The Aquaponic community has been struck a mighty blow today with the word of the passing of Jesse Hull.
Jesse Hull along with his friend Molly Stanek worked very hard on creating aquaponic educational spaces in schools and public areas all over the USA and was an active part of the Aquaponic Association at its pinnacle.
Sadly, I only got to know Jesse via phone calls and the internet and never had the privilege to share that beer together in person we talked about so often. Even without meeting him in person, Jesse was an inspiration, sounding board, voice of reason and role model for me and someone that I will truly miss.
“Be happy, as soon and as often as you can be” – Jesse
In captivity, we attempt to give them a nest (usually in the form of a flower pot or some other structure with a bowl shape) to call territory and allow for breeding to happen.
Large male with females in a tank. Flower pot for nesting and hide pipes for fish to stay safe.
In both cases, the males will attempt to hold ground and highly contest all of the other fish around them. Any fish that attempts to take the nest or move into the designated breeding area must be driven off or even killed by the fish holding the territory or face the fate itself.
On a large scale area in the wild, this can be accommodated to some respect with natural formations for fish to hide in, lots of room to establish nests and to some capacity even predation which cuts down on the numbers of fish as a whole.
It is normal for male tilapia to fight (it looks much like chasing or Sumo) and attempt to toss other fish out of the tank. If they are unable to rid the fish from their defined territory, they will rip the skin off of the other fish or run them until the stress kills them.
Females will also compete in a standard tank. Females attempt to rip the lips off of each other. This, because of them being mouth brooders, means that they are not just killing the female fish by stopping her from eating properly, but also killing any possibility of her blood line carrying on. When combined you are in for a real shake up when it comes to mating.
Males will attempt to achieve dominance in the tank, beating up all of the other males around them. They will pick the nesting area and start defending it by chasing all males from the area, then attempt to find a female that they can push (read beat up) into the breeding territory.
Females can be killed by the males at this point with the aggression levels they have and efforts in keeping the females in the nest area.
Once the female is in the territory and receptive, she will start cleaning the nest area until she comes into cycle at which time a hormone is released in her urine that draws the male to her to breed. This hormone will also draw in other males in the area adding to the charged environment.
The male will then hyper guard the nest while the female lays eggs. The male will swoop in and milt the eggs, then go off to guard and defend again until the next batch of eggs is laid (read go beat up everything it can come in contact with in the tank).
The female at this point will begin picking up the fertilized eggs in her mouth where she will roll them to oxygenate them by taking little bites of water. The eggs can be seen in her mouth as she rolls them around at this point. She will continue the cycle until she has no more eggs to pick up, while the male continues coming back to milt and then guard. Once she is completed in her duty to drop and pick up eggs the male will then drive her from the nest (read beat her up) so he can find another female to mate with.
At this time the female is vulnerable in the tank from all of the other fish. She will not eat for the next few weeks while she rears her young and will weaken over time. Other fish in the tank (both male and female) will attempt to beat her up and get her to spit her eggs and fry of which they will eat given the opportunity.
Blue Tilapia with Very Small Babies
In a single confined fish tank, this is a lot to manage, and it is up to the aquaponist to help sort out.
For a good breeding environment, I suggest a few things.
Be able to see your fish. If you are unable to see what is going on in the tank and what your fish are doing it is unlikely that you will be able to help the reproductive process with your fish. Look for signs of territory owning, watch for fish with distended chins or females rolling eggs.
Make sure you have brood tanks available for the incubating females and eggs or better yet, be able to move the non-brooding fish to another communal tank (harder to do usually due to the size needed for the tanks).
Tanks on hand for rearing fry.
Once the female has picked up the eggs, collect her and the eggs (as calmly as possible to stop her from spitting out the eggs) and migrate her to another tank on her own. This will lower the stress levels overall for the mother and allow for the fry to have the best chance of not being eaten. (Ensure that you have a filtration system that will not allow the fry to get sucked into it. Fry have an uncanny ability of finding ways into canister filters, grow beds and swirl filters. <check these daily>)
These tanks should be set up and running with an already active bacterial load so that you are not putting the fish through a full nitrate cycle. You should have a tank for the female to brood out and another tank to move the female to once she has completed looking after the fry to build her weight back up (remember she has not eaten for weeks at this point) before putting her back in the general population tanks.
For many aquaponists, fish breeding seems very daunting and equipment intensive, so the desire to just not have the fish able to reproduce at all seems to be the key. This is far from resolving the issues overall in a tank however. The fish will still become aggressive with one another even if they are not allowed to breed.
There are many schools of thought on how to resolve some of the issues; some advisable and successful, others not so much:
Increase the fish density or use a smaller tank:
(This is something I do not recommend at all.)
In aquaponics which is based on bacterial loads and stability to keep a handle on the nitrate cycle, small water volumes are problematic and very hard to manage. Bigger water volumes and an even stocking density is a key factor in the stability and success of an aquaponics garden. By messing with this, you set yourself up for many potential pitfalls along that way.
For the tilapia, territory is based on the space size they believe they need for a nest and not a factor in the small size of the fish tank. (Equating this to humans, the house size a family requires or desires is not a factor based on the size of township of which they live in) Although you are giving them a physical boundary in which to live, the fish will not take that into account for nest building or territory holding. This can lead to very heavy pressure of other fish and worse.
The thought process of keeping a higher fish densities to cut down on breeding is only somewhat factual and successful.
The higher numbers in the volume of living space creates more pressure in the tank for space which will cut down on the chances of successful breeding but also creates more stress overall which will have a have impact on the health of your fish, their growing abilities and your overall success of the aquaponics system. High levels of stress also open up other problems like diseases as the fish have a lowered immune system decreasing the abilities to fight off infection and viruses meaning that it could cause a cascade effect in losses should something go wrong. The higher concentration also means there is usually a higher competition level for food with the biggest, most dominant and aggressive fish gobbling up offerings quickly and the lesser fish being pushed to the sides creating an overall weakness for problems to arise in.
Sex Segregation or single chromosome exclusion:
Tilapia are hard to sex in the juvenile (fingerling) stage under 4” in length. It is estimated that even professionals who do sexing full time are only able to get it right about 70% of the time at that size and 50% of the time with smaller fish. Sexing fish is also time consuming and stressful on the fish which is something most breeders attempt to avoid at all cost as time equates to money and stressed fish equate to problems.
As a result, most breeders will simply scoop out the fish they have for sale and you will get a mix of both males and female stock. (This is actually a good thing for most people doing aquaponics because, in my opinion, fish breeding and maintaining your own fish stock is as important as seed collection of an aquaponics system for sustainability.)
For many however, the task of fish breeding seems to be a daunting one so they assume that by ridding the tank of one sex or the other it will make the process easier. This is usually not the case. Hormones and instinct are formidable, unseen opponents and regardless of members of the opposite sex being there, standard societal and dominance competition will occur.
Science has created a method of single sexing fish in order to create male only tilapia.
Many states and provinces are actually looking at this for being a means to resolve the invasive species issues for the fish long term in North America and have thought about pushing for a mandate for all potential invasive fish species (tilapia included) to be single sexed.
For this the fish are milked of the eggs which are then put into colder water to incubate. The fish are then subjected to a hormone that modifies the chromosomes of the fish producing a triploid or male only gender.
There are some issues I have with this.
First the eggs that are incubated at the lower temperatures and exposed to the hormone cause huge losses in the viable fish fry. In my mind this is a huge waste and human intervention where it should not be.
Second, I do not want a GMO fish in an aquaponics system when I am attempting to grow the best and healthiest possible food. Take whatever stand on GMO’s you like, When I am distributing fish to the public, I feel that it is my duty and responsibility to give them the best possible stock I can give them, which to me means, non-GMO and organically fed. I can’t change things back the other way if I contaminate it in any form.
Third, the term triploid and male only does not always mean that is what you are getting. It is suggested and documented that as many as 10 – 15% of the fish will be female and could still be potentially viable. You will be paying an extra cost for this process on a local level if it is available. If it is not available locally, you can also count on expenses in shipping and permits to get them if you can at all. The end game is that you could still end up with breeding fish for the extra cost and have actually saved nothing in efforts for the price.
What we have had success with:
Tilapia like a living temperature range between 22c to 30c. Breeding temperature in our tanks is usually around 28c. By dropping the tank temperature to around 24c we have found that they are less likely to be in breeding mode. This is not to say that we have not had a couple of them breed anyway, but the chance of having them breed is a lot less.
The hard part here is temperature stability. Fluctuations of a couple degrees can result in unwanted breeding with the temperature change being the driving factor for putting them “in the mood”. With smaller outdoor tanks this can be somewhat harder to manage and compensate for due to outside temperature movements (larger volume, insulated tanks are more stable as a general rule).
Give both sexes a bunch of territory for them to fold. IE: lots of pipes to hide in and own that are of a variety of shapes and sizes. This will imitate nature allowing for smaller fish to own territory that they will feel safe in and can hide from the abuses of the other males and females in the tank. This will allow the females to hide away from being pushed into breeding situations, lower stress levels in the tank and allow for all of the fish to “own property”.
Lower the fish density
Going against the other schools of thought, you can also attempt to lower the fish density in the tank or use a larger water volume of tank. This is not always great for the aquaponics side because it will also lower the nutrients going to the bacteria and plants however it will drop stress levels in the tank and allow for the fish to be more spread out with less competition.
Let Nature take its course
If you have fish that breed and you don’t want to raise them, leave the female and babies in the tank with the other fish. Chances are that the female will end up being bullied to the point where very few if any of the fish will make it to adulthood. Keep an eye on the female because it is very possible that she may be killed by the other fish attempting to get her eggs.
Some folks will catch the female with the eggs and use a pipette to either suck out or wash the eggs out of her mouth into the main tank to stop the cycle.
I hope that this helps in some of the questions and concerns about tilapia as a whole.
There have been many in our group that have managed to rear and raise tilapia fingerlings to full sized fish in both inside and outdoor aquaponics systems. Do not be shy about asking questions and getting advice on best practices. Remember that we do have a forum on our main website as well as Facebook pages and even a face to face meet up where you can ask questions, offer advice and get involved.
As every real estate person will say, its all about Location, Location, Location!
Solar is very much attuned to this.
Home builders and city design developers are only now starting to consider the average home as being a net zero structures. As a result, is likely that your home, as with most buildings in the city, is not constructed to take advantage of solar the way you might hope.
Few buildings are oriented to full south exposure let alone have the desired roof pitch for taking advantage of the perfect sun angle. This does not mean that solar is out of the question, it simply means that you have to make some choices and go with what is optimal for your situation.
It should be pointed out there are companies that you can hire who will do a full assessment of your property, take sun measurements, calculate angles, calculate solar panel layout and estimate the electrical output. For some this may be a good choice prior to making the investment in gear and going it alone.
For us, the choice was pretty simple for the base of where we needed to install, so we opted to go it alone for the most part.
A direct facing south roof is not something we had and therefore had to attempt to find the best option available.
Our house is facing South East and has (at the moment) two very large pine trees blocking and shadowing the roof making that side of the house a poor choice.
The other side of the roof, although getting a good level of sun during the later afternoon and evening, has a lot of protrusions for ventilation, sewer and furnace venting making it a poor choice for the solar panels to be installed on.
This made us look toward our garage as the next option.
The garage has one side of the roof directed North East and the other side pointed South West. We have a standard 12:3 pitch on the garage roof which is also not optimal.(It should be noted here that local legislation also restricts the distance of the solar panel mountings from the roof and the use of adjustable solar panel structures on roof tops making the likelihood of being optimal less likely for most builds.)
The side of the roof with the most available sunlight during the day is on the South West face with mid-day and afternoon sun exposure.
The North East face gets a lot of sun first thing in the morning. Although off axis for the majority of the day, still has sunlight exposure throughout the day.
Our garage roof was too small for the full 5 kW of solar we chose to install on the South West face alone, which is where we would get the majority of our sunlight, so we opted to put 3.5 kW of solar on the South West face and 1.5 kW of panels on the East face. This layout gives us a capture of the morning sun on the 1.5 kW side and then is still lit to some capacity in the afternoon and evening when we will be capturing the majority of our sunlight on the 3.5 kW west side.
Arrays on the garage
We are well aware that because of this not being optimal, we will never get the full potential of the 5kW of solar that we have installed. We are ok with this because of the pre-planning we did based on our electrical usage and estimations on productivity.
All of this goes to show you do not have to be in a perfect situation for this to work or to make a difference in your power creation.
Donna and I have been struggling with the greenhouse this year. We have problems with our grow bed tables starting to warp from the weight and humidity, Issues with the plastic poly around the greenhouse, limitations on our growing area and being able to access produce and problems with heating and cooling the greenhouse year round.
We would like to change things up.
Currently we have a used single car garage frame that we have used for our greenhouse. Its dimensions are 21′ x 11′ by 9′ tall. Surrounding our greenhouse, we are using nothing more than 7mil poly and bubble wrap for the winter months and just the 7 mil poly in the summer.
Greenhouse When it was first built
Although we have been able to grow through out the winter in our greenhouse, it has been at a cost due to the inefficiencies the greenhouse has. The solar concentrators have helped, but also need to be updated and made better to resolve the issues of the heating without the breakdowns that we have had from the solar tracker losing the sun from time to time.
The in floor heating from the solar concentrators is limited and needs to be extended under the grow beds, and more room in the greenhouse is required for both the water battery for radiant heat and the rabbits for over wintering. We would also like to move the worm farm inside the greenhouse to act as another heat source.
This summer we were hit with a hail storm that devastated our plant production due to the need of us having to remove the end walls of the greenhouse to allow for air flow. The hail came in both sides of the greenhouse and ripped the plants apart. The cold water was then collected in the grow bed and funneled into the fish tanks where we ended up with some pretty harsh losses.
The tables and grow bed supports we have in play are also in need of some much needed repairs. The tables, although reinforced and made as heavy as we could make them with wood, are starting to warp from the humidity and weight on them and are also in need to replacement.
Grow bed table needs to be replaced
We also need to re-insulate and cover the greenhouse this fall. The hail managed to put some divots into the greenhouse and caused a couple of small punctures that need to be resolved before winter comes. (We have them covered with duct tape at the moment to get us through until replacement.)
As you can see, this is turning into a laundry list of problems that we would like to see resolved.
We have been thinking about the issues for the last few weeks and have come up with a plan.
We would like to rebuild and expand the greenhouse to be 24′ long, 16′ wide and 8′ tall. We believe that this will increase our growing capacity by 60%, make the greenhouse more efficient for temperature control, offer up a better education and training facility and be a safer long term structure over all.
Lets start at the bottom and work up.
We would like to put in a better layout of the in floor heating for the solar concentrators, making sure that they go to the outside edges of the greenhouse. This will better stave off the cold int eh winter and make growing a lot easier with fewer losses.
Once the in floor heating is installed we would like to put sidewalk blocks over the entire floor of the greenhouse to level it off and stop the trip hazards that we have in there now. This would also act as our base for the new building structure.
We would like to do the main walls of the rebuild using pallet racking.
Our Proposed Construction Material
The pallet racking would provide a very stable, safe and secure structure frame. The grow beds would be able to sit directly on the shelves that are structurally made to hold them and sized for an IBC tote. The room for extra shelving would allow for more grow space, storage and potential passive heating systems to be incorporated.
Attached to the pallet racking on the outside, we would like to build super insulated panels from the ground level to the 4′ mark all around the greenhouse. The insulated panels would help in both maintaining the heat and cooling within the greenhouse as well as protecting the greenhouse long term from the elements.
Super Insulated Panel
On the upper sides and roof of the greenhouse we would like to install multi walled poly-carbonate panels so that we have a better insulation value for the winter and the ability to create automated venting windows for the summer months.
Going along with the build, we would also like to incorporate a few more items for the education side.
Along with the ebb flow growbeds and dutch buckets that we already run, we are planning to add in a deep water culture system, wicking aquaponic beds and create a spring starter area for starter plants.
We would also like to get a better water capture system in play for collecting the water from the greenhouse, and putting it in play for both the tank top ups and water batteries.
All of this plan sounds simple enough until we get into the costs of implementation. Materials on this project are over $10,000.00.
Our solar install this year has left us tapped for extra finances to make everything happen on our own. Although we have a small budget to do some of the work, we are unable to make a real change that would help long term on our own.
This is where we would like to ask for your help!
We are looking for donations to the project.
We have set a goal of $5,000.00 for the new greenhouse build to get all the materials so that we can begin construction before winter hits. We are trying to make this easy for people to donate. Simply click on the donation button at the right side of the Alberta Aquaponics website, put in the amount you want to contribute!
To quote a show I often quote, “winter is coming”.
I know, we are being hopeful, in trying to make this happen fast, but we need to get the rebuild in play or start doing band-aid fixes to get us through the winter months. We would prefer to do it right the first time and have a long term solution and investment.
We do not expect people to donate without getting anything back, so if we are successful in achieving our goal, we are going to give the folks that donate $25.00 or more an invite for a tour of the new greenhouse, a bunny BBQ and an afternoon of mingling with other supporters for spring of 2016! We will also create a Donators Webpage celebrating everyone who donated and help Alberta Aquaponics and the greenhouse build!
Please help us make the greenhouse a better facility and help Alberta Aquaponics grow by supporting and donating to our cause!
Thank you for being a part of our community and for thinking about helping us go farther!