Backyard Aquaculture: A Quick Guide to Help You Get Started

Considering taking more of your personal nutrition in hand by expanding garden and small animal raising to include backyard aquacultural options? This ancient practice allows you to raise fish and other crops that thrive in water for personal consumption- putting control of what you put in your body back in your hands.

Curious about how you can get started raising your own backyard fish for consumption? This quick start guide goes over made easy basics to lay out what you need for this endeavor, and what type of challenges you might face.

Why Raise Your Own Fish?

Red Tilapia fish swimming in a pond

If you are the type of person who likes to do things on your own such as raising your own food, home building, or gunsmithing – instead of depending on sources that may be questionable, this project is a no-brainer. As mentioned, it lets you know exactly where your food source is coming from, but it also has some other surprising benefits you might not have thought of when raising your own fish:

  • Reduction of carbon footprint since your food isn’t having to travel (or fly) cross country or across an ocean before it gets to you.
  • A Chemically free source that you know is clean from additives or preservatives.
  • Surprisingly small spaces can support an aquaculture tank, allowing you more room for other projects.
  • Easily combined with vegetative food growth which helps create a sustainable environment as you recirculate water and fertilize your plants with fish waste.
  • Saves time and energy once the system is up and running compared to other food source methods.

Basic Supplies to Get Started

First and foremost you need to think about the temperature and environment of where you plan on placing your system for both small-scale or large-scale fish raising. The great thing about Aquaculture set-ups is that they don’t require a lot of space since you can place them in just about any area – such as laid out horizontally, or even stacked vertically- one upon the other. Of course, raising fish does require containers for the water, but even these can be done creatively with any shaped container that holds water.

Just be sure to consider the temperature of the fish species you are considering. If you live in a colder climate you may need protection for your tanks as well as a heater. Other needs you’ll have to have while preparing to get started include:

  • As mentioned, a pond, fish tank(s), an old pool, or other waterproof containers
  • Dependable water source for initial filling and topping off evaporated water
  • Aeration device and dependable filter. Take a look at the best pond filters and tank filters for this project.
  • PH tester
  • Fish
  • Food for fish

Sourcing the Best Species of Fish to Consider

Not all fish make good eating fish, and not all fish grow at a quick enough rate for a timely harvest. You’ll want to pick and choose from your fish options and also find a good place to source them from. Before getting in your fish, you’ll want to figure out the rotation of stock you’ll need and how quickly you plan on going through what you have. Remember- fresh fish are easy to freeze as well.

Vibrant rainbow trout in a pond

If you only have a small home set-up, you might have a delivery only every few months. But if you plan on selling your fish, consider what supply and demand needs you’ll have in advance, and adjust accordingly. Also, before setting an order, you’ll need to make sure everything is set up to be ready for the baby fish (called fry).

When narrowing down your fish species choices, the following options are amongst the most popular for aquaculture set-ups:

Trout

Trout is quick growing and can reach a good eating size by 6 months of age. They are excellent for use in colder environments and thrive in cooler water. They are a good choice for ponds because of this, or rotated in use with smaller tanks so you have a regular food source.

Tilapia

These popular fish are easy to raise, adapt to many climates (but do need warmer water), and grow quickly. Their smaller size means you can grow quite a few at a time in a smaller space and keep them rotated out. Plus, they are vegetarian and can be fed with food you grow.

Catfish

One of the biggest fish crops in the US, catfish is popular as a commercial fish and grows quickly- providing a lot of meat at one time. They also are ideal for colder climates as well, but can live just about anywhere with little to no climate control. Their size does determine that they have a larger space to grow in, however.

Shrimp

Freshwater shrimp are surprisingly easy to grow and allow you to grow quite a few in a small area- utilizing your space and crop exponentially. They can become violent towards one another when stressed, so be sure to do your research on these species before getting started with them.

Aquaponic Addition

Aquaponics is the practice of combining aquaculture with hydroponics, in which you are cultivating plants in water. Combining these two allows you to reuse wastewater as a fertilizer before filtering back into the system, and mimics a natural ecosystem. It helps utilize space and provides you a food source for both humans, and fish- depending on the fish you are growing.

Aquaponics actually take up very little space overall, and can be easily planted into PVC pipes in any sort of configuration you desire. The work needed to create such a system is simple, and only requires a dependable pump to help keep water circulating.

Possible Challenges

Although this is a fairly easy endeavor overall, there are some challenges you might face- and it’s best to be prepared in advance. Even though these fish are fairly adaptable, they do need environmental care, and if you are new to water testing and treating, you might have some setbacks when you first get started.

It is important to make sure water is moving and filtering enough to supply the oxygen levels needed for grow tanks. Too little and your fish will begin to go belly up. A poor pH balance can also be problematic. Nitrogen levels will rise as well with fish waste, and you want to be sure to be testing your waters regularly to treat it as needed for a proper balance.

It might also be difficult to find the resources you need when getting started. Not many people do this, and so you might have to search for people who can answer the questions that will arise as you get going. It might also be hard to find the stock or supplies you want due to this being a limited market. The good thing is, once you find a reputable source, you will most likely have a go-to for many of your future needs.

Portrait of a great blue heron holding a fish by it's gill. Photographed in Ohio in the springtime.

Predation is definitely something you need to prepare for. If your fish are accessible to outdoor animals, you may find that raccoons, the occasional neighborhood cat, and various birds may cause issues. Birds that fish, such as heron species, can be a big problem if they view your tanks and ponds as a food source, so consider a cover or netting of some type.

Other Considerations

If you are seriously thinking of getting this project started, here are a few more considerations to take into account. This can help you brainstorm and make some decisions concerning how to get started, or even expand what you may already have.

What to Raise Your Fish In

If you are struggling with ideas of what containers are best for your needs, first take into consideration the type of fish you want, and where you plan on placing your system. It is best to use the largest containers you can for your area to help fish spread out and grow, but if you are concerned about cost- you might want to think outside the box.

No matter what you decide upon, you need to take a few steps in advance before adding the fish. Filling the ‘tanks’, checking the pH, having a good working pump and filtration, and adding what is needed for healthy water and fish growth (such as feeder organisms and aquatic plants).

Converting Swimming Pools

Hard-sided swimming pools of all sizes make perfect options for fish raising. Many times you can get these used and for an excellent price, but also watch for off-season sales and inventory clean out.

Using Koi Ponds

Koi, and other prefab ponds can be used for both in-ground and above-ground systems. Some can even be stacked depending on size to help save on space. These are another choice that you can find used, or great deals online during off-season sales.

Livestock Mineral Tubs

If you don’t work with livestock, you may not know what these are, but these durable plastic tubs are perfect for this endeavor. Check with local feed stores, ranch and farms, and on online sale sites as many people give them away or sell them off after being used as they are popular for container gardens and other outdoor projects.

Stock Tanks

Stock tanks are made from metal or heavy-duty plastics and rubber. They are fairly inexpensive and provide good space for fish to grow. These can also be found used to help save on cost. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes for various set-up designs.

Conclusion

Farm raised trout swimming in the water

Backyard aquaculture is a realistic endeavor for almost everyone, and you certainly shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to get started just because you thought it might be too hard. As you can see, all you need is a little bit of space and advanced planning to get started, and before too long- you’ll be harvesting your own fish!

 

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