Freshwater fishless cycling no ammonia. Help! - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-18-2018, 08:47 AM Thread Starter
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Question Freshwater fishless cycling no ammonia. Help!

This is my first time as an aquarium owner. I have the 5 gal portrait marineland tank which has a filter and an overhead lamp. My tank is heavily planted with anubias and java ferns in Fluval stratum, and I also have a marimo ball and a mopani log. The water is at approx 73F and I treat it with Prime when I do water changes.

I've been trying to start the cycle in my tank for 2 weeks now. I haven't been able to find pure ammonia without surfactants, so I went down the fish flakes route. In the first few days I dropped a few flakes and the ammonia never started rising. The next day I added way too many flakes to try to build up ammonia. Needless to say they started rotting so I turkey bastered the flakes and did a 50% water change. Now I'm adding very few flakes every now and then. For two weeks, my water has contained NO ammonia! The nitrites are at 0ppm and the nitrates at about 2ppm (possibly naturally occurring). I highly doubt that I've completed the cycle since I never saw ammonia and nitrates have been at this value from day 1. I use the Api master kit.

Now the interesting bit. Since I added too many flakes at the beginning the water smells a bit moldy, but only when I stick my nose very close to it. I have a few planaria (slow, 3mm long worms on the glass) and detritus worms (longer and show up when I stir the substrate), but there is no infestation. They're certainly feeding on the remaining bits of flakes. In addition, my mopani log is having a small bacterial bloom and I've noticed a few copepods (these guys are cute!).

All in all what should I do to start the cycle? Why is there no ammonia? Are my plants absorbing it all? Should I try dropping a raw shrimp in there? I don't want to get the water all moldy and wormy... Should I take the risk of using ammonia with surfactants? Please help. Thank you!
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post #2 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-18-2018, 09:01 AM
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I'd not recommend using anything with suffectants especially to cycle... Soap is definitely not conducive to healthy stock later on. Check out your local hardware stores grocery stores never seem to have it but Ace hardware or whatever your local place is probably has does. Bring your phone, I'm super rural after a big move and ended up having to Google two different brands as unbelievably the ingredients weren't listed. One was suffectant free the other was not. If you have an ace they'd probably even order it or have it on the way if it's not in store already.

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post #3 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-18-2018, 12:41 PM
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Depending on the definition of "heavily planted" it may be that the plants are uptaking the ammonia so it not detectable to your test set. Test your source water for Nitrate so you know whether or not that's what your seeing. I'd just keep ghost feeding until you see the nitrates rise to between 5 and 10 ppm. At that point I would consider your initial cycle complete.

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post #4 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-18-2018, 02:28 PM
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You could consider adding a few more marimo balls. They're basically cycled media, if you're getting them from a running fish tank. Same with the wood, though that's more likely dry at purchase.
Also, you can ask your lfs to share a sponge that's running. A cut of one, or maybe you buy a new one to replace the store's used one that you take home.

Snails do a good job of creating ammonia for a cycle. The lfs may have some 'pest' snails they'll just give you (I got a ton of mts that way - puffer food). I like snails in my tanks, maybe you don't. Perhaps a mystery snail? Nerites are great, but not as robust for the snail-in cycle (though I've been told the olive variety may be).

Slow stocking and evenly paced feeding with consistent volume helps avoid spikes early on.


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I can only grow plants when they're completely under water. Everything else is doomed.
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post #5 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-18-2018, 06:05 PM
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DrTim's Aquatics Ammonium chloride - 2 oz bottle

This is an easy to use ammonia

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post #6 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-19-2018, 04:34 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone for your answers! I've tested my tap and aquarium nitrates and they're both the same. So the bacteria probably haven't established themselves yet.

I'll have a look at Dr Tim's ammonia, and perhaps buy a snail that won't reproduce (I don't want a snail infestation). Any suggestions?
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post #7 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-21-2018, 11:22 PM
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The controllable snails youíll most likely find are going to be mystery and nerite. Yes, mystery can reproduce, but only in gender pairs. Get one, and youíre set. Nerites are the same way - boys and girls.
If you get more than one and they breed, mysteries lay a clutch of eggs you can easily remove (and hatch separately, add to another tank, share with friends, sell to others, feed to puffers, etc.).
Nerites stick their eggs to things, and they can be difficult to remove. In freshwater, they arenít viable.
Iíve found mysteries to be more robust. Both do a great job of scouring all surfaces. They have different looks, up to you to decide what you like to see. Please make sure they are fed - especially in a new tank.
One last thing: mystery snails can do some freeform swimming, including on the top water surface, and drop from upper areas down to the bottom. They can flip themselves over. Nerites can not flip themselves, and do not leave surfaces - though theyíre amazing climbers. When adding, please place a nerite on its foot, and donít just throw it in the tank. Itís a pet peeve of mine - told my local pet store folks many times, they ignore me, have lots of dead snails, and no idea (or care) why.

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I can only grow plants when they're completely under water. Everything else is doomed.
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post #8 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-21-2018, 11:30 PM
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You can always buy the prepackage bio booster! I do it the more controversial way... I add a cheap hardy fish. What about a male guppy? I've never had luck with a fishless cycle. A mystery snail will be a good choice, but I would wait for the planera to starve to death before you feed or add anything else! A small fish may also help by eating the unsightly worms.

Don't forget to feed your mystery snail! They eat as much as a fish! But they are super cute.

Good luck!
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post #9 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-27-2018, 06:51 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the snail info! :3

I'm starting to see trace amounts of nitrites using DrTim's. Yay! Thanks again.
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