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FAQs on Planted Tank Cycling

Related Articles: Plant Tank Set-Up, Aquascaping the Freshwater/Planted Aquariums

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Planted tank cycling 12/4/12
Hi crew,
Please forgive me, if somebody ask this or similar question before. I can find only contradicting information.
I start to cycle 75 gallon planted aquarium 2 weeks ago (May be I'm panicking too soon?).
<Likely so.>
I have total of 216 wt of light, about 2-3" eco-complete (by the way, they claim they speed up cycling).
<Highly dubious.>
My plants are:
Vallisneria (grow well),
Amazon sword (grow well),
Brazilian pennywort (grow well),
red Ludwigia (not bad),
baby tears (not bad),
java fern on mat (not good)
moneywort (terrible)
<Rip out the plants that aren't thriving in your set-up, but do be aware it may take a month for plants to settle in, so be patient.>
I read some info that it is not necessary to cycle planted tank (silent cycling),
<Somewhat true; plants absorb ammonia directly, so in that sense, they "mop up" the ammonia produced by the fish, meaning that biological filtration can develop without the usual spikes in ammonia (and, in turn, nitrite).
Indeed, it is possible to use plants (and especially algae) to filter aquaria completely, with the biological filtration bacteria being only a minor element of the system.>
but I chose to cycle with fish food. On day#2 I registered ammonia (about 0.5 ppm), on day #6 I registered nitrate (NO3)-about 5 ppm. For rest of the days I had basically the same reading: NH3-0.25-0.5 ppm, NO2-0 ppm, NO3-5 ppm. No ammonia spike, no nitrite at all, but registered nitrate. I'm using API test kit, my tap water does not have ammonia or nitrate.
<Ah, glad you tested with this.>
Why did I stuck with same numbers?
<No idea. Would tend to ignore the ammonia after a couple weeks of the tank being run. Add a few small fish, or better yet, shrimps, and see how they do. In a 75-gallon tank you have plenty of water to dilute ammonia, so it's unlikely you'd ever get so much ammonia that a school of Neons or whatever would be stressed. Oh, and why do I recommend shrimps? They're marginally less polluting, but that bit more sensitive, so good bellwethers without being gross polluters. They're also good choices for planted tanks. Cherry Shrimps are cheap, robust, and would be my first choice.>
<Cheers, Neale.>

New Planted Tank Cycling  9-12-09
Firstly I have to say I absolutely love your site. It's an amazing resource for everything I've looked for so far. I'm looking to start up a 14gal planted freshwater tank in an Oceanic Systems BioCube that I inherited from a friend and have a few questions. Firstly, what is the best way to clean out a tank that has had a severe crash due to sickness and may have baddies hiding in the corners?
<Chlorine bleach... Oh I see this below>
Is a very diluted bleach solution okay or will that come back to haunt me months down the road? Should I pitch all the filter media and start over?
<I wouldn't... find to bleach-wash it along with the rest. Read here:
Another thing I can't quite seem to solve on my own is how to properly start it up. I've read varying things that say add plants first and wait for it to cycle then add fish, or add fish first and wait, then plants.
<The plants should go in first... but do wait a few days after adding water, checking all out...>
I've also read a few things which say just go ahead and add them both at the same time. After reading so much I don't know which to believe.
<Keep reading, thinking until you do. I will tell you that the folks who make up WWM ARE qualified, that though some of our opinions seem to conflict, we have reasons for our statements. Don't act if you feel
confused, unsure>
I've asked a few people at the LFS but they all seem to have different opinions as well. Which is right?
<Often there is more than one path, way...>
Is the cycle time the same as it would be for a pure-fish tank?
<Generally foreshortened... via the introduction of beneficial microbes, stasis...>
Next, in conjunction with the startup the other question I have is do I start light cycles immediately or do I wait for a period before lighting the plants. I've read if you light too soon the tank could into a mess of
<Light cycle should be established by the time of plant introduction>
My second question is about CO2. I've read many things about adding CO2 to tanks and it seems that it might be a bit overkill for such a small tank just starting out. Is there a general guideline for adding a CO2 systems (either DIY or packaged) based on size of tank and plant mass? Is it as simple as observing the plants growth then making adjustments a month or more down the road?
<I would leave off with adding carbon dioxide in this system... as you state it is small, and you are very new to the interest. Not needed>
Lastly, I've read a few things about filter materials for a planted tank may differ than a non-planted tank. I have filter floss, a bag of Chemi-Pure and a media bag of eheim Substrat pro bio media. Is this overkill for a planted tank with small fish?
<Mmm, no... do read on WWM re the Chemi-Pure product... I would leave the present unit in for 2-3 months...>
I think that's all the questions I have for now, sorry for the wall of text. Thanks,
Steve Jost
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Extended Cycling 1/15/08 Hi WWM Crew, <Hello,> I am setting up a rather small (40 G/ 150L) Tanganyika Tank. Water, Substrate (Aragonite) and Rocks are in the tank. Filter, Heater and Maxi jet are running. Filter is a Fluval 305, Media right now are Prodibio Bio Digest on Ceramic Media, Activated Carbon and 100ml of ROWAphos. <Sounds great, though I admit to considering carbon a total waste of space in freshwater tanks.> I'm slowly raising pH and KH to 9.0 and ~14KH respectively. Unfortunately I realized that I'll have to be away from the tank <Oh...?> for 3 weeks at the end of March. There will be somebody who can fill up evaporated water once a week, but not much more. <OK.> My questions here is, is there any problem to be expected when I extend the cycling and wait with the livestock until I'm back in late April? <None at all. If the tank is currently unstocked, throw in one or two of those dumb "holiday" food blocks. As the calcium carbonate (or whatever they are) dissolves, it releases small amounts of flake food. The food will rot, release ammonia in the process, and keep the bacteria happy. I think those blocks last 2 weeks, in which case you might ask your "baby sitter" to throw the second one in halfway through your trip.> I really don't want to put a couple of juveniles in there to pair off, and then not be there if there is any trouble. <Agreed.> Should I feed the bacteria with some fish food or organic salmon scraps? <Yes, but do as indicated above, so the food is releases slowly, a bit at a time.> As usual, many thanks for your great help and input, Jörg <Hope this helps, Neale.>

Re: Extended Cycling   3/5/08 Hi Neale, <Hello Jörg,> it's Jörg again. So of course I couldn't keep my hands still and started to play with the 10 gal. planted tank, (the Tanganyika is still undergoing that extended cycle...nothing new there) and I now fully understand the warnings about small high wattage high fertilizer systems. That chemistry changes for sure fast in that tank, so I am learning daily, trying to make sense of what I see. <Yes, this is a problem with small tanks anyway, but as soon as you add biogenic decalcification (plants removing bicarbonate as a substrate for photosynthesis) and CO2 fertilisation, the whole things becomes essentially unpredictable -- as far as I can tell, anyway!> So in short over a period of 3.5 months I went from pH 6.8, KH 1.5, GH 1.5,no CO2, 18W to pH 7.4, KH 5.5, GH 7.0, DIY yeast generated CO2, 36W/8000K. <Yikes!> Of course the DIY yeast CO2 required some learning, and over the last couple of days it was rather low as my yeast batch ran out of steam, and I was waiting for a better yeast strain to arrive in the mail. Anyway, the pH suddenly raced up to 8.1. <Hmm... I hope there aren't any fish in there. This sort of pH change doesn't do them any good at all.> I made a water change with some low pH water I had from soaking driftwood, and brought down the pH to 7.8, still high for the Tetras and Corys, but I didn't want to hammer those guys... <Couldn't matter less to them; fish want a stable pH long before they want a specific pH. You can easily maintain Corydoras and most tetras at pH 8, provided it is stable.> Made tests again yesterday and the situation is as follows pH 8.1, KH 3.3, GH 6.7, CO2 generator is still not at full production (~ 48 hrs running). If I take some of the water and keep it in beaker for an hour or so the pH drops to 7.4, nothing done to it..., Tank Temp. is 78 F. <During the daytime, under bright lights the plants should be removing the CO2, allowing pH to rise; if you left the CO2 running at night though the water would become acidic. Hence you need to switch off or disconnect the CO2 generator at night. If you remove the water to a glass where there are no plants, the CO2 presumably dissociates into carbonic acid, and hence the lowers the pH. I guess... I'm not 100% sure.> I'm using a pH meter (calibrated to 7.00 @ 77F) and some drop tests for cross checking my sanity. <Good.> Is it the fertilizers? <CO2 fertilisation? Yes, at least in part.> What am I not getting here? The pH should drop after the water change and the KH now being 2 degrees lower, no? <When you do a nice big water change, the pH, hardness and carbonate hardness should move towards whatever your tap water is. It will take a little time for the CO2 generator and the effects of photosynthesis to kick in> Why does it stay high, even so I've added softer, lower pH water? <No idea. In any case, I'd be reducing the CO2 amount by 25%, 50% and so on until I arrived at a value that resulted in minimal pH changes.> Once the CO2 kicks in it should go down again, but I'd really like to understand why it stays up there so stubbornly... <In the ideal case, the plants should be using up the CO2 as fast as you're adding it, so that pH depression should be minimal. Try using smaller amounts, measure the pH night and day, and determine by trial-and-error what's the amount you need. The theory is fine, but practise is what counts. Try leaving off the CO2 for a few days, and see how the pH changes. If it still changes, then there's something else going on.> Thanks, for your input, can't wait to hear what you think. Jörg <Cheers, Neale.>

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