bring fish into the picture and to stick with a hydroponic set up. Why might someone want to go down the road of aquaponics? Well, traditionally this setup was used as a low-cost way of growing plants and fish at the same time. It is also an extremely energy and technology efficient way of growing when we compare it with a hydroponic growing system. Growing cannabis in a hydroponic setting requires not just a lot of water, you also need to add nutrients manually.
If you also enjoy the company of fish, then the idea of farming fish at the same time as cannabis might seem exciting. However, for others, it is just an extremely energy efficient way to grow in a place that might have infertile soil or other challenging growing conditions.
Usually, the amount of water required to farm fish is enormous. However, where there are plants eating up all the nutritious poop, it is a much cheaper way to make profitable combinations. A lot of commercial producers use the method of aquaponics if they are farming certain fish that go well with certain plants (such as lettuce).
Growing using aquaponics can be fun because you don’t just end up with a weed farm – you end up with a fish farm, too! It takes growing to the next level, using an entire ecosystem to provide the energy for your cannabis plants. It also means that the final product is organic because it was basically farmed using a permaculture system. For that, the final product can be extremely clean and healthy. But of course, the number one reason that a marijuana grower might use aquaponics is for fun and learning!
What are the challenges of aquaponics?
In any growing set up, a grower faces challenges. This is especially true if you are a perfectionist. However, with patience you can really come to be a master of aquaponics.
The biggest challenge with aquaponics is maintaining the right level of nutrients. As any marijuana grower knows, these plants require high nutrient levels. It can be a bit tricky to get the nutrient levels to where they need to be when they are being provided with fish. However, once you get there, the system basically looks after itself.
Finally, if you don’t plan on eating the fish that you are going to be farming, you will have to figure out what to do with them. As a part of the system, it is necessary for older fish to be replaced with younger ones. You can either eat them or sell them to friends and family!
How to set up an aquaponics system
The basic setup
A basic aquaponics system requires somewhere for your marine life to live, and somewhere for your plants to live. The system is working in tiers, whereby the bottom tier is where your fish will produce waste. The middle tier is actually in the water somewhere, where there is bacteria converting the waste into nutrients. These nutrients then become the food for the roots of your cannabis plants, which are suspended in the water much the same way as hydroponics. Finally, the top tier looks just the same as a hydroponics system, whereby you have your lights and fans etc.
It isn’t super important which fish are used, and in some cases, you can even use shrimp. Some people use fish that are ornamental and beautiful, because farming them is also a pleasure. Goldfish are an example of a tough fish that can handle a life of aquaponics. On the other hand, some people use fish that are edible and can be deliciously enjoyed after the growing process is over. For example, Tilapia is a great edible fish that can be farmed alongside marijuana.
Bacteria/ the biofilter
The most important factor in all of this is the colony of bacteria. The family of bacteria is called the biofilter, and whether you choose to have it living separately or as a biofilm within the fish tank is up to you. It is a cultivation of living microbes that is essentially going to connect all the parts of this system together.
Without it, you just have a hydroponics system that is going to fail. Where you would usually have to add the nutrients on your own, having the bacteria present does the work for you. Without cycling bacteria through the water, the plants will not have enough nutrients to grow.
If the bacteria are not present, none of the waste coming from the fish will be converted into nutrients. It acts as the bridge between your fish and your plants, the glue that holds the whole system together.
Filter & Pump
Your fish tank will need some kind of filtering or water pump system. For the sake of the fish, it is going to be necessary to filter the water from time to time. However, you will be able to set your pump and drainage to a timer. This makes the process of farming fish way more water efficient.
The possibilities with a two-tank set up
There is also the possibility of having a two-tank set up. This is because your plants will require different volumes of nutrients for the vegetative and flowering states. While your plants are in one tank vegetating, you can be preparing another tank with the correct balance of nutrients for flowering.
Buying an aquaponics set-up
If you want to go the “easy” route, you could consider purchasing an aquaponics system that is already put together. This makes it easier for those who are just learning how to grow weed using this system. The only thing you would need to add is the fish, and you can start growing!
How to get high yields with aquaponics
The trick to getting higher yields in the aquaponics system is to ensure that there are high volumes of nutrients circulating. Marijuana requires a lot of nutrients to grow indoors, and without the right balance your plants could die. To get the correct balance between your fish and your plants could take some time and will definitely require some patience. What you will be creating is an entire ecosystem, and to get the process right is a work of art.
It will be a matter of cycling your bacteria with your fish to aim for the correct nutrient production and balance. The point is to take your time with this cycling process so that you don’t prematurely put your plants in there. You will risk losing great seeds if you rush into the planting process. Your nutrient balance really does need to be perfect.
Yes, growing in an aquaponics system is challenging and involves a lot of attention. However, it can be rewarding to create a project where you can feed an entire ecosystem. Not only will you be in the business of farming marijuana, but also fish, and this can be a huge learning curve in the area of growing. It can also be a huge eye opener into the complexity of nature to create the perfect harmony that we see in the natural world. Be patient and have fun cultivating fish and weed!