Aquaponic Gardening

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I am trying to choose which fish to stock in a commercial aquaponics system in North Alabama / Southern Middle Tennessee, where the average annual temperature is 63 degrees F. I like to eat Tilapia, but the heating bill would eat ME alive. The obvious choice is catfish, but I just don't like the taste. There is likely a pretty good market for the fish, but competition may well keep the cost low, since catfish is so common (haven't checked yet). Browsing the fingerlings for sale on the Dunn's Farm website, I came across the description for Grass Carp, which sounds like they grow really fast, and are good to eat (at least the chinese think so according to Wikipedia). Anyone had experience with these, or even heard of them before? Would I feed them the same commercial feed used for catfish? (The grass carp eat mostly vegetation in the wild - hence the name.)


I read of a system in a permaculture book where algae is grown in one section of a fish tank with a screen which keeps out the fish, but allows algae to pass through to feed the fish. I think it would be worth experimenting with a similar idea with fast growing underwater plants as feed for vegetable-eating fish.


Any other suggestions for mild temperature loving (65 to 80 degrees), fast growing marketable fish?

I am also getting the impression that there is very little profit in the fish side of commercial aquaponics, and that I should plan on the profit coming from the produce. If that is really the case, then I really just need good fertilizer factories for fish. I would like to prove this idea wroing, however....



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You are right about the fish being the non-profit center. However depending on your market Koi maybe a good solution for you. They can take a wide range of temperatures and do well in large enough tanks. They can also fetch a pretty penny if you find the right buyer.

If you are going commercial forget about alternative foods like algae, duckweed and BSF. You need the consistency of commercial grade fish food and growing food for your fish would be a lot of work.

92F high forecast for today, which is probably about normal for the time of year (Decatur, Al).  Lows sometimes in the 20s or less during the winter.  Grass carp?  I don't know anyone who eats carp and if they were any good at all surely they would be considered food by someone.  If you don't like catfish, something tells me you probably would not like carp.

Possibly Koi/bluegill mix.  Bluegill are working well in my system and I hope to eat some when they are about 1 year old.  We'll see.  Good luck.

I believe many people (mostly just Americans it seems) have been conditioned to 'automatically' respond to carp in such a negative light. Media fueled by gov't policy towards an invasive species, and our human penchant for taking a negative statement or rumor about a person or thing hithero unkown or alien to us, and running with it. Why we do this is beyond me...anyways...

Carp is very much eaten and considered good eating in most of the wider world (and has been for thousands of years)...and apparently even by americans willing to give them a try (even if it takes a blindfold and side by side taste test. Please see link. 

Tim, research carp a bit and tell me if it doesn't seem like a perfect candidate for a temperate zone AP fish..? Fast growing, can take lots and lots of abuse (just like tilapia) water quality wise. Omnivorous, they eat plenty, they shit plenty, and have a temperature range that tilapia (or those who rear them) can only fantasies about...meaning less expenses for heating (and they can take the cold that's for sure...and the heat)...and on and on...Don't take my word for it, research it for yourself and talk to folks who are using them in AP and have been doing so for a while (there are many species of carp, and common carp (Cyprinus carpio) may be a much better choice than grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella).

The first time I tried Eggplant Parmesan, it was made by a girlfriend who had no idea what she was doing. She managed to make it taste absolutely horrible. Later I tried some that was prepared by a buddy's mom (Italian family) and it was ridiculously delicious...Go figure.

At any rate, I agree with Johnathan's sentiments...You will probably need the stable performance of a decent quality commercial fish feed if you are to run a stably performing commercial aquaponics operation.  (At least at first, and even after that it probably won't be easy to make your own well balanced feed to completely replace commercial fish feed. Supplementing it a bit though, seems more 'realistic'. I don't mean to turn you off to the idea as nothing (or very little) is impossible of course, just a matter of resources, dedication, and time. And you'll need a heck of a lot of all three to make your own complete quality feed.

as long as carp is cleaned correctly, it is a good fish,, really good smoked..

yellow perch is a good fish for cold to warmish waters - i had trouble with my outside system when the water temps hit 90 and lost a few

my bluegill are slow growers but that has a lot to do with the stock (where i got them) 

you most defintely want to use commercial feed for ap,,,

i grow algae in standalone buckets, you really don't want it in the ap system consuming nutrients that you want for your plants..

my pool currently has yellow perch about 130-140), blue tilapia (10) and bluegill (10 or so).. the blue tilapia have been growing well in the unheated pool that is now at it's warmest, about 74f, but i don't think i'll get breeding at these temps.. we'll see

The next time I have an opportunity, I'll definitely try common carp.

Tim, if it develops that you like common carp, could you acquire enough to stock your system?

Crucian carp is also very valued here and is said by many to be the best tasting carp. Big head carp is also prized for it's meat...

Jon Parr, a long standing member here, practitioner of AP, and all around stand-up guy, rears and sells catfish, bluegill, green sunfish, crappie, red ear sunfish, Sacramento blackfish, Sacramento perch, sturgeon, tilapia, striped bass, black bass, red claw Crawdads, and trout. And I believe has recently embarked upon a commercial AP/aquaculture venture with carp as the primary fish for sale (though I'm not sure how far along he is with that one...He may have fingerlings and/or broodstock already available. If nothing else check with him...

Tim, just another thought - catfish, or any fish for that matter, may vary in taste quite a bit depending on feed and water quality.  You might find that aquaponically-grown channel catfish are palatable.  Species of catfish makes a big difference too - Flathead, for example, I would not bother to try again. 

While some people have a problem with catfish simply because they have no scales and that is their own choice, I would say don't let a muddy or off flavor from a fish you ate elsewhere turn you off from Aquaponic Catfish.  The Channel Catfish grown in our system taste great and the flavor is incredibly similar to the tilapia we grew.

Carp, I think many people have an issue with bones in them but I've never tried them.

We also grow bluegill and they are good eating but they tend to be small and slower growers and with small fish you are more likely to have to deal with bones when eating.

Now if you are looking at marketability of fish in Aquaponics............  How extensive are you planning the aquaponics system to be?  It can take a huge amount of plant growing space to just grow out a few hundred fish.  How much marketing do you think you will be doing?  As in How many thousand square feet do you have for your systems?

If you are going to grow koi you might get some money off a relatively small number of fish but if you are selling only a few hundred eating fish per year, there won't be much profit in the fish in a small commercial system.  I sell occasional catfish or bluegill to neighbors who want fish but there isn't much money in that especially since we can only sell whole on ice or live fingerlings.

I would probably look at Blue Tilapia. They can tolerate temperatures down to 55 degrees but have an ideal growth rate temperature range of 75-85. Is this an inside system where you can insulate the tanks and float something on the water like blue foam board or a solar cover? Also have you considered heating your water through the winter with a solar water heater? I feed my Blues duckweed, algae and vegetable scraps and it offsets my feed costs by quite a bit.

JJ, when you say that Blues will "tolerate temperatures down to 55 degrees", does that mean that they will eat relatively well, be active, and be producing a decent amount of ammonia for your bacteria and plants at those temps, or just that they won't keel over at 55 degrees? Just wondering..?

Vlad, that is they just don't keel over (though at 55 F you don't have much safety margin for them.)  Most tilapia are not eating if the temp is much below 70 F.

blues tilapia are (according to some) the most "cold tolerant" species, but when the water hits 60 or so, they start to get lethargic, and don't show much interest in food

i've read that some strains of blues can make it to 47, but can't find that study at the moment

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