Aquaponics vs Hydroponics

Ever since growers discovered the benefits of hydroponics for marijuana, many have taken an interest in soilless growing methods.

Now, many home growers utilize  a variety soilless systems, including Aquaponics vs Hydroponics. 

What’s the difference? We’ve outlined the methods and detailed the pros and cons between aquaponics vs hydroponics to help you choose the most effective method of growing your cannabis.

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    Why Some Cannabis Growers Don’t Grow in Soil

    The introduction of hydroponics as a viable way to grow cannabis has caused many growers to stop using soil.

    Marijuana that’s grown hydroponically not only grows faster, but the buds are much larger and more potent compared to its soil counterpart. 

    This is because unlike with soil mediums, cannabis plants are able to absorb nutrients much more efficiently.

    With soilless methods, your plants can put energy toward its growth rather than the development of hearty root systems.

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    The other advantage of hydroponics over soil is that you have complete control over the amount of nutrients in your system.

    With soil, you’re limited to certain mixes which have different nutrients – some of which could potentially be excessive and cause nutrient burn

    Of course there are workarounds such as making your own soil and composting.

    But at that point, you’re giving as much effort as you would growing hydroponically with less yield.

    Another reason why people don’t grow in soil is the smell.

    Compost in particular can cause a slew of odors that, when paired with marijuana’s own pungent odor during its flowering phase, can be hard to cope with.

    This is more of a problem to those around you than you, of course. 

    With hydroponics, you’ll only use Rockwool, vermiculite, or coco coir for your growing medium, which don’t carry as much of an odor.

    This is not to say that different hydroponics systems are completely odorless.  We’ll get into that more when discussing aquaponics vs hydroponics.

    Aquaponics vs Hydroponics systems
    Hydroponics System

    Both aquaponics and hydroponics use this system.

    The main difference between the two is how you provide nutrients to your cannabis.

    With hydroponics, you give your plants nutrients through nutrient formulas that you mix into the reservoir.

    Although there are organic nutrients for hydroponics, it’s generally considered a type of non-organic growing. 

    Aquaponics, on the other hand, is considered organic because instead of mixing nutrient formulas into the reservoir, you instead have fish.

    Their waste will act as the nutrients for your cannabis, and in turn, the cannabis plants would filter the wastewater.

    By the time it recycles back into the reservoir, it is safe for your fish.

    Hydroponics – Grow Cannabis Plants Without Soil

    When talking about hydroponics, most inexperienced growers think there’s just one system, the ebb and flow sub-irrigation.

    In reality, there’s quite a list.

    Hydroponics is just the umbrella term to describe these different systems that feed nutrient-rich water directly into the roots of your cannabis. 

    But essentially, they all follow the same two-part design of grow tray and reservoir.

    The differences mostly lie in the flow of nutrient-rich water. If you want to know more about these different systems, check out our article about hydroponic growing.

    hydroponics system
    Advantages of hydroponics

    Advantages of Growing with Hydroponics

    • You have full control over the nutrients you give to your cannabis, allowing for faster growth that results in larger and more potent buds. Additionally, there’s less risk of nutrient burn.
    • Because you’re not using soil as your growing medium, you’re able to reuse the solution over and over without diminishing results. The only thing that you’ll need to replace (occasionally) is the growing medium in the net pots.
    • It’s generally not known to produce as intense of an odor compared to growing in soil. Less odor also means that your hydroponics system is unlikely to attract pests. No pests means no pesticides that could hurt the quality of your buds.

    Disadvantages of Growing with Hydroponics

    • Although less likely to run into pests, hydroponic systems are more likely to be contaminated with mold, mildew, and root rot if not routinely checked.
    • Growing large cannabis plants using hydroponics means you need to buy more items that can properly hold larger plants instead of simply growing in soil. Hydroponics for large cannabis plants usually involves purchasing expensive heavy-duty plastic grow trays and sturdy net pots.
    • Nutrient formulas and other hydroponic nutrients such as root boosters will gradually effect the cost of using a hydroponics system.
    Aquaponic Marijuana Growing
    Aquaponic marijuana growing

    Aquaponics – Hydroponics Growing, Evolved

    Aquaponics is a subset of hydroponics that combines aquaculture and hydroponics. It still uses the same two-part design of grow tray and reservoir.

    But rather than mixing nutrients into the reservoir, you have fish to act as a natural means of enriching water with organic matter. 
    This organic matter will then convert into viable nutrients for your cannabis in the form of beneficial bacteria.

    Your cannabis will then take these nutrients and maintain the balance of the ecosystem in the aquarium, forming a symbiotic relationship between your cannabis plants, the bacteria, and the fish.

    Aquaponics Advantages

    • Hydroponically grown weed can sometimes have a chemical taste, which is why some people stuck to growing in soil. However, with aquaponics, you don’t get that same chemical taste because the nutrients are organic.
    • Aquaponics lets you raise fish and grow marijuana at the same time. So if you’re growing weed commercially, it’s not a bad idea to also branch into growing fish like tilapia or koi, which can serve as a side-business.
    • Aquaponics has the benefit of reducing the damage to our ecosystem. Unlike hydroponics, aquaponics is a sustainable way of growing marijuana.

    Aquaponics Disadvantages

    • Because aquaponics is a type of organic growing, it will tend to have more odor than hydroponics. The source of the odor is usually the soilless growing medium you’re using; in particular, Rockwool can smell awfully fishy.
    • Aquaponics has a hard time supporting cannabis strains with high nutrient needs. This is partly because the fish cannot produce enough organic matter to feed nutrient-hungry strains.
    • The cost of hydroponics vs aquaponics may seem fairly similar at first glance, but the startup cost and running cost of aquaponics is surprisingly more expensive than hydroponics.

    Nutrient Considerations When Soilless Growing

    When choosing the nutrients for your cannabis, you should keep in mind a couple of things. First and foremost, avoid using nutrients meant for soil.

    These types of nutrients come in the form of urea and ammonium salts, which are supposed to be slowly processed down to something more viable for your cannabis by the microbes found in your soil gardens. 

    Nutrients for marijuana
    Nutrients for marijuana

    If you were to use them in your hydroponics, it would quickly become too acidic and toxic to your cannabis.

    It’s wise to double-check if you’re using nutrients specifically made for hydroponics. Additionally, the best hydroponic nutrients are chelated, which essentially means they are absorbed more easily by your cannabis.

    Another thing to look out for when purchasing hydroponic nutrients are ones that contain large amounts of organic matter (bat guano, fish emulsion, etc.).

    These nutrients are bad for your reservoir and worse for your plants because it can cause root and bacterial problems

    The only exception to this is when you’re using aquaponics since it has an ecosystem with beneficial bacteria to turn organic matter into viable nutrients for your cannabis.

    However, keep in mind, aquaponics is not the best setup for cannabis strains with high nutrient needs, so if you need nutrients, you shouldn’t use aquaponics.

    Choosing between Hydroponics and Aquaponics
    Choosing between Hydroponics and Aquaponics

    Factors to consider when choosing between Hydroponics vs Aquaponics

    Before you decide between aquaponics vs hydroponics, there are other things to consider.

    Grow Environment

    Similar to how you would routinely check the conditions of your indoor cannabis garden, you should also put the same amount of work and care into checking your hydroponic system. 

    In particular, you would be concerned about the pH level in your reservoir, the temperature of it, and the hydroponic nutrients you’re using.

    Here’s a table showing the ideal grow environment for both hydroponic and aquaponic setups:

    Grow Environment FactorsHydroponicsAquaponics
    pH5.8~6.26.8~7.0
    Temperature65°F (18°C)68°~86°F (20° ~ 30°C)
    Hydroponics setup
    Hydroponics setup

    Setup and Equipment

    Both setups come in two main parts; the grow tray and the reservoir.

    They also use the same means of circulating water through those two parts – a water pump to pull nutrient-rich water from the reservoir to the grow tray. 

    The air pump and air stone help create more dissolved oxygen in the water for your cannabis.

    Additionally, it also helps prevent algae and other nasty diseases from developing in the reservoir. And in the case of aquaponics, it’s a way to sustain a healthy environment for your fish.

    Costs

    The top concern for any grower is the cost of cultivating cannabis.

    And generally, hydroponics systems are expensive both in the startup cost to get it going and the running costs to maintain it. 

    However, aquaponics is more expensive than hydroponics due to the fish component.

    There’s the cost of buying the fish as well as its feed, and then there’s the electrical cost of using the air pump more often to ensure the ideal environment for your fish to thrive.

    Best strains for soilless grow
    Best strains for soilless grow

    The Best Strains for Soilless Grows

    The last thing to take note of when growing in soilless setups is choosing the right strain. There are some cannabis strains that are perfect for hydroponic or aquaponic  growing, such as:

    Durban Poison Feminized

    A pure sativa strain that, although it is best grown outdoors in sunny environments, can thrive well in a hydroponics setup. You can expect a yield of 18-21oz (510-595g) per plant. 

    You should take note though – Durban Poison is particular when it comes to its growing environment.

    Even though it can thrive in indoor hydroponic setups, it doesn’t do as well in pots with soil or other solid growing mediums.

    ORIGINPure South African Sativa
    EFFECTSUplifted – 10
    Energetic – 10
    Happy – 9
    Euphoric – 8
    Creative – 8
    FRAGRANCEEarthy, pine, pungent, spicy, sweet
    FLAVORSEarthy, pine, sweet, citrus, herbal
    ADVERSE REACTIONS (NEGATIVE)Dry mouth – 10
    Dry eyes – 5
    Anxious – 3
    Paranoid – 3
    Headache – 2
    MEDICALStress – 10
    Depression – 9
    Pain – 6
    Fatigue – 6
    Nausea – 3
    FLOWERING TIME INDOOR9 weeks
    FLOWERING TIME OUTDOORLate September to early October
    PLANT HEIGHTTall
    THC CONTENT %16%-20%
    CBD %0.02%
    INDICA/SATIVA %100% Sativa
    INDOOR YIELD13 ounces per square meter
    OUTDOOR YIELD16 ounces or more per plant
    CLIMATETemperate to sunny climates, away from frost
    GROWTH LEVELEasy
    RESISTANCE TO DISEASEResistant to mold and pests
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    Agent Orange Feminized

    This sativa dominant hybrid is infamously known for its low resistance to common diseases, making aquaponics a bad idea due to its microbe-filled environment. 

    The best setup you can do for Agent Orange is hydroponics because it’s sterile. 

    However, despite its difficulty, this strain is worth growing as it’ll give you a considerable yield of 14-17oz (396-481g) per plant.

    ORIGINOrange Velvet mixed with Jack The Ripper
    EFFECTShappy – 10
    uplifted – 9
    relaxed – 7
    euphoric – 7
    creative – 6
    ADVERSE REACTIONS (NEGATIVE)dry mouth – 10
    dry eyes – 5
    dizzy – 3
    paranoid – 3
    anxious – 2
    FRAGRANCEcheese, citrus, orange
    FLAVORSorange, citrus, sweet, spicy, herbal, cheese
    MEDICALstress – 10
    depression – 8
    pain – 4
    lack of appetite – 4
    fatigue – 4
    FLOWERING TIME INDOORS8-9 weeks
    FLOWERING TIME OUTDOORSOctober
    PLANT HEIGHTTall
    THC CONTENT %10%-19%
    CBD %0.01%-0.1%
    INDICA / SATIVA %45% / 55%
    INDOOR YIELD16oz/ m2
    OUTDOOR YIELD19oz/ plant
    CLIMATEwarm and sunny mediterranean climate
    GROWTH LEVELmedium
    RESISTANCE TO DISEASEhigh
    Agent Orange Strain

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    Granddaddy Purple Feminized

    This pure indica is easy to grow outdoors and easier indoors because of its responsiveness to the environment. You will yield around 14-17oz (396-481g) per plant with Granddaddy Purple. And because of how responsive it is to its environment, expect to bump those numbers up if you’re growing it in an indoor hydroponic setup.

    OriginThe Grand Daddy Purple is a product of crossbreeding
    Purple Urkle and Big Bud, two popular Indica strains!
    Plant type100% Indica
    THCUp to 23%
    CBDLow
    DifficultyEasy
    ClimateIndoors
    Plant SizeCompact
    Flowers9 weeks
    Yields14 to 17 oz per 3x3ft
    Taste & SmellBerry | Fruity | Grape | Sweet
    UsesInsomnia | Lack of appetite | Pain | Stress
    EffectsStress
    Anxiety
    Pain
    Insomnia
    Depression
    Lack of appetite
    ClimateBest growing in a humidity controlled environment (GDP likes humidity to hover around 50%).
    Grand Daddy Purple

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    • 100% Indica
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    • Great for beginners
    • Deep relaxation with a calming buzz

    In Summary…

    Hydroponics vs aquaponics, which is better? In the end, it depends on what appeals to you the most and what’s more viable for you as a grower. In most cases, hydroponics is the ideal setup. 

    This is because they’re a lot easier to handle and won’t cost you as much as an aquaponics setup. However, if you want better quality weed with none of the chemical taste (and like fish),  then go for aquaponics.

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      FAQs about Aquaponics and Hydroponics

      What are the six types of hydroponic systems?

      The 6 types of hydroponics are as follows:
      – Wicking Systems
      – Deep Water Culture (DWC)
      – Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
      – Ebb and Flow
      – Aeroponics
      – Drip Systems
      You can know more about NFT and Aeroponics in our article about hydroponic marijuana growing.

      Where can I learn more about hydroponic growing?

      You can learn more about hydroponic growing in our article about the basics of hydroponic systems.

      Is coco coir hydroponics?

      Coco coir is a soilless growing medium like vermiculite, perlite, and Rockwool. It’s one of many mediums used to fill the net pots used in hydroponic growing.

      Do aquaponics systems smell?

      Yes, they do. In fact, the fishy smell of aquaponics can become more pungent depending on the soilless growing medium you use. Avoid Rockwool since it tends to smell the most.

      What are the best fish for aquaponic growing?

      The best fish for aquaponics can thrive well in warm water climates to match the humid environment that’s perfect for cannabis growing. Here’s a list of fish that’s perfect for your aquaponic growing:
      – Trout
      – Goldfish
      – Koi
      – Tilapia
      – Catfish

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      Robert Bergman

      Robert Bergman is an Amsterdam-based marijuana grow expert who has years of experience from small grows to massive operations. His passion for growing led him to develop his own Gold Leaf strain. Now, Robert is dedicated to sharing his knowledge with the world.... [Read full bio]

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