General Aquaponic Safety Concerns

General Aquaponic Safety Concerns

Power Supplies

Ensure that power safety is a priority at all times. Any pond pump you are using must have its power supply protected by an RCD for safety. Whenever dipping hands into the water that contains the pump, you should turn the pump off at the power supply first. Keep all leads well protected and out of the way of general access. Keep any electrical items like air pumps out of rain and away from water, never have an air pump sitting above your fish tank where it may get knocked into the water.General Aquaponic Safety Concerns

Water Risk

Be sure to have any open water protected in some way so that small children and pets can not get into the water. Generally IBC’s are easy to protect because the IBC tank is square so it can be as simple as some heavy mesh covering your fish tank.

Top Up Water Supply

It’s a great idea to have a timer on the tap where you fill your system, there have been many stories on the forum of people putting the hose in the tank and turning on the tap to top up the system, then forgetting about it. Often this can lead to fish deaths because of the extremely low oxygen levels in the water from the tap, very large amounts of chlorinated tap water can also lead to killing off the bacteria populations which have built up in your grow beds. Tap timers are cheap and readily available and they can save a lot of heart ache.

Keep Things Safe

If you have a test kit, keep it up out of the way, this also goes for any other associated things including fish feed, keep it locked up, vermin and child safe. Not just because of the safety of the children, I’ve heard of some people that have lost their fish though small children tipping all the fish feed into the system. Just helping of course, but if you don’t spot it straight away it can lead to trouble.

 

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The Nitrogen Cycle

 

One of the most important yet least understood aspects of Aquaponics is the bacteria that we rely on and its function in the nitrogen cycle. I know what you’re thinking, bacteria (or “GERMS” if you watch a lot of disinfectant commercials) are meant to be bad, aren’t they? The fact is that there is good and bad in everything, even down to bacteria. Life wouldn’t be possible without them. Fish excrete ammonia. In a lake or ocean it’s all good because the vast volume of water dilutes this ammonia. When you’re keeping fish at home it needs to be managed as it is very toxic to the fish. Decomposing food also creates ammonia.

Some of the effects of excessive ammonia include:

  • Extensive damage to tissues, especially the gills and kidney.
  • Impaired growth.
  • Decreased resistance to disease.
  • Death.

Luckily natures got it all sorted! Enter Nitrosomonas sp. This good little bacterium eats ammonia and converts it to nitrite. Now, nitrite is much less poisonous to the fish than ammonia, but it’s by no means a good thing. It stops the fish from taking up oxygen. Natures got it under control again, with Nitrobacter sp. This good bacterium eats nitrite and converts it to nitrate. Luckily nitrate happens to be the favorite food of plants. Also the fish will tolerate a much higher level of nitrate than they will ammonia or nitrite. What you’ve just read is pretty much the nitrogen cycle.

When an aquaponics system has sufficient numbers of these bacteria to completely process the ammonia and nitrites it is said to have “cycled”. Your goal should be to establish the nitrogen cycle quickly and with minimal stress on any aquatic life you may already have. Without The Nitrogen Cycle Easy DIY Aquaponicstheir respective “foods” these bacteria will not exist in useful numbers.

This is why you will see an ammonia “spike” when setting up a new tank. The bacteria will increase their numbers (reproduce) in response to an increasing ammonia load, so it makes sense that we would see a “spike” before they respond. Shortly after you have ammonia the bacteria will start reproducing and working away for you. The same goes for Nitrobacter sp., they’ll only want to start reproducing and working once Nitrosomonas sp. is comfortable and producing lots of nitrite. Now, while one point you’ve just read indicates that Nitrosomonas sp. won’t process ammonia at pH 6.0 or below, this was determined in a sterile lab culture. Similar research has shown that species of Nitrosomonas sp. in a natural environment such as soil will still process ammonia even at pH 4.0!

This goes some way to explain why some of us have systems that are YEARS old with a pH of 6.0, no ammonia and happy fish. Once a system has a compliment of micro flora and fauna at work there seems to be an inherent synergy that allows wider environmental ranges to be accommodated. I would definitely recommend that people strive for the above environmental tolerance ranges on initial system set up and the early life of their systems.

Many people with aquaponics systems try to maintain their pH at around 7.0 to 7.2 because this range satisfies the plants, fish and bacteria. The nitrogen cycle itself has a tendency to reduce pH, however it is pretty easy to keep pH at around 7 through the addition of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate increases pH, but will stop dissolving at pH around 7.4, meaning pH will stay pretty stable until all of the available calcium carbonate is depleted.

They must colonize a surface (gravel, sand, synthetic biomedia, etc.) for optimum growth.

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Locating Your Aquaponic System

 

There are a few things you may want to keep in mind when it comes to locating your system. For some this may not be an issue, you might only have one place it can go. But, if you have some choices as to location, one of the first things to consider is sunlight. You need at least 4-6 hours of good sunlight a day for your plants to grow well, however, your fish do not need sunlight, and in fact you’re better off not having any sun on your fish tank at all if possible. Sun on your fish tank leads to algae growing. If you can’t help but have your fish tank in the direct sun, you might like to think about having some floating plants on the surface of your fish tank. Floating plants in your fish tank offer shelter and hiding places for your fish and fish are far happier when they feel protected. The water’s surface can be a food production area as well as a good place to grow invasive plants like mint and water cress which will take over your media filled growbeds if you plant them in there.

Access to power. You will need to pump water and possibly have an air pump as well, theseEasy DIY Aquaponics need power to run so you need to be able to run your power lead to a power point. Access for planting, harvesting and maintenance. I’ve seen many systems that people have set up where there’s been little to no allowance for access to the whole system. Keep in mind that although you may think you can get to most of it, once your growbeds are full of plants, getting to that back corner of the growbed might not be as easy as it was when everything was new and empty. Also plants hang out over the edge of the growbeds, we normally allow at least 70cm between growbeds. Even this isn’t enough sometimes when plants are growing really well.

Access to the fish tank is also important. I’ve seen many system built from IBC’s where there is only a very small access point into the fish tank, not really big enough for a fish net to catch your fish. Seasonal differences. If you are building your system in summer, there’s a good chance the sun will actually track a different course in the sky come winter time. What may have been good sunshine during the summer could perhaps be no sunlight at all during winter, and vice versa.

Surrounding vegetation. It’s not great to have a system directly under a deciduous plant of any type, or any plant with heavy blossom drop. I’ve known of plants contamination from some shrubs and trees which has caused fish deaths. This can sometimes be one of the harder fish death causes to pin point as it may only take a few leaves or flower of a plant to affect fish if the plant happens to be highly toxic. Fish deaths from this is not a regular problem we hear of, but keeping the tank and growbeds clean can be difficult with large quantities of leaves or flowers dropping from above. Pets and Children. You may have one or you may have both; you need to be sure when planning and constructing your system, that your system is child friendly and pet friendly.

 

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