What to Plant & How to Grow with Aquaponics
Using an aquaponics system, it is possible to produce a constantly rotating supply of fresh, organic vegetables with minimal effort and expenditure. Home aquaponics systems present a space saving, economical and practical way of producing enough food to feed you and your family every day indefinitely.
A little bit of knowledge and preparation can carry any home project through to exceptional results. Before you rush ahead and start planting, however, there are a few things you should know about aquaponics farming.
How it Works
Everyone has at least some degree of understanding of how vegetable gardening works. Typically, you plant your seeds, water occasionally, maybe add a little fertilizer, remove invasive weeds or insects and generally wait to see whether or not the plant will flourish. Aquaponics takes care of most of these processes automatically.
The standard aquaponics unit works by creating a nitrogen cycle. In this system, water is shared between a fish tank and grow beds. In the fish tank, fish produce waste that is high in ammonia content. Pumps carry this waste to the growing beds, where bacteria process it into an extremely rich fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen. The vegetables extract the nitrogen from the water, making the water safe for reintroduction to the fish tank. This cycle repeats over and over, with the fish providing the basic nutrition for bacteria, the bacteria providing nutrition for plants and plants acting as a bio-filter for the fish. All that’s left for you to do is feed the fish and decide which plants you should grow.
Deciding What and When to Grow
Naturally, different plants grow under different conditions. Before you get started growing, it’s important to consider which type of growing bed to use. This is determined by the type of root structure that plant tends to have. Plants with no root structure need floating beds, while root vegetables grow better in wicking beds. Most everything else grows best in media beds.
For plants like lettuce, herbs or leafy greens, floating “raft” style beds are ideal. For root vegetables, wicking beds are a better choice. If you plan to grow tomatoes, peppers, beans or most other types of multiple yield plants, media beds are probably your best option.
Choosing the right environment in which to place your aquaponics farm is another important consideration. The amount of sunlight, ambient temperature, rainfall and wind are all crucial factors in producing a healthy plant. If you decide to grow outdoors, choose varieties of vegetables that will grow best in your climate. In addition, most areas will require the use of a greenhouse, or you can always grow indoors.
It is best to avoid fighting Mother Nature. Even with a greenhouse, it is difficult to control the temperature, and plants thrive better when the temperature ranges match their normal processes. Therefore, in the colder months you should grow cold-weather crops and in the summer, you should grow your warm-weather plants.
It’s important to carefully schedule your planting times. If you’re looking to produce a sustained food supply, you should stagger your projected harvests so that all of your produce doesn’t become ripe at one time. This can lead to wasted food, as well as in-between periods where your aquaponics garden isn’t producing any vegetables. If you plan to grow multiples of the same vegetable, try to stagger growing periods by approximately the amount of time it will take you to consume a batch.
If you are aiming for more variety in your diet, try overlapping the growing times of three or more vegetable types. It can take a while to fine-tune this process to match your own consumption and the decomposition rates of your already picked vegetables. To err on the side of overproduction is never a bad idea, as you can easily donate excess vegetables, share them with friends or preserve them for later by freezing, dehydrating or canning.
One of the quickest-yield vegetables you can get out of an aquaponics system is lettuce. Reaching peak maturity at around 28 days, lettuce grows ideally in floating beds. It is very forgiving in terms of the minimum and maximum water temperatures and can survive a range from 25-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you’re looking to produce a more nutritious food in a short amount of time, pole, an Italian-style wax bean, can be harvested in around 54 days. Pole grows best in a media bed and is optimal at temperatures between 59 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Beans overall are an excellent investment, as they can be dried and stored for very long periods of time.
Tomatoes are well worth the wait, taking around three months to reach peak maturity depending on the strain and variety. Like beans, they grow best in a media bed at a temperature of 59-95 degrees Fahrenheit. In order to ensure the highest yield from your tomato plants, be sure to trim off all shoots, leaving just the main vine. This will ensure that the bulk of the plant’s nutrients are delivered to the tomatoes once they begin to form.
In about 65 days, you can have a full harvest of delicious carrots. They have a very well defined optimal growing temperature, at between 59 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit, although they are capable of growing in extreme temperatures in both directions. Wicking beds (info) (kits for sale) provide the perfect growing environment for carrots and other root vegetables.
With an aquaponics system, your ability to grow edible plants is limited only by your own desire to do so. The system does most of the labor that would be required of you in an ordinary in-ground growing operation, so you can spend your time on more pressing issues like scheduling harvests and finding new and interesting applications for your crops. When done correctly, you should be able to maintain a constantly rotating supply of organic, pesticide-free vegetables that can carry on indefinitely in a properly maintained system.