As alluded to in this weeks “Picture of the week”, I have been working on upgrading my Aquaponic system. This upgrade has been long overdue and I have been talking about doing it now for probably the better part of a year, oh if only for more time!
This upgrade comes about because of some sad news however, about two months ago I started having my fish die off, about one every couple weeks would die for no apparent reason. It is hard to feel more helpless than to have your fish keep dying and have no idea what to do about it! If one of our pups isn’t feeling good, I can take them to the vet and get answers, but when you are dealing with fish, you are all on your own.
After digging into the problem more, I ended up finding out that I had a Nitrite spike in the water, just a quick overview for context of what Nitrite is: When fish breathe they create Ammonia, I cycle the water from the fish tank up into my grow beds about once an hour and there is a naturally growing bacteria that converts the Ammonia to Nitrite, then there is a second set of naturally occurring bacteria that converts the Nitrite into Nitrate. Both Ammonia and Nitrite are harmful to the fish, however you can have a pretty high concentration of Nitrate in the water and it doesn’t hurt the fish at all.
So as I said, I determined that I had a Nitrite spike in my system and that is why the fish were dying, this is very odd because normally once you get past the first month or so of setting up your Aquaponic system you don’t have to worry much about the Ammonia and Nitrite, once the cycle gets underway its pretty well self balanced, you mostly just have to monitor the PH levels as they will fluctuate and make sure you keep up a high enough level of Nitrate so that the plants are getting nutrition. However seeing that there was no Ammonia present and the Nitrate readings were still high, I determined that there were not enough plants growing to use up the nutrients in the water, which in turn caused the Nitrite to stop being converted into Nitrate.
Ok, so are you still with me? Good. So the very sad part is I lost all my goldfish I have had for almost 3 years, my office has not been a fun place to hang out lately, but I know what happened, and I know how to prevent it now, so lesson learned and now on to the more happy part of this post.
I decided that setting up a lettuce tray would be a nice way to expand the system, so I purchased a large plastic tote like you would use to store stuff under your bed, I filled it with pea gravel and it is set higher than the existing tote with my basil tree. So now the pump from the fish tank pumps the water up to the lettuce try which in turn drains into the original grow bed which then drains back into the fish tank.
I have planted a bunch of of different kinds of lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, parsley, and some green onions. I am already seeing a bunch of the lettuce coming up and based off from the last time I grew it, we should be eating it in no time!
I also had to upgrade the fish tank, I was using about a 20 gallon plastic tote for the fish tank, however that was not enough water to fill both the lettuce tray and the existing tote and still leave enough water for the fish, so I purchased a new 50 gallon plastic tote and set it up with 20 feeder goldfish, 2 fancy black goldfish, and 2 fancy catfish. I have gravel on the bottom along with some nice rocks from Meagan’s mom (Debi) and some live plants we got at the pet store.
All in all, I am very excited to have the new expansion in place, and of course I am always thinking of the next way to expand my system. And I am also going to be taking steps to prevent a disaster with the fish like just happened (I will now be checking the levels in my water every week to prevent spikes from happening without me knowing it).
Also I have updated the Aquaponic section on the site here with more pictures of my current system, please check it out: http://www.kd8itx.com/myaquaponicsystem.php, I am hoping to be adding more content to this section soon about how Aquaponics works and how to setup a basic system on your own.