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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hi guys,
I've been cycling my 56 gal freshwater tank and it seems to be stalled. Could you please look at these parameters and tell me what you think?


4/20: filled the tank with tap water, added Amquel to remove chlorine and chloramine. Added seeded media from established tank. Ph reads at 6.4 (tap water). Heavily planted tank with live plants, 85 F. Keep two bubble stones on at all times. Fluval Aquaclear 70 overhead filter with ammonia remover filter insert and zeo-carb filter insert.
4/24: added 12.5 ml ammonia hydroxide 10% (from ACE), ammonia reads at 5 ppm.
4/26: ammonia reads at 2 ppm.
4/29: ammonia 1 ppm.
5/1: ammonia 0 ppm, nitrite 2 ppm. Upped ammonia to 4 ppm.
5/2: ammonia 0.5 ppm, upped to 4 ppm.
5/3-5/4: ammonia 0.4 ppm, nitrite 2 ppm. Upped ammonia to 4 ppm.
5/5-5/7: ammonia 1, nitrite 0.5, nitrate between 0 and 5 ppm. Upped ammonia to 4 ppm.
5/8: ammonia 2.0, nitrite 0.5. Upped ammonia to 3.5 ppm.
5/9: ammonia 1, nitrite 0.5. Upped ammonia to 3.5 ppm.
5/10: ammonia 2.0, nitrite 0.5. Upped ammonia to 3 ppm.
5/11: ammonia 2.0 (slowed down), nitrite 2, nitrate 5.0, Ph 6 (???). Noticed some plants were not doing so well and decided to keep ammonia at 2ppm for the rest of the cycle.
I have two large pieces of driftwood (were soaked multiple times in boiling water until most all tannins leached out). I also add 5 ml of Flourish for the plants every other day (planning to change it to 2.5 ml every day). Could they alter Ph so much? My another established 10 G tank reads Ph at 7.4 although I used the same tap water with Ph 6.4. How can it be? I did use some calcium supplement in the 10 G tank.

Should I keep upping ammonia to 2 ppm every day?
Should I add some crushed coral to up the Ph level?
Should I do a huge water change to keep the cycle going? I have no idea where I am and if everything is going as it should.
Should I have removed the carbon and ammonia remover filter from the power filter? Do you think they are inhibiting the cycle keeping bacteria starved?
Another problem: I could not possibly distinguish the nitrite chart colors in the brightest light. I seem to be color blind for that particular chart :) So the nitrites I've been reading could be much higher than 0.5 the whole time. I just can't tell. It all looks the same. And I also have the Seachem Ammonia Alert sticker in the tank which shows harmful ammonia being converted to not harmful within a couple of hours now, however, the liquid API test still shown total ammonia as 1 ppm or more. What does it mean for the cycle?
Thank you for your patience. Any help is GREATLY appreciated.
 

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A couple observations. You call this tank heavily planted, so if there are a fair amount of plants I would not add ammonia at all. The "plants not doing so well" could be due to ammonia. We forget that ammonia is toxic to all life forms, be it fish, plants or bacteria [different bacteria from those that use ammonia]. I do not advise adding ammonia in any form when live plants are present.

The high temp is likely not all that welcome for plants either. I assume this is to increase the bacteria, but again I wouldn't as there is no need.

Adding Flourish at the level you are is also not going to help much, and might also be contributing to the plant's "not doing well." Plants need 17 nutrients, all but 3 of which are in Flourish Comprehensive [though some are in minimal quantity]. Carbon, a major macro-nutrient, is absent completely as this comes from the breakdown of organics in the substrate and in a new tank this will be minimal so the plants can't grow beyond the CO2 regardless. For a 56g, call it 60g, 1 teaspoon once a week, or at most twice, is all you should be using of Flourish Comp.

Carbon in the filter is going to rob the plants of what little CO2 there is, as carbon adsorbs DOC which is a prime source of carbon. Not that there is much at this stage, but no point in removing what little may be there.

On the pH, this is probably to be expected. If the tap pH is 6.4, the tank may well lower. The wood is a minor factor in this, but more importantly (to understand) is the relationship of GH/KH/pH behind all this. What is the GH and KH/Alkalinity of the tap water (on its own)? I'll explain more when I know these numbers.

I would not add crushed coral, this is not the answer as it is not a buffer. It is pure calcium and will raise the pH (possibly astronomically) but not touch GH, and this is not good for almost any fish with a few exceptions. Before we look at raise pH, we need to know the GH and KH numbers, plus the intended fish species.

The API ammonia test reads ammonia/ammonium as "ammonia."

Byron.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Total hardness 250, alkalinity 80 (I only have test strips for these). I have a hard time finding GH test kits.
 

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Total hardness 250, alkalinity 80 (I only have test strips for these). I have a hard time finding GH test kits.
Interesting numbers. KH at 80ppm is not high, so the buffering capacity will not be great, meaning the pH will likely lower naturally but not a great deal. I wouldn't bother with this any longer, it is not an issue. This plus the wood is likely the reason.

The GH at 250 is moderately hard. While it is not always true, generally the pH will be above 7 with this high a GH [250ppm = 13 dGH] so a tap pH of 6.4 is interesting.

Is there any way you can confirm the numbers? The GH and Akalinity should be available from your water supply people, online probably.

Byron.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I checked the water in my established tank out of curiosity. The hardness reads at 120, and the alkalinity at 80. I will see if I can get a liquid test for GH and KH in a fish store.
So, do I just make water changes every day until there is no ammonia and nitrites without adding any more ammonia, and then add a few fish? I plan on housing 1 betta, a school of neon tetras and silver hatchets, a few zebra nerite snails, ghost shrimp and a smallish pleco. Maybe a small school of cherry barbs.
I really wanted to try and cycle with ammonia. Maybe keeping ammonia levels at 1-2 ppm will let me soon finish the cycle? I am afraid to add fish even if I change a lot of water and my parameters are good because it won't be completely cycled. Right now I think I am sitting in the middle of a cycle and if I stop adding a little bit of ammonia every day, I am afraid all my bacteria will die and spikes of ammonia and nitrites will start all over again once I add the first fish. Should I just take the plants out and finish cycling with ammonia?
 

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The tank looks good ukrworld! Not what I'd call heavily planted though. To answer your original question, yes the fishless cycle is stalled. The page for your aquarium says you're using crushed coral? Is some of that in the filter? If so, you shouldn't be having a problem. Adding a small amount to the filter will allow you to finish the fishless cycle. Adding it won't be a problem because it will be removed before the fish are in the tank. What has happened is the bacteria has used up the KH and lowered the PH. Adding the crushed coral will raise though and allow the cycle to complete. The crushed coral can then be removed as the bacteria you have built up won't need to process 4 ppm ammonia daily and thus won't use the KH as they have.
 

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It's up to you how you "cycle." I made my point.

To the fish, I would not mix Betta and neontetra, that can go wrong one of two ways, or both. Neons become very nippy when faced with sedate fish, and there is also the possibility of Betta considering neons food. Mine did.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks for the replies! I think my mistake was to cycle with ammonia with plants already in the tank. Next time I cycle a tank I will do it with ammonia and add the plants after the cycle ends. For now, I decided to do massive water changes to bring and keep my nitrites (sky high) down to 0.5 or less and keep ammonia level at 1 ppm or less for a couple of weeks to see if the cycle completes. I don't think I have enough plant matter in the tank for a silent cycle yet and worry about hurting the fish more than hurting the plants, but the vigorous stem plants will probably take care of that small amount of ammonia in the water. I have a lot of plants in the tank now, but they are all tiny. I used to up ammonia to 4 ppm every day and I think doing it only up to 1 ppm will make a big difference in plants' health. If everything is stable with nitrites in a few weeks, I will add a few small fish and keep up with water changes as needed.
Regarding the betta and neons, I've kept them together in a smaller tank before and they were fine, so I thought I'd try it out in a big tank. I have a small back up tank for betta in case it doesn't work out.
Researching online I saw many people getting very frustrated with nitrites that won't go down, but I am not about to give up. I just need to find that balanced approach that will work for me in current situation.
 

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Finding balance can be tricky at first, but it has a way of finding itself eventually. . .

I'm not much help with the cycling issue, glad you found the input you needed - your slow and cautious plan sounds good to me, hopefully that pretty tank of yours will be ready to stock in no time!

Regarding Betta vs Tetra, I had a similar experience to Byron's - my Betta won, too. I have photographic evidence of the survivor, the other was never seen again. :(

Asking for clarification out of curiosity - you had this particular Betta in with Neons in the past? I only have kept the one I have, and he's definitely an aggressive little guy! But I've been told that Betta temperament can vary dramatically from fish to fish. . .
 

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Very nice looking tank setup. Nicely planted but you are probably right, not enough to skip a cycle altogether depending on your eventual fish load but if you have the patience for an ammonia cycle you could have stocked fish in small groups with a couple of weeks between each addition. The plants would have grown out more each time, the nitrogen cycle would have still established in the background. Of course those who cycle will say to cycle and those who use plants instead will say to use the plants... eanie meanie miney moe....

Dropping the ammonia to 1ppm is a good idea as this will serve to allow the nitrite oxidizers to kick in much better, they tend to go dormant at levels above this and it will be better for the plants.

Patience is the key no matter which way you go and now that you have it where it is your best bet is to let everything settle and see where your pH lands, get the proper test kits to nail your GH/KH down.

Oh... you won't kill the micro organisms, they go dormant and are not that easy to kill off. Once your plants are nicely established they will act as a huge ammonia sink in that they will consume most of the ammonia which circumvents the nitrogen cycle, less ammonia converted into nitrites which also means less nitrites to be converted into nitrates. I would always suggest to add fish slowly regardless of the method of bio filtration that you setup as that lets you monitor the water rather than getting hit with a huge imbalance all at once.

If you don't already have the betta, (I don't recall if that is the case here), I would rethink that addition. I have one with cherry barbs and catfish and they are all large enough not to get eaten and there is not aggreassion/fin nipping going on but I wouldn't have chosen this mix other than the betta was pre-exisitng.

Jeff.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Thank you so much for your support, guys! Just an update for someone who is going through the same experience: I did a 95% water change yesterday and upped ammonia to 1 ppm. Today's parameters are: ammonia: 0 (eaten in 10 hours), ph: 6.6 (same as tap), nitrate: 80 (thank goodness), nitrite: off the chart (eww...) I was praying for a miracle, but I guess not yet. Off to the store to buy a python. Took 3 hours last night to do the water change "bucket style". I will definitely post once the nitrites are gone so that people who go through the same thing can compare.
Re: betta: yes, it's the same betta that lived with neons, cherry barbs and long finned tetras in my 10 g tank which is now converted to RCS breedery. I love him very much, he is extremely sweet (except trying to snack on cherries) and did great with all other fish. I am pretty confident he will be okay in a new tank.
Re: plants: I have a bunch of fast growing stem plants for the time being and for the sake of the hatchets I plan to get, but once they are settled, I will try to rescape the scenery a bit with a better quality plants. I am pretty limited due to my med-low light but this is how I want to keep it so no algae.
Wishing luck and patience to everyone fighting the nitrite war. Happy Mother's Day, everyone!
 

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When were the nitrates 80ppm? Before or after the 95% water change? I know I test before changes out of curiosity but yours should have dropped from 80 to less than 5 if your tap water is zero.

I think (but am not certain) that 1ppm ammonia oxidized to nitrite and then to nitrate yields 1ppm nitrate. With plants the ratio of added ammonia to end nitrates will not be 1:1 only because a lot of the added ammonia will be consumed by the plants and it never gets to nitrite stage let alone nitrate.

Jeff.
 

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Discussion Starter #13 (Edited)
Jeff, the nitrates were 40 ppm last night after 95% WC and 80 ppm this morning after 1 ppm of ammonia was converted, but the thing is, I am somewhat colorblind to the color card and cannot for the love of me differentiate the colors starting from 5 and up. Same with nitrites. So it can be as low as 20 or as high as 100, I don't know. It looked like 80 to me. Anyway, I am doing another great WC as soon as python is here and hopefully will lower both nitrites and nitrates to more acceptable levels. The tap water might have a negligible amount of nitrates, I think. I am not sure. But the tap nitrites are 0, I checked.
Heck, I had my 10 g cycled in TWO weeks with a no plants, no ammonia, one betta, few water changes and no problems ever since; I am looking at this 56 g monster that is nothing but trouble and want to "loan" it to someone until this cycle is over.
 

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Something is definitely off with your testing results if your tap tests zero. 95% really should have the tank close enough to tap levels that you might not be able to differentiate on the test and you are very unlikely to a have 40ppm increase over night. You might try using a white LED flashlight to compare your colours or just get someone else to read them. I do this occasionally when I am not certain but also usually just trying to decide between two colours, not the whole card.

Are you using the liquid test? Perhaps if you are using the strips the colour representation is weak or if you are using the liquid you aren't shaking the crap out of the bottle #2, that will throw off the results and I think read higher falsely. Eventually not shaking enough will throw off all future tests.

Jeff.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Shook the heck out of both bottle and tube. Used API liquid, and my other established tank tested 0 nitrates, so drops are working good, but it has only cherries which produce tiny waste. I will try the led light, great idea! Can I ask if I should be very concerned about nitrates during the cycle? What does it mean for the cycle? I had a lot of plant debris from melted plants (ammonia overdose), could that affect the nitrates? Oh, they were reading 5 ppm (as best as I could tell) BEFORE WC. I am more and more confused.
 

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Nitrates don't mean much until you start adding fish then you should aim to have them as low as possible, under 20ppm anyway. Melted plants will add to the ammonia but not to the level that you have been adding and not directly adding to the nitrates. The melt may have been due to high ammonia but a lot of plants have pretty good tolerance to ammonia, although sustained high levels, not sure.

Jeff.
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Update: today my nitrites went down to 0.25 without additional water changes, nitrates hover at 40. I am keeping my fingers crossed and dosing ammonia to 1 ppm daily. I hope it's about to be over.
 

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HOORAY!!! It sounds like you're moving in the right direction! Ammonia spike, nitrite spike, nitrAte spike. . . then a leveling off. . . keep the ammonia up as you are, and I'm willing to bet that you're *this close* to a cycled tank! Then the FUN part can start!
 

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Discussion Starter #19 (Edited)
Finally!

Today the ammonia and nitrite were zero, nitrate between 40 and 80. Normally I would wait another couple of days to stabilize the tank further, but because I have live plants which already suffered from ammonia and hate to keep dosing ammonia even in small quantities, I am going to slowly start introducing fish to the tank (about 1/4 of a planned population to start with). But first, a huge water change to bring the nitrates down.

So in my case, when the cycle stalled, a large water change and keeping ammonia at lower levels seem to have helped to get the cycle going again. I would think that after the nitrites start going up, the ammonia amount you put in should automatically be cut down to half the previous amount, maybe that will keep the cycle from stalling as the nitrifying bacteria is catching up, so as not to overwhelm the little guys with so much food:)

Please guys, if any beginner to planted tanks is going through the same thing, please DO NOT use ammonia in a tank with live plants, no matter how hardy they seem! I almost lost a hardy java fern to this stuff, you want to take the plants out of the water and reintroduce them only after the cycle is done! Plants and ammonia to not mix (why didn't I listen to Byron's wise words? silly me). What you can do is either very heavily plant the tank from the beginning with desired plants or plant however lightly you want, but use a lot of floaters and stem/bunch fast growing plants to absorb the ammonia and add just a few fish there every couple of weeks, no chemicals needed. Then you can slowly replace the bunches and floaters with your dream aquascape.
Good luck to everyone struggling with a cycle and enormous thank you for all your support and advice. I couldn't do it without your help.
 

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SOOOOO happy for you!!! *dances* Thanks for sharing your journey with us so far. . . please, pretty please, let us watch this tank grow in the future! I can't wait to see what it becomes under your care. :)
 
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