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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I have a new Spec III (2.5 gallon) tank that I intend to keep shrimp in. It has Fluval Shrimp/Plant Stratum in it and is planted (jungle val and Montecarlo). I also have put several pieces of filter material & biomedia from an established tank in its filter section. I have, for about 11 days now, been trying to fishless cycle it, and nothing is happening. I always have a reading of around 2.0 ammonia and zero nitrites.

I've successfully cycled a 5-gallon Spec V tank, in about 6 days (using Dr. Tim's & Ace Hardware ammonia, and some filter material from an established tank), which was also planted but had a different soil in it (some Japanese brand of planted tank soil). And, as an experiment, I just started (about 3 days ago) fishless cycling my bare-bottom, unplanted 5-gallon quarantine tank with ammonia, some Stress-Zyme, and 2 small pieces of filter material from my established 20-gallon tank --- in three days, I already have a reading of 0.25 ammonia and 2.0 nitrites --- my plan for that was to, perhaps, once it is cycled, take the filter material from that and transfer it to the un-cycled Spec III.

I have read that Fluval Stratum often brings your pH down too low, which can stall a cycle. So, I've been measuring the pH with the API test kit. All I ever get on that is a light blue (like a sky blue) reading --- it has no greenish tinge at all in it, which is what the low pH readings seem to have, yet it is not the deeper blue that the higher pH readings seem to have on the card. (I've tested both my tap water and the water in my cycled 5-gallon tank, and both have the same light, sky-blue color, so I'm assuming my pH is okay.)

Since my bare-bottom quarantine tank seems to be cycling quickly, the only thing I can think of is that maybe it's the Fluval Stratum in my un-cycling tank that is the problem, even though my pH seems okay? Should I (1) remove the Fluval Stratum, try to cycle it bare-bottom, and once it's cycled, put the Stratum back in? or (2) once the bare-bottom QT cycles, put its filter media in my Spec III? OR....maybe I should just wait it out and see if my Spec III will ever cycle as it is?

I might just be too impatient, but I just can't figure out what the difference is in trying to cycle this new tank....

Does anyone have a similar experience, or any ideas for me?
 

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Yeah the low ph for sure slows it down. Recommended to have 7ph or higher to cycle a tank but not always possible as was my case as well.

I went through same issue trying to cycle two 10 gallon tanks with Controsoil which brings the ph down to 6.4. Three weeks and was still not seeing any nitrates at all. Here is what I did to get them to finally and stay cycled.

Brought the temp up to 82 degrees. Also added some air stones for good aeration which is needed as the warmer it is the less oxygen and the BB need oxygen.

Was originally using RO water remineralized with salty shrimp with GH+. Ended up cycling with good ol tap water which gave me GH 5 and KH 5 with ph 7.6. But after a day of course due to buffering substrate would being KH to 0 and PH to 6.4. The time that the levels were higher though seemed to of help kickstart the BB. So if you are not using tap with your buffering substrate you should initially. Once you are cycled go ahead and use RO and remineralize the way you plan to.

Added 1ppm Phosphates as read this may help get it going as well.

Between those changes within two days I started getting Nitrates finally and 4 days later I was cycled.

I think it was a combo of those changes but it did work.


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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
Yeah the low ph for sure slows it down. Recommended to have 7ph or higher to cycle a tank but not always possible as was my case as well.
That's one part that confuses me. My tests of my un-cycled tank, my cycled tank, and my tap water all show a light blue color, not the darker blue which my API test card seems to indicate is 7.0 or above. There is no greenish tinge in the tests, which seems to be what the card says are pH values in the 6's. However, when I printed up an API color chart that I found online, it shows up as a light blue color (like what I have) for the 7.0 reading. So, it seems my pH is okay.

Brought the temp up to 82 degrees. Also added some air stones for good aeration which is needed as the warmer it is the less oxygen and the BB need oxygen.

After your suggestion, I just now swapped the adjustable heater I have in a quarantine tank for the pre-set (78 degrees) heater I have in the Spec III. I set it to 82 degrees. We'll see if that helps! I've had an airstone going all along, so I'm set there.

Was originally using RO water remineralized with salty shrimp with GH+. Ended up cycling with good ol tap water which gave me GH 5 and KH 5 with ph 7.6. But after a day of course due to buffering substrate would being KH to 0 and PH to 6.4. The time that the levels were higher though seemed to of help kickstart the BB. So if you are not using tap with your buffering substrate you should initially. Once you are cycled go ahead and use RO and remineralize the way you plan to.
I've been using tap water all along. (My tap water is the same light blue color when tested.) Once I'm cycled, is it okay to continue using tap water?

Added 1ppm Phosphates as read this may help get it going as well.
I think I read on "The Almost Complete Guide to Fishless Cycling" that adding a tiny pinch of ground-up fish flakes is one way to do this. Is this right? Do you just add it once, or do you repeat it?

By the way, THANKS so much for your suggestions. We'll see what happens. Maybe I'm just too impatient. It just has been puzzling me, because my other 2 tanks (a 20-gallon and a 5-gallon) cycled relatively easily and quickly, and I can't seem to figure this difference out!!!
We'll see.... I'm totally new to all this --- it's been quite a learning experience!
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
UPDATE on cycling my Spec III

UPDATE: It’s now the 16th day of trying to cycle this Spec III tank. I have some good news to report --- as of 10/28 (12th day) the ammonia is starting (slowly) to drop from the 2.0 it’s been for a long, long time! It went from 1.5 (1 day) to 1.0 (3 days) to .0.50 (1 day, with nitrites at 0.25). I then dosed the ammonia back up to 3 ppm yesterday, and today (11/1) it’s already down to 1.0!!! (My nitrites are at 0.25 today and nitrates at 20.)

Maybe I’m getting closer!!!

As a side note, my bare-bottomed empty 5-gallon quarantine tank got down to 0 ammonia and 0 nitrites yesterday, after only 6 days of cycling. Redosed it to 4 ppm yesterday, and today it’s at 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites, and 40 nitrates. I took a small dirty foam sponge from that tank just now, and added it to my Spec III. Maybe it will help.

PATIENCE is key, I am learning!!!
 

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UPDATE: It’s now the 16th day of trying to cycle this Spec III tank. I have some good news to report --- as of 10/28 (12th day) the ammonia is starting (slowly) to drop from the 2.0 it’s been for a long, long time! It went from 1.5 (1 day) to 1.0 (3 days) to .0.50 (1 day, with nitrites at 0.25). I then dosed the ammonia back up to 3 ppm yesterday, and today (11/1) it’s already down to 1.0!!! (My nitrites are at 0.25 today and nitrates at 20.)

Maybe I’m getting closer!!!

As a side note, my bare-bottomed empty 5-gallon quarantine tank got down to 0 ammonia and 0 nitrites yesterday, after only 6 days of cycling. Redosed it to 4 ppm yesterday, and today it’s at 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites, and 40 nitrates. I took a small dirty foam sponge from that tank just now, and added it to my Spec III. Maybe it will help.

PATIENCE is key, I am learning!!!
You are nearly there as you are getting nitrates and nitrites are near 0. A couple more days you should be fine. Make sure and do not let the ammonia bottom out for too long or the BB will start to die off. Make sure you keep the ammonia to at least 1ppm(after it drops to 0) to ensure the BB stay fed. Then right before you are going to add livestock do a 90-100% WC and you are all set.

And yes continue to use what ever water you were going to use in the tank. I was just stating in my case for my Shrimp tanks I am remineralizing RO water but had to use tap water to kick start the cycle. Then in my case once my tanks were cycled I was able to go back to using remineralized RO water. But in your case just stick to tap.
 

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You are nearly there as you are getting nitrates and nitrites are near 0. A couple more days you should be fine. Make sure and do not let the ammonia bottom out for too long or the BB will start to die off. Make sure you keep the ammonia to at least 1ppm(after it drops to 0) to ensure the BB stay fed. Then right before you are going to add livestock do a 90-100% WC and you are all set.

And yes continue to use what ever water you were going to use in the tank. I was just stating in my case for my Shrimp tanks I am remineralizing RO water but had to use tap water to kick start the cycle. Then in my case once my tanks were cycled I was able to go back to using remineralized RO water. But in your case just stick to tap.
Yay! I am puzzled, though, because I never really have seen the nitrites go up very much --- they only went up to 2.0 on the 1st and 2nd day of the cycling process (way back on Oct.17-18), and then went and stayed at zero from then on --- only went up to 0.25 on Oct. 30th. Can't figure that out.

Aren't nitrites supposed to do a big spike when the ammonia starts going down? Mine doesn't seem to be following that pattern. Does the fact that I have plants in there have something to do with it? Do plants make it different?

You are nearly there as you are getting nitrates and nitrites are near 0.
Or, it just occurred to me, could the fact that I have a lot of filter media borrowed from my other established tanks in the Spec III, mean they have converted the ammonia to nitrites and then to nitrates super-fast, so it seems I never really have seen much nitrites?

I'm all new to this, so I'm still trying to figure out how this all works....:smile2:
 

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Or, it just occurred to me, could the fact that I have a lot of filter media borrowed from my other established tanks in the Spec III, mean they have converted the ammonia to nitrites and then to nitrates super-fast, so it seems I never really have seen much nitrites?

I'm all new to this, so I'm still trying to figure out how this all works....:smile2:
In most cases borrowing media from an existing cycled tank usually means that yes you will be instantly cycled. A way to check this is add Ammonia and see if you end up seeing nitrates. If you were getting nitrates the entire time then most likely you were cycled. But if you did not add food for the BB(Ammonia) then they could of died off.

Also when I researched this I found out that depending on your PH level of the tank you have different species of BB that convert Ammonia to Nitrites and Nitrites to Nitrates. So lets say you use media from a tank that had a PH of 8 and moved it to a tank that had a PH in the 6's it is possible those BB may not survive and will need to start the cycle again this time with the BB that will survive in the lower PH. I am not 100% on this but just gathered that from research.

Also keep in mind the Fluval Stratum will lower your PH to about 6.6. So I doubt going from 7.0 to 6.6 will cause an issue and have different strand of BB. But like I stated originally with that substrate it will bring your PH to around 6.6 always until it is depleted and also remove any KH. So after adding tap no matter the level of PH/KH it will after a day or sooner bring it down to PH 6.6 and KH 0. So the more KH you are adding and the substrate has to remove the faster it will deplete the substrate and it will no longer buffer your PH.

This is why it is not recommended to use tap water with buffering substrates like in this case Fluval Stratum.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
In most cases borrowing media from an existing cycled tank usually means that yes you will be instantly cycled. A way to check this is add Ammonia and see if you end up seeing nitrates. If you were getting nitrates the entire time then most likely you were cycled. But if you did not add food for the BB(Ammonia) then they could of died off.

Also when I researched this I found out that depending on your PH level of the tank you have different species of BB that convert Ammonia to Nitrites and Nitrites to Nitrates. So lets say you use media from a tank that had a PH of 8 and moved it to a tank that had a PH in the 6's it is possible those BB may not survive and will need to start the cycle again this time with the BB that will survive in the lower PH. I am not 100% on this but just gathered that from research.

Also keep in mind the Fluval Stratum will lower your PH to about 6.6. So I doubt going from 7.0 to 6.6 will cause an issue and have different strand of BB. But like I stated originally with that substrate it will bring your PH to around 6.6 always until it is depleted and also remove any KH. So after adding tap no matter the level of PH/KH it will after a day or sooner bring it down to PH 6.6 and KH 0. So the more KH you are adding and the substrate has to remove the faster it will deplete the substrate and it will no longer buffer your PH.

This is why it is not recommended to use tap water with buffering substrates like in this case Fluval Stratum.
(1) Question: if, as you said, maybe my tank was already cycled, why was it still showing ammonia at 2.0 for such a long time? (I wasn't adding more ammonia, because I was under the impression you weren't supposed to add it until your ammonia and nitrites were below 1.0 or at 0.50.)

(2) Hmmm...as for the nitrates....I just checked my journal, and for the first 7 days, I had nitrates at 5.0. Then a couple of days later, my nitrates were at 10 (even though my ammonia was still stuck in the 2.0 level). I didn't measure the nitrates again until 5 days later. At that point, my ammonia was steady at 1.0 and nitrites at 0.25. This was 2 days ago, on 10/30.
Today (11/1), when I measured it, nitrates were at 20, ammonia at 1.0 (after having raised it up to 3ppm yesterday), nitrites at 0.25.

(3) That thing you said about media from a tank with a different pH is interesting...When I tested my tanks, they all read the same pH color (it was a kind of light blue, no tinges of green that the pH 6 readings seem to have). So, I don't know if my Fluval Stratum did or did not lower my pH....Also, I don't quite understand what you're saying the tap water does that makes things different, as far as the pH goes. (I'm kind of dense sometimes.)
 

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(1) Question: if, as you said, maybe my tank was already cycled, why was it still showing ammonia at 2.0 for such a long time? (I wasn't adding more ammonia, because I was under the impression you weren't supposed to add it until your ammonia and nitrites were below 1.0 or at 0.50.)

(2) Hmmm...as for the nitrates....I just checked my journal, and for the first 7 days, I had nitrates at 5.0. Then a couple of days later, my nitrates were at 10 (even though my ammonia was still stuck in the 2.0 level). I didn't measure the nitrates again until 5 days later. At that point, my ammonia was steady at 1.0 and nitrites at 0.25. This was 2 days ago, on 10/30.
Today (11/1), when I measured it, nitrates were at 20, ammonia at 1.0 (after having raised it up to 3ppm yesterday), nitrites at 0.25.

(3) That thing you said about media from a tank with a different pH is interesting...When I tested my tanks, they all read the same pH color (it was a kind of light blue, no tinges of green that the pH 6 readings seem to have). So, I don't know if my Fluval Stratum did or did not lower my pH....Also, I don't quite understand what you're saying the tap water does that makes things different, as far as the pH goes. (I'm kind of dense sometimes.)
Your tap water depending on how hard/soft it is will vary in PH/GH/KH. For example my Tap is PH 7.6, GH 4.5, and KH 4.5. Typically Cardina species of shrimp like very acidic water meaning very very low KH. Usually 0-1 is what you want for them and they are the most comfortable in this range. The problem with that low of a KH there is nothing to keep your PH from swinging. Large PH swings happen and are very dangerous and deadly if you have a very low to zero KH level with NO buffering substrate. KH is what prevents the PH from fluctuating/swinging.

So with these buffering substrates which are most ideal for Cardina shrimp because it keeps the KH very low(0-1) and also prevents the PH from swinging. It will remove any KH that you may have in the water. So what this means is if you add KH which most likely your tap has then the substrate will remove the KH once again back down to 0 and also lower your PH down to round 6.6. But when you keep adding KH like every time you do a water change with tap it has to once again remove the KH and lower the PH. The more often and higher amount it has to do this the faster you will deplete the buffering capability of it. Normally I have heard people getting about 8-12 months of buffering ability with this particular substrate. That is only if it is used correctly(RO water with 0 KH). If you keep adding KH then you may get 3 months out of it as far as its buffering ability. After that it will no longer be able to remove any KH and also not be able to keep the PH stable.

Now lets say your substrate buffering is depleted you will most definitely want KH(at least 2) because there is nothing preventing these PH swings. I will add a link showing the different shrimp species and their desired parameters so you can get a good idea of what to shoot for.

If you are wanting to have for example Neocardina then they prefer some KH. If you are wanting Cardina then you want very very low or 0 KH. https://www.discobee.com/blogs/news/17030569-dwarf-shrimp-water-parameters

A Way you can test if your substrate still is able to buffer after a day of adding tap water test your KH level. IF using the API test then it should be yellow after just one drop(means 0-1 KH). This means it has removed any KH you have added. Before testing the tank water do a KH reading of just your tap water to get an idea of what that level is.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks. It will take me a while to absorb and comprehend all this, but I really thank you for taking the time to explain all this to me!
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Cycled!

You are nearly there as you are getting nitrates and nitrites are near 0. A couple more days you should be fine.
By golly, you were right on the money! It's Nov. 3rd, exactly 2 days later, and my Spec III is officially cycled! Today was at the first day it FINALLY showed 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites, and 80 nitrates! I dosed it to 3ppm today, just to make sure; tomorrow, if it still shows 0 ammonia and 0 nitrites, then I'll know it's done!

Thanks, all, for encouraging me to just be patient.
 

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Hey CP,
Just curious whether or not you keep a bag or more of media around in one of your tanks?
I often will grab a bag of media that has been sitting in one of my healthy tanks for a year or so, drain some water from the tank into the new tank, throw in the filter pad that has been in use for at least several weeks and then fill tank up with some RO water, add some stress coat and some water conditioner, a few plants that have also been in a previously cycled tank adjust your PH if need be and then test your water and if its good to go, throw in fish?
Oh and of course add a bag of media that’s from a tank that has been running for a long time (months a year plus etc.)?

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