Hi all,

I've been lurking quite a bit for the past 3 months. I'm new to aquaponics but far from new to gardening. I'm located along the central corridor and have a fairly decent sized area dedicated to growing food. I have an irrigated property but that brings headaches for ground soil gardening (read: my freaking back hurts in August from pulling unwanted seedlings). I currently have 4 4'x4' SFGs as well as a few dozen large container'd plots and pots. All is going and growing well. :)

I have my first aquaponics set up, cookie cutter 275 gallon  IBC, and cycling, it has been cycling for the past two months using feeder goldfish. Of course the cold slowed down this process but ammonia, nitrite and nitrate is producing. With the water temp being above 62 currently, I am thinking it is time to introduce fingerlings. I've looked through pages and pages of posts and I still have these questions:

Is the temp right, 62 degrees Celsius, to add tilapia fingerlings?

How many fingerlings to add to this, I've read 1lb for every 5 gallons. How does this calculate in fingerlings? I'm thinking I have about 190 galons. 

What options do I have to purchase the fingerlings in Phoenix?

Am I wrong in thinking that $2.50 per fingerling is a bit high for what the return would be in the long run?

I plan to do some fresh water shrimp once the temp rises a bit more in another long hand made tank(wood and pond liner). I'm sure I'll have questions on this once I get there. :) 

Thanks in advance!

Bob

p.s. image is of one of my beds right before the frost. Figured I'd share :)

Tags: Arizona, Phoenix, temperature, tilapia

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G'day Bob,

Welcome to the wonderful world of aquaponics.   I'm just about to hit my first anniversary of doing this and have gained a lot of experience over the last 12 months.  Nothing teaches like doing!

I'll have a go at answering your questions.

1) 62F :  You're probably OK, but it's on the low side.   I've noticed that my tilapia slow their eating at 70F and stop completely at 60F, approximately.    The lowest my water temperature got over the winter was 45F and I didn't lose a fish.  I don't know if I was lucky or have cold-tolerant tilapia, because everything I've read says tilapia start dying at and below 50F.  Having said that, my fish are now eating well again with the water temp at around 65F.

2) Fish stocking capacity.  There is loads of information out there about this, and most of it is confusing.  What it really comes down to is filtration capacity, which is directly related to your growbed size.  My general rule of thumb is to have one fish per square foot of growbed. Maybe 1.5 fish per square foot, but no more. This is a good start for us beginners as it provides ample nutrients for the plants but is well inside the maximum stocking density that some people flirt with.  Water volume doesn't really come in to play, unless you are pushing the limits, which you shouldn't try when starting out.  e.g. I've got 40 fish and 48 square feet of growbed.

3) Acquiring Fingerlings.  There are several people in this group that regularly have fingerlings for sale.  I can personally recommend Sheri Schmeckpeper.  She is very knowledgeable about tilapia and aquaponics in general.  Send her an Instant Message (IM) on this forum and she'll set you straight.  She's also one of the nicest people you'll meet, as is her husband Bob.  $2.50 is way too high.   

4) Shrimp : Can't help you there.

As far as introducing your fish, I'd wait until your system is fully cycled.  Tilapia are tough as old boots, but an extra week or so waiting isn't going to make much difference in the long run and it's easier on the fish.  So, look for ammonia and nitrites to read 0 ppm with nitrates on the rise, and you'll be good to go.  If you've had goldfish in there for a couple of months you're probably good to go.  I did a fishless cycle with my system, so you're outside my experience range.

Have fun.  There's lots to learn, and the first few months is very intense, but enjoyable.

Cheers,

John

Awesome info John. I have a habit of going all out when I start something and with this, as you've confirmed, it is something I don't want to do. And with the weather dropping this weekend, I may have to hold out for a few more weeks, which is fine.

As for grow area, 16 square feet is what I have currently, I plan to add more once I figure out my layout a bit more. When I start the shrimp that will have to be in ground and my piping(and approach) will need to change up. So planning for growth is still in the works for grow beds between the two. 

Do you do flood and drain or raft beds? Just curious. 

I'll hit up Sheri, thanks for the contact info! 

Another question I should probably ask is where does one find food grade(potable) pond liner? I've sent emails to a lot of the stores around town and no one responds.  

Thanks again!

Bob

No problem Bob.  

If you're like me you've spent a lot of time doing research and are ready to go at it.   With 16 square feet of growbed I'd start with 20 fingerlings.  Given that the cost of the fish isn't going to be super high, if I was you I'd probably take a chance and get the fingerlings.  If they don't make it, then you've learned the answer.  If they do, you're ahead of the game and have fish ready to grow fast when the temperatures rise.

At the moment I have two 6'x4' flood and drain, lava rock, growbeds.  See photo.   I started with one 6'x4' and 50 fish and after several months started to have ammonia problems because I didn't get the second bed built as quickly as I expected.  For some, still unknown reason, all those fish died.  I suspect toxic water due to dead fish in bad liner folds, but I'm not sure.  Now I'm more conservative and have 40 fish for 48 square feet of filtering grow bed.

I intend to add a couple of 6' or 8' long deep water culture (DWC) grow areas soon, but I haven't got started on that yet.  Now that I've got things growing, and very well,  I want to grow more...

Pond Liner is another topic where you'll get a myriad of opinions.   I finally settled on Pond Skins Pond Liner from Home Depot. Why?  Because it is fish-safe and I don't have to pay for shipping, which usually makes any other option more expensive.  The Pond Skins is good to work with and I haven't had any problems.  Is it potable?  I don't know, but it's safe for the fish and I'm not drinking the water, so I'm OK with that.

BTW, plan NOW for the summer heat.  I didn't have the shade cloth up for the majority of last summer and most of my plants didn't make it.  The tomatoes and peppers were a lot happier once the shade was up.   The setup in the photo was pretty easy and worked well.   I've removed the shadecloth for the winter months.

Cheers, John

Hi John,

What size is your lava rock? I currently have river rock (3/4"-1 1/2") with pea river rock on top(1"-2" cover). Cleaning the mud off the rock was a pain. I'm looking for a lighter grow medium than what I used. Also, what's the damage on cost?

As for shade, I have a giant pine tree that gives my yard tons of shade. I still have to shade my tomatoes though as they get a little cooked around August. My other raised beds do well and knowing what to plant when has helped tons. How do you keep your water cool in the summer? Do you have to aerate the water more? What about evaporation? 

Here's my current set up, looks a little sparse from this angle and you can't see the whole area. 

I still need to enclose the tank and bed which I plan to do this weekend. The tank sits on the south wall. This picture is from a month ago.

There's a product I found called duraskrim that makes a pond liner that is potable grade. Everything I grow is organic, no chemicals, no fertilizer. Just add compost. I even mix my own soils(super basic). So when looking for the liner, I'm hoping to find stuff that wont leach so that maybe one day, if I decide to sell my products I can get a certification. But that's just a passing thought if not only a pipe dream :)     

Your setup, do you have your tank in the ground? I'm trying to plan out the gravity thing for my next bed. Since tomatoes grow pretty tall, I don't see me planting them 5' up off the ground. Picking them would require stilts ;)

Sorry about all the questions! Thanks again!

Bob

Bob,

My lava rock is nominally called 1", but that's more like the maximum size.   There's a good amount smaller in there as well.

Have a look at my photos for my construction.  I know a lot of people wash their rock. I didn't and it didn't seem to make a difference.  The first 2 days the water looked like tomato soup, but after that it's been crystal clear ever since.  I had a thin layer of dust settle to the bottom of the fish tank, but that's almost all gone now too.  I just can't be bothered doing all the washing and rinsing.

Lava rock is a LOT lighter than other rock, which makes it a lot cheaper since it's bought by the ton.  I got mine from Pioneer Sand and cost about $40/ton, I think.   I got 2 tons and that was enough for both my 6'x4'x1' growbeds with a good amount left over.  It's readily available at landscaping/rock supply firms.  The only downside is that it isn't as nice to work with as hydroton or river rock, but that hasn't been a major issue.  I use a hand trowel and problem solved.

You are way ahead of me as far as knowing what to plant when.  I'm learning the hard way on that one.

I was super worried about the summer water temperature, so dug my fish tank in to the ground.  I also insulated it with 2" foam boards on the outside.  As it turned out, the water temperature wasn't a problem and topped out at around 90F, which is fine, as the tilapia like to be in the low to mid 80s, which is where it was most of the summer.  I suspect that the draining action of the siphons cooled the water enough.

I run an air bubbler 100% of the time, but that is as a backup for water aeration in case the water pump fails.  I have the air pump on an old computer UPS unit which gives me over 13 hours of air pump use if the power or water pump fails.  Good insurance.  During the winter I have been running the water pump for only 4 hours a day, to reduce heat loss to the water.   A couple of times I forgot to turn the air pump on after looking at the system (you can't see a thing with all those bubbles) and the fish survived overnight without water or air movement.   This was in winter where the cooler water holds more oxygen, but even so...

Evaporation isn't a big deal.  I have a 50 gallon barrel ($20 Craigslist - ex soy sauce) that I have filled with water to use as top up.  Having the water in the barrel allows for chlorine degassing and gives you the chance to adjust the pH, if necessary, before you add it to your system.   I was adding about a barrel a week during the height of summer, sometimes more, but it wasn't an issue.  My fish tank is 500 gallons.   As far as pH modification goes, I don't adjust it any more in the barrel since the natural process of nitrification slowly drops the pH and adding Phoenix water which has a high pH seems to be just the right amount to keep my system pH around 6.8-7.

I can't comment on duraskrim, or on organic certification.  That's a whole other area of research.  My gut feel is that fish-safe liners imply little or no leaching, and no anti-bacterial component, but you'd need to check that out.  As far as organic goes, aquaponics pretty much forces you to be organic because most chemicals that you want to use on the garden are going to kill the fish if it gets in to the water and it's not worth the risk.  A tank full of dead fish is no fun.  No fun at all.  I know. I've done it.

I spent a LOT of time designing my system for simplicity and easy water handling.  There's 100 and 1 ways of designing an AP system and how you do yours is up to your design requirements.   One of my requirements was to have the fish tank in the ground to help with temperature control.  It seems to have worked, but others in Phoenix have theirs above ground with good success, so I don't know if it was worth it or not.   If I had to dig the hole again, I'd probably say not...    From my experience, spending the time to work out your water flow before you start construction is an absolute must.   My system doesn't look exactly like I designed it, but it's pretty close.

Feel free to ask as many questions as you like.   I know I had a zillion when I was starting out, and others were more than helpful to me.  Paying it forward, so to speak.

John

Awesome info. I may be looking at lava rock for the rest of my beds, we'll see. Thanks for all the helpful insight. My ph is currently a bit high but everywhere I've read about it, they say high is not a problem.

So I should probably get some plants growing in it asap to bring the nitrate down. I've got strawberries that I can bare root transplant. :)  

Hello Bob,

Glad to be of help., 

As far as the pH goes, it really only matters to the plants, within reason.

I left mine too high at 8.6 and my tomato plants turned ghostly white.  I've never seen such a thing.    pH below 6 is a bit scary too because the bacteria stop working.  I'd recommend that you get the pH into the mid to low 7s before you add the fish, because changing it afterwards is a slow and tedious process, seeing as you don't want to upset and/or kill the fish.  $10 of muriatic/pool acid will go a long way.  Be careful, take it easy, it's strong stuff.

BTW, strawberries like/need a lower pH than most plants, so if you're thinking of moving them in to the growbed it'd be good to get the pH down to 6.8.

With regards to transplanting, aquaponics is simply brilliant.   I have yet to lose any plant that I've transplanted in to the grow bed.  Having nutrient rich water tickling the roots seems to agree with plants.  Can't imagine why.

Another thing, I searched and searched about how to plant seeds in AP.  Couldn't find any useful howtos or workable suggestions.   I tried starting seeds in potting mix, peat pots, tissue paper... etc, etc.   Turns out it's a whole bunch easier than that.  You just throw the small seeds over the gravel and water them in so they drop in to the cracks.   The larger ones you poke down just under the top layer of rocks.  It's the weirdest thing.  Everything that you know about making a nice bed for the seeds, etc,etc, just doesn't apply.  It shouldn't work, but it does.  Brilliantly.

I planted seeds on Saturday, and I'm seeing shoots on Wednesday.  It's crazy good.  Am I excited?  You bet I am!

Cheers,

John

Hi Bob

Welcome aboard.

I've been working on my system for a year and my planting beds are similar to yours except I make them a 2x4 higher and use press board for bases.

 I also multi-purpose the beds for swirl filter, raft, media bed and temp FT. 

I would like to see your whole system.

Good call on the Strawberries, I completely forgot about that. I was so used to acidifying soil with my attempts at blueberries that I completely spaced that. I have a full bed that used to be a turtle pond (previous owners) that I grow strawberries and onions in. That will one day be a pond dedicated to the strawberries, baby steps though. I was planning to use those strawberries since they have a couple years on them. Now I'll wait till the PH drops a bit. Thanks.

I dropped a few spinach and butter head lettuce seeds in the bed earlier today. Those are the only short growth seeds that I had on hand that are good to plant right now. I'm optimistic. This seems straight forward. Time will tell. :)

 


John Malone said:

Hello Bob,

Glad to be of help., 

As far as the pH goes, it really only matters to the plants, within reason.

I left mine too high at 8.6 and my tomato plants turned ghostly white.  I've never seen such a thing.    pH below 6 is a bit scary too because the bacteria stop working.  I'd recommend that you get the pH into the mid to low 7s before you add the fish, because changing it afterwards is a slow and tedious process, seeing as you don't want to upset and/or kill the fish.  $10 of muriatic/pool acid will go a long way.  Be careful, take it easy, it's strong stuff.

BTW, strawberries like/need a lower pH than most plants, so if you're thinking of moving them in to the growbed it'd be good to get the pH down to 6.8.

With regards to transplanting, aquaponics is simply brilliant.   I have yet to lose any plant that I've transplanted in to the grow bed.  Having nutrient rich water tickling the roots seems to agree with plants.  Can't imagine why.

Another thing, I searched and searched about how to plant seeds in AP.  Couldn't find any useful howtos or workable suggestions.   I tried starting seeds in potting mix, peat pots, tissue paper... etc, etc.   Turns out it's a whole bunch easier than that.  You just throw the small seeds over the gravel and water them in so they drop in to the cracks.   The larger ones you poke down just under the top layer of rocks.  It's the weirdest thing.  Everything that you know about making a nice bed for the seeds, etc,etc, just doesn't apply.  It shouldn't work, but it does.  Brilliantly.

I planted seeds on Saturday, and I'm seeing shoots on Wednesday.  It's crazy good.  Am I excited?  You bet I am!

Cheers,

John

Hi Robert,

My current system is pretty much all you see in that picture. Only one bed so far. I plan to pipe to a couple of the other beds once I figure out my piping back to the tank(s). I still need to figure out the duckweed part, where I'll put the tubs for that. 

That said I'm still in my infancy :)



Robert Rowe said:

Hi Bob

Welcome aboard.

I've been working on my system for a year and my planting beds are similar to yours except I make them a 2x4 higher and use press board for bases.

 I also multi-purpose the beds for swirl filter, raft, media bed and temp FT. 

I would like to see your whole system.

I'm picking up some "Mixed Sex Nile Tilapia" fry today and looking add them to the system by the end of the week.

What is the best way to add them to reduce shock? 

Hey Bob:

Welcome aboard

How's that new system working out?

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