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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I hope this is the right section of the forum.

I went the route of fishless cycle this time around. Here is my scenario..

I brought the original water up to around 3ppm ammonia. The next day, it started to cloud. I thought, great it is bacteria bloom. I waited one more day and checked ammonia, it read 0ppm. I immediately dosed back up to 3ppm. Four days after the water started to cloud, it cleared. Over these four days ammonia seemed to stay pretty steady. At day ten it appeared that ammonia had dropped to around 1ppm (these test kits are difficult to accurately read), so I dosed back up to around 3ppm. I am now three days past that and it is hard to say 100% if it has dropped much. Tomorrow will be two weeks, nitrites haven't showed up yet.

Let me say, I found it very odd that within the first two days, ammonia dropped so fast and now seems to be very slowly.

pH has remained consistent around 7.5

I did do one top up of water, maybe 5 gallons of water max (60 gallon tank), which I added water conditioner to take care of chlorine as I didn't want to kill bacteria.

So, Should I be worried? Change something? Just wait it out and be patient? I'm interested in experienced fish keepers thoughts.

Thanks
 

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I am including the fishless cycle here, check through it and test your water for all the parameters. When they are all good, the bacteria will grow as fast as possible (they are not fast growing).

Cloudy water may be from the ammonia, or from heterotrophic bacteria. Nitrifying bacteria do not reproduce fast enough to cloud the water.

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 methemoglobinemia 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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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
After going through your post, everything seems spot on. I am at two weeks and still no nitrites. Only very slow decrease in ammonia. Test kits are very hard to use accurately.

The note about KH is interesting, as I naturally have very low KH water, somewhere around 1.3 dH
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Still nothing, ammonia isn't dropping. Water conditions are correct. Very frustrating. I still find it strange that my ammonia would drop to 0 in the first 48 hours, then nothing. I am having doubts about this method, but many people use it and have had success. Is it possible that naturally low KH will not allow this method to work?
 

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Still nothing, ammonia isn't dropping. Water conditions are correct. Very frustrating. I still find it strange that my ammonia would drop to 0 in the first 48 hours, then nothing. I am having doubts about this method, but many people use it and have had success. Is it possible that naturally low KH will not allow this method to work?
This is the only method I use to cycle tanks and my well water is meh at best. pH from the tap is 5.5, GH-6, KH-2.

I have to monkey around with the pH of my water to get this method to work as it's too acidic otherwise. I raise it to around 7.2 and the cycle completes within 3-4 weeks.

Aside from having a filter running, I always add a air stone just to create more water movement. Once the tank is cycled, I take the air stone out.

You didn't say how long you've been doing this. If it hasn't been long, be patient. Just when you are about to toss your hands up in the air things start happening. Also make sure you are using pure ammonia with nothing in it. If you shake the bottle, there shouldn't be any foam, just air bubbles. If there is foam, you won't get anywhere as the stuff in that ammonia kills bacteria. This is a easy mistake to make as I did it once. I had to hunt all over the place to find plain ammonia. I ended up finding it at the Dollar Store.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Good suggestion about the Dollar Store.

I made sure that this was pure ammonia and no other additives. I have read in other forums that people have successfully used the same brand as I am.

I did more reading yesterday and opted to toss in a piece of shrimp. I feel like having some organic matter will kick start it. Stay tuned. I didn't know what else to do as all parameters seem bang on (except KH but I've read in other articles this shouldn't matter). I also did a 25% water change before putting shrimp in just to lower the ammonia a bit as I was adding something that will eventually increase it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Small update. After shrimp for roughly a week, there has been no apparent change in ammonia. I thought it may have went down one day, but then the next it appeared to be back at the previous level. However this cannot be 100% backed by data as the test kits do not measure tenths of 1 ppm. Today I went and measured KH out of curiosity and found something interesting.

According to the water supply in my area, KH of our tap water is 22ppm, which is roughly 1.2 dKH. I have tested with my test kit and it finds the same.

My water currently sits around 50ppm after two tests. Which is 2.8 dKH.

I thought that KH would naturally decrease as nitrifying bacteria consume carbonates (?). I do understand that it may not decrease because of the lack of these bacteria, but why would it increase? *Puzzled*

Would this shrimp breaking down cause an increase? I couldn't find anything on Google to indicate that organic matter would increase KH.
 

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Are you still adding the ammonia, or did you stop doing that and are using just shrimp alone? If you stopped the ammonia and are just relying on shrimp, there may not be enough ammonia produced. I tried the shrimp thing a number of years ago. It lasted for about 3 days, then I yanked the shrimp out as I did it during the summer and my house started to stink like red tide.

I'm very bias about API test kits ( do not like them) but what kind of test kits are you using and if they are API, how long have you had them and what is their expiration date? The closer the kits are to their expiration date, the less accurate they are in my experience. Although today my Seachem Nitrate / Nitrate kit came in so I tested both of my tanks for nitrates. The new API kit that has a expiration date of 2021 told me that both of my tanks had 7 pmm nitrates. The Seachem kit which involves no crazy shaking of bottles and all that nonsense gave me completely different readings. The 29 has roughly 25 ppm and the 10 gallon has 15 ppm. Needless to say, the new API test kit promptly went into the trash with the other one that gave me wonky readings.

My point is, perhaps it is your test kit that is the problem. If you have a reputable LFS around or a friend in the hobby that knows what they are doing, have the LFS or friend test your water. Along the lines of friends and a reputable LFS, if they have tank media they are willing to part with, this will help your cycle along. If you do this make absolutely sure the tanks you are getting media from are clean and healthy. Adding questionable stuff to your tank can only lead to bad things happening later on.

Unless you have crazy ammonia readings, stop the water changes as you are stalling the process. If need be, you could use spring or distilled water to top the tank off but even that isn't necessary unless you have serious evaporation going on. The only time I've done water changes with cycling a tank this way is at the end. Nitrates get over 80 ppm and the cycle stalls. The only way to get it moving again is to do a small water change and that allows the cycle to finish.

I don't have a answer regarding the KH issue, however, if there are bacteria in the tank you should be seeing nitrites and nitrates. Nitrites will show up first unless you have nitrates in your tap water. If you do, you will have to test both your water and you tank and figure out the difference between the two. Once you start seeing nitrites even at a trace level, nitrates should show up sooner rather than later.
 

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Yes I stopped adding ammonia because the levels never went down. I wouldn't keep adding ammonia, otherwise I'd be sitting at very high levels of ammonia. Also note that the shrimp has hardly decay in a week, it's essentially almost the exact same as when I put it in. The ammonia has always been somewhere between 2 and 4 ppm.

Test kits are brand new. Master kit is API, kh and gh tests are nutrafin. I've tested them against known sources and they check out. 0ppm ammonia is tap water.

I've only changed the water once and it was roughly a 1/3 water change. It was right before adding shrimp. After the water change I tested ammonia and it barely went down. However changing 20 gallons of water may not change it by much. That was the one top up in the three weeks thus far. I will have to top up again in another week I reckon.

To further add to the story. I am using Old Country Ammonia, and have confirmed via a MSDS that there are no additives. Water and Ammonia, that's it.
 

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You mentioned that your water is soft and slightly acidic, Did you recall Diana's mention that the fishless cycle works best with alkaline, moderate carbonate hardness water? One thing to remember if you are blessed with soft, slightly acid water out of your taps, the ammonia produced by your fish will be less toxic, but also more liable to be absorbed by the plants as Ammonium.
 

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To further add to the story. I am using Old Country Ammonia, and have confirmed via a MSDS that there are no additives. Water and Ammonia, that's it.
That's fine. What temp is your tank set at? I'm not really sure how or why temp affects a fishless cycle, but if the tank is too cold that too can cause a problem.

When I cycled the 29 I had the temp set at 86. I don't remember what I did for the 10 gallon as it was over 5 years ago. It couldn't have been much different as once I find something that works I tend not to stray too far.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I am now a day into week 5. Ammonia still hasn't changed and KH appears to continue to increase (however very slightly). The water level is down and the oxygen being produced is very high, so many bubbles. I tested the pH yesterday and it appears to be near the 8 mark. Again it is damn near impossible to read these color charts! I am surprised that this hobby has been around so long and no one has come up with a better solution (or at least one that I can find), I'd love a digital instrument for measuring different parameters.

Current water conditions:
Ammonia sitting around 4ppm
pH is high 7 possibly very near 8
KH is around 60ppm
Temp 84
Tons of oxygen

Should I be doing water changes? I expected to do a water change every two weeks with fish, but haven't kept to that schedule during this cycling period.

With pH nearing 8, is this detrimental or will it just slow the bacteria down?

I am assuming that patience is key and just going to keep waiting. Updates to come.

Also still trying to figure out why my KH is increasing over time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
The only thing in it is Fluval Sun Stone Gravel. I rinsed it very well (I am a little OCD haha so I know it was done thoroughly). That's about the only thing I can think of that would cause it, but I haven't been able to find anything to confirm it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
The only thing in it is Fluval Sun Stone Gravel. I rinsed it very well (I am a little OCD haha so I know it was done thoroughly). That's about the only thing I can think of that would cause it, but I haven't been able to find anything to confirm it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I have another question for the experienced...

How much does KH drop from nitrifying bacteria consuming carbonates? Are we talking a significant amount here? The reason I ask, where I have around 1.3 dKH (roughly 23ppm), I am unsure if a water change every two weeks is going to be enough to avoid a zeroing out of KH (without doing anything to increase it while the water is in my tank). I have read that a zeroing out of KH will result in extreme pH swings and thus kill off the bacteria (not to mention the harm to other species in the tank).

Or am I simply overthinking this?

Thanks

Also small update: still no change in Ammonia at this time and I am going into the end of week 5. I am now looking at obtaining some filter media from an established local tank.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)
Update: I finally have a reading of Nitrites!

I have been keeping an eye on my KH and it doesn't appear to be dropping drastically. It all seems very slow and steady, which I think is good for me.

The cloudiness has also cleared, so either there was still something on the Sun Stone gravel or the BioBags in my filter were not fully rinsed.

Some additional articles I found relating to Nitrifying Bacteria that proved helpful:
http://www.tfhmagazine.com/aquarium-basics/columns/nitrifying-bacteria.htm
http://www.bioconlabs.com/nitribactfacts.html
 
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