GROW O'ahu

Island Style Gardening and Plant-Based Living

Adventures in Aquaponics


Use fish to grow food without soil.  This pretty much sums up what aquaponics actually is, the combination of “aquaculture” or raising of fish and “hydroponics” growing of plants in water.  It’s becoming really popular, but systems can get pricey. Our little house is entering our seventh month of experimentation with this system and I have a few things to share about our journey.

This is the first system we tried.  It was a kit available locally and we spent a good deal of time talking story with the guy who sold it to us as he was a wealth of knowledge.  It was worth the money we spent because we were newbies, hadn’t done much homework and just wanted to try it out.  This small set up was perfect for that.  And we feel that since we bought the things, we can call and ask questions!

A variety of things happened.  First we had fish retention issues.  Like, they jumped out, birds ate them and they died mysteriously.  We were using comets in this system.  Since there was some time lapse between getting more fish, fixing issues so they wouldn’t happen (net over the water to keep them safe, etc) the plants began to weaken.  Aphids moved in.  Not much you can spray on these systems that is fish-safe and after five months, I took the surviving plants out, dunked them in vinegar water to remove aphids, and replanted in our soil-based garden.  Two survived!

Meanwhile the hubs got to work  scheming a new system.  Bigger, better and new location! (We think it was too hot in the former spot.)  Also, after checking prices on ready-made systems, it just wasn’t worth the cost unless we built it ourselves, from things we already had.

This is why we make such a great team! I do not have the patience for this level of detail- but he does!! After a couple cups of coffee and a few sketches, he was ready to set it up.

The two original bins became grow beds and he added a third.  Fish are now held in half a 55-gallon barrel, pump is larger and required three PVC pipe dispensers for the grow beds.  We are now using tilapia instead of comets.  Bench they are all sitting on was a curbside find and the barrel we already had.  Purchased items were only the PVC pipe, glue and fittings.

The plants I chose this time are a bit hardier varieties and I spaced them more than in the first system.  Things got crowded very quickly in the other grow bed, which contributed to the bug problem.

Water flows constantly through the system and it has a nice water feature effect on the backyard.

We love learning a variety of ways to grow food.  We may not always have outdoor space or soil to have a garden, and learning these skills feels so empowering.  We are also teaching our son simple science in the process.  He will be three years old next month and I heard him explain to a friend who was visiting, “That’s Daddy’s fish. They help Mommy’s plants grow.”

So true! They are Daddy’s fish, and Daddy’s brilliant scheme to make all the flow, pressures and valves work- but Mommy looks after the little green babies on top.

And should those aphids strike again, we now have an aquaponics safe recipe for spraying them! We are undecided on whether we will eat the tilapia once they get big enough.  Some people do, and then just replace them with new fish.

Any aquaponics experts or novices out there eat their fish?


Author: Carmen

Things I love: justice in all forms; flowers; locally grown food; cloth-diapering; breastfeeding; feminist theory; outdoor play; beaches; wine; Divine interventions; 4-H and coffee. Things I loathe: racism; homophobia; toxic crap; misogyny; litterbugs; the zombie apocalypse and pitbull-haters. My formal education is in sociology, gender studies, and public policy. I'm also a Lactation Educator; 4-H Youth Development coordinator a Certified Master Gardener and a graduate of a Permaculture Design Course. I've been blogging for several years on dozens of topics- everything from women's health to breed-specific legislation. But the thing I like to write about most is my gardening, food adventures and my kids. So there you have it. Please be kind. Thanks.

5 thoughts on “Adventures in Aquaponics

  1. This blog is fantastic Carmen. Just started reading it and am backtracking as fast as I can read. I have tons of questions for Joe about pumps and some construction tips.

    • I’m sure he’d love to tell you all about it! He went to a special school in Reno a couple months ago for centrifugal pumps which he was able to apply to our little aquaponics set up. 🙂

  2. This is great. I’m so impressed that you jumped in an tried it yourself. I’ve been dreaming of an over-priced set up but a big draw card for me is eating my fish too. Did you ever eat any of your fish?


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