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Last week I wrote about an experiment to compare growing some leafy greens in 3 different types of systems and comparing results. These systems are aquaponics media beds, aquaponics raft, and EarthBoxes. I’ve used EarthBoxes for a few years but couldn’t wait to get into aquaponics as it seemed to have a lot of the same benefits, or maybe even more with the added bonus of fish production.
To keep track of the results, I measured the plants progress and counted leaves, it seemed like a nice simple approach although not very scientific. Some other comparisons I have seen will actually weigh the crop results but I don’t tend to harvest all at once, rather I take a little off of each plant as needed. If the results were too close to tell I’d give the edge to the EarthBoxes because of their lower cost and they are much easier to set up. Again, the aquaponics has the added bonus of fish production but that’s not what I am looking for, I’ve got a pond already in place for that.
I don’t want to make any haters out there by claiming one system is superior. I’ll be the first to admit my aquaponics system is probably far from optimized, it is fairly new although it was a previously established system. All water tests have come back good, I have not had any fish or plants die, and there are established plants in there that have been doing well. To appease the EarthBox crowd (or the similar GrowBoxes) I have mentioned many times that they are less expensive and a lot easier to set up and maintain. Mine have practically no maintenance required as I use a drip water system on a timer to top off the water reservoir every morning.
OK, with all that said, what were the results so far? Well, forget the leaf count and measure method as I won’t need that. The EarthBoxes absolutely crushed the aquaponic system. It wasn’t even close, or in the same field. See for yourself below. As for the aquaponic results, the media beds did better then the raft system.
This next sets of pictures show the results of the best plant from each system, From top to bottom the results are from the aquaponic media bed, aquaponic raft, and EarthBoxes. First, the Chinese Cabbage:
What you probably can’t tell from the pictures is how much bigger the EarthBox result is. The larger aquaponic plant is around 8 inches across, the EarthBox one is about 24 inches.
Lets look at the Kale next:
Similar results, the largest aquaponic plant is around 7 inches and the EarthBox is at least 18 inches across. Finally, the Swiss Chard:
You may have noticed the leaves are darker green on the aquaponic raft results, this is actually just due to the camera. I think it was adjusting the white balance due to light reflecting off of the raft. They are actually the same shade of green as the other plants.
Here’s the largest aquaponic result along with the EarthBox result with a tape measure for scale. Chinese Cabbage:
The EarthBox results would actually be wider if the leaves were held up. Kale results:
And Swiss Chard:
To see more of a progression of growth, here is the aquaponic media bed from day one to the end of the three weeks. I’ve circled the Chinese Cabbage in red, Kale in blue, and Swiss Chard in yellow. Note the previously planted Swiss Chard in the upper left corner is doing well, I made sure to keep it trimmed back from shading any of the new plants. As planted:
End of week 1:
End of week 2:
End of week 3:
Now, lets take a look at one of the EarthBoxes through the same period. This is the one with the Chinese Cabbage, as planted:
End of week 1:
End of week 2:
End of week 3:
Pretty impressive eh?
Here’s my thoughts on the results so far. I know my aquaponic system can be improved, I plan on adding a swirl filter over the next week or two. I’m not sure that will help growth but it will reduce maintenance. I also know my fish load is not very high, this will increase as they grow. I’ve also heard that it takes a few weeks for plants to get settled but I haven’t seen that yet as the case, established plants are growing good but the new EarthBox plants are still outpacing the older aquaponic plants.
If you are a new gardener I would strongly suggest starting with an EarthBox or similar self watering container. They are inexpensive, even when compared to building your own (they last for many years, DIY systems may last a season or two in the sun). They are easy to set up and give you instant results. They don’t take up much space although they are pretty heavy once filled with water.
Aquaponics certainly has more wow factor, when friends come over that’s the one they want to see. It also gives you a fish output, but is far more complicated to set up and maintain. I got lucky by finding a deal on an established system but it still requires monitoring, cleaning, feeding, and adding nutrients. I’m going to continue to improve and possibly expand this system but more for my own curiosity rather than production.
Last ramblings, the EarthBox is producing so much at this point that I harvested some Kale and Chinese Cabbage for dinner tonight. I’ll post an update at the 6 week point to see if there is any major difference, maybe the aquaponic garden will start to boom by that time. Until then, keep on growing!