Will I still be able to track the cycle? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-15-2016, 09:20 PM Thread Starter
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Will I still be able to track the cycle?

This is perhaps a strange question, but I'm not coming from the normal angle: I actually WANT to have to go through the cycle, and wonder if planting heavily would cause a "problem" in this regard.

A little background. We've decided (my wife and I) to get back into keeping a couple of tanks, and I'd like to use the initial cycling that takes place as an opportunity to teach my kids a little about chemistry, a little about biology, and a little about keeping track of that information so that you know what's going on. (To this end, I've ordered the API Master test kit.) My plan has been to get a ten gallon set up (we seem to have gotten rid of all our old equipment at some point!) and either get a couple of Danios or some other source of ammonia, and track it through the cycle with the kids. I have historically been at least as interested in the plants and the gardening as in the fish, so I wanted to plant this tank properly as well, but I'm wondering if the plants, ecological boon that they are, would mitigate the levels of ammonia, etc, so much that my kids wouldn't get the educational experience that I intend.

If push comes to shove, I suppose I could run the cycle/experiment without planting, drain and hold the water while I install the plantings, and then put the water back in the tank, but that seems like a bit of a pain.

So, how much of the ammonia, NO3, NO2 edge will the plants take off? Will the numbers still lead to a useful experiment for my kids, or do I need to hold off on plants this time until everything else is ready?
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post #2 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-15-2016, 10:15 PM
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I would do the fishless cycle. Explain that the ammonia from a fish's gills is the same as the ammonia from a bottle, but the fish have gills and tender tissues that can get burned by the ammonia. Let the kids smell the ammonia (VERY carefully!) and ask them if they would want to breath that for a couple of months!

Then tell them that you are using the ammonia from a bottle to grow the beneficial bacteria.

You could run 2 tanks at once (one planted, one not) or simply start with the tank not planted. Work on planting it while it is cycling. When you need to do a water change (for example, if the planting and 'scaping has stirred up a lot of dust) simply re-dose the ammonia when you refill, and the bacteria will keep on growing. If you can work with 2 tanks, I think the planted one will cycle faster. The plants may bring in some bacteria on their leaves and stems, plus the plants are part of the bio filter, the same as they are in nature.

Here is the fishless cycle:
Cycle: To grow the beneficial bacteria that remove ammonia and nitrite from the aquarium.

Fish-In Cycle: To expose fish to toxins while using them as the source of ammonia to grow nitrogen cycle bacteria. Exposure to ammonia burns the gills and other soft tissue, stresses the fish and lowers their immunity. Exposure to nitrite makes the blood unable to carry oxygen. Research methemglobinemia for details.

Fishless Cycle: The safe way to grow more bacteria, faster, in an aquarium, pond or riparium.

The method I give here was developed by 2 scientists who wanted to quickly grow enough bacteria to fully stock a tank all at one time, with no plants helping, and overstock it as is common with Rift Lake Cichlid tanks.

1a) Set up the tank and all the equipment. You can plant if you want. Include the proper dose of dechlorinator with the water.
Optimum water chemistry:
GH and KH above 3 German degrees of hardness. A lot harder is just fine.
pH above 7, and into the mid 8s is just fine.
Temperature in the upper 70s F (mid 20s C) is good. Higher is OK if the water is well aerated.
A trace of other minerals may help. Usually this comes in with the water, but if you have a pinch of KH2PO4, that may be helpful.
High oxygen level. Make sure the filter and power heads are running well. Plenty of water circulation.
No toxins in the tank. If you washed the tank, or any part of the system with any sort of cleanser, soap, detergent, bleach or anything else make sure it is well rinsed. Do not put your hands in the tank when you are wearing any sort of cosmetics, perfume or hand lotion. No fish medicines of any sort.
A trace of salt (sodium chloride) is OK, but not required.
This method of growing bacteria will work in a marine system, too. The species of bacteria are different.

1b) Optional: Add any source of the bacteria that you are growing to seed the tank. Cycled media from a healthy tank is good. Decor or some gravel from a cycled tank is OK. Live plants or plastic are OK. I have even heard of the right bacteria growing in the bio film found on driftwood. (So if you have been soaking some driftwood in preparation to adding it to the tank, go ahead and put it into the tank) Bottled bacteria is great, but only if it contains Nitrospira species of bacteria. Read the label and do not waste your money on anything else.
At the time this was written the right species could be found in:
Dr. Tims One and Only
Tetra Safe Start
Microbe Lift Nite Out II
...and perhaps others.
You do not have to jump start the cycle. The right species of bacteria are all around, and will find the tank pretty fast.

2) Add ammonia until the test reads 5 ppm. This ammonia is the cheapest you can find. No surfactants, no perfumes. Read the fine print. This is often found at discount stores like Dollar Tree, or hardware stores like Ace. You could also use a dead shrimp form the grocery store, or fish food. Protein breaks down to become ammonia. You do not have good control over the ammonia level, though.
Some substrates release ammonia when they are submerged for the first time. Monitor the level and do enough water changes to keep the ammonia at the levels detailed below.

3) Test daily. For the first few days not much will happen, but the bacteria that remove ammonia are getting started. Finally the ammonia starts to drop. Add a little more, once a day, to test 5 ppm.

4) Test for nitrite. A day or so after the ammonia starts to drop the nitrite will show up. When it does allow the ammonia to drop to 3 ppm.

5) Test daily. Add ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. If the nitrite or ammonia go to 5 ppm do a water change to get these lower. The ammonia removing species and the nitrite removing species (Nitrospira) do not do well when the ammonia or nitrite are over 5 ppm.

6) When the ammonia and nitrite both hit zero 24 hours after you have added the ammonia the cycle is done. You can challenge the bacteria by adding a bit more than 3 ppm ammonia, and it should be able to handle that, too, within 24 hours.

7) Now test the nitrate. Probably sky high!
Do as big a water change as needed to lower the nitrate until it is safe for fish. Certainly well under 20, and a lot lower is better. This may call for more than one water change, and up to 100% water change is not a problem. Remember the dechlor!
If you will be stocking right away (within 24 hours) no need to add more ammonia. If stocking will be delayed keep feeding the bacteria by adding ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. You will need to do another water change right before adding the fish.
__________________________

Helpful hints:

A) You can run a fishless cycle in a bucket to grow bacteria on almost any filter media like bio balls, sponges, ceramic bio noodles, lava rock or Matala mats. Simply set up any sort of water circulation such as a fountain pump or air bubbler and add the media to the bucket. Follow the directions for the fishless cycle. When the cycle is done add the media to the filter. I have run a canister filter in a bucket and done the fishless cycle.

B) The nitrogen cycle bacteria will live under a wide range of conditions and bounce back from minor set backs. By following the set up suggestions in part 1a) you are setting up optimum conditions for fastest reproduction and growth.
GH and KH can be as low as 1 degree, but watch it! These bacteria use the carbon in carbonates, and if it is all used up (KH = 0) the bacteria may die off.
pH as low as 6.5 is OK, but by 6.0 the bacteria are not going to be doing very well. They are still there, and will recover pretty well when conditions get better.
Temperature almost to freezing is OK, but they must not freeze, and they are not very active at all. They do survive in a pond, but they are slow to warm up and get going in the spring. This is where you might need to grow some in a bucket in a warm place and supplement the pond population. Too warm is not good, either. Tropical or room temperature tank temperatures are best. (68 to 85*F or 20 to 28*C)
Moderate oxygen can be tolerated for a while. However, to remove lots of ammonia and nitrite these bacteria must have oxygen. They turn one into the other by adding oxygen. If you must stop running the filter for an hour or so, no problem. If longer, remove the media and keep it where it will get more oxygen.
Once the bacteria are established they can tolerate some fish medicines. This is because they live in a complex film called Bio film on all the surfaces in the filter and the tank. Medicines do not enter the bio film well.
These bacteria do not need to live under water. They do just fine in a humid location. They live in healthy garden soil, as well as wet locations.

C) Planted tanks may not tolerate 3 ppm or 5 ppm ammonia. It is possible to cycle the tank at lower levels of ammonia so the plants do not get ammonia burn. Add ammonia to only 1 ppm, but test twice a day, and add ammonia as needed to keep it at 1 ppm. The plants are also part of the bio filter, and you may be able to add the fish sooner, if the plants are thriving.
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post #3 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-15-2016, 11:47 PM
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Will I still be able to track the cycle?

You can go on to the planted tank from day 1, chose a good substrate like ADA Aquasoil that is rich in NH4, and you will be able to measure NH3 spike, next the NO2, and finaly NO3, it will be fish safe aproximatly on the 28day from start Up .

Best Regards





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post #4 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-17-2016, 01:47 PM
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I kept close track the first time I cycled a tank. Even drew a little color graph so I could visualize what was going on. It looks messy but you can see it- yellow marker was ammonia- first spike, orange was nitrite- second spike, red was nitrates- huge spike at the end. Blue marker was my pH. Are you going to have your kids chart it out something like this, that would be great for them to learn from.
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post #5 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-17-2016, 09:23 PM
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The plants shouldn't make a massive dent in the cycle. But to see the cycle more clearly, you should probably do the cycle without the plants.

If you have another tank (at a later date or whatever), you can do the cycle with the plants showing the differences.

Feel free to edit.
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post #6 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-17-2016, 11:58 PM Thread Starter
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@JJ09 yes, that was exactly what I had in mind, thanks for the visual. When we finish, we can even compare to yours and see variation.

@Audionut I'll keep that in mind. Doing it without the plants seems like it would be the way to go. It would be a shame to go to all the trouble and have the plants throw it off. Seeing that at a later time would be interesting; first time through would just be counterproductive.

Bump: Oops, thought I'd posted a couple days ago. Thanks to Diana and Nuno for replies also!
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post #7 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-18-2016, 06:01 PM
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Why not take your experiment one step further with the kids? Run two (or more) cycles at the same time in different containers (doesn't have to be a "fishtank" as even a bucket or other container would work). Allow one to be a control with just water and the other will have water and plants. Use the fishless cycle so you can always add the exact same amount of ammonia to both tanks and see how the cycle works out with and without the plants.

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post #8 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-18-2016, 09:31 PM Thread Starter
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Hey, that's not a bad idea. I may do that. Couldn't be perfectly controlled though, because the tank will be at least a 10 gallon, and if I were to do buckets, they'd only be 5. Still, I could consistently dose them up to the same PPM each time. Interesting idea.
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post #9 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-18-2016, 11:18 PM
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Fishless cycle works just fine in a bucket. I have done the complete cycle, and kept a filter cycled in a bucket in a manner very similar to the fishless cycle.
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post #10 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-18-2016, 11:59 PM
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Can you fertilize the plants with dry ferts during the cycle or will that ruin the water test results?
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post #11 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-19-2016, 12:28 AM
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Do not use KNO3, but yes, use the others. The bacteria need a few minerals, anyway.
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post #12 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-19-2016, 03:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeh View Post
Hey, that's not a bad idea. I may do that. Couldn't be perfectly controlled though, because the tank will be at least a 10 gallon, and if I were to do buckets, they'd only be 5. Still, I could consistently dose them up to the same PPM each time. Interesting idea.

So just use the buckets for the experiment and hold off filling the tank in the interim.

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post #13 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-19-2016, 06:51 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lksdrinker View Post
So just use the buckets for the experiment and hold off filling the tank in the interim.
And the problem just solved itself. I won't have to use different sizes, even. Last night I answered a CL post, and ended up buying a 10 gallon that was up and running, including some awesome driftwood, a couple of danios, and an albino bristlenose pleco. Needless to say, I decided to keep that biological system alive and running, and will instead use the little 5 gallon that we had just started as the experiment. I'll just clean it out really well for comparative purposes, and once everything is ready (including my test kit arriving!) let the tracking begin: 5 gal vs 5 gal.
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post #14 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-19-2016, 09:45 PM
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That is great! Looking forward to the progress, including the children's reactions.
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post #15 of 19 (permalink) Old 01-25-2016, 12:56 AM Thread Starter
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We're starting tomorrow, everything is finally in place. But I have one last biology question. I know about the various nitro-x bacteria that take us from ammonia to nitrate, but what breaks waste and excess food down to produce ammonia? Googling the subject has taken me nowhere useful, pages of ammonia production in the body; locking that up as uric acid; and industrial scale production of ammonia (I don't think we'll need that much!)

So, is it produced by other little critters? Who are they? I KNOW, that once I describe the process I'll be quizzed on this point, and I haven't found an answer. Thanks for all the help so far.
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