An aquaponics system can be used to grow nearly any type of plants, vegetables, fruits, herbs, and even flowering plants. However, the question that might come to mind is: What are the best plants to grow in aquaponics?
Now, before we start, there are essential things that you should know and keep in mind in choosing the best plants to grow in your aquaponics system.
How Aquaponics Gardening Works
Almost everyone has at least some understanding of how vegetable gardening works. In a traditional method of gardening, you plant your seeds, water and add fertilizer occasionally, remove weeds or insects, and wait to see whether your plant will flourish or not.
Aquaponics works differently from this method because an aquaponics system works by creating a nitrogen cycle. In this cycle, the three main elements, the fish, plants, and bacteria, shared the water. In the fish tank, fish produced high ammonia wastes. The pump carries this waste into the grow bed, where the bacteria convert these wastes into nitrites and then into nitrates.
These nitrates become food for the plants to grow, and in return, the plant roots clean the water in the grow beds before it returns to the fish tank for the fish to live. These are a continuous cycle where the bacteria convert fish wastes into plant’s food, and plants clean the water for the fish.
Things to consider in choosing the best plants for your aquaponics system.
Almost all plants can be grown in an aquaponic system. However, different plants have different needs and thrive under different conditions. Before you start choosing which plants to grow in your aquaponics system, it is important to consider these things:
1. What type of system you are going to use.
This could be a media-based, NFT, raft aquaponics system. These will determine the type of root structure that plants tend to have. Plants with no root structure will grow well in floating rafts, while root vegetables grow well in grow beds.
2. Consider the need of your plants.
As a rule of thumb, the more similar your plant’s needs to the needs of the fish in your system, the better they will grow. Select plants and fish that have similar needs as far as temperature and pH level are concerned because the closer they match, the more success you will have.
The amount of sunlight, temperature, and rain are all important in growing a healthy plant. If you decide to grow outdoors, choose a variety of vegetables that will grow best in your climate.
You could always use a greenhouse or grow indoors, but you need to find plants that do well inside with limited or artificial sunlight. It is best to choose a plant that thrives in your climate, as this will also lower the electricity cost in maintaining your system.
Here are some crops that grow in a warm or colder climate. You can either follow the climate requirements for these plants or use a greenhouse to regulate the temperature and stay with the few aquaponics plants you prefer.
|Cold Crops||Warm Crops|
This refers to the amount of space available in your system. Some plants require more space than others. So carefully consider the height and width needed for the plants to grow, and how many plants could fit in your system.
5. The number of fish
It is important to consider the fish to plant ratio in your system. If you plan on growing much fish, you will need more plants to absorb all the nutrients from the fish waste.
6. What you want to grow
Aquaponics gardening tends to go better when you are growing plants that you want to eat or use. Thinking about what you want to achieve in your system will help you make a better decision on what plant to grow in your aquaponics system.
Best Plants to Grow in a New Aquaponics System
Some plants have low nutrient needs and grow well in a newly built aquaponic system, making them the best “starter” plants for newly built aquaponic systems. It is best to start a new aquaponic system with fast-growing robust plants with low nutrient demand. Some examples are leafy green vegetables; these will usually grow well in a newly built aquaponics system.
The easiest and one of the most productive leafy greens in an aquaponics system is lettuce. This is because leafy lettuce thrives in water, which has a temperature of between 70 and 74 76 °F, making it great to pair with tilapia. Lettuce has minimal nutritional requirements and can thrive in many environments, making it a great confidence building plant to grow in a new aquaponics system.
Watercress is one of the best plants for aquaponics because it is a hardy vegetable and grows quickly. Watercress is easier to maintain than other plants due to its low nutritional demand and can exist alongside many types of fish.
The cucumber is a water-based plant, and an aquaponics system gives them everything they need to flourish. Cucumbers grow best in water with a pH between 5.5 and 7 and grow best in media-based aquaponics systems.
Kale is not a very nutritious demanding plant to grow, but it is a very nutritious plant. Kale can match and exist alongside many types of fish that you may have in your system. Kale is not attractive to pests making it one of the best plants to grow in aquaponics.
Swiss chard is a great plant to grow in your aquaponics system. Swiss chard is frost resistant, making it an ideal plant during winter. The nutrients required to grow swiss chard are moderate, using mostly nitrates for leaf growth. Swiss chard grows best in waters with a pH level between 6.6 to 7.0, which is ideal for both the plant and many fish.
Best Plants to Grow in an Established Aquaponics System
Different plants have different nutritional needs, and your aquaponic system needs to be established to support plants with higher nutrient demands. A well-established system contains all the beneficial bacteria necessary. A well-established aquaponics system is a system that has been running for at least 6 months and up to 3 years.
These are the plants that grow well in an aquaponics system but require higher nutrient needs. These are also the best plants to grow in established aquaponic systems.Tomatoes
Tomato plants do exceptionally well in aquaponics systems. Tomatoes like warm weather but also need plenty of nutrient-rich water. Tomatoes are an excellent option for an aquaponics system where the environment can be controlled.
Cauliflower plants need very little maintenance. They are also resistant to most bugs and diseases. Cauliflower is a water-based plant that thrives in aquaponics systems.
Cabbage needs very little maintenance, which makes it one of the best plants in an aquaponics system. They thrive in water with a pH level between 6.2 and 6.6.
Peppers can be challenging to grow in traditional gardening, but it is one of the best plants to grow in your aquaponics system. Peppers are very particular about the water that they consume, and they require plenty of sunshine. Growing peppers using aquaponics allows you to monitor and control your nutrients in the water and lets you create the perfect environment for your pepper plants.
Strawberries need very little space to grow and are easy to cultivate in an aquaponics system. Strawberries are one of the best plants to grow in aquaponics because of the constant supply of nutrient-rich water and the ability to monitor and control the system environment. Another benefit is that you can grow them all year round in an indoor system.
What Else Can You Grow in Your Aquaponics System?
Crops or vegetables are not the only plants that you can grow in aquaponics; in fact, flowers are an excellent choice as they are safe from weeds and most pests in an aquaponics system. Here are some great flowers to grow using aquaponics.
Aside from giving a wonderful burst of yellow color to your aquaponics garden, Marigolds have a strong odor that confuses and drive pests away from your plants.Water Hyacinth
Many people consider water hyacinth to be invasive. However, the water hyacinth is excellent in cleaning and purifying the water for your fish, which makes it perfect for fish that are sensitive to water changes.
Tips for Planting in Aquaponics
- If you’re planting in a new, grow bed, plant seedlings rather than seeds. Seedlings can start extracts the nutrients right away.
- To prepare the seedlings for planting, submerge it in a bucket of water mixed with liquid seaweed (4 cups). The seedlings had the tendency to be stressed from the transfer process, and the liquid seaweed plant tonic will act as a stress buffer, giving plants the best chance to settle into their new environment. Wash the seedling in the solution to wash away any soil from the roots, then plant the seedlings into the net cups and the grow bed.
- It is important to structure your plantings so you will not harvest your plants at the same time. Plant fast-growing plants alongside slow-growing plants so that when the fast growers so you keep your grow bed planted all the time. By keeping the bed planted, you ensure that there are always plants to absorb the nutrients from the water. If you plan to grow multiples of the same vegetable, stagger their growing period so you have a staggered harvest.
Aquaponics is an excellent alternative to traditional farming methods and can improve food security. With these perfect choices for the best plants to grow in your aquaponics system by your side, you’re on the right track to successful aquaponics gardening.
Although there are more than you can grow, and these are only a partial list of what you can plant. That doesn’t mean you can’t try growing other plants! After all, the best thing you can do is have fun experimenting and learning what plants will grow best for you and your situation.