The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Cycling an aquaponics tank with pee

Aquaponic water testing

Even though we started with a kit, no aquaponics system is truly plug and play. Instead, you have to build up handy bacteria to change fish waste (ammonia) into the form of nitrogen plants can use (nitrate). While you can do this by putting some fish in your tank and hoping the bacteria will grow faster than their poop will build up, most folks cycle the tank using chemistry instead.

Transplanting into a grow bed

Cycling is pretty simple. Basically, you set up both your tank and grow bed (with pump running), then you add a source of ammonia to bring the content of the water up to 4 to 6 ppm. After that, it's just a waiting game while the bacteria accumulate and do their job.

So where do you get ammonia? Supposedly, you can buy it in the cleaning section of some stores...but it's hard to find straight stuff without dyes, perfumes, and soaps. I went for the cheaper approach --- aged pee.

pH testing

(This picture actually portrays a pH test. But let's pretend, shall we?)

Half a cup of aged pee in a ten-gallon aquarium actually overshot the mark a bit, hitting 8 ppm. I could have changed out a bit of the water to bring the aquarium back into balance, but I also had another ace up my sleeve --- a quart of wild pond water added to the mix.

I figure seeding some beneficial microorganisms might let me get away with higher ammonia levels than are really recommended. Hopefully the pond water will also lower the usual cycling time of three to six weeks too. The sooner I can add fish, the better!

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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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What kind of plants do you expect to be raising in your new aquaponics tank and what fish are you planning on putting in?

A neighbor of mine is experimenting with this although on a much larger scale. He purchased a 150 gallon tank (the kind they use to water stock out in the field) and was thinking of raising either talapia or catfish in the tank. I think he's going with catfish as talapia apparently is finicky as far as temperature is concerned. He wants to not only be able to eat veggies but fish as well.

Comment by Nayan Sun Jan 1 09:39:20 2017
This looks awesome! What types of fish are you planning to use? Im hoping to experiment with aquaponics once we get our chicken coop built. Keep us updated.
Comment by AD Sun Jan 1 14:26:12 2017

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