Aquaponic Gardening

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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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Hi Lena.  I've done a bit of experimenting with our 60 gallon tanks with Clear Ammonia, which is a 10% solution.  I find that 5 - 10 ml usually gets me to about 5 ppm ammonia.  I'm interested in seeing what 1/2 a cup does in yours!  Could be exciting. My vote is it is fine to continue to post what you see in here - this is a topic on Cycling, after all and your experience could be very insightful.


I highly recommend that you get some Maxicrop liquid seaweed and use about a cup of that as well.  Then add some plants soon.  The Maxicrop adds some nice micronutrients to your system, and helps the plants get established so by the time you are cycled you have a healthy bio-filter in place for your fish.

Keep in mind that if the ammonia goes way up past 8 ppm, it may actually hinder the process and start to stink.
thanks for all the tips!  Ammonia is definitely past 8ppm but it doesn't stink at this point.  I will probably drain/dilute the water until it the ammonia gets back below 5 ppm.  Not the best way to start my experiment, but at least there were no fish in it yet!  LOL!

TCLynx said:
Keep in mind that if the ammonia goes way up past 8 ppm, it may actually hinder the process and start to stink.

Yep that is the benefit of fishless cycling


Hi Clive, yes I've read about cycling with fish food but opted to go with urea. Dosed until ammonia get to 4-5ppm and kept it there daily until the system goes to zero in 24 hours, which took 10 days, by the 12th day i had no ammonia or nitrites and the system was cycled. I also seeded with filter sponge from my aquarium. I kept dosing for another week to keep the bacteria fed and then added fish. With urea i find i can dose accurately.

CliveP said:

I'll hopefully be cycling my first system soon so this thread is really helpful.


One method of fishless cycling I've read about and plan to try uses fish feed as the ammonia source - just drop it into the empty tank and it produces the ammonia as it decays. Anyone used this method?

As long as you run an airpump you'll be fine. It aerobic bacteria that we want and your compost should have everything in it you night need.

halemart said:
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.

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.

Here's an update on my fishless cycle:


I had to drain the water 2x to get back the ammonia to a starting under 2 ppm.  Then  I added 1  tsp of ACE janitorial grade ammonia with 10% ammonia hydroxide.  this got my ammonia count to 2.0ppm.  I then added about 2 1/2 cups of  fish water (water from our other fish tank), and 1 1/2 tsp ammonia until I started to see Nitrates.  This took only 4 days.   Right now here are my readings:

pH  7.8
Ammonia 0
Nitrite  2.0ppm

Nitrate 10.0ppm

Am I now ready to add fish and plants or do I need to get the Nitrates up higher?  We don't have the fish yet, so maybe I can keep adding the fish water until I get some.  I was thinking about putting in a few seeds to see if they start to germinate.


Thanks for any comments.

You want your nitrite to go down before you subject fish to the system.  You might keep adding some fish water or small amounts of ammonia to be sure your bacteria don't starve but now you don't want much ammonia cause you want the bacteria that take care of the nitrite to get a move on and ammonia inhibits them.


Once you can dose your ammonia to 1 ppm and then have both ammonia and nitrite get down to 0 within 24 hours you are good and ready to add fish.


As to the plants, go ahead add plants, you have nitrates so there is food for the plants in there.

Lena, I totally agree with TC, but I would also suggest adding some Maxicrop when you add your plants, if you haven't already.  It will help your plants get established while your bio-filter is still maturing.  Hopefully by the time your plants have chewed through the Maxicrop the biofilter can provide enough nutrition for the plants....should be pretty close by then.
Great. thanks for the tips TC and Sylvia -  I will pick up some Maxicorp today.  I am planning to take the Growing Powers tour as well today -- =)

Hi Lena,

Wow, in just 4 days you have a nitrite reading of 2ppm? Fantastic! This looks like a great method for fishless cycling.You had an ideal PH for cycling, but may i ask what was you temp like? You could be fully cycled in as little as 24 hours! The moment your nitrites give zero reading you could add fish,although to ensure a strong bacterial colony and more guaranteed conditions for your fish, it may be a good idea to re-dose with ammonia and allow to fall to 0 reading for a few more days as suggested by TC.

After adding fish water 2 days ago, and 1 tsp ammonia yesterday, I still have some work to do:

ammonia - .25ppm
nitrite - .5ppm

nitrate - 5 ppm

I will add some more fish water today instead of ammonia.  The water temp is 70.6 degrees.  Also, I picked up some Maxicrop yesterday.   The sales rep was looking for a supplemental product with more potassium because he thought aquaponics had deficiencies in potassium.  He also thinks I will have a tough time growing tomatoes and pepper because they require a lot more nutrients than the fish provide.  Is this true?

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