FreestyleFarm » AN URBAN FARM IN THE CITY

Masthead header

Basement Aquaponics and Raising Tilapia

This summer, twenty little Blue Nile Tilapia were hand delivered to my door. I had given up all hopes of finding a supplier in Canada, and was thrilled when I found one near my home. The fish spent their summer growing out in the greenhouse where our first aquaponic system was made. Once the cooler temperatures of September came around, we relocated them to our basement, in a 100-gallon stock tank (giant water bowls for cows and horses). Here’s the growbed two weeks after seeding.

October 15: The bok choy, kale and basil are already forming secondary leaves. Green onions, celery and romaine lettuce were store bought, cut and stuck right into the growbed. It’s amazing how they will continue to grow and regenerate.

More green onions and celery. Cut and store in the fridge for later use, while the ends sit in shallow water and continue to send new shoots and stalks. These onions were cut just above the elastic and grew back in about 2 weeks. I know, I know, I’m digressing, just wanted to share this lovely arrangement growing on my kitchen table. Back to aquaponics…

You can see water is continually being pumped (coming out of white tube) to fill the growbed. To the left is the bell siphon which automatically drains the water back into the tank once it reaches a certain level (1-inch below the surface). This flood and drain set-up is different than what we had previously done in the greenhouse. A timer is not needed and because the pump is always on, it’s less wear and tear on the pump. Kind of hard to explain without losing everyone, so I’m putting it out there to you readers, that if there is enough interest, we may put together some kind of a workshop where you can see how it’s done, or even build one to take home with you. Lemme know and we’ll see what happens.

October 21: A week later, look how much they’ve grown. You can see towards the back where the black hose of the pump attaches to the white PVC pipe. The boxy black thingy is the digital thermometer to keep the tilapia’s water a toasty 80 degrees.

October 26: So this is when I started noticing that the leaves were not as green as they should be; instead they were a mottled yellow. Everything I looked up indicated that it was low in iron. After more investigation, I realized that the timer which turned the lights on and off, wasn’t turning OFF.

Who knew that plants needed a dark rest period? After turning the lights off for 6 hours a day, these pale green leaves started to darken up.

October 29: New leaves are looking a little greener.

Rainbow chard, assorted herbs, pea shoots and nasturtium is doing great, so are the tomatoes in the back. See how much the green onions have grown?

November 12: We keep raising the lights to accomodate the fast growing vegetables.

November 17: Look how much the tomato plant in the back has grown in five days.

November 25: A lush jungle.

Be sure to test the water often, especially in a new system. I rushed it a bit by putting the fish in before properly giving the tank time to cycle and build up beneficial bacteria. The green sample on the left shows ammonia at quite a dangerous level. After doing a 30% water change, and adding good bacteria from the shrimp tank, the levels were at an acceptable level (yellow mean zero ammonia) within a week. Good bacteria converts ammonia to dangerous nitrites, which then converts into nitrates…harmless to fish, wonderful food for plants.

So what happened to our last remaining prawn?

She was fine up until two days after this photo was taken. She died, after a molt, and had been dead a little too long for us to even want to eat her. I probably couldn’t anyways, we became friends in the end.

Tilapia has been the easiest to raise as they are pretty hardy and can tolerate high stocking densities and fluctuations in water quality. Look at those eyes staring at me. We cannot be friends. I have to remind myself that or there will be no fish on the table.

The fish had grown from tiny little 1-inch fingerlings to between 5-7-inch adults. They will continue to grow till they reach plate size of about 1-2 pounds (cross my fingers). This is definitely a male, that thing sticking out is his uro-gential pore where urine and milt passes through.

This is a female, hard to see in the photo, but she has three openings, one of which is a slit (oviduct) to pass the eggs.

We placed one male and five females in our second tank in hopes that babies will come. The male has claimed this flower pot and will try to entice one of the girls to come and lay her eggs.

For some reason, the male looks nothing like the other females. He’s suppose to be a blue tilapia, but looks white to me. The girls huddle in the corner, not at all interested in following him home.

 

The rest of the fish in the main tank. Did you know once they reach adult stage, the fish are mainly herbivores? That’s what I read anyways. Here, I’ve got cut up blemished leafy greens from the growbed, which leads me to wonder if they will eat sprouts?

Rather than feeding my fish commercial pellets, I’m trying to grow my own source of fish food. Soaking in water, is some wheatgrass, red clover, and alfalfa seeds. Here’s how to grow your own sprouts from a previous post.

Strain by pouring water out through the lid after soaking.

Rinse and strain twice a day, and four days later, you have jars of sprouts.

Pretty amazing eh? These alfalfa sprouts are rich in protein, carbohydrate and minerals. Good for everyone in the family. The chickens and rabbits also love it, the pig brothers, not so much.

So did they like it? Yes, but the problem is the sprouts clogged up the pump which led to fish gasping for air as the water was no longer moving through the system and getting cleaned. I’m going to try it again, this time with some sort of a rigid screen box to sit the pump in and keep the sprouts out. I’m confident that it’s a good source of food for the fish; what I feed them will ultimately ends up in our bodies.

Screens were placed on top of the tank after we lost one suicide jumper. Towards the right of the above photo, you can see clean water automatically draining back into the tank.

So after we started the second fish tank, we also added a smaller second growbed to go with it. Right: Fluorescents (from the microgreen set up last winter) is hung from the rafters. The height is adjusted using S-hooks and a chain.

The plastic pipe attached to the bottom of the growbed is where the water drains. It’s cut to the level that you want your water to reach just before it drains. The hardware cloth around acts as a barrier to keep the clay pebbles and any debris from clogging up the drain. Hubby holds a 2″ diameter pipe, with several cuts made at the bottom to allow water to flow in. A cap is placed on the other end, this “hood” fits overtop the drain pipe. In other words…what you are looking at is the makings of a bell siphon. Water through vacuum pressure, is sucked up into the bell, and when water fills the growbed, will automatically drain. Confusing I know. But it works.

Washed clay pebbles are added to the new growbed, which is from the bottom of an extra rabbit cage I had lying around.

Bell siphon in action; you can see the water reach just below the growbed medium before it drained. You never want the water level to reach the surface or it will encourage algae growth and get all black and slimy. It will also compete with your veggies for oxygen and nutrients.

November 25: Spinach, rainbow chard and bok choy was planted by sprinkling the seeds directly onto the clay pebbles where they fall into the crevices.

November 27: Two days later and the bok choy have sprouted!

November 29: The bok choy have doubled in size, and the rainbow chard has sprouted.

December 3: Bok choy has secondary leaves, and the spinach is finally starting to sprout.

Our little aqua-urban farm in the 6′ x 8′ room in the basement… growing food year round regardless of season.
(I love my little red mechanic’s stool to carry stuff and roll around on. Goes up and down too!)

January Update: Basement aquaponics a month later.
Summer Update: We’ve switched it up! Ducks instead of fish…visit this link for Backyard Duckponics.
March Update: Basement aquaponics a year and a half later.

Tiffany - This is amazing! You guys are totally inspiring, unfortunately I do not have a basement for such a large scale grow-op, but I’ll figure something out!

Janet - Absolutely fascinating!!

Venita - Do you know if you can grow catfish like this? I live in Texas..fyi

Mary - Jill, I get tired just reading about how much energy and resourcefulness you and your innovative family have! Just fascinating. I can’t even keep a small basil plant alive on my porch in summer.

Bakeca Torino - Cool! I love this stuff

Mark - Hi Jill – great to run into you yesterday, its been a while! David shared your site link with me, this is very amazing! We have a 6 acre farm and setup a community garden, chickens etc and have talked about trying talapia (one of my favorites), seeing this really inspires me to give it a try. Thanks!

Bruce Miller - Fantasic effort! Great how to! please keep this story going!

kc - Very impressive. Thanks so much for sharing. I would so love to have a set up to grow greens in winter. This is amazing. Best wishes.

Valerie Ammendola - Thanks! I am trying to come up with a system to fit in a 5′x9′ sq ft basement area so this was really helpful! We are in Wisconsin and want to have a year round system so our only option is a basement too. I would love to hear about your prawns more too. I thought about having two grow beds, one with medium and another as a deep float raft with prawns in the bottom. I loved your sprout idea too. I am hoping to do duckweed in the sump since it doubles in size every week and I won’t have to keep buying seeds. Any suggestions would be great!

Kathryn Connell - Fascinating! You remind me of the joy I used to get from reading Mother Earth News! Wish I had the space/ingenuity to try something like this.

Beau - Thanks for sharing.. looking forward to seeing more..

Basement Aquaponics: January Update » FreestyleFarm - [...] how did my garden grow since the last post? Here is the [...]

Meg Stout - How fun! Makes me want to re-create my basement system again. Alas, it was a bit too cold in my basement for tilapia to thrive. I’ve got a home-made greenhouse in my back yard with bluegill and goldfish that have been doing great for over a year now without having to heat the water.

tom cole - wow nice i got my aquaponics online about a year ago .. doing good too . how do you keep your ph up ? and not harm the fish ? at what level is best for both ?

Melody Lyons - wow. trying to get truthful answers about anything is almost impossible. aqua store says one fish per 5 gallons, murray says two and one half gallons. all u ever need is fish poop. then i read about chelated iron,special rock beds and worms. havent heard anyone say, watch out for gravel that will keep your ph throw the roof or buy a lil ol heater 4 ur too cold basement.and who says whole foods grorchers is REALLY no gmo no mo?

PATRICK WICK - Love this site! I am just about ready to pull the trigger on a system of my own. I could use use some more info on the bell syphon you mentioned, some sort of drawing would be helpful. Also, getting the Talapia I can’t seem to find a good source for them. keep up the good work!

Ben - Great pictures! I have an indoor system using a 50 gal drum for the fish tank. I have the grow bed next to a window for the plants to get the sunlight they need. You can see pictures of my system on my website.

Jan - I just found fish grown in China in refrigerator section our Smart and Final Grocery store. I think I want to grow my own.

ana lorenzo - i love,love,love this article!thanks verry much!

Ben - Catfish works very well in this kind of system. You can have much bigger stock densities as well. They would need more protein as grown-ups. Some people use maggots, red worms and such With Tilapia try keeping the sexes separate in the grow-out ponds.

Rick Griffiths - Love the concept, the small size makes me think this is actually doable for a family. I learned about this type of farming on a larger scale and felt it had to be scaleable. Thank you for sharing your experience and helping others become more aware.

San Thomas - I wish I had the money I would like to try something like this on a larger scale.

Noam - Hi,

Do you want to allow culture to build in the tilapia tank? Or would one prefer a UV resistant black tub to prevent build up?

Renee V Raia - So cool I have already posted this to my FaceBook wall I just love it.

Viceroy - Well done. Your aquaponics system looks really awesome and fun, while still producing the expected results -> organic food. Moreover, with your effort in fish breeding and fish food making, its like the beginning to become permaculture. Anyway, i suggest you use as much sunlight as you can and not relying 100% on artificial lighting since they dont have the ‘vitamins’ that the sun naturally gives to plants. Good luck!

Louise - Fantastic! We are planning to use hydroponics to grow similar eats. Great to see success and gain some inspiration. Beautifully done!

Steve - Hello,

I live in Ottawa, Ontario and I am trying to find a Canadian source of Talapia stock to purchase (preferably not the genetically modified “males”). Any help, advise, or info would be so much appreciated.

Thanks. Great work and best of luck in your aquaponics adventures.

Backyard Duckponics » FreestyleFarm - [...] them to work. Where there are ducks, there is poop, perfect for the ‘duckponics’ project. Our basement aquaponics is still thriving, but I wanted to grow outside and make better use of the pond and real [...]

John Elliott - first timer like what see

Meg - This is amazing! Did you get any interest in doing a workshop? I would be very interested. I live in Toronto and we are hoping to start an indoor aquaponic system soon!! We are avid veg gardeners and I have no idea why I had never heard of aquaponics before! I am very excited to get started! Thanks for sharing your experience!

Alice - It’s interesting that you used sprouts to feed your fish. Did you end up trying it again? if yes, did it work?

Gaby Yazbek - I lift my hat to you and was wondering if you would be kind enough to give me a source in Ontario for starting tilapia farm . I am in Montreal pls advise . keep up the exelent job . looks great .

Diana - Do you have detailed instructions on how you built this agauponic system? I am new at this and would love to learn… Thanks

steve patterson - I was looking at the aquaponics grow bed/fish tank the bell siphon you made is that 2″ pipe just sat in there or is it secured with glue or something

Connie - Just went to a Green Expo that had this idea. I already have goldfish as mosquito eaters for my animal water toughs and they come in the house for the winter, Alberta Canada, Tilapia is so much more as I can full the table with them as they grow. On the sprout feeding have you tried a floating food ring. It keeps the food contained and out of your filter. Love this idea and thanks for your posts. CConnieGail

Janis - I have been trying for two years now to get a system like this started. I can never get the plants to grow past the first to leaves. The seeds sprout, then never progress.

jo - Love your site…..thank you for sharing:):):)

william - what do you mean “no more fish”?…what happened !?!

Val - This is absolutely the coolest thing I have ever seen!! Those vegetables are beautiful!

Josiah Sherman - Hello,

I have an Aquaponics Greenhouse and I’m looking for different ways to feed my Tilapia. I’m currently growing duckweed, but would like to grow several things.

Have you tried the sprouts again? Do you have any other ideas?

I will appreciate any help you can give.

Thank you,
Josiah

Jill - Hi Josiah, no I haven’t tried sprouts again, but I was thinking of raising black solider flies for the larvae, or maybe mealworms. Either way, icky!

Douglas Bullard - I have 15 tilapia that readily eat all the bok choy that I give them. I began feeding them the bok choy as a supplement to the pellets but now they seem to prefer the bok choy over the pelleted food.

karen - this is amazing! good job

James - Hi, that’s cool. Would you guys have the famring systems for sale? cause I have a basement,willing to farm tilapia.Please contact me.Thanks

Danbards - Its so nice.but in our place, we don’t have clay pebbles. can we use broken clay pots instead? thank you.

Jill Chen - Hi Dana, I’ve heard of people trying red lava rock – also known as Scoria (from landscaping supply places). Is there a hydroponic supplier near you? They may be able to suggest an alternative. I wouldn’t use smashed up clay pots. What you want is something light, has lost of surface area for bacteria to grow (that’s why expanded clay, or shale, or recycled glass stone is good as they are light with all the air pockets inside).
Some people have used river rock and gravel, but very heavy so you need to make sure your growbed/table will support all the weight.
Here’s a link in one of the forums that talks about lava rock (some even purchase BBQ stones – which is lava rock – and smash up) http://www.backyardaquaponics.com/forum/search.php?keywords=red+scoria&sid=e60b05993e7ac3f8fdea3cd2861206a7

Kale Jerky, better than potato chips! » FreestyleFarm - […] centre stalk can be replanted in the garden, or stuck in my basement aquaponics grow bed where it will continue to […]

Narayann Kutty - Sir,
I am from India,southern part of India.Recently I came across
lots of articles,relating to AQUAPONIC farming.Your article
really fantastic and informative.I wish to start aquaponic
farming earliest,as your guidelines are impressive.Sir,I wish
to know how much lighting is required in case of GROW BED is
not placed in open area,I mean BASEMENT.
Congratulation Sir,
Thank you

susie - Hi,

Thanks for providing great photos and comments/how to’s.
I have a concern about setting up my tank in the basement.
How do you manage the humidity in the basement? Is there an issue with mold?

Susie

mohammad - that’s absolutely amazing and inspiring… I will give this a sincere try.. hope it works for me here in Canada… :)
thanks for sharing the pics

Michael Paoli - Hi! I teach math and science in a public school in New York. Next year we plan to set up a small aquaponics system in class. I think a 90+ gallon tank might work. We plan or raising edible fish and vegetation as a science inquiry, then we will have a BBQ at the end of the year with parents! We will also be hooking up Arduino units to monitor and feed the fish using some basic robotic programming. We will use sensors to test the water chemistry in our fish tanks and create an automatic fish food catapult that we can control from any computer anywhere in the world.

We will be asking tough questions about where our food comes from and if can we create sustainable food production in the city. All this will be done through the lens of mathematics and science.

Your advice would be helpful. We’re also looking to find some grant money.

What do you think?

Basement Aquaponics and Raising Tilapia | The Garden Of Eden - […] Basement Aquaponics and Raising Tilapia […]

this - pictures look very professional.
beautiful work

yusuf mario germino - wow. great blog.
i just got to check it out now.
nice system you got there and a photo made me think to check my tilapia and set up a breeding tank soon… in sha Allah

Manuel Espiritu - QUESTION – Is it safe to use Rubbermaid tanks for the biofilter and the sump?

Steve - Great job!
Im having a problem keeping the water clean.
I have a swirl filter and a biofilter, but i get rapid sediment.
Ideas? Thanks.
Steve.

Mike - Where did you bought the fish online in canada?

ives - Hi are you based in Toronto? I would love to learn how to grow Tilapia ! Are you looking for some volunteers? I hope your somewhere near Toronto lol Let me know if you are!
Thank you and Best regards,
Ives
P.s. By the way is your system RAS? If so that’s the system I want to learn. Location basement using RASI will most likely need more information. I have looked at some videos on fish farming in Haiti and can already see the benefits. If interested you can see the video here! http://www.fishfarmingbusiness.com/tilapia-farming-a-success-story-for-haiti

David pheth - hello,

Your aqua system looks very impressive!

I too would like to try start one myself. where do you buy the live tailapia fish ?

thanks
Dave

Shawn Westlaken - wow so balanced , what is the best book to have on this subject?

Dave Craig - Very nice! Where did you source the tilapia in Canada?

mulenga-pit - I would like to share some experience with you.

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

*

*