The Basics of Aquaponic Gardening, Part 2

Last week, we shared a wealth of information about growing with aquaponics from Lubbock resident Spencer Stringer. Much of that post focused upon what aquaponics is, the advantages of growing with an aquaponics system (particularly for the Llano Estacado region), and the disadvantages that occur. In the second part of this series, we would like to share a bit more about growing with an aquaponics system, including the different types that exist, resources that serve as a helpful guide, and crops that grow well with aquaponics.

aquaponics lettuce

With an aquaponics system, most plants seem to grow very well. It can take a bit of trial and error, but the healthy, fertile environment created by the aquaponics makes it a little easier to figure out how to best meet the needs for each plant. Tomatoes can take some time and effort to grow, and tubular plants will not perform well.

aquaponics small container

Anyone who first embarks upon growing with aqauponics will find a wealth of information that is available to read and research, but it’s important to focus upon sources that have been proven to be reliable. Spencer recommends a book by Sylvia Bernstein called Aquaponic Gardening: A Step by Step Guide to Growing Fish and Vegetables Together. He also recommends having the patience to take time to read, research, and apply. It can be helpful to start with a very small system to get a feel for what works and doesn’t work, and then to branch out from there.

Another aspect of aquaponic growing that can be overwhelming is deciding on which system to use. We asked Spencer his preference, and this is what he shared:

I’ve grown in NFT, deepwater culture, and in grow bed media, and have used a variety of different siphons or no siphons at all. My favorite for growing food is in a grow bed media. It provides the best surface area for bacteria to grow in and they have been the healthiest systems I’ve seen so far. The larger deepwater culture options might produce more but are a lot of work because of their size. I never liked the NFT systems because it changes the water temperature too much as it passes through all the pipes. I like the grow bed media systems because they look like raised beds as well. You can plant a variety of plants together, and then at harvest time pull an entire plant out of the system, roots and all. My favorite design is one of the simplest. You can find a picture here.”

Spencer does add a word of caution to those experimenting with an aquaponics system in the Llano Estacado region: the water here requires a bit of preparation before being added to the system. The chemicals in the water (particularly chlorine and chloramines) strip away the protective coating on the fish’s scales and kill all bacteria in the water, whether good or bad. Adding the water directly to the fish will likely cause you to find them belly up the next day. Instead, it’s important to fill a bucket of water beforehand, and let it sit for at least 24 hours for the chlorine and chloramines to “cook out”.

aquaponics fish

Part of the allure of an aquaponics system is that it can help people produce clean food quickly. But, work is still required: performing regular maintenance on the system, feeding the fish, tending to plants almost daily, adding water weekly, and paying the costs upfront for the materials. Just as with traditional gardening, aquaponics is a commitment. But the harvest of beautiful produce that results is well worth any work required.

aquaponics raised beds

If you’re interested in an aquaponics system, but would like an expert to help you set it up, Spencer builds systems for people in this area. They are similar to the ones pictured in the Aquaponics Store above, but with reclaimed wood. Email him at to learn more!

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