Aquaponic Gardening

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I just got my system built and am currently in the process of rinsing the gravel that I am using.  I probably should have rinsed it before putting in the bed, because it is leaving the fish tank lining with soot, i hope i will be able to rinse it all out, but is a little dirt on the bottom going to risk hurting the pump? I have not put the pump in yet and just slowly rinsing.  Also I noticed that the bottom of grow bed on either side is holding a bit of water that does not drain completely out.  Will this cause a problem with too much water for my plants? 

My next steps are:

to rinse until the water draining is clear

then insert the pump and fill the fish tank and start cycling

I will check the ph levels in about a week then start messing with additives

goal is to plant something in the next 2 weeks.

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I think grow beds generally seldom empty completely. Mine don't, and that hasn't caused any problems yet. The dust or soot from your gravel probably won't be a problem for most pond pumps. They are designed to tolerate stuff in the water and most have a slotted cover or foam filter that keep bigger stuff like bark, hydroton, plants, and fish out of the works. 


  The dust / dirt accumulation on the bottom of the Fish Tank (FT) will not harm your pump.  As Tom stated they are made to take this kind of abuse with out fail.  Also as in Toms case and yours, my grow beds do not drain completely either.  No need to be concerned with this, as there is always a bit of water in your growing medium which is good.  As with your next steps,

to rinse until the water draining is clear                                           This is already being taken care of


then insert the pump and fill the fish tank and start cycling          This usually takes from 2 - 3 weeks to 3



I will check the ph levels in about a week then start

messing with additives                                                                       I hope you are referring to adjusting the

                                                                                                              pH,  don't  worry too much as you may

                                                                                                              experience a pH spike as your system

                                                                                                              cycles.  Are you  going to cycle with or

                                                                                                              without fish?


goal is to plant something in the next 2 weeks.                               Unfourtunatly, your grow beds will not

                                                                                                              have much nutrients that will support

                                                                                                              your plants, you may want to invest in a

                                                                                                              dry or liquid seaweed extract called

                                                                                                              Maxicrop.  By adding this to your water it

                                                                                                              will help protect your plants during the

                                                                                                              cycling process. 


  Please by all means, be patient, the cycling process takes time to do it correctly but once your system is fully cycled you will be amazed with the growth of your plants.  I like to tell people that you are in fact a bacteriologist foremost.  If you care for your bacteria your fish and plants will flourish.  Without the bacteria your fish will die from their own waste and your plants will not grow to their full potential.  I hope this helps.

Thank you so much. I plan to do fishless cycling, and am ready for it to take some time. I have hard water, and I have read that it could be challenging to keep ph levels at the right place.  Yes, when I was referring to additives i meant for aiding in balancing the ph.  Thanks about the maxicrop suggestion, i figured i would need something. 

Gillian,  Matt Ferrel was one of my mentors (he's a member but I haven't seen him since i've joined), he suggested I put my hydroponic feed into the system and plant right away, so I did.  Once I got my pumps running, I added my feed solution to 850 PPM, pushed ammonia up to 8 PPM, and planted a bunch of plants.  My system is a 1000 gallon system all total, so I was adding a cup of ammonia daily and after the initial feeding I added two cups of fish waste fertilizer per week.  Within two weeks, my nitrates were off the chart and I was still looking at 8ppm nitrites and 8ppm ammonia--but the plants were growing like crazy.  After 4 weeks, still adding 1 cup of ammonia per day, ammonia was between 1 and 2 ppm, nitrites were down to 2ppm and nitrates still off the scale. I added 100 goldfish to the system at this point just to see what happened.  They all lived. At six weeks, still following same routine, ammonia .25ppm nitrites zero, nitrates 80 ppm.  And I was harvesting lettuce,chard, and other greens.  I also had a couple hundred radishes ready to eat.


I don't recommend adding ammonia so high (most people really can't even read the difference between 4 or 8 or way off the chart ammonia levels and if it is too outrageously high you can actually stall the cycling process and wind up with a smelly mess.)

I would also personally say stop dosing any ammonia once you add fish.

You really only need to dose the ammonia to between 1-2 ppm and it still only takes an average of 6 weeks to cycle the system fully (to the point where you can dose to between 1-2 ppm one day and have both the ammonia and nitrite to near 0 ppm, 24 hours later.)

If your pH is over 8, I would probably recommend you try to do a little pH adjustment long before you start with the fishless cycling or have any fish or plants in the system.  Don't go extreme, I'm only talking about trying to get the pH down to about 7.4-7.6.  Once down in that range, the system cycling is usually able to deal with bringing it lower eventually provided your media isn't limestone or shells and you are not having to add copious amounts of your super hard top up water.  If your source water is basically liquid limestone, you may want to set up an adjustment tank so you can adjust the pH of your source water before you use it in the system or perhaps look into rain water collection or RO filtration if topping up even a small amount tends to keep your system pH over 8.

I have hard well water and in the tower system where there is some dripping and extra evaporation, topping up with my well water will keep my system pH up around 7.6.

Gillian,  I would recommend following TC's guidance.  He's much more experienced than I am.  When I started out I had not found this group and the groups I was a member of were slow to respond and often provided off the wall advice.

My ph reader only reads up to 7.8 and i imagine it is higher than that. should i get a more higher reader?  Also, what do you recommend in lowering the ph?  I do not have fish in there.  But i am eager to try and start planting something soon.  We have cool days intermittently until about january. 

You can use Hydrochloric acid (Muratic Acid) to lower pH initially before you get fish.  If you use any acid after you already have fish in the system, I recommend only doing the pH adjustment to the top up water (and mixing it/letting it stabilize for several days before using it in the system.) 

You should probably get a bucket of your system water and add an air bubbler to it, then add a small measured amount of acid to the water and let it mix then check the pH, then wait 24 hours and check the pH again.  Once the pH is down into a good range and stays there for 24 hours, (by keeping track of how much acid you use in total for a given amount of water) you have figured out how much acid you might need to dose for a given amount of water to bring your system water down to the desired level, do the math to figure out how much acid in total you will need for the system.

Always use safe handling practices with acid.  Never add water to acid, always add acid to water.  Wear gloves and goggles and don't breath the vapors from the jug.  Work in a well ventilated area.

Will the hydrochloric acid keep the ph down or will it eventually go back up?  I want my water balanced before I add fish, so I am willing to wait if I need to. 

Gillian, again I would wait for or reach out to TC on your issue.  Only time i've had ph issues is when adding too much city water, especially in the cold weather.

I really haven't worried about my pH a whole lot. Our water is a little hard and I was worried about it, but I asked at the local hatchery where I got the fish and they said their water pH was around 8.0. I haven't had any fast changes or large swings, so generally I don't monkey with it much. I'll change water or maybe try to buffer it if it is getting low, but I don't do that often. TCLynx has much more experience than I do so she's a better resource, but pH hasn't been a big problem for me so far.   

Okay, so I might have an entirely new problem.  Wednesday I went ahead and planted and added maxi crop and topped off the water in the FT.  Last night about 1/2 the water was gone! I refilled it again today, and cannot see any place where water may leak. Could this have happened because of the additives? the ground was dry around the bed.


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