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Standalone nitrogen cycle AKA Cycling a plantless, substrateless, filterless tank

This is a discussion on Standalone nitrogen cycle AKA Cycling a plantless, substrateless, filterless tank within the Beginner Freshwater Aquarium forums, part of the Freshwater Fish and Aquariums category; --> Originally Posted by Deanna01 JDM, the results of this experiment would be really interesting to the people in the betta forums. It's very commonly ...

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Standalone nitrogen cycle AKA Cycling a plantless, substrateless, filterless tank
Old 07-20-2013, 10:52 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Deanna01 View Post
JDM, the results of this experiment would be really interesting to the people in the betta forums. It's very commonly believed that tanks smaller than 2.5 gallons can't hold a cycle and that therefore constant water changes (even as much as daily) are needed--there's even a sticky over there about it. If you wanted to post over there about your results, I think a lot of people would find it really helpful.
I just scanned that article... it states that...

"n smaller tanks, (less than 5 Gallons) it is difficult to keep these bacteria alive"

I have found that the organisms (bacteria, archae or whatever) develop automatically and are not that easy to kill... they certainly don't need our help to survive and thrive. If all you do is change water in a small tank, the cycle will still develop and sustain itself. Tests to try to create a surface that is not prone to immediate biofilm adhesion constantly fail. This film attracts whatever micro-organisms that will thrive given the environment that is present and, seeing as they are so small, any surface of any size will allow them to establish.

I was tempted to see just how small a container I could go with but that would serve no functional value even though water in a shot glass would probably still cycle if it was kept topped off. What I am aiming for is to see how effective it is as ammonia levels climb primarily without all the trappings (filter substrate etc) of a regular aquarium.

One primary issue is that the majority of betta owners want to buy the fish and the tank is an afterthought (guilty as charged BTW) so going through any sort of hassle to cycle a tank or test the water is not going to happen. A $25 test kit for a single $5 fish in a $15 tank just isn't likely to happen.

Jeff.
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Old 07-20-2013, 11:03 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Deanna01 View Post
I'm just curious about what the results of this mean for a small tank. How often would one do water changes, then, in say a one-gallon tank, if it can hold a cycle?
I think the issue is that, in a typical betta tank, the fish waste is continually building up faster than the cycle can establish for that size of a load. Water changes aren't what is important, vacuuming the bottom is and I would suggest that anyone keeping bettas, or anything in a small tank, should have a sand substrate instead of gravel to make this easier to do and a very small diameter vacuum to make it easier to manage.

Water changes should be a function of Nitrate buildup, although there are other compounds that build up at the same time that should be removed, nitrates are the primary indicator we seem to all use. So if nitrate hits 10ppm, change the water and work a schedule around that. Just doing a very quick daily vacuum to capture waste with a small vacuum setup will allow the ammonia generated be minimal and can serve as the water change.

I kept 6 cherry shrimp in a 500ml container (0.13 gallons) for a month. I fed them every day and used a turkey baster to remove waste off of the bottom of the container. I added some floating plants so ammonia was not really an issue but all the shrimp survived and molted and grew. I never tested it for an established cycle as I knew that between the plants and daily waste removal (that amounted to maybe 10% water changes as well) the water would be fine. No filter, no substrate.

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Old 07-20-2013, 11:08 AM   #23
 
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Originally Posted by Deanna01 View Post
I'm just curious about what the results of this mean for a small tank. How often would one do water changes, then, in say a one-gallon tank, if it can hold a cycle?
That would depend on nitrate levels. Some people think nitrates have to be under 20 or the fish will die. Others don't think nitrates are that big of a deal.

Another way to look at it is proportionality. When I kept small community fish, I would stock as much as one fish per gallon. 30 fish in a 30 gallon tank might seem like a lot, but it's really not if the fish are primarily schooling fish. Example - 10 cherry barbs, 10 glow light tetras, 8 Corys and a pair of rams in a 30 gallon tank is not all that much. Such a tank most certainly does not require more than one water change a week. So, why is it that a betta does? Based on what I've seen, it's because these people want to be super duper hands on with their fish. And that's fine - it's an individual hobby for people to practice as they wish. I think some think it makes them a "better" fish keeper.

The purpose of water changes in a cycled tank is primarily to remove nitrates, but also to remove other substances like hormones, as well as to replenish nutrients for plants. A cycled tank can go for quite a long time without a water change, but just because it can doesn't mean that it should - that's up to the individual to decide.

Past bettas of mine have seen weekly water changes, but my current bettas never have. I probably only change their water every month. I used to be in the weekly water change club, but have stopped doing weekly water changes about 3 years ago.


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Old 07-20-2013, 11:34 AM   #24
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I just re-read some more of that thread that you linked Deanna.

Jaysee is probably correct that it would be argued against as the current guru (not intending any disrespect) makes his widely followed claims.

There's nothing wrong with changing the water as is outlined, but it isn't necessary and there's no science behind it.

"The reason for this is because by the time there is enough ammonia for your bacteria to start living there, it is already too toxic for your fish"

The organisms start to propagate as soon as there is ANY ammonia present. That's just what they do. I kept my jug at 1ppm or less and the cycle established in 7 days. If I had fish and was using Prime to de-tox the water and changed 50% of the water if it reached 1ppm or more, I would expect similar results and the fish would be fine.. although I would choose not to do a fish in cycle.
I like advice to at least be based on correct information even if that falsely based advice works for the given situation... it is misleading. This is why I decided to do the jug cycle experiment in the first place, to base anything I say about the nitrogen cycle on a tried and tested example seeing as all I did was toss in a bunch of plants and fish.Jeff.
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Old 07-20-2013, 12:04 PM   #25
 
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I just read through some of that link. The water change schedule outlined is way over the top. Honestly, if you need to do more than one water change a week, your tank is WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY overstocked.



Here's a gem from that thread

Quote:
Doing a 100% change will not kill them instantly unless you scrub the walls/deco/substrate. They will slowly starve to death from the lack of ammonia/nitrite or whatever it is they eat that is present when a fish is producing said ammonia (and when bacteria produce then nitrite).
This just demonstrates their lack of understanding of the whole process. The bacteria aren't going to starve to death - that's just nonsense. Ammonia is produced in a tank at a steady rate, and is continually consumed.

Last edited by jaysee; 07-20-2013 at 12:15 PM..
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Old 07-20-2013, 01:42 PM   #26
 
I am not writing this to start a debate, but to understand the process and results. From what I have been understanding from your investigation a serious conclusion is that the filter is not necessary in planted, cycled tanks.

Is that a logical conclusion, in your eyes?
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Old 07-20-2013, 02:44 PM   #27
 
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If there is sufficient amount of real estate for the bacteria to grow to a size that will handle the bioload in conjunction with the plants without a filter, and sufficient circulation in the tank to bring the food to the bacteria (and nutrients to the plants), and sufficient surface disruption to allow the gas exchange to occur, then yes, you do not need a filter. Filters are recommended because they take care of all three of those issues.

Last edited by jaysee; 07-20-2013 at 02:47 PM..
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Old 07-20-2013, 02:58 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by avraptorhal View Post
I am not writing this to start a debate, but to understand the process and results. From what I have been understanding from your investigation a serious conclusion is that the filter is not necessary in planted, cycled tanks.

Is that a logical conclusion, in your eyes?
There really isn't much to debate, I'm just posting results and some conjecture here and there.

The short answer is yes... but not only in a planted tank, any water filled container that has an ammonia presence. I wasn't going out to prove a filter wasn't necessary but if I take it in that direction I might suggest that a filter could be ONLY to remove particulate for our viewing pleasure and to circulate the water. It (the filter) captures organics which are converted in the filter into ammonia, just as they would be in the tank itself, then circulated about so as to be exposed to many surfaces covered in our friendly nitrifying biofilms. They make the whole affair more efficient, not more effective, as the filter removes nothing from the system.

In my actual aquarium I have a canister filter that never gets touched except once every few months so it is obviously not capturing particulate to be removed from the system, it breaks down as all there is is brown water when it does get opened. As Jaysee found in his filters that sat for four months, his ammonia levels were 4ppm or higher. These filters are full of decomposing material and the nitrfying organisms were not enough to deal with the ammonia load even though they were active on an aquarium, far from it.

I might suggest that further extrapolation may point to filtration through a canister or HOB not being necessary but that the circulation may be the sole important factor involved. A sponge on a powerhead may be just as effective as a canister filter seeing as the whole "needing the surface area in a filter" may be a false need. Certainly special bio media is a white elephant for more reasons than just not being necessary.

My initial goal was to see if a bare tank would support an effective nitrogen cycle as part of a followup from all the hype about bio-media added to filtration, bio-balls, ceramics etc. It was also to be able to know what actually goes on in the process so I wasn't just parroting others' opinions and suspect anecdotal evidence.

So far my simple conclusion is that the nitrogen cycle only needs some surface, the glass, to work. I am going to push it to see just how effective it is, but not necessarily empirically.

My ultimate conclusion may just be that it really doesn't matter what anyone does, the nitrogen cycle does what it needs to do completely on it's own and that anything that we add beyond water, a source of organics and the glass in the tank is superfluous.

OK, maybe there is something to debate, but my side is started on some experimentation, not solely on opinion.

Jeff.
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Old 07-23-2013, 08:12 AM   #29
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Update on the jar cycle status and a little open ended thinking.
Ammonia = 0
Nitrite has been zero since day 7, even after the fresh water change and food addition
Nitrate = 1 (as much as a colour shift can look like a 20% difference from zero)

Still adding one tiny pellet a day and looking for the point where the ammonia levels may overshoot the capacity for oxidization. Seeing as I am gradually adding to the decomposing food in the jar and seeing as it takes a long time for food to decompose to nothing, the ammonia production will be increasing which, if slow enough, may allow the jar biofilms to grow in sync with the increase and proving that the jar may be capable of a far greater nitrification capacity than first I considered.

I begin to wonder where and why this huge emphasis on increasing surface areas in the aquarium world came from.

Jeff.
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Old 07-23-2013, 07:30 PM   #30
 
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I begin to wonder where and why this huge emphasis on increasing surface areas in the aquarium world came from.

Jeff.
My guess is from keeping tanks stocked with fish

It's easy to determine if you don't have a large enough bacteria colony (not enough surface area) - you'll have chronic ammonia/nitrite issues. Otherwise, the tank will be in equilibrium. Fish do grow over time though, so something that may work while the fish are small may not work when they get big.


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