This is the most difficult post that you will ever read on my blog. If you are not interested in my aquaponics posts, please do yourself a favor and skip it. If you are reading along with my journey in aquaponics, you will need to read this to understand all the rediculous steps that I need to go through in order to set up my project. So, hold on to your hats because here we go.
Fish produce ammonia through their poop, and respiration. Too much ammonia in the tank will kill the fish. Nothing thrives while living in it’s own waste.
Bacteria, and other microorganisms (Hooray for my microbiology teacher) that live in the water, on surfaces of rocks, toys, mechanical filters, and the walls of the fish tank; turn the Ammonia into Nitrites. Nitrites are also toxic to the fish. Eventually the bacteria (and other microorganisms) will get stronger, and better at their jobs. They will then turn the Nitrites into Nitrates. Nitrates are less harmful to the fish, but still not good in the tank. The Nitrates are the goal though. Plants love the Nitrates. They will filter out the Nitrates and other tastey tidbits (like minerals) in order to clean the water for the fish. This is why you will see plants added to a fish tank once it has cycled. This is how God does it, plants in the water with the fish. They benefit each other. Pretty awesome, No?
Cycling the fish tank. That is what I am in the process of right now. My 20 Tilapia babies are in a 15 gallon fish tank. You aquarium buffs will say that I have overcrowded my tank. It’s true, but I have a 130 gallon IBC tote coming soon. It is appropriate for 20 full grown 16 inch tilapia. So I need a nursery tank. Instead of changing diapers, I just change out the water.
My tank has a mechanical filter going on it; to filter particles out of the water, and to disturb the surface of the water. That will force oxygen molecules into the water for the fish to breath. I have lava rocks in the bottom that came from a cycled Tilapia tank. Lava rocks have more surface area than most rocks, because of their nooks and crannys. The hope is that the rocks came with lots of beneficial bacteria on them already, and will innoculate my tank. This should shorten my cycling time.
Tilapia can tolerate higher pH, heat and chemical changes than most fish. That makes them a great fish for this type of farming. I am least likely to kill these fish, if I make a mistake as I learn.
I use a test kit to test the water for Ammonia, Nitrites and Nitrates every day right now. I am finding that my levels of the first two are pretty high, and there are no Nitrates yet. So I am changing out 5 gallons every day. I fill a 5 gallon bucket with water every day, and leave it outside on the pool deck. In 24 hours the chemicals from our lovely tap water will evaporate out in order to make it safe for the fish (really? What does it do to us?). So once a day, I draw out 5 gallons of ammonia/nitrite water, and dump it in my compost. I then replace the 5 gallons with the clean water in the bucket.
Soon my beneficial bacteria will be able to complete biological filtration. That means that my Nitrates will test high. My tank will then be cycled, because the Ammonia and Nitrites (that are very toxic) have become Nitrates (which are less toxic) in about 24 hours. I will be able to add plants (to filter out the Nitrates) or take out less water everyday, but that water will be love potion #9 for my garden.
If your eyes are rolling, or crossing after reading this, I do not blame you. I have been researching this for awhile myself, and am just beginning to understand it. I know that when I share it with Steve, he is not really listening. He is just being nice and saying “uhunh” and “Why do you want to do this?”
Later; I will add grow beds to my aquaponics set up. But I want to go slow -so that I fully understand each step.
So, I will let you know how it is going. I will warn you with the title though. If you do not care about this stuff-just skip it.