Digging into Aquaponics: #1 -The Plants
By Sylvia Bernstein
Aquaponics growing environments can be home to a huge variety of plants. I’ve grown just about everything you can imagine, from the mundane, like herbs, lettuces, and houseplants, to the unusual, like cactuses, orchids, and dwarf trees. So, how should you choose your plants?
Your best growing plants are always going to be the nitrogen lovers, like salad greens, herbs, and houseplants. Why? Because aquaponic systems are especially rich in nitrogen, which is what causes plants to be green.
And within that category of “green” plants the ones that like a wet environment and tend to hold a lot of water, like lettuce and basil, for example, will perform the best.
Conversely, plants that prefer a drier environment and a rich array of nutrients may require some extra tending and/or supplementation. Here I’m thinking of plants like thyme, sage, tomatoes and peppers. Always grow these types of plants in a media bed vs. a raft bed. You have higher levels of nutrients, and less moisture, in this style bed.
Other considerations when choosing your plants:
- Subterranean plants like potatoes, onions, carrots, and beets don’t grow at all in raft beds, and are challenged to work their way through the media in a media bed. It is best to grow these in either dedicated wicking beds, or fabric grow bags filled with coconut fiber.
- Consider the ultimate size of the root mass. It is a plant that tends to grow extremely large, like an indeterminate tomato or cucumber, you may want to first put it into a fabric grow bag before planting so the root ball stays contained and doesn’t clog up your media bed.
- Consider the temperature of the water. This is generally driven by the type of fish you are growing, but some plants prefer cooler or warmer temperatures than others. A good guide is to think about when you would typically plant that plant in your outdoor garden. If it is a cool, spring plant like lettuce, broccoli, or sugar snap peas it will be happier with cooler water. If it is more of a mid-summer plant like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers it prefers warmer, tropical water.
- Aquaponic systems should target a pH of 6.8 – 7.0, so plants that like super acidic soil, like blueberries, won’t thrive in these systems.
Examples of use-specific gardens
Here are some ideas for plant groupings that will create a theme in your aquaponics gardens
- Pizza garden – tomatoes, peppers, oregano, and basil
- French Herb Garden – lavender, tarragon, thyme, rosemary, mint, marjoram
- Child’s Fantasy Garden – Jack-o-Lantern mini pumpkins, sensitive plant, mini sunflowers, radishes, cherry tomatoes, bush beans
- Salad Garden – mixed mesculin, arugula, cherry tomatoes, basil, radishes
Most plants do extremely well in aquaponic systems, especially once they have matured and the grow media has become rich with fish waste and microbes. Experiment with lots of plant types and have fun!
President, The Aquaponic Source – Try Aquaponics – TheAquaponicSource.com
Author, “Aquaponic Gardening: A Step by Step Guide to Growing Fish and Vegetables Together” –http://aquaponicgardening.com/
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