Cycling without lights, plants, fish... - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-18-2012, 03:19 PM Thread Starter
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Question Cycling without lights, plants, fish...

Hi there, and thanks in advance for your patience. I have about 6 or 7 years experience in saltwater tanks, and a couple years in keeping an outdoor pond. I had freshwater aquariums when I was a kid. But I'm new to planted aquariums.

I'm planning a 40 long (48"x12"x16"). I have a 4-bulb T5 fixture and considering using 1 or 2 54W bulbs (6500k) in it. I have ecocomplete substrate, a Fluval 306 filter, and 150w heater. Only plan to put sponge and ceramic rings in the filter -- no charcoal. I really don't want to run CO2, so I really don't know if I can get away with using 2 bulbs or whether I should stick to 1. I've got driftwood soaking to remove tannins and I have a bunch of rocks.

Although the lighting question is still outstanding, my current question is actually about cycling. I have everything ready to go except the lights -- bulbs are on their way and won't arrive for another week. I'm wondering if I can start cycling the tank now without lights (and obviously without plants). When the lights come in next week I'd drain 50% of the water, plant it and re-fill.

Would appreciate your opinions on whether this is good idea or a bad idea. Thanks!
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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-18-2012, 04:41 PM
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Personnally I would just remain patient until your lights arrive. I am really not sure if matters or not - I suspect it doesn't. If you wait you can take time to think out your hard scape and plan your plant list and layout. As far as cycling goes, it will cycle quicker with plants besides you should wait until your happy with the set up anyway before you add your critters.
As for the light - IMO you will definitely not require 2 bulbs (I am assuming you are using T5HO) if you are not using CO2. That much light without adequate CO2 will be an algae farm (unless you hang the light very high above the tank).
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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-18-2012, 05:22 PM
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Hey. Get something lile nutrafin cycle or any bacteria in a bottle. Add that and let the tank cycle. Dont need lights of the bacteria to grow just oxygen in the water and a source of ammonia. A pinch of fish flake every now and then would do that. Hope this helps
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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-18-2012, 10:28 PM
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Not just any 'cycle in a bottle' product. If you want to use one of these look for Nitrospira species of bacteria.

Start cycling ASAP. The bacteria prefer no light, and it does not matter what you will be doing with the tank for aquascaping. Get those bacteria growing!
All you really need is the media for them to grow on and to circulate the water. You could do it in a 5 gallon bucket. The rest of the set up can be done as the supplies arrive.

Here is the fishless cycle:
Fishless Cycle
You too can boast that "No fish were harmed in the cycling of your new tank"
Cycling a tank means to grow the beneficial bacteria that will help to decompose the fish waste (especially ammonia). These bacteria need ammonia to grow. There are 3 sources of ammonia that work to do this. One is fish. Unfortunately, the process exposes the fish to ammonia, which burns their gills, and nitrite, which makes their blood unable to carry oxygen. This often kills the fish.

Another source is decomposing protein. You could cycle your tank by adding fish food or a dead fish or shellfish. You do not know how much beneficial bacteria you are growing, though.

The best source of ammonia is... Ammonia. In a bottle.

Using fish is a delicate balance of water changes to keep the toxins low (try not to hurt the fish) but keep feeding the bacteria. It can take 4 to 8 weeks to cycle a tank this way, and can cost the lives of several fish. When you are done you have grown a small bacteria population that still needs to be nurtured to increase its population. You cannot, at the end of a fish-in cycle, fully stock your tank.

The fishless/ammonia cycle takes as little as 3 weeks, and can be even faster, grows a BIG bacteria population, and does not harm fish in any way.

Both methods give you plenty of practice using your test kit.

How to cycle a tank the fishless way:

1) Make sure all equipment is working, fill with water that has all the stuff you will need for the fish you intend to keep. Dechlorinator, minerals for GH or KH adjustments, the proper salt mix, if you are creating a brackish or marine tank. These bacteria require a few minerals, so make sure the GH and KH is at least 3 German degrees of hardness. Aquarium plant fertilizer containing phosphate should be added if the water has no phosphate. They grow best when the pH is in the 7s. Good water movement, fairly warm (mid to upper 70sF), no antibiotics or other toxins.

2) (Optional)Add some source of the bacteria. Used filter media from a cycled tank is best, gravel or some decorations or a few plants... even some water, though this is the poorest source of the beneficial bacteria.
Bacteria in a bottle can be a source of these bacteria, but make sure you are getting Nitrospira spp of bacteria. All other ‘bacteria in a bottle’ products have the wrong bacteria. This step is optional. The proper bacteria will find the tank even if you make no effort to add them. Live plants may bring in these bacteria on their leaves and stems.

3) Add ammonia until the test reads 5 ppm. This is the non-sudsing, no surfactants, no-fragrance-added ammonia that is often found in a hardware store, discount stores, and sometimes in a grocery store. The concentration of ammonia may not be the same in all bottles. Try adding 5 drops per 10 gallons, then allowing the filter to circulate for about an hour, then test. If the reading isn't up to 5 ppm, add a few more drops and test again. (Example, if your test reads only 2 ppm, then add another 5 drops) Some ammonia is such a weak dilution you may need to add several ounces to get a reading.

4) Test for ammonia daily, and add enough to keep the reading at 5 ppm. You probably will not have to add much, if any, in the first few days, unless you added a good amount of bacteria to jump start the cycle.

5) Several days after you start, begin testing for nitrites. When the nitrites show up, reduce the amount of ammonia you add so the test shows 3ppm. (Add only half as much ammonia as you were adding in part 4) Add this reduced amount daily from now until the tank is cycled.
If the nitrites get too high (over 5 ppm), do a water change. The bacteria growth is slowed because of the high nitrites. Reducing the level of ammonia to 3 ppm should prevent the nitrite from getting over 5 ppm.

6) Continue testing, and adding ammonia daily. The nitrates will likely show up about 2 weeks after you started. Keep monitoring, and watch for 0 ppm ammonia, 0 ppm nitrite and rising nitrates.

7) Once the 0 ppm ammonia and nitrites shows up it may bounce around a little bit for a day or two. Be patient. Keep adding the ammonia; keep testing ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.
When it seems done you can challenge the system by adding more than a regular dose of ammonia, and the bacteria should be able to remove the ammonia and nitrite by the next day.
If you will not be adding fish right away continue to add the ammonia to keep the bacteria fed.

8) When you are ready to add the fish, do at least one water change, and it may take a couple of them, to reduce the nitrate to safe levels (as low as possible, certainly below 10 ppm) I have seen nitrate approaching 200 ppm by the end of this fishless cycle in a non-planted tank.

9) You can plant a tank that is being cycled this way at any point during the process. If you plant early, the plants will be well rooted, and better able to handle the disruption of the water change.
Yes, the plants will use some of the ammonia and the nitrates. They are part of the nitrogen handling system, part of the biofilter, they are working for you. Some plants do not like high ammonia, though. If a certain plant dies, remove it, and only replace it after the cycle is done.

10) The fishless cycle can also be used when you are still working out the details of lighting, plants and other things. If you change the filter, make sure you keep the old media for several weeks or a month. Most of the bacteria have been growing in this media (sponges, floss etc).
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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-19-2012, 11:11 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the replies. I figured I would get at least one response that said "go for it" and one that said "don't do it", so if nothing else at least my predictive skills are still intact. Anyway, I do appreciate the input. I see krazyfish's point about patience, and Diana's point about not being able to get the cycle started too soon.

One more question -- do you think that putting a few rocks from my outdoor pond into the tank would help introduce the right kind of bacteria more quickly? I don't have any other tanks to draw from right now.
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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-19-2012, 01:04 PM
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If you want a boost to your cycle maybe try asking your LFS or a friend if they would mind giving you some mulm from a current well established set up. Put the mulm into your filter, and be sure to provide a food source for the bacteria. Pure ammonia works very well as mentioned and so does a pinch of fish food.

Personnally I would not put rocks from your pond; for one thing there won't be too much beneficial bacteria (if any) and second it is possible that you would unleash something undesirable into your tank.
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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-19-2012, 01:32 PM Thread Starter
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@krazyfish: was totally worried about the thought of "leashing the unknown", so I'm glad to see I'm not just paranoid. I'll check instead with the LFS as you suggest.
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