Testing for Calcium in Aquaponics

This is part of a series on Aquaponic Water Testing.

Calcium is essential for plant health. Deficiency symptoms include death of growing points, abnormally green foliage, premature shedding of blossoms/buds, and weakened stems. Blossom end rot and lettuce tip burn are usually more issues of inadequate transpiration than calcium deficiency.

Hoagland suggests a level of 200ppm. I aim for 100-150ppm.

Testing for Calcium

Testing for Calcium is done three ways: Titration, Colorimetry, or Ion Specific Probe.  Titration is the classical method, but YSI + Hanna have a colorimetric method available. The Horiba LAQUAtwin Ion Specific Probe provides fast results, but requires calibration at every use.

Some tests give results in Calcium Hardness (CaCO3). Since we’re interested in results in ppm Ca2+, divide Calcium Hardness results by 2.5.

  1. API Calcium test (Resolution = 20ppm Ca2+, dropwise titration) $6.29@Amazon / 75 = $0.08 ea
    The API test is listed for Saltwater aquariums, and if you call API they will tell you it can only be used on Saltwater aquariums. I have tested it with freshwater samples of known concentration, and have found that it does work, but is difficult to read. Many aquaponic systems that are not actively supplementing calcium will see the color change on the first or second drop. In order to see the change, look through the top of the test tube, and make sure you have a white piece of paper as your background. The color change is light pink to light blue, so I recommend looking for a change from “slightly warm” in color, to “slightly cool” in color.
  2. Taylor K-1770 (Resolution = 4ppm Ca2+, dropwise titration)
    $27.28@Amazon / 22 = 1.24ea
    2oz Refills $15.65 = $0.17ea
    Taylor tests are very common in the pool industry. If you have a way of measuring 25ml of water, you can purchase the reagents  (R-0010, R-0011L,  R-0012) for as little as $15.65 at local pool supply companies. Retail stores like Leslies Pool will charge as much for the reagents as the kit would cost, so be careful. The instructions specify resolution as 10ppm CaCO3, which is equivalent to 4ppm Ca2+. That’s 5x better than the API test, and this test is easier to read.
  3. Hach Digital Titrator + 8204 (40 – 1600ppm Ca2+ )
    Titrator: $159@Hach +
    Reagent 8204: $49.95@Hach / 100 = $0.50 ea
    Results are giving in ppm CaCO3. Divide by 2.5 to get results in Ca2+. Resolution is 10x higher than the Taylor K-1770 test, but that increase in resolution is unnecessary in non-research systems.
    Hach Digital TItrator + Hardness (Calcium) Reagent Set, LR
  4. Hanna Checker HI758 (200-600ppm, 1ppm)
    $41.65 Meter + 15 tests.
    Refill $21 / 25 = $0.84ea
    Sadly, I mention this Hanna Checker mostly to dissuade you from purchasing it. Notice the minimum value is 200. Most of the time in Aquaponics, we will be well below that 200 number.
  5. YSI Calcium Hardness Calcicol (0-200 Ca2+; MDL 2; ±2)
    $30.45 / 50 = $0.61ea OR 73.08 / 250 = $0.29ea
  6. Horiba LAQUAtwin Calcium Ion Meter (40-4000 ppm) $352@Amazon + ($100sensor+ $44calibration)/1500 = $0.10ea The sensor on this Ion Meter should be good for approximately 1500 readings, assuming you rinse it with distilled water after every use. It also needs calibration before every test run. If you have a number of separate systems, this item will save you time and money in the long run.

Know of another way of testing for calcium in aquaponics? Let me know in the comments and I’ll update this post.

2 thoughts on “Testing for Calcium in Aquaponics”

  1. I presume you are in America? I have spent several hours calling and emailing to find a Taylor distributor either in Australia, or willing to ship to Australia (Amazon don’t).

    Local distributors said they no longer stock that product, and were unhelpful. One offered to make a special order, for well over AU$100.

    I wonder if other calcium testers sold at pool supply stores would suffice? They couldn’t tell me the resolution or accuracy…

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