This Might be the Easiest Way to Automatically Water & Feed Your Marijuana Plants
Marijuana growers who want to spend less time watering and feeding their plants are going to love an innovative suite of easy to use, pre-fabricated, modularized gravity-fed growing systems made by a company called AutoPot.
Based in the United States and in Europe, and with AutoPot systems operating in cannabis and non-cannabis gardens all the way from home growers to large-scale commercial indoor and outdoor farms worldwide, AutoPot is seen as a leader in irrigation and root zone innovation. Its systems are as basic as one self-watering pot with its own reservoir and water-holding tray, but can be expanded to industrial scale, allowing dozens or hundreds of cannabis plants to be grown using gravity and specialized patented methods to automatically water and feed plants.
The AutoPot system is founded on the principle of “passive irrigation.” It uses an ingenious patented valve called an AQUAvalve, a reservoir, tubing, trays and individual pots that allow gravity to feed water to each pot. The AQUAvalve allows just the right of water to flow from the reservoir to the plants. Once connected to the water supply, the AQUAvalve controls the flow of water by simple gravity pressure from a reservoir or tank of any size. No pumps, mains water pressure, electricity or timers are required, and the AQUAvalve automatically opens and allows water to fill plant trays safely, with no chance of spillage.
The AQUAvalve won’t refill a tray again until all the water has been used, but doesn’t send so much water that the plants’ roots sit in water, nor does it send too little. The patented AQUAvalve technology virtually eliminates the risk of flooding, which means AutoPot systems can be left relatively unsupervised, especially compared to hand-watering and pump-driven systems.
Although some marijuana growers use electricity and pumps to aerate AquaPot reservoir water, you don’t absolutely need to do that. AutoPot’s North American marketing manager Manny Pelaez explains that AutoPot saves growers money in several ways. They use far less electricity because irrigation is passive rather than pump-driven. They use far less water because the AQUAvalve doles water to plants only as they need it. Unlike other types of passive and pump-driven irrigation systems, the AquaPot system doesn’t rely on plants standing in water. This cuts down on problems such as root rot.
AquaPots reduce nutrients and water usage as well, Manny explains, and these efficiency features save the grower money, and creates a marijuana growing situation that doesn’t have as much negative ecological impact because waste is greatly reduced.
The AQUAvalve and the entire AutoPot system also save growers money because an adequate size reservoir can be filled with water and hydroponics nutrients, then left unattended for many days or even weeks—greatly reducing staffing and labor costs.
AutoPot comes in several configurations so growers can choose the system that works best for them. Many AutoPot systems include modularity and offer the opportunity for scale-ups to increase garden size. Here’s a brief summary of their most popular systems and gear:
Auto 9XL: This system irrigates nine solid-wall approximately 7-gallon pots or nine 5-gallon fabric SmartPots in single tray and lid assembly measuring just over a square metre. All the pots are fed by a single line controlled by a single valve.
In case you haven’t heard of SmartPots, they’re the most well-known gardening pot made from fabric. Fabric pots offer many benefits. They’re moderately porous so they allow constant air transfer from within and without, greatly assisting root oxygenation and preventing waterlogged conditions that drown roots and kill plants.
SmartPots’ porosity also assists in root pruning. Root pruning is an automatic process that takes place when roots reach the oxygenated edge of a porous container. In rigid containers made of plastic and other materials, roots reach the edges, and then begin circling in on themselves. This creates a rootbound condition that eventually strangles plants’ roots, leading to slow growth and poor yields. With SmartPots’ air pruning, root binding problems are eliminated.
Because nutrients water can flow from the sides of SmartPots, not just the bottoms, transfer of water and nutrition to a broader range of root mass is enhanced. Most SmartPots come with handles, making transport and movement of the pots much easier than with normal plant pots. SmartPots can often be washed free of embedded roots and root zone materials, making them reusable and saving you money.
The Auto 9 XL is probably the easiest AutoPot multi-pot system to run and set up, since all the pots are on one tray. In other AutoPot systems, each individual pot has its own tray, and its own AQUAvalve and water feed line. The Auto 9 XL’s simplicity has led some growers to stack single trays on tiered shelving, using modified sea of green and SCROG approaches that maximize vertical space. Manny says that AutoPot has worked with growers to produce customized trays that fit the grower’s specific stacking systems.
Easy2Propagate: This is an AQUAvalve-fed propagation system for seeds or clones. It includes a 6.6-gallon tank, an AQUAvalve, a fitted tray, a deep adjustable humidity dome, and hardware. The grower places a “cocomat” and “root control pack” into the tray, and then places seedling or clone cubes on top. The humidity control dome is mostly used for clones, which need high humidity until they’ve established a root feeder system, but in arid climates that lack ambient humidity, even seedlings can benefit from humidity domes.
FlexiTanks: These innovative water storage tanks are especially useful for outdoor cannabis growers who use remote sites that lack reliable water supplies. Tanks range in size from 105 gallons to seven gallons, and some have a white, reflective exterior that prevents fertigation water from being overheated by the sun. Some are also completely collapsible and portable, so they can be carried in to remote grow sites. They’re covered, so no debris or other contaminants can enter, are easy to clean, and are constructed of very resilient material that repels puncture and other damage.
Several of these tanks mounted at a higher elevation than a cannabis garden and connected to AQUAvalves can irrigate and feed a substantial number of full-size outdoor cannabis plants.
Outdoor cannabis growers will also appreciate AutoPot WhitePots. Most plant pots including cloth pots are black, a color that absorbs heat from the sun and grow lights. Cannabis roots prefer a temperature of 20-22°C, but plants growing in black pots outdoors often experience sun-heated root zones a lot warmer than that. Too much heat in the root zone bakes roots, stresses plants, and slows or stops growth. AutoPot WhitePots avoid this problem, and range in size from 8.5L to 25L. These sturdy, reusable white pots are very popular in Saudi Arabia, Spain, the tropics and any other place where searing direct sun hits plant pots.
You may be wondering whether there’s sufficient oxygenation of the root zone and nutrients water in the AutoPot systems. In pump-driven hydroponics systems such as deep-water culture and aeroponics, the sufficiency of oxygenation is obvious. AutoPot’s Manny Pelaez says the pots should be filled with 50% clean, washed coarse perlite and 50% quality solid media such as rockwool chunks, coco coir, or a similar non-peat based media. It’s important NOT to use peat-based media, as that media tends to pack and condense, which significantly decreases root zone oxygenation.
This 50-50 combination provides sufficient oxygenation, but for added oxygen stimulus, the company makes a pump-driven AirDome that is placed at the bottom of each pot. The added oxygenation stimulates root growth which in turn stimulates above-ground growth, speeding up crop cycles and increasing yield.
What you should most remember about AutoPot gear is that depending on the plants’ growth phase, relative humidity, temperature, the type of grow lights, and other factors that influence water and nutrients intake, an AutoPot system with a sufficiently-sized reservoir can sustain plants for many days or even weeks with minimal attention given to watering and feeding.
There are of course nuances and details about procuring and setting up an AutoPot system that makes it useful for growers to first contact AutoPot to ask for advice before procuring this equipment. For marijuana growers wanting a hassle-free, time-saving way to automatically deliver water and nutrition to their plants’ roots, the AutoPot method is well worth looking into. Check out this info-filled video that gives you a detailed insight into using AutoPot systems…
AutoPot automated, electricity-free watering and feeding system makes life easier for marijuana growers.
What’s the Deal With Autopots?
Saturday, May 5, 2018 9:10 AM
Autopots are something you’re bound to hear about if you’ve ever so much as whispered the phrase “cannabis cultivation.” Given how popular they are, it’s no surprise that when I asked our fans what topic they’d like to see me write about the one person who commented said “Tell me what you think about Autopots.” If you’ve read any of my other articles it will not surprise you that I think Autopots are great in some situations and not at all applicable in others, but that statement without anything to back it up isn’t terribly helpful. With that being said, let’s get into it!
Picture courtsey of autopot-usa.com
As always, the first important part of analyzing any irrigation method is knowing what it does. Autopots are an all-in-one cultivation system that use gravity pressure to fill tubs with water/fertilizer solution. They use a special kind of float valve to refill the tubs when they go dry. The plants sit over the top of this tub in special pots that are designed to help the plant wick water up from the tub, thus watering and feeding the plant with minimal interaction from the grower. Think of it as an automated flood-and-drain system. It’s not exactly flood-and-drain, but the irrigation principles at work here are basically the same.
If you’re thinking “That’s it? It’s that simple?” then you’re on the right track. It is that simple, and that inherent simplicity is the best attribute that Autopots have. An Autopot system is an all-in-one package that is designed for “set it and forget it” gardening. The basic six plant kit looks like it takes about 20 minutes to set up, and once you’ve done that the required maintenance is really just refilling the reservoir (12.4 gallons for a six pot system) when it gets too low. This affords you ample time to prune, inspect, stress, and sing to your plants. Cleaning seems to be minimal as well, just a simple flush every now and again and after every harvest.
The pros stop there, though, as the points I’ve listed are really the only pros of using an Autopot system: very easy to set up, simple to use, not a lot of moving parts. This isn’t to say that these pros aren’t attractive or that you should discount Autopots as a growing system, just that they’re a bit of a one trick pony. Autopots do simplicity very well, but they don’t do a lot past that. As we will see later, some of these upsides are significantly weakened if not outright removed when scaled up to commercial size, so take these pros with a grain of salt.
The biggest overall con of Autopots is the price. Autopots are crazy expensive compared to other irrigation systems, with a four plant system ranging from $100 to over $200 depending on the size of the pots and where you buy it. One 24-pot system I found is selling for $585, and individual pots cost $25-$30. Comparing this to the $1-$2 per plant that a drip irrigation system costs may cause you to think again about the pros I mentioned earlier. Setting up Autopots may be easy, but is it 25 times easier? Perhaps not.
If you have a small home grow of 6-12 plants, you’re probably expecting to spend a couple bucks on your grow, and you’d probably prefer to make it as simple and effective as possible. Autopots come with everything you need, which means less hassle and less time spent before you get your plants growing. The fact that it’s gravity fed also means that you don’t have to run a water source into your grow area, which can be a real hassle. Yeah, you could buy one of our 12-outlet manifold kits, some PVC, pots, and a timer and irrigation your plants for half (or less) the cost of an Autopot system, but what if you don’t want to cut a hole in your screen window to bring water into the grow room? What if you’re inexperienced with PVC and don’t want to hassle with it? What if you are trying to keep your grow a secret and need something really low-key? All of these points against using a drip system make up for the extra cost incurred by using Autopots. It may not be precisely 25 times easier to set up, but it’s enough easier that the extra price is worth it. After all, you’re working with relatively small numbers here.
An example of a manifold-based commercial grow
When it comes to large-scale cultivation, the tables are flipped. Economies of scale make everything less expensive, but larger quantities also make the percentage price difference a lot more painful. A recent quote we gave to a customer with 6,500 plants come out to just under $11,000 or $1.69 per plant, which is right in the expected range of $1-$2 per plant. The price reduces further if you take out some of the bells and whistles that state-of-the-art facilities like, such as pressure gauges on each row.
Now, if we take that $585 24-pot Autopot system we get a price of $24 per pot. If we tack on an additional 15% discount for volume we get a per plant cost of $20, which would make that same 6,500 plant quote balloon to $130,000. You may not need to buy pumps or reservoirs, but you will still need filtration/water treatment and a crew or automated system that will refill the reservoirs with your nutrient/water solution.
The simplicity and ease-of-use of Autopots take a similar hit when you scale them up. For a home grower, the setup and maintenance of Autopots is well worth the money. You can avoid cutting holes in walls to run pipe, and refilling the reservoir every now and then isn’t much of a hassle. Plus, it’s likely your plants are all in the same growth stage and are being fed the same recipe of nutrients. This makes for a centralized experience with simple maintenance.
At a large scale, none of these things are true. Commercial facilities have no problem running pipe wherever they need it, and a lot of our clients have buildings made for cannabis cultivation if not specifically designed for the clients themselves. These facilities will have multiple rooms for each growth stage, with each of those rooms having multiple strains in it. Nutrient recipes aren’t as easy to generalize – everyone has their pet recipe – but it’s safe to say that commercial facilities have two to four different recipes running out to their plants.
$20 per plant adds up pretty quickly
All of this means that the strengths of Autopots become weaknesses at scale. Instead of minimal labor being required to mix and fill one reservoir, you are now paying a team of people to mix large batches of different recipes and put them in dozens of different reservoirs. You could design an automated system to mix and deliver your recipes to all the reservoirs, but at that point you might as well commit to cutting costs and get a drip system instead as you’re basically halfway there at that point.
Aside from these scale-related issues, there is one other issue with Autopots that I believe makes them less than ideal for commercial operations, and that is the lack of precision and accuracy in their watering/feeding. As I discussed in my article about free flow irrigation, flood-and-drain systems take a shotgun approach to irrigation. They supply a large amount of water and nutrients with the expectation that the plants will take what they need. This is all well and good, and the fact that flood-and-drain remains a popular irrigation method speaks to that fact. However, many commercial facilities like to know exactly how much water and nutrients any given plant is getting. Whether this is for testing, to control costs, or for some other reason, Autopots (or any free-flow irrigation method, for that matter) cannot provide you with this kind of granular control. This is another situational con, but the desire for granular control over watering and feeding is something we hear from clients often enough that I’d be remiss not to mention it.
If I were to boil that down into one sentence (or a tl;dr in appropriate internet terminology) it would be this: Autopots are great for small grows, but they are not economically or technically viable for commercial operations. There are, of course, caveats. “Commercial grow” is not a terribly precise term, as anyone growing for re-sale could be termed a commercial grow. If you have a single storage container with 100 plants that you’re re-selling then Autopots could work for your commercial grow. You could even have a larger facility and still use them without any ill effects. It’s not like they don’t work, after all. The big issue is that they are by far the most expensive irrigation option I’ve come across, both in initial material costs and continuing labor costs. At a commercial scale, they don’t offer enough benefits to justify the high cost compared to other methods. Easy setup has far more value to a small grower who has to do everything himself than a huge grower with a team already on payroll, and a facility with continuing harvests isn’t as interested in a “set it and forget it” system as a guy with a secret closet grow or a small facility outside of town. On the topic of price, the difference between $150 and $500 for a home grow is not insignificant, but it’s manageable. The difference between $11,000 and $130,000 for a commercial grow is liable to gain you an eye roll from your investors and not much more.
Not a bad buy. for a small grow
The moral of this particular story is not that Autopots are bad. They are far from it, in fact. But when it comes to cannabis cultivation as a moneymaking venture, controlling costs and staying profitable are the name of the game. In that game, Autopots lose a lot of their luster. If you ever run across a 75% off 6,000 Autopot systems deal, take that deal and open a cultivation facility. Until then, though, your bottom line will be much better served by using a different irrigation method.
Autopots are an extremely popular all-in-one growing system, but are they as great for large-scale cultivation as they are for home grows? How do they fare against drip irrigation systems? Are they worth the high per-plant cost? All that and more in this blog article by Cannabis Irrigation Supply!