Comparison of hydro, aqua, and aeroponics
Once upon a time, cannabis cultivators only worked with soil. But soil is not the only way to get your hands dirty as a grower.
The suffix -ponics comes from the Greek “to labor.” Farming with soil is geoponics, working with earth. Basically, -ponics describes how the cultivator works with and grows cannabis plants. Other popular -ponics methods include:
- Hydroponics: growing with liquid nutrient solution in the absence of soil
- Aquaponics: combining fish production (aquaculture) with plant cultivation (hydroponics)
- Aeroponics: cultivating plants in air and misting roots with nutrient-laden water
Cannabis cultivators often fall head over heels for one method or the other. And as we’ll see, there are advantages and disadvantages to each of these less traditional methods.
- Hydroponics reduces many of the pest problems associated with soil and requires fewer pesticides.
- A number of hydroponics systems are available to suit the cultivators needs, such as top-feed, which uses emitters that water and provide nutrients to individual plants; and deep-water, where roots are supplied with nutrient water via a pump-and reservoir system.
- Hydroponic systems can be set up anywhere, including urban areas, and allow high-density production.
- They require less water compared to soil-based systems.
- Disease can spread rapidly in hydroponic systems.
- The cultivator must purchase and carefully manage nutrients throughout the plant’s growth cycle.
- The grower must purchase a usually non-reusable growing medium and understand how that affects the harvest (e.g., rockwool requires a pre-soak to lower pH; expanded clay may dry out; coco coir may have too much salt; etc.).
- Fish and plant waste effectively feed/fertilize each other in an organic, sustainable, closed-loop system.
- Aquaponics uses significantly less water than other systems and require less water monitoring.
- An aquaponics system can produce year-round harvests.
- Fish can provide an additional harvest/source of income, improving profits.
- Plant growth depends on proper fish feeding; any external fertilizers will generally kill the fish.
- Keeping fish healthy requires careful control of water pH, temperature, oxygen, and light; the type of fish dictates the environmental conditions required (e.g., trout require cold water and high oxygen, while tilapia require warm water and tolerate low oxygen).
- Initial setup costs and operational costs can be more expensive than other cultivation methods.
- Aquariums require significant cleaning and maintenance, although proper design can facilitate self-cleaning.
- Aeroponics boasts many of the same benefits as hydroponics.
- Surplus oxygen around the roots may boost plant growth and yield.
- Aeroponics uses up to 98% less water compared to soil cultivation.
- Cultivators must manage their aeroponics system with extreme care; mistakes could devastate the harvest (e.g., the nutrient misters fail due to a power outage). Software and automation are practical.
- The set up cost, energy costs, and technical training may be prohibitive for some cultivators.
As always, there’s no single right way to harvest amazing Cannabis sativa… but as experienced cultivators know, there are many wrong ways!