- Aquaponics is a growing technique that combines fish farming and hydroponics to work symbiotically.
- Relatively unknown to the large public, it allows to produce top-quality cannabis both for therapeutic and recreational use.
- The method brings together the benefits of organic growing with the speed and the heavy yields of hydroponics.
What are aquaponic systems?
Aquaponics is a growing technique that involves farming fish in a tank or fish farm that is connected to a hydroponic setup. Suitable for indoors and outdoors, this growing system combines the best of organic growing and hydroponics, representing a perfect symbiosis between a state-of-the-art growing technique and the benefits of the organic nutrients produced by the fish, which are available to the cannabis plants at all times.
In aquaponic systems, the plants are grown as in hydroponics but with the difference that the nutrients are derived from a fish tank. This is connected to the hydroponic setup creating a closed loop circuit that allows to deliver the nutrients to the roots of the plants. When choosing the fish, it is important to opt for species whose waste is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK), as these nutrients are essential for healthy plant growth.
The process is completed by the action of the bacteria that are present in the air and in the substrate. These metabolise ammonium and urea into nitrates and then into nitrites, making them available to the plants.
The substrate is very similar to that used in hydroponics. Generally, it consists of expanded clay and other elements that promote drainage and aeration, allowing the plants to reach their full breathing potential and encouraging vigorous roots.
The use of this technique allows to create a natural ecosystem that, once under control, is fully autonomous. In order to ensure proper functioning, in the early stages you will have to provide the plants with nutrients manually (NPK), but with time and experience the ecosystem will balance itself out, functioning almost autonomously. When this happens, the need for fertilisers is dramatically reduced, resulting in huge cost savings and in the production of top-quality cannabis buds.
Pros of growing cannabis with aquaponics
Here are the advantages of aquaponic systems:
- Plants complete their life cycle faster, being ready to harvest 10 days in advance.
- Because the method is 100 per cent organic, the flowers are much better quality.
- Yields are 20-25 per cent higher than when plants are grown in soil.
- The symbiotic relationship between the organic and the hydroponic systems results in faster growth and in a higher quality end product.
- Once the system is autonomous, the need for fertilizersis substantially reduced.
Cons of growing cannabis with aquaponics
Here is what you should consider before opting for an aquaponic system:
- You'll need to master fish farming, which is not exactly a simple technique.
- Likewise, you'll need to be familiar with hydroponics, as the slightest mistake will affect the plants almost immediately.
Contrary to soil, nutrient absorption is really fast in hydroponics, leaving no room for manoeuvre when something goes wrong. As a result, every action has an immediate effect on the plants, whether positive or negative.
- Apart from the technical skills, you will also need specific equipment.
- Besides mastering fish farming, you'll have to adapt the amount of fish and bacteria used to the specific needs of your plants.
- Before embarking on this adventure, you need to be well aware that the system requires daily maintenance in order to function properly, something you should give serious thought to particularly if you think traditional growing methods are already too time-consuming. In fact, this method is aimed at cannabis enthusiasts who are happy to spend long hours working in the garden.
Basic elements for an aquaponic setup
Here is what you'll need to start off on the right foot:
- A reliable hydroponic system made of hard-wearing materials. This can be costly to purchase but will pay itself back if you manage to make the system work properly.
- A water pump tailored to the needs of your plants that allows to deliver the nutrient solution to the roots.
- A suitable fish tank - in terms of litre capacity, shape, etc. - fitted with the necessary technical equipment. The best option here is to get advice at a specialised shop, as aquaponic systems are complex to implement and maintain.
- Fit-for-purpose fish, i.e. barramundis, redfish, trouts, catfish and tilapia.
- A 'growbed' made with textile fibre - first layer of the tray - aimed at optimising the respiratory capacity and the permeability of the system, which in turn allows for optimum root growth. This is then complemented with a layer of expanded clay - it promotes drainage and keeps the plants from falling over - creating a two-layer root growing area that encourages root growth and, more importantly, that enables ammonia to be transformed into the nitrites the plants will eventually absorb. This is key in aquaponics, and even if at an early stage you may have to use nutrient-rich soil (NPK) to make sure your plants have enough resources to feed on and can grow vigorously, over time the fish tank should be more than enough to keep them fed without the need for external intervention.
Hopefully, this post has given you a new insight on cannabis cultivation and has inspired you to consider new possibilities when it comes to growing this amazing plant.
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