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Choosing easy fish for a beginner aquaponics aquarium

Choosing fish
"The nitrite level suggests the tank is not yet completely cycled." --- ScottS

Sure enough, our reader was right. Our aquaponics setup didn't need more plants --- it just needed a little more time. Six days after my previous test, I tested again...and found ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels were all close to 0. Success! Time to choose some fish.

I've narrowed it down to three unlikely-to-fail options. Perhaps those of you with more aquarium experience can chime in?

Option A: 4 Danios. I understand this might be pushing the limits of my ten-gallon aquarium, but I might get away with it if I choose short-finned varieties that are less likely to be picked on. Danios are reported to be fast swimmers who enjoy dancing around the upper limits of the tank.

Option B: Three guppies (two females and a male) and three dwarf cory catfish. This would be a busy tank since the guppies would breed (and then eat their babies) while the catfish would play around near the bottom. Downside --- I might need to change out my existing gravel bottom for sand for the sake of the catfishs' tender mouths. And will I fall into the trap of trying to give all those baby fish away?

Option C: A single betta for peak beauty (although lower activity levels). Possible problem --- the beta's beautiful fins and tail might get caught in the intake of the pump since the species isn't good at handling rapidly moving water.

What do you think?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I would say that guppies are unlikely to eat enough of their babies to keep the population from putting too big of a biomass load on the 10 gallon system, it might take 6 months but they are very prolific breeders; however it depends on what and how much you are planning to feed them or if you are just going to let them eat the algae/plant bits? Have you considered some kind of crab or (less risky) a single molly to balance the amount of babies?
Comment by n.skaazi Fri Jan 27 11:30:40 2017

Hi Anna and Mark,

I started with 6 small gold fish. Early on one jumped out, leaving 5 fish that survived for a few years. They have grown quite a bit. Then at first one plant died. Then some fish? I am not sure how many are left at this point. I hope to get a new tank in a day or so, put in new water, aereate it for a day or so, transfer the living fish and see what then happens.

That is why I asked about your testing kit. I have done essentially no testing and things just worked for a long time.

I have not changed the water so probably things got far enough out of wack to give me the problems I now have. Perhaps my problems are all due to 'salt' buildup whatever that really means.

warm regards to you both, John

Comment by John Fri Jan 27 14:45:33 2017

I have heard that Danios can breed very easily. But I have personal experience with Guppies, Cories and Betas. The guppies will breed themselves to death. Cories can do well with gravel but they need space to grow and places to hide and explore.

Betas can do ok in stronger current tanks. You can use craft plastic mesh to make a box to keep them out of the filter. They can be very smart and love attention. There are short finned king betas out there and the short finned females are also very pretty.

Comment by Phyr Fri Jan 27 15:19:40 2017
I think all 3 options are conservative even for a normal aquarium, the aquaponics will give you even more capacity. Certainly the nitrogen input to support a single betta is far below what you want for your plants. I think you can reasonably combine options a and b. The danios will help keep the guppy population in check, and you will be processing more nitrogen for your plants. If you happen to have a free source of sand, the corys will enjoy sifting it for food, but most captive corys are getting by in tanks with gravel bottoms. Loss of barbels is almost certainly rooted in a deeper health issue and rarely if ever caused by abrasion. To support your plants, I think you should stock a little more aggressively. But build up to it gradually, your biofilter is small and not yet robust.
Comment by ScottS Sat Jan 28 10:53:42 2017

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