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Bolsen27 12-06-2012 09:09 PM

Fishless cycle help
Hey gang I am currently trying to cycle 2 tanks (55 & 26) using a fishless cycle method and it seems to be taking forever. Gonna use my 55 gal as an example.

I started the tank on Nov 4th by dosing it to 5ppm ammonia using janitorial strength ammonia from Ace hardware (I did the shake test to make sure it was okay).

On 11/21 on did a partial water change to lower the ammonia levels because some people on another forum said 5ppm was too much. I took it down to 3ppm.

On 11/27 my LFS gave my one filter floss from a cycled tank to jump start my tank because my numbers weren't moving.

On 11/29 after testing my tank like I do every night I noticed that my ammonia had dropped some to about a 3 and I had nitrites and nitrates. So I thought I was well on my way to a cycled tank.

It's now 12/6 and things have barely moved my ammonia is between 1.5& 2. The nitrites are around a 5 and nitrates are also around a 5.

It seems that I am stuck. It's been over 30 days since I started.. Anyone have any ideas or do I just need to continue to impatiently wait for nature to do its thing?

somewhatshocked 12-06-2012 09:17 PM

You could do a water change to lower your nitrites a bit but be sure you raise ammonia back up to 3ppm. But that may not even be necessary.

It's just a waiting game. Sometimes cycling a tank can take six weeks.

Diana 12-06-2012 09:19 PM

Test some of the other parameters and adjust as needed. Here are some of the things these bacteria prefer so they will grow at the maximum rate:

Make sure the KH is at least 3 German degrees of hardness. These bacteria use the carbon from carbonates. Higher is just fine.

Make sure the GH is at least 3 degrees. I am not sure if they need these minerals, but maybe. For sure the plants and fish will.

If the pH is too low they grow slowly. I am not sure if this is because the carbonates are too low, or if there is a real link to the pH. Optimum pH is over 7, and closer to 8 seems to work well. On the other hand I have cycled a tank when the pH was closer to 7 and it did fine. I see too many posts about nitrogen problems when the pH is 6.5 or less. When I was cycling a tank where the pH dropped the bacteria seemed to slow down. pH was dropping because the carbonates were getting soaked up by the substrate.

High oxygen. Lots of water movement, good flow through the filter media.

Warm. These bacteria will grow fast when the temps are in the upper 70s, and higher, as long as there is enough water movement for the oxygen to stay up there. Warmer water holds less oxygen.

No toxins. That you have some growth started suggests this is OK, still...
Watch out for things that might be in the air (air freshener, spray-on cleaner like glass cleaner) in the water (When you do water changes use the right dose of dechlor) and on your hands (Soap, cosmetics, perfume)

5 ppm ammonia is a good starting amount, but allow it to drop to 3 ppm when the nitrites show up. These bacteria do not grow so well when the ammonia or nitrite are over 5 ppm.

BriDroid 12-06-2012 11:12 PM

Don't worry, it can take a long time! Mine went on for over a month. I finally ended up asking for some used media for my filters on our local fish forums. Once I got that, it cycled in 2 days.

I was always told not to change the water until it's cycled, then do a large >50% water change and add fish.

But listen to Diana, she forgets more than I will ever know! But yes, it can take a long time.

Bolsen27 12-06-2012 11:19 PM

I know we have soft water because we have well water and its run through a water softener. I will test to get the actual levels.

PH is 7.6-7.8

Temp in the tank is 85

I should have plenty of water movement. I have 2 AC 70's running and a bubble wall.

Bolsen27 12-06-2012 11:43 PM

Scratch that about my ph.. I assumed because my 1 tank has 7.6 ph ta all my tanks would. In reality my 2 cycling tanks have very low (around 6)ph. Guess I need to bring it up

m00se 12-06-2012 11:47 PM

Water softeners exchange calcium for sodium to "soften" the water. I bet you a dollar that you have very little calcium. You need to bypass that softener.

Bolsen27 12-07-2012 12:26 AM

There is no way for me to bypass the softener without rerouting a lot of plumbing which isn't gonna happen. Tap water ph is 7.4. KH is 0 and GH is around 180

Since tanks are cycling should I avoid the water change and add baking soda to bring ph up?

Or do a water change and then redose with ammonia?

m00se 12-07-2012 12:33 AM

Bolsen, are you SURE that ALL the water you use goes through the softener? Lots of times the kitchen sink is bypassed for health reasons. Outside faucet?

Just thinking out loud here. It's generally not a good idea to use softener water in aquariums.

Baking soda would add MORE sodium, so I would look for a calcium substitute, which would raise alkalinity and pH. Try Prestone Heat Driveway Melt (yes I'm serious - it's pure calcium chloride). Google for instructions in aquarium use.


Bolsen27 12-07-2012 12:44 AM

Unfortunately when they installed the water softener system they installed it in a way that all the water gets treated even our outside faucets. It's horrible. We don't have the money to fix it right now.

Once I get the tanks cycled and I do a big water change my ph should settle in at 7.4ish, which is the ph out of the faucet.

m00se 12-07-2012 01:05 AM

But you still have zero (or darn close) calcium. You're going to have to manage that. GH Boosters are $$ in the long run. Heat is cheep by comparison.

somewhatshocked 12-07-2012 02:12 AM

You can still easily cycle low pH, low hardness tanks. Just takes a while longer.

Sometimes takes two months to cycle some of my shrimp tanks that hover below 6 pH with no KH and a GH of 4-5. Patience is key.

Diana 12-07-2012 05:56 AM

"KH is 0 and GH is around 180"

You do not need to add calcium to this tank. (GH)

Add carbonates. (KH)
Potassium bicarbonate is a source of carbonates that does not add more sodium to the water.

You could just add baking soda. Go for it.
You will be doing a water change before adding fish, so I would not worry about the sodium level while cycling.

Diana 12-07-2012 06:01 AM


KH is 0 and GH is around 180
Add carbonates. Baking soda is fine. If you want a non-sodium carbonate look for the food grade of potassium bicarbonate. The garden grade (sold for fungicide) may have surfactants.

GH of 180 ppm suggests there is probably plenty of Ca and Mg.

m00se 12-07-2012 06:02 AM

Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, not calcium bicarbonate. My original advice stands. GH could be 180 from magnesium. Water softeners remove calcium by replacing the calcium ion with sodium.

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