Results Of Our Test Grows:
Positive Results Of Our Test Grows:
There’s a ton of stuff our aquaponics systems grow really well: basil, thyme, oregano, cilantro, Italian parsley, and other specialty herbs; all kinds of lettuces, chives, green onions, leeks, green beans, purple beans, long beans snap peas, regular peas, Japanese cucumbers, all kinds of tomatoes, many different kinds of oriental stir-fry vegetables including kyona mizuna (which in Hawaii, sells for $12/lb. around New Year’s), cabbages, kohlrabi, silver beet, Swiss chard, and broccoli. We forgot to try cauliflower. We grew some odd stuff like tomatillos, garden berries, thornless blackberries and amaranth (a GRAIN); I am sure there is a lot of other stuff that would grow well, but we were primarily focusing on crops we thought had commercial potential.
(Below) A wildly enthusiastic watercress colony. At this time, organically certified watercress was bringing $12/pound wholesale.
Strawberries grew really well until the Chinese beetles decimated them. Please see the “How To Win The War On Bugs” post for how to decimate Chinese beetles, using organically certified pest control methods.
We had several varieties of tomatoes that did really well, but attracted insect pests like nobody’s business. These would thrive in a greenhouse situation. Tomatoes need some kind of support, and they put a LOT of weight on that support. Figure for just 32 square feet of rafts of tomatoes, the plants and fruit can weigh two to three hundred pounds. Build your support structures accordingly, and build them so you can get your hands in there and harvest easily
We grew watercress, peppercress, and other cresses in the margins of our hydroponics troughs. It grew well just floating free, but for commercial growing we made a 4’ by 8’ frame out of 2” PVC pipe, with a piece of quarter-inch plastic mesh fastened inside it on the bottom side of the pipe; the watercress grows right on top of the mesh in about a half-inch of water that comes up over the mesh. This stuff grows like a WEED in aquaponics systems, is beautiful, crunchy and flavorful, and has incredible shelf life!
Negative Results Of Our Test Grow:
We had some odd results: our first set of lima beans and fava beans grew huge bushes but made no beans, but the second time we planted them they made lots of beans. The first time we planted bell peppers, medium-hot peppers and hot peppers, they all grew very well, but then wilted and shortly thereafter fell over with stems rotted in the center. The second (and subsequent) time we planted them they did fine. Our first eggplant finally matured a 3-oz fruit after 3 months right next to a tomato plant that had given 200 lbs. of tomatoes during the same period; then we got some other eggplants to bear decently. We know of a grower who’s grown corn with the appropriate supports. Those short little round carrots grow fine.
Obviously, many things will not grow in Aquaponics systems. Trees probably won’t work. We’ve had no luck with lemongrass (grows great for a month, then rots off and falls over); rosemary (just doesn’t grow worth a darn!), spinach (sprouts then stays little forever), and long carrots.
The problem with research is that whatever portion of your system is planted in research crops is not earning money for you right now. It might if the experiment pays off. The point is, we can’t afford to do only research until we figure out what is the best to grow, or the best way to grow it. We need to learn those things while we keep the cash flowing. So please, experiment with whatever you can afford to according to your intuition and analysis, and we promise to share our results with you if you share with us.
Raft Spacing is AS important as which vegetables grow well:
What do we mean? Imagine your test grows went well, and you found three or four vegetable “candidates” for your commercial production. Wouldn’t you be irritated if, a year or two down the line, you found out that you could grow them at a 20% higher (or lower) density on the rafts and end up with more total weight, or more heads of produce? I would. So the time to experiment and determine what planting density yields the most production (whether it is heads or pounds you are selling) is before you build your 10,000 square feet of trough and holesaw all the holes in your $25,000 worth of rafts!
Here’s how to determine the optimum raft hole spacing for your selected crops: Do your first test grows in the standard 32-hole 2-foot by 4-foot rafts; this will give you a “baseline” from which to experiment, and weigh and record the results. Select the three or four crop items that grew best in your test grows on the 32’s, and try a test grow of each of them in a 40-hole 2-foot by 4-foot raft, and in a 26-hole 2-foot by 4-foot raft. The reason for doing this is that you don’t know which will produce more weight: the 40 will certainly produce more heads, but if each head weighs less, you may actually get less weight per raft than growing in a 32. But you might get more. Also, even though the 26 makes 6 fewer heads than the 32, these heads may weigh so much that the 26 has a clear “by-the-pound” advantage in production over the 32.
If you are selling by weight, weigh the results of this test grow with a scale that is accurate to the nearest hundredth of a pound. If the production of your 26-hole or 40-hole raft weighed more than that of the 32, then you have a winner! The only question then is if going further in the same direction (that is, fewer holes per raft, or more, whichever yielded the higher weight) is going to produce even more Further experimentation may be in order.
If you are selling by the head, take the results of this test grow to your buyers. It’s obvious that if you grow more heads that are exactly the same, and you can sell for the same price each using the 40-hole raft, it’s a good deal for you. It’s not quite so obvious that the buyer might be willing to pay enough more per head for the larger, more attractive heads that might come from the 26, that you might make more money per raft this way. The only question then is if going further in the same direction (that is, fewer holes per raft, or more, whichever yielded the higher weight) is going to produce even more dollar value of heads per raft.