Sahib Aquaponics: What shall we grow today?
Tomatoes – actually to be more precise – Heirloom Tomatoes
Let me tell you that I am just crazy about eating tomatoes – I mean real good quality tomatoes that actually have taste and flavor. I cannot usually find these in most supermarkets and if I do, they are quite pricey but still leave something lacking in flavor and taste, usually because they have been picked before they have had a chance to ripen and usually have sat in storage and coolers, probably shipped in from some far away place. There really is nothing better than local grown and vine ripened heirloom tomatoes so they have had time for the full flavor to develop. Growing tomatoes in Aquaponics is easy and ever one who has an Aquaponics System can certainly enjoy them fresh. However, to increase the taste and flavor of tomatoes grown in Aquaponics, I have concluded the following during my research over the last three years or so.
First and foremost, try to only grow “Heirloom” tomatoes. So what is “Heirloom”? Seeds of plants that have passed down by families over the years (usually over 50 years), and those that have preserved the unique taste, flavor and character are usually referred to as “Heirloom”, sometimes also called “open pollinated” or “Heritage” (in UK). The fruits may not all look uniform and be of different size and shapes. To those who are interested in actually tasting their food, these are sought after and command a higher market price. As awareness is growing of the associated additional health benefits of eating such food, their demand is on the rise. You as a grower can certainly benefit from this “Niche” section of the food market. Yes it will take time and patience to locate the consumers who will appreciate your unique “heirloom” produce grown locally and naturally. Let me assure you that once they have tasted the produce, they will not be going elsewhere and will become loyal customers so long as you continue to grow such wonderful tomatoes.[column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″][/column][column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″][/column][column size=”1-3″ last=”1″ style=”0″][/column]
Growing heirloom tomatoes in Aquaponics to attain the full flavor and taste, I have found that the best results are obtained when I grow them in pots filled with my own “soil mix” and place them either in rafts or recirculating media wicking beds. This allows the tomato plants to always have the effluent rich re-circulating fish water that is high in Nitrogen as well as allow “top-side dressing” by adding very small amounts of natural and organic material such as vermicompost, high phosphorus bat guano, bone meal and rock salts such as Azomite. As there is not “top” watering other that the occasional spray of Vermicompost Tea, there is very little chance of any significant leaks of such into the Aquaponics System water so as to harm the fish. I have found that we have a significant increase in the fruit yield of each tomato plant as well as enhanced taste and flavor. Yes there is one major disadvantage than growing regular tomatoes. These heirloom tomatoes require very careful handling. Many of them have thin skins and a short shelf life once picked. They are thus ideally suited to the small urban farmer serving the local customer – that would be you.
“Is it profitable?”
So what is the average selling price of a pound of Heirloom Tomatoes? I “goggled” this and came across a range from $1.00 to a high of $5.50, the average being $3.50. I was recently informed of a nearby Hydroponic grower getting $7.50 per lb! Well it is early in the tomato season. You can command a higher price at either end of the season as other local growers may not have the produce available for market – here a controlled environment such as a greenhouse /hoop house will certainly make economic sense. Growing them in Aquaponics can help you command 50c to $1.00 lb more especially if you can allow ”u-pick” as well as “mix & match” the varieties. The yield per plant varies depending upon the heirloom tomato plant variety and growing environment. In independent studies the range that has been seen is a low of 9lbs to a high of 19lbs. For our example we will use a low yield of only 14lbs per plant. You should space your heirloom tomato plants at least 15 to 18 inches apart if using a staggered raft formation and vertical trellising – ideally 2 feet if you have the space. If they are to be placed in re-circulating media beds I recommend a minimum of 2 ft distance in each direction and vertical trellising. You will have to keep ahead of the heavy leaf growth and may occasionally have to prune (be careful not to over do this), and ensure proper support of the vertical trellising. I try to mix and match the heirloom tomato varieties as some plants are more prolific than others. I must confess I also enjoy seeing the different colors of the various heirloom tomatoes. You also need to ensure that there is plenty of air circulation.
If you had a fifty foot long by 4 foot wide grow bed area (raft or media), so 200 sq. ft. space, and the heirloom plants were spaced at 2ft staggered, you should be able to plant at least 50 plants per growing season. Assuming that we receive an average of 14lbs heirloom tomatoes per plant and just the average price of $3.50 per lb, each growing season should provide you with a gross return of around $2,500. Now if you have a controlled growing environment, you may be able to command much higher prices at the start and out of the normal growing season. Here in Central Florida we experience at least two growing seasons, so could earn around $5,000 from the 200 sq foot of growing area allocated to heirloom tomatoes. In a controlled growing environment you may be able to stagger the planting so as to have virtually continuous growing thus substantially increase your revenue form the sale of heirloom tomatoes. Remember that you should grow multi crops to the niche market that you identify for your area and climate so as to maximize your revenues. There are other products you can grow in Aquaponics other than leafy greens and still make a profit – remember Okra, Eggplant, Hot Peppers, culinary herbs and so on.[column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″][/column][column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″][/column][column size=”1-3″ last=”1″ style=”0″][/column]
I have found the following web article on Heirloom Tomatoes to be helpful and am sharing it with you http://www.hobbyfarms.com/crops-and-gardening/heirloom-tomatoes-growing-selling.aspx
I will request my daughter to include some Heirloom Tomato recipes on her Blog www.lovelaughmirch.com
As to whether it is “profitable” from a health point of you, this is going to be your decision. Let me help you a little. Growing them by aquaponics means ensures that you are assured the best natural taste. As I was quoted in the recent article in Cornell University Small farm Program Newsletter – the Urban Gardening section “This was a far superior way to grow it locally, grow it naturally, without having to resort to harmful pesticides and fertilizers and such, because if I did, my fish would die.”
I have listed just some of the health benefits of eating heirloom tomatoes in the following link: http://jenubouka.hubpages.com/hub/Heirloom-Tomato-Beginners-Guide
In future “What shall we grow today?” article’s I will write about some of the vegetables and culinary herbs that you can grow in Aquaponics. Please let me know if there are any vegetables you would like to grow in Aquaponics and know more about them.