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Hi all, new to planted aquariums and to this great site!
I started by buying a 37 gallon tank (22” deep, minus a few “ of substrate), putting down some carib eco complete substrate, and got planting. My goal has been to do what I guess would be considered a “silent cycle.” Basically I just planted several, fast growing plants, mostly stem plants, and provided them with root tabs and seachem flourish, as directed. I also added a somewhat decent LED light (keeping it lowtech, no CO2, plants only need low to moderate light). It’s been just one week now, and I detected maybe 0.25ppm ammonia, somewhere between 1-5ppm nitrite, and ~5ppm nitrates. I haven’t added any source of ammonia, so I’m thinking that the tank is sort of doing it’s thing with the plants alone? Im wondering if I should do a small water change soon if the nitrites don’t go down and if ammonia climbs? I did also add some API quickstart once I saw those levels, to see if that would do anything to help speed up this process. At this point, if plants continue to grow and if nitrites go down, would it be safe to add just a few fish at first, after a partial water change?
Thanks!
 

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Hi all, new to planted aquariums and to this great site!
I started by buying a 37 gallon tank (22” deep, minus a few “ of substrate), putting down some carib eco complete substrate, and got planting. My goal has been to do what I guess would be considered a “silent cycle.” Basically I just planted several, fast growing plants, mostly stem plants, and provided them with root tabs and seachem flourish, as directed. I also added a somewhat decent LED light (keeping it lowtech, no CO2, plants only need low to moderate light). It’s been just one week now, and I detected maybe 0.25ppm ammonia, somewhere between 1-5ppm nitrite, and ~5ppm nitrates. I haven’t added any source of ammonia, so I’m thinking that the tank is sort of doing it’s thing with the plants alone? Im wondering if I should do a small water change soon if the nitrites don’t go down and if ammonia climbs? I did also add some API quickstart once I saw those levels, to see if that would do anything to help speed up this process. At this point, if plants continue to grow and if nitrites go down, would it be safe to add just a few fish at first, after a partial water change?
Thanks!
You should have a source of ammonia to get a good cycle. You don't want a situation where you have grown some nitrifying bacteria but not enough to handle the waste fish produce, then when the fish get added you get immediate ammonia spike and have to re-cycle your tank. Your ammonia could be as simple as some fish food you let rot or it could be a pure ammonia product.

Keep an eye on the stem plants, despite claims on the bag, eco-complete is actually inert. The only fertilizer it had was whatever was in the water in the bag and as you might imagine that goes away pretty quick. So if you plan to proceed with only root tabs be aware you should be replacing those on some kind of regular schedule. Personally I prefer liquid fertilizer all in one product like Nicolg ThriveC or Aquarium Co-op Easy Green. I actually have both in use on different tanks and they both do a fine job for me. As for water changes. You can do one whenever you feel you need it. The plants by themselves can handle reasonably high levels of ammonia, certainly 4ppm won't do them harm. Fish of course are a different story.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
You should have a source of ammonia to get a good cycle. You don't want a situation where you have grown some nitrifying bacteria but not enough to handle the waste fish produce, then when the fish get added you get immediate ammonia spike and have to re-cycle your tank. Your ammonia could be as simple as some fish food you let rot or it could be a pure ammonia product.

Keep an eye on the stem plants, despite claims on the bag, eco-complete is actually inert. The only fertilizer it had was whatever was in the water in the bag and as you might imagine that goes away pretty quick. So if you plan to proceed with only root tabs be aware you should be replacing those on some kind of regular schedule. Personally I prefer liquid fertilizer all in one product like Nicolg ThriveC or Aquarium Co-op Easy Green. I actually have both in use on different tanks and they both do a fine job for me. As for water changes. You can do one whenever you feel you need it. The plants by themselves can handle reasonably high levels of ammonia, certainly 4ppm won't do them harm. Fish of course are a different story.
Thanks for the reply! I’ll be sure to replenish the root tabs as they recommend as well. There’s actually a really interesting aquarium co-op video that mentions starting a new tank without ammonia and just using plants, since you’re essentially mimicking their natural habitat (but I do realize that this requires the tank to be fairly heavily planted). Im wondering if this will suffice because if the plants are eating everything up, then in theory I don’t care so much about the bacteria. And in theory they should and will still grow as well. I am curious to check my levels tonight after work to see if nitrites have to still spiked and if ammonia has gone up/down.
 

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Thanks for the reply! I’ll be sure to replenish the root tabs as they recommend as well. There’s actually a really interesting aquarium co-op video that mentions starting a new tank without ammonia and just using plants, since you’re essentially mimicking their natural habitat (but I do realize that this requires the tank to be fairly heavily planted). Im wondering if this will suffice because if the plants are eating everything up, then in theory I don’t care so much about the bacteria. And in theory they should and will still grow as well. I am curious to check my levels tonight after work to see if nitrites have to still spiked and if ammonia has gone up/down.
Plants as source of ammonia requires a lot of plants because in this situation, the decaying plant matter (dead leaves, stems that don't make it, roots that die off etc) are what is producing ammonia. In order for the plants to be the ones to eat any ammonia fish create essentially requires a LOT of plants and very few fish. It can definitely be done but its also not accurate to say this is the natural environment since in the natural environment, there is also loads of beneficial bacteria AND the water in streams and a rivers is being constantly 'changed' at rates that are really quite impossible in home aquariums. In function though if you were to say plant a tank and then add one or two fish you would actually just be doing a fish in cycle which is fine and all, but its not really the same as just letting the plants do the filtering.
 

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I think you're on the right track, although it should be noted that plants need above all the other nutrients, the carbon in Co2.

Not like using 20~30 PPM but enough to help the plants quickly transition from their former growing conditions, closer to 5~10 ppm, depending on the water's KH.

Keeping the tank at neutral pH will make the slight amount of Ammonia have a larger ionic ammonium level and plants preferentially use Ammonium over Nitrates. The natural decomposition of the plants dead leaves and bio-muck will add some ammonia/ammonium to help start the nitrifying bacteria. It's a balancing game, but it's not something you need to be obsessive about.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thank you all for this feedback, I can definitely add some fish flakes to the tank as well for a source of more ammonium for the bacteria.
 

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The silent cycle is a pretty broad term and can be applied in different ways. Although I understand @minorhero and his call to add ammonia, it isn't always necessary IMO and it really depends how patient you are.

For some reason many can't wait to put fish in their planted tank. I never add fish before 2 months and I also never use "ammonia" to start the cycle. Once you add plants you are adding a source of ammonia and bacteria so the cycle does start. I let the plants get settled and show me that conditions are good for their growth. During this time you can move things around if you want to change things up without worrying about fish or anything being released from the substrate. I always do large water changes during startup. This keeps ammonia to a minimum so the cycle really becomes mute. After testing ammonia I gradually add fish a few at a time and the bacteria will build up and adjust. As you keep changing water, again it keeps ammonia in a safe range and you continue to add fish until the setup can tolerate a full load. Remember water changes don't affect the cycle to any degree since the bacteria adheres to surfaces.

I have done this for years including with my current setup and never lose fish or shrimp to it.
 

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The silent cycle is a pretty broad term and can be applied in different ways. Although I understand @minorhero and his call to add ammonia, it isn't always necessary IMO and it really depends how patient you are.

For some reason many can't wait to put fish in their planted tank. I never add fish before 2 months and I also never use "ammonia" to start the cycle. Once you add plants you are adding a source of ammonia and bacteria so the cycle does start. I let the plants get settled and show me that conditions are good for their growth. During this time you can move things around if you want to change things up without worrying about fish or anything being released from the substrate. I always do large water changes during startup. This keeps ammonia to a minimum so the cycle really becomes mute. After testing ammonia I gradually add fish a few at a time and the bacteria will build up and adjust. As you keep changing water, again it keeps ammonia in a safe range and you continue to add fish until the setup can tolerate a full load. Remember water changes don't affect the cycle to any degree since the bacteria adheres to surfaces.

I have done this for years including with my current setup and never lose fish or shrimp to it.
Thanks for your wisdom! I’m being surprisingly patient about the fish, I’m willing to wait another few weeks, if necessary, of course. Yeah it’s daunting when you first start out because there’s so many different methods and so many different people swearing by different methods. But I’ve seen some experts speak from experience that having a good amount of established/growing plants in a new tank can take the place of having to add ammonia. Good point about the water changes, I have heard that it will not affect the cycle, since bacteria grow on surfaces. I’ll probably stick to weekly 15-20% changes as I monitor my levels. I’ll probably add a few more plants and even some snails soon before adding fish.
 

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Thanks for your wisdom! I’m being surprisingly patient about the fish, I’m willing to wait another few weeks, if necessary, of course. Yeah it’s daunting when you first start out because there’s so many different methods and so many different people swearing by different methods. But I’ve seen some experts speak from experience that having a good amount of established/growing plants in a new tank can take the place of having to add ammonia. Good point about the water changes, I have heard that it will not affect the cycle, since bacteria grow on surfaces. I’ll probably stick to weekly 15-20% changes as I monitor my levels. I’ll probably add a few more plants and even some snails soon before adding fish.
It sounds like you have a good plan. Patience is always the key and everything does better in a mature tank. If you add slowly the tank will adjust. The water changes and actively growing plants will rid the tank of excess ammonia and will keep the water pristine for the fish and other critters.
 

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It sounds like you have a good plan. Patience is always the key and everything does better in a mature tank. If you add slowly the tank will adjust. The water changes and actively growing plants will rid the tank of excess ammonia and will keep the water pristine for the fish and other critters.
Thank you! I’ll definitely stick with my plan and just be patient and vigilant with the levels.
 

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All great advice, but I’d add an emphasis on patience...! Don’t spend too much time second guessing yourself and let it happen naturally. I’ve managed to cycle a 120G in 6 weeks using only some bacteria (anaerobic and aerobic), lots of plants, the right amount of light, and PATIENCE! If you’re not familiar with adding ammonia to start the cycle then be leery as it is more complicated and demanding than it may seem, especially if you’re using the shrimp method. Again, IMO, less additives + time and patience = less stress...
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Thank you! I’m thinking the same, just get a bunch of well fed plants in there and give it time and be patient
 
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