Based in California, Cannabiz Confidante is a blog exploring the legal cannabis industry: from cannabis business ("cannabiz") to legal issues, lifestyle and social justice.

Cannabiz Highlight: Pot Farming!

Cannabiz Highlight: Pot Farming!

These cannabis plants thrive on a system that uses 90% less water than traditional soil-farming. 

These cannabis plants thrive on a system that uses 90% less water than traditional soil-farming. 

I recently had the pleasure of visiting a local cannabis farm that specializes in aquaponic grow systems - 151 Farmers. Most people I know (myself included) have never seen an actual grow-site, let alone an aquaponic one. Honestly, I didn't know what to expect, but I was blown away!

A "simple" aquaponic system: growbeds suspended over koi and tilapia fish tanks.

A "simple" aquaponic system: growbeds suspended over koi and tilapia fish tanks.

What is Aquaponic Farming?

Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants). An aquaponics systems grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste supplies an organic nutrient source for the plants, which in turn purify the water the fish live in. The "third participants" are the bacteria that convert the ammonia from the fish waste into nitrates that can be used by the plants.

An aquaponic system can be simple or complex. A simple system consists of a container that acts as a growbed for the plants. The growbed is placed or suspended above the fishtank. Water from the fish tank is then pumped up into the growbed. The water trickles down through the growing media (porous clay rocks or pebbles), past the plant roots and drains back into the fish tank. 

Because the water is automatically and continually recirculated, an aquaponics system doesn't require much monitoring or human interference (i.e. no need to clean the fish tanks or manually water the plants). 151 Farmers uses this relatively simple system, which consumes about 90% less water than a traditional soil-based farm.

Water from the koi tank is pumped up into the growbed.

Water from the koi tank is pumped up into the growbed.

Additional aquaponics benefits:

  • Eliminates weeds, back strain and small animal access to a garden
  • Reuses resources currently considered "waste" -- no toxic run-off
  • Eliminates the possibility of under-watering and over-watering
  • Eliminates the possibility of under-fertilizing or over-fertilizing
  • Eliminates the use of dirt or toxic chemicals in favor of nutrients from fish waste
A more complicated experimental system. Fish tank water is intermittently showered down the middle of the hollow, double-sided plant wall, saturating the roots. The water then drains to the blue trough at the bottom of the wall and is pumped back to the fish tanks.

A more complicated experimental system. Fish tank water is intermittently showered down the middle of the hollow, double-sided plant wall, saturating the roots. The water then drains to the blue trough at the bottom of the wall and is pumped back to the fish tanks.

151 Farmers

151 Farmers are organic farmers who are committed to providing ecologically sustainable cultivation practices for local communities' food and medical needs. As more states and countries legalize cannabis, they want to remind people that many communities also face food crises that can be addressed by increasing and diversifying crops grown in urban farm settings. They promote the "Farm to Fork" principle of soil-less inner city gardening to grow food nearer to where it will be consumed.

The philosophy at 151 Farmers is "5 pounds of food for every pound of cannabis." What I quickly learned after I arrived is that the farm grows far more "food" plants than pot plants -  such lettuce, tomatoes, and even some chamomile. I was shocked by the amount of basil growing there, but there was a great reason for it. The farm participates in a "trade" with a local pizza parlor - basil for fresh homemade pizza.

151 Farmers have a positive impact on the community in other ways as well. This particular farm has taken in homeless youth and has provided on-site training for those who want to learn a new marketable skill.

Chamomile and basil in aquaponic wall panels that each hold over 300 plants!

Chamomile and basil in aquaponic wall panels that each hold over 300 plants!

If plants have feelings - these are very happy plants. They are healthy, colorful and pesticide free - all while saving so much water. There really is something to aquaponic farming. I hope more growers embrace this eco-friendly technology - especially in drought-ridden areas like California.

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