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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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Good point. I didn't mean for that first line to come out so direct and one sided... (there's an "as" missing between "have" and "much") Still though, my mind did wander a tad too far from the nutrients side of things, over the line of balance and into too much emphasis on microbes. That course correction was needed, thanks!


Vlad Jovanovic said:

Wow, Alex...it'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.

Yes, bringing elements of a more mature system into a new one will speed things up for the newer system. Although, it may slow things down a little on the original setup depending on how much you bring over...

Jonathon D said:

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?

Testity!

And if you don't believe Vlad, wander over to his page and check out a few pictures. A quick glance at his tomato and basil plants kind of speaks for itself :)


Vlad Jovanovic said:

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 say...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.

Worms and compost is something I've been wanting to experiment with too. My current plan is to step up on my worm composting and possibly add an inline tea brewer to my system.

George said:

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.

The only thing a one year old system will have that a 3 month old system wouldn't would be maybe some biodiversity in bacteria but assuming you use only seed that wouldn't be that much.
What do you mean by "assuming you use only seed that wouldnt be that much"?

Steve R said:
The only thing a one year old system will have that a 3 month old system wouldn't would be maybe some biodiversity in bacteria but assuming you use only seed that wouldn't be that much.

I'm still at a total loss as to what aside from bacteria diversity is going to enter or chemically take place at one year that isn't happening after 6 months there isn't a single thing. By assuming you only use seed i mean you didn't transplant another plant from some where else where it has been growing (ie seeding bacteria). Obviously a slightly older system will product a little more but that's because there are more nutrients built up at that point but not from a new chemical process or some other new thing that happens at the 10 or 12 month mark in your system.

Bacteria diversity is the main thing (at least, as far as I know) but I don't think you are grasping the significance of that. An diverse bacteria population is key to unlocking the incredible growth potential in plants. And some bacteria (unless pains are taken by the grower to add them) take a really long time to show up in an aquaponic system.

It's true. You often have a chain that happens. Example: A produces food for B, but A takes 4 weeks to mature, B produces food for C but B can't develop until A is developed and then it is 5 weeks later. C requires additional nutrients from a slow developing colony independent from A and B as well as the nutrients that B produces.

As far as introducing biodiversity, there is an AMAZING amount of biodiversity simply in the air around us that we take for granted. It can take a while for the right bacteria or spores to land and then they have to colonize. The longer it runs, the better it gets because the balance is more like mother nature. If you understand the WHOLE system (first kudos to you!) then you can make the whole thing happen pretty quick. But I think most everyone only understands a small part of what happens, myself included.

Alex Veidel said:

Bacteria diversity is the main thing (at least, as far as I know) but I don't think you are grasping the significance of that. An diverse bacteria population is key to unlocking the incredible growth potential in plants. And some bacteria (unless pains are taken by the grower to add them) take a really long time to show up in an aquaponic system.

If there was a "like" button, I'd hit it :)

Jonathon D said:

It's true. You often have a chain that happens. Example: A produces food for B, but A takes 4 weeks to mature, B produces food for C but B can't develop until A is developed and then it is 5 weeks later. C requires additional nutrients from a slow developing colony independent from A and B as well as the nutrients that B produces.

As far as introducing biodiversity, there is an AMAZING amount of biodiversity simply in the air around us that we take for granted. It can take a while for the right bacteria or spores to land and then they have to colonize. The longer it runs, the better it gets because the balance is more like mother nature. If you understand the WHOLE system (first kudos to you!) then you can make the whole thing happen pretty quick. But I think most everyone only understands a small part of what happens, myself included.

Alex Veidel said:

Bacteria diversity is the main thing (at least, as far as I know) but I don't think you are grasping the significance of that. An diverse bacteria population is key to unlocking the incredible growth potential in plants. And some bacteria (unless pains are taken by the grower to add them) take a really long time to show up in an aquaponic system.

Perhaps some of the delay is caused by the grower when introducing non-compatible, ,non-indigenous, and therefore non-beneficial bacteria  and micro-organisms.  I mean diversity strengthens in the long run but introducing a foreign strain that competes with a native only to die off leaving them both weaker, prolongs the time required for the whole system to balance and mature.

So what type of "non-compatible, non-indigenous, non-beneficial, micro-organisms" did you have in mind Glenn? I'm having a hard time trying to understand. It would be helpful if you gave some examples, or explained.

Seeing as how most of us start off with inert, 'sterile' media, inert 'sterile' HDPE plastic bins, inert 'sterile' PVC pipes and tap water... wouldn't any and all strains be considered "foreign", from the standpoint of initial system bio-logical "integrity"?

I'm just having a really hard time wrapping my mind around the concept you proposed...that systems take long to mature because folks are adding 'foreign non-beneficial strains' seems...well...kind of a stretch to say the least.

Do you mean by doing things like adding worms to media beds (and therefor their gut flora) or worm casting teas and such..? 

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