Do small tanks (under 5 gallons) actually cycle? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-21-2018, 10:04 PM Thread Starter
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Do small tanks (under 5 gallons) actually cycle?

I've been hearing that some tanks smaller than 5 gallons can't actually cycle due to the small water volume and area for bacteria to grow. Yet with a substrate with a large surface area and a biological filter, shouldn't the tank be able to convert ammonia?

Are there any studies out there about cycling nano tanks?

Paying for college is hard when there are fish tanks to buy...
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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-22-2018, 12:11 AM
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I haven't heard that before but maybe someone knows more about it. I love the idea of a nano with a sump though

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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-22-2018, 01:35 AM
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I have 3 nano tanks and they all cycled just fine. All have filters for BB to grow on.

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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-22-2018, 02:48 AM
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Sounds like bad info to me!
Cycle may be term that's confused somebody? To me, the cycle is only getting the two groups of good bacteria available. One to convert ammonia to nitrite, the second to convert that nitrite to nitrate. Since neither of these are considered to be "free-swimming" in the water, I see very little that involves the water volume.
For really deep thinking it, we don't actually HAVE to have the cycle done at all, but there is a major price to pay for that as we will have to keep doing enough water changes to remove the ammonia which is a whole lot harder than removing the much less dangerous nitrate.
The only value of the cycle is to remove ammonia and nitrite which kill fish but we COULD remove ammonia in other ways if we were willing to do that much work! Creeks and rivers are probably close to that as they use adding fresh water to avoid becoming toxic.
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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-22-2018, 03:13 AM
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I think it's a misconception that small tanks don't cycle or don't hold a cycle. People struggle with them because of the small area. People don't want the filter that is actually large enough to hold sufficient BB for the load in the tank. It's not appealing to have a big ol sponge in a 2.5 and adding even the smallest of HOB filters (depending on the filter) can easily cause too much flow for their betta or whatever. So they ride a razors edge and the second they make a mistake and a little bit of BB dies off the tank spikes very quickly to toxic levels and they have major issues with their fish AND have to cycle again.
For years I ran nano tanks and bowls.... Understanding the actual needs of your stock and the abilities of your supplies are why people struggle with them in my opinion.

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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-22-2018, 01:43 PM
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Originally Posted by sfsamm View Post
I think it's a misconception that small tanks don't cycle or don't hold a cycle. People struggle with them because of the small area. People don't want the filter that is actually large enough to hold sufficient BB for the load in the tank. It's not appealing to have a big ol sponge in a 2.5 and adding even the smallest of HOB filters (depending on the filter) can easily cause too much flow for their betta or whatever. So they ride a razors edge and the second they make a mistake and a little bit of BB dies off the tank spikes very quickly to toxic levels and they have major issues with their fish AND have to cycle again.
For years I ran nano tanks and bowls.... Understanding the actual needs of your stock and the abilities of your supplies are why people struggle with them in my opinion.

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I think SFsamm has pretty well pegged it! One thing that people often overlook is how much easier it is to maintain large tanks as they are just much more stable than small. Combine that with a newer user and the story can get started that small tanks don't cycle but I have an idea of how that might get started. Newish folks might tend to start with small and they might not have the full idea of the cycle. That means they really want to do it right as they know they are new so every week they do a really good cleaning of the little tank. Part of that really good cleaning may include wiping every little bit of that slimy stuff off the glass and really cleaning the filter really well! They may work so hard and clean it so well that the bacteria hasn't got a chance to buildup and they may even keep using the old water as if it had some unseen value.
So they tell everybody they know that small tanks don't cycle! The true story is that any tank, poorly understood and poorly run will not cycle!
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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-22-2018, 02:02 PM
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They do cycle, although tend to take a bit more effort sometimes. The main issue with small tanks is there is less room for error. When things go wrong, they can go wrong very quickly as there isn't enough water to dilute.

A lot of people do fish-in cycling which is a big issue in small tanks as you'll be constantly changing water to keep ammonia from reaching toxic levels. This means the cycle take a lot longer to complete as you're constantly removing ammonia from the water and not giving the BB much to feed on. Hence people say they don't cycle as the fish have either died or they've given up before the cycle has completed.

Beginners? Buy the biggest tank you can afford and do a fishless cycle!

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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-22-2018, 02:19 PM
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Contrary to popular belief the filter doesn't have a monopoly on BB. Nanos like any other tank the majority of the biological filtration take place in the tank not in the filter. There is far more real estate between the substrate, plants, surfaces, etc for BB to live. There are plenty of people also running filterless nanos and they cycle.
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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-22-2018, 02:35 PM
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Originally Posted by houseofcards View Post
Contrary to popular belief the filter doesn't have a monopoly on BB. Nanos like any other tank the majority of the biological filtration take place in the tank not in the filter. There is far more real estate between the substrate, plants, surfaces, etc for BB to live. There are plenty of people also running filterless nanos and they cycle.
I agree. There's really no need for a filter unless you want clear water. You'll most likely be overrun with algae issues if you don't stay on top of water changes, which could be daily depending on just how small the tank is. I've seen a few AGA entries that were a mere 1 gallon w/o a filter that could rival tanks of a much larger size, so it can be done. Having said that, I still prefer to run those little mignon series HOBs on my 2.6 gallon tanks just to keep things looking "clean".
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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-22-2018, 05:43 PM
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Just imagine the nano tank one could have with a huge sump hidden away somewhere. I'd much rather do that than bother with all the chemistry involved with trying to maintain a tiny tank. I prefer carpentry/plumbing to chemistry. I just over-build everything and avoid problems with water parameters that way as opposed to trying to nail down all that exact science.

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post #11 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-22-2018, 07:03 PM
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Originally Posted by madcrafted View Post
I agree. There's really no need for a filter unless you want clear water. You'll most likely be overrun with algae issues if you don't stay on top of water changes, which could be daily depending on just how small the tank is. I've seen a few AGA entries that were a mere 1 gallon w/o a filter that could rival tanks of a much larger size, so it can be done. Having said that, I still prefer to run those little mignon series HOBs on my 2.6 gallon tanks just to keep things looking "clean".
Oh, yeah, I still run small HOBs and they usually are the mignon for my mini s (3.5g), but once the tank establishes I usually only use mechanical in the filter since the tank itself is the prime biological filter.
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post #12 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-22-2018, 08:29 PM
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I believe the main issue that affect cycling is the nutrients in the water. Bacteria need nutrients other than ammonia and nitrite to grow. Soft water from the tamp not have enough for any significant bacterial growth. RO or distilled water will have essentially no nutrients. In smaller tanks you have less water and the total mineral content of it will be lower than in larger tanks. Adding a small amount of food to the water plus ammonia should add enough nutrients to get some bacterial growth.
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post #13 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-22-2018, 10:26 PM
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A giant sump could be placed under a large decorative stand or better yet in the basement or a utility closet

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post #14 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-23-2018, 12:49 AM
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Originally Posted by splattered View Post
Just imagine the nano tank one could have with a huge sump hidden away somewhere. I'd much rather do that than bother with all the chemistry involved with trying to maintain a tiny tank. I prefer carpentry/plumbing to chemistry. I just over-build everything and avoid problems with water parameters that way as opposed to trying to nail down all that exact science.

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Kind of defeats the purpose if space is a concern, which is why many of us opt for nano tanks to begin with. There's only a handful of fish that are even suitable for nano tanks under 5 gallons anyways, so if you are wise with your stocking, the water chemistry isn't going to change a lot. Most of us with tiny tanks only keep some shrimp and snails, so there's no massive bioload either way.

You keep hearing people say how hard it is to keep parameters stable in a small tank. I disagree. Depends on your water source and your substrate. If anything, maintenance is a breeze for me. My water changes involve a turkey baster and a dixie cup. I use only r/o water and mineralize to the exact same GH every time. I just keep remineralized gallons of water stored away. Top offs alternate with pure r/o and remineralized every other day until water change day, which is determined by tds and never more than 25% at a time. Feedings are always conservative. Intake sponge gets cleaned weekly and filter sponges like once a month. CO2, if equipped is same as any other tank, which is pretty much just more frequent fert dosing. Diffuser is cleaned like once a month. Plants are trimmed as needed. Substrate keeps pH in check, even with a KH of 0 and CO2 being injected. Algae is controlled by light intensity and shrimps/snails.

You see, not any different than any other tank really. EZ PZ. lol
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post #15 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-24-2018, 12:04 AM
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To cycle a tank all you have to do is grow some bacteria. You can literally fit trillions of bacteria in a 1 gallon space. I don't think the bacteria cares if it's a 1 gallon or 20 gallon tank. Provide the right parameters and it will grow.
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