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Old 08-28-2014, 10:45 PM   #1
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Fishless Cycle Problems

So I decided to start an aquarium back near the beginning of July, and I read a lot online about how fishless cycling is the best way to mature a tank before adding fish. So I decided if I was going to do it I'd do it right. I'm no stranger to things like chemistry and biology, so things like the nitrogen cycle and the concept of cycling didn't frighten me.

I have a ten-gallon tank that is decorate with substrate and a power filter, without a carbon filter, instead using filter media. I tried to follow the directions on this very site ( The (almost) Complete Guide and FAQ to Fishless Cycling - Aquarium Advice ).

I didn't have any pure ammonia source at first (no Ace hardware where I live, and I wasn't so sure about the stuff in the supermarket), so I used flake food initially for a few days to get it to about 4 ppm. I couldn't get any seeding material, the closest small fish shop is about 45 minutes away and the only other closer option was Petsmart, and something told me they weren't going to give me anything. So I figured I'd just wait.

So I waited. For around a month, maybe a little less but close to that. Within that time I did find myself near an Ace and I did pick up some of the stuff. More on that in a minute. There was no change in ammonia- if anything it just slowly got higher though still staying at around 5ppm. However, during this time Nitrites also spiked to being around 5ppm or even higher, despite ammonia levels staying steady, which was weird. Around August 8 I left for three days, and when I came back, huzzah! Ammo was down to around 1ppm. So I continued to follow instructions, and added the ammonia to dose it back up to around 4ppm.

And then I waited some more. I figured if it dropped dramatically in three days something was happening, but... 10 days later or so there was no change. I was once again in a rut, it seemed. Nitrites were still sky-high as well, though no nitrates. I finally went online to try and find anything I could use for seeding material, and ended up buying an active sponge from Angels Plus ( Biologically Active Sponge Filters for Aquarium ). I got it and dropped it into the tank about a week ago, and cut a piece out of it to stuff into my filter.

About 5 days later, ammo still wasn't dropping... getting desperate (as we're going on two months in another week or two since this experiment started) I just did a ~50% water change about 2 nights ago, and added a bit of flake food for phosphates. A few hours after the water change I tested the ammo again and it was STILL at about 4ppm... fine, I'll just wait longer then... the next afternoon I tested again, now it's at about 2ppm... though I wasn't sure if that's because of bacteria, or because of the water change. Tonight it's still at about 2ppm.

HOWEVER, almost out of curiosity I tested nitrites... 0ppm. It had been a few days since I tested Nitrites, I don't do it every day as I do ammonia, but the last time I did it was sky-high, which tells me that the nitrifying bacteria are nicely established, even if the sabrobiotic bacteria are still MIA.

The only thing I can think of is that the pure ammonia I got is doing something (or did something) to the bacteria that may have been working when I went away. To be as precise as possible, it is a 1-quart bottle of Ace brand Ammonia - Janitorial Strength Formula - Contains 10% Ammonium Hydroxide. Either the ammonia did something to the bacteria that were working to bring ammonia down or my senses and perception were completely out of whack and I read the test wrong, but that seems unlikely (as it should have been much higher than 4ppm when I dosed it back up if it was already at 4-5ppm).

Anyway, that's the situation. It's at 2ppm ammo now. I could wait a few more days to see if it goes down, and if it does my question as been answered. I'm just terrified of adding more of the pure ammonia to the tank and having it sit at 4-5ppm for another month. Part of me just wants to drain it almost entirely and start over.

Not to go too much on a soapbox, but I do want to believe in fishless cycling, but having to stare at an empty tank and to explain to others why there are no fish in it yet is getting a bit tiring, and then having to try to explain follow-up answers about the nitrogen cycle and explain it to laymen... yeah, you get it. If seeding material is truly so important, it should be explained what might happen if you don't have it, at the very least. The impression shouldn't be given that the bacteria will just magically appear. I mean, they might, but it'll take a very long time.

I'm willing to have patience (especially since I already sunk a fair amount of money into this project), but if this stagnation continues I'm just going to drain it, fill it up with water, add a fish or two, and hope for the best.
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Old 08-28-2014, 11:02 PM   #2
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Hey sorry you are having problems. Your cycle sounds stalled. Possibly their isn't enough other nutrients for the bacteria. Try adding another pinch of fish food after doing another small water change.

Sorry to hear that you are having a hard time cycling. It can be pretty difficult to get going sometimes and even though I've cycled quite a few tanks, I'm having a problem myself atm.
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