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Plunging Into Aquaponics

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The idea behind aquaponic gardening has intrigued me for quite sometime. I held off because I felt like getting large food-grade plastic tanks to contain the fish was beyond my ability, since I had no idea where to find them used. Then I read a post in a magazine that said you could use a 10-gallon fish tank. That got my wheels spinning. After all, when you are as avid of a gardener as I am, everyone wants to give you their used fish tanks. They all suggest you can turn them into terrariums, which is a great idea, but let’s face it, aquariums take up a lot of room.

Of course, I usually accept my friends discarded aquariums, just in case I find a good use for them. I knew I had several empty aquariums sitting around outside in the greenhouse and garage, but had no idea how big they were. As it turned out, I had one twenty-gallon tank and several ten gallon tanks that were not in use. I decided to clean up the twenty-gallon tank that used to hold carnivorous plants. This seemed like a good size to start with, not too small and not too large.

Once the aquarium was clean, I asked Jerry to clean off one of the metal book shelves so I could have a sturdy stand with two shelves on it. We put the aquarium on the bottom shelf. The plants are going on the top shelf so I can hang a grow light over the top of them. The grow light is essential to the operation since we are doing this in a corner of the living room – for now.


All I could think of as I was cleaning the tank and getting it set-up was catfish since this is our favorite type of fish. Unfortunately there were none to be had locally, so I had to move on to plan b since I was determined to start my little experiment immediately.

I know, come spring, the traveling fish men will set-up at Tractor Supply. At that point, I intend to get some catfish, but in the meantime, a nice couple sold me a dozen tilapia. This made my Christmas wish come true – after all, the only thing I wanted this year was “two catfish and one aquaponics set-up.” LOL!

We went out and met the couple last night. I was thrilled with their set-up – but it did remind me of how much I missed my greenhouse, which has not been in use since it was damaged last fall by that horrible hail storm. I hope, come spring, we can repair it. I’m not sure I can stand another year without it!

We spent quite a while visiting and talking. We tasted some of the tomatoes they were growing, which were divine! We left with a dozen fingerling fish in a five-gallon bucket.

As soon as we arrive back at home last night, I released the fish into the 20-gallon fish aquarium. I think I could have added more fish to the tank, but sometimes less is better, especially when you are not real sure what you are doing to start with.

As soon as the fish were settled in their new home, I went online to read more about raising tilipia. It seems these fish like warm water. Luckily I had an aquarium heater here, so I set it up in the tank. Today I need to pick up an aquarium thermometer so I can monitor the water temperature. I know sometimes heaters go bad and I have accidently fried fish before. I sure don’t want that to happen this time around.

To complete the set-up, I need pebbles or clay rocks for the plants to grow in. Since there are no hydroponic stores close by, I suspect I will end up with pebbles, which is fine. If I am lucky, I will find a source for free or cheap pebbles, which is good, especially now that I am working on a shoe-string budget.

I also need a pond pump. There is one in our garage somewhere, but then again, there seems to be lots of things in that garage that can’t be found. I hope I can find the pump. If not, there is a local pet store that has a small one for sale at a reasonable price. I will just need to buy hose to go with it, which is not a big deal.

The  next thing I will need is containers to grow the plants in. The containers must allow the water to flow freely. Last night I had an idea to grow the plants in the gallon food grade buckets my friend Shirley gave me a few years ago. They already have large holes in the bottom of them and I am pretty sure they are big enough to support a variety of edible plants including tomatoes. I’m just not sure if the holes are not too large. If they are, I have some plastic flower pots in the greenhouse that will work.

If growing plants using this method works well for me on a small scale, I intend to expand the operation this spring. I believe aquaponics is a great way to grow a lot of food in a little space. I am impressed with what I have seen happening online at other aquaponic operations.

With the economy as bad as it is and so many people needing fresh, non-GMO food, I see this as an opportunity to ramp up the amount of food I am able to grow. This, in turn, means more food for us and more food that I can donate to others in need and the local food pantries.

I am anxious to see how this will turn out and certainly look forward to being able to harvest our own fish to eat. It seems it takes 8 months from start to finish. At that time, I was told each fish will weigh close to a pound.

Aquaponics and Hydroponics

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