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Keeping tilapia in a Southern African backyard aquaponics system can be a rewarding experience. Here’s a brief guide:

Keeping Tilapia in Your Backyard Aquaponics System:

  1. Setting up the System: Start by setting up your aquaponics system, which consists of a fish tank (where you’ll keep the tilapia), a grow bed (where you’ll grow plants), and a water recirculation system that connects the two.
  2. Choosing Tilapia: Tilapia is a suitable fish species for aquaponics in Southern Africa due to its ability to thrive in warm water and tolerate varying water conditions. You can get tilapia fingerlings (young fish) from fish hatcheries or other aquaponics enthusiasts.
  3. Water Temperature: Maintain the water temperature between 22-28°C (72-82°F), as tilapia prefer warmer environments.
  4. Feeding the Tilapia: Tilapia are omnivorous and will eat a variety of foods, including commercial fish pellets, insects, and vegetation. Make sure to provide a balanced diet to keep them healthy.
  5. Monitoring Water Quality: Regularly check the water parameters (pH, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates) to ensure a healthy environment for both the fish and plants. Tilapia produce waste, which contains ammonia, and it’s important to convert this into nitrates, which are beneficial for plant growth.
  6. Harvesting and Stocking: As the tilapia grow, you can harvest some for consumption while keeping a balanced population in the tank.

Benefits of Using Tilapia in Aquaponics:

  1. Rapid Growth: Tilapia grow quickly, allowing for faster harvests compared to other fish species.
  2. Hardiness: They are resilient and can tolerate a range of water conditions, making them suitable for aquaponics beginners.
  3. High Reproduction Rate: Tilapia can breed rapidly, helping to maintain a steady fish population.
  4. Nutrient-Rich Waste: Tilapia produce nutrient-rich waste, which serves as an excellent natural fertilizer for plants in the aquaponics system.
  5. Versatile Diet: They are not picky eaters and can consume various types of feed, reducing feeding costs.
  6. Tasty and Nutritious: Tilapia is a popular and delicious fish, providing a nutritious food source for your household.

Remember that while tilapia is a beneficial fish species for aquaponics, it’s essential to follow local regulations and guidelines regarding fish farming and species introduction to ensure you are acting responsibly and sustainably.

Which Tilapia to choose?

Blue Tilapia

Is a good choice for aquaponics as it withstands the cold well.

Redbrested Tilapia

Here’s everything you need to know about the Red Breasted Tilapia:

Red Breasted Tilapia


Tilapia Benefits

Following benefits makes them one of the ideal candidates to use in aquaponics.

  • Adapt very well to tanks
  • Can be “crowed” in very high stocking densities (3/4 lb/gallon) within the fish-tank part of the system
  • Tilapia have a very efficient feed conversion ratio (1.3-1.8 lbs feed/lb fish)
  • Good dress out percentage (86% with head, 66% without head, and 33% fillet)
  • They adapt to their environment and are able to withstand less than ideal water conditions.
  • Tilapia grow fast and can reach from fingerling size (50 g) to maturity (600 g) in about 6-9 months.
  • They’re interesting to watch in the tank due to their rapid and frequent breeding.
  • Tilapia culture is also profitable on small-scale outdoor ponds. (variables include market price, feed costs, survival rates, technical ability, and geographic location)
  • Market acceptability & recognition and low production costs (Ponds: 51-60¢/lb, Tanks: $1.51-1.79/lb).

Water Quality & Temperature

Although tilapia is considered a freshwater species, it can live in brackish conditions. They are so tolerant of poor water quality conditions that they are often farmed in facilities where other fish would just die. They are a great choice for beginner aquaponics because they handle different water conditions from temperature, pH, nutrient, oxygen levels and more.

Tilapia can tolerate temperatures extremes of 14 and 36 °C for a breif period of time but they stop feeding or growing below 17 °C, and die when it drops lower than 12 °C. The ideal range to ensures good growth rates is 27–30 °C.

They are immune to many parasites and pathogens. They also handle the stress very well. However, for optimal growth and health this species, like most others, prefer DO >6ppm; pH>6; and low ammonia and nitrite levels.


Tilapia ranks fourth on National Fisheries Institute’s top list of the most consumed fish and seafood in the United States. During 2010, the average consumption of tilapia was nearly 1.5 pounds per person because they are a great source of protein. Their mild flavor makes them adaptable to many culinary styles.

They are produced in outdoor ponds as well as indoor systems for sale as live food fish to the restaurant and supermarket trade. These artisanal and commercially cultured fish is also becoming increasingly popular in many European countries.


Tilapia are omnivores and will eat just about anything from microscopic organisms through their gills, (they literally “filter” them out of the water), to algae, weeds, vegetable scraps, bugs, worms, tadpoles, etc. They also eat many alternative feeds like duckweed, Azolla spp., and other high-protein plants which makes them important in aquaculture. During breeding, they eat their own young juvenile, therefore, they need to be separated by size.

We can grow all our own fish food as described here.

Breeding Tilapia

It is easy to breed tilapia in small-scale and medium-scale aquaponic systems. Healthy broodstock fish are hand-selected for breeding and are not usually harvested. The optimal ratio i.e. 1 male for 3-5 females encourages the spawning. Females may spawn every seventeen days, especially when water is warm, algae-filled and shaded, well oxygenated (>8.0 ppm), and in a calm environment.

Tilapia are mouthbrooders and hold their eggs in the mouths. During this time, the mother stops eating and should be separated from the male. Two smaller separate fish tanks can then be used to house the broodstock and juveniles. Mother will release fry when they start free-swimming after yolk sac disappears.

Fry are kept in a separate tank to avoid the larger fingerlings cannibalize them. The eggs and resulting fry are maintained at a temperature of 80°F to 84°F and pH of 7.5 to 7.8. You can also use small aquaponics tanks to maintain the water quality and temperature.

Some fish farms only keep the males because they grow larger in size at a faster rate. The male doesn’t spend energy to develop ovaries or stop eating during spawning, unlike females.

Sexually mature males and females in the same tank can drive competition for food because of continual fry production. Hormone treatment or hand sexing of fingerlings can yield monosex male tilapia. Testosterone-enriched feed increases the hormone levels in the blood and reverses the sex in female fry during their first three weeks of life. This is an efficient way to stock same-size male tilapia in ponds to avoid any problems of spawning and stunted growth by feed competition from the newer fry.


There are many regulations on importing, exporting, and keeping tilapia in many states throughout the world.

The adaptable and productive tilapia can easily turn into a problematic invasive species. Tilapia production in outside facilities is strictly regulated to avoid unwanted introductions and environmental damage to native fresh-water systems, particularly to sport-fishing resources.

So it is important to prevent escapes and adhere to local regulations. So check the regulations with your state fishery department before ordering.

They are banned throughout Australia (except WA) due to their ability to overtake local waterways.


Tilapia needs warm water and may not be appropriate for winter seasons unless you have a good fish tank heater to maintain the temperature of water. In temperate climates, you can grow tilapias during the warmest seasons (they are fast growing!) and switch to carp or trout during the winter. For cold areas, you rather should consider choosing a different aquaponics fish species that is well suited for your temperature range.

Their rapid breeding needs to be controlled for various reasons. They can quickly fill a small system with schools of young fish, spread juveniles to the whole system and disrupt the operations of settling tanks or nibble roots of floating raft systems. Male tilapia are usually kept because the females stop eating during breeding which is not good aquaponic plant production. They also need to be stocked at high densitiesbecause males get territorial and aggressive in low densities. Hence, You will need to have separate tanks for the female, male, breeding and juvenile.

Some people complain of off-taste of Tilapia. They taste great when they grow in a clean and well managed aquaponic system with adequate dissolved oxygen and are fed a high-quality feed.

Tilapia is also a declared pest in various places. Watch for your local wildlife regulations!

From: https://www.leaffin.com/tilapia-aquaponics/ 

Tilapia Recipes

Photo by Antony Trivet: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-fried-tilapia-on-plate-with-tomatoes-onions-and-a-slice-of-lemon-12884006/

Tilapia is not only nutritious but also very tasty if prepared well. Here are three simple and tasty tilapia recipes that you can easily prepare in a homestead setting:

1. Pan-Fried Tilapia:


  • 4 tilapia fillets
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Lemon wedges for serving


  1. Pat dry the tilapia fillets with paper towels.
  2. In a shallow dish, mix the all-purpose flour, salt, and pepper.
  3. Dredge each tilapia fillet in the flour mixture, coating both sides evenly.
  4. Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  5. Add the tilapia fillets to the skillet and cook for about 3-4 minutes per side, or until they are golden brown and cooked through.
  6. Serve with lemon wedges for a zesty touch. This dish pairs well with a simple salad or steamed vegetables.

2. Tilapia Tacos with Cabbage Slaw:


  • 4 tilapia fillets
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish


  1. Rub the tilapia fillets with olive oil and sprinkle them with chili powder, salt, and pepper.
  2. Grill or pan-fry the tilapia fillets for about 3-4 minutes per side until fully cooked.
  3. Warm the corn tortillas on the grill or stovetop.
  4. In a bowl, mix the shredded cabbage, mayonnaise, lime juice, and cumin to make the slaw.
  5. Assemble the tacos by placing a tilapia fillet on each tortilla and topping it with the cabbage slaw.
  6. Garnish with fresh cilantro before serving. Enjoy these delicious tilapia tacos with a burst of flavor!

3. Tilapia and Vegetable Foil Packets:


  • 4 tilapia fillets
  • 2 cups mixed vegetables (e.g., bell peppers, zucchini, onions)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Lemon slices for serving


  1. Preheat your grill or oven to 200°C (390°F).
  2. Cut four large squares of aluminum foil.
  3. In a bowl, toss the mixed vegetables with olive oil, minced garlic, salt, and pepper.
  4. Divide the mixed vegetables into four portions and place each portion in the center of each aluminum foil square.
  5. Season the tilapia fillets with salt and pepper and place one fillet on top of each vegetable portion.
  6. Fold the foil over the tilapia and vegetables to create a sealed packet.
  7. Grill or bake the foil packets for about 15-20 minutes, or until the tilapia is cooked through.
  8. Serve with lemon slices for a refreshing touch. This dish is a complete meal in one packet and perfect for outdoor cooking on a homestead.

These simple and delicious tilapia recipes will surely delight your taste buds and make mealtime enjoyable on your homestead.

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