My agro-industrial complex

stoneunhengedDecember 17, 2006

Here are my two greenhouses:

And some hydroponic tomatoes:

And some tilapia:

And some orchids grown exclusively on the waste water from tilapia:

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javan(9b n. coastalCA)

Wow, looks beautiful. I'd love to hear more about the tilapia, and your tomato setup. Jim

    Bookmark   December 17, 2006 at 7:41PM
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The best tilapia aquaculture info can be found at

I keep two breeding colonies of tilapia in 60 gal. aquariums. The fry go into a 30 gal. aquarium when they're small and into the 450 gal. tank when they're growing.

In the spring, when it's warm, they go into 630 gal. tanks outdoors. There, they eat algae with some supplemental feeding and grow to harvest size; about two pounds. It's easy to produce way more tilapia than any family can consume.

I use the fish waste water to water my orchids and start tomato seedlings from seed in peat plugs. When the seedlings are about 4" tall, they go into a hydroponic unit. I use fish water and Earth Juice organic nutrients in the hydroponic units. The units are made by North American Hydroponics. I've tried others; these seem to be the easiest and most efficient to operate. Unlike ebb and flow systems, very little nutrient is wasted and it requires almost no media to hold the plant roots.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2006 at 8:22PM
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nathanhurst(VIC Aust)

Tres nifty.

What do you feed your fish? As far as I can tell, most intensive fish farming seems to rely on fishmeal derived foods. This is clearly not sustainable (when assessing technologies, always ask 'what if everyone tried to do this?').

I'm using silver perch, which eat insects and algae, but I am still feeding them pellets to get a useful growth rate. What are you using? WP states that tilapia will eat a purely cereal diet, but again you are still importing energy from elsewhere.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2006 at 8:42PM
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Karen Pease

Too bad you have all of that tree shade around your GHs.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 12:36PM
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nathanhurst(VIC Aust)

karen, that's why the big lights I presume. (Of course using lights when the sun is available would easily chew up any environmental benefits of the system)

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 4:38PM
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These greenhouses need artificial light about four months of the year. The rest of the time, the sun is high enough to give direct light.

Of course, I could bulldoze the nearby trees and get all the environmental benefits of never using lights.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 6:10PM
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nathanhurst(VIC Aust)

and burn the wood to heat the place!

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 6:42PM
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Karen Pease

Hey, it'd be carbon-neutral ;)

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 6:47PM
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I am very interested in your setup, and have considered doing something similiar. I am located in Pennsylvania, and have cold winters to deal with.

I am curious as to where you are located

    Bookmark   January 27, 2007 at 2:36PM
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Stone, I have thought about the integrated system that you are using, but am unsure about doing it here in the MidWest (Missouri, Zone 5 almost 4). At present I do not have a GH, but would like to do the fish/hydroponic thing.

By the way, loved your recent FarmLife post of the Red Wattle Hogs!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 10:47AM
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Stone: I'd like to hear about your filtration system and learn what advice I gave Moke that was wrong, other than my sure knowledge that surface area in relation to depth is vital. But my experience has been strictly in keeping ornamental fish and what I wrote to him was based entirely on that basis.

For instance, I believed that a 2 lb. fish would require far more than 60 gal. to spawn, and obviously, I was wrong, or do Tilapia spawn at a smaller than mature size? Do you use the 60's only to maintain your breeders, or do you select pairs and move them to another tank for spawning?

Also: as my communication with Moke was based on his intent to buy fry, we never got into breeding: are Tilapia egg scatter's- attacher's- caregivers?

I'm also curious to learn what you do with your excess stock.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 2:36PM
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Stone: I read the cherrysnapper website. What a saga! So, they are mouthbrooding African cichlids. That explains the under maturity size breeding. Do you let your females brood to hatch, or do you take the eggs and culture them yourself?

I keep only Amazon and Asian species, and to be honest, the only true Tilapia I believe I've ever seen have been boneless fillets of them in the fish dept. of the grocery store.

I'd still like to learn about your filtration system.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 11:24PM
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I looked over the Cherrysnapper site and found the information both interesting and enlightening. I, like Birdwidow, wasn't too familiar with Tilapia and thier propagation, but now am wondering if they would do well in an Aquaponics system here in the midwest. My biggest concern is the expenses of maintaining an adequate temp for growth of the fish.

Stone, what temp do you normally try to keep your tilapia at, and at what temp do they start to struggle? This could be crucial to my deciding whether or not to go with this species.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2007 at 2:48PM
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The cost of heating a GH large enough to house food fish in a Midwest winter concerned me too, and why I suggested that you look DOWN for your operation. If you have the means and skill to pour a foundation as you described; why not dig down below your frost line and let the earth serve you? Just a thought, but the cost of heating all that space above ground could make your plans unworkable.

Meanwhile, I attended a fish auction in Chicago on Sunday, and there were some small Talipia there, but I don't know which specific sub-species. I was too busy focusing on some unusual Gups that I planned to bid on.

But I did see them in a bag on the table, and even lifted it up for a better view. They were juviniles that hadn't yet colored up and I don't recall the scientific name on the label, but now I can honestly claim to have seen (and held) a live Talipia.

But I can also be reasonbly safe in saying that they were not destined for the table.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2007 at 4:57PM
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I have to agree with you about the cost of heating a conventional above ground GH, that is why I am thinking of earth contact. I only need to be 3 feet below ground level to be below our winter frost line here, so I can still build a structure that would have a wall above ground on the N, with a sloping Poly Carb roof facing S. This away I can get solar heat gain by painting the S side of the N wall with flat black paint. Of course the wall will have to be super insulated and built massively of masonary materials. I am thinking of going with a 16 X 24 design plan.

What I read on the Cherrysnapper site has me concerned with the issue of breeding at small sizes and over population if you do not hybridize or purchase hybrid fry. So I am considering other species which could be cultivated using a similiar Aquaponics system.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2007 at 12:33AM
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Moke: Good plan. But the deeper you go, the warmer it gets and stays in winter and the reverse in summer.

Other species. Hummm...

Juvenile fancy Discus fetch at least $25.00 each. They aren't for eating, but the proceeds from one spawn could buy a whole bunch of groceries.

Or Sterlet's, a small sturgeon species, but mainly, they are cold water fish a lot tastier than Talipia,
that could winter outdoors with only an air hole in the ice.

Lot's of possibilities for aquaculture, especially for someone with their own, sweet water well.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2007 at 10:18AM
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Interesting thoughts on alternative fish species. One friend of mine was trying to steer me towards Salmon, but I told him I didn't think they would be adaptable to fresh water propagation because I understand that most of them are androgenous (living part of their lives in fresh, then salt water before returning to freshwater for spawning.) I was thinking of trout, or crappie, or maybe just good old fashioned channel catfish.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 12:41PM
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I agree. Salmon require far more to raise, let alone breed in what you are planning. But like their cousins the Salmon, Trout require very high levels of oxygen in cold, fast moving water, even in summer, a difficult condition to reproduce in anything less than several 1000's of gallons set up in raceways, with chillers in the midst of a midwestern heat wave.

Crappie grow quickly and can take pretty diverse water conditions, but the cost of rearing them to table size in anything less than several acres of natural pond that produced food for them could equal their sale value. Ditto Channel Cats. Easy to keep, but champion eaters. It's all a matter of cost-benefit ratios and high on that list is the cost of feed. Large commercial fish farms buy their's in huge bulk.

I admit that I think aquaculture for food fish production doesn't really make ecconomic sense in a home GH in cold country, although I could be totally wrong. But I do know for a fact, that rearing a decorative species for the pet trade is another matter, especially if you work with a species that is desirable, fairly uncommon, pricey and doesn't require heated tanks.

For instance: If you could get your hands on about 6 young captive bred Sterlet's, the odds favor at least one pair and given about 2000 gal and the right water conditions, they would get up to breeding size in a few years. But there too, their value as live pets is far greater than as fillets. A Fla. breeder that sells on eBay is getting $60.00 each for 4 inch babies.

Why am I suggesting that you look into Sterlet's? Simple: The boom is in ponding. Sterlet's are very small sturgeon that won't outgrow a home pond, are totally peaceful and ideal pond mates to Koi, and like Koi, can be wintered under ice. All you need to keep them through the coldest winter is a small hole in the ice and an air stone. So your mature breeders could be wintered outdoors in a dormant state, while you fed up babies to sale size in the GH in stock tanks with just enough heat to keep them active and eating.

Interesting comparison. A 30 inch wild carp is a cheap food fish. So cheap; most end up as cat food. Color it up really fancy, and it's 1000's of $ worth of Koi.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2007 at 11:36AM
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That cherry snapper guy wants an arm and a leg for those fish of his. I don't think I could stomach spending that kind of money on a couple tilapia breeders. Besides, in my 10 years plus of experience with tilapia, I have found Mozambiques and hybrids based on them to be inferior fish overall. Niles will perform far better.

I get tilapia stock from White Brook Tilapia Farm ( They are great fish, and much less expensive.

Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 2:01PM
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