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Old 04-27-2006, 12:16 AM   #1
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Fishless Cycling .... what did I do wrong ???

I tried to do this the right way, and read up ALOT before even attempting to start a fishless cycle.

On day 8 my ammonia dropped to .25 (YIPPIE) and my nitrites rose to 5ppm (was this the spike ??). On day 10 I read that the second part of the cycle (building up the nitrite loving bacteria) could be "jump started" by raising the pH to 8.5 (or even higher). I did this and like a MIRACLE my nitrites dropped to 0 within 2 days. I added ammonia for another 2 days just to be sure that levels of ammonia and nitrites were dropping to 0 within 12 hours. They were !!! YIPPIE AGAIN - time for the fish !!!

I did a large water change (60%) and immediately tested the water. Well imagine my SHOCK when the nitrites were back up to 5ppm !!! The pH was 7.8. All I did was a water change - I didn't scrub any of the decorations, didn't change the filter media ......

Then the thought hit me - could it be that the higher pH gave a false reading on the nitrites ???? I tested my theory by adding 2 drops of pH up (figured I'd use it up since everyone says not to touch either the pH up or pH down drops !!) and wouldn't you know it - the nitrite reading lowered. BUMMER !!!!

So --- did I completely mess up my cycle by upping the pH ? or am I now just back to "plain old day 17 ??? In other words, did I set myself back any time here ? I'm getting a little anxious - my mom is coming to visit in 10 days and I was really hoping to have the tank occupied by the time she got here.

Thanks in advance

JoAnn
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Old 04-27-2006, 12:49 AM   #2
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Well, what I know about the nitrite test I will post below:

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Nitrite Testing:

Diazotization Method

Nitrite ions react with sulfanilic acid to from an intermediate diazonium salt. This reacts with chromotropic acid to produce a red-orange complex directly proportional to the amount of nitrite present.

Another method uses the same sulfanilic acid, but instead of chromotropic acid the diazonium salt reacts with 1-naphthylamine sulfonic acid to form a different red-colored solution. This may be what is in the Aquarium Pharmaceuticals kit? Since the Nitrate test has a common pathway with the nitrite test, they may have chosen the second indicator to avoid confusion? (see Nitrate testing below)

Interferences: (not a complete list, where interference levels are given they are for the Hach Co test, and might not appy to Aquarium Pharmaceuticals)

Very high levels of nitrate (>100 ppm) since some of the abundant nitrate will convert to nitrite and register on the test. Ferric Ions, Ferrous Ions, Lead Ions, Mercurous Ions, Cupric ions.

Aquarium Pharmaceuticals does not list the ingredients to the nitrite test on the bottle or the instruction sheet, but sulfanilic acid is listed on the tests MSDS sheet, so I believe they are the same.

Complete text at: http://home.comcast.net/~tomstank/to...s/page0018.htm

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So, did something in the pH up solution interfere with the test? I don't think bacterial inactivity would explain this. If the nitrosomonas or nitrobacter stopped working because of the higher pH, then ammonia or nitrite would have remained in the tank. Hence, I think the pH up solution might have interfered with the test rather than the pH interfering with the bacteria. Yet another reason to stay away from the pH drops? The tests contain the required chemicals to adjust the test tube pH so that the reaction will occur, and abnormal water pH is not listed as an interfering agent. But somehow I suspect that the chemicals in the pH up solution did interfere with the reaction in a way that water naturally at a high pH would not . I suppose the water pH could have been so high that the chemicals in the test tube were not enough counter that, and the reaction could not go to completion, but I always thought that the test kits had more pH adjusters than they needed ( and certainly enough to handle a pH of 8.5). But who knows? I am not a good enough chemist to elaborate.

The test kits will have limitations that are not widely known. This may be one of them. Another is that too high an ammonia level will register as zero on the test. Go ahead and test you clear ammonia source, it will not turn color! Exactly what the upper limit of ammonia is that causes a false zero level, I don't know, but I know a 10% solution registers as zero.


What I know about parameters and nitrifying bacteria can be summed up by:

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Nitrosomas growth is dependent on several water quality parameters. The following data pertains to Nitrosomas bacteria cultured for sale by Fritz Industries, Inc., and for informational purposes we will assume it probably applies also to the bacteria in your tank. The pH is very important, with a pH of 7.8 to 8 being optimal. Nitrosomas growth is severely restricted by a pH of 6.5, and nitrification is stopped at a pH of 6. I am not recommending that you attempt to adjust your water pH with chemicals while establishing a bio-filter, since rapid swings in pH are likely to result. Just be aware that the process might be slower if you have neutral to acidic water. If your pH plunges while establishing a bio-filter, water changes to raise the pH are likely necessary. Temperature is also a factor. Optimal temperature for Nitrosomas growth is 77 to 86 degrees, which fortunately coincides with the temperatures we are likely to keep our tropical fish. For aquarists keeping cold water tanks, Nitrosomas growth is reduced 50% at 64 degrees, 75% at 48 degrees, inactivation at 39 degrees, and the bacteria die at 32 degrees. They also die at the high temperature of 120 degrees. Phosphate is also required for Nitrosomas, and unless you are using distilled or reverse osmosis water, it should be present in enough quantities. Dissolved oxygen is also required since it is aerobic metabolism, but I would think your fish would show signs of oxygen deficiency long before Nitrosomas would. However, an under-gravel filter could harbor anaerobic bacteria whose byproducts can be toxic to nitrifying bacteria if water flow was reduced or stopped.

The bacteria that metabolize nitrite to nitrate are traditionally referred to as Nitrobacter. Once again, the scientists at Marinelab have determined that another bacteria, Nitrospira, is more active at nitrite metabolism. Now you know why their product is called Bio-Spira, proudly advertising their research. Regardless, when you are discussing nitrite conversion to nitrate, you are most likely to hear about the biology of Nitrobacter. Nitrobacter is even more slow growing than Nitrosomas, requiring 14 hours to double in population. Nitrobacter grows best at a slightly lower pH of 7.3 - 7.5. The temperature, phosphate, and oxygen requirements are similar to Nitrosomas bacteria. Nitrobacter is able to metabolize energy sources other than nitrite, and does not have a dormancy mechanism.

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So, I have not read anywhere that a higher pH is beneficial to nitrobacter, in fact, a little bit lower. I also have not read that a pH of 8.5 would hurt them like a pH of 6.0 would. I would not recommend adjusting pH for the cycles purpose, unless it was under 6.5. So I think you have not effected your cycle in any way, other than to get a false low nitrite result that tricked you into thinking it was over, so that you are exactly the same place you would have been without the pH adjustment. This assumes that these rapid pH swings will not hurt your bacteria from this point on, and I think the bacteria are more rugged than we think.

To shorten the nitrite part of the cycle, you can reduce the ammonia dose to 0.5 to 1 ppm per day. Since each ppm of ammonia becomes a ppm of nitrite, the more ammonia you add the higher the nitrite peak you have to climb over. What you want is enough ammonia to keep your nitrosomonas happy and growing, but no more. I believe 0.5 to 1 ppm is more than enough to do that.


sorry for the long post.
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Old 04-27-2006, 07:46 AM   #3
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WOW - long but GREAT, thank you !

When I raised the tank pH I used baking soda (not the pH up solution - I only used that in the testtube). My pH is now 7.8 which is good news since it looks like the right level for the Nitrosomas. I'm just glad that I didn't muck it up and send myself back to day 1 in my rush to get this cycle finished.

Since I thought I was soon to be adding fish to the tank I stopped adding ammonia and dropped 2 shrimp into the tank as a source of ammonia.

I guess I just need to be patient (but I'll bet that I end up hunting down some Bio-Spira instead !).

Thanks again
JoAnn
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Old 04-27-2006, 09:24 AM   #4
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Since the pH up solution is pretty concentrated, I could easily see how a few drops in the small volume of a test tube could overpower the test kit, perhaps not allowing it to be at a pH to allow the test reaction to proceed, or the sodium hydroxide altering a vital component so that it won't turn color.

One would have to do some experimenting to see how high a tank pH, or how much baking soda and buffering would be required to get interference on a nitrite test. Its an interesting question, but a little difficult to carry out, especially for those of us whose cycle is over and have no source of nitrite water.

An interesting observation, and I am glad you posted it! Hang in there, your cycle will complete and you will get to add fish!
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