Why are all of your plants dying? Well, if you are just starting your system or have other fish related issues you might see some of these symptoms - Burnt leaves, slow growth, dark yellow spots, plants dying. Nitrogen is the most important nutrient of all!
If you have been following along with the system we have here you probably already know that I have had my fair share of issues with various things. Most recently I discovered that my fish were slowly dying off, each day one or two. After several months of trying various remedies the fish all eventually died. So, here I am with an aquaponics system with no fish! This leads to quite a few issues but mainly (since I am still growing plants) I am starting to see the signs of major nutrient deficiency system wide.
With an aquaponics system the main nutrient that the fish provide for us through the nitrification process is nitrogen. This is (in most cases) the #1 nutrient for plant growth overall and when it is deficient you will surely start to notice it. The easy signs are burnt edges of the leaves, curling under of leaves, leaves falling off, stunted growth, and plants dying. If you start seeing these things it is time to think nitrogen!
In aquaponics this deficiency is normally not an issue with a few exceptions. When you first start cycling your system you will undoubtedly be short on nitrogen. Small fish, not enough fish, or underfeeding could be another cause. Lastly, if you just have too many or plants planted in the system you might not be able to keep up with supply of nitrogen for your crop.
So, how do we correct it? This is the easiest nutrient to supplement, just add ammonia. Regular old, off the shelf, unscented, cheap ammonia. I would recommend starting very small and testing a few hours after you add some (just a few capfuls at first). See if your system is efficiently converting the ammonia into nitrates in a decent amount of time. Should be less than 3-4 hours after adding ammonia that you can test and it is all gone. Keep increasing the dose until you start to get some left over after about 3-4 hours and then you now know how much you can safely add without hurting fish. Make sure to add to your sump or directly to bell siphons in the grow beds but never in the fish tanks.
Update - I have been running my system for two months now without any fish and all plants are doing great! Fish will come back to the system soon but I have a few redesigns in the works first.
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Nutrient Deficiency Guide - http://ammanutri.com/images/Symptoms%20of%20Micronutrient%20Deficiency%20in%20Plants.jpg