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JT79

My Bluegills all died.

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I just built my first system about five weeks ago. About week three I started to lose fish and now they are all gone. I lost 30 in total and it was not all at once, a few here a few there. My plants are doing great. I have about 85 gallons of water and 2 beds that are 2'x3'. My ph is running high at 8.2, Ammonia has been running .15-.2, nitrites .1, nitrates were 160 then dropped to 80 yesterday. From what I've read these numbers aren't to bad. Water temps have been fluctuating because of our weather, been in the 60's to upper 50's. I am putting very little feed in but the water seems to have quite a bit of residue from the feed floating around. I have to clean the filter on my pump every other day as it is covered with the residue from the food. I think the food has junk in it the fish don't like, they seem to chomp on the food and leave some behind. Anyone have any suggestions to what could be killing my fish while the plants look great? Thanks!!

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Could be any number of things. 1. could be low oxygen. Do you have a spray bar or air stones in the fish tank? It doesn't take long for fish to use up the oxygen. 2. If there had been a big ammonia spike, that can do it. 3. If the pH shock from their former environment to the fish tank was too great, that's can be a problem. 4. I've made the mistake of forgetting to dechlorinate water and killing fish before, too. Embarrassing and costly, but true. Finally, the source of your fish. I bought fish two years in a row from a pond stocking company and had huge mortality rates in my bluegill and catfish. Fish I've bought online have done much better. Don't know why.

I've been where you are and it can be so frustrating and discouraging. I wish you all the best. You'll figure it out. I remember reading somewhere "If you want to get started in aquaponics, be prepared to be a serial fish killer for a while." Yikes.

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sounds like you were way overstocked, and you likely had an ammonia spike... you may want to consider "fishless cycling"

test your water regularly... get a some airstones into your ft

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I believe you have to really spend time watching your fish, getting to understand feeding habits even movement. Once you develop this understanding you will quickly be able to adjust your system to make sure their well being is taken care of. I have recently started a Trout system and find them a world apart from Tilapia. I spend a good hour in the morning and again in the evening while feeding to make sure I can detect any thing before it becomes a problem. I feel I owe it to the fish as they are integral to the wholistic well-being of my food production and life style.

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Luke Fishstalker!! Haha no it's just that I have never been big on the technical stuff I look at plant coloration, leaf structure. The sound smell and clarity of water tells me all I need to know. I am sure this will annoy the purists with flash equipment, but it works for me.

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I am an engineer by schooling, but a quasi-hippie at heart. I tend to keep meticulous records and approach endeavors in a methodical, calculated way, but as I gain experience, I revert to a more organic, natural way to tend the garden/livestock. Thus, I love your natural, observational approach. Kudos!

Sorry JT, don't mean to hijack your thread. As I mentioned in another thread, how about trying a more forgiving fish while getting your experience up, such as tilapia, and of course implement all the sage advice that others have posted.

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Thanks for the advice! After the first few died I got 2 air stones going in the tank, didn't help. I never found the Ammonia to spike in my tests. Wha'ts weird to me is how they all died over the course of a couple weeks. Wouldn't a spike in ammonia or temps do damage all at once? For those that have had a fish kill problem, how were your plants? I was shocked at how well my plants are doing for my first system, they don't show any issues. My next problem is how long will they last with no fish in the tank. Should I just go get more fish and see what happens? I am going to get different food, I really don't think they liked what I had.

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not necessarilly. Damage could be done to vital organs(kidneys for example) and the fish die several days later. Lack of oxygen and overstocking is probably the main killer in backyard ap. Ammonia spikes will kill, but it's not a quick death type of thing and reports of loosing a fish or two a day is very common among new setups. Your plants will probably be ok for several days. And as others said, make sure you don't add chlorinated water to your system. The problem with small systems is things happen fast.

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Hi JT,

I agree with Ravnis' assessment of your issue - you never got the system cycled properly and complications arising out water quality issues finished the fish off.

I suggest that you consider fishless cycling.....and even rearing tilapia next time out, if possible. They are very robust fish and will be more forgiving of mistakes from a newcomer to AP.

Gary

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Hi JT,

How quickly a system will cycle is largely dependent on the water temperature. Use the Search facility to look for "fishless cycling" - read up on that and, when you're ready, I'll guide you through the fishless cycling process.

We'll keep your plants going with a little Maxicrop in the meantime.

Gary

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JT, I just did a fishless cycle for a system and in my case it took two weeks. Like Gary said, I hit the system with some maxicrop and the plants did great. The FT in that system is only 55 gallons. I put in one capfull at the beginning of the first week and one at the end of the first week. I tested the water every day the second week. Last night my nitrites hit the all clear so in go the fish this evening.

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Well here is an update on my system. Been Doing the fishless cycle like advised and here is today's test results. Water temps are finally up to 70. PH is still high at 8.3. Ammonia is at 0. Nitrites are at 0. Nitrates are at 40 which is down from 80 a few days ago. So what do you guys think, should I start with the fish again? I am still amazed at how my tomatoes are growing and I'm not even up and running a good system yet. My cucs and some of the peppers are starting to get a little yellow to them. I haven't found the maxicrop in my area yet, may have to get it on the net.

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Hi Folks,

There is obviously still some confusion about cycling in general.....and fishless cycling in particular.

The cycling process is the means by which we facilitate the colonisation, by beneficial bacteria, of a recirculating aquaculture/aquaponics system.

Depending on the water temperature, this can occur in as little as ten days.....or it may take up to 10 weeks.

The first requirement for cycling is an ammonia source. This can be your choice of pure ammonia, urea, fish food or even fish meat (in my preferred order). Nitrosomonas bacteria convert the ammonia to nitrite - no ammonia....no nitrite. Ensure that any bottled ammonia product that you use has no added detergent.

Seasol (and Maxicrop), often used to sustain plants while AP systems are undergoing their start up, are not suitable for this specific purpose because they do not contain sufficient nitrogen.

The presence of pure ammonia will be reflected in your water tests - almost instantly. The other options will have a delayed effect because they will need to produce ammonia first (facilitated by heterotrophic bacteria). Most people who have problems with urea do so because they get too heavy-handed. The key is to use small amounts - leaving a day or two between doses (and tests) - so that an accurate reading can be had before adding more.

Keep slowly adding the ammonia until you achieve a reading of 2ppm - 5ppm. Once you reach this point, your ammonia readings will drop to zero....and nitrite production will commence. In optimum water temperatures, this may take as little as three days after your ammonia readings peak at not more than 5ppm.

Continue adding your ammonia source (slowly), until nitrite readings rise to 2ppm - 3ppm.

Once again, once nitrite levels reach this point, they will suddenly drop to zero......and nitrate production will slowly commence. It is at this point, that your system has cycled.

You continue to add ammonia (in small quantities) to allow the bacteria numbers in the system to expand to the point where your system will sustain your fingerlings.

Cease adding ammonia a day or two before you intend to add fish.

If you get too heavy-handed with the ammonia (or the ammonia source), you will overpower the nitrosomonas bacteria and stall the production of nitrites.....and delay the cycling process.

Your pH levels can be 8.0 (or more) and, if anything, that will suit the development of nitrifying bacteria.

Done properly, fishless cycling is fast, decisive and (best of all) it puts no fish at risk.

Regards......Gary

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I guess I am confused. I watched the ammonia get to .25 and was probably higher at some point as my fish died, then dropped to 0. Nitrites did not get quite to .2 but then fell to 0. Nitrates seem to be at a good level. So I am still not cycled? Sorry to be a pain, but I am just missing something. I never added ammonia myself as I started with the fish and the system seem to have plenty, hence my fish died. Should I still be adding ammonia? My situation seems to be an unusual cycle because I failed at the first attempt with the fish and now trying to recover with a fishless cycle. Thanks for the help.

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Would it be feasible to to add a few fish, maybe some catfish fingerlings or tilapia fingerlings? If so adding a few(3-5 Max) should be ok.

Maxicrop is a namebrand for liquid seaweed, but I have seen other nursery's carry liquid seaweed, Just make sure it is not fish emulsion. The yellowing is likely the drop in total nitrogen level and plants often yellow when nitrogen gets low.

Make sure your airpump is working before adding fish.

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Hi JT79,

So I am still not cycled? Sorry to be a pain, but I am just missing something. I never added ammonia myself as I started with the fish and the system seem to have plenty, hence my fish died. Should I still be adding ammonia?

No......my comments about fishless cycling were made in the context that your fish had all died.

Fishless cycling (as the name suggests) is the means by which you cycle a system without fish.

Gary

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If you get too heavy-handed with the ammonia (or the ammonia source), you will overpower the nitrosomonas bacteria and stall the production of nitrites.....and delay the cycling process.

If I recall correctly nitrosomanos bacteria (and their subspecies) are responsible for ammonia oxidization to nitrite (first step in nitrogen cycle). Considering that the substrate for this species is ammonia and they produce nitrite, I am not clear on how excessive ammonia could prevent the production of nitrite.... This can certainly happen in very low ph where the ammonia gases off. Inhibiition of nitrosomanos might not be until well above ammonia concentrations of 16mg/L...

Perhaps you are talking about excessive ammonia inhibiting nitrobacter and their subspecies. This would be at a free ammonia (you have to do the conversions) level of about 6mg/L. This would not be represented in elevated ammonia levels but in elevated nitrite levels.

My method is a great deal simpler, add you water to a new system, drop the pH to about 6.5, throw in a few handfulls of good soil (garden type soil not dirt), 500 grams of salt per 1000 litres and let it run and stabilize for a few days and add your fingerlings. Your readings will do all those wacky things where you have very colorful readings everywhere but your fish will not care....

But I suppose it is up to you. If you are planning on putting in $10,000 worth of fingerlings, some preparation may be in order, but a few or a few hundred is of no concern.

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I had a fish kill once and it obviously blew the ammonia right off the charts. As an experiment, I treated it as a fishless cycle and let the bacteria do it's thing. For three weeks, maybe more, I did nothing other than test the water. My plants grew like crazy. I used FT water in my wicking beds and topped up with clean water. Between the bacteria colonizing and the slow water exchange, the system came back in balance and I was able to add fish again. Maybe I was just lucky, but it worked. I'm learning that panic is my worst enemy. For once I didn't over react and dump the water and start over. I worked with the system instead of against it. My veggie production didn't miss a beat. Now the new fish are growing happily.

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Sam, That is how I am approaching my situation. What was the determining factor for you as to when you put your fish back in? Like you my plants are growing like crazy without the fish. I have got to get my tomatoes supported or they are going to start falling over.

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I waited until the ammonia and nitrites were back in balance. One of the things that helped that was using FT water in my wicking beds. That forced me to do regular top ups to the Fish Tank. Water where I live is heavily chlorinated and our new place doesn't have gutters yet so I can't collect rainwater. I keep 5-7 5 gallon buckets of water that I let sit for a minimum of 48 hours to naturally dechlorinate. I treated the system as if it was brand new. When the balance came, I added goldfish to cycle it again. I am not about to risk expensive Tilapia, catfish or bluegill anymore. For ever more, I will use a half dozen or so feeder goldfish as my cycling assistants. Anyway, the system is running perfectly now. I have a about 15 catfish in the 150 gallon tank.

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Eg's advice is solid, at that low ph, ammonia is minimally toxic. It might take a little longer to cycle , but your fish will be ok at that PH. Goldfish are cheap, but they are no more "hardy" than the other species. I strongly suspect the deaths were due to an oxygen problem and not cycling or ammonia problem per se, although they do consume oxygen out of the water too. Having made numerous mistakes in this venture, I have seen fish survive things that I had originally been led to believe would be lethal, but there are several other variables that are involved and tend to cause information overload in the beginning.

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