Aquaponic Gardening

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Hi everyone,

I'm getting a bit frustrated with my Aquaponics system.  It's been cycling (with fish) for a little over 4 weeks now.  For a while there everything tested normal.  Now in the last few day's my tomato plant died.  A number of the sprouts that started (parsley, basil, variety of lettuce, corn)  all died after about a week of looking great.  I have two tiny basil sprouts and 1 tiny parsley sprout left.  Today my water tests are as follows PH 8.2 (I have never been able to get it below 8), Ammonia 1, Nitrite 2, Nitrate 160.  I haven't had any fish die yet accept for those that have jumped out.  I have a mixture of catfish and sunfish.  I feed them other fish and duckweed but mostly fish since the duckweed(dried) goes through my overflow valve into the grow beds.  I don't want to use any commercial flakes with soy.  

Is this normal for cycling?  I mean the test levels.  Should I dig up a tomato plant from my outside garden and put into the system to help convert the ammonia?  I don't know if the 3 little sprouts I have can manage it?  

I tried adding vinegar to lower the PH.  It helps a little but I have to add it daily.  I added liquid seaweed a couple times to help the plants grow because it didn't seem like I had enough fish.  I can't figure out the ratio of how many plants to how many fish.  Along with size of fish to size of plants?  

 

I'm using brown river rock as my media.  12" deep grow beds.  

 

Any suggestions?

 

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1. Dont have an overflow valve from the fish tank that takes water from the surface. Put an elbow on it with a pipe down to the bottom of your tank so it will pull the solids out.  Drill a little hole in the top of the elbow so it doesn't start a siphon on you.

 

2.  No need to worry about putting a tomato plant in to convert the ammonia, the bacteria do this and the nitrate can build up a lot before plants really HAVE to be added.

 

3. Buy some pH Down - I use techniflora but they are all pretty much the same using potassium bicarbonate, this is organic and adds potassium..  You need to solve 1 problem at a time, and that pH is DEFINITELY a problem.  Give up on the vinegar unless you wanna use the whole bottle

 

4.  That pH shouldn't be a problem for the bacteria though, they like it there actually.  So its a little strange you still have ammonia and nitrite, maybe you don't have enough space or oxygen for them.  

 

5.  If you post pics we can help you more 

 

 

"I can't figure out the ratio of how many plants to how many fish.  Along with size of fish to size of plants?"

 

Since there is a widely acceptable range of nitrate for plants, just try to keep your nitrate at or above 160 and you will get a feel for it over time.  Think: amount of "fish food vs plants", rather than amount of fish vs plants.  The fish also have a very wide acceptable range for how much they eat, so its easiest to overstock on the fish a little and feed less if you need to.

 

It's going to be hard to come up with exact equations for fish food vs plants, there are a lot of variables.

Thank you, Thank you!!!!

The idea for the elbow(down) on the overflow valve is great.  I'm looking for a source right now to buy some PH down.  

I'll try and download photo's in the next few day's.  

 

I'm wondering how many fish I have in the system.  With the water brown from the liquid seaweed it's hard to see in and count.  There is one catfish about 7-8 inches the rest are tiny.  I thought when the ammonia shot up it was because there were not enough plants to convert the ammonia to nitrate????  

I have spent weeks on the computer reading and I'm still so confused at how this works.  My husband is an avid aquarium owner has been for 15+ years.  He was skeptical at first, then saw plants growing and started thinking it was pretty neat.  Now everything is dying he's convinced it can't work and it's a gimmick.  I still have a lot of work to do.  I'm determined to make it work.  I just have to wait for PH down to get delivered.  There's no where near by that sells it.

Thank you again



Alpine Aquaponics said:

"I can't figure out the ratio of how many plants to how many fish.  Along with size of fish to size of plants?"

 

Since there is a widely acceptable range of nitrate for plants, just try to keep your nitrate at or above 160 and you will get a feel for it over time.  Think: amount of "fish food vs plants", rather than amount of fish vs plants.  The fish also have a very wide acceptable range for how much they eat, so its easiest to overstock on the fish a little and feed less if you need to.

 

It's going to be hard to come up with exact equations for fish food vs plants, there are a lot of variables.

Also, my system is set up inside for now in my basement.  I didn't have anywhere outside set up for an aquaponics system.  I have enough space outside my concern was needing a greenhouse type structure to protect the system through the winter.  I live in southern middle TN.  We don't get real cold but we sometimes get snow.  I need to figure out a way to build a cheap structure to set up outside.  Would artificial lighting be causing my problems?  Not enough grow lights?

It definitely works lol

 

The only thing that the basement should affect would be the amount of fresh air, as in how fast the bacteria can get in there and colonize but if you already have nitrate that shouldnt matter.

 

Dont mean to try and sell things on here, but I wrote a book on aquaponics with everything I know, and it would make a lot of things clear for you. Ill put it on my website sometime today.  http://alpineaquaponic.com

 

I have trouble in winter even in San Diego because of the extreme temp shift from night to day, the fish dont eat.  I need a greenhouse, you would need a glass greenhouse prob.  Or a double layered plastic one, with a big amount of water to keep temps stable

 

And again, the plants dont convert the ammonia. The bacteria deal with the fish poo in turning it into a harmless form.  The NITRATE will raise without plants, nothing else should

 

Wow, nice set-up.  Do you use media beds or rafts?  Have you tried both?  Which one do you like to work with better?  I would think the raft would be cheaper since I wouldn't have to buy media.  Is that right?  What are the raft limitations?

Oh yes, it does work.  I've seen countless photo's of people having success just like you show.  I just have to persevere.  

I certainly can come up with a protective system like you have for outside.  Just has to withstand some springtime winds. hmmm.

 

I will check out your website and look for the book!!!



Alpine Aquaponics said:

It definitely works lol

 

The only thing that the basement should affect would be the amount of fresh air, as in how fast the bacteria can get in there and colonize but if you already have nitrate that shouldnt matter.

 

Dont mean to try and sell things on here, but I wrote a book on aquaponics with everything I know, and it would make a lot of things clear for you. Ill put it on my website sometime today.  http://alpineaquaponic.com

 

I have trouble in winter even in San Diego because of the extreme temp shift from night to day, the fish dont eat.  I need a greenhouse, you would need a glass greenhouse prob.  Or a double layered plastic one, with a big amount of water to keep temps stable

 

And again, the plants dont convert the ammonia. The bacteria deal with the fish poo in turning it into a harmless form.  The NITRATE will raise without plants, nothing else should

 

Hay there Debbie, Hang in there.

Alpine is right, it is the Bacteria that converts ammonia to nitrite and nitrite to nitrate.  Then the plants use the nitrates.

 

Your problem is the pH.  Adding acids into a system is dangerous though.  The potassium bicarbonate mentioned will actually bring pH UP not down though.  Be careful about pH down products since they are not all the same, some actually add lost of ammonia which is not really good.

If you need to find an inexpensive acid, go to Ace Hardware and look for Muratic acid (Hydrochloric acid.)  However, it is strong stuff and you have to be really careful handling it.

 

Now as I said, I don't like adding acid directly to a system.  You should get a large bucket or barrel to prep your top up water and adjust the pH of the water before you use it in the system for topping up or water changes.  You will want to draw your water and air it out then check the pH after it has been aerated for several hours to know what you are starting with (tap water right out of the pipes will usually have a false low pH because dissolved carbon dioxide trapped in it will act like a weak acid.  My well water when I first draw it will test as a pH of around 7 but it is really over 8 if i let it air out before I test it.)  Anyway, find out what you are really starting with and then add some small amount of acid and let it mix completely then test the pH again, then wait overnight and check the pH again.  See hard water is often full of buffering which when acid is applied the pH will go down but then the buffer will dissolve to counteract the acid and the pH will come back up so you may have to adjust and work the water adding acid for several days till the pH gets down to say 6.8 and stays there.

If you track the amount of water and the amount of acid needed to adjust it, you may use that as a rough guideline for preping water in the future, however, it is not uncommon for the water in a location to vary a bit through the year depending on rainfall and such.

Anyway, if you adjust your top up water a bit low at first and use it in the system it should gently bring the pH down some, and if you do some water changes it will bring it down a bit faster (but you don't really want to move the pH in the system more than about .2 per day if you can avoid it.)

Many people will use RO water at least part of the time for top ups if they have really hard tap water.

 

Anyway, once you get the pH down closer to 7 you may see better growth in the plants.

 

The above advice will work as long as your river rock is inert.  If there is lots of limestone mixed into your river rock you might have problems adjusting the pH down much.

Today has been chaotic, look for the book tomorrow sorry...  Alot of those questions get answered in my blog and book but basically media bed takes more to set up (if you're doing gravel which is better than hydroton) but less maintenance to operate.  With a raft like whats in the picture you have to take some steps to filter the water, and I haven't come up with a way to do that without having to clean filter pads each week.  Raft I think is cooler, but for a survivalist type garden I'd have to suggest going with gravel.  I say this because the power just went out for almost 24hrs yesterday and my plants nearly died. Ideally you wanna have a battery back-up and gravel beds take less electricity

 

As for that last post about pH down:  Use "Mad Farmer Get Down", its composed mainly of phosphoric acid.  That puts some phosphorous in the water which is good for the plants.  The techniflora stuff is nitric acid, which I believe is a form of nitrogen and we don't need any more of that.  Potassium carbonate is in pH Up but you won't need that, at least not for a long time if at all.  Im going to look into buying phosphoric acid from a lab supply store and see if adding that will be fine, because Im sure it would be alot cheaper than a $13 bottle of pH down every couple months

Hi TCLynx & Alpine ,

Thank you for your responses in my query for help.  I'm still struggling with my high PH.  I've tried doing a water change but my PH is still at 8.2.  Water out of my tap tests at 8.0  We have extremely hard water with a lot of limestone in the area(we are on a well).  So we installed a soft water system and carbon filter(6 months ago) to help with household plumbing issues.  The water I used for my 'water change' went through bothe the softe water system and carbon filter.  How much muratic acid should I add?  I have a small system.  A 50 gallon fish tank with a 40 gallon sump tank.   
Thank you again,


TCLynx said:

Hay there Debbie, Hang in there.

Alpine is right, it is the Bacteria that converts ammonia to nitrite and nitrite to nitrate.  Then the plants use the nitrates.

 

Your problem is the pH.  Adding acids into a system is dangerous though.  The potassium bicarbonate mentioned will actually bring pH UP not down though.  Be careful about pH down products since they are not all the same, some actually add lost of ammonia which is not really good.

If you need to find an inexpensive acid, go to Ace Hardware and look for Muratic acid (Hydrochloric acid.)  However, it is strong stuff and you have to be really careful handling it.

 

Now as I said, I don't like adding acid directly to a system.  You should get a large bucket or barrel to prep your top up water and adjust the pH of the water before you use it in the system for topping up or water changes.  You will want to draw your water and air it out then check the pH after it has been aerated for several hours to know what you are starting with (tap water right out of the pipes will usually have a false low pH because dissolved carbon dioxide trapped in it will act like a weak acid.  My well water when I first draw it will test as a pH of around 7 but it is really over 8 if i let it air out before I test it.)  Anyway, find out what you are really starting with and then add some small amount of acid and let it mix completely then test the pH again, then wait overnight and check the pH again.  See hard water is often full of buffering which when acid is applied the pH will go down but then the buffer will dissolve to counteract the acid and the pH will come back up so you may have to adjust and work the water adding acid for several days till the pH gets down to say 6.8 and stays there.

If you track the amount of water and the amount of acid needed to adjust it, you may use that as a rough guideline for preping water in the future, however, it is not uncommon for the water in a location to vary a bit through the year depending on rainfall and such.

Anyway, if you adjust your top up water a bit low at first and use it in the system it should gently bring the pH down some, and if you do some water changes it will bring it down a bit faster (but you don't really want to move the pH in the system more than about .2 per day if you can avoid it.)

Many people will use RO water at least part of the time for top ups if they have really hard tap water.

 

Anyway, once you get the pH down closer to 7 you may see better growth in the plants.

 

The above advice will work as long as your river rock is inert.  If there is lots of limestone mixed into your river rock you might have problems adjusting the pH down much.

I don't know how much you should add.  What is the water pH after going through the softener and stuff?

 

I still recommend using a bucket and making adjustments to the bucket of top up water and testing that and letting it sit to make sure it stays put for a day or two before using it in your system.

 

Perhaps adjust the top up water down to 6.5 and using the lower pH water to top up the system thereby slowly lowering your system pH over time.

Thank you TCLynx,

My ph has been around 7.4-7.6 for two days!!!!!   :):):):)  The high PH tube tests at 7.4 while the normal PH test tube tests at 7.6.  My ammonia is at 0ppm, Nitrate is 0ppm and my Nitrate is around 10-20ppm.  The system has been cycling for 6 weeks.  Almost all my plants have died.  I only have 4 corn stalks about 5 inches tall that are a little wilted.  

Will the Nitrate gradually increase?  I remember Alpine saying it should be around 160.  

 

Uh,?

ammonia 0 ppm

Nitrate 0ppm (should this be nitrite?)

Nitrate 10-20 ppm

 

NO you don't need your nitrate that high.  10-20 on the nitrate is probably great.

 

Now with a new system it is often suffering from lack of trace elements and potassium as well as iron so you might want to give a dose of seaweed extract or perhaps some maxicrop with iron to help get you started since most of those things will be lacking until a system becomes more mature.

 

Now feeding could be an issue for you.  Trying to formulate your own feed from duckweed fish and bugs might work but if you are not managing to add a balanced diet into the fish then you may not be getting a balanced fertilizer out of the fish to feed your plants.  I don't know how to guarantee you a balanced feed other than recommending a high quality commercial feed.  If you are growing the duckweed in your system, it could be using up much of the nutrients before you are able to get it to your plants.  If you expect to get veggies out of a system, you will have to add nutrients to it somehow and most people do this by feeding their fish with something that came from outside the system.

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