Best Plants For Aquaponics Systems
The best plants for aquaponics fall into the vegetables category because of its sustainability of food crops. Sustainable means to meet your needs of food that you grow, without having to deplete the resources your using to grow them with. For example; water, soil, plant nutrients, etc.
Sustainability in an Aquaponics system means that you can grow significantly more produce using far less space, water usage, and labor. In the meantime you’re you are not only raising fish along side of the vegetables, but you are raising Healthy uncontaminated fish. This is not always the case with fish farms produced offshore globally. We go over this in another post.
There are many non-edible plants that thrive in an aquaponics environment if that’s your preference. Before you make decisions on what plants you’ll grow with your aquaponic gardening choices, you need to consider these factors:
- Seasonal temperatures in your region
- Will you be growing vegetables in your aquaponic system or plants like ornamental flowers and shrubs? Both?
- Will you be using artificial lighting or sun exposure like a solar greenhouse system
- Are you considering an indoor aquaponics system or will it be a backyard garden possibly with a greenhouse
Growing plants that produce food are what we are most interested in so lets start there.
The Best Aquaponics Vegetables to Grow
Some vegetable plants require higher nutritional demands, but they still are among the best plants for aquaponics systems. These are the fruiting vegetables that produce flowers that develop into vegetables like squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers etc., as apposed to non-fruiting veggies like Lettuce, that produce edible leaves.
Because of the additional needs of fruiting vegetables, there will be a few more maintenance monitoring tasks you will need to do for the health condition of your plants. The pH in the water needs to be tested daily for the first month and than once weekly there after.
You will need a pH test kit to verify that the water acidity is within the range recommended for the plant. If the water pH is above or below these levels then apply a fish-safe pH stabilizer that you can buy in nurseries or online.
We have to add strawberries to the list of best plants for aquaponics because of how they adapt to several grow media types, and the fact that you don’t have to replace them every year.
If you are growing strawberries in aquaponics systems, first decide which aquaponics grow beds you will plant them in.
- NFT Grow Bed-These are long containers with a narrow channel down the middle. They look somewhat like a gutter down spout but placed horizontally.
- A Tower grow bed which is very popular for its vertical appearance. These are similar to the NFT system but are built vertically. They are designed with a narrow channel down the middle, or pockets up and down the structure for the strawberry plants to cascade out of.
- They will certainly be suitable to Media-filled Grow Bed containers and Wicky beds as well. Be sure these are filled with the proper Clay Pebbles, AKA Hydroton, Lava Rock, or porous Gravel.
You can find out more about Grow Beds in our post Aquaponics Grow Bed
Strawberry’s, like other fruiting vegetables, need an extra amount of nutrient content. You can provide this by making sure you have a container that can hold plenty of fish. Ideally those that weigh about 2 pounds apiece like Tilapia. About 20 of these will be sufficient. If you have small fish you’ll need a volume that totals in weight of about 40 Lbs.
Another advantage of growing Strawberries in Aquaponics is that can will last 3 to 4 years.
Tomato plants go through many changes in growing cycles. This includes stem, leaves, flowers, and ultimately the tomato fruit growth itself. Therefore they require a significant volume of fish in the aquaponic tank to supply the waste nutrients needed. Yet they are still one of the best plants for aquaponics when you consider the taste you get for the work done.
Aquaponics gardeners will need to plant the “determinate” tomato species since it is a smaller version and its nutrient requirements less making them favorable in an Aquaponics environment. This sub-species will produce tomatoes throughout its short season period while the indeterminate species are more of a “bush-shaped” plant that produces less, but can last for several years.
The apical tips of the determinate tomato stems should be cut off at about 7 inches growth. This will help to encourage more tomatoes on the vine.
Aquaponics tomato plants need full sun exposure for at least 5 hours a day but do better up to 12 hours. They also prefer temperatures between 55 and 85° Fahrenheit but can be damaged if they are in weather of 93° and up for any extended time.
If you are going to start them by seed, they will need to grow in a seedling tray outside the aquaponics system. When the seedlings have grown to about 2 inches, you can transfer them to a grow bed.
Media Bed Type For Tomatoes
The Media Filled Bed is the best option for growing tomatoes. Place the tomato seedlings into the media bed container after rinsing off any residual soil that may be attached. Then spread the roots outward out as you place them in the clay pebbles. Be sure the plant is covered by at least 2 inches of the media so the stem remains upright and secure.
Before putting the media gravel in the container, wash them off with water to rinse off any particles like dust that might change the acidity levels.
Another trick to help control algae is to insert red wiggler worms into the gravel media by hand. A 20 gallon grow container is enough to house a cup of these beneficial critters. They are also helpful to the fish as their edible castings are transferred through the water tubing into the Aquaponics tank.
Tomatoes will require some maintenance. During the seedling to stem growth period, higher nitrogen concentration is required. During the flowering stage potassium will need to be added.
If the phosphorous levels are low you will need to raise the water pH with a fish-safe pH stabilizer. Tomatoes require pH levels between 5.8 to 6.8, so remember our earlier recommendation that you test the acidity with your pH tester every day for the 1st month, and then once per week there after.
Squash, Melons, and Cucumbers
We have to add these vegetables to the list of best plants for aquaponics because of their wide variety of types and how easy they are to grow in an aquaponic environment
Like the other vine vegetables, Cucumbers have large root structures that thrive well in aquaponic grow beds. Since they have vine runners you can string them to a trellis making them vertical and leaving more room for other plants. If you do not have the elevated space, simply let them spread on top of the grow bed media. In this case you will need a container that gives you enough room for them to spread out horizontally.
Squash and melons tend to spread out horizontally as well but are not climbers.
All 3 groups do best in temperatures that range from 68° Fahrenheit to 86° during the day in full sun.
As with other fruiting type vegetables, these require a nitrogen supplement application during the vegetative period and potassium through the flower to fruit stage.
Melons and Squash Suitable for Your SystemSummer squash
Growing Beans in Your Aquaponics system
There are two main types of garden beans- pole and bush. Both types do well in an aquaponic system. Beans do not require as much nitrogen as other vegetables do but they will need regular potassium and phosphorous supplementation during the flower to fruiting stage.
Generally speaking pole beans are strictly summer harvest plants. Bush beans can be planted and harvested during shorter days of spring and autumn, or during the warmer days of summer. It just depends on the variety and the region they are growing in.
Most beans prefer full sun and need temperatures of 62°-66° Fahrenheit at night, and 70°-80° during the day. But again, it vary’s from variety to variety so be sure to follow the directions on seed packages.
Pole beans are generally those with vine runners that climb up vertical structures like lattice, poles, trees, etc. Because of this they take up less space in the media bed then the bush variety. Another advantage is that they produce 2 to 3 times the volume of pods then a bush bean will. However, bush beans need very little maintenance once they have germinated.
Both bean types can be started from seed in the aquaponic media bed successfully. Just be sure the bell siphon isn’t engaged during the germination period so that the water level is high. Bury the seeds roughly one inch deep, and in the case of pole types, put the pole structures in at the same time to avoid damaging roots later on.
Here is a list of just some of the Pole and Bush type beans to consider for your Aquaponic system.
Blue Lake Stringless
Romano Italian Pole
The list could go on and on with all the variety’s that are available in nursery catalogs. Have fun experimenting with as many as you can and keep track of the flavors you like the best.
There are a wide variety of peppers to choose from. Varying from hot peppers to sweet peppers they all are very suitable to aquaponics systems.
They are usually planted in grow media bed containers but have also done well in the NFT Grow Bed pipes
These vegetables need warm summer weather of 68° Fahrenheit at night to 78° during the day. As with most vegetables it’s recommended to start with seedlings for quickest results
It is recommended to clip the first flowers to help boost the plant growth. If you wind up with excessive flowers, clip some of them back to promote the other peppers to grow larger.
Vegetables for Aquaponics That are Non-Fruiting
Lettuce is one of the best plants for aquaponics as it is a non-fruiting vegetable which means it doesn’t require as much waste nutrients as a fruiting plant would. Since they are a mainstay in most salad recipes, lettuce is one of the more popular aquaponic vegetables.
The roots of Lettuce are most healthy when the temperature is within a 70 to 74°Fahrenheit range. As this is the optimal temperature for Tilapias and Silver Perch, these would be the best options for your aqua animals in your Aquaponics tank.
Butterhead and Romaine Lettuce can mature in as little as 40 days in an Aquaponics system.Ice Lettuce do very well though they take up to 90 days to mature. Keep in mind that keeping these warm temperatures in a cold weather regions would require additional recourse expenses, but with colder water they will still grow to normal mature size, but will require 10 t0 12 weeks in a North American summer.
It is best to start your lettuce farm with seedlings as seeds take a lot of time to germinate. Lettuce do very well in a “floating raft” grow bed which are trays that float directly on the top of the fish tank water, or or in channels into which the wastewater is pumped out. Since the rafts may not support heavier plants with uneven structure, it is generally used only for small plants like leafy greens and herbs.
Watercress is one of the best plants for aquaponics because they are so easy to grow . This also make them great for aquaponics beginners. A spicy leafy green plant, it is also has a resistance to insects. It matures quickly and needs to be harvested regularly by severely trimming it back. It while come back in a few weeks as it is a quick grower.
More leafy green vegetables that will grow well with the Aquaponic method
Best Plants for Your Aquaponic Herb Garden
Basil– Basil is one of the easiest and most popular herbs to grow in an Aquaponics system.They grow upright quickly in a typical clay pebble grow media in warm weather. It’s best to put them in one of you deeper containers though, due to the quick over grow of their roots systems.
Lavender-Known for its relaxant properties and distinct scent, Lavender has been used in soaps, essential oils, detergents, and more. They can be a bit tricky to grow in aquaponics systems but many have had success with them. I say it’s worth a try if you love the aroma.
Chamomile-The daisy-like small flowers of Chamomile are dried and used as tea for its relaxing and anti-flamatory benefits. You will need to use starter plugs atop a grow media as the seeds don’t root very well.
Peppermint– This easily grown herb known as a breath freshener and for food flavor, can be planted by placing fresh cuttings in a shallow media bed with plenty of water. Beware though that they will spread aggressively so keep them in separated grow beds.
Garlic– like other onion types, garlic grows very well in Aquaponic systems. Separate the individual cloves from the garlic bulb and place them between the gravel media in a shallow grow bed container. Be sure the water levels are continuous and the stems will emerge in just a few days with temperatures ranging from 72 to 80° Fahrenheit.
Turmeric– A very low maintenance plant, turmeric is known for its benefits with liver ailments. Simple place them on top of the media in your grow bed and the root fibers will find their way to the moisture below. They can be cut into smaller pieces and spread across the media bed surface for increased volume.
More Choices for Your Aquaponic Herb Garden
Flowers for Your Aquaponics System
Flowers have been shown to be one of the best plants for aquaponics systems. A wide variety of flowers have been successfully grown in Aquaponics gardens. Everything from Roses,orchids, and common cutting flowers to annual color to spruce up the garden. We can’t go over them all here but here are a few that we have had fun growing. In particular the edible flowers we’ve had success with.
Echinacea– Also known as the Cone flower, this plant has a false reputation of having medicinal properties that cure the common cold or flu. Medical research including the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, do not show any evidence that these claims are true.
Putting that aside, the purple pedals make a beautiful addition to your aquaponics flowers collection.
Dandelion– This easy to grow yellow flower contains iron, zinc, and potassium. It is used in teas as well as jams, soups, and salads. Plant the seeds about an inch deep in a media bed container in the early spring for best results.
More Edible Flowers for Your Aquaponics Garden
For more information to Aquaponics Plants