I just got my first system built and up and running over the last several weeks. I've got a 10-gallon white rubbermaid "garbage" can on the floor for my goldfish. A mini-jet 404 pumps water up into 4 bus tubs (bought these and the can from a restaurant supply store) that are connected by 1/2 inch pvc pipe. I have an adjustable stand-pipe in the fourth one that drains back into the fish barrel.
I bought lids for the bus tubs rather than construct rafts, and I'm glad I did. It was super easy to drill 2 and 3 inch holes in the lids for my net pots. I used half coir and half vermiculite for my medium. The water in the tubs is about half an inch from the top, which allows the water to wick up into the pots nicely.
I had set up air stones in each of the four tubs, but quickly discovered that the net pots that were directly over the bubbles were empty! The bubbles had washed the media and seeds away! So, I shut off the bubbles to the tubs for now. I might turn them back on once the plants are larger. There is some air space between the water and the lid, so I don't think the plants will suffer from lack of oxygen for the roots.
Anyway... So that's my system so far. Currently I have several kinds of lettuce, braccias, and tomatoes started. Most of them I will plant outside in my raised beds in a few weeks. (Tomatoes must wait much longer here in PA.)
So when I got to the store on Saturday, they aquarium guy wasn't too happy. My original assumption was correct, that they are NOT supposed to take any fish back once they leave the store because of potential contamination. Apparently the manager I spoke to on Friday is new, and is clueless about the aquarium department.
He took them anyway, probaby because they were cheapo feeders, and he'll unload them quickly anyway.
I've got buckets of water de-chlorinating right now, and will do a near 100% change out tomorrow so I can start fresh with just a handful of fish.
Thanks again to everyone for their help.
Shouldn't I be aiming for a target amount of amonia for the bacteria to get started? I've also got fish in the system, so I think this should be pretty low? It's close to 3 ppm right now, which is supposed to be "stress" levels for the fish, and probably high enough to kill the bacteria too. Swapping out half should put it down to around 1.5 ppm. Is this about right? Or should I try to go lower?
1.5 ppm would be a good ammonia level for cycling. Don't feed the fish!! Until the ammonia level starts falling and then go very minimally until the nitrite level also starts falling.
If there were no fish, I would say you can leave the ammonia level since anywhere between 1-5 ppm is fine for a first ammonia dose level for fishless cycling but 3 ppm is probably a bit high for the poor fish.
Excellent. Thank you all. I'm sure I'll get it going this time.
I finally got my crappy little digital camera to work again, so I took a few pictures.
It was the digital download for the Apartment-sized systems. It has lots of info on startup. One problem though, was that their guidelines for how many fish were based on POUNDS of fish per square foot of growing space. So I really had no clue how many goldfish I should have bought. And I bought WAY too many.
I might try to contact them and suggest adding some better guidance on how many of what kinds of fish for these smaller systems.