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Is There a Limit to What you Can Grow In Aquaponics?

July 26, 2010

Last week a Hawaiian aquaponics company that specializes in DIY, raft-based systems sent out a newsletter that had a link to an article that ended with “THESE SYSTEMS DO NOT WORK FOR GROWING MARIJUANA”.  The evidence they used was a report from one of their hydroponic- growing students that tried unsuccessfully to grow marijuana using aquaponics.

Aquaponics Heirloom tomato

Aquaponics Heirloom tomato

This started me thinking about a few things.  First, because medical marijuana is legal with a permit in Colorado, it is an unavoidable topic of conversation here.  I admit I have a tremendous curiosity about how well marijuana would grow in an aquaponics system, especially since every other plant I’ve encountered grows so vigorously.  No, I don’t use marijuana nor have I ever grown it, but I have no judgment about those who do.  I think that many are doing tremendous humanitarian work with medical patients and marijuana.  Plus, who am I to say that my Friday Happy Hour martini is any worse than someone else’s joint?  But my real curiosity is with the plant itself…

Aquaponics peppers in 3 colors

Aquaponics peppers in 3 colors

I think that the statement above about the plant not growing in “these systems” may be true.  But this is because the referenced system is raft based.  I have become convinced from my experience, conversations, and research that raft based systems, while absolutely the best for commercial operations growing lettuces, greens and herbs, don’t offer the robust nutrient mix that a mature media based system offers.

Think about it.  The engine of an aquaponics system is what I have started calling “the conversion team” of beneficial nitrifying bacteria and composting red worms.  The bacteria convert the main, liquid source of

waste from the fish into food for the plants and reside on all moist surfaces of an aquaponics system.  Which system has more surface area –a raft-based system where bacteria reside on the underside of the raft itself, as well as the sidewalls and the plumbing, or in a media-based system with sidewalls, plumbing, and 12” of gravel or Hydroton?  My vote is for the media based system.

Then you have the solid waste, which provide additional micro and macro nutrients for the plants.  In raft-based systems, the solids are filtered out and removed as unwanted waste.  In media-based systems, the solids remain in the grow bed and are digested by composting red worms that return it to the system ecology as incredibly nutritious vermicompost.

Travis Hughey aquaponics systems melon

Travis Hughey's aquaponic systems hanging melon

Adding further fuel to my conviction that there just isn’t anything that can’t be grown in a mature media-based aquaponics system, I recently had the delightful pleasure of interviewing Travis Hughey. He is the inventor of the Barrel-ponics™ system and the father of that movement in the U.S. I interviewed him for an article I’m writing for BackYard Aquaponics Magazine.  While we never discussed marijuana specifically, Travis agrees that he has yet to find the plant that won’t grow well in media-based aquaponics.  As evidence here are some photos of his current aquaponic gardens, along with some of my own.

So can marijuana be grown in aquaponics?  I sure don’t see why not.  While it is a very special and

obviously controversial plant, it is still just a plant.  I’m willing to bet that there are people out there who are trying to grow marijuana using aquaponics and probably succeeding mightily.

Let me know what you think.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2010 11:17 am

    Very good article and points.

    I am not smoker, but I have friends that use it for medical purposes (pain, loss of appetite, stomach cramps and many more) or for just plain relaxation . They always tell me to grow the stuff, but Im not willing to go to jail for something illegal. If it becomes legal in my lifetime in Florida, that would be another story, but until then, I like my freedom 🙂

    I see the benefits it can bring, both economic and on a personal level.

    I agree, its an all natural plant. I would much rather accidentally run into a pothead, rather than a drunk. Drunks are a pain in the ass to deal with, most potheads are easy, open minded, creative types. Not to mention that this plant can replace (I believe) up to 80% of the medications on the market today. (Sounds like the plant can also be a threat to many companies!)

    I know for sure there is someone out there using aquaponics for pot, but I’m sure they arent going to blow their operation up and post it on the net…lol. When it becomes legalized in California in November, you will see big changes.

    Yes I know a lot about the subject. One reason is that when I first started learning hydroponics, the ONLY people on the the internet that had good, reliable information was the marijuana websites/forums. They do know there stuff and without them and their movement, I think hydroponics wouldnt be such a well known subject. Although the pot business does give hydroponics a bad(opinion) name, they have taken this technology to new levels.

  2. July 27, 2010 11:41 pm

    Thanks for stressing some very good points about growing marijuana in aquaponics. I agree that although it is truly a controversial plant, it is still a natural plant that can be grown in almost all types of gardening methods. Although I have not read any article about some people growing it in aquaponics, just like you, I believe that there are also some growers who have considered growing this type of plant with the use of aquaponics system. But as what Florida Hydroponics said, until the act of growing this plant becomes legal, we will not see any information on the internet about marijuana aquaponics yet.

  3. James Burdine permalink
    July 28, 2010 12:05 pm

    I think that the motivation for the article that you spoke about was the stigma that hydroponics has in many areas as the prime method of growing marijuana. I know that in my area it is assumed that the reason that you are interested in hydroponics is weed. While not interested in growing the plant myself, I figure that there is no reason that the plant cannot be grown aquaponically if you are willing to experiment with the best method; Flotation vs aggregate and the type of aggregate. As far as California deciding legality, I would not become too comfortable with that. Especially with the federal government taking individual states to court in litigation for a states ability to make any law. It will then be the states rights vs federal rights again.

  4. August 4, 2010 5:28 pm

    Just a Quickie. Not necessarily for publication (although I don’t mind if you use it.) On your mention of AP for growing marijuana. I’d just like to draw your attention to the below Blog It has been going for ages and has given very thorough details on the growing needs of the WEED. Just try to ignore the language.

    Love your Blog.


    • August 4, 2010 6:15 pm

      Hi Bruce. Thanks for your support…and for the links here on your blog. Much appreciated. You are right, Strain Guide has been a valuable supporter of aquaponics for a long time.

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