Home aquaponics systems present a space-saving, economical and practical way of producing fresh food for your family. Because with aquaponics, you grow just about any plants, such as salad greens like lettuce, fruiting plants like tomatoes, and herbs and flowers with minimal effort and expense.
Planting in aquaponics can be very simple; you can treat it as you would a traditional garden bed in most ways. However, a little bit of knowledge and preparation can help make any aquaponics project produce exceptional results. So to help you become more successful in your own home aquaponics system, we offer these planting tips in aquaponics.
Considerations Before Planting in Aquaponics
Maximize your planting space by wisely choosing plants to grow and bearing in mind the space needed by each plant to thrive. Arrange your plants as you plant them with a consideration of their nutrient needs, physical compatibility, and ease of access. A good practice is to make a layout of your grow bed or planting space on paper to have a good understanding of how everything will look.
Planting a diverse range of plants is encouraged because it helps fight diseases and parasites.
It is important to stagger planting so that there can be constant harvest and replanting, which will help maintain the balance of nutrient levels in the system. Staggered planting also provides a steady supply of plants on the table.
Maximize Your Grow Bed Space
Maximize the surface area of your grow bed and the vertical space and time. For example, plant vegetables with short grow-out periods like salad greens between plants with longer grow-out periods like tomatoes. The benefit of this practice is that you can harvest the salad greens while providing more room for the eggplants to mature.
Aquaponics Plant Selection Tips
- Grow vegetables that you will eat.
- It is best to start a new aquaponics system with fast-growing plants with low nutrient demand, such as leafy greens, beans, or peas. After 2-3 months, you can start planting larger fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and strawberries.
- In deciding what vegetables to grow, it is essential to choose plant varieties that thrive in your climate and follow the seasonal planting guide for your location.
Tips on Transplanting Seedlings
- If you’re planting into a new grow bed, it is advisable to plant seedlings rather than seeds. This is because seedlings will be able to start extracting the nutrients right away. It is better to wait after your system is six months old and has some established plants already.
- Always keep in mind that plants need plenty of space to grow to keep them from competing for nutrients, so give them enough room to grow.
- Always be gentle when planting your seedlings. Roots are very sensitive, and it might take a few days for a new plant to settle into its new environment.
- Wash the soil out from the root system of the plants very gently because it may carry plant pathogens that can hurt your system.
- Structure your plantings so that large or tall plants like tomatoes are grown on the far side of the grow bed so that they will not cover or shade smaller plants.
- It is recommended to plant at dusk so that young seedlings have a night to acclimatize to the new environment before the morning sun.
- It is best to stagger the planting to prevent harvesting the entire crop all at once. Harvesting plants all at once will decrease the nutrient levels, which might create nutritional problems for the plants and stress to the fish. Staggered planting also allows for continual harvest and transplant of crops and helps ensure a constant nutrient uptake and water filtration.
Media Bed Planting Tips
- Place seeds in separate media plugs and wait for them to grow to your desired sizes.
- Transfer your seedlings into the grow bed by pushing aside some media to make a small hole (about 5cm) and gently placing the seedling in it, with the roots in a downward position.
- Carefully cover the roots with media and, if necessary, use stakes or ties to support the seedling until the roots grow out of the plug to hold it up.
- When planting in your grow bed, plant densely, and you can plant a lot closer together than you would in soil because the plants will have as much water as they want.
- Try to make use of areas where plant growth can expand and extend. If your grow bed is near a wall or fence, erect something for the plants to grow up and plant climbers like beans, cucumber, or tomatoes.
NFT Planting Tips
- To grow plants in the grow pipes, you need to support the seedlings with a short pipe or net cup that contains 3-4 cm of growing media.
- It is best to fill the net cup with a mixture of media and a moisture-retaining medium like compost. The compost will help retain the moisture because the young plant roots only barely touch the water flow in the grow pipe.
- After a week, the roots should have extended out the net cup into the grow pipe with access to the water flowing inside the pipe.
- If necessary, wicks can be extended from the bottom of the net cup into the stream of water.
Raft Planting Tips
- Like planting in NFT systems, Raft systems need the plants to be supported using a small net cup filled with 3-4 cm of growing media and placed into the holes in the rafts on top of the water.
Plant Harvesting Tips
- Make sure to remove the entire root system when harvesting full plants. Leaving roots and eaves in the system can cause disease.
- Place the discarded plant roots into a compost bin to recycle plant wastes.
- Use a clean, sharp knife when harvesting.
- Ensure that the aquaponics water does not wet the leaves of the harvested plants to avoid bacterial contamination. Place the harvested plants into a clean container and wash them as soon as possible to maintain freshness.
Like anything worth having in life, an aquaponics system requires some work. It is a continuous project and an experiment. It evolves and grows, but it is worth it. There is no shortcut to harvesting fresh and healthy food in aquaponics. Still, these tips, if applied correctly, should be able to help you maintain a constantly rotating supply of fresh and pesticide-free vegetables for your family. Thank you for reading our tips; subscribe to our mailing list to get more aquaponics updates.