Aquaponics system cycling

Cycling is the process of growing enough bacteria in the aquaponics system to support the life of the system. The fish generate ammonia which must be converted to nitrates,a form of nitrogen the plants can use for growth. Bacteria are responsible for that conversion. The bacteria populate linings of the system as well as the grow media in the grow beds. It takes a few days to a few weeks for this process to happen.

February 3 - February 14, 2008 - Adding Water to the System

When we finished installing the fishtank, we emptied the water from our water barrels into the tank. Over the next 11 days, we continued to add water whenever it rained. By the time we turned on the system on the 14th, the fish tank was almost full. Starting the system used about two thirds of the volume of water in the tank. This water would have gone into the growbeds and plumbing.

February 14, 2008 - Starting the Planting Process

While we were washing and placing gravel, I planted the citrus trees and strawberries. The citrus trees include:

  • 1 Thornless Key Lime tree
  • 1 Meyers Lemon tree
  • 1 Valencia Orange tree

Citrus and Strawberries in Aquaponics Bed

The strawberries are TriStar. I have been growing the citrus trees for about 1.5 years in pots. They spent the winters in the greenhouse and the summers on the patio. I purchased the strawberries last spring and they were grown in a tower in the greenhouse.

February 15, 2008 - More Planting

I added two broccoli plants that had been pulled from the old dirt growbed in the greenhouse and temporarily potted while we constructed the aquaponics system.

February 17, 2008 - Adding Ammonia to the System

Last summer, I mixed several items that I then used to fertilize my potted plants. This mixture included worm leachate, Alaska Fish Emulsion, liquid kelp and a small amount of Dr. Earth liquid fertilizer. I added approximately one cup of this mixture to the fish tank (with no fish at this point) in the late afternoon.

February 18, 2008 - The Testing Begins

First thing this morning, I did a series of tests on the water including pH, Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate. The pH showed 7.4 and all other tests showed 0. So, I added about a quart of the worm/fish mixture to the tank. Tests later in the day still revealed no ammonia, nitrite or nitrate. The test kit I am using is several years old and I have now decided I need to order a new kit.

February 19, 2008 - This Stinks!

The smell in the greehouse is horrible but the testing still shows no ammonia, nitrite or nitrate. I will cease adding the mixture and testing until I can get a new test kit.

February 20, 2008 - Experimenting with Trees

I have a small bay tree that I purchased last summer. I planted it into one of the growbeds today. This will become too large over time and I may have to remove it. Meanwhile, I will grow it with the consideration that it may grow similar to bonsai where it is limited by the root space available.

February 21, 2008 - Planting Seeds

I planted the seeds in the growbeds today. We've had these beautiful sunny days and the water is now staying between around 68 and 75 degrees with the warmest temperature in the late afternoons and the coldest in the early morning. I decided I would plant small amounts of a number of crops so I could see what grows well at this stage of the project. Seeds planted and broken down by growbed:

  • Bed 1: Zucchini (added to bay tree bed)
  • Bed 2: Cucumber (2), tomatillo (this is actually a cutting from last years plant grown in the garden)
  • Bed 3: Peppers (1 bell), bush beans, scallions, basil
  • Bed 4: Potato, garlic, onion
  • Bed 5: Tomato (w/ strawberry plants)
  • Bed 6: Cantalope, beets, carrots, radishes, basil
  • Bed 7: Basil (Planted with orange tree and strawberries)
  • Bed 8: Cauliflower, swiss chard, peas, cabbage
  • Bed 9: Lemongrass, celery, mesclun, cauliflower (with one broccoli)
  • Bed 10: Parsley, cilantro, spinach, bok choi (with the other broccoli)
  • Bed 11: Has the lemon and lime trees and strawberries... no seeds planted

February 23, 2008 - Ginger, and Biofilm!

Today I added ginger root to Bed 10 that was purchased from the grocery store. We also broke down and purchased 10 feeder gold fish to add to the water. It was great fun to watch as they explored their new home. They especially seemed to enjoy the splashing water. They would swim against the current produced by the delivery return pipe and then with one giant burst of energy, they would swim into the current and around the other side of the splashing water.

I also noticed the biofilm is beginning to grow throughout the system. This is the slippery feeling layer on the inside of the pipes, tank, etc. that tells me we are starting to have bacteria in the system. Yeah!!!

February 24, 2008 - Seedlings Already Showing

Amazing! Absolutely Amazing! Today, 2 days after planting, I have radishes and mesclun starting to come up. You have to look close, but they are there...

Aquaponics - Radishes anyone?

Aquaponics - Mmmm mesclun!

March 9, 2008 - We are Cycled!

Well, I've fallen behind on keeping this log up. The addition of our baby chicks sort of messed up my efficiency just a bit. But, as of this morning's testing, we are officially cycled. I've been performing water tests every other day for the past two weeks. The cycling process involves getting bacteria growing that converts ammonia to nitrites and nitrites to nitrates. It didn't take long for the ammonia levels to drop down but the nitrites held steady until Friday. On Friday, they had finally fallen in half and this morning we have none, which means we have sufficient bacteria in the system to start moving forward.

I have added small amounts of my worm leachate/fish emulsion mix several times into the system with the latest addition this morning. This seems to be keeping the plants growing. We also added 10 more golfish this morning as we were down to 3. Now it is time to get the system warmed up and find some tilapia.

Aquaponics - radishes at 15 days

Aquaponics - mesclun at 15 days

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