- Green Relief reinnovates ancient Aztec ” Aquaponics” technology to grow Cannabis at a faster and more sustainable rate
- “… We’re using 90% less water than any other agricultural system in the world,” says Warren Bravo, co-founder of Green Relief
- Pesticide free composition gives Green Relief the competitive edge with 86% of all Cannabis clones testing positive for pesticides, in Steep Hill study.
Green Relief is betting that aquaponics is the best method for growing medical cannabis that is healthy for both your body and the environment.
By: Dan Ophaug, Connor Fyfe, and Tyler Fyfe
Inside a concrete bunker jutting out of a grassy hillside, magenta lights cast a neon glow above rows of plants. The glassy eyes of tilapia peer out of the windows of fish tanks the size of above-ground swimming pools. There’s the peaceful sound of bubbles surfacing. Then there’s the sweet, sharp scent of cannabis plants flowering, their branches slumping with orangish-purple buds.
Warren Bravo and Steve Leblanc were in the construction business before they set out to build what many believe is one of the most ambitious grow operations in Canada. So ambitious, that their initial plans drew laughter from other growers. “When we told people we were going to be growing cannabis using aquaponics, they said it was impossible,” says Warren Bravo, co-founder of Green Relief.
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. When Bravo and Leblanc set out to apply this method to cannabis instead of kale, there were no books or videos. No one had done it before on a commercial scale. So they spent two years meeting with aquaponics specialists around the country to learn how to apply aquaponics to growing cannabis. This method presented two initial problems: cannabis has an extremely high nutrient demand in a short time period and requires varied nutrients during different phases of growth.
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.
“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,” Bravo says.
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.
Early aquaponics systems were used by the Aztecs who planted crops on small plots of land in shallow lake beds, taking advantage of the endless fertilizer supplied by fish. Their logic was simple: why transport water or fertilizer to irrigate and nourish crops when you could trap it in a closed loop system?
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.
Recently, the cannabis industry has come under scrutiny for its environmental footprint. According to the Humboldt Growers Association, a single marijuana plant grown using traditional methods consumes up to