How Can I Balance Good Bacteria in my Aquaponic System

In Aquaponic Agriculture, Aquaponic Aquatic by Aquaponic GuruLeave a Comment

What Bacteria or Microorganisms Live in Aquaponics?

You hear a lot about the microorganisms of the aquaponic bacteria world, but all kinds of bacteria live in an aquaponics system.

In school, we’re taught to battle bacteria with hand washing, but not all bacteria are harmful.

The further you dig, the more you realize that good bacteria is essential to the health of your soilless growing.

Feeding the good bacteria is crucial to combating contamination in your water.

This can be done with fancy biofilters or simply the right kind of grow bed.

Balancing the ratio of fish and plants is another way to help the efficiency of your system.

In today’s article, we’ll be discussing the kinds of bacteria living in your aquaponics setup as well as how you can best help your good bacteria win the war against water pathogens.

Feed Your Nutrient Cyclers Not Your Pathogens

If you’ve ever had a fish tank then the organisms we’re referring to as aquaponic bacteria probably are nothing new to you.

In fact, there are several different microorganisms in aquaponics that get involved when you mix plants and fish.

You’ve got the good bacteria: nutrient cycling microbes, and the bad bacteria: pathogens, and diseases.

The base of the aquaponic bacteria food chain is fish waste.

This byproduct of aquaculture is made up of part loose solids and part liquid ammonia.

A concentrated form of nitrates, this fish waste is too strong for plants to process efficiently.

Overwhelmed by the amount of fertilizer, they quickly turn yellow and burn.

However, this waste of precious water is the perfect environment for nutrient cycling bacteria.

These microbes attach themselves to rough or porous surfaces and form large colonies.

These colonies don’t poison your water and instead eat the waste, processing it into easily used food.

When allowed to flourish, these bacteria promote good water quality and leave little room for pathogens and diseases.

Grow Nitrate Makers with Biofilters

The more attractive you make your aquaponics system to these nutrient cycling bacteria, the more ammonia you can convert.

While it might not be necessary for every setup, the quickest way to make a home for your nutrient cycles is by adding a biofilter.

A biofilter is a filter, often a canister, that runs water through a porous and or textured filter material.

Are you interested in learning more about biofilters? Check out our review on how to build an efficient biofilter.

The aquaponic bacteria colonize the course areas of this filter media and feed off your water’s ammonia as flows by.

Much like the way yeast consumes sugar and produces alcohol, this aquaponic bacteria feeds off the ammonia and turns it into food for plants.

Your plants then take this increase in useable nutrients and grow far more efficiently than they otherwise would’ve.

This, in turn, means they can process more of the waste in your system.

That allows you to stock yours at higher density than you might’ve before.

Use Grow Beds as a Natural Biofilter

However, if you’re going for low tech or your system is just getting started, you might not want to invest in buying or making a mechanical biofilter.

What then?

If your setup is pretty small, then picking the right growing medium for your grow beds can go a long way in feeding your good bacteria.

Substrate like wood chips or peat moss holds a ton of water to help your plants grow.

However, they also can leach tannins into your system and prevent good oxygen circulation.

Since both plants and good bacteria need oxygen to grow, pick a solid, neutral grow media like clay balls or rinsed gravel.

The clay balls are a rough, sponge-like material that holds water well and allows root systems to breathe.

It also happens to have a lot of tiny pinholes for bacteria to colonize and do their nitrite making duties.

Thoroughly rinsed pea gravel is a much cheaper, but less porous option if the clay balls prove to be too much of financial investment.

In order to use gravel, we must first cleanse the gravel. Rinsing gravel with water will not work.

We have tried all different kinds of grow bed materials. Let us share our secrets what we found work best for our set up.

Its rough texture and rounded shape are excellent at promoting good bacteria growth.

Low-Density Stocking Produces Less Ammonia

Of course, the simplest way of keeping your system from becoming overwhelmed is to keep things small and simple.

Using a smaller amount of good quality grow media in combination with lower stocking density will make for a less expensive system that’s easier to manage.

Stockingless fish can help keep your smaller system efficient.

They’re hard workers, but even nutrient cycling aquaponic bacteria can be overwhelmed by too much ammonia.

If you add too many fish without enough biofiltration, there simply won’t be enough good bacteria to turn all that waste into nitrites and nitrates.

This overflow of ammonia can lead to murky waters and leave both your plants and your fish susceptible to disease.

Things like ich and hole in head disease can wreak havoc on large fish.

The source of these issues almost always comes down to poor water quality.

Finding a manageable balance of bacteria to waste is essential to a properly functioning aquaponics setup.

Fewer fish makes it easier for your grow media or a smaller biofilter to process all that natural fertilizer.

Pick a Good Filter Substrate Microorganisms in Aquaponics

Without a good surface to grow on, your nutrient cycling bacteria simply cannot flourish to their full potential nor will microorganism in aquaponics.

In order to grow a thriving colony of good bacteria to process your fish waste into useable nitrites and nitrates, use a good filter substrate.

There are plenty of commercial options floating around from little plastic wheels that look like pasta to air blown clay balls.

These are full of porous caverns made by air bubbles.

Household items like sponges cut up straws, and bottle caps are all workable options that cost far less.

More than that, these embody the very essence of the reuse and recycle motto, you can even go out and collect old bottles off the road.

Just make sure you disinfect them before putting them in the system.

Swirl Filters Add to Biofiltration

If you want to grow good aquaponic bacteria, then a swirl filter accomplishes this task like no other.

This type of filtration works by pumping water from your fish tanks into a filter chamber first rather than directly over your grow beds.

Inside this filter is a basket or net that the waste-filled water is pumped through.

This net breaks up the solid parts of your fertilizer by spinning them around in this sieve of sorts.

Gravity then forces these heavier solids to settle to the bottom of the filter rather than gumming up you grow bed.

This process cuts down on bad bacteria and keeps your grow bed looking much better for longer.

You can maximize the effects of this filter by adding a floating bio media into the basket.

This will create a swirling effect that increases oxygen and maximizes the surface on which your good bacteria can colonize.

More Plants Uses More Nitrates

Once your system is efficiently turning fish waste into nitrates, you can increase your crop yield.

If you add a biofilter to an already productive system, you can consider expanding your growing capabilities by another grow bed or two at least.

While these helpful chemicals are less likely to harm your plants with excess, too much of them can start to affect the health of your fish.

Adding more plants into your system will use up this excess, increase profitability for you, and help keep your water quality free and clear.

Monitor Water Quality to Stay Ahead of Bad Bacteria & Microorganism in Aquaponics

Even with all this, one of the best ways to stay on top of the bad bacteria is to test your quality frequently.

Some fish like tilapia will do fine if you only test once a week or so, but if you have a more sensitive fish like perch or trout, it’s best to take a sample every day.

In this way, you can assure yourself that the water quality is indeed at the level it should be for your chosen species and your plants.

If problems do arise, you’ll be able to catch them sooner before the entire system is affected.

In doing so, this allows you to do what you need to fix the problem, be that adding another filter, a small water change, or adjusting your feeding habits for your fish.

In short, aquaponic bacteria play an essential role in the filtering of your system’s water.

By feeding the good bacteria, you leave less room for the pathogens and diseases to take over your setup.

A biofilter helps your plant’s process ammonia into useable nitrites and nitrates.

This can be as complicated as a commercial canister filter or as easy as adding the right medium to your grow beds.

However, your ultimate tool against contaminants is to practice low-density stocking.

That, in combination with a decent amount of some kind of biofiltration, will make for a healthy productive aquaponics setup.

Related Questions

Can microorganisms in my aquaponics kill my fish or plants? Short answer Yes, overabundant of any microorganisms or bacteria will harm your aquatic life or plants.

What can I do to feed good bacteria in my aquaponic tank? Do not over-stock the fish or plants. Make sure there is direct sunlight that touches the water. Cation do not allow too much sunlight for ammonia will start to grow like wildfire.

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