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Can anyone give me a somewhat scientific answer for why aquaponics systems take 10-12 months to fully mature?  I imagine it has something to do with trace minerals and organic materials breaking down, but I was hoping for a more thorough explination so that I might be able to search for solutions. 

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From my experience, the nitrification process takes a good amount of time (sometimes up to a year) to produce nitric acid reliably. Where I'm at, the water comes out of the faucet at a pH of 8 and it took the better part of a year to finally see it drop to 6.5 and the only way that happened was due to "something" acidifying the system. After a little research, I found that it was the nitric acid that the system was producing, something I didn't have much of for almost a year. I can now top off my system with tap water and my pH never changes more than a tenth of a point or so.

I have a suspicion that a portion of the "establishment delay" or "maturation" relates to buildup of trace elements. I suspect that an application of something like Plantex CSM+B (a trace supplement often used in planted aquariums) in the beginning of a system could be quite useful.

Anybody in California with a mass spectrometer want to help me research this?

Hi all,

I'm not sure how scientific my explanation is but IMO, the biology isn't there. AP is all about the biology. First conditions must be right for micro fauna. Each type has its own needs (that includes temperature, oxygen level and food), and cycles through a myriad of phases in order to finally find equilibrium. This full process we call a cycle, usually coinciding with our four season year.

One can speed up the process by starting with pond water and/ or heavily polluted aquarium water and debris like sunken wood, bottom clay and whatever else is decaying down there.

In closed feed ops like those in most home AP systems, some people use ammonia or pee to kick start the process. I believe Sylvia has a kit that would help beginners.

Remember we are dealing with nature which means she has already done billions of years of R&D and has already come up with best practice, systems and cycles to produce life in abundance, so I think it would be wise of us to self educate to better understand her ways. Respecting her ways sometimes means being patient.

Most of us that do AP try for more holistic approaches because we recognizes that the factory farm model just doesn't work and is directly responsible for many of modern society's health and social ailments.

I now use seven organic "teas" to kick start ponds we install. This year we installed eleven ponds...but it still takes a year to really get going. Three years to be considered actually mature.

I hope this helps.


Well, it doesn't really have much to do with a build up of nutrients. A lot of it has to do with building a stronger presence of microorganisms in your system. In the world of aquaponics, there is a large emphasis on nitrifying bacteria, because nitrifying bacteria are the bacteria that take care of fish waste products. But there are a whole realm of microorganism that work in close relationship with plants, feeding off of the simple sugars that plant roots produce and in turn keeping nutrients at the roots of the plants and also those that work to convert other nutrients to forms that can be used by plants. As your system matures in its biodiversity, your plants will have the tools available to produce more abundantly (as long as proper nutrients are available).

Wow,'s nice to see you've taken that reading list of yours to heart . Though I have to ask you to stop and think about your first sentence in relation to the rest of your post...

In essence, it does have everything to do with the 'build up of nutrients' (maybe not the way most folks think about it)...BUT it's the microbiological build- up and diversity (that you speak of) which make it possible for the 'build-up of nutrients' to occur...So the two statements aren't necessarily mutually exclusive by any stretch 

Many of the things that mineralize, or solubilize certain nutrient that are locked up in complex organic molecules are far from simple acid/base reactions and can't really be chalked up just to nitric, or carbonic acid production.

Would you be able to speed up the establishment of a system by splitting an existing system and mixing it in with a new system?

What makes a system "mature" is your colonization of your nitrifying bacteria. this usually takes places after about 2 or 3 months for you to get to maximum colonization of your grow media. after that you won't get any more until you raise your input levels (ie feed your fish more or add more fish). The other time people refer to a mature system is when there nitric acid is dissolving the KH at a rate that is stable when regularly dosed.

I'm enjoying the discussion but I was really hoping someone could point me to a compound that takes around a year to start breaking down or a bacteria that doesn't colonize until the presence of XYZ exists which takes approximately a year.  They reason I ask is because I've heard many vets in the AP world talk about a notice of increased production that seems to peak out around 9 months to a year (depending on who you're talking to)

I don't think it has anything to do with nitrifying bacteria as they establish relatively quickly and even the dominate species of bacteria changes within a few months (nitrobacer overtake nitrospira).  I'm sure there is a way to fully optimize an AP system in short time if we knew what the limiting factors were.

There isn't anything that takes a year. I have no idea what it could be but its nothing I can think of or heard of. I think it just means when they have a solid idea of the chemistry of there system what it should be on a given day because they have had it a year. There is nothing that you can make happen in 3 months or less that would happen after a year.

Take a look at the research done by Dr. Nick Savidov and you will see that there is indeed an increase in yield in the second year of a system.

If you look at aquaponics as a natural system with hundreds if not thousands of species interacting, we just don't fully understand the complexity of the interplay between organisms and the rich soup of nutrients that they create. Darwin called this the Tangled Bank. My view is that the more tangled our systems get the more nutrition is available for the plants.

IDK Steve, while I certainly agree that the skill of the operator and the choices she makes will to a very large degree determine the 'success' of the given system (obviously)...but

...from a biological standpoint it seems a bit over simplified and a little naive to think that there is nothing that happens that hasn't happened in the first 3 months...unless of coarse as you aptly said 'the operator makes it happen'...(to paraphrase) by giving Nature a helping hand. 

But in a "typical" scenario where one just cycles, feeds the fish and buffers pH...there most certainly seems to be much that goes on (again biologically speaking) well beyond what happens in those first 3 months. Again, as you can make those things happen quicker/stronger, but most operators probably don't.

Nitrifiers are fine, and might be all that is needed for the fish end of things...and it seems like that is all most folks ever account for...but there are most certainly many more niche nutrient cycles going on in a well established system than relatively simple ammonia oxidation...some certainly must take longer to establish (unless helped along by the operator) than others...More akin to an organic garden than to a hydroponic system. Uncleaving and then chelating certain plant essential elements from organic complexes is no mean or easy feat (at times) and nitrifiers are all but useless in those regards (again, beyond the aforementioned ammonia oxidation).

Can you have a system that 'kicks ass' right from the get go? Yes, of coarse. But most folks don't and there are many, many, many varied reasons for it...from microbiology to lighting and everything in between...and most all that has to do, as you say, with operator knowledge/experience.

It would be interesting to set up several new systems and run some experiments/comparisons but who has the time and money?

One of the first comparisons I'd try would involve compost and composting worms.

Dan, it's wide open to you.  Good luck.

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