When we talk about aquaponics, we can't do so without talking about what makes it all possible. I am talking about the nitrifying bacteria, the Nitrobacter and other Nitrosomonas. Without them, the ammonia excreted by the fish would stay in the water and after passing in the grow bed, where the plants would not like the taste of it, it would go back in the fish tank.
The ammonia is very toxic for the fish and the bacteria we are talking about, are responsible for converting it into nitrites and eventually, into nitrates. But let's take a break here and dive into science a little bit.
The Nitrogen cycle
When we speak about bacteria, I hear you already mention the words germs, viruses and all scary living organisms that make, in fact, life on Earth possible.
Fish, in oceans, lakes excrete also ammonia but because the concentration of water being so high, it dilutes the ammonia to a tolerable level. For us, aquaponists (made up words are exciting) and aquarists, managing ammonia is essential part of our hobby. Here is a list of damages caused by excess ammonia in your fish tank water:
Nature being well done, it gives us the Nitrosomonas bacteria aka, the nitrifying bacteria. These little guys feed on ammonia and turn it into Nitrites. What happens is that Nitrites is also very toxic for fish, not as much but still not good. The Nitrites in turn, will attract a new set of bacteria, the Nitrobacter, who in turn, munch on Nitrites and turn it into Nitrates. This is the Nitrogen Cycle and it is what happens in your freshly built aquaponics system, the nitrifying process where those bacteria colonies, in turn, the surfaces of your system. These guys are not in the water per say but , are forming a bio film coating all the surfaces of your pipes, fish tank, growing media etc...
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I am a French expat, married, dad of one, nature lover and firm believer of sustainable living. My background is leisure and tourism industry. I fell into aquaponics and now I am sharing with you my adventure.