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Old 01-26-2021, 04:01 PM   #1
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Eternity Cycle? Please help!

Hi All!

I am new to this forum and would greatly appreciate any help or advice you could provide!
(((Seriously)))I feel like it has been Groundhog Day regarding cycling my fish tanks.

In a nutshell, I am wondering how important it is to pay attention to the total ammonia versus the free/toxic ammonia when you are cycling a freshwater tank.

I have five tanks that I feel like I have been cycling since the Spring 2020 (if that is even possible). They are:

20 gallon- 2 mollies (raised fry)
30 gallon - 4 black skirt tetras
20 gallon - 11 platy fry they were giving away at Petco
5 gallon - 2 mollies (raised fry)
65 gallon - 1 Albino cichlid (I think Peacock)

I think I have used every chemical on the market to jumpstart cycling (always Fish-In)— beneficial bacteria, Prime, Ammolock, Matrix Nite Out II, Eco Complete, etc.

For months I have been changing the water on these tanks 1-2 times daily to keep these fish alive.

I recently received advice through a reputable online source to stop all the water changes (even though my ammonia is always very high and we have very soft water) and “let the tanks ride” for two weeks. She recommended getting Ammonia Alert, and add beneficial bacteria + ammo lock daily for two weeks and only pay attention to the toxic ammonia. So, gritting my teeth with angst and fear that all my fish will be gone each new day, I have been doing this for about 8 days. (I did give two tanks 50-75 percent water changes after 4 days bc they had a TOXIC Ammonia Alert reading)

but overall, I have noticed that each tank has very high total ammonia and a small amount of nitrites and nitrates. What does this mean? They are cycled but completely out of whack because of the high total ammonia? And im assuming more water changes are necessary to reduce the nitrites and nitrates?

Thank you so much for any help- I am somewhat lost but really want to keep these fish alive!
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Old 01-26-2021, 04:22 PM   #2
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Free ammonia is what will kill your fish, so that is what you should be controlling to keep them safe. So if your total ammonia is high, but free ammonia is low that should minimise risk to your fish.

What is your pH? At low pH less of your total ammonia is free ammonia, but it will also restrict your beneficial bacteria growth, and explain why you cant get a cycle established.

Also, nitrite and nitrate. The nitrite might be of more concern than ammonia. Nitrate is less of a concern, you typically want to keep that below 40ppm.
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Old 01-26-2021, 04:35 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Aiken Drum View Post
Free ammonia is what will kill your fish, so that is what you should be controlling to keep them safe. So if your total ammonia is high, but free ammonia is low that should minimise risk to your fish.

What is your pH? At low pH less of your total ammonia is free ammonia, but it will also restrict your beneficial bacteria growth, and explain why you cant get a cycle established.

Also, nitrite and nitrate. The nitrite might be of more concern than ammonia. Nitrate is less of a concern, you typically want to keep that below 40ppm.
I was going to refer this post to you Aiken, lol
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Old 01-26-2021, 04:39 PM   #4
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I was going to refer this post to you Aiken, lol
Im not so hot on the free ammonia/total ammonia issue, but think i got the basics right. Calaban linked to a great spreadsheet recently that shows what is safe/not safe.
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Old 01-26-2021, 04:52 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by heidigirl99 View Post
In a nutshell, I am wondering how important it is to pay attention to the total ammonia versus the free/toxic ammonia when you are cycling a freshwater tank.
Quick ammonia numbers.
How pH affects Ammonia

While no ammonia in your tank is desirable it should be noted on what levels ammonia is considered an issue. The ammonia per se is not toxic at low levels but it is not desirable for any aquarium to have detectable levels of ammonia in the tank because it indicates poor filtration in the tank, which is not good for the fish.

Ammonia is a slow process for being dangerous to your fish. It is very important to know the pH of your water to determine how fast to proceed with its removal. The ammonia in the water, if left unchecked, can lead to ammonia stress and ammonia poisoning.

Please see here:
Ammonia Stress and Ammonia Poisoning - The First Tank Guide - What Are the Signs of Ammonia Stress?

The common aquarium “ammonia” test measures the total ammonia, both ionized and un-ionized (Total Ammonia Nitrogen or TAN).
The chronic toxicity, where the ammonia kills slowly by a variety of mechanisms, is as follows:
  • 20 to 100 ppm of ammonia TAN at a pH of 6.0
  • 2 to 10 ppm of ammonia TAN at a pH of 7.0
  • 0.2 to 1 ppm of ammonia TAN at a pH of 8.0
Any pH between the above numbers you will have to make a linear interpolation. As you can see there is a 10 times increase or decrease in toxicity between pH levels.

A pH of 6.5 will reduce the growth of beneficial bacteria by 90%. A pH of 6.0 will virtually stop beneficial bacteria from oxidizing ammonia to nitrate; hence ammonia may be on the rise.

Ammonia causes internal damage to the brain, organs, and central nervous system. The fish begins to hemorrhage internally and externally and eventually dies.

As you can see it’s a balancing act with pH and how fast your filter(s) can oxidize ammonia. It’s very important that your filter has good effective media that water can flow through all your media and not around your media. Looking at the above if your pH is closer to 8.0, ammonia is more chronic over time and should be handled very quickly. If your pH is at 7.0, low levels of ammonia are not as chronic.

So if you have a pH of 6.0 and you raise your pH to 7.0, the ammonia is now 10 times more toxic. You can see what happens if your filter cannot oxidize the ammonia rapidly. If your pH was 6.5 or lower your bacteria may not be ready to oxidize the ammonia rise quickly.

The natural progression to reduce ammonia is by changing water. So don’t forget your de-chlorinator.

However some de-chlorinators are not the same and will cause issues. Please see here:

Ammonia and Nitrite - The First Tank Guide - Using Chemicals to Remove or Neutralize Ammonia in a Fish Tank

Remember chronic ammonia is toxic over days and weeks. Chlorine kills in hours.
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Old 01-26-2021, 05:22 PM   #6
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At risk of over complicating things with what is the same information. Use these charts to determine if you are likely to be in the green or red zones.

https://www.aquariumadvice.com/forum...ty-159994.html

I rarely worry about ph or alkalinity when it comes to ‘beneficial bacteria’ and that is because we are discovering new strains of organisms responsible for nitrification all the time. If we are discovering new microbes all the time then the ph and alkalinity levels required for their function is pretty much irrelevant. Dr Tim Hanovec acknowledges this himself.

In fact, I have literally just queried this with a very reputable source on another fish forum. My question was regarding alkalinity levels and nitrification based on this website.

https://www.cwea.org/news/how-alkali...nitrification/

The response I received was as follows.

‘Hi CJ,
Yes it is relevant to sewage works, where you have nitrification that is carried out by <"the "traditional" bacteria"> and you have very high ammonia loadings.

Since the DNA revolution, nitrification has been found to be much less limited by alkalinity, have a look at <"Ammonia‐oxidising archaea living at low pH: Insights from comparative genomics">

You are always going to have a requirement for alkalinity (and oxygen) during nitrification, because you've gone from NH4+ to NO3- and you've removed oxygen (a base) and added hydrogen ions (H+).

Have a look at <"Expanding perspectives......"> and <"Aquarium Nitrification Revisited: Thaumarchaeota Are the Dominant Ammonia Oxidizers in Freshwater Aquarium Biofilters">.

cheers Darrel

The point of my reply is that we need to be careful and sure about what we are recommending when it comes to ‘beneficial bacteria’ when it is becoming apparent that the microbes responsible for nitrification in aquarium filters are actually a type of Archaea

As for fish in cycles. Just stick an ammonia alert in the tank to monitor free ammonia and keep on top of water changes. If you are sensible, the risk to your fish is minimal.

If anyone want me to link the studies let me know.
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Old 01-26-2021, 05:24 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fishwonder View Post
Quick ammonia numbers.
How pH affects Ammonia

While no ammonia in your tank is desirable it should be noted on what levels ammonia is considered an issue. The ammonia per se is not toxic at low levels but it is not desirable for any aquarium to have detectable levels of ammonia in the tank because it indicates poor filtration in the tank, which is not good for the fish.

Ammonia is a slow process for being dangerous to your fish. It is very important to know the pH of your water to determine how fast to proceed with its removal. The ammonia in the water, if left unchecked, can lead to ammonia stress and ammonia poisoning.

Please see here:
Ammonia Stress and Ammonia Poisoning - The First Tank Guide - What Are the Signs of Ammonia Stress?

The common aquarium “ammonia” test measures the total ammonia, both ionized and un-ionized (Total Ammonia Nitrogen or TAN).
The chronic toxicity, where the ammonia kills slowly by a variety of mechanisms, is as follows:
  • 20 to 100 ppm of ammonia TAN at a pH of 6.0
  • 2 to 10 ppm of ammonia TAN at a pH of 7.0
  • 0.2 to 1 ppm of ammonia TAN at a pH of 8.0
Any pH between the above numbers you will have to make a linear interpolation. As you can see there is a 10 times increase or decrease in toxicity between pH levels.

A pH of 6.5 will reduce the growth of beneficial bacteria by 90%. A pH of 6.0 will virtually stop beneficial bacteria from oxidizing ammonia to nitrate; hence ammonia may be on the rise.

Ammonia causes internal damage to the brain, organs, and central nervous system. The fish begins to hemorrhage internally and externally and eventually dies.

As you can see it’s a balancing act with pH and how fast your filter(s) can oxidize ammonia. It’s very important that your filter has good effective media that water can flow through all your media and not around your media. Looking at the above if your pH is closer to 8.0, ammonia is more chronic over time and should be handled very quickly. If your pH is at 7.0, low levels of ammonia are not as chronic.

So if you have a pH of 6.0 and you raise your pH to 7.0, the ammonia is now 10 times more toxic. You can see what happens if your filter cannot oxidize the ammonia rapidly. If your pH was 6.5 or lower your bacteria may not be ready to oxidize the ammonia rise quickly.

The natural progression to reduce ammonia is by changing water. So don’t forget your de-chlorinator.

However some de-chlorinators are not the same and will cause issues. Please see here:

Ammonia and Nitrite - The First Tank Guide - Using Chemicals to Remove or Neutralize Ammonia in a Fish Tank

Remember chronic ammonia is toxic over days and weeks. Chlorine kills in hours.


Wow! Thank you so much. This is the first to-the-point, detail oriented, informative and helpful reply I have received regarding this issue.

I have been watching pH and most of my tanks are around 7.0 to 7.4, but I will take another reading now and let you know. Does KH or GH play a role in this as well? I was kind of shocked at how soft our water is.
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Old 01-26-2021, 05:40 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by heidigirl99 View Post
Wow! Thank you so much. This is the first to-the-point, detail oriented, informative and helpful reply I have received regarding this issue.

I have been watching pH and most of my tanks are around 7.0 to 7.4, but I will take another reading now and let you know. Does KH or GH play a role in this as well? I was kind of shocked at how soft our water is.


Click image for larger version

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This is from my 65 gallon with one 5 inch cichlid. A general example of the difference between my “ALERT” reading of Free Ammonia (which is supposed to be a good level for cycling) and the TAN - which you can see if off the charts after no water changes for almost a week. I finally broke down and did a 50% water change last night. We feed him sparingly every other day.

I also have about 2 inches of eco complete substrate in the tank and wonder if that hold in a lot of ammonia/fish waste etc.

I just have no idea why all my tanks have such high ammonia levels at their (seeming) baseline. I tested our water out of the tap and there is no ammonia... what am I missing?
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Old 01-26-2021, 05:57 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Caliban07 View Post
At risk of over complicating things with what is the same information. Use these charts to determine if you are likely to be in the green or red zones.

https://www.aquariumadvice.com/forum...ty-159994.html

I rarely worry about ph or alkalinity when it comes to ‘beneficial bacteria’ and that is because we are discovering new strains of organisms responsible for nitrification all the time. If we are discovering new microbes all the time then the ph and alkalinity levels required for their function is pretty much irrelevant. Dr Tim Hanovec acknowledges this himself.

In fact, I have literally just queried this with a very reputable source on another fish forum. My question was regarding alkalinity levels and nitrification based on this website.

https://www.cwea.org/news/how-alkali...nitrification/

The response I received was as follows.

‘Hi CJ,
Yes it is relevant to sewage works, where you have nitrification that is carried out by <"the "traditional" bacteria"> and you have very high ammonia loadings.

Since the DNA revolution, nitrification has been found to be much less limited by alkalinity, have a look at <"Ammonia‐oxidising archaea living at low pH: Insights from comparative genomics">

You are always going to have a requirement for alkalinity (and oxygen) during nitrification, because you've gone from NH4+ to NO3- and you've removed oxygen (a base) and added hydrogen ions (H+).

Have a look at <"Expanding perspectives......"> and <"Aquarium Nitrification Revisited: Thaumarchaeota Are the Dominant Ammonia Oxidizers in Freshwater Aquarium Biofilters">.

cheers Darrel

The point of my reply is that we need to be careful and sure about what we are recommending when it comes to ‘beneficial bacteria’ when it is becoming apparent that the microbes responsible for nitrification in aquarium filters are actually a type of Archaea

As for fish in cycles. Just stick an ammonia alert in the tank to monitor free ammonia and keep on top of water changes. If you are sensible, the risk to your fish is minimal.

If anyone want me to link the studies let me know.


Thank you so much. Amazing information and incredibly useful. I do have some piece of mind regarding the Ammonia Alerts.

Do you have any suggestions on other sources of high ammonia in the tank? I was debating removing some of my eco complete substrate as it is 2-3 inches deep at points and seems to hold a lot of waste. But then again.. would I be risking also getting rid of beneficial bacteria?

Also, what does it mean that I have nitrites and nitrates with high ammonia? I read somewhere that if you see nitrates at all your tank is cycled (?)
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Old 01-26-2021, 06:37 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by heidigirl99 View Post
Thank you so much. Amazing information and incredibly useful. I do have some piece of mind regarding the Ammonia Alerts.

Do you have any suggestions on other sources of high ammonia in the tank? I was debating removing some of my eco complete substrate as it is 2-3 inches deep at points and seems to hold a lot of waste. But then again.. would I be risking also getting rid of beneficial bacteria?

Also, what does it mean that I have nitrites and nitrates with high ammonia? I read somewhere that if you see nitrates at all your tank is cycled (?)

I always recommend the ammonia alert simply because it’s easy and it reads the only type of ammonia that we are interested in. Liquid test kits are notoriously (not necessarily here) inaccurate with all kinds of interfering ions skewing readings. Some of them don’t even measure what they are advertised as measuring. For example the KH test kit doesn’t even measure KH. But for whatever reason, I think hobbyists will be hell bent on testing things forever.

It the test is indeed correct? Then ammonia comes directly from the fish through respiration and release of waste products. Large fish produce more ammonia. Uneaten food will produce ammonia.

You do not need to remove any eco complete. In fact, you should rarely, if ever disturb an aquarium substrate (particularly if it is planted)

The fact that you have nitrates (again assuming the test is correct) would indicate your tank is almost cycled.

For now you need to focus on the fish and just continue to change water regularly. What are you going to do if you have high ammonia? High nitrate? You are going to change the water. All frequent testing does is increase anxiety when you could be watching your fish for signs of distress, checking your ammonia alert and changing water as a
Preventative. You have three perfectly viable controls in place.
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Old 01-26-2021, 09:15 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Caliban07 View Post
I always recommend the ammonia alert simply because it’s easy and it reads the only type of ammonia that we are interested in. Liquid test kits are notoriously (not necessarily here) inaccurate with all kinds of interfering ions skewing readings. Some of them don’t even measure what they are advertised as measuring. For example the KH test kit doesn’t even measure KH. But for whatever reason, I think hobbyists will be hell bent on testing things forever.

It the test is indeed correct? Then ammonia comes directly from the fish through respiration and release of waste products. Large fish produce more ammonia. Uneaten food will produce ammonia.

You do not need to remove any eco complete. In fact, you should rarely, if ever disturb an aquarium substrate (particularly if it is planted)

The fact that you have nitrates (again assuming the test is correct) would indicate your tank is almost cycled.

For now you need to focus on the fish and just continue to change water regularly. What are you going to do if you have high ammonia? High nitrate? You are going to change the water. All frequent testing does is increase anxiety when you could be watching your fish for signs of distress, checking your ammonia alert and changing water as a
Preventative. You have three perfectly viable controls in place.


Ahhh. Finally, a concrete answer. I am so grateful and will do as you suggest.

A few afterthoughts....
Was the person that told me to let it ride and *not* do water changes for 2 weeks incorrect?

Also, is the beneficial bacteria primarily in the water or in the filter and substrate? (I have heard both)

Thank you!
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Old 01-26-2021, 09:53 PM   #12
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The bb is 90% in the filter, 10% on the other surfaces. Approximately. The water is inert in the bb arena, so to speak. It doesn't carry any
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Old 01-26-2021, 10:22 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by charliebankston View Post
The bb is 90% in the filter, 10% on the other surfaces. Approximately. The water is inert in the bb arena, so to speak. It doesn't carry any


I knew it! Thank you
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Old 01-27-2021, 03:12 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by heidigirl99 View Post
Ahhh. Finally, a concrete answer. I am so grateful and will do as you suggest.

A few afterthoughts....
Was the person that told me to let it ride and *not* do water changes for 2 weeks incorrect?

Also, is the beneficial bacteria primarily in the water or in the filter and substrate? (I have heard both)

Thank you!

Not necessarily incorrect. I can imagine they wanted to allow an ammonia source for your nitrifying organisms to build up however, if they don’t know your setup then perhaps a little irresponsible? A small tank with big fish fed lots might not be able to withstand being left that long for example. Only you really understand your setup.
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Old 01-27-2021, 03:55 AM   #15
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Also, is the beneficial bacteria primarily in the water or in the filter and substrate? (I have heard both)

Thank you!

I guess that depends. I don’t use a filter so my nitrifying organisms (NO) are more likely to be all around the tank, in the substrate near plant roots etc.

I haven’t seen any scientific studies that can support claims of where NO are more likely to occur so I personally cannot say with any degree of certainty where they are more likely to be however, it would be intuitive to assume that the NO are more likely to be where there is a higher throughput of both ammonia and oxygen, in the filter. Both Nitrification and decomposition are both oxygen intensive processes. I like to use an airstone for this reason.

If your question is based on my comment about not disturbing substrates? Then there are other reasons why rarely anything good happens when you do.

If you think about a Winogradsky column, you can see varying organisms become more prevalent in differing layers of the substrate sediment as the oxygen or ‘redox potential’ decreases. As aquarium substrates mature, they will develop similar suites of organisms.

Click image for larger version

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This is what caused the unmistakable smell of hydrogen sulphide to be released when I finally tore down my old soil tank. It was so bad I had to leave the room for a while.

Click image for larger version

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Because I could smell hydrogen sulphide and hydrogen sulphide producing bacteria grow in lower redox potentials than denitrifying organisms I knew that this tank was also capable of denitrification.

When you dig in to the substrate you are essentially disturbing these microbes which could potentially cause issues with livestock.

I digress a lot as usual but I like to expand because not only do I think it is relevant but also because it is easy to fall foul of this issue.
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Old 01-27-2021, 04:46 AM   #16
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I guess that depends. I don’t use a filter so my nitrifying organisms (NO) are more likely to be all around the tank, in the substrate near plant roots etc.

I haven’t seen any scientific studies that can support claims of where NO are more likely to occur so I personally cannot say with any degree of certainty where they are more likely to be however, it would be intuitive to assume that the NO are more likely to be where there is a higher throughput of both ammonia and oxygen, in the filter. Both Nitrification and decomposition are both oxygen intensive processes. I like to use an airstone for this reason.

If your question is based on my comment about not disturbing substrates? Then there are other reasons why rarely anything good happens when you do.

If you think about a Winogradsky column, you can see varying organisms become more prevalent in differing layers of the substrate sediment as the oxygen or ‘redox potential’ decreases. As aquarium substrates mature, they will develop similar suites of organisms.

Attachment 319522

Attachment 319523

This is what caused the unmistakable smell of hydrogen sulphide to be released when I finally tore down my old soil tank. It was so bad I had to leave the room for a while.

Attachment 319524

Because I could smell hydrogen sulphide and hydrogen sulphide producing bacteria grow in lower redox potentials than denitrifying organisms I knew that this tank was also capable of denitrification.

When you dig in to the substrate you are essentially disturbing these microbes which could potentially cause issues with livestock.

I digress a lot as usual but I like to expand because not only do I think it is relevant but also because it is easy to fall foul of this issue.
I bet that smell was bad! *gag! That only applies if you don't have fish they fancy themselves interior decorators. Most days in most of my tanks there is a hole all the way to the glass bottom at least in one spot of the substrate, haha!
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Old 01-27-2021, 06:17 AM   #17
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I bet that smell was bad! *gag! That only applies if you don't have fish they fancy themselves interior decorators. Most days in most of my tanks there is a hole all the way to the glass bottom at least in one spot of the substrate, haha!

Haha yes I’m sure they like to dig.

It was repulsive. Actually, there was a science lab that had a Winogradsky column set up which cracked. It released so much hydrogen sulphide that they had to evacuate the building.
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Old 01-27-2021, 09:05 AM   #18
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Haha yes I’m sure they like to dig.

It was repulsive. Actually, there was a science lab that had a Winogradsky column set up which cracked. It released so much hydrogen sulphide that they had to evacuate the building.
Haha!
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Old 01-27-2021, 06:46 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Caliban07 View Post
I guess that depends. I don’t use a filter so my nitrifying organisms (NO) are more likely to be all around the tank, in the substrate near plant roots etc.

I haven’t seen any scientific studies that can support claims of where NO are more likely to occur so I personally cannot say with any degree of certainty where they are more likely to be however, it would be intuitive to assume that the NO are more likely to be where there is a higher throughput of both ammonia and oxygen, in the filter. Both Nitrification and decomposition are both oxygen intensive processes. I like to use an airstone for this reason.

If your question is based on my comment about not disturbing substrates? Then there are other reasons why rarely anything good happens when you do.

If you think about a Winogradsky column, you can see varying organisms become more prevalent in differing layers of the substrate sediment as the oxygen or ‘redox potential’ decreases. As aquarium substrates mature, they will develop similar suites of organisms.

Attachment 319522

Attachment 319523

This is what caused the unmistakable smell of hydrogen sulphide to be released when I finally tore down my old soil tank. It was so bad I had to leave the room for a while.

Attachment 319524

Because I could smell hydrogen sulphide and hydrogen sulphide producing bacteria grow in lower redox potentials than denitrifying organisms I knew that this tank was also capable of denitrification.

When you dig in to the substrate you are essentially disturbing these microbes which could potentially cause issues with livestock.

I digress a lot as usual but I like to expand because not only do I think it is relevant but also because it is easy to fall foul of this issue.


Okay, good to know. Does that mean I
should refrain from using my gravel vac too vigorously? Also explains why lately I feel like those smells are coming out of my pores (in addition to my clothes) after a long day of water changes! :0[ lol. Assuming that will dissipate eventually? I have been using daily additions of nite out 2 which seems to be working well.. I guess at least to produce some evidence of nitrites and nitrates.

So do you think my tanks will ever cycle? : )
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