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New Tank Fishless Cycling Problems - Ammonia Static And Nitrite Not Appearing

Author Topic: New Tank Fishless Cycling Problems - Ammonia static and Nitrite not Appearing  (Read 356 times)

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Offline jade

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Hello,
I am new to fishkeeping and to the use of forums as well, so I’m sorry if I get anything wrong :) .

I recently set up a new tank (Fluval roma 240L), below I’ve listed some general information about it.
•   Dimensions (LxDxH) – 120x40x55cm
•   Holding 205L due to substrate and décor (listed as 240L)
•   Décor: Artificial plants and polyresin rocks and ornaments and inert black fine gravel (almost sand)
•   Heater set to 25 Celcius (confirmed using digital and in-tank thermometers)
•   Air pump running in the tank
•   Uses Fluval 306 Canister filter (Sponge media on the bottom, Bio rings in the middle and filter pads and carbon bags in the top as directed from the instruction leaflet – these were included with the set-up).
•   Filled with dechlorinated water on the 24th October

I have been attempting a fishless cycle using Dr Tim’s Ammonium Chloride and Tetra Safe Start (TSS) as my source of bacteria. I began this on the 26th October by adding TSS and dosing ammonia to 2ppm as directed. I have been measuring pH, Ammonia and Nitrite every day and nitrate every week using the API Master Test Kit since the 27th and my results have been:

•   Ammonia – dropped to 1ppm on 28th and stayed static for the last 2 weeks.
•   No nitrites have appeared at all
•   Nitrates stay at a constant 2.5, which is already present in the tap water according to the local water suppliers report.
•   pH – Started at 7.2 (which my tap water read at after being left out for 24H), rose to 7.8 from the 30th October to the 5th November and has since dropped to 6.8 – 7.0 from the 6th November and has stayed static since.
•   I haven’t experienced any clouding of the water indicating a bacterial bloom yet.

I am concerned that I have done something wrong and my cycle has failed, I wondered if anyone would be willing to offer some advice on:

•   Why my ammonia level has become static for the last 2 weeks?
•   What I can try next and If I need to start my cycle again?
•   If I do need to restart, how do I go about this?
•   Are there any products you recommend that I may have missed?

Thank you for your time and I apologise for the lengthy post,
Jade

Offline Sue

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Re: New Tank Fishless Cycling Problems
« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2018, 05:16:01 PM »
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Hi, welcome to the forum  :wave:

You seem to be doing everything right so far. The only thing I would have done differently would be to have added enough ammonium chloride to get 3 ppm ammonia - but that's not important at this stage. It's just that with 3 ppm we know we have grown enough bacteria for a tank full of fish.

Tetra Safe Start is one of the products known to contain the right species of both bacteria and provided it has been stored correctly since manufacture should contain viable bacteria. It is possible that you could miss put the nitrite stage completely, but you should have nitrate in that case. As the ammonia eaters in the TSS started to multiply and make nitrite, the nitrite eaters in the TSS would also have started to multiply and could well have kept pace with the ammonia eaters.
1 ppm ammonia is turned into 3.6 ppm nitrate, and our test kits aren't sensitive enough to pick up this small increase. It is hard enough to read nitrate tests at the best of times, and if your tap water is 2.5 and you add 3.6, that takes nitrate to just 6.1 which will be hard to distinguish from 2.5.

Question - are you using a liquid nitrate tester, and if so do you shake the reagent bottle even longer than the instructions say, and then the tube for as long as the instructions say?

What I would do is this -
Add some more ammonium chloride to get the level of ammonia to 3 ppm, and measure everything every day. I would also look on your water company's website to see how hard your water is. Ignore the words, look at the number and the unit (they could use any one of half a dozen). If you have soft water it is likely you'll also have low carbonate hardness, KH. The bacteria we want to grow need carbonate to multiply quickly, and although your pH has dropped it's not by much - mine dropped off the bottom of the scale during a fishless cycle because of my low KH. If you do find out you have soft water there is something you can do to speed up the cycle  :)

Offline jade

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Hi, Thank you  :) and I really appreciate you getting back to me so quickly.

Yes, I use the API master kit which contains liquid tests for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH and high range pH. I also purchased a separate liquid API kit for GH and KH. The card on the kit is quite difficult to read and the increments for nitrate in particular are quite large so I wouldn't see a significant colour change until it reaches 10ppm. I am currently observing a colour that looks slightly paler than the 5ppm on the chart, so I wasn't sure where to place it and therefore guessed 2.5, which may be an error on my part. Yes, I shake the bottles as vigorously as i can manage ;D (it says for 30 seconds but I managed about 40) and then I also shake the tube for just over a minute (also just over the recommended time).

I tested my GH and KH a couple of days after filling the tank and then re-tested the tank 1 week later and l have the following readings:
Tank:
GH - 8 dGH last week and 9 dGH this week
KH - 4 dGH (stayed constant)

My local water report indicates it should be 5.18 dGH (Calcium carbonate at 92ppm and Calcium at 37ppm), which is reasonably soft, but is quite different to what I am getting on my test kit.

Just to check, is it correct that calcium is relevant to GH, whereas the calcium carbonate compound is relevant to KH? If so, the detailed report doesn't mention magnesium levels, which I've read are the other main factor for measuring GH. If this is the case, does the 5.18 dGH from the water company represent just the KH or the GH as well? Also I'm very sorry if I've gotten anything mixed up, please correct me if I've gotten it wrong.

As you suggested, I will dose up to 3ppm tonight and keep measuring :)

Thank you for your time and advice,
Jade

Offline Sue

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My son used to work for a water testing company and he explained what GH and KH are.

GH is the measure of the amount of divalent metal ions in the water. In practical terms this means mainly calcium, some magnesium and trace amounts of other metals. But they can't give a measurement unit which says "x ppm calcium plus y ppm magnesium plus a, b, c ppm of other metals" so they give a number as if it was all calcium or all calcium carbonate or even all calcium oxide.
When they say 92 ppm calcium carbonate that just means that if all the divalent metal ions were calcium carbonate, the amount would be 92 ppm; or it was all calcium, it would be 37 ppm.
I have a rather old chemistry degree and it still took me a while to get my head round that  :)

Water companies use the term alkalinity rather than KH, though not many UK companies give that on-line. The testing companies measure this by adding acid to a water sample until the pH drops to 4.5. The amount of acid it takes is called alkalinity. All KH (alkalinity) measures is the amount of buffer in the water - and a buffer is chemical which stabilises pH. In reality, virtually all the buffer in our tap water is carbonate and bicarbonate.




Now to your results.
I always found it hard to see the end point of the GH tester and I too have GH 5 according to my water company. I think the colour change at this level is just too faint to be certain. I would go with the water company's figure - their testing company uses expensive equipment rather than a little bottle.
At 4 KH, you are at risk of a pH crash. My KH is 3. Keep a close eye on the pH and if you find it is dropping, you can add some bicarbonate of soda, the same stuff used for home baking, to raise the KH during cycling. Use at the rate of 4 level 5ml spoonfuls per 100 litres water. Remove a bit of tank water, dissolve the bicarb in that and pour back into the tank. You will need to do a big water change after the cycle finishes to remove the bicarb as it makes the water very unlike anything that occurs in nature. But see what your pH does first. Nitrate and nitrite are acidic and they use up all a low KH. If the TSS works, you shouldn't need to add so much ammonia that it makes a lot of nitrite & nitrate, so the pH may not fall.

Nitrate - most experts are of the opinion that the 30 second bottle shake is totally inadequate and it should be more like 2 minutes. The reason is that one of the ingredients doesn't dissolve in water and it settles on the bottom of the bottle. All that shaking is needed to disperse the ingredient evenly throughout the liquid.






One thing you could do if you find your results sticking again - live plants. Specifically floating plants.
Plants prefer ammonia over nitrate as fertiliser. Their other requirements for growth are light and carbon dioxide, both of which are plentiful at the water surface. If you were to get a bunch of floating plants and waited till you were sure they weren't about to die, you could then start getting fish. As long as you started off with a smallish batch of fish - one shoal at first if you intend shoaling fish - you should be OK. Just test the water daily for ammonia and nitrite to be certain. Wait for at least a week of zeros, then get the next batch.
Floating plants also have the advantage that a lot of fish need some sort of cover. I have Espei's rasboras, a close relative of harlequin rasboras. When I first got them I did not have any floating plants and they huddled in the back corner of the tank. Then I got some water sprite, and they stopped huddling but only ventured as far as the edge of the plant mass. As the plants grew over more surface, the rasboras came further and further out of the corner, but always under the plants. My tank surface is now a tangle of water sprite and hornwort stems  ::)

Offline Littlefish

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Hi Jade  :wave:

Best of luck with your fishless cycle.

What are your plans for the tank when it is ready?  :fishy1:

Offline jade

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Sorry for the late reply, I was trying to get my head around the information :)

I’m in quite a bit over my head here, as I don’t have a background in chemistry, I only have a biology degree  :P . Erm, so is this how it might work? I probably have this wrong.

Nitrogen cycle reactions in aerobic conditions, i.e the oxygenated tank water:
2 NH4+ + 3 O2 -> 2 NO2- + 2 H2O + 4 H+ - by Nitrosomonas sp.
2 NO2- + O2 -> 2 NO3- - by Nitrobacter sp.

The leftover nitrate forms nitrous acid in water and reacts with calcium carbonate (the KH buffer):
HNO3 + CaCO3 = Ca(NO3)2 + CO2 + H2O
Then the CO2 will:
CO2 + H2O = H2CO3
The carbonic acid then deprotonates leaving carbonate anions and H+, reducing pH further. So if I don’t have enough ‘spare’ carbonates due to my low KH, I am more likely to crash?

Ah that makes sense for the plants, as they need nitrogen for protein formation and chlorophyll production. Unfortunately, the reason I have artificial plants is that I was given the advice at my local aquatics store that they weren’t for beginners and I should stick to fake ones.

Is it too late to start a planted aquarium at this stage, since I’ve already filled the aquarium and started the cycling process? I don’t mind re-starting if the planted system will work better. I don’t mind the wait, it gives me longer to plan compatibilities and such to make sure there is minimal risk of aggression, stress and predatory behaviour, I want my fish to be as happy as possible :) .

If I did try the plant route, would my inert substrate be adequate if I wanted to add some rooting plants, provided I added CO2 and liquid and root tablet fertilisers. Is my KH too low to consider the added CO2 option?

That’s really good to know :) as I had looked into some floating plants as I was hoping to keep pearl gourami, which I’ve read appreciate the cover of these and use them for bubble nesting (although I am not planning to breed) and shy shoaling species.

Once again, sorry for the lengthy reply and thank you for your time,
Jade

Offline jade

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Hi Littlefish, thank you! :)

Well, at the minute I'm having a few problems with my water paramters (as you can tell) so until my pH settles and I do a bit more research on water hardness, I'm not entirely sure what I can keep.

As I mentioned, I am very interested in Pearl gouramis, but I was also looking at cherry and ruby barbs, Kuhli loaches and Sterba's and Julli Corydoras. Obviously I don't plan to keep all these at once and I'm really worried about overstocking, but those are some of the options I've been looking into.

There are too many beautiful species to choose from  :fishy1:

Offline Sue

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The chemistry looks about right  :)

You can either add plants now or cycle first, then plants. If you stick with low tech, slow growing plants you don't need to add CO2. Root tabs are great for plants rooted in the substrate - but read up about which are best as some disintegrate and make a mess. Other plants need liquid fertiliser - I use that because all my plants are either floating or are attached to decor - Java fern, various species of anubias, bolbitis, bucephalandra.

Matt should be able to advise you better than me about other types of plants and their needs  :)

Offline Hampalong

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I always advise a water change for a stuck cycle, as it seems in my experience to be the best trigger to get it going again. You can change water at any point during a cycle, even a total change if the parameters are similar (cycles often slow down near the end and a large water change and a re-dose of ammonia usually works to push it home).

Cycling needn’t be complicated. Most sources go into it far too deeply than is required, but it’s really very simple and needn’t be an exact science.

I’ve been cycling since the early 70’s with Waterlife Seamature, which is now Biomature. It has always worked, and most times in 2-3 weeks. It gradually adds ammonia to 5ppm, and nitrites reach 15ppm. As I said, it always works. But even 1ppm ammonia will grow enough bacteria to handle a fully stocked tank, so don’t worry about how much ammonia to add. Anywhere between 1 and 5 is fine. You can let it go to zero then add more or you can keep it at a constant level. You can even add 5 one time and 1 the next. If the nitrites get near 15 do a large water change to bring them down. Nitrobacter don’t care how much there is either. Like Nitrosomonas/Nitrospira or whatever we know them to be this week, as long as there’s a presence and not too much, they’re consuming.
I think a water change would probably start it up again (it usually does along with a squirt of ammonia), and I also do a large water change if the nitrates start to get high. There’s no harm in it, and I believe they slow the end of the cycle down, even though the culprit for a complete stall at that stage is usually lack of carbonates.

Offline Matt

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I'm going to be adding to the following page on my site shortly regarding plants with some of the species I recommend www.scapeeasy.co.uk/plants.htm there is also a page of fertilisation of the plants. Again I will be updating this shortly too!!

Let me know if you have any specific questions...

Offline Littlefish

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There are too many beautiful species to choose from  :fishy1:

 :rotfl: I'm with you on that.
I have found it quite addictive, and got slightly carried away.

I've also used easy plants, root tabs & liquid fertiliser in the past, and the combination seemed to work well.  :)

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