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Top 6 Dumbest Things I’ve Done in Aquaponics

March 14, 2010

It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself, right? Especially if you are laughing about dumb mistakes that you’ve made that you can tell others about – hopefully so that they will avoid making the same ones It is with this spirit of philanthropy that I pass on to you, my fellow aquapons, the countdown of the top 6 dumbest mistakes I’ve made in aquaponics … so far…

#6 – Too many fish in the system – I admit it. I’m doing this right now. I have 70 4″ – 6″ tilapia in about 100 – 120 gallons of water. It looks like a super-highway during rush hour down there. My excuse for this is mostly related to mistake #4 below, but is also related to my general wimpishness about killing fish to eat them (see prior post titled “To Eat or Not to Eat”. The theory was that by now I would have enjoyed for dinner the fully mature tilapia in the neighboring tank by now thus making room for these smaller guys to spread out. Problem is I can’t reach them.

#5 – Used cheap “feeder” goldfish – We had dreams of growing beautiful koi in our newest tank, but thought we should start with goldfish until the system was cycled and we were sure there weren’t any problems. To my delight I could get feeder goldfish for about $.18 at the mega-chain pet store in town. I got about 20 of them, and they died off, slowly but surely, one by one, over a few weeks. Thinking it was probably just cycling stress, I got another 40. Same thing happened. I found out that they probably came in with a disease (why keep them healthy when they are probably destined to be quickly eaten anyway) and that my system needed to be sterilized and recycled. Lesson learned.

#4 – Set up my grow beds over my fish tanks so I can’t access the fish tanks. – When we set up our greenhouse, the most space efficient place to set up the grow beds was over the fish tanks. This is where we put the beds when it was a hydroponic system. With the grow beds over the fish tanks, the the only remaining place for the plumbing was between the beds, basically taking up the remaining accessible room in the tank. Didn’t account for the fact that tilapia are speedy little buggers and not very cooperative about being netted. Plus, I can’t observe what is happening back in the far corners of the tank. Could be a crazy fish party back there…who knows?

#3 – Electrocuted the fish – Its true. One summer evening while having dinner at a restaurant with friends I got a call from my then 14 year old son saying “ah, mom, how come I got shocked when I stuck my hand in the fish tank?” That put a damper on a relaxing dinner, I can assure you. Ends up there was a plug on the ground near the tank that got wet. Won’t do that again. The fish? Well, they stopped swimming and we thought we had lost them but once the shock wore off they snapped out of it and recovered jut fine. Tilapia are amazingly hardy.

#2 – Swung the pH in the fish tank from 8.0 to 6.8 in 5 minutes – I was actually at Nelson and Pade’s workshop in Wisconsin over Memorial Day weekend having just set up my first aquaponics system about 3 weeks earlier. This was a joint project with my son so he and I talked frequently while I was gone and I had him doing pH and other testing on the system daily (side note – it’s great to have excuses to communicate with your teenager, no matter what the topic!). He told me the first morning of the workshop that the pH had climbed to 8.0. I knew that was a big problem so told him how to take the pH back down to 6.8. I then hung up the phone and went into the class. Within an hour Rebecca Nelson instructed the group to ALWAYS take pH down very gradually, i.e. over a period of days. Oh crap! At the break I got Ryan back on the phone but it was too late. He had dropped the pH in our system from 8.0 to 6.8 in a matter of minutes. I think we lost one or two tilapia in that episode. Again, they are incredibly hardy fish.

And the #1 Dumbest Thing I’ve Done – Run tap water into my fish tank all day because I forgot to turn off the hose. – I was at work when I got the call at about 4:00 “ah, mom, I just turned off the hose that was filling up the fish tank. Water was spilling out all over and I think it has been running all day”… Oh crap! I had meant to top off the fish tank in the morning with just a little water, had been distracted, and had left the hose running chlorinated water through the system ALL DAY! Lost about 14 fish and all of my beautiful bacteria. Had to cycle the entire system again. Devastating. Now when I use the hose (i.e. a chlorinated water source) I stick something large in my pocket so the discomfort reminds me of the hose…and the “discomfort “that my fish will feel if I leave it running.

So, what dumb mistakes have you made with your aquaponics system … that you are willing to share?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2010 8:04 am

    A dumb combination of the DIY spirit and my desire to save a buck resulted in several gallons of fishy water on my dining room floor. Rather than spend the money on aquaponic specific equipment, I bought a clear plastic storage tub from a home improvement store, painstakingly cut two holes in the bottom to accomodate the fill and drain hardware, set up the system with a 17 gallon fish tank, and let it run in my home (much to my wife’s disapproval). All was well until a crack developed a few days in, which wet our carpet with several gallons of water. Lesson learned: When buying equipment, consider the cost of the part failing along with the cost of buying the part itself!

  2. Andrew permalink
    March 15, 2010 7:59 pm

    thanks for sharing your experience!!! Indeed these experience are so real and and remind us of the smallest detail that we sometime neglect!! good posting!! keep it on!!

  3. john thompson permalink
    March 15, 2010 8:19 pm

    Jumpers!!! Turns out trout are acrobats. Given a chance, they’ll happily leave the tank and flop a while in the hot sun. I lost about 20 fingerling fish this way before realzing i needed to keep the water level lower. But don’t think I learned much — just recently I moved a few of my now mature trout indoors to ‘cleanse” them before the feast. They were fine for a few days. then I topped off the tank and lost 3 beautiful trout in a day. they were leaping over a 5 inch rim and out.

    Auto Feeder! The nice thing about an auto feeder is that you don’t have to make sure you are there every day, twice a day to feed your fish. the bad thing about an auto feeder is that you don’t really have to be there. Ever. I lost a bunch of Tilapia when pH spiked and I just didn’t know a thing about it because my auto feeder was handling “all” of their needs.

  4. john thompson permalink
    March 15, 2010 8:22 pm

    PS Syl, get a bigger net. I bought a giant one at Petsmart (could easily net your dog and cat at the same time) and now catching fast fish is easy. Under $12 and has about a six foot handle.

    • March 15, 2010 8:57 pm

      Hey JT. I’ve got one of those. Problem is I can’t get it past the plumbing! The tilapia feast is going to have to wait until I move back outside later this spring.

  5. March 16, 2010 8:42 am

    I too made the not enough room to get to the fish mistake, though my system is indoor and though the fish are not for food it is still very inconvenient.

    Sylvia, you could you catch a fish or two to eat with a hook and line?

  6. Steve Nguyen permalink
    March 22, 2010 1:15 am


    get you get one these timer This would eliminate the possibility of repeating #1 mistake. I’ve been using an older model for over 3 yrs. local hardware stores such as Home Deport or Lowes carry these timers too.


  7. David permalink
    March 29, 2010 5:26 am

    This doesn’t effect the fish….but how many times have you burned food while saying…” I’ll just check real quick, to see if any thing new is on the forum…

  8. April 20, 2010 9:29 am

    what a DIY. thanks for sharing. i will note make the same mistake.

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