Biointegrated Medical Cannabis Greenhouse

Aaron Morrison & Luke Towns

Biointegrated Medical Cannabis Greenhouse in western Washington demonstrates low-energy methods for cultivating medical cannabis (where legal) along with edible fish and useful water plants in a small footprint suitable for wide use.

This concept for an aquaponic greenhouse system is a modified pattern taken from Shawn Jadrnicek’s “The Bio-Integrated Farm”.  He defines bio-integration as a feature on the landscape that has stacked seven or more funtions and thus becomes deeply connected with the surrounding environment.

Designed for New Hope Farms, Sequim, WA
Graphics by Stephen Wilkinson

Narrative Explanation of Design

This concept for an aquaponic greenhouse system is a modified pattern taken from Shawn Jadrnicek’s “The Bio-Integrated Farm”. In that book he defines bio-integration as a feature on the landscape as that has stacked seven or more functions and thus becomes deeply connected with the surrounding environment.The hope with this project is to not only generate seven or more solutions to our new farm’s needs but also to aim this approach toward some greater social and ecological problems we face in North America.

Our focus will be the cultivation of medicinal cannabis in an aquaponic grow basin in addition to use the greenhouse space for a season extension nursery. Washington State allows the growing of up to 15 plants legally for a medical patient or caregiver. This can potentially off set up to $40000 a year in medical expenses for someone struggling with chemotherapy or a seizure disorder! Additionally the nursery space can be used to house seedling, fruit trees, chicks and soldier fly larvae depending on the season. Through the rapid decomposition of wastes generated on site we will create a source of soil nutrition for our outdoor food systems and simultaneously add to the thermal quality of the greenhouse. The compost piles will not only ambiently heat but also add to the thermal retention of the pond through a heat exchanger. This compost can then be taken out for soil amendment or added to out 200 gal aeration tank to make aerobic compost teas. Compost, however, will not be the only nutrient source in the greenhouse.

The pond will be home to locally sourced ecologically safe fish species as well as symbiotic plants. Cattail and wapato along with some nitrogen fixing duckweeds will help to filter and feed small panfish and larger catfish in our 900 gallon interior pond. This inground pond will create nutrition rich water that will be transferred to gravel filled grow basin that will be the home of our 15 medicinal cannabis plants and also give use 24 square feet for companion plants. By feeding the bio-filter of bacteria and worms living in our media we will be able to deliver our nutrient rich pond water solution directly to the roots zone of our plant. The solution will then be pumped back into a holding tank where it can be filtered and aerated before returning to the pond’s biofilter. Water from this tank may still be too nutrient rich to return to the pond and can be used to water seedlings or compost. Research suggests that with such aquaponic systems we will be able to get yields 20 to 30% higher than a comparable hydroponic system. With some much microbial life interacting in this system it will us a great opportunity to do further research as well.This system will turn our greenhouse space into low-energy high-production factory for medicine and soil health for our small farm.

Today cannabis cultivation is the fastest growing and arguably the most profitable sector of agribusiness in North America. That fact coupled with the unfortunate truth that the industrial practices of current indoor hydroponic systems have a massive carbon footprint rivalling factory farming and major manufacturing processes. In those systems it takes approximately 70 gallons of oil to grow a single cannabis plant equating to the carbon emission of nearly three million U.S. cars nationwide. It is ecologically and socially imperative to start creating organic, low-energy alternatives that can potentially be scaled up for commercial production. Our small medical garden is a major opportunity to research a scalable, working system.

Project Budget 

Our focus is to work with local business through the build.  The greenhouse will be sourced from Jungle Janes located in Sequim.  Many of the items in this list are priced via the internet and will be ordered locally if possible.  The pricing below has been rounded up to the nearest whole humber.

Greenhouse                                                                        1700
Lights                                                                                         500
Gravel grow medium 40 cubic yards                    1200
28’x20′ Aluinet shade cloth 60% shade factor  270
5×25 EPDM pond liner 45 mil                                     125
10×10 EPDM pond liner 45 mil                                  150
Air compressor 4.5 gallon                                              300
Water pumps pond master (950gph, 250 gph)   300
Hardware cloth 100’x48″                                               150
Ecofoil insulation zoo’x48″                                             172
Lumber                                                                                       100
Retainer                                                                                      136
Compressor                                                                              300
Tubes                                                                                            150
200 ft. copper                                                                          400
200 ft edpm                                                                               275
275 gallon ibc tank                                                               200

TOTAL                                                                                        6428