Spawning Goldfish or Koi in Aquaponics

Many people ask me if there goldfish or koi will breed in an Aquaponic system. The short answer is if conditions are right your fish will always spawn all by themselves without much assistance from you. That said, you can help to trigger them to spawn and if they do you may want to get ready for the thousands of eggs and young fry that will hatch.

It doesn’t really matter if your fish are in a pond or if they are in a fish tank or IBC tank as fish will spawn regardless. Just keep on eye on your fish. If you notice them swimming rapidly around chasing each other than at that point you can be sure they will be spawning within an hour or so. If you don’t want to keep any young then just let them do their thing and some may survive however the vast majority of eggs will be eaten and few if any eggs will survive.

 If your deliberately attempting to spawn your fish then there are a few basic principles you will need to understand to help your fish spawn and to ensure that the majority survive:goldfish fry in Aquaponics

Select healthy fish of the variety you want to breed.  Make sure that they are of high quality to make sure that they will spawn good quality offspring. Remember that the ideal months to start breeding is between October to March in Australia as the weather warms.

Size – The larger the fish the more offspring will survive. Ideally your fish should be about 25 cm (10in) in length to ensure that they are sexually mature. The ideal Koi or goldfish male for breeding should be 3 to 5 years old, while a 4 to 6 year old female is best, being at its prime. 

Specimens chosen for breeding need to be conditioned for a year.  The best combination is two males to one female, a “ménage a trois”.  You need to put them in a separate “spawn pond or IBC tank” to ensure good genetics. This also helps reduce the likely hood of other fish just eating the eggs as they are fertilised and deposited around the tank or pond.

Setting up the location. There are several things that the fish need in order to spawn successfully.  The following needs to be ready and in place as soon as the Koi or goldfish are ready to spawn.
•    Aquatic weed habitat or medium or a place where fish they can lay their eggs. Artificial medium can be used if water plants are unavailable. In Aquaponics I grow water cress in the water and fish seem to spawn on it quickly without an issue;
•    Privacy – the newly hatched fry, being unable to swim yet, need a safe and secure place where they can hide;
•    Top quality water and correct pond temperature. You don’t want the water to fluctuate too much. Adding a heater for a week will help the young fry to grow and hatch quicker.

Gold fish fry in AquaponicsEggs:  You need to separate the eggs from the parents because they can be eaten pretty fast.  After spawning, and after the Koi or goldfish have been removed, treat the pond or tank with malachite green to prevent fungus from forming on any infertile eggs. Or if you don’t wish to use it get some tweezers and pluck out all the unfertile eggs. Fertile eggs will be a yellow colour and unfertile eggs will be white and will develop fungus. Maintain the temperature at 23oC and wait a couple of days for the fry to hatch.

Hatching:  After hatching, let the fry pass without feeding for 3 to 4 days.  Afterwards, bring them a very good source of abundant food. I add a cup of algae as it contains micro nutrients they need. About 27 degrees is the ideal temperature for growing fry.

Feeding fry: Take note that they still do not have any developed taste buds, so they can only detect food by sight alone; thus, they need to have food all around them.  For the first day or so, hardboiled egg yolk is the ideal food but it may lead to poor quality water if it’s not all consumed. Another good food source is brine shrimp, especially when the fry are about a week old.  After that, you can start feeding them a mash diet of power fish food rubbed between your fingers.

Sustainable Aquaponics using pre used or recycled materials

The reason most people start in Aquaponics is to save money and be more selfsufficent. If you’re going to try your hand at growing vegetables or herbs using aquaponics to be more self sufficient then you should really go the extra step towards sustainability  and use recycled materials where ever you can in your aquaponics system design.

I know that there are an increasing amount of commercial aquaponic systems on the market and if you have the money to buy them I’m sure they will suit your needs.

But from a sustainability point of view, think about how much energy and green house emissions have gone into making that plastic fish tank or plastic grow bed. Also think about where the material was made and where you’re purchasing it from. Chances are that your new sustainable aquaponics kit has travelled 1000’s km to get to you and its full of embedded energy.small IBC aquaponics design

Now I’m not critical of commercial aquaponics kits, they are a great educational tool and also they are great to get you started growing fish and vegetables  really quickly. If however you can assemble your own plumbing and pipes and use a saw and you wish to be more sustainable in your gardening approach then I suggest that you use recycled materials. In this way you’re taking a once used and discarded product and using it for a second, third or fourth purpose.

To create an adequate size Aquaponics garden consider using IBC tote bulk containers for grow beds and fish tanks. They are available around the world and are easy to cut, move around your backyard and have a small physical footprint.

There are many methods and styles when using these IBC tanks. You could try some of the following:

  1. Chopping the top off and inverting the top. The large section becomes the fish tank and water is pumped to the growbed above. This is a great technique for those with limited space.
  2. Chop the top and base off. This will provide two growbeds. Use a second tank as a fish tank or use a fish pond and pump to the new growbeds. There is no limit to the number of grow beds you could use in this approach.

You could use many other materials like large tubs, old washing machines, old fridges, kids swimming pools, etc etc.

Look around, keep your eyes open and if it can hold water then you can most likely use it in your aquaponics project.

Why do i need Duckweed in Aquaponics?

Duckweeds is a group of aquatic plants which float on or just beneath the surface of still or slow-moving fresh water bodies, creeks  and wetlands. Duckweed has many uses in the backyard fishpond and it sure has its place in Aquaponics. Duckweed is extremely fast growing, and can double itself in just a few days. The fast growing plant utilizes excess nutrients duck weed in aquaponicssuch as nitrogen and phosphorus, thereby creating a healthier environment for pond inhabitants.

This humble plant is also a high protein plant, and make an excellent supplemental diet for aquacultures species such as Tilapia, koi, perch and even trout.  

Since the late 1960s, scientists have studied duckweed for animal and human consumption due to its high protein content. This tiny plant actually contains more protein per square meter than soybeans and is sometimes cited as a significant potential food source in many countries. Researchers are now tapping into the plant’s unique environmental benefits, from desalinating wastewater to exploring its potential as a viable starch-based feedstock for ethanol production.

Duck weed also provides shelter for timid species, and even provides a breeding medium for some fish. For all these benefits, this small plant species can also quickly become a nuisance to pond owners if its left unattended to. It’s perfect as a fish food if you have fish in the tank or pond but if you don’t this tiny plant can overtake a small pond in a matter of weeks, or sometimes, days. In this case duckweed blooms can deplete the pond of oxygen, resulting in stressful conditions for the livestock. Although propagating can be fairly easy, eradicating a population can be quite difficult.

Duckweed is also being studied by researchers around the world as a possible source of clean energy.  Yep that’s right- In the United States, both Rutgers University and North Carolina State University have ongoing projects to determine if duckweed might be a source of cost-effective, clean, renewable energy. Duckweed is a good candidate as a biofuel because as a biomass it grows rapidly, has 5 to 6 times as much starch as corn, and does not contribute to global warming. Duckweed is considered a carbon neutral energy source, because unlike most fuels, it removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is a promising area for the humble weed types

I suggest that you try and find some for your fishpond or Aquaponics system. I have it growing in all sorts of places like unused buckets, in the sump of my Aquaponics system, in containers, you name it I’m growing it within it.  If you would like some I’m happy to post it to most states or you can collect from Cardiff NSW. Just contact me for more info.

Trout in Aquaponics

There are three main species of trout that can be used in Australian Aquaponics systems including: brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout.

Rainbow trout are a cool water species of salmonid which are distributed widely around the world. They have been cultured and stocked into dams and rivers in every continent except Antarctica, and are possibly the best known fresh water sporting fish in the world. Rainbow trout prefer cooler water temperatures, with optimum growing temperatures around 13˚C (56F) – 17˚C (62F). They can tolerate temperatures as low as 3˚C (38F) and as high 24˚C (75F) but not for extended periods of time.

In locations where there are wide temperature fluctuations between summer and winter, like Australia, trout can be an ideal winter crop with a really fast growing time. In areas with cooler seasons trout make an ideal all year round fish species for aquaponics.

If your going to keep trout at home in the backyard- having a larger water volume in your fish tanks will help you with less water temperature fluctuations. As the weather starts to warm up this willassist keeping them longer. Smoothing out the daily temperature fluctuations in a system makes for healthier less stressed fish, and as such less chance of diseases becoming a problem. We have also found that shading a system with shade cloth in harsh weather conditions can also aid in controlling temperature fluctuations.

Rainbow Trout in Aquaponics SystemsThis year I have kept trout in my gravity fed Aquaponics system for approximately 7 months ( since 1 March till today 29 September 2012). Today the water temperature reached 22 degrees and there was nothing I could do to lower it so I decided that enough was enough and it was time to eat them. I had planned to grow them out a little longer however with the ever increasing spring temperatures its really difficult.

This decision didn’t come lightly and only after I added shade to the Aquaponics trout tank, additional airstones, insulation to the outside of the tanks and added ice to lower the water temperature.

If you decide to try trout remember that they are quite fast growing and if you get them at the end of summer its possible to grow them out to plate size before it gets too hot if you chill the water, have plenty of oxygen and have them in insulated tanks.

Trout prefer chilled water. It would be difficult to keep them in a tank without a chiller capable of bringing the water temp from ambient down to single digit figures. That said I have kept my trout successfully in water temperatures up as high as 15 degrees. After that they start to hover around the top of the tank and won’t do well.Time to Harvest Aquaponic Rainbow Trout

They need cool well oxygenated water and unless you live under a snowy mountains dam and had flow through system I would suggest that you will either need to eat them all like I did before summer. As the amount of oxygen water can hold is proportional to temperature I suggest you add a few air stones as the temperature rises.

As you can see in the photo my trout all grow at different levels. Although the trout were purchased as fingerlings, when harvesting its clear that they all grow at differnt growth rates even though they all have been kept in the same environmental conditions. I would have liked to grow my fish for another month if possible however my biggest fish were still plate size.

What if im a Vegetarian and dont eat fish?

In most cases you start an aquaponics system as you wish to reuse a waste product and harvest two food commodities- both fish and vegetables. BUT- I have been asked many times what do i do if i don’t want to eat the fish in my aquaponics system? My usual response is, well it just doesn’t matter- don’t eat them im sure the fish will thank you for it. When you think about it, we only need the fish for their “waste product”to provide nutrients to our vegetables. So if your a vegetarian or if you cannot quite bring Koi can be used in Aquaponicsyourself to catch and kill your fish for consumption then why not use ornamental goldfish or koi.

There are many really strong bennifits to using ornamental fish in aquaponics systems. Koi and goldfish look fantastic, they are really hardy fish, grow really quickly and produce a great deal of waste that you can use for your vegetables. Koi and goldfish are also very tolerant of pH and temperature fluctuations.

If your going to use ornamental fish you might as well dig a pond in your backyard for a great visual effect. Its great to use recycled containers for aquaponic fish tanks but in this case you really want to view the fish. A pond can easily form a really great feature for your yard.

Silver Perch Fingerlings

Yesterday I received a shipment of 200, 3-4cm Silver Perch and they are now available for sale to anyone that would like to come and collect them from me. Remember its not fingerling season so its pretty rare to find any at the moment. My supplier has given me a bulk discount and breeds them with heaters over winter. silver perch fingerlings- great for aquaponic systems

Look after your fish

When you get your fish you should do everything you can keep them cool. With the rising temperatures each day the fish will suffer if you don’t handle them correctly.

  1. Simple fish transport tips
  2. Dont leave the fish bag in a parked vehicle in the sun.  You will cook them for sure.
  3. Dont leave the fish bag exposed to the sun.
  4. Dont place your fish in a fridge or freezer or cool room to lower the temperature as this will be too cold for them and they may die.
  5. Dont open the bag until you are home in your backyard and ready to add them to your tank or Aquaponics system.

Fish cannot survive long without oxygen so don’t open the bag. Try to avoid releasing your new fingerlings in the middle of a hot day. Young fingerlings or any other fish, will not be comfortable in bright sunlight or heat.  Try and release your fingerlings very early or late in the day to avoid the mid day heat and to give the little guys the best start in your new environment.

Carefully open the plastic bag so that you don’t puncture the bag. Float the bag in your fish tank for about 20 minutes to allow water temperatures to adjust.  Then after this time add a litre of your tank water into the bag to help the temperature adjustment process and also this will help with any pH balances too. Continue floating the bag for a further 5 mins and then you can release all the fish into your tank and let them swim away into the water.

If the day you intend to release your fingerlings is overcast and not too hot, you may find the above process will not be required. Temperature is the main reason for slowly mixing water. If you feel the temperature on the surface of your Aquaponic system or fish tank dam is the same or very close to the temperature of the water the fingerlings are packed in and you know that your pH is neutral, and then you may simply release the fingerlings directly from their bag into your tank after 10mins.

Another reason for the above mixing process is, when the fingerlings have been held in their bag for an extended length of time it can cause the level of carbon dioxide to build up in the packing water. In the presence of high oxygen the fingerlings can survive the high concentration of carbon dioxide, but they may go into shock if they are added too quickly to water that has normal levels of oxygen. Therefore the mixing process should be followed whenever fish have been held in bags more than 6 hours.

Port Stephens Council Aquaponics Workshop

Last weekend marked a great day of Aquaponics introduction training for the Port Stephens, NSW residents. This workshop gave an introduction to the principles and practical DIY methods using recycled materials to build and maintain a homemade backyard Aquaponics system.

Although the local government elections and voting got in the way, once everyone  finished that task the Aquaponic Gardener gave an great introduction to DIY backyard aquaponics technique and application. The talk focused on the need to find sustainable gardening and agriculture methods in food production to reduce food miles, increase food security and generally live in a more sustainable manner. Over 100 different styles of aquaponic systems were shown which really changed mindsets. The conversion of swimming pools and growing flowers in aquaponics were topics that had the crowd on the edge of their seat.

 see the following link for the full sustainable living program: Port Stephens Council Sustainable Living posterJuly 2012

Aquaponics is interesting

Aquaponics is one of the most interesting and  sustainable ways to produce fresh vegetables and fruits and, at the same time, sustain a freshwater fish system all in your backyard.

Aquaponics combines the best traits of traditional aquaculture (fish farming) and the use of water and nutrients to growing plants – hydroponics.

Koi Pond supplying nutrients to my vegetables

My Koi Pond supplying nutrients to my Aquaponics system

Many enthusiasts and professional practitioners attest to the fact that aquaponics eliminates the disadvantages of the two systems as one supports the other in a closed loop biological system.

Aquaponics also eliminates the common disadvantages of more traditional soil based vegetable gardens while improving upon existing freshwater fish farm systems. By using aquaponic techniques  both fish and vegetables  thrive as all required nutrients needed by plants are provided by the fish and will also act as a biologicial filter too.

This approach is really very sustainable and many backyard vegetable growers and fish enthusiasts around the country have already experienced great success and regularly produce fresh organic vegetables and tasty, clean fish together.

Neem Tree organic approach

Ever Heard Of the NEEM TREE?

The earliest documentation of neem mentioned the fruit, seeds, oil, leaves, roots and bark for their advantageous medicinal properties. These benefits are listed in the ancient documents ‘Carak- Samhita’ and ‘Susruta-Samhita’, the books at the foundation of the Indian system of natural treatment, Ayurveda. Neem has a garlic-like odor, and a bitter taste. The various parts of this tree have many uses that aptly give neem its name in Sanskrit-“sarva roga nivarini”, meaning ‘the curer of all ailments’. Some of the most important documented uses of various parts of the neem tree are:  

Neem oil is extracted from the seeds of the neem tree and has insecticidal and medicinal properties due to which it has been used for thousands of years in pest control, cosmetics, medicines, etc.

Neem seed cake (residue of neem seeds after oil extraction) when used for soil amendment or added to soil,  not only enriches the soil with organic matter but also lowers nitrogen losses by inhibiting nitrification. It also works as a nematicide.

Neem leaves are used to treat chickenpox and warts by directly applying to the skin in a paste form or by bathing in water with neem leaves. In order to increase immunity of the body, neem leaves are also taken internally in the form of neem capsules or made into a tea. The tea is traditionally taken internally to reduce fever caused by malaria. This tea is extremely bitter. It is also used to soak feet for treating various foot fungi.  It has also been reported to work against termites. In Ayurveda, neem leaves are used in curing neuromuscular pains. Neem leaves are also used in storage of grains.

Twigs of neem are also used in India and Africa as toothbrushes. Nowadays toothpastes with neem extracts are also available commercially.

Neem has anti-bacterial properties that help in fighting against skin infections such as acne, psoriasis, scabies, eczema, etc. Neem extracts also help in treating diabetes, AIDS, cancer, heart disease, herpes, allergies, ulcers, hepatitis and several other diseases.

Neem (leaf and seed) extracts have been found to be spermicidal and thus research is being conducted to use neem extracts for making contraceptives. Neem produces pain relieving, anti-inflammatory and fever reducing compounds that can aid in the healing of cuts, burns, earaches, sprains and headaches, as well as fevers.

Neem bark and roots also have medicinal properties. Bark & roots in powdered form are also used to control fleas & ticks on pets.

Neem oil, leaves and neem extracts are used to manufacture health and beauty care products. Some of such products are soaps, bath powders, shampoos, lotions and creams, toothpastes, neem leaf capsules to increase immunity and as a skin purifier, insect repellents, pet care products, etc.

Neem extracts have been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use on food crops. It has been proven in various research studies  that Neem is non-toxic to birds, beneficial insects or humans and protects crops from over 200 of the most costly pests

Aquaponic systems and size

Aquaponic type  systems can be scaled up or scaled down, totally depending on your personal production needs.  If your just producing food for a hobby you will only need a very small footprint of land however if your going to make a little income you can easily just add a few more grow beds and additional fish tanks- its really flexible. A small aquaponic system can produce up to fifty kilograms of fresh fish such as Tilapia, Murray Cod, Sleepy Cod, Jade Perch, Silver Perch or Trout or maybe  every six – 12 months  depending on the fish species used. Not to  forget the one hundred kilogram plus potential vegetable yields.

simple aquaponics IBC Tote 1 bed system

A simple aquaponics IBC Tote 1 bed system

If you want to sell organic vegetables, fruits, and fish, you can expand your operation accordingly  to produce a higher target harvests. In doing so you will need more space and a more powerful water pumps etc, but these are just one-time requirements of the system.

Once you have the expanded system in place, thats it. Just spend a few minutes each day checking for any blockages, leaks, feed your fish and your laughing. All you have to do at that point in time is to maintain the system so all your plants and fish grow well. aquaponics systems can provide abundant harvests on a day-to-day basis.

Remember: no one is too old or too inexperienced to start their own aquaponics system. If the desire to be self-sufficient is there and you have the passion to get things done, aquaponics is definitely right for you!