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Few would argue that the best tasting strawberries come from aquaponics systems. Whether it’s because of the sweat-equity put into cultivating them, or due to the special attention paid to each plant, growing strawberries in aquaponics gardens seems to always cut above the store-bought varieties. If the thought of deliciously fresh jam on your morning toast sounds appealing, then you will definitely want to keep reading.
In this article, you will learn how to grow strawberries in an aquaponics system.
Why Grow Aquaponic Strawberries
There is a need to understand the life cycle of a strawberry so you can help them grow and thrive in your aquaponics garden. Strawberries (Fragaria ananassa) belong to the Rose family (Rosaceae), which makes them a close relative of apples and pears. As such, they are hardy perennials that die (or go into dormancy) in winter and bounce back by spring.
One major advantage of growing strawberries in aquaponics gardens, aside from superior taste, is that they can thrive in a vertical space. Home gardeners can benefit from this since it’s easier to cultivate the plant, and it saves space.
Health Benefits of Strawberries
Strawberries are a favorite in many households. They’re not only tasty but also nutritious. According to the USDA, a cup (152g) of strawberry halves can provide you with the following nutrients.
- 49 calories
- Sodium: 2mg
- Fat: 0.5g
- Carbohydrates: 11.7g
- Protein: 1g
- Fiber: 3g
- Sugars: 7.4g
Experts also found that strawberries have antioxidant properties. One of the types of antioxidants found to be in high levels in strawberries is called fisetin. Other health benefits of the antioxidant-rich strawberries include improvement in heart health, an increase in good cholesterol levels (HDL), and blood pressure regulation. In addition, strawberries are good for brain, eye, and skin health.
You’ll have plenty of options to grow in your aquaponics garden as strawberry plants come in three types:
June-bearing strawberry plants are also called short-day varieties because they start to flower during shorter days of winters and then bear fruit by spring. It will take a long time for this variety to produce, and you can only have one harvest a year. However, you do get large-sized yields. Cultivars belonging to this group include Annapolis, Allstar, and Benton.
With this type of strawberry plant, you can enjoy harvests all year as it is not significantly affected by changing seasons. Since it’s easy to manipulate them, many aquaponic gardeners prefer this variety. Cultivars in this variety include Hecker, Seascape, and Quinault.
This variety has a lower fruit yield, able to produce only two harvests a year – in spring and in late summer or fall. But when provided with ideal conditions, some cultivars can produce three harvests. Picnic, Laramie, and Albion are popular everbearing strawberries.
There are hundreds of strawberry cultivars, and each one has different growing requirements based on climate conditions. To know the best strawberry varieties to grow based on your location, check out this guide.
Growing Requirements for Aquaponic Strawberries
Below are some tips for cultivating strawberries in your aquaponics setup.
Aquaponics System Types
Strawberry plants do best when water pH level is between 5.5 and 6.5. If it’s too acidic, the plant will die.
Gravel can be used if you choose to grow strawberries in a media bed; however, a more effective method is using a vertical tower or NFT technique.
Water and Air Temperature
The temperature range for optimum growth of strawberries is between 60-80 deg F. However, the plant can still tolerate temperatures as low as 22 deg F, so long as it is protected from frost.
Strawberries need at least eight hours of sun every day to grow happy.
If you’re a beginner to aquaponics, tilapia can be the most logical choice since they are hardy and can tolerate changes in water quality. Other fish types that can be a great match to your strawberry plant include koi, carp, and crappie.
Growing strawberries from seed may not be the best option because it may take two or three years before they start to fruit. A better option is to buy plants or seedlings from your local nursery and transplant them into your system.
Fruits are usually ready four to six weeks after blossoming. The fresh strawberries should be picked when they’re red through and through. Not all of them will ripen altogether, so you might need to harvest every two or three days.
Common pests that can attack your strawberries include strawberry bud weevils, slugs, spittlebugs, and sap bugs. However, the worst pests you might deal with when growing strawberries in aquaponics gardens are birds. Lightweight bird nets can be used to protect your plants.
Common Problems When Growing Strawberries
Sometimes, strawberry plants may produce small-sized fruits, and that could be due to heat and drought. But once the weather improves, the fruits should return to their normal size. Problems with water quality can determine the success of your aquaponic strawberries. While they need nitrates, high ammonia levels can quickly kill them, so monitor your water quality properly.
Where to Buy Strawberries Seeds
Strawberries are delicate, and so they bruise easily. When harvesting, do so in an extremely careful manner. Bruised strawberries degrade faster and won’t store well. The best way to pick one is to use your forefinger and thumbnail, lightly pull and twist, and let it roll freely on to your palm. Gently place the freshly picked strawberry in a container.