Aquaponics: Matching Fish with Plants

Lead Image for Aquaponics: Matching Fish with Plants
  • 2-4 hours
  • Beginner

While creating an aquaponics set up from scratch may seem daunting, it is actually not as challenging as some would lead you to believe. A number of species of fish are able to thrive in an aquaponic environment. Once you have your fish and their environment set-up, you can begin growing a few crops and expand on the variety of plant life in your garden over time. While there are no specific fish needed for particular plants (or vice versa), this article will help you learn what kind of fish is best suited to an aquaponic habitat, as well as what kind of tasty treats you will be able to grow.

Best Fish Species for Aquaponic Habitats

A freshwater fish called tilapia is generally the go-to for newcomers starting an aquaponic farm. Tilapia are able to thrive in a variety of water conditions. Tilapia are also edible, with firm white meat that many aquaponic practitioners enjoy. Largemouth bass, koi, and goldfish are also common aquaponic staples.

Other Fish Species

Some aquaponic farmers have found success with carp, catfish, and barramundi, but these fish will require more care and attention than the adaptable tilapia.

Plants that Match with an Aquaponic System

Lettuces and other leafy greens are the easiest to grow in an aquaponics set-up and are generally recommended to start with. You may also want to try pak choi (a Chinese vegetable with high mineral content), as well as arugula, spinach, and kale. Many spices can also easily be cultivated, including basil, chives, and mint. Most common houseplants will also function in an aquaponic set-up; they may not be feeding you, but aside from adding variety and decoration, they aid in the filtration for the fish.

Expanding Your Plant Repetoir

Once you are confident that your plants and fish have created a healthy and sustainable ecological balance, you can begin experimenting with more ambitious crops. A robust aquaponic environment can support beans, peppers, tomatoes, and squash, but these advanced crops will take a lot more attention and care, so it is generally advisable to introduce them slowly. Keep an eye on the health and happiness of your fish; the introduction of a new plant is not likely to send their world into a tailspin, but every change to the environment is going to have an impact, and you must always be aware of how they adapt.

Striking a Balance

The number of plants you can grow is directly related to the size of the tank and the number of fish, as well as how much and how often you feed your fish. There is no exact formula to explain the fish to crop output ratio; it is simply a matter of trial and patience. Most importantly is about learning how to work with the eco-system you have so carefully crafted.

It may take some time to find the perfect match of fish and plants for your aquaponic garden. However, the day you see your first tomato sprout, you'll be glad you took the challenge.