Cycling aquaponics systems is a critical step in establishing a sustainable and efficient environment for fish and plants. This process involves the establishment of a bacterial colony that converts ammonia into essential nutrients for plant growth. Two main methods of cycling, namely cycling with fish and fishless cycling, are commonly employed.
While cycling with fish involves the introduction of a few fish to monitor and regulate ammonia levels, fishless cycling utilizes alternative ammonia sources to reduce stress on both fish and growers. The choice of cycling method depends on the availability of pure ammonia.
Once the system is fully cycled, plants can be introduced to allow for the rooting process, followed by the addition of fish when ammonia and nitrite levels are below one ppm. The benefits of fishless cycling include reduced stress and simplified monitoring.
This article, titled ‘Cycling Aquaponics Systems: Methods for Success,’ aims to explore the cycling process, the tools required, considerations to be made, and the methods of cycling, providing guidance on successfully cycling aquaponics systems.
The cycling process in aquaponics involves establishing a bacterial colony in new systems by introducing an ammonia source, feeding the bacterial colony, and creating a biofilter. This allows the nitrogen cycle to convert ammonia into nutrients for plants and nitrifying bacteria to convert ammonia into nitrites and then nitrates.
This process is essential for creating the right environment for fish, plants, and bacteria. Once the system is fully cycled, it requires regular maintenance to ensure its continued success.
One method that reduces stress on both the fish and the grower is fishless cycling. This method involves using liquid ammonia, ammonium chloride, or urine as an ammonia source. Gradually adding the ammonia solution until the ammonia test reads -5 ppm eliminates the need to worry about ammonia, nitrite, and pH levels during cycling. This makes it less stressful for both the fish and the grower.
After successful cycling, regular maintenance is important to ensure the ongoing health and productivity of the system.
Tools for Cycling
Utilizing the indispensable freshwater master test kit and a submersible thermometer, aquaponic enthusiasts can meticulously monitor and regulate the crucial parameters necessary for the flourishing of bacterial colonies and the establishment of a fully cycled system.
The freshwater master test kit provides accurate measurements of ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and pH levels, allowing growers to ensure the optimal conditions for the nitrogen cycle. This testing equipment is essential for tracking the progress of the cycling process and determining when the system is fully cycled.
Additionally, the submersible thermometer enables growers to monitor and maintain the water temperature, which is important for the overall health and well-being of the fish and plants.
Benefits of fishless cycling include reduced stress for both the fish and the grower. By using liquid ammonia, ammonium chloride, or urine as an ammonia source, the need for live fish to produce ammonia is eliminated. This method also eliminates concerns about ammonia, nitrite, and pH levels during the cycling process, providing a more controlled and predictable environment for the establishment of the bacterial colony.
Fishless cycling allows growers to focus on other aspects of system setup and maintenance, ultimately leading to a successful and thriving aquaponics system.
Considerations in Cycling
When cycling a new aquaponics system, there are several considerations to keep in mind:
Use a reliable water test kit: It is important to use a water test kit to monitor water conditions. Choosing the right kit is crucial for accurately measuring ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and pH levels. A freshwater master test kit is commonly recommended for its comprehensive testing capabilities.
Consider sacrificial fish: Inexpensive sacrificial fish can be used to aid in the cycling process. These fish help to establish the necessary bacteria colonies in the system. However, it is important to note that these fish may not survive the cycling process and should not be considered as permanent residents of the system.
Regular monitoring of water parameters is essential to ensure the system is progressing through the nitrogen cycle and reaching the desired levels. This includes regularly testing for ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and pH levels.
Regular maintenance is also of utmost importance to keep the system running smoothly. This includes checking and adjusting water parameters, cleaning filters, and ensuring the proper functioning of all components.
By consistently maintaining the system and monitoring water conditions, the cycling process can be effectively managed. This will lead to a successful and thriving aquaponics system.
Methods of Cycling
One approach to establishing a bacterial colony in new aquaponics systems involves introducing an ammonia source, feeding the bacterial colony, and creating a biofilter, allowing the nitrogen cycle to convert ammonia into nutrients for plants.
There are two main methods of cycling aquaponics systems: cycling with fish and fishless cycling.
Cycling with fish is the traditional method that takes around 25-40 days. It involves adding a few fish to the fish tank and monitoring ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels daily. Water is replaced as needed until the fish tank is fully cycled. This process can be sped up by sharing a biofilter or using a biofilter medium.
Fishless cycling is a popular alternative that takes only a few days and reduces stress on both the fish and the grower. It involves using liquid ammonia, ammonium chloride, or urine as an ammonia source. Daily doses of ammonia are gradually added until the ammonia test reads -5 ppm. Once nitrites appear and nitrates reach 5-10 ppm, the daily dose of ammonia is reduced.
Comparing the two methods, fishless cycling has the benefit of being less stressful for both the fish and the grower. It eliminates the need to worry about ammonia, nitrite, and pH levels during the cycling process. However, it does require the availability of pure ammonia. On the other hand, cycling with fish is a good alternative if pure ammonia is not readily available.
Adding Plants and Fish
Adding plants during the cycling process allows them to go through the rooting process and adapt to the new environment in the aquaponics system. It is important to note that initially, the plants may show signs of nutrient deficiency, but this is normal and will improve as the system becomes fully cycled.
There are benefits to both cycling with fish and cycling without fish. Cycling with fish provides a more natural and balanced ecosystem as the fish contribute to the nitrogen cycle by producing ammonia. This method also helps establish the bacterial colony more efficiently. On the other hand, cycling without fish reduces stress on both the fish and the grower, as there is no need to worry about ammonia, nitrite, and pH levels during the cycling process. It also eliminates the risk of introducing harmful bacteria or compounds through dead fish.
Table: Benefits of Cycling with Fish vs. Cycling without Fish
|Benefits of Cycling with Fish||Benefits of Cycling without Fish|
|Establishes a balanced ecosystem||Reduces stress on fish and grower|
|Efficiently establishes bacterial colony||No need to monitor ammonia, nitrite, and pH levels|
|Natural and sustainable method||Eliminates the risk of introducing harmful bacteria or compounds|
|Provides a nutrient-rich environment for plants||Faster cycling process|
|Fish can be harvested for consumption||No need to worry about fish health during cycling|
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should water be replaced during the cycling process?
Water replacement frequency during the cycling process in aquaponics systems varies depending on the specific system and its needs. However, it is generally recommended to replace water as needed, ensuring that ammonia and nitrite levels remain below one ppm. Additionally, using rainwater in aquaponics systems can provide several benefits, such as reducing the need for tap water and its potential contaminants, as well as providing natural nutrients for the plants.
Can I use tap water for cycling my aquaponics system?
Using tap water for cycling an aquaponics system carries certain risks. Tap water may contain chlorine or chloramines, which can harm the beneficial bacteria and fish. It is recommended to treat tap water or use dechlorinated water for cycling to avoid these risks.
What are the signs of nutrient deficiency in plants during the cycling process?
Signs of nutrient deficiency in plants during the cycling process in aquaponics systems include yellowing or browning of leaves, stunted growth, and leaf curling. Troubleshooting nutrient deficiencies involves adjusting pH levels, adding organic matter or fertilizers, and ensuring proper nutrient balance.
Can I use fish food as an ammonia source for fishless cycling?
Fish food cannot be used as an ammonia source for fishless cycling. However, alternative ammonia sources such as liquid ammonia, ammonium chloride, or urine can be used to provide the necessary ammonia for the cycling process.
Is it necessary to use composting red worms in the grow bed once the system is fully cycled?
Using alternative ammonia sources for fishless cycling can be beneficial in reducing stress on fish and growers. Additionally, using composting red worms in aquaponics systems can improve nutrient cycling and help maintain a healthy ecosystem.