Aquaponics is a growth industry that is easily available to every level of experience for the avid aquaculturist, whether their goal is to set up a gargantuan commercial farm, to start up a small to medium size going concern to supply at the local market, or simply to grow a few veggies at the bottom of the garden to feed the family.
Tomatoes, potatoes, grapes, onions are just a small selection of crops that can be reared under this system, but there is also a very wide variety of leafy plants that can be cultivated under the farming initiative that is aquaponics.
One of those is cauliflower. Underappreciated, it is loaded with essential nutrients, flourishes within the aquaponics environment, and is gaining in popularity.
Why Cauliflowers In Aquaponics?
Growing cauliflowers in aquaponics is a comfortable and sustainable way to grow this vegetable in a controlled environment that promotes faster growing times, resulting in a more frequent harvest of an often-overlooked vegetable that itself has a wide variety of uses for many a tasty dish.
The botanical family that the cauliflower belongs to is called Brassicaceae, and its siblings are cabbage, broccoli, kale, and brussels sprouts. What differentiates it from its brothers and sisters are the cream-colored stems that it is renowned for.
This compact head, known as the curd, is packed full of vitamins and minerals as well as being loaded with fiber and antioxidants. The white coloration is due to an insufficient quantity of a substance called chlorophyll, which is the cause of the green pigment in plants.
In nature, there are many types of pigments yet Chlorophyll alone is the key to photosynthesis. What this process does is allows plants to absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide efficiently, naturally, and then to convert those rays of light into energy, which finally releases oxygen into the air to sustain life on earth.
Despite the white stems on the head of the cauliflower, it contains more than enough chlorophyll to provide all the benefits derived from this molecule. For example, eating this vegetable can aid in reducing inflammation and the risks of cancer due to its anti-carcinogenic properties, and it even has a natural deodorant that helps with bad breath.
What is not widely known about cauliflowers is that there are actually over 100 varieties, which can be broken down into four main categories: Italian, Northwest European, Asian and Northern European.
Historically, the Italian cauliflower is the mother of all cauliflowers, the other varieties derived from this original. The Northern European variant became popular in the 18th century in Germany while the Northwest European cauliflower flourished a while later in the 19th century in France.
Unlike the two European varieties that take longer to bring to full maturity, the Asian offshoot has a more flexible resilience that enables it to grow in warmer temperatures with an added bonus that it stands up well to weather fluctuations.
Fortunately, the climate in an aquaponics farm is controlled and remains consistent. Under these circumstances, the choice of which cauliflower to plant is down to personal choice, goals, and local availability.
The Practical Way To Grow Cauliflowers in Aquaponics
To grow cauliflower in aquaponics several stages have to be followed, with certain considerations factored into the equation from the outset to make a success of the project.
First, the seeds need to be selected with care and close attention. Genetic manipulation is common with cauliflower seeds to create a hybrid vegetable, and that alteration can produce a resulting harvest that is different than what was expected.
About 10 years ago cauliflowers with different colored curds started to appear, orange, green, purple, to name a few, and soon became quite popular, adding a splash of color to the kitchen table without altering the traditional taste significantly and only marginally affecting the nutritional values.
Hybrid cauliflowers have no different discernable taste to the traditional cream-colored head variety, fortunately, but the hybrids do need to be planted from new every year.
Therefore, it is imperative to ensure that the seeds purchased are open-pollinated, meaning that they have not been altered scientifically in any way and that they have been fertilized by bees, moths, and birds, for example. Aquaponics is all about mimicking nature so it’s always better if the seeds and plants are as close to natural as possible.
To start, newly purchased seeds are in an elongated pod and are only ready to be harvested from the pod when it turns brown. That indicates that they are now mature and ready to be stored in a dark place temporarily before being sowed into a growing medium where they will reside for between 4 to 5 weeks to complete the slow germination process.
Proper watering and care are important to promote optimum growth and guarantee healthy seedlings. When the germination process is completed, they will then be ready for transplantation into a permanent growing medium.
In aquaponics, choosing the media bed is crucial so there is a good movement with the flooding and draining system employed to encourage the roots to expand outwards, especially since cauliflower is a heavy plant. Expanded clay pebbles are probably the most versatile media to use, allowing enough air and moisture for the needs of this vegetable.
Fortunately, cauliflowers need very little maintenance and, being a water-based plant, are one of the best vegetables to grow for beginners as they easily thrive in the aquaponics world.
Also, being a fairly easy and hardy vegetable to grow, it is possible to speed up the formation of the heads of the cauliflower by reducing the air temperature range down to between 50 to 59° from its normal range of between 66 to 77° for autumn crops; for spring crops that air temperature range can be elevated to between 59 to 68°.
If the temperature is too cold, or the cauliflowers do not receive at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, either directly or from grow lamps, the heads will not properly mature. Overexposure to sunlight, on the other hand, can adversely affect the harvest by causing the curd to separate into rice-like grains, so care has to be taken.
That same amount of care has to be allocated to the choice of fish due to these specific temperature ranges that can be too cold for some species of fish. One of the best varieties to complement cauliflowers in aquaponics is trout as they do well in cooler water temperatures, and will supply all the nutritional needs of the burgeoning aquaponics vegetable garden.
Afterward, when some of the fish have matured and outgrown their surroundings, some of the trout can be harvested themselves to provide a very healthy meal, being a good source of protein and loaded as they are with omega 3s.
When initially setting up the growing system for cauliflowers in aquaponics, it is important that the water temperature is monitored constantly and that the nutrient demands are met. Cauliflowers react favorably to high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus so nitrate levels also have to be kept and the correct levels.
With a commercial farm that has other vegetables apart from cauliflowers, separation has to be adhered to in regards to nutrient hungry plants if they are grouped together, as supplying the nutritional needs of all of them in the same zone can be challenging.
However, with proper initial planning, and an efficient system put in place, growing cauliflowers in aquaponics can be very rewarding with a regular harvest possible every few months despite the seasons and surrounding weather conditions.
The Blanching Of Cauliflowers
Once the head of the cauliflower achieves a diameter of about 1 – 2 inches, the outer leaves need to be tied together over the expanding head of the plant. An elastic band or a piece of twine is sufficient for this task, as long as a certain amount of flexibility is left to allow for further growth of the head and leaves.
This technique is known as blanching and if overlooked the traditional cream color of the curd can be lost, turning it into a not-so-attractive greenish-brown color instead. Not only will it appear unpalatable to the eye, but the taste will become stronger and very bitter as well.
Blanching is not necessary from day one, but about 30 days after transplanting the seedlings it is advisable to start checking the development of the head. When the curd is about the size of a chicken egg, the process of blanching can begin.
Conduct tying the leaves loosely over the head at this stage to allow leeway so the head can grow freely without being constricted by the leaves. After that, continued regular attention needs to be paid to all the plants as the heads on different cauliflowers will expand at varying growth spurts even if they were all transplanted at the same time.
Using different colored elastic bands can aid in differentiating which plants are ready for harvesting and which need a few more days to further mature.
This process is slightly time-consuming, but it is 100% worthwhile to take this extra step to ensure that the head forms perfectly and, more importantly, has that sweet taste that you’re striving for.
Amazingly, thanks to dedicated plant breeders, there are some varieties of cauliflowers that perform self-blanching so the leaves do not need to be tied manually over the growing curds. This time-consuming endeavor undertaken by the plant itself relieves the farmer of this burden, with the leaves curling over the developing head automatically as it continues to grow.
In about twelve weeks, when the heads are compact and firm, they will reach full maturity and be ready to harvest. The indicator that the cauliflower is ready is when the head is firm, white, and compact. Excise the head with a knife, taking care not to damage the leaves, and enjoy.
The Benefits Of Cauliflower In An Aquaponic Garden
A fact about the humble cauliflowers that is easily overlooked when compared to other, more popular trending vegetables, is just how healthy they can be. Studies have shown that obesity can be tackled by introducing this vegetable that is packed with fiber into your regular diet. It also has a wealth of other nutrients and a single serving of 100g contains:
- Vitamin C – 24.7mg
- Dietary Fiber – 2g
- Calcium – 24mg
- Phosphorus – 44mg
- Potassium – 299mg
- Zinc – 0.27mg
- Copper – 0.039mg
- Manganese – 0.155mg
- Selenium – 0.6µg
- Fluoride – 1µg
- Vitamin B-6 – 0.184mg
- Folate- 57µg
- Choline – 44.3mg
An extra bonus is that these vegetables are low in carbohydrates. That makes them even more attractive from an aquaponics farmer’s point of view, with the cauliflower being featured worldwide as a replacement for high carbohydrate foods in popular dishes or even as a complete replacement item to healthify a staple meal.
Innovative ingredients are popping up all over the internet on how to make cauliflower rice, soups, pizzas, and many other healthy food items suitable for the popular keto diet.
Aquaponics And The Sustainable Cauliflower
As a farming method for raising fish and growing vegetables, it is hard to find a system that is better than aquaponics. It has the potential to be able to feed the world in a sustainable way that can be adopted and transported to virtually any country in the world, to the four corners of the earth.
This form of farming is becoming universally popular with individuals, business people, entrepreneurs, and even governments, all impressed by the substantially increased food production capabilities within a controlled, indoor environment that uses less water, requires less land, and has reduced labor needs compared to traditional outdoor farming.
Furthermore, the resulting harvests, devoid of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, have a tendency to produce crops that provide better nutritional benefits, a bonus in countries where affordable nutritional foods are in short supply. Accompanied by the fish as a source of protein and it’s plain to see how aquaponics can feed the world.
The wide range of produce that can be grown in aquaponics is incredible. Cauliflowers can be reared under the same umbrella as peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, and even tropical fruits such as bananas, oranges, and lemons to add a wider range to the harvest
This recirculating enclosed aquaculture that spawns a better cauliflower, combined with the raising of fish, can provide nutritious food to feed a family or a village in any type of climate, hot or cold, dry or wet for the foreseeable future.