Aquaponics Blog Posts

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15 things I wish I knew before I started a veggie garden

March 21, 202414 min read

Candy the Aquaponics Lady

15 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting a Vegetable Garden

Starting a fruit or veggie garden can seem overwhelming, especially when you don't know what you don't know. It can be even more challenging if you don't have a lot of room to plant your garden.

As a member of several gardening groups, when a beginner asks where to start, the first I think here is 'soil'. Caring for your soil is essential. This is great unless you live in an area where the soil is really bad, or you don't have soil at all. In this case, you are starting off behind the eight-ball.

But fear not, where there is a will, there is a way.

I, for one wasn't allowed to have veggie gardens when I was renting for 15 years. Then, when I finally bought my own home, there was only shale, no soil. Nothing grows in my yard.

However, I found a way. At this point turning to aquaponics is a great option. If you are asking "what is aquaponics?" or already know that it is not for you, please keep reading. These 15 points are relevant to all types of gardening in some way.

To start with, there is always an investment ~ so plan it out, recycle and reduce your costs.

Vegetable gardening is rewarding, and helps you to save money, but it is more than this. Homegrown food tastes different from store-bought food, it looks different, smells different and importantly, you know that you haven't put anything on your food.

Here are my top 15 tips to get you started in the right way, and hopefully not make the silly mistakes many of us make.

1. Choose the right location

In permaculture, it is suggested when you move somewhere new, you sit back and watch the land for the first 12 months.

  • How does the light move across your space?

  • Are there big storms, or minimal rainfall?

  • Do you get strong winds?

  • Is there a tap near by so I can water the garden?

  • Do I need a fence up to keep wildlife away?

If choosing an aquaponics setup, then you need electricity too.

These are critical elements to consider as well as what are the temperatures where you live? How hot/ cold does it get? This will impact what you can grow.

Some plants need warmer climates, some need cool. If you try planting out of season, the plants wont grow well.

Plants need 6 hours of full sunlight a day (though in hot areas, we pop up shade cloth for protection). For watering we can use drip irrigation, hand watering or sprinklers on timers.

Think before you start.

2. Choose vegetables appropriate for your area

Every country, every state and even every suburb will grow food differently. The climates are different and vary. This is natural, and why it is important to see what others are growing in your area, not in other countries or states.

For instance, where I live now in a sub-tropical area, it is perfect over spring/ summer to grow turmeric, however when I lived in a different state, it was too cold to grow.

The US has a map with growing zones to help you work out what to grow when, in your area. Another option is the "Gardenate" website or app. With Gardenate, you simply pop in your details and it helps you to identify what will grow in your area, and when you plant.

Before you buy any plant, research it. How big will it get, what time of year do I plant it? What does it need (stakes, mesh, lots of room?)

Any seeds or seedling packets will tell you how long until the plant reaches maturity, look at your seasons and ensure you have enough time for it to grow.

3. Have your veggie garden easy to access, and close

If you have to hike up the back yard to the garden bed, are you going to do it? If it is close to the back door, where you can look out the window and easily see it ~ you have a great reminder to care for it.

Out of sight, out of mind is a great excuse.

Plant your backyard veggie garden near the kids play area; they play whilst you garden. You can easily watch them, and even get them involved.

4. Most plants are annuals, but you need to know the difference

Most plants are 'annual' plants or 'seasonal' like basil, meaning they grow for one season and go to seed and die.

Perennials are plants like rosemary and lavender that grow all year round, for many many years.

Knowing the difference means you can work out where you want to put what type of plant!

5. Choose easy to grow vegetables

When you are starting out, choose plants that are easy to grow, and ideally ones that grow quickly in your climate/ season. When you have to 'wait', it can cause anxiety, whereas if you are growing something like lettuce that you can harvest a little each day, you see the rewards quickly.

What you grow will depend on the season, if you are using containers, garden beds or aquaponics ~ everything is possible, when you research it.

6. Pick veggies you want to eat

turmeric harvest

This sounds like a logical step, but the reality is people get caught up in 'fads' and grow what is trending, even if they don't eat it.

An example here is turmeric. This is something that I have been growing for 10 years in both aquaponics (you need the right design), wicking beds and containers. I use turmeric in soups, stews, juices, smoothies and golden milk as an anti-inflammatory.

I know that it takes 9 months to grow in subtropical areas, and if done right, you can get a massive harvest of the roots.

A couple of years ago, someone posted a YouTube video of their 'massive crop' or turmeric, and then everyone started growing it.

But they didn't know what to do with it, they didn't eat it.

If you put time and energy into growing something that you wont eat/ don't eat, especially when you are starting it is easy to lose interest. Furthermore, you are not saving on your food bill.

If, however, you grow food you love to eat in your veggie garden; you will notice the taste difference. You'll feel a huge sense of achievement and you will notice the reduction in your food bill. You are another step towards self-sufficiency.

Only grow what you LOVE to eat.

7. Plant enough but not too many plants

Start at the beginning and be reasonable. While your goal might be to be self-sufficient with your vegetable gardening, when you are starting out, going too big too quick leads you to wasting money. Jumping in too quickly can lead to most things dying and people giving up.

Soil gardening, it is all about the soil ~ getting it right with nutrients, pH, water and sunlight.

For aquaponics, it is all about the water quality (fertiliser) balance, pH and sunlight.

Starting small and mastering one plant type gives you confidence to grow more varieties.

I always suggest to people to start with leafy greens that are in season. Do research, not just purchase what is available in stores, as they often stock seedlings out of season.

Once you are confident with your first plant, add another type. Get them growing, then add a few more.

Gardening is a learned skill that you can master. But this takes practice. You will not get everything right first go.

A simple way to start is with a herb garden. Aim to grow the herbs that you family use frequently. Don't aim for a years worth (until you learn how to preserve them), but aim to supplement, then grow more.

Goals are great, but they need to be realistic based on your level of experience, not other people's experience.

8. Use mulch for weed control

Mulch can be great as weed control for your vegetable garden. It helps to keep moisture in. Although it won't completely stop the weeds, it will reduce them.

Pro tip** the only 'pet safe' weed control is using your hands and manually pulling weeds out.

You ideally want to avoid chemicals in your garden as they affect the whole ecosystem. Chemicals can kill the microbes in your soil as well as the pollinators that give life to our food. Do think carefully about what you use in the garden.

9. Grow seasonally for food security

A sad thing about supermarkets is that they accustom us to forgetting that our food is generally seasonal. Food is sourced globally, not locally now.

The way to be self-sufficient, to any level in your own garden no matter the size, is to learn to eat seasonally. This is much better for your body anyway.

Don't we crave soups, stews and casseroles in winter and lighter meals in summer? If you think about it, commonly, the ingredients are either winter grown or spring grown.

The 'Gardenate' app I mentioned earlier is perfect to identify what you can grow based on your area at any given time. It also tells you what seeds to start germinating in order to get the most out of your growing period.

Veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach are winter crops, just like parsnip, turnip and swedes.

However, corns, tomatoes, capsicums (peppers) and the squash family are all summer/ spring crops.

There can be food year round when you learn to grow seasonally, and eat seasonally.

You can also learn to store food in different ways to keep until later.

For instance, in spring/ summer I grow heaps of zucchini and corn, as I love to make corn and zucchini fitters for a quick meal with salad. As they don't grow over winter, I grow in spring, and grate and freeze them in batches for my recipe.

This is how we learn to become more self-sufficient, and never have to worry about food shortages.

10. For healthier soil, compost fixes everything

When it comes to your soil gardens, containers and wicking beds, good quality compost is the golden key to fix most issues. But what do you do if you cannot make your own compost?

I was banned from this when I used to rent.

Buying compost is an option, however I wouldn't recommend hardware store supplies, or even landscape yards. Truly terrible stuff.

My best tip here, if you cannot make your own compost, use a worm farm (landlords cannot complain about those). Join a local community garden or gardening group and buy off another member.

People love helping with other peoples gardens. This is the difference with a community vs a store.

Compost should be 'living', filled with microbes and worms that break things down. It should contain things like eggshell and banana banana peel; these increase the calcium and potassium within the garden.

If you only have a worm farm, then add eggshells, banana peels and the array of veggie scraps. This adds nutrients into the castings and in turn the soil.

If like me, you have an aquaponics system, you must remove solid waste (fish poop) from the system, add this to your garden. One of the benefits of an aquaponics system is that it is a true source of gold for your garden.

11. You should keep a journal

Garden journals are amazing. At the most basic level, they help you to know what you are growing (it can be easy to forget what we planted where). The more detail you add, however, the more the story will tell you.

For example, add details about;

  • When it rained, the temperatures, how often you needed to water, storms.

  • What worked and what didn't work.

  • Amount of sun, the differences between summer and winter.

  • What pests are around this year, and what do you do. They may not be back for 2 years, and if you have forgotten what you tried, if you write it down, you have a head start.

Think of yourself as an explorer in your garden. Observe and watch everything, how things interact. Add photos, good, bad and ugly ~ this is for you, and it will help you.

I know people who are now self sufficient. With their journals, they now write down how many seeds planted, how many seedlings germinated, how many survived transplant and how many grew to provide food. They they work out how much food per plant, and have worked out the food bill savings each week and year.

That is inspiring. It took them a long time to get there, but without their records, they would be wasting more time.

12. It's better to water deeply than more frequently

water garden

Our veggies are made up of 90% water. They need it, but too much watering can leach nutrients out of the soil and down the drain.

Leaching nutrients mean your food will have less flavour, and more importantly, it wont be able to grow well. It may get stunted, not flower ~ all nutrients are critical for our plants. Don't let them be wasted.

Wasting water, and nutrients.

A good, slow soaker hose closer to the roots is preferable is preferable to drenching water daily. This is one reason wicking beds and containers are great, as the water doesn't leave the reservoir. There is no leaching unless there is too much rain.

This is very much like aquaponics. The water within the aquaponics system is constantly recycled, which means constant water and nutrients for the plants. It is only during really big storms that you lose water. If you live in an area of high storms, though, you can have a cover to remove this issues.

Water is critical, and you need to water wisely!

13. Wicking beds and containers are often easier

Wicking beds and containers are much easier to grow in. There is just less ongoing work.

Less weeding, wicking beds have a reservoir of water which reduces the amount of watering you need to do. No digging, bending and all that hard work.

There are limitations though, especially with space. Also, you need to ensure that you are adding fertilisers at times (natural ones). Once the nutrients are spent, they are gone.

However, this is the same with soil gardens. After each crop, you need to prepare it for the next one.

Fertiliser, mulch, compost etc ~ it's the same with your container and wicking beds.

Research before you start.

14. Don't be afraid to start from seed after a while

Some seeds are easier to get started than others. This will depend on the brand of seeds, too. Some seed brands have higher germination rates than others.

I always suggest starting out with seedlings when you are new to gardening. Ensure you are planting what is in season, and that it has enough time in season to grow. Seeds such as squashes, pumpkins, zucchini and cucumbers, however, are really easy to start from seed.

When you do master growing a couple, start to stagger the planting of the seeds. This will stagger the growth and give you more food, over a longer period. In comparison, when you buy a punnet of 6 seedlings and you need to plant all 6. You'll get a huge harvest all at once and nothing in 2-4 weeks.

By staggering them, you have more food over time.

15. Add vertical gardening

garden tower for strawberries

The final tip is perfect for anyone, no matter if you are short on space, or have heaps of room.

Grow vertically!

This gives your plants more room, and you more food for them to grow.

This is a wicking tower sitting in the fish tank of my aquaponics system. It is growing my strawberries, 10 plants in a small space, with huge fruiting. In the soil, I couldn't grow strawberries this well.

Vertical growing gives you options!


Want to get your Eyes and Hands on the FREE Online Aquaponics Essentials Course?

This is a great free resource to really understand how aquaponics is a sustainable ecosystem that will grow your organic food is a productive way.

You learn how all the 'parts' make up the 'whole', and helps to give you the foundations of understanding aquaponics.

Sign up HERE


Candy Alexander

Candy Alexander is a dedicated aquaponics enthusiast with a wealth of formal training in aquaculture. Over the past 15 years, Candy has been deeply immersed in both commercial and backyard aquaponics, honing her skills and expertise in this sustainable farming method.

Candy's passion lies in making aquaponics accessible to everyone. With a mission to simplify aquaponics, she believes that anyone can embark on this sustainable journey.

She encourages those new to aquaponics to "kick the tires" without a significant financial investment. Her guidance focuses on helping people start their aquaponics journey with small-scale systems, ensuring a low barrier to entry for newcomers.

Candy shares practical tips, step-by-step guides, and personal stories to inspire and guide readers on their aquaponics adventure. Whether you're a seasoned farmer or a curious beginner, Candy Alexander is your go-to source for simplifying aquaponics and fostering a sustainable gardening experience.

gardeningveggie garden
blog author image

Candy Alexander

Candy Alexander is a passionate aquaponics educator who believes in the philosophy of keeping things simple and close to nature. With over 15 years of experience in aquaponics and 4 years of formal training in aquaculture, Candy is determined to help people create sustainable gardening in their urban lifestyle. Additionally, she advocates for the therapeutic benefits of aquaponics, viewing it as a form of garden therapy for mental health. Through her expertise and dedication, Candy strives to make the intricate world of aquaponics accessible to all, fostering both environmental sustainability and personal well-being.

Back to Blog

Gardening Blogs

blog image

15 things I wish I knew before I started a veggie garden

March 21, 202414 min read

Candy the Aquaponics Lady

15 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting a Vegetable Garden

Starting a fruit or veggie garden can seem overwhelming, especially when you don't know what you don't know. It can be even more challenging if you don't have a lot of room to plant your garden.

As a member of several gardening groups, when a beginner asks where to start, the first I think here is 'soil'. Caring for your soil is essential. This is great unless you live in an area where the soil is really bad, or you don't have soil at all. In this case, you are starting off behind the eight-ball.

But fear not, where there is a will, there is a way.

I, for one wasn't allowed to have veggie gardens when I was renting for 15 years. Then, when I finally bought my own home, there was only shale, no soil. Nothing grows in my yard.

However, I found a way. At this point turning to aquaponics is a great option. If you are asking "what is aquaponics?" or already know that it is not for you, please keep reading. These 15 points are relevant to all types of gardening in some way.

To start with, there is always an investment ~ so plan it out, recycle and reduce your costs.

Vegetable gardening is rewarding, and helps you to save money, but it is more than this. Homegrown food tastes different from store-bought food, it looks different, smells different and importantly, you know that you haven't put anything on your food.

Here are my top 15 tips to get you started in the right way, and hopefully not make the silly mistakes many of us make.

1. Choose the right location

In permaculture, it is suggested when you move somewhere new, you sit back and watch the land for the first 12 months.

  • How does the light move across your space?

  • Are there big storms, or minimal rainfall?

  • Do you get strong winds?

  • Is there a tap near by so I can water the garden?

  • Do I need a fence up to keep wildlife away?

If choosing an aquaponics setup, then you need electricity too.

These are critical elements to consider as well as what are the temperatures where you live? How hot/ cold does it get? This will impact what you can grow.

Some plants need warmer climates, some need cool. If you try planting out of season, the plants wont grow well.

Plants need 6 hours of full sunlight a day (though in hot areas, we pop up shade cloth for protection). For watering we can use drip irrigation, hand watering or sprinklers on timers.

Think before you start.

2. Choose vegetables appropriate for your area

Every country, every state and even every suburb will grow food differently. The climates are different and vary. This is natural, and why it is important to see what others are growing in your area, not in other countries or states.

For instance, where I live now in a sub-tropical area, it is perfect over spring/ summer to grow turmeric, however when I lived in a different state, it was too cold to grow.

The US has a map with growing zones to help you work out what to grow when, in your area. Another option is the "Gardenate" website or app. With Gardenate, you simply pop in your details and it helps you to identify what will grow in your area, and when you plant.

Before you buy any plant, research it. How big will it get, what time of year do I plant it? What does it need (stakes, mesh, lots of room?)

Any seeds or seedling packets will tell you how long until the plant reaches maturity, look at your seasons and ensure you have enough time for it to grow.

3. Have your veggie garden easy to access, and close

If you have to hike up the back yard to the garden bed, are you going to do it? If it is close to the back door, where you can look out the window and easily see it ~ you have a great reminder to care for it.

Out of sight, out of mind is a great excuse.

Plant your backyard veggie garden near the kids play area; they play whilst you garden. You can easily watch them, and even get them involved.

4. Most plants are annuals, but you need to know the difference

Most plants are 'annual' plants or 'seasonal' like basil, meaning they grow for one season and go to seed and die.

Perennials are plants like rosemary and lavender that grow all year round, for many many years.

Knowing the difference means you can work out where you want to put what type of plant!

5. Choose easy to grow vegetables

When you are starting out, choose plants that are easy to grow, and ideally ones that grow quickly in your climate/ season. When you have to 'wait', it can cause anxiety, whereas if you are growing something like lettuce that you can harvest a little each day, you see the rewards quickly.

What you grow will depend on the season, if you are using containers, garden beds or aquaponics ~ everything is possible, when you research it.

6. Pick veggies you want to eat

turmeric harvest

This sounds like a logical step, but the reality is people get caught up in 'fads' and grow what is trending, even if they don't eat it.

An example here is turmeric. This is something that I have been growing for 10 years in both aquaponics (you need the right design), wicking beds and containers. I use turmeric in soups, stews, juices, smoothies and golden milk as an anti-inflammatory.

I know that it takes 9 months to grow in subtropical areas, and if done right, you can get a massive harvest of the roots.

A couple of years ago, someone posted a YouTube video of their 'massive crop' or turmeric, and then everyone started growing it.

But they didn't know what to do with it, they didn't eat it.

If you put time and energy into growing something that you wont eat/ don't eat, especially when you are starting it is easy to lose interest. Furthermore, you are not saving on your food bill.

If, however, you grow food you love to eat in your veggie garden; you will notice the taste difference. You'll feel a huge sense of achievement and you will notice the reduction in your food bill. You are another step towards self-sufficiency.

Only grow what you LOVE to eat.

7. Plant enough but not too many plants

Start at the beginning and be reasonable. While your goal might be to be self-sufficient with your vegetable gardening, when you are starting out, going too big too quick leads you to wasting money. Jumping in too quickly can lead to most things dying and people giving up.

Soil gardening, it is all about the soil ~ getting it right with nutrients, pH, water and sunlight.

For aquaponics, it is all about the water quality (fertiliser) balance, pH and sunlight.

Starting small and mastering one plant type gives you confidence to grow more varieties.

I always suggest to people to start with leafy greens that are in season. Do research, not just purchase what is available in stores, as they often stock seedlings out of season.

Once you are confident with your first plant, add another type. Get them growing, then add a few more.

Gardening is a learned skill that you can master. But this takes practice. You will not get everything right first go.

A simple way to start is with a herb garden. Aim to grow the herbs that you family use frequently. Don't aim for a years worth (until you learn how to preserve them), but aim to supplement, then grow more.

Goals are great, but they need to be realistic based on your level of experience, not other people's experience.

8. Use mulch for weed control

Mulch can be great as weed control for your vegetable garden. It helps to keep moisture in. Although it won't completely stop the weeds, it will reduce them.

Pro tip** the only 'pet safe' weed control is using your hands and manually pulling weeds out.

You ideally want to avoid chemicals in your garden as they affect the whole ecosystem. Chemicals can kill the microbes in your soil as well as the pollinators that give life to our food. Do think carefully about what you use in the garden.

9. Grow seasonally for food security

A sad thing about supermarkets is that they accustom us to forgetting that our food is generally seasonal. Food is sourced globally, not locally now.

The way to be self-sufficient, to any level in your own garden no matter the size, is to learn to eat seasonally. This is much better for your body anyway.

Don't we crave soups, stews and casseroles in winter and lighter meals in summer? If you think about it, commonly, the ingredients are either winter grown or spring grown.

The 'Gardenate' app I mentioned earlier is perfect to identify what you can grow based on your area at any given time. It also tells you what seeds to start germinating in order to get the most out of your growing period.

Veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach are winter crops, just like parsnip, turnip and swedes.

However, corns, tomatoes, capsicums (peppers) and the squash family are all summer/ spring crops.

There can be food year round when you learn to grow seasonally, and eat seasonally.

You can also learn to store food in different ways to keep until later.

For instance, in spring/ summer I grow heaps of zucchini and corn, as I love to make corn and zucchini fitters for a quick meal with salad. As they don't grow over winter, I grow in spring, and grate and freeze them in batches for my recipe.

This is how we learn to become more self-sufficient, and never have to worry about food shortages.

10. For healthier soil, compost fixes everything

When it comes to your soil gardens, containers and wicking beds, good quality compost is the golden key to fix most issues. But what do you do if you cannot make your own compost?

I was banned from this when I used to rent.

Buying compost is an option, however I wouldn't recommend hardware store supplies, or even landscape yards. Truly terrible stuff.

My best tip here, if you cannot make your own compost, use a worm farm (landlords cannot complain about those). Join a local community garden or gardening group and buy off another member.

People love helping with other peoples gardens. This is the difference with a community vs a store.

Compost should be 'living', filled with microbes and worms that break things down. It should contain things like eggshell and banana banana peel; these increase the calcium and potassium within the garden.

If you only have a worm farm, then add eggshells, banana peels and the array of veggie scraps. This adds nutrients into the castings and in turn the soil.

If like me, you have an aquaponics system, you must remove solid waste (fish poop) from the system, add this to your garden. One of the benefits of an aquaponics system is that it is a true source of gold for your garden.

11. You should keep a journal

Garden journals are amazing. At the most basic level, they help you to know what you are growing (it can be easy to forget what we planted where). The more detail you add, however, the more the story will tell you.

For example, add details about;

  • When it rained, the temperatures, how often you needed to water, storms.

  • What worked and what didn't work.

  • Amount of sun, the differences between summer and winter.

  • What pests are around this year, and what do you do. They may not be back for 2 years, and if you have forgotten what you tried, if you write it down, you have a head start.

Think of yourself as an explorer in your garden. Observe and watch everything, how things interact. Add photos, good, bad and ugly ~ this is for you, and it will help you.

I know people who are now self sufficient. With their journals, they now write down how many seeds planted, how many seedlings germinated, how many survived transplant and how many grew to provide food. They they work out how much food per plant, and have worked out the food bill savings each week and year.

That is inspiring. It took them a long time to get there, but without their records, they would be wasting more time.

12. It's better to water deeply than more frequently

water garden

Our veggies are made up of 90% water. They need it, but too much watering can leach nutrients out of the soil and down the drain.

Leaching nutrients mean your food will have less flavour, and more importantly, it wont be able to grow well. It may get stunted, not flower ~ all nutrients are critical for our plants. Don't let them be wasted.

Wasting water, and nutrients.

A good, slow soaker hose closer to the roots is preferable is preferable to drenching water daily. This is one reason wicking beds and containers are great, as the water doesn't leave the reservoir. There is no leaching unless there is too much rain.

This is very much like aquaponics. The water within the aquaponics system is constantly recycled, which means constant water and nutrients for the plants. It is only during really big storms that you lose water. If you live in an area of high storms, though, you can have a cover to remove this issues.

Water is critical, and you need to water wisely!

13. Wicking beds and containers are often easier

Wicking beds and containers are much easier to grow in. There is just less ongoing work.

Less weeding, wicking beds have a reservoir of water which reduces the amount of watering you need to do. No digging, bending and all that hard work.

There are limitations though, especially with space. Also, you need to ensure that you are adding fertilisers at times (natural ones). Once the nutrients are spent, they are gone.

However, this is the same with soil gardens. After each crop, you need to prepare it for the next one.

Fertiliser, mulch, compost etc ~ it's the same with your container and wicking beds.

Research before you start.

14. Don't be afraid to start from seed after a while

Some seeds are easier to get started than others. This will depend on the brand of seeds, too. Some seed brands have higher germination rates than others.

I always suggest starting out with seedlings when you are new to gardening. Ensure you are planting what is in season, and that it has enough time in season to grow. Seeds such as squashes, pumpkins, zucchini and cucumbers, however, are really easy to start from seed.

When you do master growing a couple, start to stagger the planting of the seeds. This will stagger the growth and give you more food, over a longer period. In comparison, when you buy a punnet of 6 seedlings and you need to plant all 6. You'll get a huge harvest all at once and nothing in 2-4 weeks.

By staggering them, you have more food over time.

15. Add vertical gardening

garden tower for strawberries

The final tip is perfect for anyone, no matter if you are short on space, or have heaps of room.

Grow vertically!

This gives your plants more room, and you more food for them to grow.

This is a wicking tower sitting in the fish tank of my aquaponics system. It is growing my strawberries, 10 plants in a small space, with huge fruiting. In the soil, I couldn't grow strawberries this well.

Vertical growing gives you options!


Want to get your Eyes and Hands on the FREE Online Aquaponics Essentials Course?

This is a great free resource to really understand how aquaponics is a sustainable ecosystem that will grow your organic food is a productive way.

You learn how all the 'parts' make up the 'whole', and helps to give you the foundations of understanding aquaponics.

Sign up HERE


Candy Alexander

Candy Alexander is a dedicated aquaponics enthusiast with a wealth of formal training in aquaculture. Over the past 15 years, Candy has been deeply immersed in both commercial and backyard aquaponics, honing her skills and expertise in this sustainable farming method.

Candy's passion lies in making aquaponics accessible to everyone. With a mission to simplify aquaponics, she believes that anyone can embark on this sustainable journey.

She encourages those new to aquaponics to "kick the tires" without a significant financial investment. Her guidance focuses on helping people start their aquaponics journey with small-scale systems, ensuring a low barrier to entry for newcomers.

Candy shares practical tips, step-by-step guides, and personal stories to inspire and guide readers on their aquaponics adventure. Whether you're a seasoned farmer or a curious beginner, Candy Alexander is your go-to source for simplifying aquaponics and fostering a sustainable gardening experience.

gardeningveggie garden
blog author image

Candy Alexander

Candy Alexander is a passionate aquaponics educator who believes in the philosophy of keeping things simple and close to nature. With over 15 years of experience in aquaponics and 4 years of formal training in aquaculture, Candy is determined to help people create sustainable gardening in their urban lifestyle. Additionally, she advocates for the therapeutic benefits of aquaponics, viewing it as a form of garden therapy for mental health. Through her expertise and dedication, Candy strives to make the intricate world of aquaponics accessible to all, fostering both environmental sustainability and personal well-being.

Back to Blog

Garden Therapy with Aquaponics Blogs Below

blog image

15 things I wish I knew before I started a veggie garden

March 21, 202414 min read

Candy the Aquaponics Lady

15 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting a Vegetable Garden

Starting a fruit or veggie garden can seem overwhelming, especially when you don't know what you don't know. It can be even more challenging if you don't have a lot of room to plant your garden.

As a member of several gardening groups, when a beginner asks where to start, the first I think here is 'soil'. Caring for your soil is essential. This is great unless you live in an area where the soil is really bad, or you don't have soil at all. In this case, you are starting off behind the eight-ball.

But fear not, where there is a will, there is a way.

I, for one wasn't allowed to have veggie gardens when I was renting for 15 years. Then, when I finally bought my own home, there was only shale, no soil. Nothing grows in my yard.

However, I found a way. At this point turning to aquaponics is a great option. If you are asking "what is aquaponics?" or already know that it is not for you, please keep reading. These 15 points are relevant to all types of gardening in some way.

To start with, there is always an investment ~ so plan it out, recycle and reduce your costs.

Vegetable gardening is rewarding, and helps you to save money, but it is more than this. Homegrown food tastes different from store-bought food, it looks different, smells different and importantly, you know that you haven't put anything on your food.

Here are my top 15 tips to get you started in the right way, and hopefully not make the silly mistakes many of us make.

1. Choose the right location

In permaculture, it is suggested when you move somewhere new, you sit back and watch the land for the first 12 months.

  • How does the light move across your space?

  • Are there big storms, or minimal rainfall?

  • Do you get strong winds?

  • Is there a tap near by so I can water the garden?

  • Do I need a fence up to keep wildlife away?

If choosing an aquaponics setup, then you need electricity too.

These are critical elements to consider as well as what are the temperatures where you live? How hot/ cold does it get? This will impact what you can grow.

Some plants need warmer climates, some need cool. If you try planting out of season, the plants wont grow well.

Plants need 6 hours of full sunlight a day (though in hot areas, we pop up shade cloth for protection). For watering we can use drip irrigation, hand watering or sprinklers on timers.

Think before you start.

2. Choose vegetables appropriate for your area

Every country, every state and even every suburb will grow food differently. The climates are different and vary. This is natural, and why it is important to see what others are growing in your area, not in other countries or states.

For instance, where I live now in a sub-tropical area, it is perfect over spring/ summer to grow turmeric, however when I lived in a different state, it was too cold to grow.

The US has a map with growing zones to help you work out what to grow when, in your area. Another option is the "Gardenate" website or app. With Gardenate, you simply pop in your details and it helps you to identify what will grow in your area, and when you plant.

Before you buy any plant, research it. How big will it get, what time of year do I plant it? What does it need (stakes, mesh, lots of room?)

Any seeds or seedling packets will tell you how long until the plant reaches maturity, look at your seasons and ensure you have enough time for it to grow.

3. Have your veggie garden easy to access, and close

If you have to hike up the back yard to the garden bed, are you going to do it? If it is close to the back door, where you can look out the window and easily see it ~ you have a great reminder to care for it.

Out of sight, out of mind is a great excuse.

Plant your backyard veggie garden near the kids play area; they play whilst you garden. You can easily watch them, and even get them involved.

4. Most plants are annuals, but you need to know the difference

Most plants are 'annual' plants or 'seasonal' like basil, meaning they grow for one season and go to seed and die.

Perennials are plants like rosemary and lavender that grow all year round, for many many years.

Knowing the difference means you can work out where you want to put what type of plant!

5. Choose easy to grow vegetables

When you are starting out, choose plants that are easy to grow, and ideally ones that grow quickly in your climate/ season. When you have to 'wait', it can cause anxiety, whereas if you are growing something like lettuce that you can harvest a little each day, you see the rewards quickly.

What you grow will depend on the season, if you are using containers, garden beds or aquaponics ~ everything is possible, when you research it.

6. Pick veggies you want to eat

turmeric harvest

This sounds like a logical step, but the reality is people get caught up in 'fads' and grow what is trending, even if they don't eat it.

An example here is turmeric. This is something that I have been growing for 10 years in both aquaponics (you need the right design), wicking beds and containers. I use turmeric in soups, stews, juices, smoothies and golden milk as an anti-inflammatory.

I know that it takes 9 months to grow in subtropical areas, and if done right, you can get a massive harvest of the roots.

A couple of years ago, someone posted a YouTube video of their 'massive crop' or turmeric, and then everyone started growing it.

But they didn't know what to do with it, they didn't eat it.

If you put time and energy into growing something that you wont eat/ don't eat, especially when you are starting it is easy to lose interest. Furthermore, you are not saving on your food bill.

If, however, you grow food you love to eat in your veggie garden; you will notice the taste difference. You'll feel a huge sense of achievement and you will notice the reduction in your food bill. You are another step towards self-sufficiency.

Only grow what you LOVE to eat.

7. Plant enough but not too many plants

Start at the beginning and be reasonable. While your goal might be to be self-sufficient with your vegetable gardening, when you are starting out, going too big too quick leads you to wasting money. Jumping in too quickly can lead to most things dying and people giving up.

Soil gardening, it is all about the soil ~ getting it right with nutrients, pH, water and sunlight.

For aquaponics, it is all about the water quality (fertiliser) balance, pH and sunlight.

Starting small and mastering one plant type gives you confidence to grow more varieties.

I always suggest to people to start with leafy greens that are in season. Do research, not just purchase what is available in stores, as they often stock seedlings out of season.

Once you are confident with your first plant, add another type. Get them growing, then add a few more.

Gardening is a learned skill that you can master. But this takes practice. You will not get everything right first go.

A simple way to start is with a herb garden. Aim to grow the herbs that you family use frequently. Don't aim for a years worth (until you learn how to preserve them), but aim to supplement, then grow more.

Goals are great, but they need to be realistic based on your level of experience, not other people's experience.

8. Use mulch for weed control

Mulch can be great as weed control for your vegetable garden. It helps to keep moisture in. Although it won't completely stop the weeds, it will reduce them.

Pro tip** the only 'pet safe' weed control is using your hands and manually pulling weeds out.

You ideally want to avoid chemicals in your garden as they affect the whole ecosystem. Chemicals can kill the microbes in your soil as well as the pollinators that give life to our food. Do think carefully about what you use in the garden.

9. Grow seasonally for food security

A sad thing about supermarkets is that they accustom us to forgetting that our food is generally seasonal. Food is sourced globally, not locally now.

The way to be self-sufficient, to any level in your own garden no matter the size, is to learn to eat seasonally. This is much better for your body anyway.

Don't we crave soups, stews and casseroles in winter and lighter meals in summer? If you think about it, commonly, the ingredients are either winter grown or spring grown.

The 'Gardenate' app I mentioned earlier is perfect to identify what you can grow based on your area at any given time. It also tells you what seeds to start germinating in order to get the most out of your growing period.

Veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach are winter crops, just like parsnip, turnip and swedes.

However, corns, tomatoes, capsicums (peppers) and the squash family are all summer/ spring crops.

There can be food year round when you learn to grow seasonally, and eat seasonally.

You can also learn to store food in different ways to keep until later.

For instance, in spring/ summer I grow heaps of zucchini and corn, as I love to make corn and zucchini fitters for a quick meal with salad. As they don't grow over winter, I grow in spring, and grate and freeze them in batches for my recipe.

This is how we learn to become more self-sufficient, and never have to worry about food shortages.

10. For healthier soil, compost fixes everything

When it comes to your soil gardens, containers and wicking beds, good quality compost is the golden key to fix most issues. But what do you do if you cannot make your own compost?

I was banned from this when I used to rent.

Buying compost is an option, however I wouldn't recommend hardware store supplies, or even landscape yards. Truly terrible stuff.

My best tip here, if you cannot make your own compost, use a worm farm (landlords cannot complain about those). Join a local community garden or gardening group and buy off another member.

People love helping with other peoples gardens. This is the difference with a community vs a store.

Compost should be 'living', filled with microbes and worms that break things down. It should contain things like eggshell and banana banana peel; these increase the calcium and potassium within the garden.

If you only have a worm farm, then add eggshells, banana peels and the array of veggie scraps. This adds nutrients into the castings and in turn the soil.

If like me, you have an aquaponics system, you must remove solid waste (fish poop) from the system, add this to your garden. One of the benefits of an aquaponics system is that it is a true source of gold for your garden.

11. You should keep a journal

Garden journals are amazing. At the most basic level, they help you to know what you are growing (it can be easy to forget what we planted where). The more detail you add, however, the more the story will tell you.

For example, add details about;

  • When it rained, the temperatures, how often you needed to water, storms.

  • What worked and what didn't work.

  • Amount of sun, the differences between summer and winter.

  • What pests are around this year, and what do you do. They may not be back for 2 years, and if you have forgotten what you tried, if you write it down, you have a head start.

Think of yourself as an explorer in your garden. Observe and watch everything, how things interact. Add photos, good, bad and ugly ~ this is for you, and it will help you.

I know people who are now self sufficient. With their journals, they now write down how many seeds planted, how many seedlings germinated, how many survived transplant and how many grew to provide food. They they work out how much food per plant, and have worked out the food bill savings each week and year.

That is inspiring. It took them a long time to get there, but without their records, they would be wasting more time.

12. It's better to water deeply than more frequently

water garden

Our veggies are made up of 90% water. They need it, but too much watering can leach nutrients out of the soil and down the drain.

Leaching nutrients mean your food will have less flavour, and more importantly, it wont be able to grow well. It may get stunted, not flower ~ all nutrients are critical for our plants. Don't let them be wasted.

Wasting water, and nutrients.

A good, slow soaker hose closer to the roots is preferable is preferable to drenching water daily. This is one reason wicking beds and containers are great, as the water doesn't leave the reservoir. There is no leaching unless there is too much rain.

This is very much like aquaponics. The water within the aquaponics system is constantly recycled, which means constant water and nutrients for the plants. It is only during really big storms that you lose water. If you live in an area of high storms, though, you can have a cover to remove this issues.

Water is critical, and you need to water wisely!

13. Wicking beds and containers are often easier

Wicking beds and containers are much easier to grow in. There is just less ongoing work.

Less weeding, wicking beds have a reservoir of water which reduces the amount of watering you need to do. No digging, bending and all that hard work.

There are limitations though, especially with space. Also, you need to ensure that you are adding fertilisers at times (natural ones). Once the nutrients are spent, they are gone.

However, this is the same with soil gardens. After each crop, you need to prepare it for the next one.

Fertiliser, mulch, compost etc ~ it's the same with your container and wicking beds.

Research before you start.

14. Don't be afraid to start from seed after a while

Some seeds are easier to get started than others. This will depend on the brand of seeds, too. Some seed brands have higher germination rates than others.

I always suggest starting out with seedlings when you are new to gardening. Ensure you are planting what is in season, and that it has enough time in season to grow. Seeds such as squashes, pumpkins, zucchini and cucumbers, however, are really easy to start from seed.

When you do master growing a couple, start to stagger the planting of the seeds. This will stagger the growth and give you more food, over a longer period. In comparison, when you buy a punnet of 6 seedlings and you need to plant all 6. You'll get a huge harvest all at once and nothing in 2-4 weeks.

By staggering them, you have more food over time.

15. Add vertical gardening

garden tower for strawberries

The final tip is perfect for anyone, no matter if you are short on space, or have heaps of room.

Grow vertically!

This gives your plants more room, and you more food for them to grow.

This is a wicking tower sitting in the fish tank of my aquaponics system. It is growing my strawberries, 10 plants in a small space, with huge fruiting. In the soil, I couldn't grow strawberries this well.

Vertical growing gives you options!


Want to get your Eyes and Hands on the FREE Online Aquaponics Essentials Course?

This is a great free resource to really understand how aquaponics is a sustainable ecosystem that will grow your organic food is a productive way.

You learn how all the 'parts' make up the 'whole', and helps to give you the foundations of understanding aquaponics.

Sign up HERE


Candy Alexander

Candy Alexander is a dedicated aquaponics enthusiast with a wealth of formal training in aquaculture. Over the past 15 years, Candy has been deeply immersed in both commercial and backyard aquaponics, honing her skills and expertise in this sustainable farming method.

Candy's passion lies in making aquaponics accessible to everyone. With a mission to simplify aquaponics, she believes that anyone can embark on this sustainable journey.

She encourages those new to aquaponics to "kick the tires" without a significant financial investment. Her guidance focuses on helping people start their aquaponics journey with small-scale systems, ensuring a low barrier to entry for newcomers.

Candy shares practical tips, step-by-step guides, and personal stories to inspire and guide readers on their aquaponics adventure. Whether you're a seasoned farmer or a curious beginner, Candy Alexander is your go-to source for simplifying aquaponics and fostering a sustainable gardening experience.

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Candy Alexander

Candy Alexander is a passionate aquaponics educator who believes in the philosophy of keeping things simple and close to nature. With over 15 years of experience in aquaponics and 4 years of formal training in aquaculture, Candy is determined to help people create sustainable gardening in their urban lifestyle. Additionally, she advocates for the therapeutic benefits of aquaponics, viewing it as a form of garden therapy for mental health. Through her expertise and dedication, Candy strives to make the intricate world of aquaponics accessible to all, fostering both environmental sustainability and personal well-being.

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The relaxation you feel when your garden is well known. Aquaponics brings a deeper sense of calm as it connects you with the relaxation of fish as well.

Seeing the miracles of nature happening within your aquaponics system gives you a sense of wonder and excitement.

As everything about aquaponics is based on balance, it gives you the physical representation of balance to connect to when you feel overwhelmed by life.

I use aquaponics as a form of garden therapy to help me manage PTSD,

anxiety, depression, and autism.

Have you been thinking about a deeper meaning in life?

Aquaponics can show you this perfectly!

Check out the article below on how I manage my anxiety with aquaponics:

Managing My "Anxiety Octopus" with Aquaponics


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