Every vegetable you see on the salad plate can be grown in your Aquaponics USA Family & STEM Food Growing System including the: Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Radishes and, of course, the Lettuce. At the Crop Diversification Center in Alberta, Canada, they have grown over 60 different aquaponic trial food crops.
Because lettuce is the basic ingredient of many different kinds of salads, it is the most popular Aquaponic vegetable to grow and urban farmers can choose among its many varieties. The leafy varieties are preferred over iceberg lettuce as they mature in half the time, 40 days (not 90); and they are far more nutrient rich.
Your Greenhouse is a environment that you control, and you control it to best serve both the fish and the food you’re growing. In our Family & STEM Systems, you can grow several different varieties of vegetables and/or fruit in the same Grow Bed as long as their needs for air and water temperature are within a comparable range as well as their pH, Nitrate and Ammonia level requirements (see our page) if you don’t know what pH, Nitrate or Ammonia means). Most varieties of lettuce grow best in air temperature between 60-80 degrees F. But that’s just about the top part of the plant which is exposed to the air. What’s hidden--the root system--is equally, if not more important, and it responds not to the air but to the water. You need to keep the water temperature between 70-74 degrees Fahrenheit. If you click back to the page, you see Tilapia thrive in water temperatures between 60-80 degrees, so Tilapia and Lettuce will grow well together in a water temperature range of about 70-74 degrees.
There are two entirely different ways to both plant and harvest your lettuce. You can plant your seeds directly into your Grow Bed and, therefore, into your growing medium (see the page) or you can start your seedlings in a seedling tray and transplant them into the Grow Bed once they’ve sprouted. Likewise with harvesting. You can harvest the entire plant with the roots in tact like a lot of commercial growers do it. At fancy organic food stores, these harvested plants are packaged in clear boxes to show off the attached root system giving the impression of a freshly picked vegetable. However, for a small, family farmer, it might be best to harvest your lettuce a few leaves at a time. Just imagine wanting to have a salad and simply walking over to your Family or STEM Food Growing System and picking exactly the number of leaves your meal plan warrants. That plant remains productive and simply grows more leaves, and you don’t have to worry about wilting lettuce in your refrigerator.
Like lettuce, many other varieties of leafy green vegetables and herbs like Spinach, Bok Choy, Arugula, Watercress, Chives, Basil, Rosemary, Sage and Parsley can all be grown easily by an aquaponic farmer. And in some cases, one plant aids the growth of other plants. For example, Basil drives away flies and mosquitos, and Rosemary and Sage repel cabbage moths and bean beetles.
This vegetable requires a fairly densely stocked fish tank as the nutrients provided by the fish are essential to accommodate the many changes the plant goes through during its growing cycle. There are two varieties of tomato plants, determinate and indeterminate. This simply means that one species, the determinate one, delivers fruit all at one time while the other species, the indeterminate one, staggers its fruit production and can live for several years. The Aquaponic Farmer should choose the determinate variety as it is a much smaller plant that can be grown in our Family & STEM Food Growing Systems without any added support structure. Also the nutrient needs are more predictable, and the plant is in the system for a shorter period of time. Within this sub-species, there are a lot of varieties from which to choose. Make sure you know what the size of your mature plant will be so you can provide enough space for it to grow.
Because tomatoes are native to the Americas, they require humid conditions and their ideal fruiting temperature is 78 degrees Fahrenheit. However, tomatoes will fruit in a temperature range between 68-88 degrees. They grow best at a pH of 5.8-6.8 but will tolerate a pH up to 7.2. They love lots of light when fruiting and need from 8-12 hours per day. Their fruit production depends on their light--the more light, the faster the fruit grows.
Unlike lettuce, tomatoes require a separate seedling tray and germinate best at 77 degrees Fahrenheit with nearly 100% humidity. They should be allowed to grow between 2-6 weeks before being transplanted into the Grow Bed. Unlike commercial farmers who harvest their tomato crops at the first sign of color, the family aquaponic farmer can allow his/her fruit to fully ripen before it’s picked thus insuring that incredible taste that’s been buried deep in childhood memories of what a tomato should taste like. Because you’ll be planting a determinant variety of tomato, you can simply stagger your planting times so all your plants don’t drop their fruit at once. In this way you won’t have so many tomatoes you won’t know what to do with them. When you do store your freshly picked tomatoes, do it in a cool (not cold) environment. Tomatoes stored in temperatures below 54 degrees, lose their flavor.
One of the things you need to know abou tomatoes is you need to trim them. They will grow sucker branches and leaves that do not fruit and pull the necessary nutrients away from the fruiting branches. This trimming job can take some time, but greatly increases the yield of the tomato plant. We have recently added a trimming tomato plants video to our You Tube Channel in which Grace teacher her Grandson, Dakota, how to trim tomato plants in our new Resident Intern Program.
Cucumbers, Squash and Melons:
All of these types of plants are vine crops with similar needs and requirements. They can be grown in two different ways in our Family & STEM Food Growing Systems--trained to a string or trellis or grown without support and simply resting on top of the Grow Bed media (see the Page).
We recommend you train them to a trellis. You can purchase your trellis netting on our Aquaponics and Gardening Page. If you use the trellis netting and plant these vegetables at the back of your grow beds or on one side, they will take up very little room in your grow bed and leave you lots of roomto plant other vegetables.
The variety of cucumber that grows easily for an aquaponic farmer is the English Cucumber, which is a long narrow variety. Ideally, cucumbers prefer a daytime temperature of 75-78 degrees Fahrenheit and a night time temperature of 68 degrees. They also prefer a humidity level of 75% or below. If you’re growing in an environment with humidity levels over 75%, you need to select plants that are resistant to powdery mildew.
English cucumbers take from 1 1/2 to 2 months to mature from seeds. They are most productive for their first six to twelve weeks but will continue to produce fruit for many months.The English cucumber is ready to eat when it reaches a length of about one foot.
Many varieties of squash and melons follow these same basic environmental requirements. Summer squash like zucchini or yellow squash and winter squash such as banana, buttercup, acorn and spaghetti squash and many varieties of melon like watermelon, cantaloupe, and honey dew all make excellent aquaponic crops when they are raised in the same conditions as your English cucumbers.
Carrots and Potatoes:
Both of these vegetables are subterranean meaning the part you eat grows under the ground rather than on top of the ground. In the case of an aquaponics farmer, the ground is your grow bed filled with hydroton, and it can work to produce tasty subterraneans. But we would have to redesign our water flow system especially for subterranean plants. Right now our Family & STEM Food Growing Systems are desinged exclusively for non subterranean plants. We are also aware that the subterraneans take longer than the above media plants. So don't plan to grow Carrots or Potatoes.
Cabbage, Swiss Chard, Cauliflower, Radishes and Kale:
This series of vegetables are all related and grow very well in an aquaponics system. The Chinese cabbage is for Asians what lettuce is for Americans, a central ingredient in a variety of dishes. It takes 5-7 days to germinate the seeds and 45-55 days to grow a Chinese cabbage to maturity. The seeds need to be kept moist and between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. At ten or more days old, the sprout can be transplanted into the Grow Bed. Like lettuce, you can harvest the entire plant or simply pick the outer growth as needed.
Good old American Cabbage gets huge in aquaponics systems as does Cauliflower. Radishes grow like weeds and are really sweet, and Kale flourishes like Lettuce. One of our favorite vegetables is Swiss Chard. It will stay healthy and edible in the grow bed for months without bolting or getting tough, and it makes an excellent juice when mixed with apples or a stir fry when mixed with peppers.
That concludes our Vegetable Page for now and gives you an idea of what's possible to grow and how to grow in your Family & STEM Food Growing System. Remember, neither Grace nor Oliver had ever grown anything in our lives when we created Aquaponics USA. We've learned as we evolved, so if we lifetime city slickers (until now) can do it, you can do it. So GET GROWING & GET MAKING THAT SALAD from your own Family & STEM Food Growing System.
Aquaponics Systems were made for Peppers. Every imaginable species and color thrive and grow into large, delicious wonders of nature. We plant exclusively sweet peppers, but hot ones also grow like crazy in these systems. This is another vegetable that can stay on the vine for quite a while before they become over ripe and shrivel.
They can be added to almost anything including the Swiss Chard Stir Fry, Spaghetti Sauce and your Pizza topping. And unlike Tomatoes, they don't need to be trimmed.
A family farmer using our system would plant the vegetables his/her family loves to eat--vegetables that are organic, tasty and full of nutrition.
The following are growing tips for some common Aquaponic plants, but are by no means a complete list of what’s possible to grow aquaponically.