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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Been a number of years since I had an operating aquarium. 3rd grade son wanted one it set up again. Basic. 10gal, 15watt fluorescent hood, Penguin 100 filter, 15watt heater. Did not initially consider live plants, so I also had a UGF on original fillup.

After about 2 weeks of filling, replacing crusty old hood with new one, buying new heater, etc, I stumbled across the concept of "fishless cycling" using ammonia. Seemed like a decent idea, especially since plants had not entered the picture.

3/14 - started adding ammonia to a level of 4-5ppm. Took approximately 1ml, or 30 drops from a small eyedropper I had. Continued this amount daily. Temp in tank of 82F.

3/19 - reaching nitrite spike, but had decided I would like to try my hand at live plants in this tank too, so removed UGF & mixed flourite into existing gravel giving me about 60% flourite/40% gravel of about the same size, plus a number of scattered pebbles, mostly on top. Even though Flourite was rinsed pretty thoroughly, performed about a 40% WC to reduce the dust cloud AND remove a portion of the ProperPH 7.0 I had added on original fill (learned this stuff is not good for plants). Also decided to not cut back on ammonia just yet due to the substrate disruption and WC. Added about a 9-10 ceramic "Bio-Max" rings to HOB (figured it could only help with bacteria surface).

3/21 - cut ammonia doseage in half - which is 15 drops, or 0.5ml.

3/27 - Ammonia is undetectable within an hour or 2 of being added - converted to nitrites no problem. Had been witnessing slow rise in nitrates until a level around 20ppm was reached.

3/28 - Nitrates down to 5ppm overnight. Since I had not tested PH in awhile, did so. Barely registered on my kit - 6.0-6.1!! Water test at LFS confirmed readings. On recommendations, I did a 50% WC. PH rose to 6.5ppm (tap is 7.2ppm). Added 1/2 tablespoon of baking soda, which got the tank up to 7.0-7.2ppm. Added ammonia as usual. And, because I already had it before I read how everyone seems to think it does not work, I added a good dose of "cycle".

3/29 - Nitrites still off the scale, but nitrates up to 10ppm. Based on recommendation, did yet another 50% WC. Also did the overdose of Prime, but that was because I did not realize it didn't actually remove nitrites, it merely detoxifies it for something like 24 hrs. Pissed off, so now I did an 80% water change. Nitrites after this WC tested at 1ppm. So, I'm thinking maybe these WC's have merit. Also added a double dose of "cycle".

3/30 - Receive info that maybe, just maybe, my tap water could be short on phosphates. Here is the link, look under the part about mass nitrite with no nitrate generation - micronutrients section:
http://www.bioconlabs.com/nitribactfacts.html Basically, this author is suggesting that this condition could exist absent sufficient phosphates. I have no way to test phosphates, and LFS phosphate tester is for saltwater and specifically says it cannot be used in freshwater. So, having nothing else at hand, I ground up some fish food and added it to the tank since it has a fairly high percentage of phosphates. Continued with my 50% ammonia dose.

3/31 - Nitrites still off the charts. Nitrates increased from 5ppm to 20ppm. Ammonia still undetectable within a few hours of being added. PH 7.0-7.2. Continue with ammonia (50% dose). Bought some plants - just floating in tank at this point.

4/1 - Planted the plants - annubias nana, java fern, wysteria, a baseball sized moss ball, pennywort, and something I cannot ID. Never planted before, so who the heck knows if I got it right, or if they will survive. I figured, if nothing else, perhaps their leaves contained some beneficial bacteria. Dosed tank with Flourish and Excel per bottle. Excel now part of daily ritual, as is leaving 15watt fluorescent light on for 10-12hrs/day. Reduced water temp to 80F, as I figured maybe a move in the direction to where the water will ultimately be was a good thing.

4/5 - Today. Nothing has changed. Ammonia 0 shortly after adding 0.5ml. Nitrites off the scale. Nitrates 30-40ppm (although, I have observed as low as 5ppm, but it never stays that low for long). Ph 7.0-7.2. Water Temp 79F.

So, it seems that I have sort of stalled out after cutting back my ammonia doseage 2 weeks ago. It also occurs to me that I have been adding ammonia for so long, producing mega loads of nitrites, and now I am expecting the nitrate producing bacteria to play catch up. Should I take some kind of action (like water changes?) or am I just likely to test it one of these days, and see super high nitrates, but no nitrites?
 

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I would do this. Please note this is what I would do and may not be agreed upon by others:

Take all of those chemicals: ammonica, "cycle", ground up fish food, etc. and put them in your closet. Never use them again.

Remove almost all of the water, down to about an inch above the substrate. Remove any remnants of that ground up fish food. Replace with clean water. Add some Prime to remove chlorine.

Let the tank run for about a couple of days without putting anything in there. Nothing!

Go to your LFS and purchase a Gourami. Add the gourami to your tank and feed him as if the tank was already cycled. DO NOT CHANGE any of the water. In two weeks your tank will be cycled. Measure water parameters and add plants.

Good luck! Keep us posted.

-Ryan
 

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You really shouldn't even need to cycle a planted tank. Once everything is established, as long as you don't add everything all at once you should be fine. Plants will absorb some of the fish waste (NH3 primarily). Plant heavily from the start, Get Co2 going so the plants are happy (happy plants will "filter" the water more), then slowly add your fish.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks everyone for replies thus far, and I hope they continue.

Plants have already been added - but only 4 days ago. Since I have never had live plants in an aquarium before, I have no idea if they will survive, so I did not want to be too dependent on them biologically. Plus - this ordeal started out without consideration for live plants.

I have been lurking this forum for quite some time. A very generous user "DanePatrick" sent me a few of the plants I have, and the rest of the plants were picked up locally.

This is a low tech tank (I think). 15 watts over 10 gal. I do not plan to add CO2 right now - sometime in the future, maybe. Flourite/gravel substrate, added plants 4 days ago, dosed Flourish at time of planting, and have added Excel daily since. Planned to keep the Flourish to 1x weekly, at least, until someone suggests otherwise. Based on what I have seen by your examples, I would call this tank "moderately" planted. Camera is nowhere to be found, so I cannot post a picture just yet.

Gourami is probably not an option, as my LFS will not take it back after 2 weeks AFAIK, and it is not something I want when this process is complete as it would really set me back in terms of what else I can add (just a 10gal). Seems I would also need to get these nitrites knocked down to zero before adding ANY fish, unless that is presumed to happen by discontinuing ammonia, and letting all the bacteria die due to lack of a food source.

They way I see it (possibly incorrectly) is this: I clearly have a bacteria colony sufficient to convert ammonia to nitrite. I also have a bacteria colony converting nitrite to nitrate, as evidenced by nitrate readings as high as 40ppm. Problem is that I cannot get nitrates down to zero yet, even though both bacteria colonies probably exceed what would be necessary for any true bio load introduced by fish.

There might have been a better way to start this process. If possible, I would like to finish what I have started, instead of "starting over".

So, either this thing will balance itself out WITH the continued ammonia, or I need to do something that helps the nitrite -> nitrate bacteria, so I finally beat the nitrite into submission.

So, is there something that helps me reach closure on what I have started without abandoning the gains achieved thus far? Water Change? Reduced, but continued ammonia? Big time dose of Prime? etc. Or is this as black and white as "give up the fishless cycle route, and return to a traditional route of a few hardy fish at a time"?
 

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Take a few minutes and read my Guide.

15 watts over a 10 gallon tank is a NO Tech tank IMHO.

Adding ammonia with plants in the tank means happy plants and algae problems.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thanks again for the replies. My test kit produces the same results as LFS, so that does not seem to be the problem.

1.5 wpg does not even get me to "low"? That seems contrary to most everything I have read! And Rex - your stuff is great! Wish I already knew what you have already forgotten!! LOL!

However, to stay somewhat focussed on the matter at hand, what I want to do is finish this particular cycle. If greater light is warranted, and can still be had without producing a simultaneously need for co2, excess ferts, excess algae, etc, then so be it.

Right now, I am looking for a recommendation to complete my cycling process. Back off everything, let all the bacteria die? Add fish that might not withstand current nitrite levels? Big time water changes that might further stall nitrite -> nitrate bacteria? I'm open here. Just trying to do something for my son, but admittedly getting interested in a larger tank for ME!!! hehehehe
 

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15 watts is low light, but it is still fine if you are just dabbling in low light plants imo. I had 15 watts over my tank in the beginning, with no knowledge of live plants, and my amazon sword, ludiwigia (still haven't id'd what kind) and wisteria all grew ok in regular aquarium gravel (not spectacularly of course). I've since upgraded to a higher tech tank, but my point is that when first getting into the hobby, it's probably best to take it slow, rather than throwing CO2, ferts, lighting, and everything into the equation. Java fern and moss can grow in just about any light anyways.

That being said, I believe Owen's main issue is the tank not cycling and if anyone had any input as to why or what he can do about it. I found an article the other day about nitrifying bacteria requiring trace amounts of phosphates to reproduce, so I advised him to throw some pulverized fish food in there just in case. I've been helping him along for some time now, and his cycling process (or lack thereof) has stumped me (Not saying I'm an expert or anything) which is why I told him to ask here for help.

Rex - do you believe ammonia still causes algae at such low lighting levels? From everything I've read so far (esp in the Tom Barr report), the only kind of algae that really flourishes in low light is diatoms, which is usually driven by excess silicates, and for ammonia to cause algae issues, you have to have fairly high light in the first place to see green water, etc. I may have misunderstood though, so feel free to correct me.
 

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I think that given more time your tank will level itself out. I would, if you aren't already, cut back on the on the ammonia untill you see the nitrite levels decreasing. The nitrates need to be removed from the water by water changes, since your plants could not possibly use that much. I think you are 3/4 the way there and like you said you've maybe overloaded the system to the point where you've past the equilibrium. The tank cannot handle that amount of ammonia or nitrites. .

So I would say, do a water change untill you have no nitrites, go pick up 2 or 3 small fish that you want to have and put them in and check everything in 3 days or so. Feed minimal and increase over time, continue adding fish every week or other week. Do not clean the filter media. Do small partial water changes.

I'm no expert, but sometimes we like to over-analyse and end up over doing things. Tanks are alive and we need to give them time to adjust.

Kara
 
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