Fishless cycle: Need help - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-14-2015, 10:18 PM Thread Starter
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Fishless cycle: Need help


I have a fluval Spec V (5 gallon) and I started fishless cycling on 12/18. I added 3-4ppm of ammonia (using Ace Hardware Pure Ammonia solution) and then went on vacation on 12/20. When I came back on 12/28, ammonia was down to 0ppm. Nitrites were 5+ppm and Nitrates 20-40ppm. Since then, I have added ammonia 3 times (last one was yesterday night) to about 1-2ppm and every time ammonia goes down to 0ppm in 12 hours. However, my nitrites have never gone down to zero. Since nitrates are present, I am assuming that nitrites are getting consumed but likely very slowly as they never get down to zero.

It is almost 4 weeks now since the start of my cycling. Any suggestions apart from waiting patiently :-).

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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-14-2015, 10:41 PM
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How low do your nitrItes go?
You sound close if not complete?
A water change(50-75%) and a fresh dose of ammonia my be the "tell all" .
The nitrite bacteria are slower growing then ammonia but you have a good amount of time for all IMO.


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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-14-2015, 11:05 PM
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Also, what's your pH of the water? Sometimes pH affects nitrite production.
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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-14-2015, 11:12 PM
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I have added the fishless cycle. Compare your water parameters to those listed.
KH- high
pH- will be high because of KH
Other minerals- I add some fertilizer KH2PO4 and traces just in case they need other things.
Temperature- warmer is better, if the water has very good circulation. Bacteria need lots of oxygen.
Keep the ammonia and NO2 under 5 ppm.
If the second bacterial population (NO2 --> NO3) is slow, OK to dose ammonia to just 1 ppm, and see if that will be enough so you do not need to do too many water changes until the bacteria catch up. Then dose a bit more ammonia (to 3 ppm) for the rest of the 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. 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 #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-15-2015, 02:28 AM Thread Starter
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The nitrites have never gone below 2ppm. About 8 days back, I did about 70% water change once and the nitrites (immediately after water change were 0.25ppm). I then added about 2ppm of Ammonia and next day the nitrites were back up in the 4ppm range and ammonia was zero.

PH is about 7.4. In the master kit tests, I hit the max color for normal PH and min color for high PH range.

Water Temperature is about 78. Last week, I added java moss and crypts. The java moss is going fine but the crypts is loosing leaves.

As mentioned by others, I think I am close but the final step is taking too long. Hence looking for suggestions.
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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-15-2015, 04:14 AM Thread Starter
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Or worse, worried that the cycle is stalled...

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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-15-2015, 02:00 PM
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For the cycle, it wouldn't hurt anything to put in bottled bacteria - nitrobacter. The Tetra product is supposed to be good. Then continue with the ammonia.

My Crypts lost all their leaves initially, but grew back.

MY TANK: Planted 10g; 2 x 10W CFL; Fluval U2 internal filter; MGOCPM/black sand cap

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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-02-2015, 08:48 PM Thread Starter
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Patience paid off and a few days back, the nitrites dropped to 0!!! Since then, the tank has been able to cycle 1.5 to 2ppm of ammonia is about 24 hours.

Now, looking forward to stocking the tank with celestial pearl danios and amano shrimp.

Thanks for all the help!
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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-03-2015, 12:29 AM
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Awesome SwapZ, glad your tank is cycled.

I also went through a couple tries and the Ace Hardware's ammonia did the trick, it took me about a month, and did notice once that the cycle look to be kinda like on hold with the Nitrites, but also read this one develops slower than the Ammonia one.

A small water change to drop the Nitrates a little and keep the process going and as you said, patience.
It was so totally worth it.

By the way, beautiful tank!
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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-03-2015, 12:46 AM
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Great that it finally finished!

For others reading this:
Not nitrobacter.

If you are going to use a bottled product look for Nitrospira species of bacteria.
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