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We have a 500 gallon tank with about 100 fingerling catfish. The ammonia is in the harmful to dangerous range (I don't have a more specific measuring test). We have lost about 10 or so fish. They are not eating and they surface for air. We have a 4 station aerator driven and have a constantly cycling system. The pH out of the borehole well is about 7 to 7.5. We have added significant amounts of nitrifying bacteria starter but register no nitrites or nitrates. Water temp is a little cool at 65 deg. F. Yesterday we drained the tank to about 100 gallons and refilled to about 300 gallons exchanging some of the water as we went. The ammonia level was better but not great. Is there any natural source of nitrifying bacteria that will help us get the ammonia breaking down? I am in Nigeria, so I don't have access to all the nice commercial stuff and we want villagers to be able to manage a system with locally available resources. If you can't tell we are pretty raw at this and the system is only about 2 weeks old.

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Thanks for asking Aaron. We have suffered some catfish loss but with water changes and some local remedies, we are slowly working through our problems. New one yesterday, we don't expect rainy season for another month but yesterday was cloudy and rainy most of the day. Very rare. So our solar set-up stopped running, meaning our cycling stopped. So I had to exchange by hand several times during the day. We're certainly not afraid of learning our lessons, that's the purpose of this model. It is a more challenging environment than a greenhouse in the states. It will only be a flop if we don't take the lessons and the hurdles and turn them into solutions. We had never raised chickens before either, but we have taken 200 to market in the past couple of days.We only lost 3% along the way. One of the wholesale buyers, a restaurant, said they were too big! So we will get there with AP...we'll just keep learning and...growing.

Aaron said:
Well Brian welcome to AP on the fly. It sounds like your humanitarian opportunity has yielded a lot of life lessons and some good advice. I'm curious now were you able to save Any of the catfish or was the whole thing a flop? "most people miss opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work"
Thanks for the tip!

Chi Ma said:
You might be able to use some activated carbon to remove some of the ammonia in the mean time. You should be able to source it locally.
Thanks for the great advice and insights! Anywhere I can read up on these nitrifying bacteria, they seem to be finicky little buggers. Are they sensitive to temperature as well? Do you think we are okay as long as the tank is not receiving any direct light, except maybe a few late day filtered rays of sun (after 4:00) ?  BTW where is Friendly Aquaponics? I may send one of our development team members to see you>

Susanne Friend said:

As stated in the good advice above, do water exchanges and DO NOT feed the fish. Remove dead fish immediately, as they are a rich source of still more ammonia if they decompose in your system. Also, make sure there is no algae growing in your system (fish tanks only, now, I suppose?). Remember, the nitrifying bacteria are photo-sensitive, and UV will kill them off. So, cover your tanks, and your troughs, if you have them built already.

Richard is right, the nitrifying bacteria are ubitquitous, and will colonize your system over time, but not until the ammonia drops below 3.0. However, based upon our own experience here at Friendly Aquaponics in starting over 15 systems over the past four years, we have had excellent success starting systems in only 3-4 days with the bottled nitrifying bacteria from the AES catalog, but I understand you can't get that. It's a total waste of money anyway, if your ammonia level is over 3.0.

So, waiting and water exhanges are you only option. Best of luck, and please tell us how it goes!

What is your filtration Brian?  Is it media beds or raft beds or biofilter?

 

Patience is the biggest thing (cycling is generally best done with a minimal fish load or fishless to reduce stress and fish deaths but no matter how you do it, cycling up takes time, normally 6 weeks under good to average conditions,) keep your water flowing and being filtered as much as possible and the nitrifying bacteria will show up.  Don't feed the fish, and clean out any uneaten feed that you can and hopefully water quality will improve before you loose too many more fish.

Activated charcoal WILL NOT remove ammonia...

Chi Ma said:
You might be able to use some activated carbon to remove some of the ammonia in the mean time. You should be able to source it locally.
You are right it doesn't remove ammonia. I use stuff called Ammo-Carb by API the locals around here call it activated carbon. By apologies for the confusion.

RupertofOZ said:
Activated charcoal WILL NOT remove ammonia...

Chi Ma said:
You might be able to use some activated carbon to remove some of the ammonia in the mean time. You should be able to source it locally.
Not sure where the suggestion came from... but it was peddled around, even in aquaria circles for ages.... it's simply not true...


Ammo-Carb....  "mixes Ammo-Chips® and Activated Filter Carbon to rid aquarium water of dissolved organic materials and ammonia".....

 

Ammo-Chips is just zeolite.... http://cms.marsfishcare.com/files/msds/ammo_chips_122309.pdf

 

And yes zeolite can bind ammonia, until saturated....

 

And under certain conditions can also disssociate and release it again..... a very temporary emergency fix at best....

 


Chi Ma said:

I use stuff called Ammo-Carb by API the locals around here call it activated carbon.
I have a bucket that has a filter that is mesh like a heater filter, I would say it is fiberglass. The water from the bucket starts at the top of the growing bed and runs through a gravel media that consists of granite chips. We will change water again tomorrow. Ammonia is better at the moment, but don't see a hint of nitrates or nitrites yet. It is about 4 weeks.

TCLynx said:

What is your filtration Brian?  Is it media beds or raft beds or biofilter?

 

Patience is the biggest thing (cycling is generally best done with a minimal fish load or fishless to reduce stress and fish deaths but no matter how you do it, cycling up takes time, normally 6 weeks under good to average conditions,) keep your water flowing and being filtered as much as possible and the nitrifying bacteria will show up.  Don't feed the fish, and clean out any uneaten feed that you can and hopefully water quality will improve before you loose too many more fish.

Changing water tends to slow the process.  Also the really high ammonia levels you had before probably hindered the process too.  The window between 1 ppm and 3 ppm of ammonia are where the initial colonization of bacteria usually kicks off provided there is plenty of flow and aeration for the filters and that there is nothing hindering the process like cold temperatures or chemical treatments stopping the bacteria or sun light getting into the filter.  Also, some acids people sometimes try using to bring pH down will also hinder the bacteria, don't use citric acid to adjust pH when trying to cycle up an aquaponics system.
What is your tank pH Brian.. and how are you measuring it ...

To lump some of your questions together - the bacteria responsible for ammonification and nitrification does not like direct sunlight, and their activity is influenced by many factors, including pH and temperature. Their activity also requires lots of oxygen in the water as they rely on aerobic reactions.  Your temp and pH together will also play a role in the danger level of uniodized ammonia in the water (kits normally measure TAN or total Ammonia nitrogen, which includes two forms of the the chemical - the uniodized form is very toxic.  Typically, with higer temperatures, the bacterial action will be better, and with neutral to slightly alkaline water, the bacteria will perform better.

 

How sensitive are your kits?  Often with test strips, I could not pick those up.  It typically takes around 40 days to cycle if the process worked well (if you were not adding heaps of cultures to speed it up).  The ammonia will trigger the bloom of nitrite-producing bacteria, and the spike in nitrite will in turn trigger the bloom in nitrate-producing bacteria.  If the ammonia is there, and the temperature and pH is not extreme, the rest will follow as the bacteria is everywhere and WILL show up in your system.

Brian Hitchcock said:

I have a bucket that has a filter that is mesh like a heater filter, I would say it is fiberglass. The water from the bucket starts at the top of the growing bed and runs through a gravel media that consists of granite chips. We will change water again tomorrow. Ammonia is better at the moment, but don't see a hint of nitrates or nitrites yet. It is about 4 weeks.

TCLynx said:

What is your filtration Brian?  Is it media beds or raft beds or biofilter?

 

Patience is the biggest thing (cycling is generally best done with a minimal fish load or fishless to reduce stress and fish deaths but no matter how you do it, cycling up takes time, normally 6 weeks under good to average conditions,) keep your water flowing and being filtered as much as possible and the nitrifying bacteria will show up.  Don't feed the fish, and clean out any uneaten feed that you can and hopefully water quality will improve before you loose too many more fish.

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