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Aquaponics is very good to grow organic vegetables using fish waste to fertilize the plants. Like anything, Aquaponics has its learning curve. If you are a beginner at aquaponics, then you may have made some mistakes or if not yet, then this article will be a good guide to avoid loss of your fish and/or plants.
The following will help you avoid problems in building and managing your aquaponics system.
1) BUG PROBLEM
One of the most common issues we all face as gardeners are the problem with harmful bugs that eat the plants as their food. Some gardeners have an issue with using pesticides to get rid of bugs but it will resolve the issue. If you do have an issue with pesticides, there are other alternatives like organic solutions. You could set traps to capture the bugs if that’s possible and then feed them to the fish. Bugs like caterpillars, slugs, and other insects can be fed to the fish.
2) TOO MANY FISH IN TANK
It is very important you do your research well and know how many fish you want in your aquaponics system so you can get the right size of a fish tank that will comfortably accommodate them. The size of the fish tank and the amount of fish will affect hoe efficient your aquaponics system works.
If you have too many fish in your fish tank, there is a strong possibility that the bigger fish will begin to eat the smaller ones. Moreover, too much fish waste will make it difficult for the bio-filter to efficiently convert. A rule of thumb for a media-based aquaponics system is one fish for every 20 liters of water.
3) INFREQUENT TESTING AMMONIA
Fishes produce ammonia through their respiratory system and discharge it through their gills. Ammonia is toxic to fish and the buildup of it in the tank can kill the fish. To avoid this serious problem, the ammonia in the fish tank must be removed, diluted or converted. The water in the fish tank must be tested at least once a week to determine the ammonia concentration in the tank.
4) LOWERING pH IN-TANK TOO FAST
Plants grow well in a nutrient solution with a pH of 5.8 to 6.0. However, recirculating water in fish tanks usually has a pH balance of 7.2 which is too high. You might be tempted after researching to lower the pH by adding acid to the water. This might be counterproductive. It will kill your fish. The best and safest thing to do is to not add any acid or other chemical solution. Rather, the pH of your aquaponics system will drop on its own over time because of nitrification which is a safer option for your fish.
5) NOT STIRRING HYDROTON
It is advisable to stir the hydroton every few months to prevent dead zones. Hydroton does not pack down and has a great surface area for nitrifying bacteria growth, but this should not cause you to ignore it. Plants die due to anaerobic conditions being developed in pockets in the hydroton.
6) RESTRICTING ACCESS TO FISH TANKS
It may be tempting to restrict access to the fish tank, but it is not a good idea. It just makes daily operations of the fish tanks difficult. It makes it difficult to remove and change waters when it is required, difficult to catch fishes, as most of them move around the tank quickly and it also makes it difficult to see what is occurring in the far corners of the fish tank.
7) TANK WATER TOO HOT
Not all aquaponics fishes can survive in tropical temperatures. Some can while others can’t. It’s very important that you find out the ideal temperature for the type of fish you have. Tilapia is the most popular fish for aquaponics systems and they can survive in warm tropical waters. However, if the water gets too hot by a strong exposure to the sun during hot climates, oxygen levels in the water will be reduced for the fishes.
8) MYTH THAT ALL YOU DO IS COMBINING FISH & PLANTS
There’s the myth that for an aquaponics system to work, you just need to combine fish and plants it will work out. This can’t be farther from the truth. Aquaponics is a very tricky system to work well. If you have read the last points, you realize that there are many variables to cause your aquaponics system to work or fail.
9) DISREGARDING ALGAE GROWTH
The major culprit of pH swings in your aquaponics system is Algae which is a very serious problem for aquaponics systems. It’s is important that you closely monitor algae growth to keep your aquaponics system in good condition. An alga is a natural product of nutrient-rich water and sunlight, however; too much of it is dangerous for your aquaponics system.
10) FEEDING FISH ONCE A DAY
It may become a serious chore to feed the fish a couple of times during the day, but that is exactly what you have to do if you want them to live and be healthy.
11) TAP WATER USAGE
Tap water isn’t the best to use for your aquaponics system as it has a high concentration of chlorine. To use tap water, it is advisable to aerate it for several days to off-gas the chlorine. Rainwater is the best to use but it is becoming difficult to collect it as it’s becoming illegal in some states (Colorado) to collect it as there’s too much competition for tap water.
12) ENERGY DEFICIENT PLANTS
Ignoring signs that the plants are deficient in nutrients can be costly. The plants serve as a barometer for the health of the aquaponics system. If your plants are not faring well, this clearly indicates that something isn’t right. Checking the nutrient levels is a good place to start.
13) VARYING WATER TEMPERATURES
Water temperature has an impact on pH, the amount the fish will eat, the activity level of nitrifying bacteria and plant growth. Varying the temperature by 40 degrees or more from season to season isn’t good for your aquaponics system to say the least.
14) FISH WASTE IS NOT SUFFICIENT
There is a general notion regarding aquaponics that fish waste alone is sufficient to fertilize the plants. However, it isn’t. Fish waste does not contain all the nutrients in the proper molar ratios needed by plants to grow. A nutrient solution will need to be used to supplement some nutrients the plants need for growth.
The scale is a problem if you want to use aquaponics on large scale production. A very small aquaponics operation produces just enough nitrogen waste for only 30 acres of lettuce if all the other nutrients are available in sufficient quantity.
Building and maintaining an Aquaponics system is not as easy as it seems. There are many variables that come into consideration. However, these are the 15 most common problems which you could possibly encounter with your aquaponics system.