Aquaponics, despite its ever-increasing popularity as a solid business model, and a large list of environment-friendly benefits, is not something you should dive in head first, as it has a lot of complex symbioses you should know about before-hand. But this warning shouldn’t discourage you from having your own aquaponics farm – with the right knowledge, you can adapt the system to your needs and possibilities and take advantage of a farming process that offers a mountain of advantages over the traditional method.

This article, hopefully, will shed some light on the basics of Aquaponics, as well as showing you the best combinations of plants for aquaponics and fish for the ones who are just still testing the waters and want to ensure they start off on the right foot.

Aquaponics Basics

You’ve probably already heard the term “aquaculture” – the process of raising aquatic animals, like fish, prawns, snails, and crayfish, inside artificial water tanks. Something that can often occur in this type of process is high concentration of toxicity in the water, mainly due to the excrements of the animals. Aquaponics takes that first step (aquaculture) and combines it with hydroponics – cultivating plants in water, without any solid soil. What happens with this smart combination is that the toxic products are broken down by bacterias and, consequently, used by plants as nutrients. With a healthy diet, plants are able to produce oxygen-rich water for fishes to live and breed, creating an artificial cycle, based on real nature and just as efficient. A nearly perfect symbiosis.

Now, there isn’t that much choice regarding the bacterias (nitrifying bacterias are the most common), but when talking about the different types of animals and plants you place together, the plot thickens. There’s a large variety of variables you’ll have to consider, like the temperature, the fish availability and legality in your area, what level of maintenance you’re able to provide, the space you have available, your tank’s filtration capacity, the fish diet and its breeding habits. In spite of all that, and because we know it might feel a bit overwhelming, we’ll offer you information on the best combos for beginners, amateurs and experts so you have a few tried & tested pairings that always work smoothly and produce excellent results.

Combos for Beginners

The main limitation for most beginners is space and monetary investment, so smaller fish is usually the best way to go on about it. Now, they will produce less nutrients (and most small fish are not edible either), so pairing them with low nutrient requirement plants is essential. Here are some healthy symbioses you can create:

Sunfish & Lettuce

On one hand, freshwater sunfish are pretty small, interesting looking and resilient but on the other hand, even though they are technically edible, due to their size, taste and bony-ness, it’s not really worth the effort, meaning you’ll probably have to get rid of some when the tank starts getting too populated. Lettuce is one of the most common used plants in aquaponics, mainly due to its low nutrient requirements, but also for its nutritional value and diverse culinary use, all around the world.

Fancy Goldfish & Kale

Don’t let its size fool you, as these goldfish are quite resilient. Not only that, but they have some exquisite fins and striking colours, making them one of the most popular fish for aquaponics. Again, not an edible fish, but a good source of nutrients. Kale, similar to lettuce, requires few nutrients, is easy to grow and is used in a large amount of cultures as a delicious vegetable, making it an excellent (and low-maintenance) choice for beginners. 

Combos for Advanced Users

Here we offer combos that require a bit more space, a bit more knowledge and bit more maintenance, but are also excellent choices for an aquaponics farm:

Crappies & Chili Peppers

Even though they are part of the previously mentioned sunfish’s family, they differ in some aspects. Firstly, they are pretty delicious, meaning you can harvest them as well as the plants. Secondly, they are a bit larger, so a more spaced tank is required. Since they produce more excrement and nutrients, you can go for a higher nutrient requirement plant, like chili peppers. Not only can you take advantage of its scarcity in local markets (less competition), but they come in hundreds of different varieties to choose from, meaning you can opt for the one that best adapts to your area’s climate.

Pacus & Strawberries

Also known as “vegetarian piranhas”, these fish have similar teeth to humans and an off-putting face, but don’t let that scare you, as we’re talking about sweet delicious fish. They can also live up to 20 years, in low-oxygen waters, making them a safe bet for aquaponics. Even though fruits need much more nutrients than vegetables, herbs and leafy greens, strawberries are one of the few that need the least amount. That way, you can cultivate them in a medium sized aquaponics system, knowing you’ll get colorful and delicious fruits without much hassle.

Combos for Experts

If you’re working with a full-sized aquaponics system, a large tank and a fairly well-sized farm, not only are you able to breed large fish, but you can also produce plants and fruits that require a large amount of nutrients to survive and flourish. Here are some combos you can choose to implement:

Trouts & Tomatoes

The Double T’s are one of the most used combos in aquaponics. On one side, you have large and incredible tasty fish, capable of living up to 7 years. They don’t really mind a largely populated tank and, when you go for different varieties, you’ll end up with a moving painting of colours – it’s pretty remarkable. On the other side, one of the most highly enjoyed vegetables worldwide (or fruits, depending on which side of the argument you are). Even though they require a fairly large amount of nutrients, they are still easy to grow and you can even choose the species that better adapts to your climate.

Salmons & Carrots

Not only does their symbiose work stunningly well in a dish (my mouth is already watering), but also in an aquaponics farm! If you’re a fish aficionado, it’s impossible to dislike the taste of salmon, but their resilience and high production of nutrients are the most important factors when working with these fish. On a regular farm, cultivating carrots might not be that easy, but with salmons doing the hard work for you, you can get beautiful, orange carrots in around 90 to 120 days – all while they clean up the water tanks and let your salmons live happily and healthily.

Final Thoughts

There are many other combos you can go for. The important part is to remember the balance between the producer of nutrients and the receiver, meaning you won’t be able to grow carrots, peas, or onions with small fish. We hope you’ve learned what you need to get started and are able to produce some extra money, some extra food and some extra happiness, as this hobby can be pretty fun and fulfilling – as well as incredibly tasty! Thank you for reading and have a great day.