top of page

Cannabis Growth Methods: Hydroponics, Aeroponics, and Aquaponics

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

The popular culture around marijuana cultivation has crafted an image of basement grow operations featuring makeshift light sources and Bob Marley playing in the background. While that is undoubtedly one way to do it, there are many other ways that growers have explored cannabis cultivation. Hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics are all up-and-coming cannabis growth methods, and as the winter season approaches, they may be good alternatives to traditional soil growth.

Hydroponically grown plants as related to hydroponically grown cannabis
A hydroponic plant growth system

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is a type of soilless gardening (Hoidal, 2020). While almost anything can grow hydroponically, short-season or non-produce-generating crops are great indoor winter grow options (Hoidal, 2020).

While there are various ways to set up hydroponic systems, one simple at-home method is called “Deep Water Culture” (Hoidal, 2020). This includes everyday household items like a styrofoam lid, net pots, and a bucket of water (Hoidal, 2020). The net pots sit in holes in the styrofoam, and the plant’s roots dangle into the bucket of water below (Hoidal, 2020). Outdoor hydroponic systems can enjoy natural sunlight in the summer, and indoor winter ones can experience the same growth with artificial light (Hoidal, 2020). When the water’s acidity level, insects, diseases, and product safety are accounted for, a hydroponic system can produce even better growth than typical soil systems (Hoidal, 2020).

On a larger scale and with the right experience level, cannabis grow operations have succeeded with hydroponic methods. In 2010, the Planta Medica: Journal of Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research published a piece on how hydroponics cultivation and cannabis Sativa L. interact (Chandra). They detail a federally funded multi-flow hydroponics system designed to grow a test cannabis crop (Chandra, 2010). Under their measured conditions, they found that germination began three days into the test, and most seeds fully germinated after seven days (Chandra, 2010). Post flowering, 23 female plants were monitored, and the one with a THC content between 18-20% was kept for cloning (Chandra, 2010). You heard that right - hydroponics produced a flower with a THC content of 18-20%.


In essence, hydroponics for cannabis growth allows for control over all aspects of the growing process (Leafly, 2021). It requires many resources and utilities and has a steep learning curve, but when done correctly, it has the potential to produce high-quality cannabis (Leafly, 2021).

A traditional indoor greenhouse cannabis growth operation
A traditional greenhouse cannabis growth operation

What Is Aeroponics?


As a subset of the hydroponic system, aeroponics involves hanging plants in the air where the roots dangle (Krosofsky, 2021). Unlike soil plants which grow towards nutrient sources, aeroponic plants have nutrients delivered to them via nutrient-rich mists (Krosofsky, 2021). Aeroponic grow operations are deeply controlled indoor environments (which virtually eliminates the risk of contamination), and they have the potential to yield more than outdoor crops (Krosofsky, 2021). They are versatile, Krosofsky says (2021). You can grow basil, ginger, rosemary, sage, fruits, veggies, and more (Krosofsky, 2021).

In August 2021, Fabio Ferrini et al. compared aeroponically harvested plants with soil-cultivated plants to see their differences. They found that aeroponically cultivated plants allowed for much more plant growth than their soil counterparts (Ferrini, 2021). For example, when analyzing biomass production after eight weeks, “the stems’ average diameter and the mean leaves area increased by 3.89-fold and 8.9-fold, respectively” (Ferrini, 2021). Trevor Regas, Joon-Hee Han, Christopher Pauli, and Sang-Hyuck Park found similar results in their cannabis-focused study (2021). They stimulated the roots of two hemp varieties and lightly misted them with a nutrient solution every three days (Regas, 2021). In their regulated environment, the plants received 24 hours of light per day for ten days; they found that this aeroponic system is quicker and more efficient than traditional cannabis growth methods (Regas, 2021).

As Leafly puts it, aeroponic growth allows for the potential of high-quality cannabis but requires lots of equipment and utilities (2021).


Cannabis grown outside under the sunshine

What Is Aquaponics?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture describes aquaponics as a combination of plant and fish production using aquaculture (farming fish or other aquatic organisms) and hydroponics systems (n.d.). It utilizes fish waste from aquaculture, in which bacteria break down into nutrients, which the plants use for growth (Pattillo, 2017).

For cannabis growth, this field has been dramatically unexplored. One study, published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science, researched salt-induced stress on cannabis Sativa L. in aquaponic and hydroponic growth systems. In natural farming, salt is a big concern due to its constant presence in times of drought (Yep, 2020). The researchers found that aquaponic cannabis growth had higher salt tolerance than hydroponic growth. Researchers warn that the risk of high salt concentration in either growth situation is a decreased yield and lower potency (Yep, 2020).

Since aquaponic cannabis growth is understudied, it is impossible to generalize its success and impacts. While Yep et al.’s study showcases that it is possible and may be an excellent alternative method, more research needs to be done.



Whether it be craft growing or larger scale, our Steep Hill lab is designed to support you every step of the way. We offer services like licensing, genetics, remote testing, research and development, and much more. Check out our full range of services on our website, and contact us today for all your cannabis testing needs.



References:


Aquaponics. National Agricultural Library. (n.d.). Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.nal.usda.gov/legacy/afsic/aquaponics


Chandra, S., Lata, H., Khan, I. A., & Elsohly, M. A. (2010, March 24). Hydroponics cultivation cannabis sativa L. plants. Planta Medica. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-0030-1251772


Ferrini, F., Fraternale, D., Donati Zeppa, S., Verardo, G., Gorassini, A., Carrabs, V., Albertini, M. C., & Sestili, P. (2021, August 12). Yield, characterization, and possible exploitation of Cannabis sativa L. roots grown under aeroponics cultivation. MDPI. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/26/16/4889


Hoidal, N. (2020). Small-scale hydroponics. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://extension.umn.edu/how/small-scale-hydroponics


How to grow marijuana using hydroponics, aeroponics, or aquaponics. Leafly. (2021, April 29). Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.leafly.com/learn/growing/how-to-grow-marijuana-hydroponics-aeroponics-aquaponics


Krosofsky, A. (2021, September 10). Why Aeroponic farming is the agricultural wave of the future. Green Matters. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.greenmatters.com/p/aeroponic-farming


Pattillo, A. D. (2017, March 1). An overview of aquaponic systems: Hydroponic components. Iowa State University Digital Repository. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://dr.lib.iastate.edu/entities/publication/efcd19c0-578d-4351-913f-523e2850d361


Regas, T., Han, J.-H., Pauli, C., & Park, S.-H. (2021, December 1). Of cannabis employing Aeroponic Systems for the clonal propagation. JoVE. Peer Reviewed Scientific Video Journal. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Christopher-Pauli-3/publication/356719153_Employing_Aeroponic_Systems_for_the_Clonal_Propagation_of_Cannabis/links/6230de1c4ba65b248132fe7f/Employing-Aeroponic-Systems-for-the-Clonal-Propagation-of-Cannabis.pdf


Yep, B., Gale, N. V., & Zheng, Y. (2020, August 5). Aquaponic and hydroponic solutions modulate nacl-induced stress in drug-type Cannabis Sativa L. Frontiers. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2020.01169/full

bottom of page