If you have heard the hype about aquaponics systems and are interested in growing as sustainably (yet effective) as possible, you probably would like to know more about how to make your own aquaponics growing operation. Luckily, making an aquaponics system does not need to be complicated. This guide will explain how to make your own aquaponics system quickly and easily for growing marijuana plants.
Building an aquaponics system
For the simplest and most efficient aquaponics system, you are going to want to have a flood and drain setup. It’s also important to remember that with this type of setup, your water pump will need a timer.
First things first: create two holes with a drill into the grow bed, where the plants will be growing. The holes need to be large enough for bulkheads — one serving the drain function, and the other serving the fill function. You should put the fill and drain into their corresponding bulkheads, then connect the pump to the system. You will need to have the timer running 15 minutes on, 45 minutes off.
If you are already familiar with a hydroponics grow setup, you are likely aware that this is more often than you would see with that hydroponics system. However, now that you have a second organism to worry about (the fish), you will have to flush the water through more frequently.
This grow bed will then be placed above your fish tank. Choose a growing medium that you prefer best, such as clay. This should cover the grow bed by at least a foot so the water can be filtered adequately before reaching the fish again.
The next step is to cycle your system. Cycling the system means starting the growth of bacteria before bringing in the fish. This bacteria is necessary to help the fish provide your marijuana plants with all the nutrients they require. The way to know if your system has been properly cycled is to test the nitrogen levels. Use ammonia to change the levels until they are between 2ppm and 4ppm.
You will be able to “witness” the effect the bacteria has on your aquaponic system when the ammonia converts into nitrite, and subsequently turns into nitrate. Nitrate is the form of nitrogen that is most readily available to your marijuana plants. Wait until the nitrite and ammonia levels are at 0ppm, and then you will know that your system has been properly cycled. In other words, now is when the fish can be added into the system.
Of course, once you have added the fish, you should keep a very close eye on the system so you know that the balance between the fish, the plants, and the bacteria is perfect enough to maintain a balanced, sustainable system.
The dual root zone
If you have an aquaponics setup that only involves your marijuana plants receiving nutrients from the fish, you are likely going to run into some nutrient deficiencies with your plants. Although this is the traditional way to run an aquaponics system, there is a way to do it that is even more effective: establishing a dual root zone.
The way a dual root zone works is that your clay medium is covered with a layer of burlap (or another similar material that marijuana roots can poke through), then that burlap is covered with soil. The purpose of this dual root zone is to encourage a habitat that includes terrestrial microbes, while also maintaining the layer of water to house the aquatic microbes. This allows for both types of processes that occur: both in the aquatic environment and in the terrestrial one. Your plants will, therefore, get many more of the nutrients that they need, giving them a more balanced and nutritious diet.
At some points during the growing season, it might even make sense for your to water the soil layer with an organic fertilizer that has plenty of phosphate and potassium. While this isn’t good for the fish, that can be managed by you knowing exactly how much water your soil can hold — therefore preventing the fish from getting much exposure to these high levels of phosphate and potassium. It will also lead to a more successful growing season for your marijuana plants.
Other plants also have benefits from the dual root zone system: tomatoes, for example, become more resistant to problems such as mildew forming. The system allows marijuana growers to use less fertilizer, as it is only used as a supplement rather than the primary form of nutrients for your marijuana plants. Remember, your plants are still getting most of their nutrients from the water the fish live in.
You can stop feeding your plants any extra nutrients at all starting about a month before the harvest, allowing for only the most natural flavors of marijuana to be present when you actually get to enjoy the end result of your efforts.
The key to successfully growing marijuana using an aquaponics system is, of course, some trial and error. You can adjust the nutrients you are feeding your plants, the food you are feeding your fish, or the physical setup itself. You can change how often you feed your fish, or what you will add to the soil of the top layer in the dual root zone, or even some higher up influences to the actual foliage of your plants.
Of course, if you want to avoid the risk of trial and error, you can always turn to the internet. Plenty of people have done their own experiments with what works best in an aquaponics system, and you can gain something from their hard work and go in already knowing what way works best. Happy growing, and good luck with your new aquaponics system!
Written by Robert Bergman, founder of ilovegrowingmarijuana.com. Robert has been passionately exploring and experimenting with cannabis seeds for over 20 years and shares these insights to educate growers avoid mistakes and to fully capitalize on a bud’s potential and get the most out of a marijuana plant.