Dr. Nate Storey: So what crops to start with
is one of the most common questions for beginning aquaponic growers. It’s kind of a complicated
question. You’ve got climate concerns. You have growing space concerns. All of these
things are things you should be thinking about. But in just about any case, just about any
scenario, we can recommend a few crops to start with. One of them is bok choy. Right
here, you see towers of bok choy growing. This is a plant in the mustard family. Most
of the mustards do really well in aquaponic systems. But we really like bok choy because
it grows in hot weather. It grows in relatively cold weather. And it produces really, really
nice yields for us. This is what bok choy looks like growing in towers. We’re going
to walk around and look at a few other greens crops, herbs crops, and fruiting crops. Lettuce is another crop that grows really
well in these systems right off the bat. The one concern with lettuce is that it can have
some bug issues. So keep that in mind before you start growing it. Know how you’re going
to control things like aphids. But this is a romaine here, and we grow a lot of romaine.
We grow some butter head. One of our more recent lettuce varieties that we really like
is one called the Amish deer tongue. It grows really nicely in towers. It’s got good flavor,
and it’s a great heirloom variety of lettuce. Swiss chard is another really great crop.
It’s really nutrient dense, and people really love it. It’s got a great flavor. I will say,
though, that it prefers cooler weather to warmer weather. Another nice thing about Swiss
chard is that you can do multiple harvests. Here you can see that we’ve harvested off
of these towers for a while now. We just keep on cutting away the outside stalks, the outside
leaves, and kind of the inner crown, the core of the plant just keeps on growing. That’s
a really nice aspect to crops like Swiss chard. Kale can be a really nice crop for towers
as well. Here we’ve got some good Tuscan kale. This has been growing for a little while.
Most of this we send out through our CSA, so it allows us to just pick off the outer
leaves, let the main stalk keep growing, and we can get a lot of harvest out of this kale
over the coming weeks and even months. Another crop that we really like are collard
greens. You can see we’ve been growing these for a while. We’ve been sending these out
through our CSA. We’re just picking off the outside leaves and letting kind of that main
stalk keep growing. These, honestly, we’ve been harvesting on for several months now.
It’s a great crop. It’s very nutrient dense. It’s healthy. It’s delicious. It’s just an
all-around great crop for hot weather, cold weather, just about any kind of weather, really.
This is a great crop for beginning aquaponic growers. Fennel is a great herb for beginners. Now
I will say that it has a really large stature, and you can kind of see how crazy these towers
are getting here. It’s a large-statured herb, but it’s really delicious. Now if you like
fennel tops, you can harvest the fennel tops for a while without actually harvesting the
bulb. This is the bulb down here. It’s not a true bulb, but you get the idea. It’s just
an all-around great herb. It likes longer day length. If you’re trying to grow this
in the winter, you’re going to have terrible luck. If you’re trying to grow it in the spring
or the fall, you’re not going to have great luck. But if you’re in the summer, and it’s
a little bit cooler where you live, fennel can be a really productive, really delicious
herb to grow. There are a lot of herb that beginning growers,
whether you’re hydroponic or aquaponic, can grow. They can be really, really delicious
additions to your dishes, and they can supplement the flavors of your greens and your other
crops really, really nicely. Basil is one of those. This is not, I would say, an easy
crop to grow, necessarily. But, it’s well worth the effort. It loves a lot of sun, so
wait until you have good sunlight hours to start growing it. You can see this is a brand
new tower that was planted a week or two ago. In towers it grows very nicely. In most aquaponic
systems it will grow fairly well. There are some issues with it, but it’s certainly worth
the attempt for all of the flavor, and all of the things that it can add to your dishes
and to your cooking. Chives are a great starter crop for beginners,
because they’re really productive, and they’re really forgiving. It takes them a while to
get going, so if you plant from seed, or if you can take basically divided bulbs from
someone’s garden, something like that, it takes a little while to get established. But
when you’re first starting, plant them right on top of each other, and within a few months,
you’re going to have a really dense tower of chives that you can cut again and again
and again, for years sometimes. Mint is another really nice herb to grow,
because it’s really easy to grow, and it’s really tolerant of a lot of abuse. We grow
mint, and I will warn you, it gets a little bit out of control, so you kind of want to
contain it. If you’re growing in towers you’re fine. Basically, the towers will kind of contain
the roots, and it’s not going to spread to other towers, something like that. But if
you are growing in a bed, you need to be concerned about the mint plants actually kind of spreading
out and taking over the whole bed. Its a very simple crop to grow. Its very tolerant of
a lot of different water conditions. If you drink a lot of mint juleps or a lot of tea,
it’s worth growing a number of plants of mint, in just about any beginning hydro or aquaponic
setup. One of the last herbs that I always recommend
to beginning growers is, of course, parsley. This is an Italian big leaf. It’s really delicious
stuff. It’s good in a lot of different dishes, kind of like basil. It grows really nicely.
It’s pretty easy to grow. It’s tolerant of cool weather, of relatively warm weather.
You do got to watch it. It does like to kind of go to flower and go to seed on occasion,
especially once it gets real hot. But by and large, it’s a really nice herb that grows
very well in towers as well as conventional aquaponic systems. A lot of beginning growers, whether they’re
aquaponic or hydroponic, have questions about fruiting crops, things like strawberries and
cucumbers and tomatoes. By and large, I tell folks to stay away from things like tomatoes
and cucumbers. But as you can see here, we’re growing a few strawberries. These were actually
just planted about a week and a half ago. They’re coming along really nicely for their
age. Strawberries grow pretty well. They grow really nicely in these towers, and they don’t
get so full statured that they become a problem. They’re also not quite the nutrient hogs that
things like tomatoes are. Even though I know you want to put tomatoes
in, as a beginning grower, I would recommend you stay away from tomatoes. Learn on the
crops that we’ve gone through today. Learn on things like greens and herbs. If you’ve
got to do something fruiting, maybe try something like strawberries. Stay away from those really
nutrient-demanding crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, and of course, those kind of large-statured
vining crops. I hope that this is all really useful to you
today. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them below. Also subscribe and
check out the Vertical Food blog. For most hobbyists, you’re buying mixed fertilizer
solution. So you’re buying a liquid mix. A good example of it would be something like
this stuff.