What Can You Grow With Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is an environmentally friendly, water-based, food production system. The word itself is a combination of two distinct systems – aquaculture and hydroponics. The former raises aquatic animals, like fish, while the latter raises plants. Aquaponics has a long history with variations being employed by the erstwhile Aztecs (the area that is modern-day Mexico) and rice cultivation in patches across Southeast Asia and China.
Soilless cultivation and recirculating aquaculture combine to create an environment, wherein unused feed or the toxic waste of aquatic animals is absorbed and used as nutrients by the plants, who clean the water, in turn, for the fish. The obvious environmental benefits of aquaponics cannot be understated, as overall water consumption is reduced drastically – by some estimates, between 72% and 90% less water is used for the same crop per acre (vis-à-vis traditional farming).
The Best Plants for Aquaponics
Today with DIY (Do-It-Yourself) aquaponic systems, we can practice aquaponic farming in the comfort of our homes, enjoying fresh produce while taking care of our fish. The fresh produce can range from vegetables to flowers to herbs and microgreens. The possibilities are limitless if you, the grower, can identify the correct concentration of nutrients and microbes in the water, and ensure that too much salinity (which shares a directly proportional relationship with pH) does not reach the plant. For all those with closeted dreams of indoor gardening and those who enjoy eating healthy food, home aquaponics is the solution.
Here is a (reasonably) comprehensive list of plants that you can grow within the comfort of your homes –
1. Leafy Greens
The leafy green lettuce vegetable flourishes in almost any aquaponic setup. For most of you, who’ve just entered the world of aquaponic farming, lettuce is the go-to-crop. Low on maintenance and nutritional requirements, and providing a crop within 4-6 weeks, it’s the safest and best bet. The payoff is fresh, crunchy, and green lettuce leaves for your salad! For your lettuce plant to thrive, maintain the temperature between 70° and 75° F and pH levels between 5.8 and 6.2. Pro-tip: use a tiny concentration of calcium to keep the ends of your lettuce leaf from withering.
This leafy green was once considered by the Romans to be a table luxury. Today, cabbage is an integral part of diets all over the world. Another favorite of those who practice small-scale, indoor-gardening, cabbage takes roughly 11-15 weeks to flower. Look to keep them in a stable pH range of 6.2 and 6.6 and temperatures between 60° and 72° F.
The iron and Vitamin K-rich spinach thrives best during spring and fall, though it can potentially grow all year round with the correct inputs. The harvest is quick – between 4 and 7 weeks. Keep the water temperature between 45° and 75° F, and pH between 6.0 and 7.0. During spring and fall, it can be left under the sun, without fear of damage.
Another highly nutritious and easy-to-grow crop for aquaponics beginners is the deliciously succulent kale. Like cabbage, kale takes roughly 11-15 weeks for a full harvest. Ideal pH ranges from 6.0 and 7.5, while ideal temperatures range from 55° and 70°F.
A favorite soup accompaniment, cauliflower contains high levels of fiber, a vital requirement for a good digestive system. In aquaponic farming, cauliflower requires a good drainage system, and 4-6 hours of strong sunlight (though care has to be taken in protecting the flowering curds from overexposure). The harvest takes between 10 and 14 weeks, with a temperature of 66° to 77° F during the germination stage, and a pH of 6.0-6.5.
Other leafy greens that you can grow include:
Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, arugula, bok choy, to name a few.
In its various indigenous forms across the continents of Africa and Asia, basil has become a much sought-after staple. Its aromatic scent makes it a delightful addition to many essential oils. The basil seed germinates within 1 week and is ready for harvest before 4 weeks are up. It thrives in warmer climates, requiring a pH between 5.5 and 6.5, with a temperature between 68° and 77°F.
Oregano has acquired the status of pan-kitchen ubiquity. Dry oregano can find its way into enhancing a plate of scrambled eggs to a nice red-sauce pasta. It is, in fact, a staple of modern Italian cuisine. The ideal pH range is between 6.0 and 8.0. The best part about oregano is that it is resistant to frost and thus, can be grown perennially!
An essential component of aromatherapy and as a culinary herb, lavender has also been used over the centuries in traditional medicine. Lavender is slightly trickier to grow as it thrives in dry and arid conditions, with little tolerance for moisture. It requires a neutral pH of 7 and at least 6 hours of sunlight, along with good drainage and less water.
Another herb that has acquired the same kind of ubiquity that basil and oregano have, with a refreshing taste and aroma, is parsley. It requires a pH range between 6.0-7.0 and a wide temperature range between 59° and 77°F, with 6-8 hours of sunlight. It generally harvests between 5-7 weeks.
The now widely available tomato is indigenous to the Central and Southern Americas. Tomatoes are not ideal for growth in small-scale aquaponic farming, though not impossible. The ideal temperature range is between 75° and 85°F, and it is highly recommended that it doesn’t cross this threshold, for the best results. The pH range is lesser than the median range that we’ve so far looked at, with the ideal tomato pH being between 5.5 and 6.5. All things taken into consideration, tomatoes take between 7-9 weeks after plantation.
One of the most sought-after flavors in modern-day consumption is that of the strawberry, found in jams, shakes, chocolates, and lip make-up. Strawberries are not successful in heat and enjoy a broad temperature range between 55° and 77°F. They also react poorly to acidic water, thriving in a pH of 5.5-6.5.
The pale-yellow/yellow citrus fruit is widely sought after for its juice – from health drinks to pies to the cooking process, lemon finds its way everywhere. 3 years after being planted, lemon trees start bearing fruit and then continue bearing several years of fresh and juicy harvest. The ideal pH range for your lemon tree is 5.5 to 6.5, with a warmer climate sought for optimal results – between 70° and 105°F (though it’s best to not let it exceed 100°F).
Considered by the botanists to be a berry, bananas flourish in tropical and sub-tropical climates – hence it’s not the best crop for indoor gardening. Banana is a healthy fruit, consumed by sportspeople all over the world in between games for instant energy and strength. The ideal temperature, in an aquaponics setup, is between 65° and 75° F, with 8-12 hours of sunlight. The ideal pH is between 5.5 and 6.5.
That Isn’t All For Your Aquaponics Setup
These are just a limited list of fruits, vegetables, and herbs that can be grown in a home aquaponics set-up. There are certain plants that thrive better in more salinity, and some in less. The aforementioned crops are suitable for aquaponic farming in a median range, which should also allow commonly found freshwater fish like tilapia and barramundi to flourish. It is an essential requirement of any eco-system to be symbiotic, for it to sustain itself. That being said, just introducing potential crops is only the first step – in the next blog we will be looking at how we can assemble and create an aquaponics system at home.