Fall 2012 Tilapia Harvest

Not only has Hurricane Sandy been through the area but Fall has arrived and with it are much colder temperatures. I still have fish outside and plants growing in the outdoor system but it is about time to shut things down in the next few days and focus on the indoor system.  The outdoor system was incredibly successful this year yielding nearly 100 pounds of fish and large amounts of veggies and herbs throughout the season.  A lot was learned as the system was expanded and the growing season was expanded to a 6 month period of time.  This will be a long post that will focus on harvesting the fish so that you can see the fruits of our labor.

I first want to make the point that in addition to this system providing food it is also a fun way to learn about some scientific concepts.  Part of the simple maintenance is that I regularly check the water for Ph levels, Nitrate levels and so on.  I keep tables of the results and make the necessary adjustments when change is needed. It is fun to see how minor changes in anything from water levels, to the number of fish or plants can have impact on the condition of the water.


These pictures and Video are actually from the end of September. I knew that cold days were coming and wanted to harvest a number of the Tilapia before it got too cold at night and I ran the risk of losing them.  I have worked with 55 degrees at night threshold being the temperature that I wanted to think hard about pulling the fish.  Of note is that I left about a half dozen fish in the tank over the past month and we experienced several nights below 40 degrees.  While I wouldnt suggest pushing your luck too much im happy to report that though the fish were lethargic all except one survived.

This first video is of catching and then killing a Tilapia.  While this is simply the process by which fish are harvested, this may be too graphic for some people so those of you who are a bit squeamish might choose not to watch this one.

After the Tilapia are caught and killed, I take a few minutes and I weigh and measure each fish and record that data. I am tracking growth rates of these fish starting from when they are 1/4 inch fry and ending with being 2 pound, 14 inch mature fish 18 months later.  This video shows several fish being weighed and measured.

One interesting thing that you witness when harvesting the fish is that there is a good chance that several of the fish either have recently laid eggs or are carrying fry.  Tilapia are mouth breeders so after they lay eggs that are then fertilized, the females then carry the eggs in their mouth until they hatch.  In this picture (again might be a bit graphic for some so I am making it small but you can expand) you see that after harvesting this fish I realized that its mouth had been full of eggs.





The other thing you might find is a female who is carrying a mouth full of fry.  In this video you see just that. After catching this female and discovering a mouth full of fry, instead of killing it, I moved it (and the fry) into the Indoor system.










After catching and killing the fish the next step is gutting and scaling. This can be a pretty quick process with the right tools.  These photos and the video show the end result of this process.


Harvest Meals and Caterpillars

Even though it was hot and dry at times, it has been a lovely summer, .  The Gardens and Aquaponics have all yielded much of their bounty at this point and have made their contribution to the great summer. As the temperatures drop it is time to think about pulling up and turning over the garden, as well as planting a few winter crops like garlic, onions and potatoes.  It is also time to close down the outdoor Aquaponics system and focus on the indoor system.  Much of those activities will be discussed in future posts but there is still plenty to talk about now.  This post is a long one so Im going to break it into three parts.



The rooftop garden at this point is an unruly beast but it continues to produce some items like grape tomatoes and lots and lots of cayenne peppers.  These pictures were taken during the first week of September 2012.  You can also see that the Outdoor Aquaponics system is going along quite well. Lots of Basil, Chives and Cilantro in the vertical section.  One pic also shows the amazing root growth the plants have in the vertical section.  In the horizontal section you can also see the abundance of Tomatoes, Eggplants (on top) as well as all sorts of lettuce





Someone like myself can be a bit simple minded at times.  So when I had some young visitors who wanted to see the garden, I mistakenly apologized and said there was very little to see as the growing season was over and the harvest had taken place. Within moments I was proven wrong when those that looked not through a narrow view but through wide eyes, found garden inhabitants that were just as exciting (if not more so) than any Tomato, Caterpillars!







Harvest Meals:

Finally I wanted to share a few summer harvest meals.  Im not sure if there is something that is better than a simple and fresh meal like we are able to produce ourselves. An appetizer of fresh carrots and celery; a lovely simple compound salad; a main course of grilled Fish, roasted peppers, onions, tomatoes.  Desert of Raspberry sorbet.  Good stuff.




Another favorite of mine once the peppers are ready is a simple meal of Fajitas, made with fresh herbs, bell and hot peppers, tomatoes and onions from the garden.



And as the weather changes and the cravings for heavier foods enter into my cravings I like to take advantage of the garden and make a large pot of Chili, filled with Tomatoes, and Peppers (bell, cayenne, habanero) from the garden.



Finally I love pizza and therefore I grow San Marzano tomatoes as well as basil, oregano, and garlic. When the tomatoes are ripe, I pick and prepare them (blanch, peel, core and chop) and freeze them in individual packages.  I simply thaw add fresh garlic, salt and pepper and my sauce is complete.


A Quick Plant Growth Update

A couple people requested that I share an update on the outdoor aquaponics plant growth, as well as the rooftop garden plant growth. These first pics show the plant growth of the outdoor aquaponics. You can see that the vertical pipes have worked very well and are chock full of Basil, Cilantro, Parsley and Chives. The rest of the system has an abundance of different types of lettuce as well as a top row of Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplants which are beginning to flower now and should have ripened fruit as the in ground plants die off for the summer. You will also see that I have continued to stagger the age of the plants (especially lettuce) so that there is always both ready to eat lettuce as well as an adequate amount of root mass in the system to continue to filter the water for the fish



















Here are a few pics of what I call a “Compound Salad” It is a simple salad made up of Lettuce (Black Seed, Speckled, Summertime, and Esmeralda) Carrots, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, and some herbs, all from the Rooftop and Aquaponic Gardens. A perfect everyday treat.



Aquaponics Plant Growth

The following 2 videos show the plant growing sections of an Indoor and an Outdoor Aquaponics system.  As you will see the outdoor system has horizontal as well as vertical grow sections.  There are 50 grow spaces, growing, Tomatoes, Eggplants, several varieties of Lettuce, Basil, Cilantro, Chives and Parsley.  You will also see that the plant growth is all at different stages as the plants were planted in a staggered manner to insure a constant supply of fresh and ripe food. These plants are being supported by about 35 fish currently (they are being eaten on a regular basis) that weigh between approximately 20 and 28 ounces.


In this video you will see a variety of plants growing in an Indoor Aquaponics system. The plants are a variety of sizes as the plants were planted in a staggered manner to insure a constant supply of fresh and ripe food.  The plants are being fed by approximately 70 fish that are currently about 2 ounces in weight.


More Fish

Once again I was able to partake in a lovely meal centered on Tilapia from the outdoor aquaponics system.  The fish are now about 16/17 months old and as you can see the fish are about 14 inches long now and weigh about 26/28 ounces which is perfect for a grilled fish.  I have to stay it continues to be an amazing experience to walk outside pick a salad from the system, catch a couple of fish and be eating a lovely meal 30 minutes later.





Outdoor Aquaponics Update

So I decided to try and experiment. if you look at the current pictures and compare them to earlier pics, you will be able to see what I did. To the left along the stairway I have added approximately 16 linear feet of piping. This adds an additional 25 plant units to the system, doubling the previous amount. It was necessary to split the water flow from the first pipe coming from the Biofilter, this was a success. I was also able to incorporate a larger pump which is allowing me to circulate nearly twice as much water through the system which is good for the plants and fish.





What you can also see in this last post is that the growth in the vertical pipes has been a great success.  The basil, parsley, and chives are all thriving. I am utilizing most of the Horizontal pipes for a variety of different types of lettuce. It is all working quite well.

Breeder with Eggs in her mouth

Tilapia are mouth breeding fish.  Essentially what happens is that the male (the larger of the fish) will dig out a hole in the sand/gravel and essentially invite a female into that hole to lay her eggs.  She will lay the eggs and the male will inseminate them. Then the female will pick the eggs back up and hold them in her mouth until they hatch.  During that time she wont eat, which is one way to be cued onto the fact that a fish may be pregnant.  The other way is that you can essentially see the eggs in her mouth as she filters water.  She opens her mouth less than the other fish and when you look in you can see hundreds of dots churning around inside of her mouth.  Once the eggs hatch the fry will still occasionally stay in the mothers mouth when they feel threatened.  While the Tilapia are constantly reproducing in both the indoor and outdoor aquaponics tanks I also maintain a breeder tank as a back up.  The video below is a poor attempt (very hard to film) to show a female with her mouth full of eggs, the best view happens at about 1:28.

Outdoor Aquaponics update

I measured and weighed a couple of Tilapia from the outdoor system before eating them for dinner.  As you will see from the photo the fish is almost 13 inches in length and it weighed nearly 1.5 pounds.  It was the perfect size for grilling and a perfect and tasty meal for a hot summer night.  The other interesting tidbit was that when I went to the tank to catch the fish I also discovered that there had been a birth and there were hundreds of small day old fry swimming around.  The cycle continues.