Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

We just built an Aquaponics system using instructions kindly shared by Travis Hughey Barrel-Ponics (Aquaponics in a barrel).  We are ready to test the system but not really sure what steps should be taken before we add fish.  Also, we live in Wilton, CA (south east of Elk Grove) and not sure where to get fish talapia?? if anybody has suggestions.  The system is set up in a greenhouse on our property.   The fish tank is 55 gallons and grow beds are a 55 gal tank cut in half and another grow bed on top of the float tank. We are on a well.

Thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide.

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I bought tilapia from Tilapia Depot in Florida. They arrived safely, very well packed.It would be great to see photos of your system. 


The first thing I would do is to test your water. If you don't have I test kit I would suggest that you get one that can test PH, Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate - I would stay away from test strips. I started my barrel system with 10 feeder gold fish from Petco and some seaweed extract (found at hydroponic store). It was a painless way to start my system. The only fish deaths I had were the few that got out of the fish tank. I also planted a few plants at the same time. Start slow - don't introduce to many fish to quickly. Make sure your water flows correctly and that you don't allow your fish tank water level to drop to low.

Hi Kathy, Welcome to the group!

One option is to cycle your system using household ammonia (make sure it is just ammonia, with no other detergents) to get your bacterial colony up and running.

information on cycling can be found HERE.

As far as getting tilapia, that is an entirely different can of worms.

Tilapia are in a legal gray area here in California, legal in aquariums, not allowed in aquaculture north of san diego. To my knowledge, The Department of Fish and Game has yet to define or make exceptions for hobbyist aquaponic systems. The opinions of people here in the group fall on both sides of the fence, some stick to the letter of the law, and those who have tilapia in their systems operate largely under the radar. 

In my opinion, I'd go with something which doesn't require heated water for your first go at aquaponics. Tilapia require warmer water, and to reach maximum edible size, a tank much larger than 55 gallons.

Best of luck.

Start your system out with some feeder goldfish to get everything seasoned and feed your bacteria. Once everything is going well add Tilapia and give away the goldfish.

Goldfish are cheaper and hardier.

Aside from some controversy with the Fish and Game Tilapia require warm water which can be extremely expensive.  On the other hand if you are growing year round so do your plants and while catfish koi and other cool water fish will survive the winter they will not grow larger during the cold season. 

Gardening pretty much demands growing with the seasons and being punctual about your planting schedule.  I got my cabbage and broccoli in late and if it were not for this warm spell I would not have much to show for my late efforts.  I will be looking into adding solar heating so I can relax and enjoy longer growing seasons.  A green house is useful too, but heating the water in a green house can still be demanding. 

I know where you can get tilapia if you ever want them, but even though you will probably want to warm your water with solar I would avoid tilapia until you get the system fully solar.  I built a green house and used electric heating for a while but the cost was far too high and wasteful of energy.

Welcome to aquaponics, you will be hooked had a barrel ponics system this past year produced 150 lbs of tomatoes on three plants plus lots of peppers, just too small. Now I have constructed a 10' x 30' green house. Just get a APA fresh water test kit and follow the instructions start with getting your Ph about 6.8 and getting your system cycled so ammonia drops to 0 -0.25 and your nitrites go to "0"

Lots of luck small systems are hard to stablize just hang in there.

Hi Kathy,  I also live in Elk Grove and am a teacher at Pleasant Grove High School.  I have probably had some of your neighbors kids in class.  I am investigation starting an Aquaponics system here in my little back yard in the city.  I just bought Sylvia Bernstines book and am beginning to read about it.  Have you met or know local people who do this locally and can give me some advice on what type of system to start with, what its like in our climate and any local tips to succeed at this?

Hi Mike, posting a question as a new discussion like Kathy did, is a great way to get help. The forum community here is always willing to offer advice, or a solution if we have it, and can point you to a previous thread if the matter had been discussed at length. As far as building a system, a good way to start is to accurately draw out your yard and figure out where your system is going to end up, then design within the space available. As discussed above, smaller systems are more difficult to keep balanced, so go as big as your budget will allow within the space you have. Once you have the available area figured out, I'd decide what you would like to grow, and work backward from there. Leafy greens and root crops need entirely different growing environments, so it is worthy of consideration. Space generally ends up being a limiting factor. Best of luck.

Just be careful with Talapia during the winter. They have to stay warm.  If not, they will die in the winter.  I know from first hand experience.  I now raise bluegills and sunfish.


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