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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm trying to set up an easy, low-tech spec III shrimp tank for my son's preschool. So far I'm stuck.

I added about 2ppm ammonia about 10d ago to start "shrimpless" cycle, and put some filter sponge from another tank on top of the filter, but - while I now have nitrite and nitrate, the ammonia is still 1ppm. Should I do a water change...? Just keep waiting...?

Plants are subwassertang, Java moss, Anubias. All water column feeders, not substrate- I have Flourish and dry ferts. How much and how often should I fertilize? I plan to drop blanched veggie in the tank one day a week and pull it out the next day, so it won't have fish food inputs.

Right now, the plants I have in there are covered with algae, so once the tank cycles, I imagine I will need to add new ones and clean up the ones that might survive before adding shrimp (leaving a bit of algae for the shrimp, of course).

Any spec III experience and suggestions???


11,721 Posts
Ferts while cycling: Do not bother adding nitrogen in any form for the plants. They can use the ammonia you are adding and the nitrite and nitrate that show up. Go ahead and add P, K, traces. I am not sure about using Excel for carbon during cycling- it has some antibacterial action, and I would not want to do anything to slow down the growth of the bacteria.

Here is the fish *shrimp* less cycle. Look through it and make sure the water parameters are good to grow the bacteria at their optimum rate. If these water parameters are not right for shrimp, you will do a big water change at the end, and can add just the right water for the shrimp.

The amount of beneficial bacteria that you got from the other tank may not have been very much. The bacteria grow on all the surfaces in the filter and tank. If you just took part of the filter media, and the tank you took it from was not heavily stocked, then there will not be enough bacteria to instantly cycle the tank. You have 2 options:
Continue the shrimpless cycle. (follow the directions in the fishless cycle. There is a note at the bottom about cycling with plants in the tank)
Add the right species of bacteria. Look for Nitrospira species of bacteria, and do not settle for 'It is just the same'.

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 methemglobinemia 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.

222 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Wow, that's much more consistent effort than I've been doing, thanks for the info. I did a water change and added more ammonia to bring the levels up per the instructions.

Re ferts, I mean how should I fertilize once the tank is up and going with such a small tank? I don't plan to use Excel, but I imagine the plants need add'l fertilizers with just shrimp waste and no fish food...? Thx-

11,721 Posts
Fish food or shrimp food have the same nutrients as far as the plants are concerned.

These can supply a fair amount of N, P and most traces, but tend to be low in K and Fe. They often have low levels of Ca and Mg, too.

If you are adjusting the GH of the water to suit the shrimp by adding a product that contains both Ca and Mg, then do not add more GH boosters, just monitor the level and see if the plants and shrimp are removing these minerals in between the times you add them (I presume when you do a water change). If the level drops too low then you might add a little bit in between water changes.

Monitor the NO3.
If the NO3 is between 5-20ppm, then you can assume the shrimp food is supplying enough N, P and most traces for the plants.
I would dose a low level of K and Fe.

If the NO3 hits zero, then the plants are highly likely removing all the N, P and perhaps traces that you are adding from the shrimp food. I would dose low levels of N and P, but be very careful with traces. Most trace mineral blends have copper, and you do not want to over dose this mineral.
I would dose just a bit more K and Fe, too.
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