Aquaponics Cycling – What Is Aquaponics Cycling?

What To Know Before Starting The Aquaponics Cycling Procedure

Cycling the fish tank is a mandatory process in every aquaponics system out there. Its primary role is to help establish beneficial bacteria around the environment. The cycling process may seem confusing to a newbie, but the truth is there is not too much work to do. In fact, aquaponics cycling is all about following the right steps at the right time.

Whether you consider making your own aquaponics system or you want to purchase one, you need to consider the plants and fish upfront. You need to set the system and while there is not too much maintenance required, you do have to look after specific aspects in the process. However, the environment is symbiotic and less likely to trouble you too much.

A little education is critical when thinking about aquaponics cycling. The first rule implies adding some ammonia to the system. You can do it with fish or without fish at all. Ammonia has the role to attract beneficial bacteria, which will help with the symbiotic connections between the fish and the plants. So, what next?

Starting the cycle – Bring the fish in

You can start the aquaponics cycling process without any fish at all. In fact, it is even easier to do it this way, as it can cause less frustration. The job is, however, much easier. There is no extra input, so there is not much to be concerned about. The process starts with water – add some water to fill the system and turn the pump on. It should run for a few days – up to three days sometimes.

This first step has the main role to dissipate the chlorine – chances are you will use tap water anyway. During this stage, you should not add any plants or fish. The process is all about the water treatment. A few days later, you can bring in the first fish. It does not necessarily have to be the fish you want for the aquaponics system, but sacrificial fish. For example, goldfish is quite inexpensive.

Once in there, the fish will produce some waste, which is rich in ammonia. The ammonia will then draw some bacteria in and this is how it all begins. While you can add some seedlings to the grow beds, it might be wise to wait for a week or two. The levels of ammonia will skyrocket over this time frame. Avoid feeding the fish, as you risk causing even more problems.

aquaponic system

It is not cruel behavior towards fish, as most fish can go without food for more than two weeks. At this point, the ammonia concentration is relatively high. Bacteria will eventually turn it into nitrites, but you need to give it time to settle down. There are two bacteria you need in the process – Nitrosomonas and Nitrospira.

The first bacteria will turn ammonia into nitrites. The level will keep going up. About three to four weeks into the cycle, the level will peak. However, nitrites are harmful. Luckily, they attract the second bacteria, which will turn them into nitrate. This is the nutrient you want for your plants. The good news is it is not toxic to fish either.

Suggested article: Best Fish for Aquaponics & a Few Great Alternatives to Try

Bring the plants in

Plants should be added after the cycle begins. They will get the nitrogen from ammonia, yet this is not the ideal case. They will also absorb nitrites to a certain degree. Plants will be happy once all the microorganisms are established and nitrates become available. This is when the cycling is complete and every organism in your system is happy.

Plants will start developing roots as soon as they get in there. Some of the leaves might turn yellow or even fall – this is perfectly normal, so do not worry about it. The first few weeks are less likely to bring in a significant growth – it does not mean that your plants are dying though. If you add them early, they will catch up with the process fairly fast, so they are ready to absorb fish waste straight away.

Some experts rely on growth stimulants, which will also help. Make sure you opt for something organic – you do not want any toxic chemicals in the environment. Luckily, many of them are harmless to fish and they can even help with bacteria. As for how much stimulant to add, simply read the instructions – it depends on the size of the system and the amount of water.

Suggested article: 11 Best Plants For Aquaponics: Best Options & Less Common Plants

aquaponics with the growth of strawberries

How to monitor the aquaponics cycling process

The aquaponics cycling process should be monitored to ensure you do it by the book. Normally, the process lasts anywhere between four and six weeks. With these thoughts in mind, you will have to find a method to identify what phase you are at. There are simple ways to do it – most commonly, you need to monitor the water.

Keep an eye on the pH, nitrate, nitrite and ammonia. Make sure these components are in the optimal range. If they are not, you may need to take some action. Checking the water on a daily basis will show you significant changes, which can be interesting to observe. You will not be able to do all these without a testing kit.

Reach the required range and you are done. At this point, the system is well cycled. You can add more fish in a gradual manner – they do not require much more monitoring. The process is mandatory to ensure a good start in this venture – whether you do it for yourself or with commercial purposes. Cycling the system right ensures you can reap the benefits of your hard work and investment.

Apart from the above mentioned measurements, you will also need to keep an eye on the water temperature. The temperature must be optimal – mostly for the fish than the plants. You require a proper balance between different organisms. Just like you require a testing kit for the water, you will also have to purchase a submersible thermometer.

What conditions to consider

There are a bunch of environmental conditions you must think about during the aquaponics cycling process and each of them plays a significant role in the process. For instance, the temperature is ideal around 25 to 30 degrees Celsius. Getting out of these limits will affect both the fish and your plants in the long run. Other factors to consider include:

pH – around seven

Chlorine – Fully neutralized

Chloramines – toxic

Light – no UV light during the cycling process

Salinity – usually between zero and six ppt

Dissolved oxygen – more than 80% saturation

Micronutrients – phosphorous is the most important one

Final words

As a short final conclusion, the aquaponics cycling may have a few things in common with the actual system in terms of requirements. But then, it is totally different. You are hoping to grow some beneficial bacteria in the system, so you need to follow the rules associated with them. At the same time, fish and plants will come with a bunch of extra requirements as well, meaning you need to check those out too. Luckily, it is not that difficult to find a middle solution that works for everyone.​

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