Water is one of the most important components of the aquaponics system; it ties the entire system together! What is remarkable is all the things that are taking place within the water that will not only make your plants grow healthy and strong but enables your fish to thrive in a clean, toxic-free environment. The fish waste is moved out of the fish tanks with the circulation of the water. The ammonia that is produced is processed by the bacteria colonies that live on the surfaces in the system within the water. These colonies convert it into nitrites and then ultimately, nitrates for plant growth. Properly aerated water allows the plant’s root systems to flourish along with the fish absorbing dissolved oxygen from the water through their gills.
Since the fish, bacteria, and plants are ALL dependent on the water, it is very important that you properly manage these four components to ensure proper water quality - Purity, Temperature, Aeration, and pH. Obviously, there are other things, such as the levels of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. We will talk about those in a later blog post.
Rainwater and potable pH neutral well water are the best choices for filling an aquaponic system. Unfortunately, not all have access to these two types of water sources. Many must settle for their city tap water to fill our systems. There are municipals to where the water is safe to use right away, but that is not the case for many others. They will add chlorine and chloramine to the water for disinfectant purposes. These compounds make the water safe for us to drink, but unfortunately, they are toxic to fish and the nitrifying bacteria in the bio-filter. If it was just chlorine we are dealing with, that would be easy, just let it sit overnight with an aerator and it would dissipate out. Chloramine (chlorine and ammonia bonded together), requires more of an effort to get it out of the system.
Be careful of all the water conditioners available in the marketplace such as pond supply shops and aquarium stores. These products on the surface may resolve the issue of Chlorine and Chloramine, but these products are not certified for use with fish and plants for human consumption. It’s important to read the labels.
Believe it or not, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) can help you treat the water. 100 mg can treat up to 10-gallons of water! Adding 500 mg can in return neutralize chlorine and most of the chloramine in 50-gallons of water. So, calculate the size of your system in gallons and appropriately do the math to figure out how much ascorbic acid you need. There are other means as well by using high-grade or medical-grade activated carbon pre-filters. You plumb a canister in the water line to pre-filter the water entering the system.
These are some viable options to consider when charging your system. The beautiful thing about aquaponics, it’s a closed-looped system. It does not require you to dump a continuous supply of water into it. Once charged, you will merely top it off as it evaporates. This little amount of water doesn’t require the water treatments discussed above.
That was our first post on "Water Quality." Next week, we will be discussing how to maintain a proper temperature for your system as well. We go into great depths on either cooling or heating your water. Make sure you subscribe to our blog before leaving. You don't want to miss our updates.
Thank you for stopping by. I certainly hope you enjoyed this article.
By Sylvia Bernstein and Dr. Wilson Lennard
By Sylvia Bernstein and Dr. Wilson LennardMany aquaponic gardeners have pointed out that we need some basic “Aquaponic Gardening Rules of Thumb” for DIY aquaponics. Why? Because the beginners among us could use some help with “Aquaponics How-To” without spending weeks researching what to do. I’ve had the distinct honor of collaborating with Dr. Wilson Lennard from Australia on just such a set of guidelines.
In 2006 Dr. Lennard earned one of the few PhDs in aquaponics in the world. After that he designed, constructed, and managed Minnamurra Aquaponics, Australia’s first truly commercial-scale aquaponic system. Dr. Lennard writes extensively on aquaponic how-to for both scientific and trade journals, and currently consults worldwide through his company, Aquaponic Solutions.
Nothing we say in the Aquaponic Gardening Rules of Thumb is set in stone and there are exceptions to almost every one of the listed rules-of-thumb given certain conditions. However, they do offer a set of generally accepted “Aquaponics How-To” that, if adhered to, will put you on the path towards successful aquaponic gardening.
Let’s get started with aquaponics how-to tips…Aquaponics System TypeMedia bed is recommended for new, hobby growers. Why not NFT or Deep Water Culture (AKA raft or DWC)?
A media bed performs three (3) filtering functions:
TO READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE: CLICK HERE
Here is a video I produced, how to build successful bell siphons for your grow beds. Nothing can more frustrating than a bell siphon that will not trigger properly or shut off at the right time.
When starting a new aquaponics system, it must go through a nitrification process. This process is where a colony of bacteria will develop to process the ammonia into nitrites and then to nitrates. The nitrates are the end product sort of speak for the plant growth.
You have a choice, you can either go with fish or fishless. Fish is a slower process and it can take months for the system to nitrify. If you follow the fishless procedures, you can speed the process up much quicker and be in more control of the process. During this process, you are not thinking about anything else. You don’t have to keep any fish alive. It’s less stressful this way.
Also, you will be able to raise the ammonia up to levels that would be harmful to the fish. Again, by doing so, you will speed up the nitrification process. Once it’s complete, you will be able to fully stock the system with the fish. Going with fish initially, you will have to slowly introduce more and more fish to the system as the ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates level adjust accordingly. As you can tell, this way makes it much easier.
Different Ways to Add Ammonia
Instructions for Fishless Cycling
If you purchased the kit online, then disregard this. This would be only if you choose another route. This is not complicated at all. Just following these steps.
I hope you found this article useful. This system start up should be simple for you!
Thank you for stopping by and reading our articles!
The systems I teach how to build in my ebook, Step by Step Aquaponics, you can either use pressure-treated wood or angle iron. Here in Honduras, pressure-treated wood is not readily available. Metal and welders are on every corner. In all our systems we build now, they are made out of 2 1/2“ angle iron. To this date, we have had no issues at all. The dimensions of our rack systems are in my ebook.
I get contacted by people all around the world consistently and I understand because of an economic factors, some people are forced to reducing the cost to their system. They have a propensity to go cheap. This is an area I would not go cheap. To make a poor base will cost you more in the long run with time and money. I have a friend that used pallets to set his grow beds on. Guess what? He was ripping out his pallets out in 2 to 3 years later because they were rotting. My friend is a great guy, but sorry, this was not thinking forward.
Then set all my posts into the hole. If you use angle iron, you will need to ensure you weld a foot on the bottom of the post. This will ensure your post doesn’t slip through the gravel in time. After pouring the concrete and it has had plenty of time curing, you are now ready to build your system on top.
I know this blog post was short, as stated before, this is one of the most important steps. You don‘t want to go back and rebuild your foundation and rack system. Literally, tearing apart your aquaponics system and begin again or constantly be adding band-aids to it by patching and shimming.
Please read my previous post regarding grow media (click here). It was an introduction to this subject. It will shed light on grow media and the characteristics of what you should look for when choosing a media. As I stated before, what you choose will be dictated by what is readily available to you in your local area. I live in Honduras and the only media available at the time of building my system was river rock or gravel. A long as you properly test it before use, it is a good product to use.
Here are the top 5 grow mediums in use in aquaponics system. I am not saying these are the only ones, but these are the main ones in use at the time of this writing. You can look into other products, but I would highly recommend using my previous blog post on grow media as a guide. The least thing you want to do is experiment with a new product and have to remove it because it didn‘t work in your system.
The list you see here is provided by uPonics.com
Their highly-porous composition and spherical shape help to maintain a beneficial oxygen to water balance while also providing gardeners a smooth surface to work with (ie, they won’t cut your hands!).
A possible downside is the initial expense of purchasing bags of LECA. However, since this grow media is totally reusable, in the long run, clay pebbles are an investment that will serve you over the course of many grows and many years. Because clay pebbles have very few drawbacks and fit every criterion for a great aquaponics grow media, they are our top pick.
Expanded shale has a slightly polished surface area, so – like clay pebbles – it’s easy on the hands and will not harm the root system of your plants. Additionally, shale is reusable and typically manufactured in the USA. For all of the positive characteristics of expanded shale, we rate it as #2 on our list of best aquaponics grow media.
So while they are reusable, they should be thoroughly cleaned between grows to remove any plant debris. Additionally, there is some debate over whether growstones alter pH in an aquaponics system and whether they can break down over time. We would advise you to soak your growstones for a few days before using them and test the pH until it consistently reads neutral. And if you are concerned that growstones may break down over time, just opt for LECA or expanded shale. For the aquaponics gardeners, growstones provide a problem-free aquaponics grow medium.
That aside, lava rocks have numerous beneficial aquaponics grow media properties and might be worth a shot if you don’t want to use LECA or expanded shale.
as limestone is often present. If you must use gravel, look for stones that have been polished down to smooth out its rough texture.
I hope this list will give you some direction in the pursuit of aquaponics. There are plenty of choices available. Obviously, there are better choices over others. But, it comes down to what is available and fitting within your budget.
Make sure you stay tune to our blog, we will have many other postings coming soon. Also, check out our website, www.MorningStarAquaponics.com
Isn’t all grow media the same? Doesn’t it all do the same thing but made of different material? Why is it so important? No, they are not all the same. As mentioned above, biological surface area can radically change from one type of media to another. Is it pH friendly? Is it the right size? These are some considerations and questions I had when getting started with aquaponics. Fortunately, I did careful research and made the right choice right away. I hope this article will help get you in the right direction.
Here are some keys things to take note of when selecting your media.
Inert – As mentioned already, all media must be pH neutral.
Size – To small or to big can affect the performance in your grow beds. To small can cause compaction or clogging, especially if any fish waste makes it way into the grow beds. To large can cause air gaps and can cause a negative effect the growth of the plants. Your media should be around 1/2” to 3/4” in size. This will help prevent compaction and any air gaps all the while, providing an excellent biological surface area for bacteria growth.
Weight – The consideration here is lightweight more so. You don‘t want your media floating. When floating, it will have the propensity of clogging up your system. Also, to heavy, it will become cumbersome to handle.
, Depth – Allow around 10“ to 12” of grow media in your aquaponics grow bed.
Easy on the Hands – remember not only do you need to use your hands to move the media around, your plant root system must have something gentle as well. Your grow media can‘t be to sharp that you are injuring yourself and damaging your roots. You want it to be smooth enough, but porous enough to encourage bacteria growth.
No Decomposition – Obviously, you don‘t want anything that can decompose!
Avoid Limestone – As mentioned in the previous article, make sure your media is neutral and it will not affect your pH in the system. I have seen people go to their local lawn and garden store and buy landscape rocks to use in their system. What is the harm they may think, it’s just gravel? Well, that gravel may contain limestone and it’s not pH friendly. It will play havoc with your system. It’s extremely important that you test any gravel or natural product you use in your system. Here is a video, You Must Test Your Grow Media, I produced to show you a simple test that can be done in your home. I always say, TEST, TEST, and more TEST! You can never be too cautious.
Rinse before Using – Be sure to thoroughly rinse any dust and debris from your aquaponics grow media before using it in your system.
pH Management – Just because your aquaponics grow media is pH-neutral doesn’t mean your system won’t become too alkaline or acidic. The optimal range for most aquaponic systems is a pH of 6.5-7.0. Monitor your pH closely and adjust accordingly.
Coco Coir – As is the case with most organic grow media, coco coir tends to break down in aquaponics systems. It also holds too much moisture, discolors the water, and may even cause your pH to go out of whack. Coco may work just fine as a top layer, but we don’t recommend filling your entire grow bed with this media.
There you have it, your first introduction to grow media. The next articles, we will be covering the media in itself in a greater depth. I certainly hope you enough these blog post. Please share them on your social media. Feel free to comment as well. Let us know what about your failures and successes, together, we can make aquaponics a brighter future!
Check out our website: www.MorningStarAquaponics.com
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