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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I hope I'm not opening a huge can of worms by asking this, but can someone explain to me why we so frequently use terms like
  • "cycle" (verb)
  • "cycling" (verb)
  • "cycled" (adj, past tense verb)
when we're really talking about bringing the natural nitrogen cycle (noun) to a stable equilibrium in our tanks?

I realize that terminology is more concise, but it was very confusing for me when I was starting out and trying to understand what actually needed to be accomplished for a healthy tank.

I want to be clear that I'm not trying to troll in any way by asking this. Ideally, I'd love to have a discussion on how we can make the concept clearer for beginners.
 

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The nitrogen cycle is a noun. We are trying to establish a bacteria colony large enough to complete the nitrogen cycle. The terms cycle, cycling and cycled are probably very confusing for people who are grammar nuts; particularly in the case of something that includes the word cycle. We, as a whole, could switch to the term establish in order to alleviate the slight confusion.

We use those words because the guy who taught us used those words. The whole concept of a cycled tank was coined before most of us got into the hobby and it is unlikely to change.

The best help for beginners is to actually read instead of jumping head first into this hobby. More often than not, someone ends up researching after establishing an issue, not before. If people read up on fish keeping prior to starting a tank, they would all likely establish a healthy nitrogen cycle using the fishless method long before buying fish.
 

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If I am making a move, I continue moving until I have fully moved. I use cycle, cycling, and cycled for the same reason. It just makes sense. If that were the only points of confusion about the cycle, the world would be much brighter but the forum might totally fold due to lack of traffic.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Good points, Freemananana.

I think you're right that the terminology has pretty much been handed down for a long time. I may have had a particularly difficult time since I first learned about it after I was given a Betta as a gift and had to jump in and learn about it pretty quickly.

If I am making a move, I continue moving until I have fully moved. I use cycle, cycling, and cycled for the same reason.
To me, that's exactly why it was confusing; we don't wait for the nitrogen cycle to come to an end, we wait for it to reach a sustainable equilibrium. I suppose the real root of the problem is the naming collision that comes from using the verb cycle since it is also part of the name of the nitrogen cycle, as Freemananana mentioned.

I think that using the terms establish/establishing/established does seem more accurate. I realize I am going against tradition in saying so, although I do see that terminology used as well, particularly on sites like seriously fish which often states that livestock should only be added to established tanks.

On further reflection, I guess the standard cycle/cycling/cycled terminology and beginner instructions I found initially told me enough to get started and the confusion in terminology didn't really set in until I learned what the nitrogen cycle is and the terminology I learned earlier collided with that terminology.

Again, I'm not trying to criticize or troll. It was this site that helped me understand what the nitrogen cycle is and I'm hoping that as I get some experience in the hobby I can learn to help other beginners through some of the confusions I faced.

P.S. I think both responses so far are correct in pointing out that this probably isn't the most significant or harmful misunderstanding beginners commonly face. It was just one that I would have liked to figure out earlier than I did.
 

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I started keeping fish in the early 80's in high school.
I wasn't even the slightest bit confused about what the nitrogen cycle was, or what was happening in my tank.
This was with only my Axlerod book for reference, and before the internet to boot.

So either I was unusually intelligent for my age, or there isn't anything confusing about the nitrogen cycle.
 

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I've been around fish, fish tanks and filters since the late 70's, planted tanks on the other hand is new avenue for me. cycle, cycling, cycled make perfect sense in a sense. The tricky part is how cycled is your tank (filter) , enough for one fish two fish, etc.. Its all dependent on the biomass of the bacteria growing in your filter system
 

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"cycle" (verb)
"cycling" (verb)
"cycled" (adj, past tense verb)
"Cycle" would be a reference to the nitrogen cycle.

"Cycling" would be some form of an incomplete cycle.

"Cycled" would imply ready for livestock.

Established is too vague?
Established for what?

I only say this because I have a 6 month established tank.
It was ready for plants after finishing with the diatom algae.
Maybe even before the diatom algae had diminished?
It is now a small underwater jungle at this time.

Is it cycled to be livestock ready, the answer is no.
It is a large tank with 3 small fish newly introduced.
I may never see this tank truly cycle with a small bioload.
Livestock will be introduced with extreme moderation in my case.
 

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Now open a new can of worms:
Aquasoil, garden soil and a few other substrates goes through a period of adapting to being under water, during which time they produce a lot of ammonia.
For whatever reason, this is also referred to using the word cycle.

An 'Established' tank probably has a lot more microorganisms than just the species involved with the nitrogen cycle.
 

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I hope I'm not opening a huge can of worms by asking this, but can someone explain to me why we so frequently use terms like
  • "cycle" (verb)
  • "cycling" (verb)
  • "cycled" (adj, past tense verb)
...
It's really very simple -
Cycle - You tank is going to mess up on you.
Cycling - You tank is in the process of messing up on you.
Cycled - You tank is already messed up.

(just teasing)
 

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Seems like semantics to me. I never thought 'nitrogen cycle' or cycle, cycling, and cycled was at all confusing.
What's interesting and perhaps more confusing is the nitrogen cycle (or perhaps nearly lack thereof) in the planted tank. Plants will use ammonia first, long before nitrates so in the planted tank (especially if heavily planted and actively growing) in terms of nitrosomonas and nitrobacter bacteria colonies, there can be very little beneficial biology in the tank. The beauty of this is that bypassing the biology results in lower nitrates...and if/when there isn't enough ammonia, the plants will adsorb the nitrates. All in all this makes for a much healthier eco system.

Edit: This explains why, with the exception of agricultural runoff, nitrates are almost unmeasurable in natural bodies of water.
 

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And adding to the misuse:

Our tanks don't allow completion of the nitrogen cycle. The cycle includes going through all forms of N, returning to where you started for it to be a cycle. Our tanks don't sustain an anaerobic space for mineralization of nitrate to nitrogen (N2), nor do we have substantial nitrogen fixation (N2 --> organic N and NH3) in our tanks.
 

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That doesn't translate to misuse though IMO - it's a portion of the cycle even if we don't have anaerobic activity like we do in
our reef tanks with the life rock or DSB. When educating a beginner it's best to keep things concise, and the term 'cycle' is
apropos all things considered. I can imagine the glazed over eyes I would have had back in the day when
working at the LFS when explaining to someone the portion of the cycle that wasn't happening in their freshwater tanks due to the lack of said activity and that their nitrogen cycle wasn't really a full cycle, but excuse me for using the word 'cycle' anyway.

Letting them know Nitrate was the result and needed to be exported was sufficient.

All things considered, the term is not only appropriate and serves it's purpose well.
 
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