Aquaponic Process System

Aquaponic Process–Bacteria

Do you know what needs to be done when working with the bacteria in your aquaponic system? Well, today’s episode is all about the things you can do to ensure your system bacteria are happy and healthy.

You’re listening to Fish Grow Plants—A podcast all about practicing and sharing the love of aquaponics; hosted by Logan Schoolcraft.

Hello, and welcome to Fish Grow Plants! In today’s episode we’ll be talking about the aquaponic process of bacteria!

Well, let me say we are taking about the processes you will perform related to and around bacteria. I don’t want you to think that bacteria are a process for you. I’ll also clarify that I’m not here to talk about what the types of bacteria are and what they do, when, and why. My main objective is to clarify the steps you need to take to ensure that those unnamed bacteria are happy, healthy and doing their best work 24-7.

That being said, I don’t want you think that working with bacteria is a total mystery, pain, or something requiring a lot of time. That would be me when I first started. I was a bit worried about maintaining a system for these unseen forces. Afterall, I had done none of this sort of stuff before and wanted to do things right. Sadly, I’d read a lot of information that said it would take at least six months to get my system “cycled” with bacteria.

That was a long time to be super vigilant about anything! Especially when talking about ppm’s, and things I couldn’t even see! How was this going to work again?! Why am I doing this?! Isn’t there a better way that doesn’t take so much time? I mean, it’s going to be winter before things get going, then they are going to slow back down, right?

I had all these questions and more. Then I just started. Some of those questions resurfaced a time or two, but for the most part, I just kept on going and things started to work. By work, I mean my aquaponics really started to come to life; kind of magically!

Since that time, I’ve started several systems, and used a variety of methods (there are many to choose from) to get the bacteria in an aquaponic system established. But for the purpose of today’s episode, we’re going to focus on what you need to do.

Since it’s all about the actions you need to take, let’s get right to it.

I’ve divided the bacteria action plan into three distinct parts:

  1. Adding bacteria to the system
  2. Testing for the presence and abundance of bacteria in the system, and
  3. Maintaining a happy home for the bacteria.

For adding bacteria to the system, you have a few options. But I’ll be blunt. I would directly add the bacteria you are looking to have in your system.  This is just like making sourdough bread—having a starter makes things quicker and easier. It’s not the only way to do it, but you save a lot of time, hassle, and worry by using a starter that you know is healthy and active. You can add a starter strain of bacteria by purchasing some, or, if you are lucky enough to have a friend or neighbor with an active aquaponic system, ask to have a bucket or two of water—that’s all it will take. Then your system will be inoculated and ready to go.

Although I wouldn’t personally use any of the methods that take a long time anymore, they too still fall under adding bacteria to your system. And if you end up on the low side of money like I was once, doing it this way is fine. I won’t enumerate the variety of ways do this here, but my advice is to take is small and slow. That means only a little ammonia, or a few fish. Overdoing it can kill the precious bacteria you are trying to cultivate. Have a lot of plants, they will help indicate how well things are going, and let you know when to add more. But go slow and you’ll see results before you know it.


Testing for the presence and abundance of bacteria in your system is pretty straightforward. There are several types of tests you can choose from. There are simple dip strips, some chemical mixing kits, and even meters (although they are usually on the more expensive end of things). Each has its own unique operation that are pretty easy to follow as directed. I think there is some debate as to the best method available, but my argument is that the best one is the one you stick with. If you like the dip strips, then use them. If you inherited a meter and like it, use it.

Testing is of no point if you don’t use it. And use it routinely and accurately.

So don’t mix and match your methods and materials. Stick to one program. Why? That will ensure you have a good relative reference from test to test. That way, you can tell if things are changing, and if so, by how much.

Happy home.

Creating and maintaining a happy home for your bacteria can be the easiest thing you do, or the most difficult. In a sense, they are your powerhouse workforce for your aquaponic system, so keeping them happy is a good thing to do.

Fortunately, this is pretty easy. They are kind of like us. They like a good temperature (think in the 70-80 degree F range), they like food (think fish waste), and they like having a place to call home (think surface area inside your system).

But, the big butt here to watch out for, is that they don’t do so well when these parameters are out of whack. So, if the temperature gets too hot, or too cold, they die, or slow way down. If they don’t have enough food, they die, and if they get too much food, they die, or get choked out by competing organisms. And if there is no place to call home, they move away! (They do sound a lot like us…or maybe Goldilocks looking the perfect place to call home!)

Don’t fret here. A happy home is easy when you think step by step. A first step can be making sure your system temperature is stable year-round (think insulation and possibly heaters). Then make sure you don’t overfeed your fish. This simple act is way too easy to perform, and it will overwhelm your bacteria with ammonia and kill them off. So don’t feed too much. And lastly, make sure you have plenty of surface area in your system for your little guys to live on. This can be man made surfaces, or plant made roots. Either way, give these microscopic friends a home!

So, in conclusion, what can you take away from today’s episode?

Well, remember the three parts we just talked about:

  1. Adding bacteria to the system
  2. Testing for the presence and abundance of bacteria in the system, and
  3. Maintaining a happy home for the bacteria.

Then, write down the method, or methods, for each step you want to use and follow them! It’s that easy. Don’t try to overthink the situation. Bacteria are vital to your system, but they are a lot like us, so treat them well, and they will return the favor many times over!

Take care and happy aquaponicing!

This has been another episode of Fish Grow Plants—the podcast all about practicing and sharing the love of aquaponics; hosted by Logan Schoolcraft.