Best plants to cultivate in aquaponics

There are many edible or non-edible plants that are considered the best plants to cultivate in aquaponics. The reason is that they thrive, providing an exceptionally high yield. There are ongoing experiments on a global scale, growing a variety of edible plants, fruit trees and even decorative flowers.
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Which are the best plants to cultivate in aquaponics?

What seems to be, for the time being, the most widely grown variety of plants are edible leafy greens. Of these, by far the most popular are varieties of lettuce. Lettuce production is massive and ready salads of a variety of lettuce leaves a firm favourite for meals. These are not however only the most popular, but also among the best to grow in an aquaponics system.

Other varieties are Arugula, Basil, Beet Greens, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Chives, Endive, Herbs (a good number), Kale, Lettuce, Mint, Mizuna, Mustard, Parsley, Peas, Radish Greens, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Tatsoi, and Watercress. In fact, almost any type of plant vegetables, fruiting plants, herbs, or microgreens. At least, those varieties of plants that can grow in temperatures and water pH values best for them in an aquaponics system.

Do plants grow faster in aquaponics?

Absolutely! The reasons for this are that the plants in an aquaponics system have access to constantly replenishable nutrients. And, furthermore, are shielded from the weather in a controlled environment. This enables them to grow at a steady pace around the clock. For example, a head of lettuce in an aquaponic system has a sped up growth rate from two months to just one month. That is much faster than an in earth conventionally grown lettuce.

Leaf

The variety of leaf products that can be grown in an aquaponics system is wide:

Arugula (Wild Rocket), Borage, Collards, Cabbage (and Savoy Cabbage), Chard (and Swiss Chard), Chicory (and Witloof Chicory), Common Cornsalad, Chinese Mustard, Chinese Cabbage, Endive, Escarole, Garden Cress, Kale, Lettuce (Butterhead, Crisphead, Cutting Lettuce, Leaf Lettuce, and Romaine), Mustard (Abyssian and Black Mustard), Pak Choi, Petsay (Chinese Chard), Radicchio (Italian Chicory), Sorrel, Spinach, and Watercress.

Stem

Those that can be grown for their Stem is much smaller:

Asparagus lettuce is also known as Stalk lettuce or Stem lettuce (Celtuce).

Petiole

Plants that are grown mainly for their edible petiole are:

Celery, Fennel (The thickened base of the petiole), Rhubarb (Pie plant), Purslane (Leaf and young shoot), and Vegetable rape (Leaf and young flower stalk).

Fruiting Plants/Vines

Fruiting plants such as beans (all varieties), bell peppers, corn grains, cucumbers, eggplant, marrow, tomatoes.

Herbs

Aromatic herbs, Culinary herbs, and Medicinal herbs are big sellers, and their markets are of course perfumeries and restaurants, from the mundane to the high end, and pharmaceutical companies. It all depends on whom the business is going to target because a little of everything is more of a backyard aquaponics family affair.

Culinary Herb

  • Basil Leaf
  • Chervil – Leaf
  • Italian Parsley – Leaf
  • Marjoram – Leaf
  • Mint – Leaf
  • Oregano – Leaf
  • Parsley – Leaf
  • Perilla – Leaf and seed
  • Rosemary – Leaf
  • Sage – Leaf
  • Spearmint – Leaf and inflorescence

Medicinal Herbs

  • Chamomile (Flower)
  • Echinacea (Leaf, stalk, root)
  • Feverfew (Leaf)
  • Garlic (Cloves, root)
  • Ginger (Root)
  • Gingko (Leaf)
  • Ginseng (Root)
  • Goldenseal (Root, rhizome)
  • Milk thistle (Fruit)
  • Saint John’s wort (Flower, leaf)
  • Saw palmetto (Fruit)
  • Valerian (Root)

Flowers

The flower industry known as Floriculture is over 40 billions of dollars’ worth worldwide and growing quickly. It is no wonder that several countries vie for a piece of the pie. Among those, Holland is the largest producer, and the USA the second largest. But, of the top 5 positions, the Europeans combined are overwhelmingly the largest.

Flowers are a good choice for aquaponics systems, especially if profit is the name of the game. Naturally, this means that the scale of production must be analogous. The variety that produces cash is of course the rose. It is a hardy flower that grows exceptionally well in aquaponics systems. In order to ensure healthy foliage and color development, there must be enough nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium in the system. Several varieties have been successfully grown and looking into this business, even to supply local florists may be a good way to make some good money.

The Dutch produce huge number and colour variety of Tulips. Tulips are grown from bulbs. This presents a unique challenge in that bulb plants (most of them) do not take being submerged in water well. The solution in part is to plant them in flood and drain systems with media. There are still some challenges to a successful harvest which have to do with changing water temperatures. These can vary from 4°C to 23°C. This is a very wide temperature disparity. At the lower end a steady 4°C for 3-4 weeks are necessary to help them root cutting deeply into the quality of the flower. Less than three weeks is best to ensure good quality. Once this has been done, next comes the sprouting which takes place at 15-16°C. Then, in order to start growing, it needs to have a steady temperature of 23°C. All this needs to have a variety of fish that can adapt to these temperatures. Starting from the lower end of the temperatures and progressing to the higher end, the water temperatures that are required can be handled by Arctic Char to Trout to Tilapia. Naturally this is possible with a variety of fish meaning 3 holding tanks with the necessary interchangeable connecting plumbing. Altogether not a good solution… The answer is to refrigerate the bulbs for the first period, then plant them in a flood and drain system with a fish variety that is happy between 15 and 23°C.

There are other varieties that can be experimented with and this is best done as always with enthusiastic backyard aquaponics aquaponists.

Fruit trees, bushes and vines

There have been several experiments over the years by enthusiastic aquaponists who have tried growing fruit trees. Although not pure aquaponics in the sense that they are not in water constantly, they do use a type of Dutch bucket system where they are regularly fed with Aquaponic generated tea. This is very powerful liquid compost derived from the solid waste of the fish in an aquaponic system. In fact, the tea compost is so nutritious that selling it can also be a source of profit.

The varieties of fruit trees that have successfully been grown in this way and yielded fruit are Apples, Bananas, Blackcurrants, Blueberries, Cantaloupes, Cherries, Figs, Gooseberries, Grapes, Lemons, Mangoes, Nectarines, Papaya, Peaches, Plums, Pineapple guava, Pomegranates, Raspberries, Strawberries, Watermelons. Naturally much of the success has to do with temperature and climate.

Which are the best plants for aquaponics?

Lettuce, Spinach, Strawberries, Bell Peppers, Culinary Herbs and Medicinal Herbs (Chamomile, Echinacea, Feverfew, Violets, Lavender, Parsley).

Conclusion

At the end of the day it comes down to what the aquaponist wants out an aquaponics system.

Is the system going to provide a few microgreens, feed the family, feed a neighborhood or a community, will it feed a district or a supermarket chain?

Will the produce be aimed at a specific market to serve a niche that has not been served?

Will it be one variety only or a variety of edible plants, will it be aromatic herbs or culinary herbs and the list goes on…

These are the questions that have to be asked at the very beginning if the goal is production just for the family, or a business. These and a whole lot of others.

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