Cheap Aquaponics “Startup Fish”
– by Colle and Phyllis Davis
“Can we use goldfish or crayfish or something besides tilapia in our backyard aquaponics system?”
This is a frequently asked question and prompted a conversation with a new ‘aquaponist’ at my local Home Depot store which has prompted me to make a list of the fish that can be used in aquaponics for new aquaponics farmers to get started with because of choice or local regulations or restrictions.
The gentleman in the plumbing section of Home Depot had to help me find a component we use to manufacture the PFAS Kits and he asked me what I was using so many, I told him they were used in our manufacturing process. He said, (you will not believe this), ‘Oh, are you doing aquaponics?’
I nearly fell down from surprise. He explained that he had a small aquaponics system in his backyard and was using goldfish poop to raise the most amazing basil and peppers he had ever seen. It’s a small world to meet someone with an aquaponics system that actually guessed what I was building. His explanation was that another fellow builds hydroponic systems for people and uses the same item in a very different way. But back on topic. . .
The list of aquatic animals below includes enough species so you can get started today with a tiny aquaponics system to learn and grow with to see how amazing the technology really is at growing vegetables and fish. My original setup was a dishpan with aquarium gravel laid across an aquarium. The fish happened to be tilapia because it was my job at UC Davis (back in the early 1970’s) to clean the fish tanks, a nasty smelly job.
Each species has different requirements and are more or less hardy and easy to maintain. The list below is not all-inclusive, but is meant to be a basis for an inexpensive beginner aquaponics setup so you can get your hands wet.
By providing these fish with a clean water supply, aeration and food, you are ensuring a constant supply of the finest poop your system can handle.
Two caveats here:
- You will lose fish – this means some of them will die. Get used to it, its farming.
- Unless you are using the PFAS, you will have problems with sediment in the gravel so you will have to clean the gravel occasionally. Get used to it, its farming.
With the PFAS the #2 above is not true. Oh, and to use the PFAS you will need to complete the Aquaponics University Portable Farms Aquaponics Systems Course.
|Goldfish||Hardy, readily available, poop a lot||Cheap||Tough to find a constant market – not for eating|
|Koi||Hardy, readily salable as ornamentals, can be fed cheap dog food, do not have to replace very often||Relatively cheap||No one eats them, limited market|
|Catfish||Hardy, grow fast, seasonally available, chow is commercially available||Relatively cheap||Seasonal availability of fry and depressed markets|
|Carp||Really hardy, fast growing, will eat almost anything||May be tricky to obtain fry||No food market in US|
|Crayfish/Prawns||Can be raised in conjunction with any other fin fish or by themselves.||Relatively inexpensive to obtain||Most are cannibalistic and must be provided housing (short sections of PVC pipe) to keep any number to harvest size.|
|Perch||New candidate – Feed just becoming available||Not cheap||Regional markets only|
|Bass||Not recommended because you have to feed them live bait||Relatively inexpensive||Fish and Wildlife regulations on sale for food|