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Hello to all in the community, I am Thomas Wolf and I have been into aquaculture for a couple of years now.

I started with blue tilapia (Lakeway Tilapia Hatchery, pure species) for aquaponic and food purposes, and have since moved into freshwater malaysian prawns alongside them.  I am looking to diversify further.

I'm a STEM student with Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin, planning on transferring out to the University of Wisconsin - Madison and likely subsequent schools for post-grad with the intention of obtaining a PhD in Bio (Environmental Science and Marine Biology are my favorites, but I am into botany, mycology, and so on) as well as a B.S. in Engineering, most likely mechanical.  My career goal is to fund my own research through the development of patents that primarily help with bioremediation.  I currently reside in Onalaska, WI, which is the sunfish capital of the world - I love to fish, but I love caring for them even more - I had to shut down my overgrown breeder tank recently and being just a few days without any fish while fingerlings are in the mail has illustrated how much the hobby means to me.

This has been a solitary hobby for me until now, outside some YouTube comments here and there.  I've put countless hours into study in order to run my current fish room using nothing but FDA-Okay products, and I've ran a pool pond with a custom radial flow filter made out of a 50g brine tank, repurposed from a water conditioner.

As a result, I went into deep study to learn everything I possibly could and wrote a solid term paper comparing all the different things I had tried out last year or so.  I find it uniquely challenging because I am limited from using most products a typical pet or hobbyist aqua culturist uses regularly.  I am currently on the brink of completing a DIY water conditioner that replicates commercial products, and if I succeed, I will give that information out to the public for free.

I am a technical researcher, writer and editor by trade, currently writing for a blockchain/cryptocurrency company which has been my bread and butter for the last year or so.  I am looking to expand into the sciences and find while I have a following and a platform in crypto, I am all alone in the sciences and in aquaculture - although some blockchain companies have expressed interest in helping me put aquaculture on the blockchain, along with agroecology.

Much has been learned from The Aquarium Co-op's YouTube videos and I found this to be a suitable place to start engaging with others about the hobby.  I am considering setting up my first planted hobby tank soon, and I figure if I belong being redirected to a food-fishes forum, you may be able to help point me in the right direction.

I'll have to get some pictures of my current setup, I'll snap some when my fingerlings come.  Here is a snap of the pool pond I used to run.  I got the idea for the 800W Hygger tank heater float from Taylor rafts used in oyster cultivation so that it would remove structure from the pond and help the pump suck in waste, as well as keep the fish from mating/becoming territorial.  Worked for a water conditioning company a year or so back, brine tank was on the house/repurposed.


-Thomas Wolf





Edited by Thomas Wolf
Typo, Added a picture of Blue Tilapia fry eating an algae wafer
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Much appreciated!

I currently have a 75gallon with prawn, a 10 gallon with younger prawn I'll be moving over in about a week, and a 40g breeder, 20g long, and 2x 10 gallons for tilapia.  I am big on the blues but I've been in touch with Lakeway and they said they should have some other species in stock in a couple of weeks - I want to diversify quite a lot both in food fishes/shellfishes and in hobby species.

These will quickly outgrow their tanks and I'll be setting up a new pool pond.  Really wish I could fit IBC's down my basements stairs...not physically possible, unfortunately.  The pools present some challenges with insulating the bottom and they take up a lot of space, but in terms of $ spent per gallon, and easy assembly/disassembly there is no comparison.

I live about 1-2 blocks away from a Marineland but all I ever buy there is Seachem Seed (beneficial bacteria) for rapid-starting aquariums safely.  My stepfather is big on hobby fish due to his mother being a naturopath, so I've been thinking of doing a neat 10 gallon planted aquarium with some cichlids or something for him.

I live very near the river and have to constantly remind myself of the law or I'd take a lot of fish home with me, lol...  we have some amazing sunfish hybrids and such here.  I figured getting into cichlid breeding would be an easy transition from tilapia.


-Thomas Wolf

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Cool. Hope you bring that mind of yours to bear on the problem of growing plants underwater, a hobby which is still in the dark ages in my opinion. Our greatest progress has been CO2 and water column fertilisation - but not all plants respond to water column fertilisation, maybe because some aquarium plants are actually terrestrial plants that can live under water (marsh plants)?

I recommend mechanical engineering - it will give you some great skills you can apply in your every day non-professional life. The difference between glass and plastic aquariums and how to support them. I am a big fan of plastic (its many advantages) but its either too expensive or unavailable.

Edited by Water Box Dreams
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Let me share an example of my statement about how different plants absorb nutrients under water - every plant is different. The great debate between substrate and water column. It is the reason that many have been scratching their heads wondering why glossostigma elatinoides will only grow vertically in their aquarium and not horizontally as a carpet. Conversely they have noticed that diandrum will not grow at all in their aquaria. It has nothing to do with the light, I have various glosso's that grow in very low conditions and very high light conditions - they are very adaptable to lighting and will thrive in both.

The reason that elatinoides will grow vertically is because being an efficient plant with a strong survival instinct it will grow where the nutrients are - the water column. Diandrum and cliestanthum have not made that evolutionary adaptation and can only grow in a nutrient rich substrate like a terrestrial plant - indeed they both tend to grow more out of the water than under it, but can do both - hence why they are called mud-mat - they can often be found near by the waters edge on a muddy bank.

I have been observing cliestanthum and diandrum in the wild now for about a year. Recently purchased some elatinoides and am expecting to prove my theory over the next few months - that it will grow as a carpet given the right low nutrient water conditions. It will grow horizontally because that is where the nutrients will be found - in the substrate not the water column.

I hope this has cleared up a mystery for some growers of elatinoides.



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On 8/25/2021 at 4:12 PM, Water Box Dreams said:

Cool. Hope you bring that mind of years to bear on the problem of growing plants underwater, a hobby which is still in the dark ages in my opinion. Our greatest progress has been CO2 and water column fertilisation - but not all plants respond to water column fertilisation, maybe because some aquarium plants are actually terrestrial plants that can live under water (marsh plants)?

I recommend mechanical engineering - it will give you some great skills you can apply in your every day non-professional life. The difference between glass and plastic aquariums and how to support them. I am a big fan of plastic (its many advantages) but its either too expensive or unavailable.

CO2 is problematic as it drowns out oxygen, and then adversely at night, is released by the plants, to my understanding.  That can be a bit touch and go.  I would assume your hypothesis on terrestrial plants responding differently to fertilization techniques is accurate.

I have almost no experience with aquatic (terrestrial) plants, unless you count watercress (above water, at least, it tries to be, actually does grow in "carpet sections" which has given me a patent idea for nitrate removal) which I happen to be a pretty big fan of.  You can use a lot of plants, but I like sticking a well established hydroponic net pot in my fish filters to clear out any nitrates, I've got one in a 20g Long clearing out any nitrates from my last tilapia for my fingerlings that come today - got a text from USPS they are in town last night - yay for not being fishless come tomorrow!

Purge tank (why I am removing nitrates), something likely not discussed here often, but the moral of the story is that it is a very clean tank.

I've used willow trees to clear out the Intex pools before, I had covid and was really sick so I just uprooted a small willow and tossed it in, cleared out blood-red nitrate levels down to 0ppm by the next morning.  I've heard of some people using PVC w/ end caps w/ drilled holes, zeolite, and a water pump (blast the water through for a while, clears tanks right out).  I try to recirculate as much as possible and compost the rest.

When I cross-compared aquaponics, hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaculture and pointed out the pros and cons of each, the most evident problem with growing plants in water (this applies to ones that grow above the water) is matching the pH.  The reason being, your fish typically prefer more alkalinity while plants lean acidic.  In aquaponics people tend to go towards neutral for this reason and the results are good for being unbalanced, but despite good results this is a mutualistic relationship, not a symbiotic one.

Potential hydrogen has many effects on water chemistry and there are a lot of variables.  I would likely begin with the most studied/prevalent plants.  Petco nearby, does sell some plants for pet fish tanks - I've just never dared to put their water in any of my systems for food safety reasons, always hearing about peoples fish getting ich and I've never seen a parasite on a single one of my fish.  Chemicals used are also unsafe for human consumption.

I keep an indoor garden, but one thing that is supposed to be extremely easy to grow that I ran into issues with was duckweed (Lemna minor) which I wanted to use as a supplemental food with tilapia.  They liked eating it, but the stuff refused to grow for me; I am guessing I used too much surface agitation on my first attempt.  I generally resent paying for duckweed living this close to the river, but it is not legal to take flora from the river either.

Being surrounded by river rat families, I doubt anyone cares, but I still do my best to respect laws that are in place for good reasons (like not transferring parasites).  I've spent some time alongside the DNR & USGS, and while I don't agree with a lot of what they do, I try to honor it.

I agree mechanical engineering will likely serve me the best, especially as an inventor.  Still, I will need to take extra classes to at least learn the basics of other forms of engineering, like electrical.  I'm a good handy man, but still far from an engineer.

-Thomas Wolf

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Thomas if you do decide to become an engineer I can relate three stories about engineering and aquaria in my life, as a mechanical engineer of 20 years experience. The first was my aquarium knowledge helping me in my profession, the last two the reverse.

I once worked for a German manufacturer of flow meters, their sales office overseas. Having by then kept aquariums for several years and being accustomed to converting metric lengths into volume (knowing that 1 litre = 1 dm3) I told them within a few days that the German sales brochure data was in error. They of course thought I was stupid until an annoyed email arrived from Germany telling them that they had been informed of the publication error many years ago and should have destroyed them! An example where my hobby helped me professionally.

I once did a stress analysis as part of my studies of a theoretical 3 tonne (the weight of the water) glass aquarium. Can't remember now what the glass thickness was but it must have been considerable. That helped my understanding alot. The greatest stress on an aquarium (other than the bottom portion of its vertical sides) is the centre point of the bottom base pain of glass. Its the reason I would never support a glass aquarium by its base edges only. Cross bracing is preferred (additional support for the base of the aquarium in the middle other than its edges) - 100% base support would be ideal but not always acheivable. Glass will not undergo deformation - in other words it will not sag, but this does not mean that it is not under great stress. Deformation is only one material property to consider, there are others. Can you get away with it? Probably but its still not good engineering to do so. But then again designers of glass aquariums probably allow for this by increasing the glass thickness.

I once built a pond in my backyard with pond liner on a raised bit of ground and my sister was terrified that the extra weight of the water would cause a landslide. She didn't realise that soil pound-for-pound is about the same weight as water and that the soil I had removed was the same weight roughly as the water that replaced it (the water probably weighed less). In any event the weight of the pond water was inconsequential in comparison to the overall tonnage of that back yard of rocks and soil. Like a fly sitting on an elephant. In a similar way adding rocks to glass aquariums may be of little consequence structurally speaking, unless it is a particularly dense and heavy rock. The water it has displaced might be about the same weight? Water is quite heavy.

Wishing you luck with your studies.




Edited by Water Box Dreams
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I suppose the only thing that could stop me is if I can't tolerate another 4-5 years in school; believe me, I think about that often as between school and work I have no time for anything - except a handful of fish tanks, apparently.

Crypto is hit or miss.  I am paid in stablecoin so that it stays equivalent to $1 USD, and my current offer and client is my best paying so far, but how often they need me to write can vary quite a bit with the current one, sometimes it's a fixed quota with other styles of writing.  A local job may be inevitable, but I've managed to stay self-employed for over a year now working as an independent contractor.

That being said, math is a huge part of it, and all that is left of my first degree (STEM-style A.S. transfer degree, though they lacked in the E in STEM and actually call it an STM degree) which leaves that part of education largely unexplored after I stacked science classes to the point where I can only take my mandatory classes, I maxed out on the others a while ago and I like taking strange electives, like bio latin and greek, which is useful in biology as well as human medicine - found out my instructor was a veterinarian and wrote a book on the subject, actually.

I will note I am 31 and failed to take college seriously until I was 29, largely due to a party life when I was younger, so I have some life experience...and I'm older than most people in my classes, but I've seen plenty older than me.  I am self-taught and since all they do is hand me a syllabus and assignments it has remained that way my first couple of years in college.

Had a couple really good engineers for instructors so far, last being for Environmental Issues and if I've learned engineers are wizards at anything, it's math on the fly - that is crypto 101.  Being able to memorize chem. formulas like the nitrogen cycle is something I've also seen, like c'mon guys this is my first time reading it slow down!  Lol - how I feel in Spanish, typically.

So, now I have to study more advanced mathematics after acing a brush-up course, then I tackle a college math and Spanish course and it is on to the next degree with UW.

I considered doing a pond liner style pond indoors, but Intex pools are hard to beat for their price point, when the weather gets cold Walmart sells 475g ones for like $80 and I already have all of the lid/filter&biomedia/1250gph pump, etc.  If I was doing a more permanent pond I would either use a couple liners or go with straight up concrete.

I'm actually going to score a couple small willows and put them in potting soil.  What I ran into last winter is they were all basically dead after November and that is when I caught covid (End of Oct, Beginning of Nov 2020) which trapped me down in the Chicago suburbs w/ a girlfriend for an entire month.  My family back here had no idea how to manage the pool so all I could do was hope my filtration would hold up and they wouldn't overfeed the fish.

I was so sick when I disassembled I tossed many things in that filter away that on a normal day I would spend hours cleaning for repeat use.  Used a Morakniv and game shears to take the pool down, they make them out of PVC.  Reviews say they hold up to Labrador claws just fine, but it is good advice to replace them every 1-2 years.

Needless to say, 30 days without maintenance was far too long, but I didn't lose any fish with tilapia being so hardy.  The bigger ones got up to 14-15" while most are between 6-9".

I may go check out some pet-fish at Marineland and Petco today, have a spare 10g and filter, so I am doing a little light research on best cichlids and etc, not sure if I'll do it today or later on, but I definitely plan on a pet/hobby tank.

I'll get some pictures of my new blue tilapia fingerlings when I go feed them in a few minutes here.  They are always so peaceful at this age, all they do is zoom around and eat.  Lakeway continues to impress, if anyone ever wants to get into raising tilapia, Lakeway Tilapia is the place to go for both the genetics and the food.  Tons of information on their website, I've read it all several times, so long as you are not buying their budget fish (they do this just to hose the corrupt competition) they will always give you support via email or phone.  I've gone through about half a dozen fingerling orders in 2 years without any dead on arrival.

I appreciate the luck on my studies!  I think languages will be the hardest, not that advanced math will be easy - math just has a way of behaving and always adding up, while language is a struggle despite all the Latinizations we share.


-Thomas Wolf

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Welcome from a native Cheesehead who defected to Chicago! 

I, too, was older when I went to college, for financial reasons. I found that my prior work experience served me well in navigating the bureaucratic side of academia, and although most undergrads were younger than I, a significant portion were not. When I was in graduate school teaching labs, one of my students was quite a bit older than I was, having been an engineer for some years before deciding to pursue physics in greater depth. I was briefly concerned that it might be an awkward situation, but he was there to learn and I was there to teach, and he turned out to be one of my best students. (Medical students were the worst because they thought they already knew everything. Remember that the next time you go to the doctor. 🙄) DM me if you don't already know the joke about how a physicist, a mathematician, and an engineer are seeking to prove that all odd numbers are prime. 🤣

Languages are pattern-based, so apply the same thought process as you do in math. I've studied, in order of acquisition, German, Arabic, Spanish, French, Russian, and Japanese, as well as general linguistics, so trust me about the pattern analysis, and all will be well. It will help you a lot to watch TV shows in whatever language you are studying, first with subtitles and later without.

Kudos on your aquatic pursuits. It's knowledge that we will definitely need in order to help clean up the mess we've made of our planet. You might consider teaching at some point. I always swore I'd never teach kids, but I ended up with a master's degree instead of a Piled Higher and Deeper, so I taught junior high and high school kids because I prefer to live indoors and eat regularly. However, I had more success than I would have imagined, and I know from my experience as a student that I affected a lot more people than I will ever know about. In the end, I was laid off but am also disabled from cancer treatment, so I'm currently figuring out a way to teach people who need or want to know things about math or science and can't fit into the system of academic bureaucracy for whatever reason. I never really fit there either, and teaching people whom Society believes cannot (or should not) learn is an incredibly gratifying way of giving the finger to The Man. 

To keep this fish-topical, I'll tell you that I'm currently running 6 freshwater tanks: 2.5, 5.5, 10, 15 tall, 20, and 30 gallons, with live plants and an assortment of nanofish, shrimp, snails, and African dwarf frogs. I really only meant to have the 2.5 gallon tank, but Things Happened, such as one of my neighbors leaving a perfectly good fully equipped 20-gallon tank in the alley. I aspire to a 55- or 75-gallon tank in a larger apartment as a room divider, as well as a container pond on the porch, and at such time as I might get a larger tank, I'd like to convert one of the others to saltwater. My current project, having recently restarted the 5.5-gallon tank after scuds crashed what used to be Shrimptopia, is to get another betta (there's one in the 15-gallon tall tank) and house it with a dwarf crayfish. 

Good luck with both your academic pursuits and self-employment! 🐟🐌🐸

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Hi Theresa,

Wish I could say the "politics" of academia have been easy for me to navigate but I continue to struggle with authority and ineptitude.  I was approved for honors biology twice and the first time the super-qualified PhD didn't like the honors committee overstepping and micromanaging him, the second one was also a great PhD and approved me as his first ever student, but a week later I caught covid.  I cannot say I will be returning to the Chicago area, the city is not for me; I hate the suburbs here and I've traveled to big cities east coast and west coast so I know I live in no mans land already, La Crosse County area.

I see many returning students that are far more accomplished than anyone else in the class, the diversity is pretty cool these days but I can't help but hate myself for wasting so much time, especially given the state of things with the environment.

Visited a Petco before Marineland today.  Won't be doing that again.  I complained loud enough for the staff to hear about all the dead fish and ich all over their entire system which is fed...all from one interconnected line - their new addition...

Marineland had a few cichlids and stuff but I need to study them more and will likely order some rarer ones worth breeding.  Picked up some Seachem Seed so it wasn't a wasted trip.

I'll have to DM you on the joke, lol.

I already watch TV shows in multiple languages...largely due to former black-hat connections from when I was a kid using tech the wrong way, but that molded me into a -highly- useful adult.  Access to diff. languages is no problem.

I definitely agree more attention on marine biology is more important now than ever, which is unfortunate as my initial plans were woodland focused, primarily... but I will say I'll chase any problem important enough to solve.  I love the forest... hurts me to think it will all be washed away not long from now.

Nothing wrong with a Masters, my mother has one.  I don't know how long I will make it, I took on 25 credits with long-covid and even gave speeches on long-covid with long-covid.  I maintain a 3.97 GPA and survived all of them, but I was crawling over the finish line and I am taking off until spring to get my head right.  Weight went down to 140lbs, I am up to around 195 and working out almost everyday.  I still have head fog, and I guesstimate only about 75% of my smell/taste back after 10ish months.  It makes my work harder as a technical writer, but I can still do it.

I am very sorry to hear about your cancer treatment.  I lost one of the only people I have ever loved, a young ex of mine who was only 26 to brain cancer almost a couple of years ago.  Look into Turkey Tail myco supplements w/ Paul Stamets (fungi.com).  I sent her supplements, but it was far too late by the time I found out.  Stamets holds countless patents in remediation and etc. and an honorary doctorate in mycology, he's a legend, and he has helped cure his mothers stage 4 cancer, there is a YouTube video of a TED talk or similar on it with both of them.  Research since shows that turkey tail is effective in aiding chemotherapy to attack malignant cells while at the same time shielding the body from much of the damage to healthy cells.

I have roughly 25-30 juvi prawn in a 75g, roughly 25-30 jufi prawn in a 10g at a younger age, 22 food-grade pure strain blue tilapia in a 20g long and I am only getting started, and all of these fish/prawn grow extremely fast, another pond is inevitable.  I wish I had a lake.

My 40g breeder is running cold water with a couple of bait fish (creek chubs) I've had for like....16 months now, lol.  No one wants to use them for fishing, but I think I can release bait fish legally; they are quite healthy in food-grade conditions, just 2 of them.  Some people eat them, can't say I wanna sign up for that.

I've only used hypo-brackish or brackish conditions for fish injury treatment during "rough" breeding w/ blue tilapia.  The freshwater prawn don't tolerate it well, 5 ppt for the adults, but interestingly, their larvae won't produce unless it has 20 ppt salinity because of how Malaysian rivers intersect with brackish/ocean currents, where the species is indigenous.

I snapped some pictures, I'll go for higher quality higher light ones in the future but I am still totally reorganizing my fish room and just getting things established.  I'll be making a lot more room for a new pond and such!

Great to speak with you!


-Thomas Wolf








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