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 Fishless Cycle Explained

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Join date : 2012-01-29

PostSubject: Fishless Cycle Explained   Sat Feb 04, 2012 11:07 pm

Cycling is when you le your filter grow the bacteria which will turn ammonia (a poisonous gas) in the water into nitrItes, and then to nitrAtes. Cycling with fish WILL damage them, probably kill them. The gasses burn them, and stop their gills from working.

So what do we do?

We give the bacteria food, so make it grow!

Items Needed:

Bottle of pure ammonia. Pure ammonia will only list ammonia and water as ingredients. If the label lists dyes, fragrances or surfactants, you don't want it. Chelating agents are ok. If the bottle doesn't have an ingredient label, shake the bottle. If it foams, it won't work. A few air bubbles that disappear immediately are ok.
A good test master test kit. Get a good liquid master test kit. Those generally contain tests for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH and high pH. You won't necessarily need the pH tests during the cycling process but you will later. I would also suggest getting a KH test kit too although, once again, it's not necessary for the cycling process.
A medicine dropper. Any cheap one that you get at the local drug store will do.
An air pump. Self explanitary.

First you set up the tank with clean, dechlorinated water. I believe it is best to fill the tank and let any sand/gravel dust or cloudiness settle for a few days before you add ammonia. This will prevent cloudy water from giving you a skewed reading when you test. Second, raise the water temperature to the mid to upper 80s. The warmer water promotes bacteria growth and will speed the cycle. Also, you will need to add extra aeration via the air stone and air pump. The warmer water temperature will force the oxygen from the water so you must add aeration to replenish it.

While you are waiting on the dust to settle and the water to clear, I suggest you do a couple things. First, test the parameters of your tap water. It is important to know the pH and KH of your tap water so you will know what fish are compatible with your pH. It is also very important to know if there is any ammonia, nitrite and nitrate in your tap water. A lot of municipal water supplies have some or all of those present and well water could also have them present. Knowing that could save you a lot of head scratching later when you have an elevated level that may be caused by your tap water rather than a problem in the tank.

You should also run a little test to determine how much ammonia to add to your tank. Since medicine droppers come in all different sizes, it's hard to say that you need X drops per gallon to get to 5 or 6 ppm to start. Take a small bucket, one of the buckets you used to fill your tank or wash your sand. Fill it with water and then add 2 to 4 drops of ammonia per 5 gallon of water. Swirl it around to mix it and test it to see what the ammonia reading is. Continue to do this until your reading is 5 to 6 ppm. Remember how many drops of ammonia you added and then, some simple maths will tell you how much to add to your tank to get the 5 to 6 ppm required to begin cycling.

Ok. Your tank is set up, the water has cleared, and you know how much ammonia to add. Let's get started.

First add your ammonia to raise the level to 5 to 6 ppm. Now you simply wait on the ammonia to drop back to around 1 ppm. Spend the time researching the fish you like and see if they are compatible with each other, with your tap pH, tank size, etc.

Test daily to see what the ammonia reading is. There is no use to test for anything else. Nitrite and nitrate won't be present until some ammonia has processed. Ammonia will raise your pH so no use to test it either. Once you see a drop in the ammonia, test for nitrite. There should be some present. When the ammonia drops back to about near zero (usually takes about a week), add enough to raise it back to about 3 to 4 ppm and begin testing the nitrite daily.

Every time the ammonia drops back to zero, raise it back up to 3 to 4 ppm and continue to check nitrites. The nitrite reading will go off the chart. (NOTE FOR API TEST KIT USERS: When you add the drops, if they immediately turn purple in the bottom of the tube, your nitrites are off the chart high. You do not need to shake the tube and wait 5 minutes. If you do, the color will turn green as the nitrites are so high that there isn't a color to measure them with.) Once the ammonia is dropping from around 4 ppm back to zero in 12 hours or less you have sufficient bacteria to handle the ammonia your fish load produces. Continue to add ammonia daily as you must feed the bacteria that have formed or they will begin to die off.

The nitrite spike will generally take about twice as long to drop to zero as did the ammonia spike. The reason for this is two-fold. First, the nitrite processing bacteria just develop slower than those that process ammonia. Second, you are adding more nitrite daily (every time you add ammonia, it is transformed into nitrite raising the level a little more) as opposed to the ammonia, which you only add once at the start and then waited on it to drop to zero. During this time, you should occasionally test for nitrate too. The presence of nitrate means that nitrite is being processed, completing the nitrogen cycle. The nitrate level will also go off the chart but you will take care of that with a large water change later. It will seem like forever before the nitrite finally falls back to zero but eventually, almost overnight, it will drop and you can celebrate. You are almost there. Once the bacteria are able to process 4 or 5 ppm of ammonia back to zero ammonia and nitrite in about 10 to 12 hours, you are officially cycled.

At this point, your tank will probably look terrible with brown algae everywhere and probably cloudy water. As I mentioned, the nitrate reading will also be off the chart. Nitrates can only be removed with water changes. Do a large water change, 75 to 90 percent, turn the heat down to the level the fish you have decided on will need, and you are ready to add your fish. You can safely add your full fish load as your tank will have enough bacteria built up to handle any waste they can produce.

That's it! Now you can go buy all your suitable fish, put them all in at once, and your tank is complete!

Note: If you want a planted tank, add the plants before the fishless-cycle. They feed off the ammonia and therefore speed up the cycle!
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