Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

I just noticed that with all the topics we have going, none are about the most mystifying topic of all - cycling your system.  How did you start up your system?  Using fish or "fish-less"?  Pee-ponics? Pure ammonia?  A bacteria product?  If so, which one?  Did you supplement with anything?  Liquid seaweed?

It's been a while since I last cycled a system.  Once you have done it a few times you get to where any new system is started with media and tank water from a fully cycled system so it becomes much easier and less dramatic.  The first system I cycled was a nail-biter.  I just used fish...period...and watched anxiously as the ammonia, then nitrites spiked.  The next two systems were cycled at the same time and I used a ridiculously expensive product that had to be refrigerated in one tank, and a combination of peeponics and Maxicrop in the other tank.  Much, much faster results (unfortunately I didn't keep great records so I can't remember more detail than that) with less angst.  I seem to remember that the two tanks cycled at about the same rate, so I'm never buying an expensive product again!  The Maxicrop enabled me to get plants in there immediately, and I followed up with fish in about a week once I could see through the water again.  What I would probably recommend at this point is cycling with a little pure ammonia and Maxicrop, and add fish once you see the nitrites going down and a glimmer of nitrates...if you have that much control over when your fish arrive.  

Anyone else?

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In my soil gardening, I've recently begun using AACT (actively aerated compost tea) occasionally. For those of you who do not know, a relatively small amount of compost is placed into a bucket of water, small amounts of stimulants are added, and the solution is aerated for 36-48 hours. The thousand or so different types of bacteria in the compost reproduce exponentially during the period of aeration. When I cycle my first system, I intend to use a gallon or so of AACT, as well as maxicrop and ammonia. Thus far, I've read nothing to indicate AACT could hurt anything and it seems like a fast way to inoculate the gravel beds with bacteria.

Does anyone know of a potential downside to using AACT for cycling?
I highly recommend fishless cycling and pee ponics is definitely the cheapest ammonia source. It should be noted that fresh pee has some drawbacks for use when cycling a system while aged humonia (seal the pee in a bottle for a few weeks to a month) reduces the "drawbacks" provided the humonia source is a healthy person not using any substances you don't want in your food system.

Anyway, I can't say that fishless cycling is that much faster than regular cycling but it does remove the stress part of the situation so even if it does take as long, it won't feel as long. I've never found plants to suffer or need much "extra" if added as seeds/small seedlings about the time fishless cycling starts. Some seaweed extract will provide a good source of trace minerals and potassium for a good start but should not provide much nitrogen or phosphorus. Fishless cycling with pee will provide plenty of nitrogen and phosphorus. Fishless cycling with pure ammonia might be short a phosphorus source till the fish are added. Fish feed provides plenty of phosphorus too though we normally don't bother testing for it.

I have always added some worms and worm castings into any new system I have started and though I don't have any scientific evidence to back it up, worms are such great micro-biota enhancers that I firmly believe that a hand full of worms and their castings into each new grow bed will provide a jump start of all the bacteria needed to get a system off to a good start. I would not bother buying any bottled bacteria (I doubt much bacteria would still be alive after much time in a bottle even if it were kept cool.) I expect a small dose of very fresh aerated compost tea could also supply seed bacteria to start colonizing the grow beds quickly.

Notice I don't recommend adding huge amount of anything to an aquaponics system beyond water and gravel. Everything else is added in fairly small amounts (even the fish are added small) and fish food/electricity are the only substantial constant inputs.

Even during initial bio-filter cycle up, it doesn't take much pee, humonia, ammonia or anything else to get things going. The most humonia I have ever added to a system at one time was 500 ml and normally I would only add about 200-300 ml at a time to a system with water volumes less than 1000 gallons. It doesn't take too much and if you overdose it can slow things down more.
What is the "small amounts of stimulants" you refer to to?


For bacteria, unsulphured molasses, two tablespoons or so to 5 gals of water.
I wanted to let this thread group know about an experiment that I"m running on our 60 gallon tanks with fishless cycling. The first product I'm testing is called Mycorrihizae Bacteria Starter and it is only about $16 for all you would need to cycle a very large system (I only used a 1/4 cup of each for my tanks). It comes in 2 parts that you mix right before you use it, so that is how it stays shelf stable. I'm added that once, then am adding 7.5 ml (1.5 teas) Clear Ammonia every day and watching what happens.

I started seeing nitrites after 3 days, and nitrates after 5. I hit 10 ppm nitrates after 9 days. I'm pretty excited about that, but the next test is to add some goldfish and make sure there isn't something funky that has happened with this method that makes it unable to support life - that was some mighty fast cycling!

Next I"m going to sterilize everything again (I find that pumping out all the tank water, then running chlorinated water through the beds, and pumping that out, and doing that about 3 times gets things nice and dead - an odd thing for an aquaponic gardener to be doing, for sure!) and try the same amount of ammonia with a liter bottle of Maxicrop.

I'll keep you posted...
Definitely some interesting tests you are running there. Keep good records as the results will be of interest. And if you are keen to do another set of tests after the maxicrop one, can I suggest running it with and hand full of worms and worm castings for each grow bed and an ammonia source for your last trial (I don't want to suggest sterilizing the system again after worms are added cause that would be a bit cruel and gross.)
I will definitely add that to the list. My goal with this system is to really fine tune the cycling process and get to a product combination and regime that I can strongly recommend based on real data. The problem with most of what is said on the forums is that once you have cycled one or two systems, you don't ever need to cycle again! It is like starting a sour-dough starter - why would you ever start from scratch? So my goal is to keep cycling, then sterilizing this one system just to learn what really works - i.e. what gets you into plants and fish the fastest for the least amount of money.
I'm no stranger to cycling tanks. I have 15 various fish tanks scattered around the house. They are all heavily planted and heavily stocked with tropical fish and shrimp. Like the one pictured below.

I'd like to share my fish tank experience with y'all. I use Aquasoil Amazonia II, which is an organic substrate for planting. From day 1, adding water to it it leaches a massive amount of ammonia from all the organics in the soil. So to soak up the ammonia I put in a seasoned canister filter as well as some ammonia/nitrogen loving plants called Amazonian Frogbit. Amazonian Frogbit is a fast grower. It looks like Duckweed on steroids. For me it doubles it's mass every 48 hours. So it's a good ammonia/nitrogen scrubber. I found that with this method the canister filter isn't overwhelmed with the excess ammonia/nitrogen and the tank cycles in about a week.

I've seen a lot of talk about the "water" being cycled. When in fact it is the tank and all of its surfaces that are in contact with the water are the things that get cycled. So by just moving water from a cycled tank to another uncycled tank will not seed it with bacteria. You'll have to move some sort hard media into an uncycled tank to seed it. That is why I keep a filter baggie full of bioballs or filter media in one of my quarantine tanks to seed new filters/tanks.

With all that being said. I got too excited with my AP system loaded it up with fish and seedlings and proceeded to kill everything. OOPS! I forgot to cycle my tank! :P

I hope some of this will help y'all

I am trying to understand the bacteria a bit more. For some time I have been brewing compost tea with molasses and worm tea. I even bought a microscope to verify that the results.

Results of 1/4 cup molasses in a 5 gal bucket brewed for over 24 hours with 4 air stones.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxuCVCiamBw

Molasses raises the number of bacteria, but I am wondering if it is the kind of bacteria we want. I guess I want to learn more about the two types of bacteria that are beneficial to our tanks for the conversions of nitrites.
I completely agree. The best way I've ever cycled a fish tank was to use media from a previously established tank. The longest I have ever had to wait for a completely sterile tank to cycle was 5 weeks. I usually cycle my new tanks with old media in 1-2 weeks, depending on my water source and water temp.


Chi Ma said:
I'm no stranger to cycling tanks. I have 15 various fish tanks scattered around the house. They are all heavily planted and heavily stocked with tropical fish and shrimp. Like the one pictured below.

I'd like to share my fish tank experience with y'all. I use Aquasoil Amazonia II, which is an organic substrate for planting. From day 1, adding water to it it leaches a massive amount of ammonia from all the organics in the soil. So to soak up the ammonia I put in a seasoned canister filter as well as some ammonia/nitrogen loving plants called Amazonian Frogbit. Amazonian Frogbit is a fast grower. It looks like Duckweed on steroids. For me it doubles it's mass every 48 hours. So it's a good ammonia/nitrogen scrubber. I found that with this method the canister filter isn't overwhelmed with the excess ammonia/nitrogen and the tank cycles in about a week.

I've seen a lot of talk about the "water" being cycled. When in fact it is the tank and all of its surfaces that are in contact with the water are the things that get cycled. So by just moving water from a cycled tank to another uncycled tank will not seed it with bacteria. You'll have to move some sort hard media into an uncycled tank to seed it. That is why I keep a filter baggie full of bioballs or filter media in one of my quarantine tanks to seed new filters/tanks.

With all that being said. I got too excited with my AP system loaded it up with fish and seedlings and proceeded to kill everything. OOPS! I forgot to cycle my tank!

I hope some of this will help y'all

It should be somewhat easy to test by inoculating new media with the tea prior to cycling. Any cycling time less than 5-6 weeks should be a result of the inoculation. If it cycles in only 2-3 weeks, that would be proof enough for me. I have little doubt that the wanted bacteria will be there, provided that you start with good, diverse compost and I look forward to reading about your results.



halemart said:
but I am wondering if it is the kind of bacteria we want.
I always cycle a tank fishless unless you dont have a choice. I use a starter nitrifying bacteria like Proline or Bacta-Pur, bring the concentration of ammonia up to 2ppm and add my bacteria directly to the biofilter. I aerate the biofilter for a few hours to give the bacteria a chance to start binding to the media, then start the system as a whole. If im not using a dedicated biofilter, I add it directly to the system water and keep it running.

From there I measure ammonia levels and bring them back to 2ppm daily to make sure I have plenty of nutrients for fast bacterial growth. If at all possible, I like to keep the temperature at 80deg or above to keep their metabolism fast and let them replicate faster. As the system finishes cycling, nitrites drop and nitrates rise, I bring the temperature into the acceptable range for the fish/plants. Then I wait for the ammonia levels to drop to zero before adding the fish. If you cycled everything properly, your good to go. If you have too many fish and get an ammonia spike, it's good to have some cloram-x on hand to bind up any extra ammonia. It will make it non toxic to fish yet keep the ammonia bio-available for the bacteria so it's a great thing to have for emergencies.

Thats how I cycle :)
I just caution that some aquarium additives are not safe for a food system so do some research before assuming that something is safe for aquaponics.


Ryan said:
I always cycle a tank fishless unless you dont have a choice. I use a starter nitrifying bacteria like Proline or Bacta-Pur, bring the concentration of ammonia up to 2ppm and add my bacteria directly to the biofilter. I aerate the biofilter for a few hours to give the bacteria a chance to start binding to the media, then start the system as a whole. If im not using a dedicated biofilter, I add it directly to the system water and keep it running.

From there I measure ammonia levels and bring them back to 2ppm daily to make sure I have plenty of nutrients for fast bacterial growth. If at all possible, I like to keep the temperature at 80deg or above to keep their metabolism fast and let them replicate faster. As the system finishes cycling, nitrites drop and nitrates rise, I bring the temperature into the acceptable range for the fish/plants. Then I wait for the ammonia levels to drop to zero before adding the fish. If you cycled everything properly, your good to go. If you have too many fish and get an ammonia spike, it's good to have some cloram-x on hand to bind up any extra ammonia. It will make it non toxic to fish yet keep the ammonia bio-available for the bacteria so it's a great thing to have for emergencies.

Thats how I cycle

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