Aquaponics refers to any farming system that combinesaquaculture(raising aquatic animals e.g. fish, prawns, crayfish) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) to create a mini eco-system. A symbiotic environment is created. The aquatic animals supply plants with the necessary nutrients. First, the fish waste contains ammonia which is converted to nitrites then to nitrates.
In this case, the fish waste acts as food for the plants. Water is then re-circulated to the aquaculture system to create a clean growing environment. Therefore, both systems complement each other as a single unit. When aquaculture and hydroponics systems are combined together, the drawbacks of each system are eliminated.
Today, there are more than 300 varieties of aquaponic plants. However, the biggest question still remains; what are the best plants for aquaponics?
The best plants for aquaponics
If you love eating salads to keep you refreshed throughout the day, then you should grow different salad varieties. Examples include red salad onions, tomatoes, lettuce, snow peas, shallots etc.
This is the best aquatic plant you can ever grow. It’s used for making different types of salads. Most lettuce varieties grow in water temperature of 70-80 degrees F. For your stem to work efficiently, you need a grow bed, a fish tank and a way of supplying water between the two. Lettuce can be grown together with Tilapia fish, since both can thrive in the same water temperature.
There are two ways of planting and harvesting lettuce. You can first grow your seeds in tray, then transfer to the grow bed. Alternatively, you can grow your seedlings to directly to the grow bed. Similarly, you can harvest the leaves or the entire plant. When you harvest just a few leaves, the rest of the plant remains intact and continues to grow more leaves.
For lettuce to get the necessary nutrients, the fish waste must be transferred to the plants roots. It’s recommended that you start with leafy lettuce rather than iceberg lettuce. Once your aquaponic system is in order, you will be producing lettuce throughout the year. Lettuce grows well in floating beds and reaches maturity in just one month.
This is one of the best plants for aquaponics. Tomatoes are available in many varieties and need a vertical space to grow. If you are have limited space, you can grow cherry and roma varieties. The fish waste supplies essential nutrients necessary for the growth cycle of the plants.
You should first come up with a way of supplying water between your tomato plants and the fish. The water PH level should be between 5.8 and 6.8.However, one should know the size of a mature plant so that it can become easy to allocate space. Most tomato varieties will require temperatures of 78 degrees F while fruiting takes place at 80 degrees F.
When fruiting, light should be provided at least 8 hours a day. Just like lettuce, you should plant the seeds in a tray and let them grow for about four weeks before transplanting them into the main seedbed. The aquaponic farmer must allow the fruit to ripen completely before harvesting. On the other hand, one should plant those tomato varieties that don’t drop their fruits at once. When tomatoes are grown in the aquaponic system, they become bigger and tastes much better.
· Cucumbers and squash
Over the years, the English cucumber has been one of best plants for aquaponics. This variety thrives well at 75 degrees F during the day and 70 degrees F during the night. Most cumber varieties are prone to powdery mildew attack, so you want to be sure you select a variety that is mildew resistant.
The English cucumber takes only two weeks to reach maturity. When it reaches about one foot, it’s ready for harvesting. If you think English cucumber is likely to take a lot of space, it’s recommended that you choose other smaller varieties. For squash, a tabletop is likely to produce good results.
Most vegetables are pretty easy to grow. Before you grow any vegetable, the right environment and space should be provided. Green-leafy vegetables with medium nutrient requirement adapt well to different aquaponic systems.
This is a tricky vegetable to grow since the edible part grows under the ground. However, carrots take very little space to grow as opposed to other vegetables. The ideal PH for growing carrots is 7.0. They thrive in temperatures of 70 degrees F and will do well in cold season. It’s recommended that you keep the water temperature within this range.
You should first plant a few a seeds then increase the number once the bed is fully established. The fish waste feeds the carrots. It takes about two months before you harvest your carrots. Make sure you provide the perfect environment for growing your carrots. They are best grown in wicking beds.
· Red and green cabbage
It’s easy to grow. As one of the best plants for aquaponics, it forms a central ingredient in variety of dishes. The best cabbage for aquaponics is the Chinese cabbage. It takes around 1 week to grow and about 45 days to reach its full maturity. Cabbages should first be grown in a seedling tray before being transplanted to the grow bed. The root structure will be determined by the growing bed used.
Herbs for Aquaponics
Most herbs grow like wild flowers making them the best plants for aquaponics. Examples include coriander, lemongrass, watercress, parsley, basil, sage among others. The success of every herb is subject to climate and growth conditions in your area.
Companion flowering strategy should be used by incorporating flowering plants in the mix. To ensure you are able to tune the environment to suit your needs, you can use a green house. Make sure you experiment with a few herbs before making the final decision.
Alternatively, you can go for an indoor garden system that has access to sunlight. When herbs are grown indoors, they can be complemented with small koi fish or goldfish.
Fruit plants for Aquaponics
Strawberries grow well in an aquaponic setup. They are nutritious and delicious. Most strawberry varieties are runners. You can actually take one plant and turn it into many. This happens after flowering. On the other hand, they can be positioned according to your needs. When growing them, you should choose a well lit area and water temperature of 60 to 70 degrees F.
Papaya trees can grow well inaquaponic system. They need a large space to grow. The red variety grows well compared to other varieties. They should be planted in deep grow beds and can be complemented with cat fish.
Other aquaponics fruit plants include blood oranges, lemons, grapefruits, water melons, bananas etc.
Now you know the best plants for aquaponics. With aquaponics, the sky is the limit. In this day and age where market prices of vegetables and salads keep going up, you should learn how to grow your own as an alternative. It’s important that you match the needs of the crop with that of the fish. Aquaponics helps to improve food security and is the best alternative to the current farming methods.