Is There A Limit To What You Can Grow In Aquaponics?

Does Anything Not Grow In Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is best known for its unsurpassed production of leafy greens and herbs. So you might be surprised to know just how many things can be grown in an aquaponics system. The great thing about aquaponics is there are so many different styles that just about anything that grows in the soil will grow in aquaponics. There’s DWC, NFT, media beds, vertical towers, and wicking beds to name a few. Between all these styles there’s a way to grow any type of plant.

Can you grow root vegetables in aquaponics?

Yes! This one comes as a surprise to many people because they think that if it gets submerged in water as opposed to soil it will rot or not grow as well. The truth is, as long as you use the proper technique and grow bed you can definitely grow root crops in aquaponics. Personally, we have grown everything from ginger, beets, carrots, potatoes, and onions.

Even ginger can grow in aquaponics.
Ginger in an aquaponics media bed.

Media beds and wicking beds handle rooting vegetables the best but I’ve seen onions do well in DWC and carrots even thrive in vertical towers (as long as you don’t mind a 90 degree bend in your carrot once it hits the back wall of the tower!) Media beds and wicking beds are like the aquaponics equivalent to a raised bed in a soil garden. The media bed is filled with media, such as expanded clay or shale, instead of dirt. Typically a media bed is designed so it floods and drains. This prevents the root crops from ever being submerged for an extended period of time. With the media in place of dirt, the harvested product can look a bit off, especially for things like potatoes and carrots. Some get around this by putting a burlap sack or food safe pot with drain holes in their media beds and fill it with a neutral substrate like coconut coir. This provides an ideal environment for the rooting crop and prevents any weird bumps and indentations that may be caused by the media.

A wicking bed is even more like a traditional raised bed because it actually has soil. A wicking bed typically has a bottom layer of expanded shale or clay. This will be the bottom 2-4 inches. On top of that, you typically layer wood chips (know the source!) with an inch or two layer. Then over that, you put 4-12 inches of soil depending on what you are growing. Unlike the media bed, the wicking bed is not a flood and drain and is usually decoupled from the aquaponics system. You would have it plumbed into the system but operate it with a ball valve and once or twice a day send some water from the system to your bed. The water will sit on the bottom layer of your bed’s bottom media and wick up through the wood chips into the soil for your plants. With a wicking bed, you can easily grow any root crop as well as tons of other varieties of plants.

Can you grow fruiting trees in aquaponics?

Murray Hallam grows massive Papaya trees. All grown in aquaponics!
Murray Hallam grows massive Papaya trees. All grown in aquaponics!

Most definitely! There are many examples of people across the globe that have massive fruiting trees growing in their aquaponics system. Murray Hallam is infamous for his massive papaya trees in his systems. Fellow CT aquapioneer Rob Torcellini has been experimenting with a banana tree in his Geodesic Dome system.  It actually grew TOO big and he had to take it out. He’s onto another one now.

Travis Hughey Grows An Aquaponics Melon
Travis Hughey of barrelponics fame is also quite the aquaponics melon grower.

So yes, you can grow any fruiting tree in aquaponics.  Just like our rooting crops you are going to have to do it in either a media bed or a wicking bed. Depending on the size of your tree you are likely going to want to make those beds deeper than the standard 12 inches to support the massive root system that you will get. You will also have to supplement more heavily to ensure there are enough nutrients present to induce the fruiting. That being said you could be enjoying aquaponics melons like the one from Tavis Hughey’s system pictured.

We ourselves have experimented with lemon and lime trees in our systems. And while they don’t produce fruit we have also grown green and jasmine tea trees in our systems. The jasmine flower is still my favorite. It has such an amazing scent!

The one caveat I will say about fruiting trees, they are not usually practical for commercial growers. Commercial growers need to rely on quick turnover and steady supply to be successful and fruiting trees can sometimes take years before they produce and also take a lot more time and effort. So if you are growing commercially, don’t plan on 25 wicking beds with banana trees. Stick to what’s proven. If you have a hobby system in your backyard or an experimental system you don’t rely on for-profit then have at it!

Can you grow marijuana in aquaponics?

We get asked this enough that we’ll touch on it briefly. We have no first-hand experience here and as we really value our work with local schools we intend to keep it that way. However, in places where it is legal to do so there are many people who are growing marijuana successfully in aquaponics. Like with fruiting trees and other fruiting crops you will need to supplement more heavily with nutrients to support the growth. For those interested, I recommend Steve Dread’s website, it is full of resources and videos that are dedicated to the how-to side of growing marijuana in aquaponics.

So what doesn’t grow in aquaponics?

Very few things will not thrive in aquaponics. These tend to be what we call extremophiles. These are plants that like really high or really low pH conditions to grow. One example is chrysanthemums or “mums”. They like a soil pH around 4 which is too out of range for any fish to tolerate. Anything that thrives outside of a 6-8 pH range is likely not going to thrive in an aquaponics system.

In addition, saltwater plants won’t grow in a freshwater aquaponics system. So if you want seaweed or saltwater fish you will have to grow them in a separate saltwater system.

Outside of those two extreme examples, anything else will grow in aquaponics given the right grow bed, environment, and the proper supplementation (if necessary) of nutrients. So let your imagination run wild, anything you’d want to grow you pretty much can so long provide the right environment and conditions for it to do so. If you end up deciding you want a huge variety of plants you’ll just have to plan a system accordingly. Many people end up going with hybrid systems that combine a few growing styles together. Media beds with DWCs and media beds with vertical towers are the most common hybrid designs. Both will allow you to grow a wide variety of crops.

So with no limitations as to what you can grow in aquaponics, there’s no excuse to not start growing your own food. Get out there and get growing! And if you ever need any help we’re only a chat box or an email away.

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