Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tank Cycling & Acclimation Phase I

This is a follow-up to "Holiday Aquarium Purchasing" published on December 9, 2009 @; this is the second article in the series "New Aquarium".

For those of you who wish to know what tank cycling method was used on our aquariums, this [link] will take you to the forum post by rdd1952, a forum moderator at Tropical Fish Forums. Here are our experiences with cycling two 10g and one 5g tank.

Our setup for the 10:view tank included an Aqua Clear 20 filter, a Stealth 100 heater and 2.5" of Fluorite Black substrate. We also bought a Master Water Test kit; our kit is the API Master Kit. It was a crucial part of the cycling process as we needed to know the baseline ph of our tap water as well as some chemical levels present in the water on a daily basis. In addition to the master test kit, we purchased GH - general water hardness test solution and kH - carbonate hardness test solution. For a technical explanation of the nitrogen cycle, see this [link], and for an explanation of GH & kH, see this [link].

The plants included Japanese Marimo algae balls, an Anubis Petite nana, a Barclaya longifolia, a Java Fern, Lace and a small Banana Plant. We did not put any fish or shrimp into this tank, as we were doing a fish-less cycle. Our tap water ph is 7.6 therefore; our base ph was 7.6.
The initial dose of ammonia was 3ml which gave us a base read after an hour of 5ppm NH(3) - ammonia. Tank temperature was kept between 80 & 84f. A slightly higher temperature encourages bacteria growth.

Our calculation for a 10 gallon tank was a daily dose of 2ml to achieve 4ppm ammonia level on a daily basis. On day six of this regimen we recorded our first NO(2) - nitrIte level at 0.5ppm and our first NO(3) - nitrAte level at 7ppm. What that told us was that there were beneficial bacteria, in high enough numbers to begin processing the NH(3) we were dosing every morning. Our NH(3) - ammonia level that morning was still at 2ppm, we did not dose that morning.

The next three weeks were long and boring. We measured chem levels, we dosed, we did water changes, we started reading forums, doing plant research, bought more plants and tore up the living room to make room for a "fish-rack" for our "fish-village". We also shot quite a few photos of every tank re-scape we thought was the final aqua-scaping plan.

At the end of three weeks our ammonia NH(3) levels were reading 0ppm, our nitrIte NO(2) and our nitrAte NO(3) levels were also 0ppm. We decided to do a final test; dose 1ml ammonia to bring our reading to 2ppm and then test after 12 hours and 24 hours. Our tests indicated the 2ppm amount of ammonia could be processed by the beneficial bacteria in less than 24 hours; we were ready to acclimate the fish in the tank. We used the very cautious and conservative drip method to acclimate our fish over a three hour period with no problems. Drip acclimation will be covered in a future post.

Our 5 gallon and second 10 gallon cycle was speeded up somewhat, at least enough to move established plants, fish and shrimp around between the three tanks. We achieved this by taking 1/2" of the Fluorlite substrate, including the mulm, the organic wastes and bacteria present in the substrate, out of the cycled 10g:view tank for each of the two other tanks. We upgraded the 10g;view filter and used the extra filter with it's current bacteria in the filter media, to filter each new tank. In other words, we took the filter, washed the media in old tank water to prevent clogging, and placed it on the next tank to be cycled. In doing this, we did not have to wait to add fish or shrimp. We did have to test the water every morning but did not have to dose with ammonia - NH(3) as the livestock provided the ammonia in the form of their waste. This method is not the same as a "fish cycle".

The term "tank cycling" is somewhat misleading in that your tank may take anywhere from three to six weeks to achieve the beneficial bacteria level we have just described. Your tank is not really finished cycling yet. Once you begin adding fish, shrimp, more plants, you change the dynamic in the tank. Upon completing your tank cycling, you add your fish a few at a time over a few weeks; your tank water is crystal clear, everyone is happy. Then you notice a filmy, oily, scummy substance on the surface. Maybe your water turned cloudy or milky overnight. Or you see an algae farm growing on your glass, plants, decorations and substrate. Perhaps there is "snot" growing on the air-stone you use for CO2, or your bubble infuser. "Snot" is a descriptive term some of us hobbyists use to describe what can look like a white or creamy-yellowish growth on the above mentioned equipment. So we are repackaging the "new tank syndrome" into two phases we will call "tank acclimation phase I & II.

Tank Acclimation, Phase I

The scummy, oily surface cover was explained in "Aqueon vs Aqua Clear Filter". So let us break it down, problem by problem; keeping in mind the "one problem at a time" rule.
  • Cloudy Water overnight or within a few hours: the most likely cause is "bacterial bloom". Something caused a rapid increase in bacterial growth enough to make your water cloudy. Nothing really serious about this phenomena. It happens after a large water change, especially if you have vacuumed your substrate pretty well or you have added too many fish at once. It should clear on it's own within 24 hours.
  • The Algae Farm: has been covered at the old blog site; we recommend either Jame's Planted Tank or Algae ID as useful resources to both identify the types of algae you have and find remedies. Currently, our 10g: view planted tank has outstanding crops of three types of algae we will show embarrassing photos of in another post. Three things should be investigated first; 1) is your filter clean and free of obstructions? Yep, we will probably always nag you about keeping your filter clean. 2) If you are using high light; for example a shop light or the very expensive T5 fixture, is your timer set to no more than 10 hours per day? 3) If you are dosing fertilizers to get fast plant growth, are you under-dosing? If you are, you might want to make adjustments. Dusko Bojicof Algae ID has some great information to help you correct the problem. You may need to add CO(2) - carbon dioxide to your water or you may need an air-stone or slightly larger filter to increase water circulation.
  • The "Snot" issue. We did not come up with the term, but it is descriptive. It is a creamy yellowish or white growth on your air-stone or infuser. It is a growth related to the injection of CO(2). Just clean the equipment when you notice it.
Tank Acclimation Phase I can last a few months during which time you may look back to the boring days of tank cycling with fond nostalgia. However, this too shall pass. Remember these things:

  • Keep the filter and media cleaned and well maintained, free of obstructions, changing your media sachets successively, not all at the same time. This method insures your beneficial bacteria colonies will regenerate without your tank crashing.
  • Add livestock at spaced intervals, one or two fish per week, in the case of shoaling fish such as neon tetras and white cloud mountain minnows, add the shoal (5 fish group) and nothing else for a couple of weeks.
  • Do not miss your regular water changes, if your circumstances prevent it on the regular day, do it the next day. Clean water = healthy tank, flora and fauna.

We hope you have found this information helpful. As always, we welcome your feedback.

Editor's Update:
The National Science Foundation published an interesting article regarding the behavior of bacteria.  While not specifically targeting the behavior of aquarium beneficial bacteria, the article gives some interesting insights into the general behavior; interesting and useful to aquarists.
[link to: Tank Acclimation Follow Up: Secrets of Bacteria

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