Aquaponics is the production of plant crops utilizing the waste water
and organic matter derived from the production of aquatic animals.
Aquaponics Production with tomatoes
in the back and lettuce in the front.
Growing under carefully controlled conditions
massive yields can be obtained with aquaponics.
Lettuce growing on floats. All forms of lettuce
can be produced using the floats system.
Aquaponics Provides A Market Basket
When talking about aquaponics greenhouse products, usually the first thing that comes to mind is tomatoes. While they are a big crop, a complete market basket variety of vegetables can be raised. From snap beans to kale to strawberries, everything can be considered.
Snap beans growing in loose gravel fed with nutrient rich fertilizer made from fish waste.
In the United States the per capita consumption of lettuce in 2010 reached a high level of 15 pounds. While iceberg lettuce is still the mostly widely purchased of all lettuce varieties, the more leafy types like Romaine have increased in demand by over 500% in the past tens years because it has more nutrient value and is much preferred by health conscious buyers.
For aquaponics growers Romaine and Butterhead lettuce are the best types to raise because they not only bring a high price in the markets than iceberg lettuce, they stand more heat. Butterhead and leaf types can stand even more heat and have a longer season of production. This is ideal for greenhouse operators in the Northeast who experience high summer temperatures. These varieties also grow well in the moderate room temperatures of 70-75 degrees which means the Northeastern growers can extend their growing seasons well into early winter and perhaps year around.
There are several ways to produce lettuce crops using aquaponics. One is the “Raft system” whereby the plants are grown on sheets of foam board floating on pools of water.
Lettuce In A Floating Foam Raft System
Other methods include troughs made by manufacturers. In these devices the nutrient rich water flows through a shallow trough that has a cover over it that contains holes for the lettuce plants. As the water flows through the roots of the lettuce extend down ward and they get both the moisture they need as well as the nutrient.
Lettuce in a Commercial NTF System
Which is the best system use depends on who you talk to. Of course the manufacturers of the MTF system say their’s is, while people who have used both methods say they can pack more product per sq. ft. on a raft.
In talking to a grower in Racine WI who has used both methods, we have learned the following. The NTF system keeps the plants about 8” apart allowing for only 2 heads per sq ft. One his raft he was able to grow 3 heads per sq ft. This is significant because that is a 50% increase in production from the same floor space. After the seed is planted in the seedling area it is 21 days until placed on the growing raft. After the seedling is placed on the growing raft it is 25 days to market. One the average each “Hole” will yield 11 heads per year.
Basil is grown exactly like the lettuce either in the raft system or in the NFT trays. The main difference is, with basil you can get 9 basil stalks per sq. ft on a raft tray. Also basil can be harvested two different ways. It can be removed root and all and placed in “Living bags”, as shown below to keep the leaves growing for many days, or it can be clipped and sold by the bunch. When the basil is just clipped, the roots will continue to produce more stalks. The down side to clipping is the product does not bring as much money in the market place.
While lettuce has been reported to bringing the farmer prices between $1.30 to a $1.45 per head, basil brings about $1.25 per package holding about 5 stalks. This would mean that per square foot of green house space the basil could yield higher profits. Most growers produce both crops since the same buyers purchase them both.
Basil is placed in living tubes to keep it fresh. Notice in the picture of lettuce above and the basil to the left that both plants still have roots attached. A little bit of water has been added at the bottom to keep the plant living.
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