Running a Staggered Cropping System in Aquaponics
A staggered cropping system achieved through aquaponics is possible with the right resources and know how. Staggered cropping is essentially time-based planting of crops so they do not all come to harvest at the same time. With aquaponics, vegetables and herbs grow much more quickly than they do in the ground or even in traditional hydroponic systems. Were a selection of plants to mature all at once, a producer might be overwhelmed by the yield. Staggering allows each crop to mature at separate times while maintaining a constant uptake of nutrients by the plants. In this way, the system will never have too much or too little nitrogen for the plants to consume. Staggering cropping techniques are as applicable at the small scale as they are at a commercial one. Staggering crops at home does not require multiple tanks, but there should be at least two grow beds in order to have two small batches cultivating simultaneously.
Step 1: Build Your Aquaponic System
In order to successfully stagger crop yield with your aquaponic system, you'll need a setup in place featuring at least a single fish tank and at least two grow beds. The fish tank must provide enough nutrient-rich water to supply both beds, so proportions must be worked out. Commercial enterprises use multiple fish tanks, but that may not be possible for a home unit. Install the pump(s), the piping connecting the tank with the grow beds and the flood/drain system. Fill your grow beds with gravel or clay suitable for containing plant starts.
Step 2: Plant First Bed
When your aquaponic system is ready to go, plant the first grow bed with seedlings or starts. Make certain that all of the components are working properly. A certain amount of fish should be introduced to the system, and the nitrogen cycle must be initiated properly in order for the bacteria levels to be optimal. If all is working right, the fish waste will be converted into nitrogen as it's pumped to the grow beds. Once consumed by the plants, the beds drain clean water back into the tank.
Step 3: Plant Second Bed
A week later, plant your second bed of starts or seedlings. You may have to introduce more fish to the system in order to provide enough food for the plants, but that will depend upon the output of the fish and needs of the plants.
Step 4: Harvest First Crop
The first bed of vegetables or herbs will be ready for harvest before the second bed. Harvest the first bed while letting the second bed continue to mature. To continue the staggered cropping, transplant a new set of seedlings into the first bed while maintaining the fish feed. Harvest the second bed the next week or when it is ready and continue the process in a similar way.
Staggering crops in an aquaponic system will require somewhat frequent transplanting and harvesting, but it will yield you a variety of vegetables and herbs without ever producing an amount too large to handle.