If you live in a colder climate, one concern you will face in setting up your aquaponics system is its ability to withstand harsh cold weather. It is essential for regions with colder climates to build a climatically adaptable aquaponics system to grow various crops year-round. This can be done through a greenhouse, proper insulation, heating, and ventilation. Knowing the best winter plants for a successful year-round aquaponics garden is also necessary. This article discusses the best winter plants for aquaponics systems and how to grow them successfully.
How to Protect Your Aquaponics System Against Cold Weather
You can build your aquaponics system in an indoor or outdoor setting. However, it is crucial to think ahead and prepare for the extreme weather conditions that may affect your plants and fish.
Some aquaponics growers in colder climates set up their systems indoors or in a greenhouse and have complete equipment to run them. Some built their system in outdoor settings, but if you live in a colder climate, it is best to build and acclimate an indoor aquaponics setup to protect your system during winter. Here are some things you can do to acclimatize your system to ensure your plants still thrive during cold months.
Most greenhouses have the same outside and inside temperatures, so some growers choose to shut down their systems during winter. Using insulation in your greenhouse can help keep the temperature level inside suitable for growing plants. Insulating your greenhouse will protect your plant's root system.
Heaters are essential during cold seasons. Heating your fish tank and regulating your plant's temperature through an electrical or fuel-powered heater is necessary to keep your fish and plants healthy. If you want to save on electrical costs, you can use solar powered-heaters.
Proper ventilation is required for any indoor aquaponics systems. The ventilation will solve the stale air inside the greenhouse and ensure the air is circulating. Proper air circulation is vital for flowering plants to pollinate and avoid dampness. A circulating fan attached to the house wall and a greenhouse are one of the best ventilation. The heat from the house will help temper the air inside your greenhouse.
The Best Plants to Grow During Cold Climates
One important thing to consider in growing plants during the winter is that the ambient air temperature will determine what crops are easier to grow in cold or hot weather. So, you should only grow crops that grow well in colder climates to be successful. An example is a buttercrunch or red leaf lettuce. This variety grows well in cooler climates, while a more heat-resistant lettuce variety like romaine grows well in hot climates.
Another thing to consider is the seed selection. Before deciding on one particular seed or variety for your aquaponics garden, experiment first to see which seed will work best for you and your climate. Purchase a small packet of different seed varieties until you find the seed variety that works best for you.
Here are the best winter plants for cold weather aquaponics systems.
Lettuce (winter varieties)
Lettuce is one of the best plants for aquaponics because it is one of the easiest to grow in any aquaponics method. They require little maintenance and have low nutrient requirements. With a short growing cycle and a high market demand, lettuce is the most popular aquaponics plant. Lettuce loves the sunlight, so position them in a spot where they can get 5 hours of sun every day. If you have an indoor set, ensure that they get enough light from the grow lights.
Swiss Chard is a frost-resistant plant, which is ideal for growing during winter. It's a perfect starter plant for aquaponics because it has low nutrient requirements. Chard can be harvested fully or partially after 4 to 5 weeks from seed.
Kale is easy to grow and has low nutrient requirements, making them one of the best plants for aquaponics. You can plant your kale directly in sunlight, but you must provide partial shade when the climate gets too hot. Kale prefers a cooler temperature and can be harvested within 5 to 6 weeks.
Parsley is one of the best plants in aquaponics because it is not a nutrient-demanding plant. Parsley helps other plants grow more robust, and it is best to plant parsley with tomato and corn. Grow your parsley in a spot where it catches at least 8 hours of sun daily, but parsley will require partial shading when the climate is too hot.
Spinach (Giant Winter, Tyee)
Spinach is a classic superfood and is one of the best leafy greens you can grow in your aquaponics garden. They don't have long roots, so they are ideal for the NFTor Raft system as they don't need a deep-growing bed to grow. One thing to remember in growing spinach in aquaponics is that too much sun will cause bolting and bitter taste in your spinach. So make sure to shade it during warmer weather.
Sage is a grayish-green herb that is simple to grow and ideal for aquaponics. Sage grows well in aquaponics grow media and likes to receive at least 8 hours of full sunlight daily.
Arugula will make an excellent addition to your aquaponics garden. This easily grown leafy green requires low nutrients to grow, making it one of the best plants for aquaponics. Arugula likes cool weather, so it needs partial shade during warm weather as too much sun will make this herb bitter.
Winter Growing in Aquaponics
Once you transfer your seedlings into the grow bed, you must maintain the proper humidity and light inside the greenhouse. Plants need to transpire to grow; the ideal level for them is between 50 and 70 percent Relative Humidity (%RH). Under high humidity, common in greenhouses, water can condense and drip on your plants, causing diseases.
During the day, you can manage humidity in your grow beds by letting in the dry, cold air from the outside and pre-heating it with a low-wattage hair dryer controlled by a 120-volt dehumidistat which is a cheaper alternative to a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) which is expensive.
When the temperature drops below 40° F, the humidity will become a resource rather than a problem. Plants will stop transpiring at these temperatures, and the water condensing on plant roots and greenhouse walls will release heat that will keep your plants warmer than the air.
With regards to light, you need to install grow lights for use during the winter months to extend the light of the day. This is because plants need at least six hours of direct sunlight per day or ten hours of grow lights to grow healthy and bear fruits.
Below are the factors that affect plant growth during winter. Ensure that all the factors listed below are within their ideal range for optimum plant growth.
- Air temperature
- Humidity levels
- Sunlight exposure (or grow light exposure)
- Day length
- Root drainage
- Water flow
- Correct pH levels
- Correct nutrient levels
Harvesting leafy greens that have frozen and thawed improves their taste, but you should not harvest while frozen. It is also not good to let your lettuce freeze too hard (below 25°F) too often because they might die.
Do not harvest all the plants you want to keep growing after the winter. This is because in the late winters, as the temperature warms up, your plants that developed a root structure during winter will take off and bloom.
Managing an aquaponics system during the colder season is easier when you properly plan your location and setup during the building stage. If you are in an area that experiences harsh cold weather, building an indoor or greenhouse aquaponics system with proper insulation will help your whole system survive during winter. Thank you for reading, read our related article "The Best Cold-Water Fish for Aquaponics Systems in Colder Climates".