Raising Tilapia Fish in Tanks Along with Plants and Vegetables in Beds

Final Report for FNC03-441

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2003: $15,930.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $10,020.00
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


I currently have fifteen acres that is used for grazing horses and also for pastured poultry. We raise chickens and turkeys on pasture and rabbits for meat on a portion of the acres. Another part of the acreage is used for our vegetable, herb, and flower garden. Our poultry is fed no additives or chemicals and we use no herbicides or pesticides in our garden, we’re working toward becoming certified organic. We have been practicing chemical free for several years. This grant allowed us to start our Aquaponics System (growing plants in beds and fish in tanks in a recirculation system where the plants nourish the fish and the fish nourish the plants).

The first year was spent getting prepared to get the greenhouse. The land was cleared and leveled and the greenhouse was ordered. When it arrived we saw that with the help we had we could not erect it by ourselves, so we hired a friend of ours and assisted him with the installation. He was very busy so he worked us in when he could, so we were at a stand still for several weeks. Once the greenhouse was up we started building the beds, installing the electric and plumbing. The tanks were purchased and all of the equipment to go with them. We started our system with plants -- mostly basil at first -- we wanted to see the system working before we got the fish. The basil did really well and we added more vegetables that also did well. Some of the plants were kept in the system and some were put into the garden.

We waited several more weeks for the state inspector to visit and several weeks after that to get our license. (In order to raise Tilapia fish your facility has to be inspected and approved by the state. You can only purchase Tilapia fish after you are approved and issued a license.) Our greenhouse was approved and we got our license, but we were unable to find a Tilapia dealer so we started with Catfish fingerlings. The Catfish are doing fine in our three barrel system with basil.

One of our main goals was to introduce this method to our youth group and we have accomplished that. They helped and are continuing to help with all phases of our project. We have been successful in raising non-chemical vegetables in the greenhouse, and having enough plants started in the greenhouse to be transplanted to the outside garden and eventually sold at the Farmers Market. Our youth were taught how to care for the fish and the plants.

We had several visits from area farmers who are interested in starting similar projects on a smaller scale using the three barrel system instead of the tanks. One other farmer in our area who has become Certified Organic and has a greenhouse was successful in getting her Aquaponic System set up. Her operation was also approved and licensed by the state at the same time that ours was. Our information was shared with her and we were very instrumental in getting her started. We received technical assistance and advice from several people and organizations, and attended conferences where we were able to do hands-on activities to learn more than what we could read in books. Another goal was to utilize our land to the fullest, and this was a means of growing a lot in a limited space, and also extending the growing season.

Heifer Project International assisted with Aquaculture training and educational resources. We were able to share our step-by-step experiences with our Heifer group. The extension office was always available to answer questions and direct us to the proper web site when needed. The State Inspector was very informative on the best ways to manage our tanks and the fish.

Our results are not complete because we have not raised Tilapia fish in the tanks yet, but we have seen the system work with the Catfish and plants. We had an abundance of vegetables in the greenhouse and the garden. We would not have been able to grow as many vegetables in the garden alone. We started plants and continued to grow them in the greenhouse long after the garden was finished. The results were greater than we expected, this was all new to us; we had seen it done but never tried it before. We plan to continue and get our Tilapia fish. We have located a supplier who can ship air mail year round and we will be ordering fish soon.

Before the fish are ordered we plan to insulate the greenhouse and find some alternative methods of heating. Heating has been the biggest problem that we have had to deal with so far. It is not cost effective to heat with gas, so we will insulate, use water mass to trap heat, try a corn/pellet stove for this next year and work toward solar heat. I would tell other producers who wanted to start a system like this in a greenhouse to insulate first even if you are not in a cold climate. We’re told that the insulation along with shade cloth helps to keep it cool in the summer and helps to store the heat in the winter. It can get very cold here in the winter; the heat as well as the cold can ruin your plants and stress or even kill your fish

Our information was shared with the community farm organizations that we belong to at their monthly meetings. (There are about 15 members in each of those groups.) We passed out hundreds of flyers at the Farmers Market and at neighborhood activities along with invitations to visit the farm, to see our system, and also to see where the vegetables came from. We got a fair response from that. We did not have a field day, but we plan to have one in 2006. We also plan to continue with Aquaponics along with Hydroponics (growing plants without soil). We had several youth groups that came for outings at the farm and were shown the system. Future plans are to involve the school in the area in what we are doing as a learning experience with regular field trips. This will include hands-on activities on the farm and possibly setting up a small system in the school as a teaching instrument and maybe as a science project.

I am very pleased to have been chosen to participate in the SARE Program. Without the Producer Grant I would not have been able to fulfill my dream of starting an Aquaponics System in a greenhouse. I have learned so much and plan to share my knowledge with as many people as I can. I have not completed what I set out to do, and I will not be completely satisfied until my systems are running as near to perfect as possible. I plan to continue the remainder of this year and the next year to get all of our systems working properly, and continue to work closely with our youth groups and schools. I would like to see more of the funds available for building materials for those items that have to be built in order to do a project. We encountered many unforeseen problems with the building part of our project. The other thing would be to include the livestock cost in the funding. Including at least a portion of it would be helpful.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.