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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 jaysee My guess is from keeping tanks stocked with fish It's easy to determine if you don't have a large enough ...

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Standalone nitrogen cycle AKA Cycling a plantless, substrateless, filterless tank
Old 07-24-2013, 09:08 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by jaysee View Post
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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I'm not so sure that your guess is accurate... Although I am sure that is where it came from, everything comes from keeping fish on some level, I think that the surface area requirements are not nearly so great as we keep hearing. I have read a number of studies regarding the composition of bio-films, their tenacity, reproduction rates, ammonia oxidization rates etc etc, I have yet to run across any that actually look at this requirement of surface area to process certain loads other than on scales so large that they don't apply to a small space or our, relatively, smaller loads and concentrations. While I am sure that there is a relationship, I am not so sure that we get close to needing what we are told we need.

If anyone happens to have something more on the topic, let me know, or if anyone has had chronic ammonia / nitrite issues that were solved by adding more surface area through filtration or whatever.

Supplying more than necessary is not a problem, and I am not suggesting that people start reducing what they are supplying... yet... I am just having difficulty swallowing the mantra of the manufacturers' and their followers who are pushing bio-friendly media on a market that probably does not require it. I also see that some of what is pushed is not even as effective as a sponge in a filter due partly to the lack of an increase in surface area given a similar volumetric space or lack of any water flow through the media to make any use of the increase in space. Even in a few cases the porosity of the media may preclude a biofilm even being able to establish as the area between the surfaces is actually too small... afterall, it's designed to filter out pathogens using water that is under pressure... which media requires regular flushing to clean out the microscopic buildups... yah, ceramics.

Jeff.
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Old 07-24-2013, 10:54 AM   #32
 
This is a pretty fascinating read, JDM.

This should seem like an obvious answer from your posts, but just to confirm: you're not finding that doing water changes removes any significant amount of 'floating' bacteria to impact the established cycle?

Also, do you feel that plants and/or clean-up crews (snails, shrimp, etc) would be necessary to further break down food waste and reduce the need for vacuuming, or has this not presented a problem for you since ~1 month when you declared it cycled?

I like this simple experiment you're doing. This will have me keeping a closer eye on my tanks, feeding habits, and levels. Perhaps they are more stable than I had given them credit for, and would be fine with less water hauling on my part.

I think I'm still going to run some sort of powerhead/sponge filter in my tanks just to create water movement and surface agitation, and I wouldn't run a bare powerhead because I mostly deal with smaller fish/inverts that could get sucked in so there would be some sort of sponge pre-filter regardless.

That leads me to one more question: do you feel that this sort of sponge in the aquarium could actually cause issues specifically because it concentrates nitrifying bacteria, which makes it vulnerable to disruption during cleaning or when it eventually has to be replaced?

Edit: Actually, that's not my last question.

Do you feel that this sort of mechanical water movement is necessary to aid in oxygenating deeper water in taller tanks? If I could eliminate the need for powerheads, either through just airstones or heavy planting near the bottom of the tank or something, I wouldn't need to worry about pre-filters/diced shrimp.

Also, do you feel that surface agitation is necessary to break up the biofilm that can form on the surface, which may inhibit gas exchange on the surface? Specifically, I see this biofilm a lot in my tanks with bubblenesters (I think they might intentionally do this to build their nests) and in addition to gas exchange, I also worry about the effect on them when they surface to breathe. I try to remedy this by either having a powerhead near the surface or a sponge filter/airstone bubbling up.

I realize the last two questions here aren't directly related to cycling, but they would help me determine what sort of equipment is necessary in my tanks, which changes the amount and nature of biomedia that I incidentally have in them.

Last edited by Lucubration; 07-24-2013 at 11:10 AM..
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Old 07-24-2013, 12:23 PM   #33
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This is a pretty fascinating read, JDM.

This should seem like an obvious answer from your posts, but just to confirm: you're not finding that doing water changes removes any significant amount of 'floating' bacteria to impact the established cycle?
No, the organisms (bacteria or archeae as the case may be) are not active when they are floating as the bio film that adheres them to the surfaces is also the method of food capture and transport. I replaced the entire volume of water, gave the jar a slight rinse and filled it with fresh water, added some new fishfood and the cycle ticked right along as if I never touched it. I am going to do a chlorine test sometime and I fully anticipate the same result, no affect to the biofilms.

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Originally Posted by Lucubration View Post
Also, do you feel that plants and/or clean-up crews (snails, shrimp, etc) would be necessary to further break down food waste and reduce the need for vacuuming, or has this not presented a problem for you since ~1 month when you declared it cycled?

I like this simple experiment you're doing. This will have me keeping a closer eye on my tanks, feeding habits, and levels. Perhaps they are more stable than I had given them credit for, and would be fine with less water hauling on my part.
I'm not suggesting that anyone do less water changing, that is not my point at all. In the jar I still only have water and fishfood, no plants, substrate filter etc. It's not much to look at, just a jar of water.

In my aquarium, I no longer do any vacuuming and there is very little buildup, which is why I stopped, nothing to vacuum. I had one stretch of 5 weeks (don't tell anyone, it's embarrassing) where I was unable to do water changes (long story) and the nitrates never climbed past 5ppm, no mulm buildup... I didn't even take out any dead plant material. While I can let it ride, I would rather not. There I have three or four kinds of snails, shrimp and the fish. I wouldn't be without them and I am sure that they plat a large part in keeping everything breaking down a lot quicker.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucubration View Post
I think I'm still going to run some sort of powerhead/sponge filter in my tanks just to create water movement and surface agitation, and I wouldn't run a bare powerhead because I mostly deal with smaller fish/inverts that could get sucked in so there would be some sort of sponge pre-filter regardless.

That leads me to one more question: do you feel that this sort of sponge in the aquarium could actually cause issues specifically because it concentrates nitrifying bacteria, which makes it vulnerable to disruption during cleaning or when it eventually has to be replaced?
Disruption during cleaning is a non-issue. Replacing it... potentially but it really depends upon the aquarium system. Worst case, a planned replacement may just require the use of something like Prime to handle any immediate spikes until the system settles down. No worse than changing regular filter media. With plants, this is of far less an issue as they can easily take up the slack, the more the merrier.

Setting up a replacement sponge in a container and cycling it ahead of time can avoid the whole issue.

Jeff.
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Old 08-02-2013, 03:53 PM   #34
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Tests as of day 69 or 24 since full water change and cleaning.

I'm due for testing today but last test day was still the same... nitrates are climbing slowly. Based on the colour shift it looks like over 1ppm four days ago.

I'm still adding food pellets and still have not reached the ammonia loading capacity.

I was going to do a test on a larger tank with just sand to see how much longer the cycle might take to establish but Bigdawg355 kindly did this part for me. No, he didn't know he was filling that slot, he just happened to be doing what I was going to do when he posted that he was doing just that and I already knew that doing as I suggested was going to be much faster for him and let me do the experiment by proxy.

He setup a 10 gallon with sand and kept the ammonia levels at or below 1ppm (other than an initial overdose which is a negligible factor so early in the process) and managed to establish a fully active nitrogen cycle in 9 or 10 days. That is a far cry from the typical 4-8 weeks reported by others using similar methods and higher levels.

"Ok so for the last 3 days my ammonia has been dropping to zero in a 24 hr period so today I tested nitrAtes and nitrItes results were Ammo 0
NitrItes 0
NitrAtes 5.0
Is this tank somehow already cycled? It's only been 12 or 13 days."

Read more:http://www.tropicalfishkeeping.com/freshwater-aquarium/does-bio-zyme-work-232001/#ixzz2aq40XtlD

Yup, that's a cycled tank.

The difference between our two setups would be the volume, glass surface area and the sand and filter in one.

The volume difference between the 10 gallon and my 0.13 gallon is close to 80:1

The surface area (glass only) difference is only around 20:1... the larger the volume the less relative glass surface area to unit volume there is.

The sand, assuming an average grain size of 1/64" and a depth of an inch, would yield a surface area of about 36,000 square inches... I'm going to discount the filter at this point as it is an HOB and the additional surface area will be a pittance compared to sand (I did the math on that some time ago for another purpose). I would assume that the effective use of this as a working nitrification bio film support might decrease from 100% at the top to as low as 0% at the bottom (although I doubt it's that poor until it gets to 3" deep) due to reduced water flow over the areas which would be similar to having only 18,000 square inches in a moving sand bed. This is still more than 15 times the surface area of the glass alone and makes me see the benefit of a moving sand filtration system... if the efficiency can be increased to use 100% of the sand in the process ... well, that's a whole other topic...

Given that my 0.13 gallon tank setup in 7 days I would have thought, for no other reason than having to decide on some sort of outcome, that any larger tank might take a lot longer. I based this loosely on the fact that nobody seemed to report cycle times of less than a month... I can't think of any so far, other than me and the Dawg. So I was pleasantly surprised that the cycle time is close enough to the same given the huge variation in volume and surface areas.

A small jar with water only and a 10 gallon tank with sand both cycled in approximately the same time frame... 7 and 9 days respectively.If I extrapolate based on these two tests I would expect that going larger again would yield still similar timelines and say that you can probably cycle any tank with a substrate of any sort without consideration to any additional filtration quickly and effectively and the entire process timeline and efficacy is not determined by how much surface area is supplied at all... it just happens at a particular rate.

We don’t really understand exactly where these nitrifying micro organisms come from but it is likely that they are already dormant and present in the water and take advantage of the tendency of any surface to develop a film conducive to the attraction of biologicals (this is the bane of the medical industry even with their shiny steel and slippery plastics) and they just adhere then feed, grow and propagate. Due to the likely pre-existing nature of these critters, I also expect that the larger the water volume, the more of these dormant micro organisms there are. Then when they attach themselves and binary fission kicks in, the timeline from start to finish will always be similar given a similar water source no matter the volume... at least within our aquarium sizes.

My conclusions thus far agree with my initial hypothesis:

We are supplying far more surface area than is needed in just a typical setup for bio film development to establish a nitrification cycle. This makes the various points about the real lack of efficacy of these bio friendly media products moot and renders the argument down to just one point, they are not needed in the first place. So why are the manufacturer’s selling all the unnecessary bio friendly media and, more to the point, why are we all buying it hook, line and sinker?

Jeff.
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Old 08-02-2013, 04:10 PM   #35
 
Interesting! I'm actually kind of surprised that the rates are so similar. Not because of a difference in the amount or ratio of surface area, but because I had guessed it was mostly related to the rate of reproduction in the bacteria (the larger quantity of ammonia would require more generations to build the population). Actually, that might still be true given that the 10 gallon took a little longer if they have a near exponential growth rate.

Anyways!

From what I understand, unless you start with a colony from another source, the bacteria that come to inhabit your tank are initially airborne in small numbers and settle into your tank to eat and reproduce.
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Old 08-02-2013, 04:30 PM   #36
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Interesting! I'm actually kind of surprised that the rates are so similar. Not because of a difference in the amount or ratio of surface area, but because I had guessed it was mostly related to the rate of reproduction in the bacteria (the larger quantity of ammonia would require more generations to build the population). Actually, that might still be true given that the 10 gallon took a little longer if they have a near exponential growth rate.

Anyways!

From what I understand, unless you start with a colony from another source, the bacteria that come to inhabit your tank are initially airborne in small numbers and settle into your tank to eat and reproduce.
In the air model the timelines would depend on surface area for the introduction of the micro organisms which is not the case. My jar has a small top compared to the volume and it was very fast... 7 days to completion.

I just got off the phone with a water treatment tech... I was curious and thought I might as well ask someone who knows this stuff.... here;'s a couple of interesting points from the conversation:

They don't add anything to start their cycling in large scale ponds.... thousands of gallons here.

Everything is already in the water (not the air) and once they add "dirty water" the cycle takes... get this.... 7 days to establish.

My scalability assumption form tank to tank was right, I didn't think it would scale to that size as well.

They can cycle the same bacteria from aerobic to anaerobic depending on water circulation and oxygen injection.

The tech happens to have a 170 gallon aquarium at home... cool... and a 72 that he just sent me a picture of that had the front glass let go on him after Christmas... not so cool.

Jeff.
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Old 08-05-2013, 06:38 PM   #37
 
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I'm not sure how you infer that the "in the air" model is wrong or, at least, less apropos than the "in the water" model. Your tech-friend's pond is exposed to atmosphere and is probably not using chlorinated tapwater; water which, I must assume barring evidence to the contrary, contains little bacteria of any kind...at least that's the theory behind water treatment.
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