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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have never had an issue cycling a tank with a start-up solution, but for some reason I have a stubborn tank. This is unlike my other tanks though all my hardware is external in-line. I am also using a UV, and the pump is on a timer it shuts off between midnight-5am, no lights. Not sure if that 5 hour still window will cause problems down the line with an active tank?

I added enough bacteria solution to get an ammonia reading, it has now come down a bit after 10 days however I am not getting any nitrite or nitrate readings at all. If my ammonia is dropping I should surely at least be getting a nitrite reading? The tank is empty just gravel, and the media in the canister are just three layers of different density sponges.

Any ideas?
 

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When the bacteria are first getting started in a tank they are in the water. The UV has probably killed most of them.
There are other possibilities.

Here is the fishless cycle, including the optimum parameters for growing the bacteria as fast as possible. Compare to the conditions in your tank, and correct anything that slows or stops the 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. (7.5-8 seems to be optimum)
Temperature in the upper 70s F (mid 20s C) is good. Higher (to 95*F or about 35*C) 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, and trace elements like CSM+B 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 may use the carbon in carbonates, and if it is all used up (KH = 0) the bacteria may die off. They use the carbon from CO2, and this is generally pretty low in water, but can be replenished from the air and from carbonates. Keep the carbonates up to keep the pH up, too.
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. To grow them at optimum rates, keep the pH on the alkaline side of neutral.
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. 1 ppm twice a day will grow almost as much bacteria as 3 ppm once a day.
 

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With those bottled bacteria products it is recommended to add directly at the sight of the biomedia. UV's are said to be turned off or it may kill the bacteria that is free floating. I believe it is advised to remove activated carbon/charcoal as well.

It is also said that the bottled bacteria is in a slowed down (somewhat hibernating) state when in the bottle, and colder temps and the longer it has been in the bottle, the longer it takes to fully "wake up", which can take days to a week or so. But I believe it is still always partially "awake" so it should have worked, just not at 100% performance as if it were fully "awake".

What bacteria product did you use exactly?

What's your pH and temperature?
How much ppm of ammonia was present in the tank when you added bacteria into the tank?

If you aren't getting nitrite or nitrate, then it does look like the bacteria is not alive or working.
The only thing I can think of with the ammonia dropping, is maybe evaporation. I am unsure if any substrate (even high CEC) can "absorb" ammonia. I assume there are no plants when mentioned being empty. Unless you have some ammonia binding/locking pad in your filter.
 

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If you may have used Tetras Safestart here is a possibility and this may hold true for other brands of bb culture as well I dont know for sure. According to Tetra's website if a water conditioner is used then you should wait 48 hours before adding the bacteria culture. The chlorine/chloramine binders in the conditioner lock the ammonia so it is unavailable to the bacteria and they quickly starve to death. Tetra safestart has a 'food' solution in with the culture to provide ammonia and nitrite 'food' for the bacteria and the water conditioners bind to that as well. Tetra recommends two weeks before using any water conditioners with safestart. I used distilled water and simply do top-offs for that two week period, no water changes or water changes using pre-prepared water only. They also recommend to wait 4-5 days before turning on a uv steralizer as it will kill the bb.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I know what cycling is, and I am fish-less cycling.

I will try adding more bacteria and turning off the UV. I can turn the UV back on once it is established after a month right? I am not running any charcoal, but I could try dumping some bacteria directly into my canister. Another factor is temperature, I am not running the heater right now as I have nothing in the tank so the temperature is a bit lower probably 60F.

I used the same product I have been using in my other tanks Jungle Start-Up bacteria blend, I believe it contains concentrated ammonia. I went from 0.50ppm to 0.25ppm ammonia maybe I should add more? I have no plants, no fish, nothing, and yes I have to top the tank off often it is dry here in the winter I add 1/2 gallon to it (15 gallon tank) every other day.
 

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Well it has been explained to you, the bacteria need oxygen, heat and food... the more of it available (within thresholds), the faster they will propagate.
 

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Off the top of my head I can't remember the nitrifying bacteria performance in relation to temperature, but 60*F is pretty cold and beneficial bacteria activity would surely be hindered a lot (so they wouldn't be converting ammonia and nitrite efficiently, or maybe not even at all -again I can't recall).

EDIT: Just looked up nitrifying bacteria and temperature, and it seems 60*F would result in 50% efficiency in reproduction (didn't see a mention on their oxidizing performance, but it is indeed slowed down, not sure if by 50% as well or maybe even more).

Oxygen levels also play a role in bacteria performance, but isn't usually a issue if you are running a filter with some surface agitation. After all they are aerobic bacteria and do need oxygen to oxidize ammonia and nitrite. But again, you should be good in that area.

I can't seem to find Jungle Start-Up on a online search. I have found Jungle Labs Start Zyme and Start Right.
What does your bottle say the ingredients are?
I don't think any of those really contain ammonia, maybe some energy source for the bacteria in the bottle though. Heterotrophic bacteria, bacteria products that say they breakdown sludge, will breakdown sludge and other organic matter into ammonia though, but they are not Autotrophic bacteria which are the nitrifiers you want to cycle a tank.
 

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Years ago I tried jungle products and they didnt work. Safestart has never failed me except by my own mistakes so you may want to give that a try, it is reasonably priced at wally world. @WaterLife is correct imo and regardless of what bacteria culture you use you will have a tough time getting the tank to cycle in a reasonable time at that temperature. If the reproductive activity decreases by 50% @ 64f then it will take twice as long to cycle the tank and the bacteria will consume half the food. I'm no math expert but it seems to me the amount of 'food' the bb need will also be cut in half thereby rendering the filter to 50% efficiency. Here is a link to an article about nitrifying bacteria: Nitrifying Bacteria Facts
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I will surely get a heater going then, my surface agitation is strong. The bottle reads: Jungle Start Zyme (Ingredients: Live blend of beneficial bacteria)

I notice this product causes an immediate ammonia spike, for whatever the reason. I also see another mistake I made, was using Seachem Prime before cycling was started or complete.

-Turn on heater
-Do not use Prime
-Turn off UV for 2 weeks
-Add bacteria directly to canister

That should do it, does anyone think that ceramic rings are anything worth investing in over my sponges for bio-media??
 

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Ceramic rings do have more surface area than sponges (even fine pore, at least until sponges get clogged up). For typical stocking, either will work just fine (assuming there is enough material). If you have the sponges and they work fine for you, just save the money. I would get Seachem Matrix over ceramic rings though. If you did get ceramic rings, make sure to get the ones that have a rough, porous surface, not smooth faced surfaces.

I don't quite get the "don't use water conditioner/dechlorinator/prime when dosing bottled bacteria". I don't see the negative effect prime would have on the bacteria. To my understanding, Prime will detoxify ammonia, but still leave it available for bacteria and plants to use up as energy. Maybe I am missing the reason. I would still want to use some dechlorinator as chlorine is still harmful to beneficial bacteria.

I forgot to mention a thing about the temp and bacteria. I am not sure if the bacteria would get shocked or even die from a sudden drastic temp difference (room temp bottle to cold tank). I think they do, because from first hand experience I have seen a large cold water change result in a minicycle over the next day (could have possibly been for another reason, like dechlorinator not mixing enough before filters went back on), but I haven't researched if that is a scientifically proven fact.

I think the UV just needs to be left off for 48 hours until the bacteria establishes on the media (they would probably have a easier/faster time colonizing on ceramic rings than sponges though, but probably not a big difference), but I would leave it off for a week to be safe.

pH is a factor on nitrifying bacteria as well. Do you know what your pH is?
 

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I think it depends which bb product you are using. Seachem says prime and stability can be used at the same time, one can expect that since they are from the same company and can be created to work together. I have used safestart, I live in bfe and have no lfs and wally world carries tetra safestart so I use it. According to tetra's tech support any product that locks ammonia will lock the food product tetra adds to safestart making it unavailable to the bb as food and as a result they die.

I had read somewhere that bb start dying in as little as two hours without o2 rich water and food. As with all things I reckon it is best to research that particular product and use according to recommended best practices.
 

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Is there a reason you are shutting your filter off for 5 hours every night? I think you will have a difficult time growing a bacteria colony if you deprive them of oxygenated water for hours every night.
 

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I think it depends which bb product you are using. Seachem says prime and stability can be used at the same time, one can expect that since they are from the same company and can be created to work together. I have used safestart, I live in bfe and have no lfs and wally world carries tetra safestart so I use it. According to tetra's tech support any product that locks ammonia will lock the food product tetra adds to safestart making it unavailable to the bb as food and as a result they die.

I had read somewhere that bb start dying in as little as two hours without o2 rich water and food. As with all things I reckon it is best to research that particular product and use according to recommended best practices.
Forgot to mention.

Read here about Prime and it detoxifying nitrogen (ammonia).
Post #2, 2nd paragraph, 3rd sentence: "The ammonia is changed to a ammoniacal substance that is nontoxic to the fish but is still biologically available to the bacteria to consume." -Tech Support CH (Seachem)
Safe vs. Prime - Seachem Support Forums

And I know nitrifying bacteria can go at least 48 hours without food/ammonia/nitrite without any bacteria dying off.

Maybe there are some other properties to water conditioners/dechlorinators/Prime that effect bottled bacteria?

Though I think the reasoning behind not using a dechlorinator is because of the food/ammonia/nitrite locking issue, but that doesn't make sense to me, at least when using Prime (as said above, the detoxified ammonia is still available for the bacteria to consume. I don't know about other water conditioners, but many some don't even detoxify nitrogen)

Just wanted to point that out
 

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I have never had an issue cycling a tank with a start-up solution, but for some reason I have a stubborn tank. This is unlike my other tanks though all my hardware is external in-line. I am also using a UV, and the pump is on a timer it shuts off between midnight-5am, no lights. Not sure if that 5 hour still window will cause problems down the line with an active tank?

I added enough bacteria solution to get an ammonia reading, it has now come down a bit after 10 days however I am not getting any nitrite or nitrate readings at all. If my ammonia is dropping I should surely at least be getting a nitrite reading? The tank is empty just gravel, and the media in the canister are just three layers of different density sponges.

Any ideas?
You say this tank is unlike your other tank's.
Can you not rob some mature media from other tank's to seed this tank?
Is what I ,and I suspect many other's do.
Would cut down on time needed for tank to mature significantly.
Never made sense to me to not take advantage of already established bacterial colony if it is available.
 

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Yep, I would recommend taking advantage and using some of your seeded/cycled biomedia from your established tanks. Especially over Jungle Labs Stress Zyme. I couldn't find any info on the exact bacteria the product contains. It does apparently have heterotrophic bacteria as well though from the description (breaks down sludge/organics, which would create ammonia). I do highly doubt the correct nitrifying bacteria are contained in stress zyme. I know you have used it before, but any past success I would chalk that up to being just a coincidence. It might have some nitrifying bacteria that might last a little while or have some bacteria that does reproduce or perform well in aquatic environments (land/soil-based bacteria). Using cycled media from your aquarium guarantees you have live bacteria of the correct species, so you can't go wrong with that.

If you did go out and buy another bottled bacteria, get Tetra SafeStart (known to have the correct bacteria).
 

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@WaterLife I read that on seachems website. I have looked all over the tetra faq and what I typed is from them, that info may have also come from a letter from tetra that was posted online, when i get a chance I will find it and post a link.

Thanks to the questions posed by the op I started doing some additional research and found safestart is a product created by someone else that tetra bought the rights to. The author of what I was reading was under the belief that tetra doesnt know their own product and agreed with your statements 100%. Kind of hard to have faith in a product that the makers dont really know or understand. For those of us who actually read what tetra says then repeat it end up giving out faulty info as well. Personally in the future if I can plan what I am doing I will order a different product and I will only use safestart in an emergency situation.

Addendum: I have used safestart several times with great results and will use in the future if necessary. Their product works. I think their are products with more accurate information than provided by tetra when one really digs into the research. Plus wally world sells safestart so it is handy in an emergency situation.
 

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I know what cycling is, and I am fish-less cycling. Did you read through the fishless cycle and match your water parameters to the conditions I have found optimum to grow the bacteria?

I will try adding more bacteria and turning off the UV.
Good.
I can turn the UV back on once it is established after a month right?
Of course. It is only when the bacteria are drifting free in the water that UV could kill them, and this is just for a few days when you add a bacterial starter liquid.
I am not running any charcoal
Does not matter.,
but I could try dumping some bacteria directly into my canister.
Optional, but sure, go ahead.
Another factor is temperature, I am not running the heater right now as I have nothing in the tank so the temperature is a bit lower probably 60F.
Bacteria will grow slower at lower temperatures, but it will grow. Just as I stated in the fishless cycle instructions.

I used the same product I have been using in my other tanks Jungle Start-Up bacteria blend, I believe it contains concentrated ammonia.
There is cheaper ammonia. If you want to add the right species of bacteria, read the fishless cycle as I posted it above.
I went from 0.50ppm to 0.25ppm ammonia maybe I should add more?
Did you read the instructions I posted above? You say you know what the fishless cycle is, but you ask as if you do not.
I have no plants, no fish, nothing,
Does not matter, as long as there is something the bacteria will grow on. The media in your filter is fine.
and yes I have to top the tank off often it is dry here in the winter I add 1/2 gallon to it (15 gallon tank) every other day.
Use dechlor. While I have added non-dechlor tap water with chloramines to an established tank, I do not think it is good to add to a tank with the bacteria colonies still developing. Until the biofilm is well developed they are less protected from chlorine or chloramine. If you are concerned about the ammonia being locked up, then look for one of the cheap dechlor products that will ONLY lock up chlorine. These will break the chlorine-ammonia bond, but leave the chlorine free in the water.
The reason I copy and pasted the fishless cycle is because most of this information is in there. That way I do not have to type it out each time. Sure, some info may be redundant, but if you are having problems with the cycle, then something is not set up according to the instructions.
 
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