Fishless Cycle Advice - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old 11-15-2015, 09:12 PM Thread Starter
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Fishless Cycle Advice

I'm doing a fishless cycle for my 55 gallon. It has been a week and I have very high ammonia readings. My main concern is that the high ammonia might be affecting the plants. I am trying to figure out what I should do next.

So the stats:
55 gallon aquarium
3 bags of ADA Aquasoil Amazonia <- the culprit of the ammonia
Fluval 306 filter
Hydor inline heater (about 74 degrees right now)
Light: Build My Led - (10,000 K Planted)
Injected CO2 (from Green Leaf Aquarium system)
Light/CO2 schedule: 9 hrs per day , drop checker is in the green zone (matches the "control" color almost perfectly)
Plants: (from green leaf aquariums
  • Eleocharis acicularis 'Mini' <--producing oxygen bubbles
  • Proserpinaca palustris 'Cuba' <--this plant is doing great, lots of new growth!
  • Staurogyne repens <--- doing well
  • Utricularia graminifolia <---just planted a couple of days ago, and wow did I suck at planting it in an already filled with water aquarium (I think I like the eleocharis acicularis better but we'll see how they grow)
API readings:
pH 6.4 (tap water is 6.0)
NH3NH4 8 ppm (wowza!)
NO2 0 ppm
NO3 5 ppm








Yesterday I added Tetra Safe Start to the tank to hopefully help kickstart the bacteria engine.

So... what do I do next?

1) Nothing, just let it do it's thing
2) Add MOAR PLANTS (floaters?)
3) Water Changes (I know a fishless cycle you normally are dosing 5 ppm of ammonia and NOT doing water changes til the end of the cycle, but my ADA Amazonia is doing far more than that so I am not sure if water changes are needed)
4) ???

Any help/advice would be much appreciated!!!

~Lindsay
Milwaukee, WI
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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old 11-15-2015, 10:12 PM
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@milbran220,

just keep monitoring. You don't have to do anything else, as long as you keep the pH between 6.0 -6.5. At that pH virtually all your ammonia actually exists in the ammonium ion form, which is harmless. It is the free base (ammonia) that is so toxic.
Unfortunately, the test converts ammonium to the reactive ammonia which then gives the color reaction ( a bit misleading in that respect).

Eventually, your Tetra Safe Start will do its job, and you are ready to go with live stock.
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post #3 of 4 (permalink) Old 11-15-2015, 11:12 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you! @g4search


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~Lindsay
Milwaukee, WI
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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old 11-15-2015, 11:18 PM
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You do need to do something.
The bacteria will not grow well when the ammonia is too high, or the pH too low. ADA products, and some other substrates remove the carbonates from the water. The bacteria you are trying to grow need the carbonates.

Here is the fishless cycle. Do your best to keep the water parameters in the right range to grow the bacteria as fast as possible. There are some comments about cycling a planted tank.

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. I have even heard of the right bacteria growing in the bio film found on driftwood. (So if you have been soaking some driftwood in preparation to adding it to the tank, go ahead and put it into the tank) 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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