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Discussion Starter #1
A fellow aquarist and I were having a discussion the other day about the "cycling" process of aquariums. We came to the conclusion that most people take the whole process maybe to seriously so I was interested in everyone elses opinion.

Every aquarium I have ever set up I always do the exact same thing. I do a partial water change on my other tanks and add that water to the aquarium. I then fill the remainder of the tank with tap water and then add dechlorinator. After that I squeeze some filter media into the tank and hook up some aeration/new filter.

I then add a handful of any floating plant I can find and continue to feed the tank with flake food as if there were fish in it for a week. After a week I do an approximately 30% water change and immediately add fish at that point. I don't even own water parameter testing equipment and I have never lost a fish from "new tank syndrome" or whatever you want to call it.

I often read of people adding household ammonia, special store purchased items, and waiting weeks-months before adding fish.

I'm of the mindset that if you feed properly, do weekly/bi-weekly water changes you don't need to be to concerned of the "cycling" process. Am I way off base here?

Let's try not to get chippy, everyone has their own ideas, I'm just honestly curious what others think.
 

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Depends on how you deal. If you keep small fish and add them a few at a time, it works. But if you are the type who wants to order fish and that often means ordering all at once to save shipping, cycling is about the only way to go.
Simple, cheap fish like tetras or mollies are not so expensive that most would get warped by their dying. If you are ordering 6-8 fish that costs $50 and up, you will likely want to do it more carefully.
The cycle with ammonia, done correctly , will set the bio filter up to handle a full load where otherwise one has to work more slowly and watch more carefully for ammonia and nitrite if doing a fish-in cycle.
 

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Around 45 years ago when I first started keeping fish you never heard talk about cycling fresh water tanks. Only saltwater. Even 10 years ago I don't remember it being made such a big deal bout it like you read today.

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lo tech amateur

I'm just a lo tech amateur that prefers live plants as opposed to plastic. I have a 55 gal tank at 75% capacity. The only thing I do is 30% wc every 2 weeks and add dechlorinator (city water). I've had almost all my otos die and 2 mollies in the last 2 weeks. All others are healthy. My wife said she always used straight well water and rarely changed her 10 gallon. She even did complete flushes as I used to do and the fish survived. I would say some get too bent around the axle about it.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Around 45 years ago when I first started keeping fish you never heard talk about cycling fresh water tanks. Only saltwater. Even 10 years ago I don't remember it being made such a big deal bout it like you read today.

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Couldn't agree more. I read all these posts and am just so confused by the answers given to "beginners". It seems like we are turning something relatively simple into some crazy to achieve process. I had a co-worker recently tell me that they were going to get a tank for their kids, but after reading about the amount of work to get it set-up correctly online they passed and got a video game instead. That makes me sad.
 

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Given the incredible level of ignorance and misinformation at many PetStores (where most new aquarium keepers seem to get their "facts") and the tendency for people to buy a tank and bunch of fish and then show up on forums asking why their fish are dying it makes perfect sense for more knowledgeable people to get out there and preach about cycling. It takes time to cycle a tank and time to read about nitrates and nitrites and so on -- if they don't get some pressure to learn many will not bother. Once a month or thereabouts I see a post on this site where the poster's fish or inverts are clearly doomed because the person does not understand the basics. So, I think it makes perfect sense to preach the gospel of cycling and more: Quarantine and the responsible disposal of surplus fish or plants are two others that come to mind.

The difference between you (OP) and the folks I just mentioned is that you know what you are doing -- you can break the rules because you know them!

So, personally, I think it good to be an evangelist for "best practices" and preach cycling even if I don't practice it.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Given the incredible level of ignorance and misinformation at many PetStores (where most new aquarium keepers seem to get their "facts") and the tendency for people to buy a tank and bunch of fish and then show up on forums asking why their fish are dying it makes perfect sense for more knowledgeable people to get out there and preach about cycling. It takes time to cycle a tank and time to read about nitrates and nitrites and so on -- if they don't get some pressure to learn many will not bother. Once a month or thereabouts I see a post on this site where the poster's fish or inverts are clearly doomed because the person does not understand the basics. So, I think it makes perfect sense to preach the gospel of cycling and more: Quarantine and the responsible disposal of surplus fish or plants are two others that come to mind.

The difference between you (OP) and the folks I just mentioned is that you know what you are doing -- you can break the rules because you know them!

So, personally, I think it good to be an evangelist for "best practices" and preach cycling even if I don't practice it.
I agree 100%. I guess I should have said in the beginning that I don't think any information given out is necessarily "bad" or "wrong", just that I was confused as to if every person out there was really going to such excessive lengths to get their tank ready for fish. I've read so many articles advising people to add certain percentages of store bought ammonia to get the tank cycling on a daily basis. How many people actually do that? To me advising a beginner to dump ammonia in a tank is almost scarier than having them do nothing... maybe I'm way off base here.
 

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I agree 100%. I guess I should have said in the beginning that I don't think any information given out is necessarily "bad" or "wrong", just that I was confused as to if every person out there was really going to such excessive lengths to get their tank ready for fish. I've read so many articles advising people to add certain percentages of store bought ammonia to get the tank cycling on a daily basis. How many people actually do that? To me advising a beginner to dump ammonia in a tank is almost scarier than having them do nothing... maybe I'm way off base here.
True. Then there is peroxide. :eek:
 

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I've been keeping fish since 1969. I don't remember exactly when I learned about the nitrogen cycle, but it was a long time ago from library books. Way back then they didn't talk about fishless cycling and test kits, but they did strongly emphasize starting out with a few hardy fish to get things going and then to add fish slowly so the bacteria could catch up.
So, for most of my fish keeping experience I've not done testing when setting up a new aquarium (most of my tanks have been set up for over 30 years), but I always took it very very slow and rarely lost fish due due to new tank syndrome. But I certainly know of people who bought a tank, set it up and promptly added a bunch of fish only to have them get sick and die in a few weeks when ammonia and/or nitrites built up because they didn't understand that their clean looking water wasn't as good as they thought it was.

Cycling was emphasized years ago:
Just recently I was cleaning out a bunch of stuff from the basement and found aquarium related magazines from late 1980's to early 1990's. I read a few of them again and noticed that they really really emphasized cycling! Every magazine had at least one large article about it, I assume to make sure that readers were educated on the subject. Some of the later magazines from 20 years ago talked about even fishless cycling.

In the last few years my daughter started up her own tanks so I thought we'd get some test kits for our selves and follow the cycle. Since her tanks are betta tanks we didn't bother with a fishless cycle since bettas seem to be exremely tough. Even with plenty of media from my very established tanks, we observed the ammonia spike and then nitrite spike following by nitrates forming, taking almost a month to complete. With water changes and such we never observed any obvious stress on the fish, but it was definitely a learning experience to know that the fish were probably going through some stress.
IMO, the nitrogen cycle is one of the most important things a person new to fish keeping needs to know. How they cycle their tanks, whether with a few tough fish, fish food or ammonia isn't the critical thing.
 

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Around 45 years ago when I first started keeping fish you never heard talk about cycling fresh water tanks. Only saltwater. Even 10 years ago I don't remember it being made such a big deal bout it like you read today.

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+1 and all the yammering has not saved fish.

Water changes, not sure why there's an aversion to them, but any new planted tank with CO2 etc, it's going to be a wise thing and will make the start up much much easier, eg, 2-3x a week, 50-70%.

You get a planted tank, or otherwise, water changes are what you signed up for. Non CO2 can do without them, but............there's some caveats and serious trade offs.

Plants take up NH4, so cycling is pointless for planted tanks.
There is no "cycle" of any concerned. I suppose if you have 1 Anubias and 30 Gallon tank...........then add 50 cardinals in it and feed them like mad right away, but those folks will kill their fish anyhow. They'd do best to do the water changes more and not play with ammonia. I'm trying to think of any good that Fishless cycling might do for a hobbyists, and I'm really coming up with very very few reasons anyone should bother with it.

Several others with decades also have essentially stated the same things.

Using mulm, or that brown muck from the filter sponge of filter media that's being cleaned is ideal cleaned, or swap out an old pad for the new filter pad etc. Plant roots are also covered with bacteria. So the seeding is easy.
Why wait 3-4 weeks when you can add precisely what you need that's live and fresh?

Goad newbies into doing water changes, that will save more fish over time than any FC ever has. One simple universal thing. And teach them to do so and make it easier, eg, python like things or 20 years before python or similar hose doohickies came out, we used this:





Hang on the tank to drain, twist to set the height % you want changed, clean filters, do any other things you need while it drains out onto the lawn, drain etc. Once drained, then you take the other end and get a garden hose to PVC adapter(Most all hardware stores have these) and get generally 1/2" thread for the shower head. Adjust the tap temp and connect to refill the tank with tap water and add dechlorinator etc to the tank. No buckets are harmed, you can change multiple tanks in a few minutes.

Plenty of folks have killed or toasted their tanks using Fishless cycling also, like anything that can kill fish...........
 

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hmm, still do a cycle when I set up my tanks, not that hard and just takes a bit of time...

I like your pvc tank drain fill as it is really simple, I will modify mine a bit with your idea, I also have a 3/4" pvc with a 1.5" inlet for vacuuming when I do that

I normally do a 50% change every 3-4 weeks on a 120 and 50 at the same time, it takes me about an hour, during the drain and fill time I do some plant trimming, glass cleaning, and general housekeeping...
 

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Discussion Starter #12
+1 and all the yammering has not saved fish.

Water changes, not sure why there's an aversion to them, but any new planted tank with CO2 etc, it's going to be a wise thing and will make the start up much much easier, eg, 2-3x a week, 50-70%.

You get a planted tank, or otherwise, water changes are what you signed up for. Non CO2 can do without them, but............there's some caveats and serious trade offs.

Plants take up NH4, so cycling is pointless for planted tanks.
There is no "cycle" of any concerned. I suppose if you have 1 Anubias and 30 Gallon tank...........then add 50 cardinals in it and feed them like mad right away, but those folks will kill their fish anyhow. They'd do best to do the water changes more and not play with ammonia. I'm trying to think of any good that Fishless cycling might do for a hobbyists, and I'm really coming up with very very few reasons anyone should bother with it.

Several others with decades also have essentially stated the same things.

Using mulm, or that brown muck from the filter sponge of filter media that's being cleaned is ideal cleaned, or swap out an old pad for the new filter pad etc. Plant roots are also covered with bacteria. So the seeding is easy.
Why wait 3-4 weeks when you can add precisely what you need that's live and fresh?

Goad newbies into doing water changes, that will save more fish over time than any FC ever has. One simple universal thing. And teach them to do so and make it easier, eg, python like things or 20 years before python or similar hose doohickies came out, we used this:





Hang on the tank to drain, twist to set the height % you want changed, clean filters, do any other things you need while it drains out onto the lawn, drain etc. Once drained, then you take the other end and get a garden hose to PVC adapter(Most all hardware stores have these) and get generally 1/2" thread for the shower head. Adjust the tap temp and connect to refill the tank with tap water and add dechlorinator etc to the tank. No buckets are harmed, you can change multiple tanks in a few minutes.

Plenty of folks have killed or toasted their tanks using Fishless cycling also, like anything that can kill fish...........
Thanks for the reply Tom. You basically reaffirmed my opinion on the subject. Appreciate it.
 

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Whether or not planted tanks will negate a cycle depends on the planted tank. A high light, high tech, CO2 tank with loads of plants is not a newby kind of tank. A low light low tech tank with lots of crypts and java fern will not take up the ammonia of anything more than a very low fish load. I will agree that adding floating plants such as pennywort or watersprite can soak it up pretty good, but it still won't allow someone to dump a bunch of rummynose into their tank right away.
Even seeding with lots of old filter media can still take some time to properly colonize an entire new tank.

I've seen plenty over the years to totally convince me that cycling (and PATIENCE) is important for most fish keepers. And water changes. I will definitely agree with water changes.

I don't think it has to be complicated nor expensive. I'm very low tech, very old school - l learned to keep fish when I was a kid and no extra money so did without test kits and chemical additives, back in the day when I could declorinate water by just aging it a day and the only live plant I could find was elodea or hornwort.
 

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Some things I think get missed are:
The nitrogen cycle is an inevitable occurrence in an aquarium. Whether we want one or not is irrelevant, it will happen.
A guppy is a very small fish, and its waste products must necessarily be extremely tiny compared to the size of a typical aquarium tank. It takes a lot of them, or other small fish, to produce a measurable amount of ammonia.
The bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite will exist in equilibrium with the amount of ammonia that is present to feed them. Add a teaspoon of ammonia to the tank and grow a big colony of those bacteria, but stop adding the ammonia, and the bacteria colony has to shrink as a result. Add a few fish, instead of the ammonia, and the colony can quickly adjust to that, without overshooting and dieing back.

The above is why I like to plant my tank relatively heavily from the start, give it a week or two for the plants to start growing well, then add a few fish, wait a week or so, add a few more, wait another week or so and add the rest of the fish. ADA Aquasoil complicates this a bit, but the idea is still valid, in my opinion.
 

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For those who say it makes no sense to cycle a tank, I have a question as I feel you may be ignoring one whole aspect of the hobby. Not all tanks are set up and used as your tanks are so there are other cases where I feel the tank needs to be cycled with a fishless cycle.

Example: An experienced fish keeper who knows how to deal with fish, moves and wants to set up his tank. He doesn't want to settle for a few small fish as he has in the past. He wants nice, big, expensive fish that he can't get locally so he has to order them.
The fish are only available from a dealer across the country so shipping is too expensive to do more than once.

Does he do a fish in cycle and change water until he is blue and risk loss or damage to the fish ? Or does he need to do a fishless cycle and make the tank ready to support a full load of fish added all at once?

There is not one true way to do this game but it does take some thought as to which works best in each situation. Of course there are those who can't do a fishless cycle correctly. But is that the fault of the process or the fault of the user?
 

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Isn't it all really just a choice? Is either means harder than the other? Most of you have experience and know what to expect and can deal with it. Is it better for someone new to aquariums to learn the nitrogen cycle through a somewhat artificial means where they are not forced to do water change or their fish die?

Given a choice between the two methods, which is better for the new aquarist and the new fish that they want?

I have done it both ways. If I want to mail order fish and order a lot to save by getting free shipping, if it is a new tank I am occupying I am going to go with a fishless cycle. I put close to 100 fish in an unplanted 125 in one day...something I wouldn't suggest as the first fish for any tank. If I just bought a new tank and wanted to stock with African cichlids, could I stock fast enough to fight against aggression issues...since normal practice is to overstock to prevent aggression? The last two tanks I cycled fishless I did it in 10 days or less and I could dose to 4ppm NH3 and it would be gone in less than 24hrs.

My preferred way is to heavily plant, wait a week or two and slowly stock. Most new aquarists don't have that kind of patience.

Point is, both ways have good and bad points. To me, both are extremely easy. It's like choosing a filter...we all have our own opinions on which type is best.
 

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To answer the initial question in post #1, no, beginning aquarists must understand the nitrification cycle and somehow deal with it, or dead fish will result. I wrote an article a couple years back on bacteria, and as my contribution to the discussion I will cut and paste relevant portions, being those directly concerned with nitrification.

The Nitrogen Cycle

Nitrogen comprises about 80% of our atmosphere, and every life form on earth works hard to acquire it. In the aquarium, nitrogen exists in four forms: ammonia [NH3], ammonium [NH4], nitrite [NO2] and nitrate [NO3]. [This excludes the denitrifying aspect where some of the nitrate returns to nitrogen gas.]

Ammonia is a by-product of all aerobic metabolisms—fish, snails, invertebrates, fungi and bacteria; it naturally occurs from continuous biological processes and living organisms in any aquarium, and even at very low levels this ammonia is very highly toxic to all life. At levels between 0.5 and 1 ppm there can be long-term or permanent gill damage. Ammonia is never healthy at levels that can be detected by our standard test kits, and in most cases will have negative effects on the fish. [1]

The fastest uptake of ammonia in an aquarium occurs with live plants; ammonia can be both assimilated (as a nutrient in the ionized form ammonium) and taken up (as a toxin, NH3) by plants. But ammonia is also taken up (though more slowly) by certain nitrifying bacteria, and this produces another form of nitrogen—nitrite, which is also highly toxic to all life at very low levels. Fish readily absorb nitrIte from the water and it combines with the hemoglobin in their blood, forming methaemoglobin. As a consequence, the blood cannot transport oxygen as easily and this can become fatal. At 0.25 ppm nitrite begins to affect fish after a short period; at 0.5 ppm it becomes dangerous; and at 1.0 ppm it is often fatal.

Another group of bacteria take up nitrite, producing nitrate, which is still toxic though much less so. High levels of nitrate, above 40 ppm, have been shown to slow fish growth, suppress breeding, and depress the immune system making the fish much more susceptible to disease. While different fish species show some variation in tolerance, a level below 20 ppm is recommended, and preferably below 10 ppm. After all, most of our fish occur in waters with nitrate so low it can scarcely be measured. Live plants and regular partial water changes both work to achieve this desired state in a balanced aquarium.

The bacteria responsible for this nitrification process of converting ammonia to nitrite to nitrate are termed nitrifying. But the nitrogen cycle is only complete (in aquaria) when it includes de-nitrification; in this stage, different bacteria that are termed denitrifying convert nitrate into nitrogen gas which is released back into the atmosphere. Another component of the complete nitrogen cycle in nature but not present in our aquaria involves the “fixing” of atmospheric nitrogen by cyanobacteria and other life forms.

Nitrifying Bacteria

Nitrification is the oxidation of ammonia/ammonium to nitrite and then the subsequent oxidation of nitrite to nitrate; this is performed by two groups of bacteria known collectively as nitrifying bacteria or nitrifiers. True nitrifying bacteria are autotrophs; they use chemosynthesis to manufacture their energy by using oxygen plus nitrogenous waste (ammonia or nitrite) and carbon (from CO2). There are several different bacterium species involved, all in the family Nitrobacteraceae, that carry out this function in soil, and it used to be thought that these, particularly Nitrosomonas europa and Nitrobacter, were the nitrification bacteria in freshwater. But Dr. Timothy Hovanec led the team of scientists that proved this to be a mistaken assumption. Ammonia is converted to nitrite by bacteria of the Nitrosonomas marina-like strain [2] and nitrite is converted to nitrate by bacteria closely related to Nitrospira moscoviensis and Nitrospira marina. [3] With several subsequent scientific studies by other scientists on wastewater nitrifying bacteria this data is now accepted and confirmed scientific fact. [Ed. This is now believed to be the bacteria in new systems; these disappear as the aquarium establishes, to be replaced by another lifeform, archaea.]

Once established, the population of these bacteria in an aquarium will be in direct proportion to the amount of ammonia or nitrite respectively. Nitrifying bacteria require 12-32 hours to multiply, which they do by binary division [each bacterium divides into two bacteria]. Nitrosomonas multiply in less time (12+ hours) while Nitrospira require more time (up to 32 hours). In a new aquarium, it can take up to eight weeks for the bacteria populations to reach a level capable of eliminating ammonia and nitrite.

The nitrogen cycle bacteria in aquaria are lithotrophic; the word comes from the Greek lithos [= rock] and troph [= consumer], so literally it means “rock eater.” Realistically, it means these bacteria colonize surfaces. The scientific processes that cause this may most simply be described as the bacteria being pulled from the water by several actions occurring on the surfaces. Bacteria are sticky; they exude protein coatings that allow them to build up into a slimy film that we term a biofilm.

Endnotes: [bracketed numbers above]

[1] For more detailed information, see “Nitrogen Cycle,” The Skeptical Aquarist website. Also Neil Frank, “Ammonia Toxicity to Freshwater Fish” on The Krib website. Also Robert T. Ricketts, “Aquarium Microbes, Part 1, Nitrification” on The Aquarium Wiki website.

[2] Paul C. Burrell, Carol M. Phalen, and Timothy A. Hovanec, “Identification of Bacteria Responsible for Ammonia Oxidation in Freshwater Aquaria,” Applied and Environmental Microbiology, December 2001, pp. 5791-5800.

[3] Hovanec, T. A., L. T. Taylor, A. Blakis and E. F. DeLong, “Nitrospira- Like Bacteria Associated with Nitrite Oxidation in Freshwater Aquaria,” Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Vol. 64, No. 1, pp. 258-264.
 

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This is a planted forum. Even a general aquarist is well advised to do water changes. LFS tell folks this all the time. So does the web.

Cycling with or without NH4 is going to happen as Hoppy states and if you add a fair amount of plants, there's certainly no reason to FC.

You have to go with bad advice or bad ill advised methods/routines, additions to cause an issue where FC might have some merits. And often given the no#'s of issues that are caused by this, I think the trade off is not worth it, FC causes more problems than it helps.

You can always use the argument that we can find a better idiot.
Poor advice to start off with often is the root cause.

Can it be done? Certainly, is it good advice? I do not think so.

You can also FC a filter in a simple small bucket and not pollute the entire tank and require more water changes etc. I never see such ideas offered in any FC threads. Not once. You still wait the exact same time before adding fish to the new tank.

Meanwhile I have a packed tank and fish and shrimp etc and no algae.
Patience is also not an argument for FC either.

I've still not heard anything new here or in any thread as to the real merits for FC, yes, you can do it if you believe the drivel written and if you look for aquarist that really are not going to listen much anyway, but latch on to this for some reason.

FC does not avoid the water change.
FC does not teach you about cycling anymore than any other type of testing.
FC can be done in a bucket.
Good basic advice, eg adding plenty of plants from day one, floating water sprite etc if they are not good with plants etc. Duckweed, whatever.
Not overloading the tank.
If you mail order a lot of fish, you are going to put them in Quarantine.
You are going to do a lot of water changes(discus folks do even with mature filters). I get large lots for clients, been here, done this.

I'm not seeing any decent arguments for FC.
 

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Obviously they do.

The thing about cycling a tank with plants is that you have to know how to grow the plants in the first place, adding fish to that equation can make it even harder.
 

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A fishless cycle does not require water changes until the very end when ammonia and nitrites are 0. This could be 1-2wks usually. A fishless cycle doesn't teach any less about a nitrogen cycle either. If you mail order a lot of fish and its the first fish a tank gets, that tank is the q-tank. The fishless cycle doesn't try to get away from water changes, these are still needed weekly - after. It only gets you through the process of creating the colonies of bb, nothing else.

Your right though, this is a planted site. Given that, most come here with planted tanks and the experience level is higher than most sites I have been to. Go to a general fish forum and you see the number of newbs not typically seen here (not compared to the other forum I go to), that are struggling through a new tank with dying fish.

You could debate the merits or non all day long. The one thing for sure is a fishless cycle absolutely cannot harm a fish. If I don't change water in a fish-in cycle with increasing levels of toxicity, not so. In the fishless I not only don't have to worry about that, I add 4ppm ammonia everyday to drive those levels high on purpose.

I don't really argue for one or the other, but I can see the merits in both. People who have done it certain ways and never had a problem for many years are not likely to open up to a different idea. Why fix something that isn't broke, right?
 
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