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  • Writer's pictureMatt Suprunowicz

How to Bump Up Starter Plants

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

How can we use our aquaponics setup to support an outdoor garden?


This Lesson Plan is part the Gardening Module of SustainEd Farms' virtual programming.

Background: Bumping up Starter Plants

Aquaponic systems have been lauded for their efficient use of water, their double-product of fish and produce, and for their growing importance in the food security discussion. While indoor methods for growing food remain imperfect, the amplified use of aquaponics will almost certainly be a feature of future year-round production systems. Additionally, aquaponic operations may prove to be effective tools in alleviating healthy food access issues within urban areas by providing residents with nutritious, affordable options that can be grown in close proximity to the most vulnerable populations.

While home-based aquaponic systems are not yet common, they are being employed as educational tools in many schools and health centers. In today’s lesson, we explore how a school-based aquaponics system is providing plant starters for an outdoor garden, thereby bridging the gap between best-practice strategies for indoor and outdoor cultivation.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to...

  • Transplant (bump up) an aquaponic starter plant to a soil-based media

Academic Vocabulary

aquaponics /ˌäkwəˈpäniks,/ noun. - the combination of aquaculture (production of aquatic plants or animals) and hydroponics (growing plants in a soil-less media) in which animal waste is converted to a useable nutrient source for plants, while plants filter the water for the animals

food security /fo͞od səˈkyo͝orədē/ noun. - the degree of reliability placed on a food-production system to produce the necessary quality and amount of food that is affordable to the public [so as to sustain a given population]


1. Gather your materials. You will need the following supplies:

aquaponic-based seedling · planting container · soil

2. Watch the following YouTube video to see a demonstration of how to bump up an aquaponics-based plant starter. Then, follow along with the remainder of the lesson by reading the steps below.

3. If an aquaponics system is available to you for use, you may consider using the system to create durable starters that can eventually be transplanted to an outdoor garden. Once plants have been established in your aquaponics bed, choose a plant that is in the early stages of becoming mature to transplant: it should, at the very least, have its “true leaves” -- those that emerge after the first “seed leaves.” Remove the plant from the system by gently reaching under the plant, and pulling it out while simultaneously untangling any roots that are caught on other plants.

🐟🐟🐟 Why use aquaponics for creating plant starters? … The nutrient rich water supplied by fish, coupled with stable indoor-growing conditions, provides young plants with ample resources for quick growth. However, aquaponics systems often have limited room for both above and below ground growth. On the other hand, the outdoor garden, which lacks a stable growing environment, has much more plantable space than the indoor aquaponics systems. Therefore, the two systems compliment one another by aiding plants at different -- but critical -- stages in the growing process.

4. Fill an appropriately-sized planting container ¼ - ½ full with soil. Ideally, the depth of the container is at least the same height as the seedling.

5. Place the seedling into the soil roots-first, and stabilize the plant by adding more soil as needed. Water the plant adequately, and prepare to harden off your seedling!

Additional Resources:

Download the PDF version of this lesson plan:

How to Bump Up Aquaponics-Based Starter Plants
Download PDF • 458KB

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