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We just started our IBC aquaponics system a few weeks ago.  We're in the process of Fishless Cycling; our fish (channel catfish, black crappie, and bullhead minnows) will be here sometime in May.  We have ten IBC fish tanks and grow-beds.  We're using washed pea-gravel for the growing media.  We have 200 gallons of water in each tank with water pumps in each to deliver water to the grow-beds.  The water in the grow-bed reaches nearly the top of the pea-gravel and the overflow drains back into the tank.  Being a newbie, I'm not sure of the terms I should be using for our system.  You can probably tell from the pictures.  We washed the roots of the seedlings you see in the picture and transplanted them into the grow-beds.  We’ve planted some seeds in the grow-beds too.  We just added some heirloom tomato plants – we’re not sure how well they’ll do, but everything we’ve been doing so far has been trial and error.  The seedlings have grown to almost double in size and most of the seeds are sprouting.  Please keep reading below the pictures - WE NEED HELP...

 

Here’s our dilemma: we’ve been adding ½ cup of clear household ammonia (because we couldn’t find pure ammonia locally and didn’t want to spend a fortune on shipping) to the tanks each day (to reach 5 ppm) and a quart of Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed (without iron) to each tank for the past two weeks.  We test the water in one or two tanks daily.

The tanks have tested high (8 ppm) for ammonia for the past three days.  The weather is getting warm here in Mississippi now, and as you can see from the pictures, we have an open greenhouse over the tanks, so the water is now nearly 65 degrees.  We’re not seeing any test results for nitrites yet and pH is between 7.8 and 8.  We understand that with the ammonia being so high, it may be hindering the nitrosomonas from colonizing – we’re not sure because we’re getting conflicting information.  Since we don’t have any fish at the moment, should we just discontinue adding ammonia each day (which we already have) and wait for the bacteria to catch up, or drain and refill the tanks?  We really don’t want to have to drain and refill because our only source of water is municipal, so it contains chlorine and may take us right back to square one.

Last week, the water accumulated algae and became a murky green color, so we added some Hydra Bio-Aquatic Bacteria Boost® to the water, hoping that would help rid the water of algae and speed the cycling process since it contains nitrosommonas, nitrobacter, and nitrospira.  The water was much clearer (at least until we added Maxicrop).

So the ammonia is high now and there’s no nitrite according to our tests (we’re using an API Freshwater Master Test Kit).  Our fish will be arriving any day now (sometime in May), so we REALLY need to get cycled.  Can anybody offer some good advice?  Is our system "FUBAR" now?

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Thanks for that helpful information Jim; I'm going to check out videos on radial filters.  It's good to know about the fish too - weight rather than quantity.

@ Dan, I don't know why they're referred to by so many different names; we call them crawfish or just "crawdads" down here in the South.  I'd like to get some too, but I'm not sure what type to get.  Maybe we should just concentrate on the fish until we become more proficient with aquaponics.  I looked at my plants today when I got home from work and WOW - they are really taking off.  The Maxicrop we put in a couple of days ago has really helped - there are new leaves that weren't there yesterday.  I'll have to post more pictures.  I did post some on my profile, but I could only add ten today.

I just looked back at some of my posts in this discussion thread - wow, I really need to proofread before posting!

 

Donna great looking system. I can understand your reasoning for separate systems and pumps but you now have 10 distinct habitats that will always be different do to weather, tank positioning, fish, plant type etc. This will require a lot of detailed recording to keep things running properly.  Jim has given you great advise on starting down the right path. It takes 2 weeks to 6 months just for your system to cycle and 6 months to a year or more to mature. I was like you and couldn't wait to start planting.  Not a big mistake if you can take disappointment. Plants need food and you system doesn't have any.  Yes the maixcrop and some nutrient in the grow media will promote some growth but only to a point.

Since you have so many separate systems check out the fishless forum and read Vlad's postings.  He is very knowledgeable and grows wonderful plants without fish. This will allow you to grow plants has your fish system gets running.

The fish you plan on purchasing won't even come close to what you need to sustain your grow bed.  Jim's comment on the fish ration is so true but that takes time to get fish that size. 

You may want to reconsider so many separate FT tanks.  Your systems looks to be laid out so it wouldn't be much of a problem to link several of them together.  2000 gallons of FT tank is over kill and you couldn't fit the needed additional grow beds into the greenhouse.

Don't get discouraged a little tweaking here and there plus time and you will be feeding the neighborhood.  Tom

Hi Tom,

We actually started out with plans to link all of the tanks together and put a large pump in the center.  We tried all kinds of configurations, but eventually decided to just leave the tanks separate.  But I see what you mean about ten different habitats to maintain and how that could become a problem.  Right now, we pick one of the tanks to use as the "guinea pig" when making adjustments.  For instance, when we were trying to determine how much ammonia to put in, we used one tank; we added a tablespoon at a time until we got to 5 ppm.  We converted the tablespoons into one measurement and added that amount to the other tanks.  We may not connect all of the tanks - like you suggested, it's probably overkill.  We'll have to check out the resources we've been given from this discussion and see what we can come up with.

Thanks,

Donna   

I wanted to thank you all again for your help.  We drained each tank 90% and filled them up again.  We waited 24 hours and tested.  Here are the results: pH = 7.6; High pH = 7.4; Ammonia = 5 ppm; Nitrite = 0.5 ppm; Nitrate = 7 ppm.  What do you think?  What do we need to do now?  Will we need to keep the ammonia level at 5 ppm to feed the bacteria until we get fish?  Our original order of fish isn't going to be here until June, so we were thinking of buying some more elsewhere when we're finished cycling. 

Here's what we have planted: green peas (1/2 tote), green beans (1/2 tote), corn (2 totes), tomatoes (2 totes), carrots (1/2 tote), onions (1/2 tote), bell peppers (1/2 tote), strawberries (1/2 tote), miniature cantaloupe (1/2 tote), kidney beans (1/2 tote), northern beans (1/2 tote), black-eye peas (1 tote).  I know corn is a heavy feeder so we may have to put a little Maxicrop in those grow-beds until the fish arrive (and maybe even after?)  We want to grow some potatoes in the other half of the tote with the carrots because that grow-bed is much deeper than the others (to accommodate root plants).  We're going to add more grow-beds (smaller totes or barrels) since we have so many fish tanks.

I'm not afraid of having too many veggies or fish because we have two freezers and I'll be doing a lot of canning.  We also have people interested in buying (we already sell fresh eggs).  We have chickens, rabbits, and will be getting some meat goats too.  We're trying to become self-sustained - as far as food goes and to sell/donate locally.  We've even been giving friends/relatives "tours" of our little farm - most have never even heard of aquaponics (sad for them, but good for us).

Hi Donna

Looks like your system is cycled, if you have nitrates.  Yes, keep feeding the bacteria.  Remember that is what you are actually growing, the fish and plants are byproducts.  Keep adding a little maxi crop or brewer's yeast and chelated iron (say key-lated) on a weekly basis until you have fish, then monthly.  Don't forget to add red wiggler worms to the grow beds after a week or so of putting in fish.  The worms will create mineralization from the fish solids.

Check out wicking beds for your in ground veggies like potatoes, beets and onions.  Seems to work out a little better.  The biggest problem you are going to experience with the corn is supporting them.  You may want to try hanging a trellis from the ceiling for support, especially if the wind comes though there.

Also, what we were trying to get at with the multiple fish tanks is that you are going to need more grow beds and less fish tanks as your system matures.  That is when you should consider shuffling the tanks about and hooking them into a larger system that can be isolated for maintenance.  Also if you are planning to eat or sell your fish, you will want to have several age group tanks, so you can harvest from one and then restart it with fingerlings again.

Tours... one of our friends has quit a nice job to teach farming type classes in her converted garage. Chicken processing and aquaponics play heavily in their course curriculum. They are well plugged into the sustainability movement here in the Phoenix metro area. 

Keep up the good work Donna and keep us updated.

Jim

A system is far from being cycled just because it has some nitrates. Consider you system (or in your case Donna, 10 different systems, cycled when you can dose ammonia to 1-2ppm and have both ammonia and nitrates be at zero within 24 hours. when you can do this 2-5 days in a row you can consider that system fully cycled.

If you are a healthy human being and not on any type of meds...you have all the clean, free, locally sourced ammonia you could ever want want right at your finger tips...well, your husbands finger tips anyways...look into the PROPER way to utilize humonia...you really don't want any surfactants in your system Donna. humonia has the added benefit of containing other plant essential elements like, potassium, phosphates, magnesium, calcium, some iron, zinc, etc...

Wow! 10 separate identical systems under one roof. That is too cool. That's like 10 different awesome experiments just waiting to happen.

Just a word of caution. MaxiCrop has very little NPK value. It does contain micro and trace elements-a-plenty though. The whole deal there is that the manufacturer uses a cold cell burst technology to extract plant hormones (auxins and cytokinins) from some of the fastest growing plants (kelp) on the planet...It's great stuff for small seedlings and very light feeding plants, but you may run into trouble as your plants get bigger if you're relying on it as a main source of macro nutrients. A much cheaper source of those very same nutrients in about the very same quantities (only without the hormones) is sea water, or pure dehydrated sea water...

Humonia has an NPK value of about 11-1-2 as well as secondary and trace elements. Worm castings hanging in a paint strainer in a tank seems to work well also for growing plants (especially when coupled with humonia)...

That system looks awesome! I have the same set up with one tote and the green house on the way. My question is, is your grow bed to small for your fish tanks. I only ask that because the book I read from Sylvia Bernstein suggest a 1 to 1 ratio when it comes to bed and tank. Maybe I am reading her book wrong or don't understand the concept. I am still cycling mine after a month and still no nitrite or nitrate. Ammonia is up to 8 and ph is always around 6 to 6.8. I started with around 175 gal to 50 gal of bed. The same exact way your totes are cut. But I read the book then drained out and swapped a lot of water from my pond down to 50 60 gal in the tank. Also I started the operation with 6 crappie and 1 bass. I now only have 2 crappie and a 1.5 pound bass. The others I put back in my pond. My system is a flood and drain on a timer every 15 minutes. I guess what I am asking is, is the ratio I am thinking about the right way? Example one 5 gal bucket of tank to one 5 gal bucket of bed.
Thanks for any input

Thanks Tom!

We've really made a lot of progress on our system since I last posted.  Our tanks (except one) are completely cycled now and our vegetables are taking off - they've more than quadrupled in size and have blooms on them.  We drained our tanks and refilled them to get our ammonia level down to less than 5 ppm per 200 gallons and the bacteria settled in - we got nitrites and nitrates within just a few days.  Now, our tanks go from less than 5 ppm of ammonia down to 0 ppm in 24 hours.  Since we don't have our fish just yet, we still add ammonia to about 4 ppm daily to feed the bacteria until our fish arrive.  The plants aren't using all of the nitrates, so we're probably going to add more growbeds.

I've never heard or read that the growbeds per tank have to be 1 to 1.  You want enough plants to use up the nitrates (ideally) and have no ammonia or nitrites.  The ammonia and nitrites should be converted by the bacteria within a 24 hour period.  The more fish, the more ammonia, and the more nitrates.  You want to keep a balance and remember that ammonia and nitrites are dangerous to fish, so you want to eliminate them, and the end result of eliminating them is nitrates, and that's what plants thrive on.  Then, if nitrates are high, you need more plants (or some heavier feeding plants - like corn, for example).  As far as the number of fish is concerned, the amount of fish per tank depends upon their weight, not the quantity.  You can learn a lot from the other members of this site!

Our biggest mistake was adding too much ammonia - we were up to over 8 ppms before we drained the tanks.  Once the chlorine evaporated, we tested the tanks and only added ammonia if it tested below 4 ppm.  Too much ammonia can definitely hinder the cycling process.  I also purchased some ammonia online that is 10% ammonia and 90% water (no phosphates or other additives) - which helps too.

We stopped adding anything else and let nature take it's course and within just a couple of days, we were seeing results.  It was odd that the first tank to cycle was the one closest to our rabbit shed.  But then, I think the bacteria we were looking for came from the rabbit shed, which has plenty of ventilation.  We have hay on the floor of the rabbit shed to catch droppings and urine (which of course, contains ammonia).  We keep it pretty clean in there, but it's nowhere near sterile - so that's what led to my theory about the bacteria (since it's airborne) coming from the rabbit shed.  You can see the rabbit shed in some of my pictures (the building behind the greenhouse).  The tank that cycled first is the last one on the right (right next to the gate of the rabbit shed).


Tom Dumas said:

Donna great looking system. I can understand your reasoning for separate systems and pumps but you now have 10 distinct habitats that will always be different do to weather, tank positioning, fish, plant type etc. This will require a lot of detailed recording to keep things running properly.  Jim has given you great advise on starting down the right path. It takes 2 weeks to 6 months just for your system to cycle and 6 months to a year or more to mature. I was like you and couldn't wait to start planting.  Not a big mistake if you can take disappointment. Plants need food and you system doesn't have any.  Yes the maixcrop and some nutrient in the grow media will promote some growth but only to a point.

Since you have so many separate systems check out the fishless forum and read Vlad's postings.  He is very knowledgeable and grows wonderful plants without fish. This will allow you to grow plants has your fish system gets running.

The fish you plan on purchasing won't even come close to what you need to sustain your grow bed.  Jim's comment on the fish ration is so true but that takes time to get fish that size. 

You may want to reconsider so many separate FT tanks.  Your systems looks to be laid out so it wouldn't be much of a problem to link several of them together.  2000 gallons of FT tank is over kill and you couldn't fit the needed additional grow beds into the greenhouse.

Don't get discouraged a little tweaking here and there plus time and you will be feeding the neighborhood.  Tom

Donna,

Thanks for your info. I was asking questions on the forum and got a kind of rude comment to read that book I was talking about. I didn't get a kind response, like from you. I will try to add a lot more water to mine at least double it. I have about 12 plants in mine. Tomato, peppers, spices, and squash. The japs and tomatoes are starting to yield all ready. I even put my 9 year old's venus fly trap in there, he begged me. Any way thanks again.

Donna Fielder said:

Thanks Tom!

We've really made a lot of progress on our system since I last posted.  Our tanks (except one) are completely cycled now and our vegetables are taking off - they've more than quadrupled in size and have blooms on them.  We drained our tanks and refilled them to get our ammonia level down to less than 5 ppm per 200 gallons and the bacteria settled in - we got nitrites and nitrates within just a few days.  Now, our tanks go from less than 5 ppm of ammonia down to 0 ppm in 24 hours.  Since we don't have our fish just yet, we still add ammonia to about 4 ppm daily to feed the bacteria until our fish arrive.  The plants aren't using all of the nitrates, so we're probably going to add more growbeds.

I've never heard or read that the growbeds per tank have to be 1 to 1.  You want enough plants to use up the nitrates (ideally) and have no ammonia or nitrites.  The ammonia and nitrites should be converted by the bacteria within a 24 hour period.  The more fish, the more ammonia, and the more nitrates.  You want to keep a balance and remember that ammonia and nitrites are dangerous to fish, so you want to eliminate them, and the end result of eliminating them is nitrates, and that's what plants thrive on.  Then, if nitrates are high, you need more plants (or some heavier feeding plants - like corn, for example).  As far as the number of fish is concerned, the amount of fish per tank depends upon their weight, not the quantity.  You can learn a lot from the other members of this site!

Our biggest mistake was adding too much ammonia - we were up to over 8 ppms before we drained the tanks.  Once the chlorine evaporated, we tested the tanks and only added ammonia if it tested below 4 ppm.  Too much ammonia can definitely hinder the cycling process.  I also purchased some ammonia online that is 10% ammonia and 90% water (no phosphates or other additives) - which helps too.

We stopped adding anything else and let nature take it's course and within just a couple of days, we were seeing results.  It was odd that the first tank to cycle was the one closest to our rabbit shed.  But then, I think the bacteria we were looking for came from the rabbit shed, which has plenty of ventilation.  We have hay on the floor of the rabbit shed to catch droppings and urine (which of course, contains ammonia).  We keep it pretty clean in there, but it's nowhere near sterile - so that's what led to my theory about the bacteria (since it's airborne) coming from the rabbit shed.  You can see the rabbit shed in some of my pictures (the building behind the greenhouse).  The tank that cycled first is the last one on the right (right next to the gate of the rabbit shed).


Tom Dumas said:

Donna great looking system. I can understand your reasoning for separate systems and pumps but you now have 10 distinct habitats that will always be different do to weather, tank positioning, fish, plant type etc. This will require a lot of detailed recording to keep things running properly.  Jim has given you great advise on starting down the right path. It takes 2 weeks to 6 months just for your system to cycle and 6 months to a year or more to mature. I was like you and couldn't wait to start planting.  Not a big mistake if you can take disappointment. Plants need food and you system doesn't have any.  Yes the maixcrop and some nutrient in the grow media will promote some growth but only to a point.

Since you have so many separate systems check out the fishless forum and read Vlad's postings.  He is very knowledgeable and grows wonderful plants without fish. This will allow you to grow plants has your fish system gets running.

The fish you plan on purchasing won't even come close to what you need to sustain your grow bed.  Jim's comment on the fish ration is so true but that takes time to get fish that size. 

You may want to reconsider so many separate FT tanks.  Your systems looks to be laid out so it wouldn't be much of a problem to link several of them together.  2000 gallons of FT tank is over kill and you couldn't fit the needed additional grow beds into the greenhouse.

Don't get discouraged a little tweaking here and there plus time and you will be feeding the neighborhood.  Tom

Hi George David,

I called you Tom earlier, so sorry.  I can't remember my own name most days!  I think I just replied to the wrong post.

I'm sorry that you haven't received much help on the forum.  I hope I've helped a little, but I'm still learning myself.  You really can't duplicate what another person is doing because every system is a little different in some way; it's a lot of trial and error.  We've learned a lot from other, more experienced people and from books, but we've learned a lot on our own along the way too.  It sounds like all you really need to do is a little more research and experimentation.  Good luck with your system!

Donna
 
George David said:

Donna,

Thanks for your info. I was asking questions on the forum and got a kind of rude comment to read that book I was talking about. I didn't get a kind response, like from you. I will try to add a lot more water to mine at least double it. I have about 12 plants in mine. Tomato, peppers, spices, and squash. The japs and tomatoes are starting to yield all ready. I even put my 9 year old's venus fly trap in there, he begged me. Any way thanks again.

Donna Fielder said:

Thanks Tom!

We've really made a lot of progress on our system since I last posted.  Our tanks (except one) are completely cycled now and our vegetables are taking off - they've more than quadrupled in size and have blooms on them.  We drained our tanks and refilled them to get our ammonia level down to less than 5 ppm per 200 gallons and the bacteria settled in - we got nitrites and nitrates within just a few days.  Now, our tanks go from less than 5 ppm of ammonia down to 0 ppm in 24 hours.  Since we don't have our fish just yet, we still add ammonia to about 4 ppm daily to feed the bacteria until our fish arrive.  The plants aren't using all of the nitrates, so we're probably going to add more growbeds.

I've never heard or read that the growbeds per tank have to be 1 to 1.  You want enough plants to use up the nitrates (ideally) and have no ammonia or nitrites.  The ammonia and nitrites should be converted by the bacteria within a 24 hour period.  The more fish, the more ammonia, and the more nitrates.  You want to keep a balance and remember that ammonia and nitrites are dangerous to fish, so you want to eliminate them, and the end result of eliminating them is nitrates, and that's what plants thrive on.  Then, if nitrates are high, you need more plants (or some heavier feeding plants - like corn, for example).  As far as the number of fish is concerned, the amount of fish per tank depends upon their weight, not the quantity.  You can learn a lot from the other members of this site!

Our biggest mistake was adding too much ammonia - we were up to over 8 ppms before we drained the tanks.  Once the chlorine evaporated, we tested the tanks and only added ammonia if it tested below 4 ppm.  Too much ammonia can definitely hinder the cycling process.  I also purchased some ammonia online that is 10% ammonia and 90% water (no phosphates or other additives) - which helps too.

We stopped adding anything else and let nature take it's course and within just a couple of days, we were seeing results.  It was odd that the first tank to cycle was the one closest to our rabbit shed.  But then, I think the bacteria we were looking for came from the rabbit shed, which has plenty of ventilation.  We have hay on the floor of the rabbit shed to catch droppings and urine (which of course, contains ammonia).  We keep it pretty clean in there, but it's nowhere near sterile - so that's what led to my theory about the bacteria (since it's airborne) coming from the rabbit shed.  You can see the rabbit shed in some of my pictures (the building behind the greenhouse).  The tank that cycled first is the last one on the right (right next to the gate of the rabbit shed).


Tom Dumas said:

Donna great looking system. I can understand your reasoning for separate systems and pumps but you now have 10 distinct habitats that will always be different do to weather, tank positioning, fish, plant type etc. This will require a lot of detailed recording to keep things running properly.  Jim has given you great advise on starting down the right path. It takes 2 weeks to 6 months just for your system to cycle and 6 months to a year or more to mature. I was like you and couldn't wait to start planting.  Not a big mistake if you can take disappointment. Plants need food and you system doesn't have any.  Yes the maixcrop and some nutrient in the grow media will promote some growth but only to a point.

Since you have so many separate systems check out the fishless forum and read Vlad's postings.  He is very knowledgeable and grows wonderful plants without fish. This will allow you to grow plants has your fish system gets running.

The fish you plan on purchasing won't even come close to what you need to sustain your grow bed.  Jim's comment on the fish ration is so true but that takes time to get fish that size. 

You may want to reconsider so many separate FT tanks.  Your systems looks to be laid out so it wouldn't be much of a problem to link several of them together.  2000 gallons of FT tank is over kill and you couldn't fit the needed additional grow beds into the greenhouse.

Don't get discouraged a little tweaking here and there plus time and you will be feeding the neighborhood.  Tom

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