Last Updated on July 20, 2021 by Marco C.
The best plants to grow in aquaponics for a small indoor environment take into account the limited amount of sunlight and space available. If you are considering growing aquaponics indoors, we need to be aware of the limiting factors of growth. Aquaponics is a scalable operation that could be done for your home ideally in a modular setup that’s easy to move and setup. Depending on your goal in aquaponics, there will be different plants that are best grown for your needs. Finding the best plants for small aquaponics lie on the intersection of what plants could grow in low light environments and your goal in starting an aquaponics system. This article will be discussing what will be the best plants for aquaponics done on a small or indoor scale.
What Factors Limit The Growth Of Plants For Indoor Aquaponics?
Growing crops, in general, is a scalable operation that requires minimum space to grow one plant. Like most agricultural operations, we can focus on the precision of growing per square foot of planting space.
Climate and sunlight limit the growth of plants depending on each plant’s requirement to grow. Some plants like lettuce require full sunlight to grow faster, while herbs and young plants only require partial sunlight to grow well. The growth of plants indoors requires LED lights which is also a growing trend across the world. Although LED lights will never beat the sun even with all the technological advancements of indoor horticulture. LED lights, although energy-efficient, will still use electricity and add to your operational expenses.
Your location’s climate and temperature also greatly affect the plant’s growth. Indoor setups will benefit from not being exposed to cold winters and hot summers. This makes indoor setups able to grow all year round regardless of season. The three major limitations of indoor aquaponics are thus light, climate, and space.
Best Plants To Grow For Small Aquaponics
Aquaponics is a direct application of hydroponics in a recirculating system. This allows for a steady flow of nitrogen being supplied to the growing plants in aquaponics. Plants use nitrogen for vegetative growth. Having a steady supply of nitrogen from fish waste benefits plants in the vegetative growth stage the most. Here are some vegetables to consider for small outdoor aquaponics under direct sunlight:
- Lettuce grows fast and requires nitrogen more than phosphates and potassium. This includes all varieties of lettuce, cos, green ice, and lollo rossa. Lettuce grows faster with more sunlight making it more efficient to grow outdoors than indoors.
- Kale is another crop that grows well with sunlight. Kale depends on vegetative growth thus nitrogen from your aquaponics system will work well with this crop.
- Bok choy
- Swiss Chard
- Collared Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Malabar spinach
Your only limiting factor in growing outdoors for aquaponics will be the climate and seasonality. Although depending on your location, this can be addressed by controlled environment agriculture practices or temperature-regulating technologies. Alternatively, you can choose to grow indoors with LED lights which will increase your electricity consumption.
Learn more about: When To Transplant Rockwool Seedlings For Aquaponics
Best Plants For Indoor Aquaponics Are Plants That Could Grow With Lower Light Requirements
Growing indoors is a challenge in and of itself due to the lack of sunlight. The best plants for indoor aquaponics require less lighting. Growing plants with low light requirements reduces your cost for lighting. We conducted an experiment for growing lettuce in aquaponics indoors where some plants got diffused light from LED, and others were directly under the LED light. We observed the difference in growth and quality between plants directly under the lighting and those only getting diffused light. With this in mind, it is not economically feasible to grow using full LED as lettuce requires more than 12 hours of light to grow fast. Herbs grow well with partial lighting and demand a higher price on the market. Some herbs that grow well in aquaponics are:
- Basil varieties are leafy and benefit from the nitrogen from your fish waste as well
- Mint grow in similar environments as basil and will work well in your aquaponics system as well
Most herbs work well in indoor aquaponics setups due to their low light requirement. It is still possible to grow most crops in indoor aquaponics system. Although the question will be if growing indoors is economically feasible for you.
Use Diffused Sunlight To Your Advantage To Reduce The Operating Hours Of Your Grow Light For Your Plants In Indoor Aquaponics
Most herbs grow well indoors, and you could also choose to place your hydroponics unit by the window to receive partial sunlight. Receiving partial sunlight will reduce the time needed to run your grow lights. Diffused sunlight also works better than most grow lights. Light is needed to activate photosynthesis. Although grow lights would have wavelengths specific for photosynthesis, it still won’t compare to sunlight. According to an article from IEEE, even Philips LED lights which are the most efficient on the market, can’t compare to the efficiency of sunlight.
The light that activates photosynthetic activity is measured by photosynthetically active radiation or PAR. Diffused sunlight has a higher PAR compared to most grow lights. For this reason, most indoor growers for lettuce run LED lights for 16 hours as compared to the 10-12 hrs of sunlight in an outdoor system. According to a research by Li and Yang, tomatoes grown under diffused light showed higher rates of photosynthesis than direct sunlight. This could be seen in the morphological response of tomatoes as they were observed to have darker leaves and higher nitrogen content. As leaves get darker, they contain more chlorophyll to adapt to the lower light intensity. Thus they undergo photosynthesis more efficiently than in direct sunlight.
At The End Of The Day, The Best Plant To Grow In Aquaponics Depends On What You Want To Grow For Yourself.
The best plants to grow for aquaponics depends on your goal and need for your aquaponics system. Plants grown in indoor aquaponics require LED lighting which will add to your electricity bill. Although it is possible to grow plants in indoor aquaponics, it is not always economically feasible. For this reason, the best plants to grow in indoor aquaponics are plants that are not possible to grow outdoors due to seasonality or those with high economic value.