Aquaponics done successfully will give you the great satisfaction of looking after fish while growing sustainable food. It is relatively simple to set up your system at home. The essential elements that need to be considered are the fish and the best plants for aquaponics.
If you don’t know what aquaponics is, refer to my page: what is aquaponics.
All you need is a fish tank, a water pump to send this water to the plant media bed, return it to the fish, and some grow media for your plants. Then select the best plants for aquaponics to get your aquaponics garden started.
Of course, there are details to sort and fine tweaking that will need to be done. But you can easily create a small setup to test your skill and learn what works for you; before graduating to a bigger system. You can start with indoor gardening and work your way up to a bigger system.
What Plants Grow In Aquaponics?
What is more complicated is deciding the right plants to grow. While most plants grow faster in aquaponics, several plants will do exceptionally well. You’ll need to determine what type of plant suits you the best. For example, there is little point in growing tomato plants if you don’t like them!
When people think of aquaponics, they often think of plants such as tomatoes or cucumbers. However, the truth is that an aquaponic system can be used to grow virtually any type of plant; vegetables, fruiting plants, herbs, flowers, or even mini aquaponics for microgreens. You can set up different systems to grow an array of varying aquaponics plants.
Recommended Plants for Aquaponics
There is an ample amount that can be classified as the best aquaponics vegetables.
Here are the most popular, easy to grow, and arguably the best ones for aquaponics.
The humble tomato plant does exceptionally well in this water-based system. You will find it easier to control the temperature and even the amount of sun the plants get.
To read more about tomatoes, read my article about Totatoes Aquaponics.
However, it is worth noting that tomato plants tend to attract pests, which can be exceptionally difficult to get rid of.
Lettuce that is grown in aquaponics is one of the most productive leafy green in an aquaponics system. Leafy lettuce will thrive in water, which has a temperature of between 70 and 74.
All you need to do is decide whether you are starting your seedlings directly in the aquaponics system or a seed germinating tray.
However, this can be beneficial to prevent seed loss in your grow media. Lettuce is suitable to grow in aquaponics if you are a beginner.
This tough vegetable is one of the best plants for aquaponics because it grows so quickly. You can plant one single small plant, and it will multiply at an astonishing rate.
However, you should consider whether this is the best for you. There is only so much watercress you can eat. Its ability to multiply can give you issues with your grow bed, which can become clogged.
Read my article about watercress aquaponics.
Peppers can be extremely difficult to grow via the standard approach to gardening. This is because they are particular about the water they consume and require plenty of sunshine.
Growing them in a small aquaponics system makes sense. You will be able to monitor the temperature of your set up and make sure the nutrient levels in your water are optimized. But, more impressively is the ability to produce extremely hot peppers as you can turn the temperature dial right up for them.
It is worth noting that peppers do not do well in a DWC aquaponic system. However, they do exceptionally well if you use the flood and drain system.
It is worth noting that the flood and drain approach will need the use of a bell siphon.
To read more about growing peppers in aquaponics, read my article about Peppers Aquaponics.
You already know what a cucumber is, but did you realize it is one of the best plants for aquaponics? An aquaponics system gives them everything they need to flourish, not just survive.
Cucumbers do tend to have extensive root systems; you’ll need to watch your pipes and siphons to ensure they don’t invade and block these.
They are also good at hoarding nitrogen, potentially depriving other plants n your system. For this reason, it is a good idea to give a space of between 30 and 60cm between your plants and to avoid overplanting. It’s better to start with a few and then add to your system in the future.
The cauliflower is another water-based plant that flourishes in an aquaponics system.
These plants are very hardy and need very little maintenance. They are also generally resistance to bugs and diseases, making it one of the best plants for aquaponics if you’re a beginner.
The cauliflower should be ready to harvest in approximately 12 weeks. However, it doesn’t like direct sunlight or frost. To avoid damage, it is best to cover the head over with its own leaves; this will help it to grow even larger.
Cabbage is a staple food in many diets around the world. It is another good plant for aquaponics. You’ll need a pH range between 6.2 and 6.6 with a temperature of between 60 and 70°F.
In general, this plant needs very little maintenance. The biggest issue is when the head splits; you’ll need to keep an eye on it to ensure dirt and disease don’t enter the cabbage through these splits.
Other than this, you’ll need to pay attention to the usual pests; aphids, fungal disease, and black rot.
Ideally, your seedlings should be kept a little warmer than your mature crop; this will encourage them to grow. Cabbage can be ready to harvest in as little as nine weeks.
These little red fruits are great to eat all year round. (Technically a strawberry is not a fruit, vegetable or berry but that’s a different story). This is an excellent aquaponics plant to grow in your system. Thanks to the constant supply of nutrient-rich water and the ability to control their environment, the plants don’t need to know that it’s winter, meaning you can harvest them all year round.
To grow strawberries in an aquaponics system, you’ll need to have as many plants as possible. This is because most plants will only produce a few strawberries; if you want to enjoy eating them or even sell them; then you need to have plenty of plants to create the yield.
The good news is that each plant needs very little space, and you can use the floating raft system, tubes, or even baskets. Strawberries need very little care to flourish and make an excellent plant for the first-time grower.
If you want to know more about strawberries, read my article about Strawberries Aquaponics.
Other Aquaponics Vegetables and Fruits
If you’re feeling adventurous, then the following are also excellent plants for aquaponics; you’ll need to monitor their environment carefully:
- Sweet corn
- Dwarf citrus tree
- Pak Choi
- Swiss Chard
Nutrient Hungry Plants
It is also useful to know which plants are nutrient hungry. This means they are better suited to the established, nutrient-rich system. You need to monitor your nitrate and EC (electrical conductivity) levels to make sure there are enough nutrients for these plants:
- Citrus fruits
If you have a commercial system, it will be smart to separate the nutrient hungry plants from the less nutrient needy plants. That’s because the higher the nutrient demand is needed, the higher the EC will be.
A system with a high EC is not good for low nutrient demanding plants like lettuce, and therefore they cannot go well together with high-level EC demanding plants. Click here to learn more about EC (electrical conductivity).
Best Herbs For Aquaponics
You’ve probably tried growing a herb garden before, only to find you have an abundance of herbs in the summer and none in the winter. If you create a greenhouse around your aquaponics system, you could have a flourishing aquaponic herb garden, year-round.
You can grow as many as you need and continue this growth pattern throughout the year, ensuring you always have the herbs you want.
Here are some good ones to get started with:
Ginger is a robust herb that is a surprisingly good plant for aquaponics. It has a peppery flavor that has traditionally been used in Asian dishes.
However, you don’t just have to eat this; it can make a fantastic ginger cordial or even ginger beer.
It is worth noting that this is a long term project. Ginger is not known to be a fast grower, even in an aquaponics system. The best thing you can do is put a couple of cuttings in one corner of your system and leave them alone.
It can take as much as 12 months to grow. During this time, the plant will send out new shoots until a thick dense root base occupies the entire corner. You’ll need to keep the leaves trimmed to ensure your other aquaponics plants are not suffocating.
It may even be a good idea to give this plant its own small container; this will ensure it stays contained, and you have the ginger you need.
Basil is a member of the mint family, which explains its ability to grow rapidly. One of the best plants to grow in aquaponics is the Thai Sweet Basil. This has a light spicy flavor that complements virtually any dish.
It is naturally tolerant of heat and moisture, making it an excellent choice for your aquaponics system.
It is also fast. It can germinate within five days and be ready to harvest within 25 days. You’ll need to remove any flowers as soon as they form; this will lengthen the growing season.
You should also never remove more than a third of the plant at a time; this will ensure it keeps growing.
This is another of the great aquaponics plants; if not watched, it will grow out of hand very quickly. It does appear to favor a gravel growing media, although it will do well in most systems.
It also requires the right temperature level. If your temperature tends to decrease, you’ll need to consider keeping your aquaponics system inside or in a greenhouse. However, temperatures over 21°C are generally a little warm for this plant. Balance is key!
Do you want to read more about kale? Read my article about kale aquaponics.
Plants That Don’t Like Aquaponic Systems
There are always some plants that find it difficult to thrive in an alternative system to their natural home. It is best to avoid trying to grow any of these:
Blueberries may be delicious and healthy, but they also have a low pH tolerance; they grow best when the pH is below 7. This can make it difficult to keep the pH level right in the water for the fish and the plants.
This plant also has an issue with pH, but they like water with a pH of over 7. This is likely to be an issue when maintaining the right environment for your other plants.
Unless you are particularly passionate about these types of plants, then anything that wants pH levels well in excess or below 7 is not a good bet for your aquaponic system.
Mint is one of the best herbs for aquaponics. It will grow quickly. That is why you should avoid planting it.
The fact is it will grow so fast that there is a high risk of it choking your system and preventing anything else from growing. You are likely to spend a lot of time ripping all the roots out before trying a different vegetable or herb.
Summing up the Best Plants for Aquaponics
Aquaponic systems are not new, but they have received a lot of attention in recent years. Much of this is because they are a great way to grow virtually any plant. At the same time, crop yields can be greatly increased, and the environment better controlled.
You may only be looking for the best plants for aquaponic systems to try out growing your crops. However, the reality is that any setup is part of the future; aquaponics offers the opportunity to grow far more plants and help feed the world. Just as with most monumental changes, this starts at home and will slowly spread.
The best plants for aquaponics are lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, and cucumbers. It doesn’t mean you can’t grow other plants.
Nick loves building, managing and giving others advice on aquaponics. He created this website to do just that. He is the author of Aquaponics for beginners. If you got a question contact him here or read more on the about page here.