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9 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have a ? about the cycling process. Iv had my tank up for a month and a half now, I test my water twice a week since its new and iv done weekly water changes say about 30 to 40% weekly. In my testing I have never measured nitrites, iv measured ammonia and nitrates but no nitrites never. Since i do measure nitrates and ammonia does this mean my tank has been cycled?

For example today I tested my water, readings were ph about 8.0, ammonia 0.25, nitrites 0 and nitrates about 30ppm. Sunday is my water change day.


584 Posts
this is what you need to do

change out most of the water, and fill it back up carefully without kicking up a cloud of waste so that you are starting with a clean water table

a month and a half is enough for any body of water habitable to them to be teeming with nitrifying bacteria. not completely established, but enough to command a starter bioload where you can start to enjoy movement and higher life forms above just plants now
you dont need to use api test kits to cycle your tank, google this and see if you trust them

api test kits give false ammonia readings

many people like them. its a fact that total nitrogen is counted etc etc explain any way we like, but that color looks zero to me above, and .25 to you, which is the heart of why you get those search returns when discussing api for either marine or freshwater tanks.

so stop using them, go by biology its what I do.

Using fish to cycle a brand new tank can be considered poor ethics as there's no hope of ammonia oxidation and they just tolerate it in the water, sometimes.

but using a fish loading very lightly here is exactly indicated, and what Ive done for twenty years. you already have imported bacteria, each time you add water that isn't autoclaved you get a ton of nitrifiers, they are on the plants you've added, and there is some organic waste loading in the new substrate compared to a truly brand new tank that is futher feed for bacteria, you have cycling bacteria even without any input from an api test kit. the only reason you wouldn't, is if antibiotics have been used and thats not listed. merely the water+known submersion time equals bacteria, a cup of water on your windowsill has nitrifiers within 6 weeks and can reduce ammonia to some degree. its a rule of aquatic biology, nitrifiers come.

so, pick one or two small fish and get going. change water assertively, more than normal, never stirring up waste, over the next 4 weeks and then after that you are set for a low level normal fish bioloading. take normal for what it is, dont overstock. I put a few fantail guppies as my cyclers in month old tanks just fine for example, save the killies for next mo

9 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I have not added anything extra to the water. no medication no additives of any sort. There is a small bag of purgien near the return pump.

I have a small 3 stage filter system placed at the back of the tank to filter the water. first stage is a fine media floss followed by a sponge then ceramic rings in a sock at the bottom.

since im here how often should i change the fine filter floss at the top?

I tested my tap water, the ammonia looks like the same color as in the picture in my first post, im guessing it has a small amount of ammonia or like brandon suggest my api test kit is giving me false ammonia readings.

1,001 Posts
Once nitrites show they usually go away really fast. It may be that you just didn't catch them. I have read about this many times. If your ammonia is 0 and you have nitrates I would say that you are probably done since it has been as long as you've said.

9 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I started with 3 plattys. Last week I added a yoyo loach and two days ago I added 4 ghost shrimp.

If nitrates do go away fast then yes its a good possibility i missed them. Well then I'll continue my weekly water changes.

2,317 Posts
I'm guessing you are doing the old-school fish-in cycling?

For what it's worth, I think it's more important to keep an eye on nitrites then nitrates. Although it's probably not healthy to keep critters in water high in nitrates, nitrites are actually toxic. So, for future reference or whatever, you might want to see about picking up a test kit and checking in on that, especially while cycling.

Anyways, nitrates are the end result of the cycle, so in some ways seeing them is a good thing (barring additives/ferts/etc., it meansh NH4 is getting converted to NO2 which is then getting converted to NO3).

I'd say keep testing, especially when you add new critters, pay most of your attention to NH4 and NO2, and once you get to the point where you get a couple consecutive days of 0ppm for both, you're probably fine.

11,721 Posts
Before you added the fish, were you feeding the bacteria?
Were you adding ammonia?
Fish food?
Dead shrimp?
Other source of ammonia?

If not, then you do not have much of a beneficial bacteria colony. Nothing to eat = no growth.

I do not know where the nitrates came from. Some tap water has nitrates.

I would return the fish and do the fishless cycle, or else run, do not walk, to a good store that carries the right species of nitrifying bacteria in a bottle. Look for Nitrospiros species of bacteria on the label. If it does not say Nitrospiros sp. do not waste your money.

Here is the fishless cycle. Read through it, even if you are not going to do it. Lots of good info about these beneficial bacteria.

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 1b) 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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