Aquaponics Update… frogs and electricity

So,the ick was gone!  Yay!  Then came the frogs.  Tree frogs.  They adopted the still empty plant tanks as a place to lay their eggs.  Lots of eggs.  Then the fish started eating a lot less.  I wasn’t too worried – they probably were chowing down on frog eggs and tadpoles.  Then the water got goopy.  air bubbles didn’t want to pop.  Hmmm…  Time to do a water exchange.  Nothing drastic, because I didn’t want to stress the fish with too much change, the ammonia level was up and I didn’t want to interrupt the nitrification process as it was just getting started, and because it’s dry season and one of the big advantages of aquaponics is that it doesn’t use a lot of water.  So, I decided to exchange a little water.

As I siphoned water from the bottom of the tank, I started sucking out dead fish!  What!?!?  That’s not allowed!  But yeah, there they were.  I think that’s when Chris (he’s a guy named Chris – you probably don’t know him) discovered the electric shock from the fountain pump!  Also, the ammonia level was soaring and not a trace of nitrite.  The fish were crowding around the water that falls into the tank from the plant beds, gulping for air.  These guys were in trouble!  This called for drastic measures – this was do or die, and they were dying left and right.

Step one was starting a slow, steady water exchange until we reached an almost 100% exchange.  Goodbye ammonia and nitrobacter.  Goodbye weaker fish.  A 100% exchange is not usually recommended, but we were going for it.  Once that was started, we put a grounding rod right next to the outdoor outlet.  The whole electric system is grounded, but this was an extra measure, and it took care of the electric shock from the pump.  Then we increased aeration in the biofilter and the two plant tanks.  The idea there was to move the water more – especially in the biofilter.  I thought maybe there wasn’t enough water circulation in the biofilter, and not enough oxygen for the bacteria to really flourish.  That could result in toxic levels of ammonia.

The immediate result was healthier looking water, and healthier acting fish.  Then they started dying.  We lost about 70 in 24 hours.  Fortunately, I had bought far more fish than the system can handle when they get big because I wanted them to produce enough ammonia to start the nitrification cycle so I can put plants in.  Four days later, they are doing great.  No more gasping for oxygen, no more dying fish, and they are eating like little piggies.

So what happened that caused everything to go south?  Did some die from ick that then rotted at the bottom and gooped up the water?  Did the frog eggs poison them?  Was it the electric shock?  Was the biofilter not working well and the ammonia level got too high?  I dunno.  But next time around I will acclimate the fish like I know I should, I will have some salt already in the water to ward off ick, and I will be more aggresive in aeration and water circulation – especially in the biofilter.

Today I have over 150 thriving fish.  Tomorrow I will test for nitrites.

Gulping for Air

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