Aquaponics done successfully will give you the great satisfaction of looking after fish while growing your own sustainable food. In fact, it is relatively simple to set up your own small system at home. The important elements that need to be considered are the aquaponics fish you want to have and which are the best plants for aquaponics.
All you need is a fish tank, a water pump to send this water to the plant media bed and return it to the fish and some grow media for your plants. Then select the best plants for aquaponics or even some of the good plants for aquaponics and get 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.
The choice of fish is fairly straightforward, most people use tilapia, trout, goldfish, carp, catfish, yabbies, or even shrimp and prawns. Your choice will depend on the type of setup you have and whether you are looking to breed edible fish or are simply keeping the fish to feed your plants. Check out my post about the best fish for aquaponics.
What Plants Can be Grown In Aquaponics?
What is more difficult, is deciding the right plants to grow. While most plants do well with aquaponics there are several species that do exceptionally well. You’ll need to decide which type of plant suits you the best. For example, there is little point in growing tomato plants if you don’t actually like them!
When people think of aquaponics they will often think of aquaponics 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, flowering plants or microgreens. You can set up different systems in order to grow an array of different aquaponics plants. Or you can focus on the best vegetables for aquaponics or even the best herbs for aquaponics.
Best Vegetables For Aquaponics
There are a wide number of vegetables that can class as the best vegetables for aquaponics. Here are the most popular, easy to grow, and arguably the best plants 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. Read more about tomatoes here.
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 actually 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, making it a great accompaniment to tilapia.
All you need to do is decide whether you are starting your seedlings in the aquaponics system or in a growing try. Of course, if they are in a traditional growing tray you will need to wash the soil off their roots before introducing them to the aquaponics system.
However, this can be beneficial to prevent seed loss in your grow media. Lettice is good to grow in aquaponics as a beginner.
This tough vegetable is one of the best plants for aquaponics because it grows so quickly. You can plant one very small piece and it will multiply at an astonishing rate.
However, you should consider whether this is really the best vegetables for aquaponics for you. There is only so much watercress you can eat and its ability to multiply can potentially give you issues with your grow bed and even your water system becoming clogged.
It’s one of the best plants for aquaponics but you need to keep an eye on it. Read more about growing watercress in aquaponics here.
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 the flood and drain approach will need the use of a bell siphon.
You already know what a cucumber is but did you realize it is one of the best plants for aquaponics? The reason is actually simple; they are water-based plants, an aquaponics system gives them everything they need to flourish; not just survive.
Cucumbers do tend to have large root systems; you’ll need to watch your pipes 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 also another of the best plants 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 doesn’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 9 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 actually a great 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 a great plant for first time users. Click here to read more about strawberries.
If you’re feeling adventurous then the following are also good plants for aquaponics; you’ll just need to monitor their environment carefully:
- Sweet corn
- Dwarf citrus tree
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 levels to make sure there are enough nutrients for these plants:
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.
Best Herbs For Aquaponics
You’ve probably tried growing an herb garden before; only to find you have an abundance of herbs in the summer and none in the winter. Fortunately, this isn’t an issue when grown as one of your aquaponics plants.
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 tough 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 really grow. During this time the plant will send out new shoots until the entire corner is occupied by a thick dense root base. You’ll need to keep the leaves trimmed in order to ensure your other aquaponics plants are not suffocated.
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 actually a member of the mint family which explains its ability to grow rapidly. One of the best plants for aquaponics is actually 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 a great choice for your aquaponics system.
It is also fast. It can germinate within 5 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 a good level of warmth; if your temperature tends to dip 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; the balance is key! Read more about kale in aquaponics here.
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 growing media with a pH over 7; again this is likely to be an issue when maintaining the right environment for your fish.
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 actually one of the best herbs for aquaponics. It will grow quickly and spread. That is why you should really 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. This really is one of the best plants for aquaponics; and the worst.
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 multiplied and the environment better controlled.
You may simply be looking for the best plants for aquaponic systems to try out growing your own crops. However, the reality is that any setup is part of the future; aquaponics offers the opportunity to grow far more crops and help feed the world. Just as with most monumental changes this starts at home and will slowly spread.
One last thought that is worth considering is that vegetables and other products which grow in the ground will grow well in aquaponics but their shape may not resemble the one that you are used to; they will still taste delicious though.
The best plants for aquaponics may be tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, and peppers but that doesn’t mean you can’t try growing other ones; they should all do well. After all, part of the fun of an aquaponics system is trying different things.
Read more: Best fish for aquaponics
Read more: Fish to plant ratio for Aquaponics