Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

So, I was doing a lot of research yesterday on feeding my fish. I somehow got it in my head that they could live off duckweed, but after finding out that's not enough I found some very interesting things. 

First, and I mean no offense here, but many AP'ers are using commercial feed while claiming to be organic, or thinking they are eating healthy. That stuff ends up in your plants, thus tainting them. You can't get around the evils of GMO's and pesticides.  I was actually kind of dumbstruck by the fact that a community that is so focused on sustainability and healthy/organic would overlook something so basic. 

So, diving into this more, I found a lot of people growing their food, and how difficult it is. I was getting depressed as I thought my project was doomed. Could I grow food for my fish? After even more research this morning, I came to this conclusion. 

Everybody is overthinking this thing. All you need to do is do what you do in AP, mimic nature. What do (in my case) Tilapia eat in the wild? They don't eat corn, or soy. They do eat other small fish, insects, algae, vegetation and so on. 

So that's what I'll feed them. I've already got duckweed growing. I'll breed guppies, and I'll have a special bed to grow the "various vegetation" to make sure they have what they need. 

My system will be augmented with vermiculture, so I don't think my system is missing anything. So, while I think some are overthinking it, am I underthinking it? Am I missing anything? 


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Are you planning to feed worms to your fish since you mentioned vermiculture. I am raising worms also but have put them in the grow beds. 

I too try my best to mimic nature and define her processes so I can re-scale her intentions to our (human) benefit. I too have great difficulties producing a natural, balanced, wholesome feed ...on a minuscule scale. Nature believes in diversity. Can you survive on steak and spinach? What are you going to feed your guppies?

I'd say the smallest I could go, would be to use a six foot above ground pool as your base. Anything smaller would make it unbalanced, therefore inefficient and unsustainable. What you want here is to mimic nature in a pond setting (greewater culture) and separate several functions, like feed breeding. I'm glad you disagree to use commercial feed and applaud you for going the extra step of investigating for yourself. We need more people like you.

I am no expert on feed for sure but I have been feeding fish for a long time and can only relate what I have done and plan  to do. I'm not discouraging anyone from doing all they can to produce the best food possible; all I am trying to relay is that one has to look at the bigger picture (which means a lot of learning) in order to understand and fully provide for these captive species. After we understand, we can segregate portions that are more beneficial or symbiotically enhance benefits in our favor.

For example;I equate IBC tote fish tank environments to turn of the century iron bar, cage zoos. Will they survive?...sure.But can anyone say they are healthy? Modern zoos try to mimic their featured species natural habitat on elaborate artificial stages with much more appropriate food. These animals are much healthier than their predecessors.

So to be able to produce natural feed depends not only on scale and biodiversity but there also has to be an nutrient input. We can't withdraw unless we first put it in. We each need to find a source of clean bio waste as input, from there we can design systems around that input to produce major and minor crops suitable and marketable for that particular area. Now we apply it to scale and whoalla, we have more sustainable, more wholesome food production.

@Michael: I'll be making worm tea (not extract) to use as both a pesticide and to top off my fish tanks. I will be adding it to my media beds. I do plan on feeding worms, but not sure if my red wigglers and/or Belgian Nightcrawlers are good feeding worms (still researching). 

@Carey: Thanks for your input. A lot of my research included your posts, and I dig what you're doing. I do plan on to mix it up for the fishies, and I understand about the whole input thing. I don't expect to get anything out unless I put something in. I'm trying to make this as a complete eco system as I can, which will be far from perfect. I have several challenges - weather (I only get about 3 good months of grow time, and that's stretching it, so things like BSFL is out for me), space (I'm converting a 187ish sqft garage to my grow area. I'll have other indoor areas for duckweed, worms), and knowledge. I just started less than 3 months ago so I have a ton to learn. I'm also on a budget, so anything I do will be built on what I build before it. As much as I'd love to do everything right off the bat, I can't. 

The journey from aquaponic discovery to reality can be a bit disheartening. The more you want it to be a beautiful system the more you see how the entire way we live our lives is full of waste, resource depletion and inefficiency. Our survival as a species wholly depends on us creating systems that recycle what nature gives us so that the only input we have to rely on is the Sun. We are the pioneers my friends, it is up to us to blaze the trail... don't ever give up!

@Jonathan, very very true. I'm not going to give up. I make it a point to read/watch an inspiring story whenever I can to remind me how important this is. Carey and some others on here deserve medals for what they are doing. 

"They" (guys like Murray and others) make it look so easy in their videos, but once you get in, you realize that if you really want to do it right, it's pretty damn hard, especially for a guy like me who always slept thru math and science class :)

As I long as I can move forward each day towards making this a reality, I'm happy. Groups like this help too. Sharing knowledge, pitfalls and ideas. I've only been here a short time, but I can see there are some kick ass people here and I hope very soon I can start share as much as I ask. 

Phil, is there any particular reason you've decided on talapia as your fish of choice? The only reason I ask is because they would seem to have such 'intense' heating requirements in order to be active and feeding, and you mentioned in your post about lighting how cold it was where you live much of the year. 

Kudos on your sustainability efforts.

Vlad, I've heard they are easy, so I figure I'd start with them. The decision isn't final, as now I'll be having two tanks so I may do two kinds of fish. I was actually thinking of doing a local Idaho fish in the second tank. 

I lived in Seattle so I understand about the NW short season. If you want easy and don't really plan to eat your fish, I suggest goldfish, Koi, carp. Local fish would also be a good idea too, unless they are protected.

Earthworms (red wigglers) are great as high protein feed additives and so are crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms and maggots.

Might I suggest that you use one tank to raise guppies, mosquito fish, razor-backs/ thorn-backs (indigenous, highly reproductive, small fish) that eat mosquito larva as your main source of live feed and the other tank as your main grow-out tank. This way you can tailor your feed, for your feeder fish, which is cost effective and easy to make, then supplement commercial feed with the varieties of live feed you are able to produce for your main breeders. 

I think Carey has some great suggestions there.

A fish like Carp, would seem to have all the advantages (easy) that tilapia would have (and then some), but without needing to provide a tropical environment for them. (Which would be pretty energy intensive). And honestly, they do not taste bad. At least not when I tried them.

Here is an excerpt from 'In- Fisherman Magazine's blind taste test that Sahib posted on:

As with other carp species, preconceived notions of poor taste leave the public less than willing to put Asian carps on the table. We conducted a test to see how Asian carp stacked up against tilapia and channel catfish, two commonly consumed freshwater species. The test was done by the Missouri Department of Conservation at a Mississippi River Day event at Southeast Missouri State University. Participants, which included a wide demographic from small kids to grandparents, were given an approximately one-ounce serving of tilapia, catfish and Asian carp, all prepared the same way (either steamed or fried) without knowledge of what species they were eating.

“The taste test showed that Asian carp were preferred nearly two to one over tilapia and catfish, regardless of cooking method. Filleting Asian carp boneless takes practice but in short order you can have it mastered. Check YouTube for a three-part Louisiana Sea Grant video called ‘Flying Fish, Great Dish’ for instructions on how to clean Asian carp, along with recipes.”

You can read the full article here


And Sahibs post is here:

Might be a good choice for 'getting your feet wet'...

I worked out today that I'll be able (at max capacity) to grow about 84 sqft of duckweed, but I'm thinking of using some of that space for spirulina. 

@Carey - We were thinking of selling/eating the fish, but the guppy in one tank is a pretty good idea. We're not huge fish eaters, and from a commercial perspective the money is in the veggies and some of the other things we have planned, so the fish was more of an extra. I was actually thinking of creating a mini- AP raft system to work off the guppies (maybe they make their own food?).  No matter what tho, I'm not using a commercial feed unless one pops up that is not only organic, but natural to their habitat.  The cheap way of using corn and soy makes me sick. I did see some people talking about the possibilities of quinoa which intrigued me (I love the stuff) and makes sense from a nutrient sense, but it's not a natural food for them. 

@Vlad - Never really thought about Carp. I'll have to look into that. You know I'm going to be running a lot of lights, so anywhere I can cut operational costs is a plus. 

Thank you both for your help, as usual you guys have given me a ton to think about. 

Hi Phil, again, I applaud you for not using commercial feeds but in my opinion you have an improper view of AP. Using fish effluent to "organic" grow veggies is (sorry to be rude) ass-backwards. The veggie crop should be viewed (IMO) as a secondary crop with fish as your main crop. Instead of using chemicals and other methods to "clean" water in a recirculating aquaculture system, you get some veggies as a bonus. I strongly suggest you rethink you options here. If you do not eat your fish, maybe raise some expensive ornamental fish like Arowana. 

Guppies in a raft system would not work, esp if you want them to be more self sustaining. What you want to do is mimic a mini pond situation where there is plenty of sunlight to produce algae and other micro water plants as a base for other critters like mosquitoes. You can use a raft system, just leave out the raft. My in-ground guppy system was 20'x 4'x 1.5'. I did grow duckweed in that bed at the same time to provide some shade and keep lower temps, using duck poo as my nutrient input (no feeding required). This system's green "waste" water can flow into another bed to raise shrimp, another great feed or cash crop. You can even raise both in the same tank but with lower results.

I hope this helps more than discourages.


Carey, not sure I'm following you. My thinking is that the fish and the veggies all work together. I don't see one as more valuable to the system - they are equal partners (I can get more veggies from the system as I can only grow so many fish, so the veggies are my main crop). 

After doing more research, my plan right now is to have a 550 gallon fish tank with about 70 fish in it (it's either going to be tilapia or carp (leaning towards the carp but I still need to research availability and the legals), along with several growbeds, one of which is duckweed (I'm also going to have a standalone duckweed tank).  I am starting the system with goldfish, not the edible fish. Once I know the system is stable, I'll introduce the tilapia/carp.

I will have a sep. tank(s) for the guppies.

I'm also  expanding my worm farm to allow for more worms, castings and tea. 

I know this system isn't going to be perfect, I just don't have the resources to make it perfect. That will have to happen over time. 3 months ago I was consulting for indie bands and authors while hocking my book and now I'm doing this - so I know I have a long ways to go, but I need to jump in somewhere. 

But, again, not sure how my view is improper? I simply cannot do it the way you do (as much as I would like to). I don't have the space and I have to do everything indoors because of weather. If I make sure everything is as balanced as possible, and every piece is working together as part of the overall system, what am I missing? 

Oh, and I appreciate you calling it like you see it. I admittedly have a lot to learn, and appreciate your directness and your help/advice!  

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