How does your aquaponics system create nutrients?

How does your aquaponics system create nutrients?

I would like you to think of the water in your aquaponics system as a business person going through their daily routine.

The first thing a business person does before they head out the door is shower. In our system, this is taken care of in the sump tank, where water is automatically added when the system runs low. Since we don’t know where the water is coming from we have to pretreat it. This may include de-chlorination, adjusting the pH, or adjusting the water hardness.

The next stop for our business person is a strong cup of coffee, they need some energy for the day. But don’t forget, to make coffee we need coffee grounds, which must be filtered out so that we don’t drink them. In our system, this energy source is generated in the fish tank in the form of ammonia that is excreted primarily from the fish’s gills, and the coffee grounds are solid fish waste which must be separated from the water. It’s fascinating that ammonia can be an energy source since if it were left with the fish, it would build up to toxic levels and kill them.

Now that our business person is energized, it’s time to have a meeting with other key business players to lay the foundation of a new product. In our system, this meeting happens in the porous media in our plant growth bed where the other two key players are located. These two key players are good bacteria. The first, Nitrosomonas, converts ammonia to nitrite. The second, Nitrobacter, converts the nitrite to nitrate. So, if the conversation during this meeting is productive, the output is nitrate. What is interesting about nitrate is that it is nontoxic to the fish and serves as a nutrient for plants.

So, we have taken toxic fish waste and turned it into a valuable nutrient. How’s that for teamwork?

Nitrogen conversion in an aquaponics system []

Now that the meeting has produced the materials needed, it’s time to start creating the final product. The nitrate is delivered to the plants so they can create fruit, vegetables, or even flowers.

With the work day over, the business person has to rest and prepare for the next day. In our system, this is done by the water returning to the sump tank, its home. And it’s as easy as that.

Now that we understand the fundamentals of the nitrogen cycle in an aquaponics system, we can use that knowledge to troubleshoot an aquaponics system.

What happens if the grow bed is too small for the system?

This leads to not enough room for a healthy population of the two key bacteria colonies to grow. So then, the conversion of ammonia to nitrate won’t be as effective and that leads to toxicity for the fish and a lack of nutrients for the plant. The solution for this is to ensure your grow bed is appropriately sized for the number of fish that you are growing. A common ratio is to have the volume of your grow bed at least as large as the volume of your fish tank.

What about the pH of the water, how does that affect the system?

Bacteria, plants, and fish all need varying levels of pH, to create the ideal ecosystem for them all, your system needs to be maintained between 6.5 and 7.0.

How does temperature affect your system?

Similar to pH levels, bacteria, fish, and plants all thrive at various temperature ranges. The specific balance you reach for your system will depend on what you want to grow, which we will work through in the future. Setting this temperature for your system is accomplished by ensuring your aquaponics system is setup correctly, which we will work with you to establish.

Within this temperature range you also need to consider how much oxygen can be dissolved in the water. At 50°F 11.3 ppm of oxygen can be dissolved, whereas at 86°F only 7.6 ppm can be at. This could potentially create an anaerobic situation for both your plants and fish. If you are working with warm water, ensure it’s well oxygenated!

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