What's the deal with beneficial bacteria

Discussion in 'Pond Management' started by PondFin@ic, Mar 3, 2009.

  1. All the ads say everybody needs it. I've received at least three solicitations the past week alone. Mostly they say the bacterial will reduce muck, clear the water and reduce or eliminate algae.

    I think I kinda understand the basics of bacteria in the nitrogen cycle from my experience with aquariums: Bacteria "eats" the organic waste (plant material, fish food, excrement, etc") and converts it into nitrites then nitrates which plants then take up and use like fertilizer. Ammonia that's poisonous to fish gets processed somewhere with the organic waste too. Nobody wants a pond full of fish poop so I see how this is good. There's also a couple of different types of bacteria: aerobic, where oxygen is present and anaerobic where's there's little or no oxygen. I'm pretty sure the places where anaerobic bacteria grows is in that stinky black mud in stagnant water that make you smell like you've been wading in a septic tank rather than a fishing hole. I'm not sure I could tell where aerobic bacteria is but my guess is it's probably where the water is moving around and aerated.

    Back to the ads:
    Clearing the water. Although clear water is better for swimming, everything I've read says you want green water, green from planktonic algae, dense enough that visability is reduced to around 16". Planktonic algae produces oxygen, feeds zooplankton (and on up the foodchain), and helps shade deeper water to help prevent submerged weeds from growing. So if you're trying to grow fish wouldn't clear water be bad?

    Reduce or eliminate algae: Filamentous algae, the fuzzy green stuff I usually start seeing around this time of year, grows off of the same nutrients as the planktonic if I'm understanding correctly so wouldn't adding more bacteria speed up the decomposition, release nitrates faster and fuel more algae growth?

    I'm aerating my pond and have noticed less filamentous algae in the spring and my water has cleared some too. I was assuming that the clearing was because the planktonic algae near the surface it was being mixed throughout the water column rather than in a dense layer near the surface. I've found filamentous algae very easy to control with spot treatments of copper sulfate liquid or tilapia so it's not a problem really.

    What kind of bacteria is in the container? Is it anaerobic, aerobic or both? Would you use one type in an aerated pond and another type in a non-aerated pond?

    So how will beneficial bacteria help me grow bigger fish?

    Is it practical for a 1/2 to 1 acre pond? Is it expensive? How often does it need applied?

    How long does it take to see results?

    Anybody on here using it?
  2. PondFin
    i haven't used the stuff you 're talking about and haven't got any info for that.
    i've heard of adding bacteria to septic tanks.
    interesting post

  3. Fishman

    Fishman Catch bait???

    I've frankly always been a little sceptical of the microbial stuff, but it really does work. I take care of a few ponds that specifically request to be taken care of by "green" methods and it essentially means adding microbes. As far as I know all of the bacteria are aerobic, and I'm only assuming that because every label I've ever read always suggest using addition aeration as to not cause an oxygen related fish kill. That alone leads me to believe their aerobic.

    All of your assumption are right on the money really. The most recognizable of the anarobics is that horrid egg smell (hydrogen sulfide) you'll find in the muck bottom. You know just as well as any of us that clearer water is bad for fish overall ;) Believe it or not though, there are pond owners out there that want those crystal clear ponds because they think they look pretty. Personally I think chara does a better job :D Either way I occasionally find myself using microbes in ponds that get microcystis algae just to reduce the ammount of planktonic algae in the pond overall. It's a very slow process unfourtantley and if you really wanted to give them a shot to reduce the muck in your pond its important you start early as to innoculate the pond for lack of a better term. Due to it being so slow, I rarley use the method since I work in an industry where the vast majority of people want to see immediate results.

    The more you add over the course of a season the clearer the water typically becomes not only from the addition of more microbes but also because of the enzymes most of these products contain which only speed up the decomposition process even more. I've never noticed filamentous algae problems from microbes but that could be due to the fact that most "green" ponds consequently have a lot of amur in them as well.

    I recently attended a lake managment seminar where a guy was talking about an oxidizing agent (kinda like oxy clean) that could be added to ponds to remove sediment build up. The speaker claimed to have removed 6 feet, thats right 6 feet, of sediment from a lake bottom. This stuff really only works through injection applications which arn't exactly easy, apparently the stuff was only active for about 60 seconds after contact water. This was all presented in a power point so the images themselves were pretty convincing, still sounds hard to beleive.

    Garden pond owners have been using the microbial stuff for years and years and its basically just bled into the pond managment scene. It's economical to use if you don't find yourself having to add large quanitys frequently which is generally directly related to how bad off the pond really is. Most applications start in early spring with applications every week or two. As the weather warms it's generally reduced down to a "maintence dose" which is prescribed different by each manufacture but it generally means adding microbes once a month until the end of the growing season.

    As far as growing larger fish, I have no idea how it would help unless someone wanted to argue that increased bacterial levels lead to higher invertabrate levels.... I really don't know - frankly I'm stabbing in the dark :D
  4. My pond is on the lower side of the recommended watershed requirements so I don't get a lot of flow through and becoming too fertile is always a concern. It sounds like the bacteria treatment could be a useful tool should I cross the line and visibility drops below 12" due to an overabundance of planktonic algae. This creates another concern for me. If I began treating the pond after visiablilty drops below 12", would there be an initial spike in nitrates from the aerobic digestion process which would then fuel the planktonic algae to grow more dense prior to it getting better?
  5. Fishman

    Fishman Catch bait???

    That's a really good question, I was under the impression that some of the bacteria these products contain utilized nutrients right out of the water column essentially just starving some planktonic algae out. Garden pond owners can actually purchase situation specific bacteria for problems like "green water," filamentous algae, sludge removal, and warm or cool water bacteria. More than likley a vast majority of the products contain a mix of "bugs" so the consumers sees results.

    I'll ask about the spike in any particular nutrient that might accellerate algae growth too see if anyone I know has the answer to that.
  6. Fishman

    Fishman Catch bait???

    Started early and ended late today, I'll check on it tomorrow :D
  7. I've been looking some and not coming up with much but more questions. There are several products available in different price ranges. It seems like a lot of them have enzymes too that aid the bacteria. I'm not sure but I think the enzymes help break the organic material down into something easier utilized by the bacteria but I may have this reversed.

    How would someone determine what their pond is lacking? How do you compare products for actual content? How would you decide which one best fits your needs?
  8. Fishman

    Fishman Catch bait???

    Sorry about the delay! You are right, some of the bacteria during the decomposition process do release nitrates. Obviously it can fuel the growth of other plants, but generally the ammounts are so minimal its negligible, expecially in new ponds. Interestingly I was told that most of those nutrients that are released that arn't consumed by the other bacteria generally is taken up by the planktonic algae.

    I'm not sure that I would go so far as to say any pond was lacking any specific type of bacteria naturally, but it would be more related to what the goal of the pond owner was. I really don't know the answer to how one compares products as to actual strain content, but unless the product specifys its for a single purpose I would assume it's mixed. This is true in the garden pond industry, so it's why I'm assuming it's true here :D There are actually farm pond products out there that are bacteria situation specfic and if your goals are what the product promises, then that's what I'de choose.

    I also was told that products that are used to control planktonic algae blooms really only work in the 50-70 degree F range, which obviously would only going to raise more questions you'de have to consider; Do you want to reduce your plankton bloom during the peak spawning times of your fish? Expecially considering plankton blooms are never really that high to begin with in that temperature range.
  9. Thanks for looking into it Fishman. You've confirmed my suspicions. It seems as though the products working at 50-70 degrees is a less crucial time than when temps are in the 80s...when my water is usually a little low.

    It sounds like a best fit would be that if you were having a very dense bloom in the hot dry months the summer before, or high organic buildup, that adding supplemental bacteria may help the following year if started in the Spring but probably not a good reactive measure once the bloom gets to strong in hot months.
  10. Fishman

    Fishman Catch bait???

    Right on the money.
  11. The bacteria products are a long term solution. As Fishman said, you will not see results over night. Like Fishman, ATAC has also seen very good results from the beneficial bacteria. There are a few important things to know about the bacteria.

    First, and most importantly, not all bacteria are created equally. There are different types that do different things from general waste degradation, to "muck" digestion, to actually removing nutrients from the water as a gas. When the bacteria "eat" organic matter they do perform nitrification, meaning that they turn the ammonia into nitrite, then nitrate (the nutrient used by plants and algae). But different bacteria then perform denitrification, turning nitrate into nitrogen gas and removing it from the system. it is important to note that not all bacteria products perform denitrification.

    Another important thing to note is that, in general, Ohio ponds have too many nutrients. Phosphorous is the nutrient that leads to nuissance algae blooms. The ratio of phosphorous to nitrogen determines the type of algae that will thrive the pond. When there is too much phosphorous, filamentous and blugreen algae take over and dominate over the good algae that is edible to zooplankton. The point is, it is more than just the color of your water that determines how well your pond will produce fish. Though the bacteria does clear up the water, it is not starving your fish. It becomes part of the food chain.

    Finally, the bacteria PRODUCE enzymes that allow them to breakdown organic materials and take them into their cells as nutrients. Some bacteria products also have added enxymes to target specific things like cellulose, which is in leaves and twigs and is hard to break down, causing them to build up on the bottom of the pond.

    The point is, they work and difference in price you see in the different products is due to the different types and concentrations of bacteria available.

    I am pasting a paper I wrote summarizing the beneficial bacteria:

    Beneficial Bacteria Basics

    Beneficial bacteria are naturally in your lake. They process dead organic material. However, not all materials decompose at the same rate. Slow to degrade compounds, like cellulose, fats, oils, and long chain fatty acids, build up on the bottom of the lake. In addition, there are 2 types of degradation that occur within a lake: aerobic (using oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen). Aerobic breakdown occurs at a more rapid rate than anaerobic breakdown. The bacterial cultures that ATAC recommends are primarily aerobic and target the slow to degrade compounds. The bacteria are added to increase the rate of the breakdown of organic materials and to process nutrients, making them unavailable to algae.

    Once added, the bacteria compete with cyanobacteria and other nuisance algae for nutrients and break down organic sludge. Initially, a large dose is added to get the populations established and reproducing and then maintenance doses are applied to ensure that the bacteria persist.

    As the bacteria grow and replicate, they tie up the phosphorous and nitrogen in their cells. They also convert soluble phosphorous found in the water column to calcium phosphate and calcium iron phosphate, which are insoluble minerals and are not available to most types of algae. Some beneficial bacteria blends contain nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria which covert ammonia to nitrite to nitrate and finally to atmospheric nitrogen, allowing it to be removed from the system as a gas. The majority of the bacteria will go to the bottom and sides of the lake (the benthic and littoral zones) where they break down organics and store the byproducts of this breakdown, the nutrients, in their cells. Some of the bacteria remain in the water column, where they also break down organics, such as dead phytoplankton, and consume nutrients.

    The bacteria will have no negative affect the food web including the plankton population. In fact, some of these bacteria will become food for the zooplankton and benthos, which then become food for fish.

    All bacteria are not created equally. Bacteria are usually judged by their concentration, the number of colony forming units (CFU) per gram of material. The higher the CFU and the higher the doses, the quicker you will see results. In addition, different types of beneficial bacteria do different things. Some perform general waste degradation and water quality improvement, others are specially formulated to digest organic matter, and others still are formulated to process and reduce nutrients (they perform nitrification). It is important to use the correct blend of bacteria at the correct rates to meet your goals.

    Valerie C, Schwinnen, M.S.
    Aquatic Biologist, ATAC
  12. Valeriec, that's the best explanation I've seen. Thank you for the informative post.

    Right now, as with many ponds probably, my water has about 3' visability and areas deeper than 3 or 4 feet have a healthy amount of filamentous algae starting to grow. This is pretty normal at my place for this time of year. I began my aeration startup procedure early this week. My usual action to combat the filamentous algae is to wait until the water warms enough to apply copper sulfate liquid and/or stock tilapia. No matter tilapia, cutrine or a combination, shortly after the algae is gone my bloom returns reducing visability to between 16" and 20" on through fall. When tilapia are in the pond I don't have anymore algae but when they are not stocked I usually have to retreat the algae 3 or 5 times during the season. I don't have any noticeable organic accumulation. The bottom is still pretty much clay. I have bottom diffuser aeration installed, turning the pond about twice per day. My pond is 1/2 acre, sloping to 10' at the deepest 2/3 and 1/3 sloping to about 6'. 2 banks are sloped at 5:1 and two are 3:1. At peak, I'm probably feeding 60-80lbs of pellets per month. My pond is stocked with bass, bluegill, hybrid stipers, 2 or 3 channel cats, 2 grass carp, and 5lbs of tilapia seasonally when available. There is about 10%-15% of the bottom covered in structure in the form of pallets, PVC and rock/concrete piles. There is also a band of #2 limestone over geotextile fabric about 5' wide around the banks 95% underwater. All gamefish are above average Wr. My watershed is a bit on the low side and made up of cropland seperated by about a 60' grass buffer strip.

    What will adding suplemental bacteria do for me? Will the water be clearer throughout the season? If so, how much clearer? Will my pond grow more lbs. of fish if I add the bacteria? How often will I have to apply the bacteria? How is the bacteria applied? How much will it cost per year for a pond like mine described above the first year and then following years?
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2009
  13. Aaron's Aquatics

    Aaron's Aquatics Captain

    I am in 100% agreement with valerjec on this one.