@pigSquishy and @Donaldj are both correct on this matter. Every dispensery I know of, uses soil, dwc, or aero (Hydroponics), and simply don’t have the time, personal, money, or the patience it takes for Aquaponics. I think jumpping in, head first to Commercial Aquaponics is kinda reckless, at best.
I think it’s important to know I come from a Hydroponic background. I started there, then expanded to Soil and Aquaponics. I don’t consider myself a commercial grower, although I am following the path of a “Caregiver”, as defined by my state (Maine). There’s not many of use growing Cannabis in Aquaponics, so I’m happy to see interest in it.
Aquaponics in general, is not cheap for setup, and really can’t be utilize fully until the system becomes mature (6-12+ months later). Think,… all those lights and pumps running for months and months with very little to show, not to mention the constant working with water quality, upkeep and fish care/loss.
I won’t go into too much detail here, but I do want you to have a taste of what it takes.
The space it takes to run Aquaponics and even more so in Commercial Aquaponics, is much greater than normal soil, or even hydro. If you have 1000 ft of grow area, youll need another 300-500ft, or so, will be needed just for your fish tanks, plumbing, and filtration. You’ll need more storage for Aquaculture supplies, as well.
In my case, I use Brook and Rainbow Trout, that are cold water fish, because of my location (far northeast, USA), and I tend to like a slower grow because my state allows twice as many plants in Veg as it does Flower. Cold water generally means less bugs and root problems, too.
Each fish is $2.00 from the hatchery, and I currently have 75 of (hopefully) 500-1000, for final capacity. It takes time, with the system to handle any real load of vegetation and still keeping balance with the fish, otherwise you’ll have loss. Trout are more finicky than most species.
Another reason why most use Talapia or even Goldfish. Both Talapia and Trout are restricted in my state, and both can be trained to be in colder waters, but I like the taste of Trout, and the hatchery is only 30 mins away.
The number of fish is directly related to the ideal nitrogen level you want in your tank. This is important, because when talking large numbers of controlled fish, you can only normally get in bulk, to keep the cost down.
You’ll need to think about what fish you’ll have. I tend to like the cold water fish, but there’s many restrictions the states use. I had to obtain a permit to stock my pond, by the Game Warden. There’s big fines or even jail time, if I’m found harming the environment. If you’re in a southern state, Talapia might be a better option, but I’ve heard of everything from Crayfish to duck ponds and turtles, being used to grow.
Shipping is another big one, although that might be different if you plan on growing next to a supplier. Beyond fish, you have the setup cost of tanks, filter, plumbing, upkeep, water testing, high quality feed, additive nutrients, and lighting, and everything generally needs to be food safe, depending on your local and state ordinances and goals; none of which fit in a small box. Freight get very pricey per pallet.
At first, I used IBC totes ($50US), because they’re abundance and cost in my area. Inevitably, I went to concrete tank and liner. Currently my 4×8 tank is designed to handle about 60 plants in flower, and another 120 in Veg, when construction is complete. I haven’t reached the level were I have that many fish, and since my design is modular, and the garden is still under construction, only 1 1/2 rooms are built; equalling 58 plants sites so far. Large commercial tanks and filters, are much more expensive, and most of the commercial growers that I’ve seen use (DIY) NFT or Raft bases systems not designed for cannabis.
I used 2ft culvert ($400 each) for my Aeroponic chambers, with a continuous 5100gph pump ($250 @ Lowes Hardware), which cycles my water about 10× hour. Just like hydroponics, you’ll wanna double up on all you’re pumps, especially with fish involved.
Aeroponic-Aquaponics is not the normal method, in fact, some would say it can’t be done. I chose Low Pressure Aeroponic-Aquaponic method because of the challenge. If I was to recommend Aquaponic Cannabis to others, I’d say to lean more towards RDWC, or possibly Ebb&Flow with tables and maybe even dual root zones. Hydroton flood&drain beds make very good filters. I could be wrong, but as far as I know, I’m the largest Aeroponic-Aquaponic garden growing Cannabis in the world.
My filtration, although works now, is too small for the completed project. I use K3 media for my Moving Biofilter, which I’ll have to upgrade to handle the bio-load. K1, K2, and K3, take a very long time to start working (and why I started cycling it now), but filter and buffer the water in between grow cycles very well, for the sake of my fish. My older K3 media will seed my new bio media, when I upgrade. Google “the king of DIY” for a ton of info on DIY aquarium knowledge. Joey the fish Guru, goes into how filtration works with larger bodies of water; good stuff and a great place to start.
A chiller may be required and is definitely recommend in warmer climates. In the case of Aquaponics, and to be food safe, these get very expensive.
Swirl, Radial Flow, or solids removal filter may be required to be installed. I currently use a swirl that is already overwhelmed, and needs to be upgraded.
All of my stuff is DIY, which most aquaponic cannabis growers are. Even commercial gardens need to be changed to fit personal needs, so you’re gonna have to be handy, or feel the wrath of contractors; of course, more permits may have to be obtained.
I’ve heard of a commercial grower in Canada that uses Aquaponics, but when I use there website, it’s all text based and not information other than “commercial aquaponic cannabis” is given.
I can’t stress this enough, it takes time. Anyone who’s had a fish tank knows that you can’t just buy a tank and throw some top dollar fish and expect them to survive. In Hydroponics most growers replace their water weekly to keep a near-sterile environment. In Aquaponics, bacterial matter is your friend, but takes time to grow on the sides of every surface.
Bottom line is, the tank needs to cycle, and its a slow process. Most store bought chemicals, to speed up cycling are known to contain carcinogens.
Aquaponics is more comparable to a Saltwater Coral tank with the time, care, and testing. Normally with an aquarium you’d start off small and cheap, and work your way upto the better aquarium, same with aquaponics. My current system is a rebuild, and I’m only at the 75 fish level because of the bio-load. In Aquaponics, you can’t have the more plants than the fish can handle. Otherwise, you’ll have sickly plants that don’t yield. On the other hand, you can’t have more fish waste than the plants can clean. Otherwise, you’ll have dead fish to replace.
The first grow cycle will suck, as the nutrient levels will not be correct within the system. It sucks to see 7-10 weeks go by with very little to show. The Best way to think of it, is just a fish tank, then, adding an plant based filtration system so you won’t need water changes. The fact the you’re getting Cannabis is just a bonus.
If you choose this Aquaponic path commercially, you might even want to start with a Aqauponic Tomato farm, and slowly swap out the tomatoes for cannabis as you go, seeing that their needs are almost identical. Tomatos are cheap.
On top of that, there is “0” vacation time. These fishtanks are essentially livestock tanks at this point, and of course you get that added benefit for Aquaculture, it does take daily work to manage your system.
This isn’t something you can just use a PPM’s/EC/TDS meter on, although they can be a useful tool. You’ll need to know exactly what is in your water at all times, and have the appropriate tests to check. Keep in mind, fish only supply Nitrogen. Although high quality fish feed with help here, you need to supplement the required chemicals for larger plants to grow (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Sulfur, Boron, Manganese, Zinc, Chlorine, Malybdenum, Copper, and Iron.
There’s companies that will do your chemistry for you for a price. I’ve been speaking with Northeast Laboratories, here in Maine. They quoted me a about $2100US/year, to weekly tests. You can even buy your own testing equipment ($$$$), just know that it’s pretty much a requirement commercially.
Some people use organic or compost teas. There’s a ton of videos on youtube to learn how this is done. I don’t use the teas method personality because youre at the mercy of the brew for what’s in the water. The nutrient levels are too wild to control for my liking, so I add individual food grade or organic chemical compounds, to get exact amounts.
In the 1950’ there was a team that determined exactly what large plants require to grow, named Hoagland. I highly recommend looking into it, if this is your grow method. There’s also a PH.D. named Nate on the Bright Agrotech channel, on youtube, that you can take a crash course on his “Nutrients in Aquaponics” videos. Of course it goes without saying, I’ll help all I can.
Education is expensive and timely. I have no formal “Aquaponic” education that I can claim; most of it comes from trial and error. It will, again, greatly help if you’ve had saltwater aquarium experience. Noone likes to give out their personal mixes of nutrients that I’ve found. Than again, every strain of cannabis likes it’s own tweek on nutrients, in my experience. What i will say, my formula was given to me and I gave my word I wouldn’t share, but is similar to Hoaglands Solution. Like in a hydro setup, where one premix nutrient line is used for multiple strains. Some will do better than others, same with Aquaponics, where all the plants get feed from one fish tank. There is no “mainstream” and easy way of just throwing plants in and growing. Chemistry is a big hurdle, and learning your personal mix will take a lot of time, hands-on work and money.
I know is seems like all negatives listed, but surprisingly, there are many positives as well.
I always loved fish tanks from a very young age and would probably have a lot of the supplies needed for a small “Greens” system anyways (Greens like lettuces which don’t require added nutrients). Premixes and soil become very expensive over time, especially if you’re using name brands. I buy (in bulk) large amounts of organic nutrients in raw form at a fraction of the price. As an example, I buy FeEDDHA for iron @ $10US, which will last me a couple of years. No premixes needed. Food and/or sales of commercial livestock and food. There’s a ton of money to be made from local restaurants and stores from organically grown, food grade, Aquaculture, if done right. You can even breed fish to supply fish stores on unedible fish. There’s something calming about working with fish. There’s an unbelievable amount of information I’ve gained from this that can be applied to other subjects used in life; huge bonus!
…Sorry guys, I couldn’t respond faster. I guess I’m only aloud to respond so many times in a 24 hour period. It even stopped me from sending private messages. I’m hoping this site allows for unlimited messaging soon.