Best Plants For Your Aquaponics System
Aquaponics is widely touted for its ability to grow anything that you can grow in soil using less water, space, and inputs than soil farming. And while all plants seem to thrive in aquaponics there are some plants that stand out as the real show stoppers. Over the years we’ve grown over 100 different varieties of plants in our systems and have come to identify a few favorites.
We’ll break our favorites into two separate categories. Those that do well for hobbyists and those that do well for commercial growers. The reasoning behind the differentiation is because there are some that do well on a small scale but become too laborious for commercial growers. Labor is the factor that usually makes or breaks commercial growers. The less labor the less the cost of producing a plant and the more likely you will be able to support a living off of aquaponics.
Best 5 Plants For Commercial Aquaponics
Basil is the holy grail for aquaponics. Not only does it grow quickly but it also a great plant to deter pests like aphids from your system. It is also a cut and come again plant so you can get multiple harvests off of one plant reducing your labor and inputs costs.Basil is also great because it can be grown indoors or outdoors with relative ease.
It is in demand in almost every market around the world and it is especially valued as a local herb if you can provide it year round. It is also a crop that wholesalers, chefs, and individual consumers are willing to pay a premium for to get a better product. Finally, it is also a product that is known to not have a long shelf life, something aquaponics growers should be able to overcome through live sales or harvesting at the point of sale.
Mint grows like a weed and that is a very good thing. It is a plant that grocery and wholesale retailers are always looking for but cannot find locally or reliably year round. It’s also one in demand by restaurants, specifically bartenders, for its use as a garnish and cocktail ingredient. Mint is also really popular with juice bars for smoothies and juices. Mint is a cut and come again crop so it can be harvested multiple times. It is especially hard to kill, so its great for first time growers and those making the jump to commercial for the first time. Mint can be susceptible to pests, especially aphids, keeping a population of ladybugs around will prevent this.
Thanks to its designation as a “superfood” kale has been increasingly popular over the years. It’s one that grocers have a hard time getting a local supply of year-round and is very popular at farmers markets. It’s also in high demand by higher-end restaurants. Kale is super easy to grow and can be harvested multiple times before it needs to be replanted helping to reduce labor and input costs. Kale can be susceptible to pests, especially aphids, keeping a population of ladybugs around will prevent this.
Chives are great for the first time commercial grower because there usually isn’t much competition for chives in local markets. It’s a great plant to grow in aquaponics because it grows very quickly, is very aromatic, and is pretty resistant to pests and diseases. Chives are also a cut and come again crop and can be harvested multiple times before needing to be replaced. It also has a nice amount of varieties allowing you to grow for some unique flavors (like garlic chives).
Salanova Lettuce Varieties
It is well known that greens do great in aquaponics but not all greens are created equal. Salanova is a brand of lettuce that was designed specifically for chefs and use in restaurants. It grows like a leaf lettuce but cuts like a head lettuce making it super easy to make mixes with and use in salads with almost no preparation. Outside of chefs, it is also loved by consumers for its unique symmetrical look and great flavor. Our favorites are the red/green butter leaf and the red/green oakleaf varieties.
Best 5 Crops For Hobby Aquaponics
Strawberries from an aquaponics system are unlike any other strawberry out there. They are always deep red throughout, no white ever and are perfectly tart. Everbearing varieties are best for an ongoing supply of strawberries but makes them tough for commercial growers because they don’t provide a huge harvest. Non everbearing varieties also don’t make sense for commercial growers because the harvest time is too short to make up for the long grow out tome and the space needed in your system. That makes them perfect on a small scale for hobby growers. There’s nothing better than having a fresh strawberry in January while it’s snowing outside! They can be grown relatively easily indoors or outdoors and can be grown year-round in most circumstances.
Tomatoes are a favorite for many but are often only great for a short time during the season. Not if you grow your own! With aquaponics, you can have mouth-watering fresh and juicy red tomatoes all year round. While there are examples of growers who are producing tomatoes profitably, it is not recommended if you do not have a few years of experience first and live in a southern climate where sun exposure is adequate enough year-round to support their growth.
Tomatoes are a labor-intensive crop as they need trellising to support their growth and regular pruning to keep them producing abundantly. They also require more inputs to keep up with the nutrient uptake they require. For the hobbyist however they are a great crop to add variety to your system. One or two mature tomato plants can provide more than enough tomatoes for a family. They also grow year round, indoors or out. If growing indoors you will need a powerful LED that can be adjusted to increase the level of red spectrum to support their flowering.
I highlight Jalapeno peppers because they were the crop that really opened my eyes to the difference between soil growing and aquaponics. However, any pepper is a great fit for aquaponics. Jalapenos grown in aquaponics are at least 2x the heat of ones grown in soil. I can attest to this first hand as I have grown jalapenos in both conditions on the same plot of land and the difference was extremely noticeable. If you are a pepper enthusiast you will definitely want to try growing some Jalapenos. They are really easy to grow and not susceptible to most pests or diseases. They do best in media beds but can also be grown in DWC and vertical towers.
Sage is another favorite of mine. I never had any experience with the amazing aroma and taste of sage before aquaponics. I was used to the McCormick spice which was always bland and flavorless. Sage is anything but bland! It grows super easy and is resistant to most pests and disease. It grows like a bush and will add a nice variety to your system and your kitchen. It’s also a great crop for commercial growers but does not have the demand of a basil or a mint.
Rainbow chard provides great color and flavor to any dish and it will do the same for your aquaponics system. While it doesn’t get the press of say kale, chard is a very nutrient dense crop that is a great addition for anyone looking to make healthy changes in their lives. Especially if you secretly think kale tastes like rabbit food, chard is for you! Chard can also be a great commercial crop, we like to use it as a supplement to our main greens in our CSA to provide extra color and flavor week to week.
In the end
aquaponics provides a great growing medium for a variety of crops. Your leafy greens and household herbs are going to be your easiest to grow and easiest to sell so we recommend starting there. Over the years these have become some of our favorite crops to grow whether in our commercial systems or our hobby ones. If you are looking to get started with a bang, these are the crops that are our favorites.