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Here is the basic of fishless cycling in a nutshell so to speak.

Dose system to an ammonia level between 1 and 2 ppm
then wait and test till ammonia levels start dropping.
If the ammonia levels drop below 1 ppm and the nitrite level is still below 1 ppm, then dose again.
If ammonia or nitrite levels are still high then wait and keep testing.

Eventually both ammonia and nitrite levels will drop.
Then dose to 1 ppm again and see how long it takes for both ammonia and nitrite levels to reach 0 again.
Once you get to the point where you can dose to 1 ppm and have both ammonia and nitrite drop to 0 within 24 hours, then the system is fishlessly cycled.

If you are going to get fish early, then quit dosing. You don't want to put new fish into a system when the ammonia or nitrite levels are high. Add salt and extra air.

There have been reports that the bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite establish quickest at a higher ppm than 1 or 2 of ammonia. Like I think I once heard 5 ppm. So perhaps for a first dose, bringing the ammonia up to around 5 ppm might do some good. However, I've never cycled that way and I've also read that high ammonia levels will inhibit the next phase of the nitrogen cycle until the ammonia levels drop, by which time one is likely to have nitrite levels off the chart. I managed to cycle a system fairly quickly during cool weather using the dose up to 1-2 ppm method.

So what ammonia source do you use and how much do you use? Well I can only really comment on what I know personally. I use humonia or Pee if you will. I generally put it in an old water bottle and seal it up for a couple weeks before use. Aging the urine allows the urea content to convert to ammonia. This does two things, 1- it kills off most e. coli that teds to get into urine from our own skin and 2- the already converted ammonia makes dosing easier without the risk of overdosing that is common with fresh pee. People will often pee in a system and then test the next day and see no ammonia and figure more pee was needed and so pee again, and again and again then suddenly the ammonia levels spike and just keep climbing off the charts as more and more of the urea is changing into ammonia. Basically there is a delay with fresh urine.

I found that About one pee worth a day will be more than enough to cycle a system. For my barrel ponics system I usually dosed with about 200 ml of aged urine but I didn't need to dose every day. Let the test kit be your guide. For my big system which had about 600 gallons of fish tank at the time of fishless cycling, I used between 200 and 500 ml per dose and again, I did not dose daily, only as the test kit indicated I should.

If you are going to use a non pee ponic ammonia source. Please make sure you get pure ammonia that has not other additives like fragrance, or soap, or detergent that could have the effect of killing fish/bacteria when they get into the system. I personally don't know of any safe sources of such an ammonia product to recommend.
I have also heard of people using urea fertilizer to dose a system, warning urea is gonna take time to convert to ammonia, it is kinda like using fresh pee. Over dosing is common with urea for cycling. See if you can find someone who has used it to recommend how much should be used. Fish emulsion will also break down into an ammonia source but again, it will take time. I guess anything high in protein that will rot can become an ammonia source but I kinda recommend against putting lots of rotten stuff into an aquaponic system that is new as it is difficult to tell what sort of negative things you might also be introducing, it would be difficult to measure and the smell might be nasty.

Fishless cycling is less stressful than putting new fish into a new system and then having to test and watch and restrain ones self from feeding the hungry beggars. If you miss a day of testing during fishless cycling, no worries, there are no fish in there to be killed. If you overdose, generally the worst that can happen is you need to wait longer or perhaps do a bit of a water change. If algae gets going, no worries there are no fish to suffer from it, just cover the tank. If something goes wrong with the plumbing in a new system while it is fishless cycling, well now you know what needs fixing before you get fish. See, far less stress.

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Comment by TCLynx on August 12, 2010 at 8:11pm
I just wish I had the system start up part 1 and 2 to go with it.
But since they are organic, I thought their tips would be helpful.
Actually the friendly web site will hopefully have this stuff compiled and posted as a downloadable pdf soon so check their site.
Comment by Michelle Silva on August 12, 2010 at 7:38pm
Thanks so much TCLynx for posting this info from FA.
Comment by TCLynx on August 12, 2010 at 1:21pm
Here is what the latest Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter says about cycling up

Aquaponics Nugget #15:
System Start-up (Part 3)

In the last nugget we talked about how you inoculate your system with ProLine nitrifying bacteria to start it up quickly. Now we will talk about what's next: how to modulate the nitrite spike! to keep your fish safe. Here's how you do it: the first day that your nitrite side of the test strip shows up as 5 ppm or over, take about half the rafts off your troughs. Keep monitoring nitrites each day, and if they continue to go up from 5 ppm, take the other half of the rafts off your troughs (leaving the cover on the fish tank). This works because the nitrifying bacteria are light-sensitive and will get inhibited by the sunlight coming into your system, thus reducing the nitrite and nitrate production and "softening" the nitrite spike. This should bring the nitrites down to about 5, where they will stay for seven to ten days or so. At the end of this phase, you will see the nitrites go down to 2-3 ppm and you can put all the rafts back on the troughs. You only have to do this startup ONCE with a system when it is new. You can plant your sprouts (which you need to have seeded into the net pots two to three weeks EARLIER than this) into the rafts as soon as NITRATES first show up on your test strips. During normal operation you will see ammonia levels from 0.25 to 1.0 ppm; nitrite levels in the same range; and nitrate levels from 3-5 ppm in the winter and 10-15 ppm in the summer, in systems that use pH buffers (calcium carbonate, potassium carbonate) rather than pH adjusters (calcium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide).

We discovered this during our third system start-up. We remembered what we learned about nitrifiers being light-sensitive and getting killed off by too much sunlight, and we pulled the shade covers 2/3 of the way off the fish tank and half of the rafts off the troughs (this was a big commercial system). This inhibited the nitrifiers enough so that nitrites dropped to 4 to 5 ppm within two days and we didn’t have the hard nitrite spike we’d had in previous system start-ups. We monitored it for about another week and when the spike appeared to be over and nitrites had dropped to 3 ppm, we put the covers back over the tank and the rafts back in the troughs. We planted our little vegetable sprouts into the rafts we’d left in the troughs six days after we first put in the inoculant bacteria, then added the balance of the rafts and planted them when nitrites dropped to 3 ppm. We ended up with 1 ppm nitrites and 20 ppm nitrates ten to twelve days after inoculation; perfect!. This is the easy way to control nitrite spikes during system start-up yet still start the system quickly.

Important- One Way to Foul Up The System Start-up! Two aquaponics system builders who purchased our plans tried to inoculate their systems with ProLine nitrifying bacteria and failed because their ammonia levels were too high (over 6 ppm). Although the information on how to do this correctly is included in the Construction Manual, is included in our Aquaponics manual, and is also repeated in the instructions on the bottle of ProLine bacteria concentrate, we forgot to write it in six-inch high letters so everyone would realize how important it was.

Nitrifying bacteria are sensitive to ammonia levels in the water above 3 ppm, which will inhibit their growth or kill them outright. When starting your system with a nitrifying bacteria inoculant such as ProLine, your system MUST have less than 3 ppm ammonia, preferably 1 ppm ammonia.

The only thing you can do if you have a system with 6 ppm ammonia or higher is to dump (yes, dump out onto the ground!) about 3/4 of the system water. The easy way to do this is to turn off the water pump, cap the pipe from the fish tank that leads to the hydroponics troughs so that no water goes out there, put a hose (the bigger the better) into the troughs, and siphon the trough water off downhill or just pump it out.

Then refill the troughs with water containing NO ammonia, let it sit for 24 hours to dechlorinate if it's chlorinated tap water, then remove the cap and pump for six hours or so to fully circulate and mix the new water with the high-ammonia water remaining in the fish tank. This dilutes your system water ammonia levels to around 1-2 ppm (check and confirm it this time with the test strips to make sure). Now put a new gallon of ProLine bacterial inoculant in. Forty or fifty gallons of system water from an operating aquaponics system that has NO diseased fish, NO diseased plants, NO parasites, NO crawfish, and NO duckweed dumped into your system at this point will work just as well as the Proline inoculant.

(Next newsletter will have more information on how to correct problems sometimes experienced during system start-up) "
Comment by TCLynx on August 12, 2010 at 11:06am
That aquarium cycling article is good. I do want to point out though that in Aquaponics, most aquarium chemicals or treatments are not appropriate. Most aquarium chemicals are definitely not labeled for use with food fish and the aquarium trade would definitely not even think about the safety for a hydroponics system and food plants.
Comment by TCLynx on August 12, 2010 at 11:00am
Ammonium Chloride
Ammonium Chloride

Or as I noted, you could probably do the cycle up using a little bit of fish emulsion to provide an ammonia source as well as some other nutrients so you could start adding plants before you add fish. Just wait till ammonia and nitrite reach 0 before adding fish.
Comment by Michelle Silva on August 12, 2010 at 8:18am
Just found the above article on fishless cycling and wanted to share.
Comment by Michelle Silva on August 12, 2010 at 8:09am
Do aquarium stores sell it? I want to get it going, as I'm not sure how long this is going to take b/4 I can add plants.
Comment by Michelle Silva on August 12, 2010 at 8:08am
Thanks TCLynx,yes, your right, for commercial system gets tricky..need to buy the stuff
Comment by TCLynx on August 12, 2010 at 7:36am
Many people are phobic. However, I'm a big supporter of pee ponics but you might want to choose an alternative for a "commercial" system that you want to be "organic" since human waste is not approved for Organic certification. For a personal/family system, I think pee ponics is fine but for stuff that you will be selling, it becomes more of a gray area. Even if the "pee ponics" start up of the system has nothing to do with anything going wrong, if anything were to ever go wrong in the future for any reason, some one might call it suspect.
To cycle up, you could probably do just fine using a bit of the fish emulsion or order some Ammonium Chloride from Aquatic Eco Systems.
Comment by Michelle Silva on August 12, 2010 at 6:16am
Thanks for posting the details on pee ponics! I'm so excited,as of last night my system is now plumbed and circulating, although still have some flow issues to work out. I want to start with fishless cycling. I wish I had started bottling my pee earlier,forgot it needed to age! I mentioned this to an aquaculturist a while back who I was planning on getting some fish from and I think he thought I was crazy! He said something like I wouldn't want to eat produce from that! (and he supposedly has a masters in aquaculure!). I'm afraid to mention to others.

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