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Aquaponic Lettuce

Aquaponic lettuce is a hardy annual most often grown as a leafy vegetable that is high in both vitamin A and vitamin C. Many different varieties of lettuce are grown in agriculture today. Lettuce is popular the world over both in salads and as garnish which means growing this vegetable is big business. Besides growing it commercially many backyard farmers choose to add lettuce to diversify their crops. Some are grown by conventional methods but increasingly many are turning to the process of aquaponics to grow environmentally conscious and better crops. Fresh aquaponic lettuce demands a higher price than its conventional field grown counterparts but it can be harvested more quickly. Thanks to the ability to grow crops year round aquaponic and hydroponic lettuce has helped the food industry keep up to consumer demands.

Aquaponics is a growing method by which farmers use natural wastes from fish to grow crops simultaneously. Lettuce is a good choice for this because it thrives in aquaponic conditions. By growing lettuce in an aquaponic system it can be grown year round with the addition of extra lighting indoors. To offset the cost of the lighting being able to grow lettuce year round means increased aquaponic lettuce production and higher yields. Though many different leafy greens will grow successfully in an aquaponic environment there are a variety of lettuces that do especially well. These include Bibb, Red Leaf, Oak Leaf, Pinto, Columbus, and Iceberg. Head lettuce is not usually a profitable crop because it requires a high level of nitrogen and a lot of water so by using an aquaponics system the farmer is able to provide both in abundance. The Bibb variety of lettuce is often suggested as a good beginner crop for the budding aquaponic farmer.

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Aquaponic lettuce can be grown in a variety of ways. The easiest small scale method is to suspend the lettuce seedlings over the water allowing the roots to trail down. This is really not suitable for a larger scale but for testing purposes or just to see how aquaponics works this can work well. In fact many schools used aquaponics set ups such as this to teach children about life cycles and mutually beneficial ecosystems. The suggested method for growing lettuce aquaponically is to create a bed for the seedlings and suspend them in a polystyrene or other foam material floating over water that has been pumped from the fish tanks. The roots need to sit in the water but not be submerged. This can also be achieved by sitting the seedlings into a thick layer of gravel and allowing the water to flow across under the roots. It is important that the lettuce not sit in water because it will cause the roots to rot and the crop to fail.

Some important tips to note when growing lettuce in an aquaponic environment include using only quality aquarium gravel since regular gravel can leach impurities into the water supply and contaminate your lettuce or at worst affect the pH and hurt both your lettuce and your fish. When looking for a filtration system for your aquaponic lettuce you need to find an under gravel filter. This way the water is pulled through the gravel where most waste material sits and is filtered by the natural bio filter of the gravel. When choosing fish to go with your aquaponic system any fish suitable for aquaculture is acceptable. Tilapia work good on larger scale operations but goldfish or koi can work equally well on a smaller scale. By using fish instead of just hyroponics the farmer has no need for costly nutrient solutions or additional chemicals.

Aquaponic lettuce may not be on your list of crops this season but it certainly is worth considering if you are an aquaponic farmer. Starting with an easy leafy green like lettuce can be a great gateway to more gourmet vegetables. Polyculture and mutually beneficent environments can be a great way to safeguard your family’s food supply with tasty organic produce such as lettuce. With aquaponics both commercial and backyard farmers are having success growing this leafy vegetable.