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Guide to Growing Herbs in Aquaponics

Ever dreamt of having a thriving herb garden overflowing with vibrant basil, fragrant thyme, and peppery arugula? Well, what if I told you there's a way to grow herbs not just faster, but also bursting with more flavor and aroma? Enter aquaponics, a revolutionary method of growing that combines fish and plants in one recirculating environment.

So if you’re looking to set up your own aquaponic herb garden, this guide is your guide to growing herbs in aquaponics systems. We'll dive into the steps to get your aquaponics herb haven up and running and ensure your leafy treasures reach their full potential. 

The advantages of growing herbs in aquaponics are: 

  • Sustainable ecosystem: Aquaponics fosters a symbiotic relationship between fish and herbs.
  • Water efficiency: Closed-loop system minimizes water usage, promoting conservation.
  • Nutrient-rich produce: Herbs thrive on fish waste, yielding flavorful and nutritious harvests.
  • Space optimization: Compact setups allow herb cultivation in limited areas, ideal for urban gardening.
  • Year-round harvests: Controlled environments enable continuous herb production, independent of seasonal constraints.
  • Low chemical reliance: Natural nutrient cycling reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers, fostering chemical-free herb cultivation.
  • Fresh, aromatic herbs: Aquaponically grown herbs boast enhanced flavors and aromas, elevating culinary experiences.
  • Scalability: Suitable for both small-scale home gardens and larger commercial operations, aquaponics offers scalability to meet diverse needs.

Considerations for Growing Herbs in Aquaponics

Below are the things to consider in growing herbs in aquaponics.

1. Decide Whether to grow indoors or outdoors.

Deciding if you will begrowing indoors or outdoors is one thing you must consider. Evaluating your surroundings and available space will help you determine what direction will work best. One important thing to look at is the climate of your location. Do you live in warmer weather or a colder climate? If you live in a colder climate, you might need to grow indoors if you want to grow herbs all year round. 

2. Choosing the type of aquaponics system to implement.

You can choose between amedia-based system,a raft system, andNFT system, or a combination of these systems. If you want to save cost in building your aquaponics setup, you can do a DIY system using recyclable materials. There are plenty offree guides for aquaponics beginners available online. You can also purchase a kit that includes everything you need to set up and run an aquaponics system quickly.

3. Select the herbs. 

An aquaponics system can grow almost any plant. However, the popular choices for medicinal herbs grown in aquaponics are basil, watercress coriander, sage, lemongrass, parsley, chives, thyme, oregano, mint, chamomile, rosemary, and more.

4. What type of fish do you want to raise?

Deciding what type of fish species you want to grow is another consideration you have to make. Depending on the size of your system, the most common fish grown in aquaponics systems are, tilapia, catfish, goldfish, koi, largemouth bass, and other ornamental fish. 

The Best Herbs for Aquaponics Systems


Basil in Aquaponics

Basil

Basil is one of the most popular herbs used in cooking and is considered a high-value crop for aquaponics. It adds flavors to meals, and its nutrients provide health benefits in the diet as herbal medicine and as an essential oil. The most common types of basil are sweet basil, purple basil, lemon basil, and Thai basil. Basil grows well in aquaponics systems because of the ideal growing conditions created with warm water and sunlight.

Guidelines for Growing Basil in Aquaponics

  • Basil requires a pH of between 5.5 to 6.5 to thrive.
  • Basil likes the temperatures between 65° to 85° F. 
  • Basil loves warm weather, so place them in a spot where they can enjoy 6 to 8 hours of sun every day. 
  • Provide a space of 10 to12 inches in each plant for greater yield and avoid nutrient competition. 
  • The basil plant usually grows to 18 to 24 inches and produces many offshoots for harvest per plant.
  • Basil grows fast, can germinate within five days, and can be harvested within 25 days. 
  • To ensure your basil keeps growing, do not remove more than a third of the plant when harvesting. 

 

    Watercress

    Watercress

    Watercress is one of the healthiest and easiest herbs to grow in aquaponics. Watercress is an ancient green that is a member of the cruciferous family, alongside kale, broccoli, arugula, and brussels sprouts. It has become popular now because of the growing awareness of its nutritional content.

    Guidelines for Growing Watercress in Aquaponics

    • The easiest way to plant watercress in your raft system is to purchase seeds and line the bottom of your floating raft with cotton wool or hemp fibers. Then sprinkle your watercress seeds across the top like you would if planting in soil. Gently place the floating raft in the water and wait for them to grow.
    • If you're using a grow bed, plant your watercress as you would with other plants. 
    • The pH requirement for watercress is between the range of 6.6 to 7.5.
    • Watercress does well in a temperate environmental climate. Temperature ranges from 50° to 60° F will be ideal.
    • Watercress herbs thrive in full sun.
    • Ensure you give your plants adequate spacing so they don't compete with nutrients, and space them around 9 to 12 inches apart.

     

    Sage

    Sage

    Sage belongs to the mint family, alongside other herbs like oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary. Sage has a strong aroma and earthy flavor and is usually used in small amounts, but it's packed with essential nutrients and compounds.

    Guidelines for Growing Sage in Aquaponics:

    • Sage grows well in aquaponics grow media and likes to receive at least 8 hours of full sunlight daily.  
    • The pH requirement for sage's optimum growth is between the range of 6,5 to 7.0
    • Sage likes the temperature between 60° to 70°F.
    • Place sage on the spot where it will receive full sunlight
    • In planting sage, provide space between 18 to 27 inches to ensure that every herb gets the same nutrients.

     

    Parsley

    Parsley

    Parsley is a herb that is native to the Mediterranean and Europe. With its refreshing and high market value, parsley is a popular ingredient in many recipes and is cultivated worldwide. The two most common types of parsley are curly-leaved and Italian or flat-leaved. Labeled as one of the most potent disease-fighting plants, parsley provides nutritional value and offers many potential health benefits.

    Guidelines for Growing Parsley in Aquaponics

    • Parsley is a simple, undemanding crop that grows well in aquaponics systems.
    • Parsley thrives in the pH range of between 6.0 -7.0.
    • For optimal growth, parsley requires a temperature of between 60°F - 80°F.
    • Grow your parsley in a spot where it catches at least 5 hours of sun daily. 
    • Parsley requires shade when the sun is too hot.
    • For greater yield, plant parsley 15 cm to 30 cm apart to avoid nutrient competition.
    • Parsley is a great companion plant for asparagus, tomato, and corn.

     

      Chives

      Chives

      Chives belong to the onion family, but unlike traditional onions, chives do not form large underground bulbs. This herb also offers a mild flavor and is ideal for blending with dips, soups, omelets, and fish. Although chives are often just as a garnish, they provide promising health benefits.

      Guidelines for Growing Chives in Aquaponics

      • Chives are perennial herbs that are cold tolerant and thrive between 65° - 80°F temperature.
      • The pH requirement for chives is between 6.1 - 6.8.
      • Plant chives 8 to 12 inches apart to avoid nutrient competition.
      • Chives require 12 hours or more of sunlight or artificial light.

       

      Thyme

      Thyme

      Thyme is an herb from the Mint family that is fast gaining popularity for its medicinal qualities. This herb is always present in Mediterranean, Caribbean, Latin, and Central American cuisines because of its lovely aroma.

      Guidelines for Growing Thyme in Aquaponics

      • Thyme prefers a pH range of between 6.0 - 8.0 to thrive.
      • Thyme is a drought-friendly herb and prefers a temperature of 70°F.
      • Plant thyme 12 to 24 inches apart to obtain a higher yield and avoid nutrient competition.
      • Thyme loves full sun exposure of at least 6 to 8 hours every day.

       

      Oregano

      Oregano

      Oregano is one of the staple herbs from many recipes around the world. It has a strong flavor and can be used fresh, dried, or as an oil. Although oregano is usually used in small amounts, it is still packed with essential nutrients.

      Guidelines for Growing Oregano in Aquaponics

      • Oregano prefers a pH range between 6.0 - 8.0.
      • Oregano loves sunny weather, so plant them in a spot where they receive full sunlight.
      • Plant your oregano 8 to 10 inches apart to give enough space to spread.

      Chamomile

      Chamomile

      Chamomile is a fragrant herb that is a member of the sunflower family. Chamomile is famous for its healing qualities but is also often used in dessert recipes because of its gentle and sweet taste.

      Guidelines for Growing Chamomile in Aquaponics

      • Chamomile can attract beneficial insects that can ward off harmful pests in your aquaponic garden.
      • It is recommended to use media beds to cultivate aquaponics chamomile.
      • Chamomile requires a pH range of between 5.6 - 7.5 to thrive.
      • Chamomile prefers temperatures between 55°F - 60°F.
      • The herb enjoys full sun exposure of at least 4 to 6 hours every day.

      Rosemary

      Rosemary

      Rosemary is a wonderful herb to add to your aquaponics system. Besides its benefits, rosemary is a natural pest repellent that will help protect your other plants from pests. Rosemary prefers at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily to thrive. So ensure you can provide this requirement before growing rosemary in our aquaponics system. Rosemary is a perennial evergreen herb. This means that it does not shed during winter and remains green throughout the year.

      Guidelines for Growing Rosemary in Aquaponics

      • Rosemary thrives in the pH range between 6.0 - 7.0.
      • The temperature requirement for rosemary is 70°F.
      • Plant your rosemary 2 to 3 feet apart to avoid nutrient competition and higher yield.

      Building a Herb-Friendly Aquaponics System

      A. pH and Nutrient Requirements for Herbs

      1. pH Levels:

      Maintaining the appropriate pH level is crucial for herb growth in aquaponics. Most herbs thrive in slightly acidic to neutral pH conditions, typically ranging between 6.0 and 7.0. Regularly monitor the pH levels using a reliable testing kit and adjust as needed using pH modifiers to ensure optimal nutrient absorption by the herbs.

      2. Nutrient Considerations:

      Like all plants, herbs have specific nutrient requirements for healthy growth. The common nutrients required by herbs include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Regularly testing the nutrient levels in the system will help you make informed adjustments to create an environment where herbs can flourish.

      B. Water Temperature Considerations

      1. Fish and Herb Compatibility:

      Choose fish species and herbs that have compatible temperature requirements. Most herbs prefer a temperature range of 60 to 75°F (15 to 24°C). Ensuring the water temperature remains within this range promotes optimal metabolic activity in both fish and plants.

      2. Heating and Cooling Systems:

      Depending on your location and climate, you may need to implement heating or cooling systems to maintain the desired water temperature

      C. Designing the Grow Beds for Optimal Herb Growth

      1. Proper Sizing and Spacing:

      Design the grow beds with consideration for the requirements of the selected herbs. Provide adequate spacing to allow for proper airflow and light penetration. Avoid overcrowding to prevent competition for nutrients and space, and ensuring each herb has room to thrive.

      2. Grow Media Selection:

      Select a grow media that provides good support for the plants while allowing efficient water and nutrient distribution. Common choices include gravel and expanded clay pebbles.

      D. Integrating Proper Lighting

      1. Natural Light and Supplemental Lighting:

      While natural sunlight is ideal for plant growth, it may be insufficient, especially in indoor aquaponics setups. Supplemental lighting, such as LED or fluorescent grow lights, can be used to ensure consistent and adequate light levels for herbs. 

      2. Lighting Schedule:

      Establish a consistent lighting schedule to mimic natural daylight cycles. Most herbs require around 12 to 16 hours of light per day during the vegetative growth stage. Adjust the lighting schedule as herbs transition from the vegetative to the flowering stage, promoting healthy growth and development.

      Proper Spacing and Arrangement of Herbs in the Grow Beds

      1. Consider Growth Patterns:

        When arranging herbs in the grow beds, take into account the growth habits of each herb. Some herbs, like basil and mint, tend to spread, while others, like cilantro and parsley, have an upright growth pattern. Plan the layout to optimize space and prevent overcrowding.

          2. Maintain Adequate Spacing:

            Provide sufficient space between herbs to ensure proper air circulation and light exposure. Overcrowding can lead to increased competition for nutrients and hinder the growth of individual plants.

              3. Strategic Placement:

                Consider the height of herbs when arranging them in grow beds. Place taller herbs toward the back or center of the bed to prevent shading and ensure that shorter herbs receive adequate sunlight.

                  4. Companion Planting:

                    Explore companion planting strategies to enhance the overall health of your herb garden. Certain herbs can complement each other by deterring pests or enhancing flavor. For example, planting basil near tomatoes is known to improve the flavor of both.

                      Maintaining Your Aquaponics System

                      Keeping a successful aquaponics herbs garden requires regular maintenance. Here are sometips on maintaining your system.

                      1.  Regularly monitor fish health, water level, and pump efficiency: It is essential to feed your fish two or three times a day, but be careful not to overfeed, as this can affect the water quality.
                      2.  Check the pH, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates levels regularly. For a newly built system undergoing a cycling process, it is essential to check pH levels every two or three days to ensure the bacteria is established. Once the system is fully established, you can check pH levels weekly or biweekly. The pH level should be between 6.8 and 7.0, and ammonia levels should be less than 0.5 ppm.
                      3. Monitor fish health, water level, and pump efficiency. Everything must be balanced for your aquaponics herbs garden to produce the best results. Though the system is low maintenance, it is essential to check everything regularly to ensure everything is running as it should.
                      4. Check your tank's water temperature daily to ensure that the water temperature is suitable for the fish species in your tank.

                      Conclusion

                      The Aquaponics system can be the best gardening method to grow your favorite herbs. One essential thing to remember is that in aquaponics, the ecosystem balance between fish, plants, and bacteria should be maintained to ensure everything is running well. An imbalance may sometimes happen, but with regular monitoring and fast action, you'll have a successful aquaponic herbs garden. 

                       



                       


                       


                       

                       

                       

                       

                       

                      3 Responses

                      Ava

                      Ava

                      August 22, 2023

                      very helpful article! thank you!

                      James

                      James

                      January 13, 2023

                      Great info for keeping plants in a fish tank. I was hoping to do more for nutrient export and hoped that many herbs didn’t affect my swimmers. Thanks

                      James

                      James

                      January 07, 2022

                      Great info for keeping plants in a fish tank. I was hoping to do more for nutrient export and hoped that many herbs didn’t affect my swimmers. Thanks

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