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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am new in the hobby.

Cycling is confusing! I've read and read and still am unsure.

I have a 5 gal I set up a couple weeks ago. A local fish club member met with me last week and gave me stuff from his filter to seed the tank, and also a lot of different types of plants. He told me this would jump start the cycling and it should go "pretty quick."

There are no fish in the tank.

I am using an API Freshwater Master Test Kit.

Here are my tests from the last few days.

Nov. 8
Ammonia 0
Nitrite 0
Nitrate less than 5

Nov. 9
Ammonia between 0 and .25
Nitrite .50
Nitrate 0

Nov 10
Ammonia 0
Nitrite 0
Nitrate 5.0

Nov 11
Ammonia 0
Nitrite halfway between .5 to 1.0
Nitrate 5 to 10 -- closer to 5 than 10

I added 3 small flakes of fish food Nov. 9 and 10th. I have not added any ammonia, but do have it incase I need to.

I found info on fish cycling, fishless cycling, seeding cycling, and plant cycling, but nothing on seeding AND plant cycling.

I am unsure what to do next. Add ammonia? More fish food? A fish? Just keep waiting and testing?

Here is a link to some bad photos of the tank, so you can see how many plants there are in there.
http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/album.php?u=57720
Thank you!
 

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I would add ammonia.
Fish food contributes such a small amount of ammonia (actually it contains protein that is broken down into ammonia and other things) that the bacteria could be starving.

With live plants in the tank you might not want to add very much ammonia. Here is a modification of the fishless cycle:
Add enough ammonia to test 1 ppm.
Do that twice a day.
This will feed the nitrifying bacteria enough ammonia to grow a reasonable colony, but not overdose the plants.
Test twice a day. The plants like ammonia, and may be removing most or all of it. Still, just dose the 1 ppm twice a day.
_____________________________________________________________________

Here is the fishless cycle:
Fishless Cycle
You too can boast that "No fish were harmed in the cycling of your new tank"
Cycling a tank means to grow the beneficial bacteria that will help to decompose the fish waste (especially ammonia). These bacteria need ammonia to grow. There are 3 sources of ammonia that work to do this. One is fish. Unfortunately, the process exposes the fish to ammonia, which burns their gills, and nitrite, which makes their blood unable to carry oxygen. This often kills the fish.

Another source is decomposing protein. You could cycle your tank by adding fish food or a dead fish or shellfish. You do not know how much beneficial bacteria you are growing, though.

The best source of ammonia is... Ammonia. In a bottle.

Using fish is a delicate balance of water changes to keep the toxins low (try not to hurt the fish) but keep feeding the bacteria. It can take 4 to 8 weeks to cycle a tank this way, and can cost the lives of several fish. When you are done you have grown a small bacteria population that still needs to be nurtured to increase its population. You cannot, at the end of a fish-in cycle, fully stock your tank.

The fishless/ammonia cycle takes as little as 3 weeks, and can be even faster, grows a BIG bacteria population, and does not harm fish in any way.

Both methods give you plenty of practice using your test kit.

How to cycle a tank the fishless way:

1) Make sure all equipment is working, fill with water that has all the stuff you will need for the fish you intend to keep. Dechlorinator, minerals for GH or KH adjustments, the proper salt mix, if you are creating a brackish or marine tank. These bacteria require a few minerals, so make sure the GH and KH is at least 3 German degrees of hardness. Aquarium plant fertilizer containing phosphate should be added if the water has no phosphate. They grow best when the pH is in the 7s. Good water movement, fairly warm (mid to upper 70sF), no antibiotics or other toxins.

2) (Optional)Add some source of the bacteria. Used filter media from a cycled tank is best, gravel or some decorations or a few plants... even some water, though this is the poorest source of the beneficial bacteria.
Bacteria in a bottle can be a source of these bacteria, but make sure you are getting Nitrospira spp of bacteria. All other ‘bacteria in a bottle’ products have the wrong bacteria. This step is optional. The proper bacteria will find the tank even if you make no effort to add them. Live plants may bring in these bacteria on their leaves and stems.

3) Add ammonia until the test reads 5 ppm. This is the non-sudsing, no surfactants, no-fragrance-added ammonia that is often found in a hardware store, discount stores, and sometimes in a grocery store. The concentration of ammonia may not be the same in all bottles. Try adding 5 drops per 10 gallons, then allowing the filter to circulate for about an hour, then test. If the reading isn't up to 5 ppm, add a few more drops and test again. (Example, if your test reads only 2 ppm, then add another 5 drops) Some ammonia is such a weak dilution you may need to add several ounces to get a reading.

4) Test for ammonia daily, and add enough to keep the reading at 5 ppm. You probably will not have to add much, if any, in the first few days, unless you added a good amount of bacteria to jump start the cycle.

5) Several days after you start, begin testing for nitrites. When the nitrites show up, reduce the amount of ammonia you add so the test shows 3ppm. (Add only half as much ammonia as you were adding in part 4) Add this reduced amount daily from now until the tank is cycled.
If the nitrites get too high (over 5 ppm), do a water change. The bacteria growth is slowed because of the high nitrites. Reducing the level of ammonia to 3 ppm should prevent the nitrite from getting over 5 ppm.

6) Continue testing, and adding ammonia daily. The nitrates will likely show up about 2 weeks after you started. Keep monitoring, and watch for 0 ppm ammonia, 0 ppm nitrite and rising nitrates.

7) Once the 0 ppm ammonia and nitrites shows up it may bounce around a little bit for a day or two. Be patient. Keep adding the ammonia; keep testing ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.
When it seems done you can challenge the system by adding more than a regular dose of ammonia, and the bacteria should be able to remove the ammonia and nitrite by the next day.
If you will not be adding fish right away continue to add the ammonia to keep the bacteria fed.

8) When you are ready to add the fish, do at least one water change, and it may take a couple of them, to reduce the nitrate to safe levels (as low as possible, certainly below 10 ppm) I have seen nitrate approaching 200 ppm by the end of this fishless cycle in a non-planted tank.

9) You can plant a tank that is being cycled this way at any point during the process. If you plant early, the plants will be well rooted, and better able to handle the disruption of the water change.
Yes, the plants will use some of the ammonia and the nitrates. They are part of the nitrogen handling system, part of the biofilter, they are working for you. Some plants do not like high ammonia, though. If a certain plant dies, remove it, and only replace it after the cycle is done.

10) The fishless cycle can also be used when you are still working out the details of lighting, plants and other things. If you change the filter, make sure you keep the old media for several weeks or a month. Most of the bacteria have been growing in this media (sponges, floss etc).
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Ok, ammonia twice a day 1ppm. You say to test twice a day.

With using seeding and plant method, with ammonia.... when will I know the cycle is complete?
When I have
ammonia 0
nitrite 0
but nitrate --- ??? You mention "rising nitrates" in #6 and 200ppm under #8. Is there a specific number or range it should be?
 

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The plants may use up most of the nitrogen, so there may be little or no nitrates, or there could be some. In a low light tank the nitrate may climb almost as much as in a tank with no plants.

The tank is cycled when the bacteria or plants (both, actually) can remove all the ammonia overnight, and no nitrite shows up. It does not matter what the nitrate is doing.

What you will see is that as long as the bacteria are still growing is the nitrite levels sort of varying. The plants are removing some of the ammonia, and the bacteria are trying to deal with the rest of it. The ammonia the bacteria use gets turned into nitrite. The ammonia removing group of bacteria grows pretty fast, so you will see the ammonia disappearing better and better each day. After a week or so the ammonia will probably be gone each time you test. The next group of bacteria grow slower, so there will be lingering nitrite for as long as 2 weeks. If it starts climbing to 5 ppm do a water change. Eventually this second group of bacteria will really get going and you will see the nitrite dropping. Suddenly it will be zero. Seems to happen really fast: One day the test is still rich pink or at least purple-pink, the next it is clear blue. (API test).

I would do a water change before adding the fish, no matter what the nitrate level is.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thank you! Your explanation makes sense to me.

A week or so ago, I did a test on how many drops of ammonia it would take to make 5ppm in one gallon, so I could multiply that out to figure for my 5 gal. tank. I came up with 8 drops for the 5 gal. tank.

I didn't add any ammonia to the tank till yesterday.

I tried to get the ammonia up to 1ppm. Didn't get it there. I pulled a half cup or so of water from the tank into a very clean jar. Added a few drops ammonia, shook it up to mix it, then poured it back into the tank, all along the length. I waited an hour or so for it to distribute. Repeated this 4 times - using 14 drops total - and only got to .5ppm

I tested today and have the following
ammonia - not quite .25
nitrite 5
nitrate between 10-20

I added another 6 drops, and will check it in an hour.

I am wondering if I need to redo my test of drops per gallon. I originally used my well water... now have well water cut to 25% and distilled and RO water for the rest. That should not matter for amount of ammonia to get to 1ppm should it?

I will post my water hardness, RO etc. questions in a separate post.
 

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It sounds like it is partially cycled already and using up the ammonia quickly like it should. But since there is still nitrite, it is not done yet. When you can add some ammonia and both go to 0 then it is done.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I did my first water change today, according to the test results.

First, I didn't realize that a lot of the plants I had "planted" actually came out of the mini gravel. I was looking at it last night, and realized I was seeing a bunch of roots and stem ends. Not good. So, with today's water change, I replanted. Nearly everything had come up out of the gravels. I am using a natural looking gravel - it is really small, less than half size of a pea.

What a mess. Tried to replant everything, but when I put in the new RO water - many came back up. I tried to break the flow with my hand and pouring on a big rock and the driftwood, but I did not do very well.

So, have a 50% water change done. This morning, ammonia was almost 0, nitrite was at least 5 - it was at the bottom of the chart, and nitrate was 80.

Will see what it reads in the morning.

Thinking I will need to continue adding ammonia.
 

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I think the ammonia test is showing you some odd results.

Let me recap:
You practiced out of the tank (great!!!) to see how much ammonia you needed to add, but when you added this much ammonia the test showed there was not that much.
I think your dechlor locked up the ammonia so your test showed almost none, but the bacteria got busy on the ammonia even though it was locked up.
You did not think there was much ammonia, so you added more and more.
You have done OK for the first population of bacteria, they are populous enough to handle that much, but they are turning it into nitrite.
Now you test nitrite and see it is 5 ppm.
This is too high. I would do a water change to drop it. Then add only enough ammonia (based on your calculations) to make it 3 ppm, no higher. Do not go by test results.
You are seeing very high nitrate test results.
Do not trust it. Some test kits will show nitrate when there really is nitrite in the tank.

I think your tank is getting really close to being cycled. See how it does when you add only 3 ppm ammonia. What are the ammonia and nitrite results 24 hours after adding the ammonia?
 
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