Before you add water into your system it is important to check out your water source. Are you on well water or are you being supplied by a local municipal water district? It is best to know what is in your water before you begin in case you encounter any problems cycling or maintaing your system. We use the API Freshwater Master Test Kit to check most of our water levels. These kits can be purchased online or in some local fish stores. They are an inexpensive way to test for Ammonia, Nitrites, Nitrates and pH.
MUNICIPAL WATER DISTRICT
If your home is run on city water it is very likely that it contains Chlorine and Chloramines. Call or check online with your local municipal water district in order to find out exactly what your water contains. The main things that we are concerned with finding out are levels of Chlorine, Chloramine and pH.
Chlorine will naturally burn off if the water is run through your system for a couple days but Chloramines will not off gas and need to be removed. Both additives are toxic to your fish in high amounts. If you do have Chloramine in your water the easiest way to remove it is by using a water conditioner called Chloram-x. You can find Chloram-x online from aquatic ecosystems or in some local aquarium stores as well. Follow the instructions on the Prime bottle in order to figure out the right dosage rate. Another way to remove Chloramines is to purchase a UV or Carbon activated filter. These filters are more expensive but work best if you are running and large Aquaponic system where adding Chloram-x on a regular basis would be a nuisance.
Having property with well water can be a blessing when you are a farmer. You don’t have to worry about chemical additives like you do with city water. Despite this good fortune you still need to check for a few things. You may want to pay to have our well water analyzed to check its mineral contents. Some well water tends to be “hard” meaning it has a high PPM (parts per million). This high PPM in well water is normally attributed to the high mineral content of well water. Some minerals are good for your aquaponics system, such as iron or calcium, but some may be harmful in large amounts. We check our PPM with a tool we purchased made by a company called Blue Lab. This particular tool measures the PPM, pH and EC. It definitely comes in handy with our Aquaponic system but can be expensive.
Be sure to check the pH of your water, whether you are using well water or city water. The ideal pH for your aquaponic garden is between 6.8 and 7. This particular pH allows beneficial bacteria to prosper and helps keep Ammonia levels in check. It is also a happy medium for your plants and fish. Plants typically like a slightly acidic pH of 5.0-7.0, fish prefer a higher range of 6.5-8.0 and bacteria do well with a pH of 6.0-8.0. Know that a pH of 7 is neutral. We have heard that city water is generally kept at a pH of 7 because acidic water can eventually corrode pipes. The pH of well water varies so make sure to check it with your API Freshwater Master Test Kit or a another measuring device. If your pH is not in the 6.5-7.5 range we recommend taking action.
If your pH is slightly below 6.6 try adding Calcium Carbonate, Calcium hydroxide, Potassium carbonate or Potassium bicarbonate. These all act as a “buffer” in your system which helps to keep your pH in a neutral zone of 7. They also provide some of the needed Calcium or Potassium into your system.
If your pH reaches 7.6 or higher try adding a “pH down”. This can be found at your local hydroponics store or online. Make sure that the pH down product you choose does not contain sodium or citric acid. Sodium can build up over time and be harmful to your plants. In hydroponics it is ok to use because you would routinely “flush” your system but in Aquaponics we do not flush and it can be problematic. A product containing Citric Acid is also not good to use because citric acid is anti-bacterial and can harm your bacteria which would disrupt the nitrogen cycle. Another way to lower pH is by using other hydroponic acids such as, nitric acid or phosphoric acid.
Always remember when raising or lowering your pH in an existing system with plants and fish that you must do so slowly. A safe degree of change is .2 per day. A sudden change in pH can drastically effect your fish and your plants. This also is true when it comes to temperature. Drastic temperature changes can also put stress on your fish.
The temperature of your Aquaponic water will very greatly depending on what kind of fish you have. The ideal temperature for starting up and cycling your system is between 62-72 degrees Fahrenheit. Water levels any higher then 72 degrees Fahrenheit can raise levels of ammonia which can be difficult to monitor when cycling a system. Keep in mind that bacteria and tropical fish thrive in warmer water where as some lettuces and stream fish like Trout prefer the water to be much cooler. It is much easier to heat the water then cool it. Both heating and cooling can be expensive but the easiest approach is to choose a fish that best suites your climate. For example, if you live in Hawaii Trout is obviously not a good option because of the warm tropical weather. Or the opposite, if you live in Alaska Tilapia is probably not the best choice because it so cold you would be constantly heating the water to meet your fishes needs.