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Does my aquarium need to be cycled if I stuff it full of healthy plants from the beginning?

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The tank needs to reach a state of equilibrium where ammonia is consumed at the rate it is produced by the tank's occupants. If this can be done entirely with plants, then great. If not, a sufficient colony of nitrifying bacteria will be necessary. This is assuming the plants stay healthy. If there is decaying plant matter, then that will increase ammonia production, possibly beyond what the remaining, healthy plants can consume.
 

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To start, cycling is the process by which an ecosystem gains sustainability; the tank can remove, reuse, and recycle both nutrients and toxins on its own. Plants can quicken the cycling process but no matter what the limiting factor is beneficial bacterial growth. Waste conversion has to > or = waste production no matter what.

While plants bring the waste conversion net # up a significant amount it is not the end all be all. Plants, particularly the plants we are interested in this forum, are kind of finicky; you may come across melting plants, secretly diseased plants, or just plants that don't take to your tank. That can accidentally and quickly lower your waste conversion value to below waste production. Although this happens less and less as the tank becomes balanced it is a significant worry when starting with all new equipment.

The bacteria we are interested in brings in a more stable source of waste conversion; it is able to fluctuate with the amount of waste production left in the water in a much more fluid manner. However, this takes a while to grow if not using a "quick start" option (API, Dr. Tim, cycled media, etc.) and in some cases may not be able to grow due to certain water parameters.

This is why (if your going fish in cycle) I recommend starting with moderately to high planted tank (accounting for 10% plant loss for completely new tanks) and introducing 10-20% of your anticipated final fish stock into the tank. This will allow you to nail your water parameters, quickly introduce nutrients into your water column (either dosing or natural), and provide a waste source for beneficial bacteria to eventually grow with....all while avoiding the ever annoying "where's all the fish in your fish tank?" question.
 

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Pixel Prestidigitator
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While we all talk about cycling our tanks I haven't cycled one in years. Many times I get home from the society auction with a load of fish with no tanks ready. I fill up the tanks I need and add fish. It does help that I am on well water however. And it seems as if I am no the only one doing it. Many of the other members do it as well. Now the confession is the tanks are, at first, lightly stocked and water changes are consistent.
 

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While we all talk about cycling our tanks I haven't cycled one in years. Many times I get home from the society auction with a load of fish with no tanks ready. I fill up the tanks I need and add fish. It does help that I am on well water however. And it seems as if I am no the only one doing it. Many of the other members do it as well. Now the confession is the tanks are, at first, lightly stocked and water changes are consistent.
Yea.. not something I'd recommend as any "general" guideline. There are a few things to consider , like the pH of your water and ones "commitment" to routine and frequent.
Ammonia and nitrite will always build..for awhile..
"Silent cycling" with lot's of plant's work's well.
Problem arises with what you or I might consider to be lot's of plant's.(subjective)
Follows the above comment as well what is "lots"..

Cheap enough to add PRIME every other day and monitor amm/nitrites till they disappear..

At 5ml/50gal 3x week for say 4 weeks..
$30/500mL ( 6 cents a mL)

$3.60... to keep from torturing your fish in 50gal............. ;)
 

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Pixel Prestidigitator
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Yea.. not something I'd recommend as any "general" guideline. There are a few things to consider , like the pH of your water and ones "commitment" to routine and frequent.
Ammonia and nitrite will always build..for awhile..


;)
I've done 30 tanks just that way. Probably more. But I am on well water from the same area these fish are bred. I've done it that way since 1987. And no, I don't recommend it for everyone nor for sensitive fish. There is a guy in Miami that does 100% WC every week on his 50 tanks. He's also on well water. When my aunt and uncle had their farm during cold snaps they would run the well continuously to keep the fish warmish in the outside vats.
 

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I've done 30 tanks just that way. Probably more. But I am on well water from the same area these fish are bred. I've done it that way since 1987. And no, I don't recommend it for everyone nor for sensitive fish. There is a guy in Miami that does 100% WC every week on his 50 tanks. He's also on well water. When my aunt and uncle had their farm during cold snaps they would run the well continuously to keep the fish warmish in the outside vats.
Out of curiosity.. what is your pH?
 

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Pixel Prestidigitator
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Out of curiosity.. what is your pH?
Been a long time since I bothered to check it Jeff. I don't worry about it. Probably close to 8. We are above limerock so it is going to be high.
 

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Starting a tank with plants (and plenty of them) can help in 2 ways.
The plants themselves are part of the bio filter, and the nitrifying organisms can live on the plants so can be introduced to the tank in this way. Obviously the plants with the most beneficial bacteria will be plants from a tank with fish, but even in a more sterile setting these microorganisms find their way in, and will be present. Perhaps not very much in cell cultured plants.

I generally do not suggest that a beginner to planted tanks try this. As suggested above, plants can be a bit finicky, and if they do not hit the ground running (should it be 'hit the tank swimming'?), they are not going to be much of a bio filter.

An experienced aquarium keeper is better able to get a successful planted tank going from the start, and is probably more aware of the littlest signs that something is going wrong before it gets out of hand.
 

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Starting a tank with plants (and plenty of them) can help in 2 ways.
The plants themselves are part of the bio filter, and the nitrifying organisms can live on the plants so can be introduced to the tank in this way. Obviously the plants with the most beneficial bacteria will be plants from a tank with fish, but even in a more sterile setting these microorganisms find their way in, and will be present. Perhaps not very much in cell cultured plants.

I generally do not suggest that a beginner to planted tanks try this. As suggested above, plants can be a bit finicky, and if they do not hit the ground running (should it be 'hit the tank swimming'?), they are not going to be much of a bio filter.

An experienced aquarium keeper is better able to get a successful planted tank going from the start, and is probably more aware of the littlest signs that something is going wrong before it gets out of hand.
Yes this ^
Need to start with lot's of easy fast growing plant's.
A couple marimo ball's and or an Anubia plant or two ain't gonna cut it.
 

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Hmmm... I've started up 3 thanks in the last 3 years, and that was after 20 years absence from fishkeeping. With the first one, I did not have much of a chance, as I was given a betta in a silly bowl, and I just went out and bought a 5G nano tank. As it was that first betta did not make it past 2 weeks. But the next one did. Then came a 29G, and I cycled it very consciously, including taking the competition between plants and filtration into account. I still have a light population, but things are going well...
The ammonia peak was from day 34- day 54 of the tank, and then it started to trend down, and by day 62 Ammonia was zero. The nitrite peak was short-lived, day 59-61, then it came down to zero, but nitrates were at 40. Since then I've added lots of plants, and by day 100, nitrates were coming down to zero. I would say duck weed and hornwort were the biggest factors.
Fish population still light, 8 cories, one betta, and 5 amano shrimp.
I became quite fanatic about watching the water parameters through the cycling process.
In my 10 gallon I am growing lots of plants, and I have some inverts and some cherry shrimp. No fish, no water quality issues.
 
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Additional notes to cycling my 29 gallon tank:
I used Seachem stability during the cycling to get bacteria culture started, especially during the high Ammo (TAN) periods. and I also supplemented the substrate with a Prodibio Bacter Soil kit. Note that I speak of TAN since I was using the API Ammo test, which measures both free ammonia and ammonium, but I used the Seachem Alert, which reflects only free ammonia, and with the stability I was managing to keep that within bounds.

This data series includes rH, the relative Hydrogen count, which is very exploratory on my part, based on the notion that the relative hydrogen count may play a role in healthy aquarium water, but this is purely exploratory, as I have not yet found an objective way of establishing that molecular hydrogen is indeed present, but the relationship is rH= ((ORP+205)/29.58+2*pH)). Notice also that I kept track of the UV coming online, because it presumably lowers ORP, and at least over time ORP seems to have trended lower after the UV came online.

Also, my GH ran up too high, due to a problem with the water I used for my water changes, and currently it is coming down again... unfortunately the alignment of the columns does not work in the published format... so you have to visually align by focusing on the pH column.

Here is the data series for the first 100 days (note in a few cases I took 2 measurements on the same day):
Date Day# Comment TAN NO2 NO3 pH GH KH Phos FE cFE TDS ORP rH UV
02/11/16 Startup 142
02/20/16 9 NO WC 0 0 0 6.8 300 35 0
02/20/16 9 7.2
02/21/16 10 6.8 35 475
02/27/16 16 0 0 6.8 265 50 0.25
03/05/16 23 Before 0 0 6.8 180 25
03/06/16 24 Before 0.25 0 0 6.4 300 25 0 551
03/06/16 24 7.0
03/07/16 25 0.25 0 0 50
03/08/16 26 0.5 0 0
03/09/16 27 0 0
03/10/16 28 0.25 0
03/11/16 29 0.25 0 7.2
03/12/16 30 Before 0.5 0 0 7.6
03/12/16 30 After 0.5 7.0
03/13/16 31 0.25 7.0 35
03/14/16 32 0.75 7.0
03/15/16 33 1 7.0
03/16/16 34 4 0 6.4
03/17/16 35 4 0 6.6
03/18/16 36 4 0 7.0
03/19/16 37 4 0 6.6 50
03/19/16 37 again 4 0 7.0 380 50
03/20/16 38 4 0 6.6
03/21/16 39 8 0 7.0
03/22/16 40 4 0 7.0
03/23/16 41 4 0 6.8 0
03/24/16 42 6 0 0 6.6 510 150 25.20
03/25/16 43 6 7.2 35 125 25.56
03/26/16 44 After 4 0 0 7.0 220 35 0.25 0 0 460 118 24.92
03/27/16 45 4 7.0 125 25.16
03/28/16 46 4 7.0 82 23.70
03/29/16 47 Dark 4 0 7.0 95 24.14
03/30/16 48 4 6.8 470 86 23.44
03/31/16 49 4 7.0 75 23.47
04/01/16 50 4 7.0 100 24.31
04/02/16 51 Before 4 0 5 7.0 340 35 0.25 0 0 512 108 24.58
04/03/16 52 After 4 0 7.2 550 80 24.03
04/04/16 53 4 6.8 67 22.80
04/05/16 54 4 6.6 567 75 22.67
04/06/16 55 3.5 7.0 61 22.99
04/07/16 56 3.5 7.0 85 23.80
04/08/16 57 3.5 7.0 87 23.87
04/09/16 58 Before 3 2 20 6.8 400 35 0.25 0.5 0.5 660 90 23.57 UV
04/10/16 59 0.5 2 40 7.0 0 0.1 88 23.91 UV
04/11/16 60 0.5 2 40 7.0 88 23.91 UV
04/12/16 61 0.25 0 40 7.0 85 23.80 UV
04/13/16 62 0 0 40 7.0 76 23.50 UV
04/14/16 63 0 0 40 7.0 85 23.80 UV
04/15/16 64 0 0 40 7.0 90 23.97 UV
04/16/16 65 Before 0 0 40 7.0 450 50 0.25 504 95 24.14 UV
04/17/16 66 After 0 0 30 7.2 65 0 515 128 25.66 UV
04/18/16 67 7.0 112 24.72 UV
04/19/16 68 0.00 UV
04/20/16 69 0.00 UV
04/21/16 70 0.00 UV
04/22/16 71 6.0 0.00 UV
04/23/16 72 33.00 10 7.0 250 50 0.25 0 0 540 138 25.60 UV
04/24/16 73 0.00 UV
04/25/16 74 7.0 68 23.23 UV
04/26/16 75 7.0 105 24.48 UV
04/27/16 76 7.0 96 24.18 UV
04/28/16 77 7.0 94 24.11 UV
04/29/16 78 7.0 88 23.91 UV
04/30/16 79 33.00 35 7.0 90 23.97 UV
05/01/16 80 25 6.9 220 50 0.25 0 0 365 85 23.60 UV
05/02/16 81 6.9 399 60 22.76 UV
05/03/16 82 7.0 450 82 23.70 UV
05/04/16 83 6.9 85 23.60 UV
05/05/16 84 6.9 82 23.50 UV
05/06/16 85 6.6 90 23.17 UV
05/07/16 86 0.00% 0.25 0 15 7.2 380 50 0 0.1 0 501 80 24.03 UV
05/08/16 87 6.8 84 23.37 UV
05/09/16 88 7.2 80 24.03 UV
05/10/16 89 7.2 26 22.21 UV
05/11/16 90 0.25 7.0 594 102 24.38 UV
05/12/16 91 7.2 98 24.64 UV
05/13/16 92 7.0 96 24.18 UV
05/14/16 93 0.00 0.25 0 10 6.8 450 35 0 0 0 582 101 23.94 UV
05/15/16 94 7.0 95 24.14 UV
05/16/16 95 7.2 0.00 UV
05/17/16 96 7.2 0.00 UV
05/18/16 97 7.2 0.00 UV
05/19/16 98 7.0 0.00 UV
05/20/16 99 7.0 90 23.97 UV
05/21/16 100 0.00 0 0 5 7.0 500 30 0.25 0 0 625 101 24.34 UV
05/22/16 101 6.8 0.00 UV
05/23/16 102 7.2 0.00 UV
05/24/16 103 7.0 645 104 24.45 UV
05/25/16 104 0.00 UV
05/26/16 105 0.00 UV
05/27/16 106 0.00 UV
05/28/16 107 0 0 0 7.2 500 35 0 644 117 25.29 UV
05/29/16 108 0.00 7.0 0.25 0.25 675 99 24.28 UV
 

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Many times I get home from the society auction with a load of fish with no tanks ready. I fill up the tanks I need and add fish. It does help that I am on well water however. Now the confession is the tanks are, at first, lightly stocked and water changes are consistent.
So you keep the fish alive with many water changes? How many per week?
 

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Additional notes to cycling my 29 gallon tank:
I used Seachem stability during the cycling to get bacteria culture started, especially during the high Ammo (TAN) periods. and I also supplemented the substrate with a Prodibio Bacter Soil kit.
How much did you pay for the prodibio bacteria soil kit?
 

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Pixel Prestidigitator
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So you keep the fish alive with many water changes? How many per week?
With new tanks I'll do 10% every day for 2-3 weeks then I start weaning down to a once a week 50% change with all the other tanks. I've been weaning down on tanks so I can redo the fish house though. I want to clear out all of the tanks, fix the drywall and mildew, repaint then organize the tanks for more efficient operations. I currently own close to 70 tanks and want to get them all running by year end.
 

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With new tanks I'll do 10% every day for 2-3 weeks then I start weaning down to a once a week 50% change with all the other tanks. I've been weaning down on tanks so I can redo the fish house though. I want to clear out all of the tanks, fix the drywall and mildew, repaint then organize the tanks for more efficient operations. I currently own close to 70 tanks and want to get them all running by year end.
Wow 70 tanks. That must take some time. Have you the kids helping you with the maintenance?
 

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Pixel Prestidigitator
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Wow 70 tanks. That must take some time. Have you the kids helping you with the maintenance?
My only kid is 7 so no help. I own almost 70. So far I've only had 42 running at once. I've cut to 30+ getting ready for the redo. All my tanks are heavily planted and lightly stocked. While I try to do changes every week I can go for at least 3-4 without one and still be fine. When I finally settle on what I want to breed I'll be more attentive to husbandry. And when I am at full tankage I'll do a bit of automation. At least on the fill part. I get to draining a tank while filling another and you can guess the outcome.
Also while I do a change every week not all are done on the same day. And some of the larger tanks don't really require a weekly because they are so lightly stocked. My 75 right now has maybe a handful of livebearers. It can go a month without a change.
 
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