Everything you need to know about aquaponics

A red eared-turtle slider turtle in a water tank

Aquaponics is an aquaculture-based growing technique. More specifically, it is a technique based on the combination of hydroponics and recirculating aquaculture systems. So how does an aquaponics system work? Who should consider growing cannabis with aquaponics? Why is aquaponics beneficial to cannabis? Read on to learn more about this method of cultivation.

A red eared-turtle slider turtle in a water tank

What is aquaponics?

Recirculating aquaculture systems are a way of raising fish and/or other aquatic creatures, in setups with limited water exchange, that remain viable with the help of bio-filtration. Coupled with hydroponics, they constitute an amazingly eco-friendly, natural way of producing healthy crops: aquaponics.

In short, plants grown in aquaponics systems feed on waste provided by fish, while said fish’s living environment is purified by the natural filtering that occurs as plants go through their lifecycle. In other words, nature’s symbiosis at your fingertips!

The average non-land-based aquaponics setup consists of a non-natural body of water populated by aquatic animals. This body of water is topped or connected to a preferably (re)movable garden with openings, or a pumping system, allowing water to meet the soil, other substrate, or soilless environment in which the plants’ roots sit.

Land-based aquaponics setups on the other hand, rely on the use of a natural source of water, such as a lake, a pond, a river, etc. The main difference between the two options is the amount and type of nutrients provided to plants: in a non-land-based setting, it is easier to control these parameters, since the grower is relatively free to choose the animals involved in the whole process, as well as the quality of the water used. This is why in the case of cannabis, a majority of installations are of the non-land-based variety.

Many a grower considers aquaponics to be an option that is only really attainable via the outdoors or in professional, adapted facilities. Many a grower is wrong!

So is it the fact that cannabis cultivation is still illegal in most countries that pushed those interested in growing their own medicine to be resourceful? We are not too sure, but especially if one is a DIY kind of person, there are countless options for excellently performing aquaponics setups that fit perfectly in a small garden, a tiny greenhouse, and even in one’s home.

Take a look at the installations below to get the general idea.

A large scale outdoor aquaponics system
A large scale outdoor aquaponics system
A classic indoor aquaponics system
A classic indoor aquaponics system
A small indoor aquaponics system with fish tank and a goldfish
A small indoor aquaponics system

How does aquaponics work?

Aquaponics allows plants and other living creatures to cohabitate within a shared environment, while taking advantage of each other’s assets. Here is a breakdown of its basic functioning.

Step 1 – Fish, or whichever animals are being raised, need to be fed regularly on food chosen by the grower/caretaker. It can be any commercial food available in pet stores or aquaculture stores, a homemade mix of organic ingredients, or anything in between. From this food, fish will produce waste, bringing various nutrients to the water, so it is important to consider what exactly will end up going through the plants that will later be medicated with. Uneaten food as well as waste then quickly turn into ammonia via a process called nitrification.

Step 2 – Water containing fish-sponsored plant food is transported to plants via whichever connection the setup works with: pump, pipe, grow table, or through plants’ roots directly dipped into the tank.

Step 3 – Cannabis plants absorb nutrients necessary to their development, resulting in a filtered, ammonia-free water at the other end of the system’s closed circuit. It is then poured back into the larger tank, to be reused in the same loop over and over again.

Step 4 – There is no step 4! That is, besides the minimum maintenance required by an aquaponics system. While aquaponics is an efficient way to minimize water use, such a grow space may still require one or two water changes per season. This almost entirely depends on the origin of the initial supply of water. For instance, if water from a river is used, chances are excess nutrients will build up quite quickly, which can be detrimental to fish and plants alike. But even if significant build-ups don’t seem to appear, some basic cleaning will always be appreciated: both fish and plants are living creatures that need nurturing!

What are the benefits of aquaponics for cannabis?

Cannabis of better quality

Considering the ever-present black market of cannabis in most countries, it is safe to say most recreational consumers as well as patients know of the horrendous quality one can be confronted to when buying from an unknown producer. This explains why many cannabis enthusiasts switch to growing their own plants. Of course, becoming a self-sustainable cannabis enthusiast does not guarantee the start of an epic crusade against non-fully-organic cannabis. But in the spirit of at least surpassing the quality found in the streets, most growers aim to provide themselves with the best product possible.

With more ‘traditional’ grow setups, an easy solution to find soil and nutrients is to buy them off-the-shelf in gardening shops, a practice that can jeopardise not only the organic factor of one’s crop, but also its overall quality, especially if the grower doesn’t have access to cannabis-friendly items. Not to mention the cost of such items!

With aquaponics however, plants’ roots are immersed in water in which other living organisms go through a lifecycle of their own, thus providing growing seedlings all-natural nutrients. Of course, the “all-natural” part depends on the exact nature of the food these living organisms are provided with. But thankfully, finding organic fish food in retail is extremely easy as well as relatively cost-effective, and making your own is child’s play!

A more ecological cannabis

Depending on where the water used in an aquaponics setup comes from, its grower may have to proceed with a water change or two during the course of a growing season. Yet, regardless of the exact nature of the setup, and even considering this couple of water changes, tremendous progress in terms of  water conservation can be achieved. To aim even higher, a grower should choose their supplier carefully (rainwater is always a good bet), and you may not have to proceed with a water change at all.

Also noteworthy, if your aquaponics setup is of the indoor kind, your consumption of electricity will not be significantly impacted by the addition of a water tank and pump combo to your already power-consuming indoor grow. So if you are already an indoor grower, don’t think about it any longer, and make the switch!


Do not underestimate the potential of your aquaponics installation. Your cannabis plants only constitute a small percentage of the possible outcome. You could consider harvesting several other types of plants in addition to cannabis, for the sake of companion planting, or to respond to your household’s needs.

Besides, even if you don’t plan on doing much of the fish part in the aquaponics equation, – besides raising them – the sole presence of a fish tank or pool in your surroundings could help lower your blood pressure, levels of stress, anxiety, as well as increase your productivity.

And finally, if you are one to get bored by fish … do know that there are other options available to you. Shrimps, turtles, or ducks have been known to be great assets in aquaponics!

So what is your aquaponics system like? Are you satisfied with this method? Let us know about your duck-powered aquaponics system in the comments. And as per usual, feel free to add your two cents, even if duck-free.

  • Disclaimer:
    Laws and regulations regarding cannabis cultivation differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.


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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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