Brand New Dirted Tank Question - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 6 (permalink) Old 11-21-2012, 04:52 PM Thread Starter
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Brand New Dirted Tank Question

Hi I just started a dirted tank yesterday. This is my first tank so all equipment was new, tank, filter, filter media, heater, and airstone. I tested the water today and my ammonia=0, Nitrite=0, Nitrate=5ppm pH= 7.4. From all of my reading and research I was under the impression that with dirted tanks there were initially high nutrient levels. Does it take a few days for nutrients to leech out of the soil? I used MGOPS (1-1.5 in) with some red clay scattered through it capped with 1-1.5 inches fine gravel. I collected the gravel myself from the beach so there is a particle size range but the smallest grains are about 1 mm and the average size might be 3-5 mm. I am just wondering if I should wait and see if nutrients leech out of the soil or if I should add some ammonia to get my fishless cycle started.

Note: I do not have plants yet I figured I would do a couple of water changes first and then plant the tank. Also I have a few pieces of drift wood in the tank so that they stay sunk.

Any info would be a help. Thanks.
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post #2 of 6 (permalink) Old 11-21-2012, 09:18 PM
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In a dirted tank nutrients start to leach out of the soil almost as soon as you add water. I just dirted my first tank I planted everything while the tank was filling for the first time. You can start adding ammonia up t 4ppm right away no reason to wait.

I'd be more concerned about your Ph since your using gravel collected at the beach they may buffer your Ph depending on your tap water this may or may not be desirable.

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post #3 of 6 (permalink) Old 11-22-2012, 04:26 AM
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I doubt it will leach enough ammonia for a fishless cycle, might as well start it with the ammonia
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post #4 of 6 (permalink) Old 11-22-2012, 10:07 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the info. I will start dosing with ammonia. If you have plants in the tank how much ammonia do you add for the fishless cycle? As for the gravel collected from the beach I will keep an eye on the pH. It passed the vinegar test (well the handful I tested) but there probably are some shell bits in there that might raise the pH. I did add a sprinking of peat at the very bottom of the tank below the dirt so between the two I hope it holds steady.
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post #5 of 6 (permalink) Old 11-23-2012, 01:38 AM
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Just because the gravel came from the beach does not mean that it will add minerals to the water, raise the hardness or the pH. It could, but that would be because it is that sort of rock, not because it came from the beach.
Limestone and related rocks can be found in many places. These are the ones that add calcium, magnesium and carbonate to the water. No matter where you got the gravel it is a good idea to monitor GH, KH and pH to see if the gravel is leaching minerals into the water.

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 #6 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-07-2020, 06:42 AM
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Dirted Tank

Well here are my observations and the lessons learned with my first dirted tank. I set up my first ever dirted tank its a standard 75 gallon. For the first layer of the substrate I used Carib Sea Echo complete (40 lbs of this) which gave me a 1.5" cover. Then on top of this I used 2.5 bags of Miracle-Grow Nature's Care Organic Potting Soil. I sifted this soil twice to remove all large debris and organic matter which comes in the bags. Basically I removed all the big pieces of twigs and wood found within the dirt and also I removed the great majority of the big pieces per lite. This dirt gave me a 1" layer which I caped off with a 2" layer of medium Coarse sand from Home Depot. I used Quikcrete Medium Coarse sand 30 Grit. The I planted the tank with a variety of Amazon Swords, Anubias, and some Java Fern. After filling my tank for the next three days I had some pretty cloudy water, even with my filter running; I conducted two major water changes during this time; both water changes were at least 60%. Afterwards, I added water conditioners and all of the micro nutrients the plants need. Adding bio-available carbon.

By the fourth day the water started to clear up and was loosing the heavy smell of ammonia, which my soil leached almost immediately after filling the tank with water. I tested the water today which makes seven days of the tank being set up and I have no ammonia, no Nitrites, no Nitrate, and my pH is at 7.6. My water is crystal clear and my plants are starting to show significant growth all the way around.
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