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The key differentiating factor of an aquaponics system, versus aeroponic or hydroponic methods, is that it relies on fish as the sole provider of nutrients to the plants. So it’s easy to see why the types of feed given to the fish can be critical to the longevity of the ecosystem. Today, many growers are experimenting with many different strategies, everything from using organic fish feeds to implementing fancy automatic feeders. But, which types of organic aquaponics fish feed should you choose? Should you get an aquaponics automatic feed feeder? How can you ensure that your fish are in optimal shape?
Aquaponics fish feeding entails a proper understanding of system factors such as your tank’s water temperature, fish species, and pH levels, to name a few. While many people suggest you use additional equipment such as automatic fish feeders to increase efficiency, there are also some disadvantages you should be aware of.
In this article, we will take a look at aquaponics fish feeding, types of fish feeds, and the best practices so that you can optimize your plant’s growth and, at the same time, maintain the health of your fish. In addition, we will share with you the pros and cons of having an automatic fish feeder.
The Basics of Aquaponics Fish Feed
Fish feeds play a significant role in your aquaponics system. The amount and the quality can directly affect your fish and plants. But knowing how to feed your fish properly consists of different factors.
Take note that there’s no single formula on how to feed your fish in an aquaponics system, however, we always recommend that you create and strictly follow an aquaponics system maintenance checklist to ensure consistency in the overall environment. Managing the fish feeding activities would be considered a component of your overall checklist. To develop your list, you will need to understand the important factors that will prioritize the how, when, and what of your feeding activities.
To help you get started, let’s briefly explain each factor so that you can adjust your feeding process accordingly.
1) Water Temperature
When feeding your fish in aquaponics, consistently check the water temperature of your tanks to ensure the conditions are optimal for the specific fish you are raising. Fish are known to be poikilothermic, which means they are unable to regulate their body temperature. When your water is too hot or too cold (depending on the fish species), it could cause stress to the fish and one of the symptoms is a decreased appetite.
2) pH Level
Similar to the principles of water temperature, the pH level of your water could also cause stress on your fish. While most plants prefer a slightly acidic environment, your fish will require a slightly alkaline pH level about 7 or 8. We recommend that you regularly monitor your water’s pH level to ensure that your fish will thrive and will remain healthy.
3) Fish Species and Fish Size
The fish species and fish size are also crucial for aquaponics fish feeding. Ideally, bigger fish would benefit more from larger pellets as they could easily consume it. The same goes for smaller fish where they would require tinier feeds.
Lastly, you have to get the total weight of your fish. So, for example, you are raising 20 Tilapia with an average weight of 500 grams each. The biomass of your fish is 10,000 grams. This is crucial because you will adjust the amount of your aquaponics fish feed according to the biomass of your fish. A more detailed explanation is provided in the latter section.
In addition, you also have to consider the current physiological state of your fish, previous feeding schedule, and their previous diet if you are transferring them from another tank environment.
Do You Need an Automatic Aquaponics Fish Feeder?
In terms of efficiency, automatic aquaponics fish feeders are a good solution for growers. It’s ideal if you work outside, and you are not in your garden 24/7. Plus, you can go on longer vacations without wondering if your fish will starve. However, aquaponics fish feeders can also have several disadvantages.
Why Manual Feeding Is Optimal
While an automatic fish feeder is a great idea, feeding manually or by hand is still the best approach. This is because you get to control your feeds, depending on the actual state of your system. Plus, you can easily distribute the feeds across. Just imagine if you have one fish feeder for your tank, all your feeds will be dropped in one place. This could be a problem for smaller fish because naturally, the larger ones can overwhelm them, and they might not get their food supply.
Another concern when you rely on the automatic fish feeder is you tend to be more relaxed. Since you already know that your fish will have their feeds, there is a possibility that you will not personally check them regularly. This can cause overfeeding or underfeeding.
Of course, we do not discredit the benefits of using aquaponics fish feeder. But if it’s not possible to feed your fish manually every single time, then using both techniques in conjunction would be preferred. If you are at home and you can do feeding by hand, then we recommend that. However, if you have to leave for hours or for days, then augmenting it with a fish feeder is also a good idea. Just set the timer, and your feeder will automatically release the feeds for your fish.
Tips When Using Aquaponics Automatic Fish Feeder
Now that you understand the pros and cons of using an aquaponics automatic fish feeder, we would also like to provide you with tips on how you can maximize the device.
First of all, make sure that your feeder is carefully sealed. Remember that rodents and insects could crawl onto your feeds, and that can be fatal for your fish. In addition, you must also be cautious when setting your feeder’s timer. Be careful if you need to set it up in the morning (AM) or in the afternoon (PM). The 12-hour clock can be tricky at times and must be taken seriously.
We also recommend that you set your fish feeder to release a moderate amount of feed in the beginning, and over time gauge the consumption habits of the fish. Remember, your fish could survive with a minimal supply of food, but they are likely to suffer more from overfeeding, specifically, due to the adverse effects leftover food can have on the pH levels in the tank.
Aquaponics Fish Feed Ratio
As we’ve mentioned earlier, your fish feed ratio depends on different factors. Most growers follow a simple rule of providing feed fish that can only be consumed in just five minutes. If you’ve noticed uneaten fish feed after five minutes, scoop these right away as it can affect the pH quality of the water tank. Make sure to adjust the number of feeds the next time.
Remember that your fish will typically consume 1% to 2% of their body weight every day, assuming that they are heavier than 50g.
In terms of growing area, the recommended fish feed ratio is 20g of fish feed per square meter of Deep Water Culture system. This is the optimal metric for leafy greens or vegetables.
How Often to Feed Your Aquaponics Fish
Most growers typically feed their fish two to three times a day. You can schedule one feeding in the morning, afternoon, and before dusk. If you plan to do it twice a day, early morning and late afternoon schedules are optimal, but make sure to monitor consumption habits of the fish and the amount of leftover feed in the tank. This should give you the best data to make decisions on feeding frequency.
Some people feed their fish only once a day, though. However, we still recommend that you split your rations to twice or thrice per day. This is healthier for both the fish and the plant as there is an equal distribution of nutrients throughout the day.
Make it a habit to observe your fish and look for indicators that they are still healthy. Some of the clear signs that your fish are healthy are a graceful pattern when swimming, no marks on their body, a strong appetite, and the fins are extended. If you notice that something is not right, give proper attention, and adjust your feeds accordingly.
Best Aquaponics Fish Feed
As a rule of thumb, do not buy extremely cheap aquaponics fish feed. There were several instances where growers used cheaper alternatives and found out that there is less nutritional content. In addition, cheaper fish feeds can cause slimes that can clog your roots. Ideally, your fish feeds must be broken down inside the fish and should become fine particles for your plants to absorb.
When looking for an aquaponics fish feed, target a brand that has nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, sulfur, and magnesium. It should also be highly-digestible for your fish.
It’s also important to note that there are floating and sinking fish feeds. You can use either depending on the size of your fish. Generally, if you have bigger fish, you can use the floating variety because larger types of fish can go up near the surface to fill themselves up. The case is different for small fish, where most of them would rather stay below. Thus, sinking pellets are better for them.
Aquarium food might not be suitable as most of these brands use colorants and other chemicals that might affect your fish and plants.
Do You Need Organic Fish Feed for Aquaponics?
Most organic fish feeds are formulated by experts so that your aquaponics fish such as tilapia, koi, catfish, trout, bass, and carp could get maximum nutrition. These are typically more expensive than a regular fish feed. It works in most cases, but the result is not always the same.
There is still a possibility that an organic fish feed will not work for your aquaponics system. If your fish could not digest it well enough, it could still result in clogged roots. If this happens, immediately stop using the fish feed. And as always, regularly check on your fish and plants if you just changed your fish feed brand.
Conclusion: Best Practices for Aquaponics Fish Feed Feeding
When feeding fish in an aquaponics system, you should not only limit yourselves to getting the right fish feeds or choosing the most expensive one in the market. Instead, you have to understand the holistic approach so that you can maintain the good health of your fish, and at the same time, improve the quality of your plants.
And while there are devices that can make you more efficient such as an automatic fish feeder, doing it manually is still optimal so you can personally assess the condition of your fish.