One Fish, Two Fish

Fresh caught tilapiaWell the garden has come a long way. We are almost done with completely enclosing the system. It is a hybrid greenhouse. This does a couple things; it helps keep bugs out, and just recently, protected all the plants from a freeze. A lot of the backyard plants did not do well, everything inside the greenhouse is fabulous. It’s January and feels like spring inside there. It’s taken a little longer than we hoped to get the coverage up, but looks like it’s well worth it.

The end of summer gardening slump hit. A kind of blah. The plant, grow, harvest, eat, routine started to feel exactly that – routine. I needed a pick me up. That’s when we realized, it was time to catch some fish. Since we had added some unexpected babies to the system we knew we could thin the herd a little. So, with all the sportsmanship of shooting fish in a barrel, my husband plucked out 6 of the largest tilapia  to clean and cook. A first for us. He set out to learn how to clean and fillet by watching some Youtube’s. He bought a good fillet knife, asked a friend who fishes for some advice. The men took 3 fish each and used their own style to prepare them. My husband chose to try to fillet his. This will require much more practice, it left some small pieces but they looked great. His friend used the cut, gut, and fry method. Both turned out delicious! Pan fried and broiled versions were moist and tender white fresh fish. The aquaponic system is definitely not about producing fish for meals. It’s a very long process to grow the fish to meal size. The purpose of the fish are to keep the plants growing. The occasional fish dinner we get is just a bonus. But what a nice bonus. I will admit, I had just a little hesitation. Oh I went along with the idea – sure honey, catch that fish and cook it up. But, I’m a suburban girl. It’s hard to get used to food that doesn’t come home from the market wrapped in plastic. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. That may be the biggest block to getting our food sourced locally and more fresh food from our own hands. I’m sure there is a generation and a half out there that have no idea where food comes from; other then the grocery store aisle packed in cardboard boxes with bright colored labels. A food revolution is going to have to start with one backyard farmer at a time.

Like shooting fish in a barrel

Like shooting fish in a barrel

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Super Basil

beautiful basil

beautiful basil

Where I live I don’t have 4 seasons. It’s just hot, and then its not. So I don’t have that feeling of summer winding down and turning over crops. I have to rely on my plants for a sense of ending. There comes a time when a plant is done and gets pulled out. So, goodbye to my eggplant that I patiently (for the most part) waited for and now is done. I pulled the mint plant out because it was threatening to take over the green house. I plucked a small piece of mint and will start it all over again.  Growing a new beautiful fresh addition for my Mojito. I did the same with the basil. My basil is already on it’s second life. The first plant was nice, filled out well, and grew. Then I pulled it out and started a new plant from a small clipping left. The basil plant 2.0 was amazing, and has grown large beautiful leaves that look like the kind of plant you find in the store, but never looks the same once you bring it home. The difference is – it’s the plant that I grew at home. I harvested those large luscious leaves and made a couple jars of pesto (so good!).  I have no explanation, how a plant started from leaves from the just OK plant has grown into super basil. We’ll see what happens with the third generation. While its a little sad to see those big plants go, I’ve worked hard and watched over them a long time – kind of like sending kids off to college and married life?  I’m left with wide open space and new possibilities.

Mommy, where do baby fish come from?

I’ll be darned if I know! But we have them. Baby fish were spotted in the sump tank. This is about 4 feet away from the tank where all the fish live. So, HOW DID baby fish end up in this tank? It’s a miracle I say, life will find a way. As close as we can figure it must be something like this– first, fish are breeding in the big tank. This is another one of those things we were told would NOT happen. Yet here we are. Tilapia are mouth brooders, meaning, mom keeps the teeny tiny babies in her mouth until they are big enough to survive. The problem in a tank like ours is, its full of hungry fish, even mom fish will turn around and eat the babies once they leave her. The babies go from being nurtured; to appetizers. Out of maybe 1000 tiny fish born, a few have managed to not get eaten. Then they must have been sucked down the pipe that flows into the sump tank, and then not sucked into the water pumps that pump water back into the grow beds. For all of this to happen is incredible. Now we have a fish nursery, where the 12 tiny fish don’t have to worry about pumps or big fish. They will stay in the nursery until big enough to be moved into the big fish tank. This might solve our re-stocking issue. We realized once we start harvesting fish we will also need to replenish fish. We were trying to figure out how to start a breeding program – it looks like the fish have done that for us.

Happy Birthday to the aquaponic garden !

1 of 5

1 of 5

We have celebrated the 1 year mark of the aquaponic garden ! It’s still going strong, producing beautiful veggies, and growing some big fat tilapia. We also opened the garden up to visitors to let people see what this is all about and how it works. I think we had lots of positive responses to what we’ve done here. Its important to show people how these systems work and what they can produce. Most of the people who came by had a vague idea or had at least heard something about this kind of gardening. Most had heard more of hydroponic gardening. This just seems so much better. We don’t buy expensive nutrients to feed the plants, we just buy fish food and seeds to plant. Right now I have some awesome eggplant growing. 5 fruit on the one plant. Up until now the plant has just given us 1 fruit at a time. Which is good, it’s given me time to perfect my eggplant parmesan without the parmesan. I think the hot weather is what it needed. I also picked some of the golden beets. Wow, I LOVE that. They are easy to cook and don’t turn everything bright red while preparing them. It’s also time to start thinking about fall planting. We still have time before the weather cools, but its fun to start thinking about the next season.

lots of eggplant growing

lots of eggplant growing

my favorite, golden beets

my favorite, golden beets


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Attack of the Killer Tomato

I counted 37 tomatoes on the one plant I have in our system. That’s exciting, and just the beginning. So far I have picked 15 pounds of the best tasting fruit off this plant. Unfortunately I didn’t document what type of tomato it is when I planted it. That’s an important part of experimenting with seeds and plants – know what you plant (I’m doing much better now). I know it’s an heirloom, because that’s the only kind I buy. We weren’t really sure how it would do. At a Hydroponic Expo we attended, a vendor told us that tomatoes won’t grow in aquaponic systems, mind you, that was someone selling aquaponic systems! That was discouraging because I LOVE home grown tomatoes, I almost gave up the whole idea at that point. Yet, here I have a very productive plant in my system. I did also pull a 2nd tomato plant out of the system for not producing, so what kind of plant might be really important. One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned: there is a lot of information out there, and some of it is absolutely contradictory. So, we had to make our best guess, and be willing to experiment. It’s farming, not rocket science.  My latest experiment is with rhubarb. I’ve never grown it before, so I’m not sure what to expect. I have some in dirt and some in the aquaponics, so we’ll see how they do. So far the dirtplants are struggling while the aquaponics plants are thriving.  It could take a while for the final decisions, since they are started from seed and will take 2 years to harvest. It feels like a long time to wait for some great pie. 

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Hospitalization of 3 gold fish

I could not have predicted one day I’d be saying we need to quarantine the gold fish… this is what happened. Our 3 gold fish are the hearty survivors from the very beginning of the aquaponic system. So when one day I had been watching the fish just swim, as I do fairly often, I noticed the big one looked funny. He had red discoloration around the head and gills. Not wanting disease to get to the whole tank we decided to pull him out. Given his status as hearty survivor of the previous catastrophe we didn’t flush him. Instead a 5 gallon bucket became his hospital. Some research on the internet lead us to believe it was a fairly common ailment with possible cure. We then checked out the other 2 gold fish determined they could use a brief hospital stay also and began treatment of all 3 in a white 5 gallon bucket in our dinning room.  Now one of the first things you hear when you start farming fish is: don’t get attached to the fish, don’t give them names. This makes it much harder to harvest them. I suppose since we don’t plan to eat the gold fish any time this admonishment doesn’t apply here.  The fish are also the engine of the system and we need everyone of them doing their job. We picked up some fish Rx, thanks to some very helpful staff at Elliott’s Pet Emporium. Treated the fish for 5 days, and returned them to their adopted herd of tilapia, looking fat and healthy.

What happens if California runs out of water?

Drought conditions here in SoCal cause much concern. This system is recycling water constantly. Once the grow beds and fish tank are filled, we’ve added very little additional water to it. There is some loss from evaporation but not much since the system is covered and mostly enclosed. Then the only water use is what the plants take up. This is much less than we would be using for a traditional dirt garden. The figure I have seen is about 5% of what is used in irrigation gardening. *Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/527375/5ec10b5f85/1451002247/8dfc442799/   Not only do we use less water than a traditional garden, we also use less area to grow on. With the high nutrients in the water we are able to plant much closer together than in a traditional garden and things grow faster. We’re not adding chemicals, and growing organic foods. There is no nasty run-off sent out to our waterways. This really sounds like a no-brainer idea for growing food. Maybe soon everyone will be using this method. Eventually we’d like to get this system set up on solar power since we do run small water pumps to circulate water. That would be the ultimate sustainable garden.

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Very large bokchoi

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My favorite, heirloom tomatoes