Aquaponics has been used for years to cultivate robust harvests of vegetables in urban areas pressed for space and water. It’s a method that can convert a suburban garage, an empty parking lot, and maybe one day even a geodesic dome on Mars, into an ecosystem that can sustain both animal and plant life.

Aquaponics is the marriage of hydroponics and aquaculture. Like hydroponics, it grows plants without the use of soil. Like aquaculture, it farms aquatic life in a controlled environment. Aquaponics is a closed-loop system where the waste produced by fish is filtered and converted into the nutrients that feed the plants. In return for usable nitrates, plants clean the water for the fish.

This method presents two initial problems: cannabis has an extremely high nutrient demand in a short time period and requires varied nutrients during different phases of growth.

“Depending on the size of the operation, there’s a very specific number of fish in a tank. An 800-gallon fish tank, for example, would contain approximately 300 tilapia,” says Warren Bravo, co-founder of Green Relief.

While it can take up to 12 months for an aquaponics ecosystem to mature and deliver maximum nutrient bioavailability, once it does, cannabis plants grow at a faster rate. This helps to offset the square footage used by the fish tanks that could be occupied by crop rows of cannabis.

In traditional soil growing methods, water is lost through ground absorption and evaporation. However, in aquaponics, water is only lost by plant transpiration and minor evaporation.

“In fact, we’re using 90% less water than any other agricultural system in the world,” says Bravo.

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