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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
AutoPot automated, electricity-free watering and feeding system makes life easier for marijuana growers.