I know this is probably a bit long. I bolded my main questions so they are easier to find, I just tend to type a lot.
So, I had a mini-heart attack when I got home today. We were away at family's like we normally are on Sundays (we left around three, got home around nine, so roughly six hours), and when I got home I went to put the weekly fertilizer in my 29g only to find the filter was not running. It's a Tetra Whisper 30.
I panicked and fooled around with it a bit (while freaking out and trying to figure out where I could possibly buy a new filter at 9:00 on a Sunday night in an attempt to save my bacteria) and thankfully
got it to start going again. The only thing I can think is maybe the accordion piece from the biowheel I'm seeding slipped and jammed the intake temporarily.
I have no idea how long the filter was out, though I did pull up my main filter sponge and it did seem to be still damp at the very least, and I do have water going through it again. However, how do you think my bacteria stand? How long can they usually survive when a filter starts to dry out? Is there any buffer time at all once a filter is completely dry (which I, thankfully, don't think mine was).
Normally I would just take a deep breath and say "okay, fish-in cycle, daily water changes," but I'm going away to school in roughly a month, which I'm not sure is enough time for a fish-in cycle to complete. I'm leaving the tank to my mom and stepdad to feed while I'm away, and I should be home on weekends frequently enough to take care of water changes in an established
tank seeing my campus is only a little more than an hour away, but there is no way I'd be able to keep ammonia/nitrite levels down if it's still cycling by the time I leave. My mom has never kept a tank in her life, while my stepdad kept a saltwater tank ages ago, but I'm not sure if he fully maintained it himself or just forgot/did a lot of things differently seeing he doesn't seem to be terribly familiar with the water change process and conditioning water and such.
Plus he wanted to use bleach to clean away some of the calcium build-up on my hood and filter, so I'm hesitant about leaving anything with general tank maintenance up to him. I told him bleach was not good for fish obviously, and he has stayed far away from my tank when he's carrying his trusty bleach bottle around since then, so I doubt anything really bad would happen, I'm just a bit iffy. He's excellent with raising tropical plants like palms and such even in Pennsylvania, but for watering he can get away with just spraying them with the hose and dousing them with straight tap water without any sort of conditioner. Hence why I had a mini-panic attack.
I do have live plants, but it is by no means plant-dependent seeing it's not yet planted heavily enough, and I just changed my substrate from gravel to sand, so I'm not sure there would be a ton of bacteria in the substrate either.
I'm going to test the water first thing tomorrow morning to see if there's an ammonia/nitrite build-up. I may be jumping the gun a bit here, but this is possibly one of the less favourable times for the biological filter to risk crashing.