What is an Aquaponics System? Why is it better than dirt?

Fish that live in an aquaponics system

There are multiple ways to grow cannabis, and at-home growers tend to swear by their favorite methods. Good old-fashioned soil growing works best for beginners, but those who are serious about quality control and fine-tuning their grow environment may go for hydroponic or aeroponic setups. However, there's another growing method rapidly increasing in popularity. Experienced growers who value holistic, organic methods as well as a super-cool aesthetic are flocking to a little-known setup: The aquaponics system.

What is an Aquaponics System?

In the simplest terms, an aquaponics system pairs a collection of live fish with a cannabis plant (or plants) to create a system that mostly takes care of itself. The idea is to create a symbiotic relationship between your agriculture and your aquaculture, where both benefit from the setup.

In an aquaponic growing system, the byproducts of the fish in the tank (feces and the ammonia given off by their gills) provide nutrients for the plants. But, your plants can't feed off of regular old fish waste without a few adjustments first. In order for the conversion to happen, the waste must be passed through a special cocktail of bacteria which make fish byproducts fit for plant consumption. In return, the plant roots clean the water as they absorb the nutrients. With the correct setup, you can grow cannabis practically hands-off.

Why Choose an Aquaponics System?

Other than providing a piquant lesson on the circle of life, the main reason to consider aquaponics is efficiency. For an industrial example, farming lettuce and tilapia together maximizes efficiency in both cost and materials. If you want to rear up and eat your own fish while also growing cannabis, there's no better setup for you. But most people choose goldfish and other hardy ornamental fish to inhabit the system. Basically, any aquatic animal, including snails and shrimp, will do the trick.

Components of an Aquaponics System

On top of the essential tools you'll need for growing marijuana, there are three main components you'll need to grow cannabis aquaponically.

  • Aquarium: Obviously, you'll need a place to house your aquatic menagerie. The aquarium component is often referred to as the "rearing tank".
  • Sub-System: The hydroponic sub-system is the tank that holds your marijuana plants, and allows their roots to hang out in the rearing tank water.
  • Biofilter: The biofilter is the most crucial part of the aquaponics system. Without one, the fish waste doesn't get broken down, and the plants don't get their food. The biofilter is a home for your colony of waste-transforming bacteria. It can be a discrete piece of the system, or you can go low-tech and grow a film of bacteria directly on the inside of your rearing tank.Growing your biofilter is the hardest part of an aquaponic weed grow. It can take up to six months to create a suitable balance of nutrients and pH for your plants. And in the meantime, you'll have to do a lot of adjusting. You'll be changing water, testing nutrients, and you may find your number of fish needs adjusting as well.

Challenges in Growing Aquaponically

Aquaponic growing is undeniably cool, but it does pose some unique challenges to those cultivating cannabis.

  • Extreme Nutrient Needs: Cannabis needs a ton of nutrients if you want to get the best from your seeds. Especially during the budding stage, your plants will be sucking down a number of nutrients your fish may not be able to support by themselves.
  • Varying Needs in the Growth Cycle: While many plants have fairly stable needs during their growth process, the aforementioned budding stage of the growth cycle will kick your plants into overdrive. They may have such disparate requirements you might need to keep separate setups for plants in the vegetative and flowering stages.
  • Fish Life Cycle: An aquaponics system works best when you're consistently removing fish for sale or eating. Otherwise, you need to remove dead fish and replace them quickly to ensure your carefully-cultivated nutrient levels stay consistent.

Keeping Up With Your Plants' Needs

Even after your biofilter is up and running, you may find there are some areas of deficiency. Some of the common nutrients in need of supplementation include potassium, iron, calcium, and phosphorus. These are especially critical while your plant is putting out flowers. Luckily, these nutrients are easy to boost without negatively affecting your fish. One of the most popular natural nutrient sources is Maxicrop, which will boost potassium and other nutrients quickly and safely.

One way to lessen the need for interference in your system is to introduce worms to the mix. In a normal aquaponics system, you need to scoop out the solid waste your biofilter can't break down. Once you've got worms in place, however, you don't need to worry about that anymore. Worms liquefy the waste and produce extra nutrients with it, completely removing one irritating step in the growing process.

The truly intrepid can also try to make their aquaponics system almost completely self-sufficient by including an edible plant in the rearing tank to eliminate the need for feeding.

Should You Try Aquaponic Growing?

This method of cultivation is best left to growers with a fair amount of experience. The number one quality an aquaponic farmer needs is patience, and the ability to fiddle with minor elements until the whole ecosystem comes into balance. If you possess these qualities, you'll find aquaponic growing a wonderful and challenging way to produce large yields of incredibly high-quality marijuana.