Fishless Cycle Stall

  • Get the NEW AquariaCentral iOS app --> http://itunes.apple.com/app/id1227181058 // Android version will be out soon!

BearTrafalgar

AC Members
Sep 17, 2021
6
1
3
22
I've poked around on here and have seen a few people with a similar issue and I just wanted to verify I didn't screw something up.

I have a 30-gallon tank with a basic rock substrate and a few artificial plants. All were cleaned with hot water before entering the tank. The tank has a Tetra 30-60 gallon heater and a filter with a single bio cartridge. (I can't remember the brand at the moment, but it was rated for 30-50 gallons). I also have a 10" bubble stone for aeration.

During the initial startup, I used tap water (unfortunately it was city water) and Tetra AquaSafe per instructions on the bottle (I believe 1ml per gallon) and Tetra SafeStart per instructions on the bottle.

I started a fishless cycle by adding a little bit of food to the tank once a day for the first week. After about 3-4 days the water went cloudy and a week later the cloudiness cleared up overnight. I gave the tank another 2 weeks before testing it with API 5 in 1 test strips, and Jungle Ammonia Test Strips.
The API kit showed the following:
GH ~60ppm
KH ~240ppm
pH ~7.5
and untraceable amounts of Nitrites and Nitrates.

The ammonia test kit does not give ppm values but after looking on the internet for values I believe the kit to show well above 8ppm.


Given the news, I decided to drain the tank to about 1/3 and refilled with distilled water instead of my tap water. I once again treated the water with Tetra AquaSafe per instructions adding 1ml to each gallon I added. I did not add anymore SafeStart as after investigating I saw a lot of people speak against adding bacteria starters.

The tank once again "bloomed" the day after the change and lasted for about 3 days before cleaning up overnight once again.

I tested the tank every other day for weeks and here are my results.
GH ~45ppm, did not change over the 2 weeks
KH ~8pppm, did not change over the 2 weeks
pH ~ 8.0 (Unable to get an accurate reading on pH but it is definitely above 7.5 and below 8.5, this rose during the two weeks starting at around neutral.)
and untraceable amounts of Nitrites and Nitrates.

The ammonia kit showed ammonia at the first test ~5ppm and this rose to ~8ppm and has stagnated out, but my kit doesn't go much above 8ppm so it may be higher.


I am going to grab an API Masterkit in the next few days for more accurate test results but I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions or comments. I'm thinking I will have to do another water change as I believe my ammonia and pH to be really high. Any help is appreciated and Thank y'all in advance!
 

BearTrafalgar

AC Members
Sep 17, 2021
6
1
3
22
I just realized I made a type, I was unable to edit the message, I apologize to any moderators for a duplicate post.
In my second set of test results, I meant to say KH ~80ppm.
 
Apr 2, 2002
2,945
485
92
New York
Unfortunately you have been the victim of poor and/or confusing information. This is typical among almost every fishkeeper in the world. We all started out knowing almost nothing and had to learn our through things. Perhaps the most important thing to understand is much ot the information easily found on the internet is more often wrong than right.

Years back for another site I redid their fishless cycling article. I am to old and tired to keep repeating it here and am now also willing to link people to the article. If you want the link shoot me a site PM and I will send the link. The cycling method, if followed to the letter, is failsafe. You will get your tank cycled it is only a question of how much time this takes. There are variable involved over which hobbyists have no control which will determine whether one cycles in 4-5 weeks or 5-6 weeks.

Your problem is caused by what you have done relative to ammonia. Firstly, using fish food or other rotting organic matter is about the worst way to create ammonia in a tank. It will also cause the water to cloud. You have almost no control of either how much is created or when. There are two things to use for this that are perfect. One is pure ammonia and to use this you will need to have an ammonia calculator. These are easy to find online.

I use ammonium chloride. For a single use this is more expensive but easy to use. But I have cycled a lot of tanks and filters over the years and I get the stuff in bulk.

Next, the most common cause of a cycle stalling is too much ammonia. 2-3 ppm is the most one needs. At about 5.6 ppm you will have problems. Most often people do not get that high, but what they do is to keep adding ammonia when they should not. This cause the nitrite to rise too high, and that really crashes the cycle.

Safe Start could have helped but not when the ammonia gets as high as yours did. There are multiples strains of ammonia oxising bacteria. They thrive on different levels of ammonia. The ones we want in our tanks thrive on the lower levels of ammonia created in them. They struggle in higher levels. Bear in mind that the fish (and organic matter decaying) produce ammonia gradually 24/7 and that can accumulate to high levels if not handled. However, when we do a fishless cycle we essentially dump a whole day's worth (or more) of ammonia in all at once.

The bacteria we want reproduce slowly relative to most other type of bacteria. Under the best of conditions it takes the ammonia ones 809 hours to double and the nitrite ones are even slower. The biggest skill one needs to do a fishless cycle is patience. The bacteria are pretty hardy, do not need to be fed every day. The need a few tings beside ammonia/nitrite. These include oxygen, inorganic carbon (CO2 or what is in KH in tanks- carbonates and bicarbonates). They also need some trace stuff which is typically found in most tap water. They will die if the freeze or if the temperature gets too high.

Finally, over time, the amount of the beneficial bacteria there is in a tank will always size up or down to the bioload (all the things that can create ammonia). Add more fish to a tank, more ammonia will be created and the bacteria will sense this and they will reproduce fatsser than they die naturally. Remove a bunch of the fish and the size of the colony will shrink back, it will not reproduce at the normal rate and as some individuals die they will not be replaced. This is not and instant process.

Without going into all the deatails, at this time there are only two products in the USA which contain the actual bacteria that end up in our tanks longer term these are Dr. Tim's One and Only and Tetra Safe Start- they are essentially the same product. They contain the needed nitrite oxidizers wnad the process for detecting them and the bacteria are patented. The patent is shared by Dr. Timothy Hovanec who discovered it all and Marineland for whom her worked at the time. They have parted ways with Dr. H. going independent and Marineland being bough by a conglomerate which also owns Tetra. The bacteria involved are Nitrospira like. other product contained living bacteria contain Nitrobacter which thrives in higher levels of nitrite than found in tanks.

Finally, the nitrfying bacteria in our tanks reproduce by division, they do not form spores. So to obtain the proper bacteria one must be buying a bottle of live bacteria, not spores. The proper bacteria needs to be added to a tank only once to do its job. But you sell more if you can "find" other needs for it, even of they sound good they are usually not needed. There is no need to add bacteria after a water change or because you decided to get a few more tetras to bulk up the group in the tank.

One last note here. One does not need bottled bacteria to jump start a cycle. if you have access to a healthy established tank, there are several ways you can transfer some of the bacteria from that to a new tank. Moving over media, rinsing out media, moving substrate and/or decor all can work. The bacteria in our tanks are not mobile. They live inside a biofilm attached to hard surfaces. The will live in the greatest numbers where what the need is most available. Often, this in inside a filter, but they live all over a tank not just in ones filter.
 

BearTrafalgar

AC Members
Sep 17, 2021
6
1
3
22
Unfortunately you have been the victim of poor and/or confusing information. This is typical among almost every fishkeeper in the world. We all started out knowing almost nothing and had to learn our through things. Perhaps the most important thing to understand is much ot the information easily found on the internet is more often wrong than right.

Years back for another site I redid their fishless cycling article. I am to old and tired to keep repeating it here and am now also willing to link people to the article. If you want the link shoot me a site PM and I will send the link. The cycling method, if followed to the letter, is failsafe. You will get your tank cycled it is only a question of how much time this takes. There are variable involved over which hobbyists have no control which will determine whether one cycles in 4-5 weeks or 5-6 weeks.

Your problem is caused by what you have done relative to ammonia. Firstly, using fish food or other rotting organic matter is about the worst way to create ammonia in a tank. It will also cause the water to cloud. You have almost no control of either how much is created or when. There are two things to use for this that are perfect. One is pure ammonia and to use this you will need to have an ammonia calculator. These are easy to find online.

I use ammonium chloride. For a single use this is more expensive but easy to use. But I have cycled a lot of tanks and filters over the years and I get the stuff in bulk.

Next, the most common cause of a cycle stalling is too much ammonia. 2-3 ppm is the most one needs. At about 5.6 ppm you will have problems. Most often people do not get that high, but what they do is to keep adding ammonia when they should not. This cause the nitrite to rise too high, and that really crashes the cycle.

Safe Start could have helped but not when the ammonia gets as high as yours did. There are multiples strains of ammonia oxising bacteria. They thrive on different levels of ammonia. The ones we want in our tanks thrive on the lower levels of ammonia created in them. They struggle in higher levels. Bear in mind that the fish (and organic matter decaying) produce ammonia gradually 24/7 and that can accumulate to high levels if not handled. However, when we do a fishless cycle we essentially dump a whole day's worth (or more) of ammonia in all at once.

The bacteria we want reproduce slowly relative to most other type of bacteria. Under the best of conditions it takes the ammonia ones 809 hours to double and the nitrite ones are even slower. The biggest skill one needs to do a fishless cycle is patience. The bacteria are pretty hardy, do not need to be fed every day. The need a few tings beside ammonia/nitrite. These include oxygen, inorganic carbon (CO2 or what is in KH in tanks- carbonates and bicarbonates). They also need some trace stuff which is typically found in most tap water. They will die if the freeze or if the temperature gets too high.

Finally, over time, the amount of the beneficial bacteria there is in a tank will always size up or down to the bioload (all the things that can create ammonia). Add more fish to a tank, more ammonia will be created and the bacteria will sense this and they will reproduce fatsser than they die naturally. Remove a bunch of the fish and the size of the colony will shrink back, it will not reproduce at the normal rate and as some individuals die they will not be replaced. This is not and instant process.

Without going into all the deatails, at this time there are only two products in the USA which contain the actual bacteria that end up in our tanks longer term these are Dr. Tim's One and Only and Tetra Safe Start- they are essentially the same product. They contain the needed nitrite oxidizers wnad the process for detecting them and the bacteria are patented. The patent is shared by Dr. Timothy Hovanec who discovered it all and Marineland for whom her worked at the time. They have parted ways with Dr. H. going independent and Marineland being bough by a conglomerate which also owns Tetra. The bacteria involved are Nitrospira like. other product contained living bacteria contain Nitrobacter which thrives in higher levels of nitrite than found in tanks.

Finally, the nitrfying bacteria in our tanks reproduce by division, they do not form spores. So to obtain the proper bacteria one must be buying a bottle of live bacteria, not spores. The proper bacteria needs to be added to a tank only once to do its job. But you sell more if you can "find" other needs for it, even of they sound good they are usually not needed. There is no need to add bacteria after a water change or because you decided to get a few more tetras to bulk up the group in the tank.

One last note here. One does not need bottled bacteria to jump start a cycle. if you have access to a healthy established tank, there are several ways you can transfer some of the bacteria from that to a new tank. Moving over media, rinsing out media, moving substrate and/or decor all can work. The bacteria in our tanks are not mobile. They live inside a biofilm attached to hard surfaces. The will live in the greatest numbers where what the need is most available. Often, this in inside a filter, but they live all over a tank not just in ones filter.

I greatly appreciate your advice! I attempted to message you but due to privacy settings on your profile, I was unable to. I would love to view your guide!

After reading your post I decided to drain the tank and restart from scratch following your guide.
The clarification you gave on a lot of things was wonderful so thank you!

Also as an update, my LFS stated my ammonia was above 12ppm (the highest they could test for) and everything besides nitrates/nitrites are around the normal range, the nitrates/nitrites being untraceable amounts.

I will begin the process of draining and cleaning the tank, once again thanks for your advice!
 
Apr 2, 2002
2,945
485
92
New York
  • Haha
Reactions: FreshyFresh

fishorama

AC Members
Jun 28, 2006
11,360
1,780
200
SF Bay area, CA
TTA, I often have a bathrobe on but never nudity :eek: , at least I hope not too much showing, LOL...I have tape over my camera just in case...I'm shy...or something...I'm pretty sure that's against the AC rules...

BearT you should be able to pm TTA, I thought it was just posting pics that you had to post 5 to wait for...I could be wrong. Just a couple more posts & you should be good to go.
 

BearTrafalgar

AC Members
Sep 17, 2021
6
1
3
22
I can receive PMs. I believe as a new member you need to have a certain number of post before you can PM.

I cannot find the rule on this but I did find this one: "Aquaria Central will not allow nudity in any form in the forums." I had to go put on my bathrobe when I read that......

Not my fault I cannot help you so, https://www.fishforums.net/threads/cycling-your-new-fresh-water-tank-read-this-first.421488/

Thanks for the reply, I have started the process of cycling from scratch following your guide. I will update this thread in the coming months!
 
Apr 2, 2002
2,945
485
92
New York
I have no camera in either of my screens and never have had one. I do not have a microphone either. But my PC sure plays a mean game of pinball.......

 

BearTrafalgar

AC Members
Sep 17, 2021
6
1
3
22
Wanted to give a quick update on this tank.

It's been a week since the flush and restart and I'm getting somewhere I think?

Ammonia level was set to 3ppm in the tank and it has not fluctuated at all this week.
I still have no detectable nitrites (it has only been a week so this is to be expected as I understand)
But my nitrates are climbing, I'm up to 20ppm of nitrates?? Are the nitrates feeding on the nitrites before they can do their job?
 
Apr 2, 2002
2,945
485
92
New York
I realize the below is a bi long. But it may help other folks to come to a better imderstanding of what underlies fishless cycling.

The way the cycle works is ammonia feeds the first bacteria who produce nitrite. The Nitrospira bacteria, which were thought only to convert nitrite to nitrate, apparently are able to convert ammonia directly to nitrate. So this might explain it. However, in either case the ammonia has to go down for the nitrite or nitrate to go up.

This tells me that something is off. Of the three test kits the nitrate one is the least accurate and most prone to testing error. Are you banging bottle #2 on a hard surface a few times and shaking like crazy for a minute before doing the test? Are you rinsing out the test tubes as follows: rinse with tap water, then use tank water to rinse again then collect the sample from mid-water not water at the surface.

Did you test your tap water for nitrate?

The bacteria are living things, they feed. The ammonia/nitrite/nitrate are merely elements/ions and they do not feed.

Cycling a tank is a process, that is a series of steps whose purpose is to get needed bacteria to colonize and multiply to the needed level. If all happens an a microscopic level. We cannot see or count the bacteria. The only way we know they are there and when they are finally in the needed quantities is from test results. These results follow a specific pattern. Unless something occurs which disrupts that pattern, it doesn't change except for the speed. Ammonia goes in, ammonia goes down and nitrite goes up. Then as ammonia moves to 0 nitrite peaks and and begins to drop. Nitrate begins to appear before nitrite is coming down. As the nitrite peaks and begins to drop, the nitrate rises.

This whole process depends on the ammonia going in. The other things we can know is the maximum amount of nitrite a given amount of ammonia can produce and the maximum amount of nitrate the nitrite can create. We may not see the maximum but we can know if our readings are higher than possible.

With the Total Ion scale the API kits use and starting with 3 ppm of ammonia, the most nitrite one can get is 7.68 ppm (2.56 times the ammonia) and the most nitrate that can produce is 10.37 ppm (1.35 times the nitrite). So for you to have 20 ppm of nitrate, either you have it in your tap water or else your test results are not right.

If one has test kits that use the nitrogen scale, 1ppm of ammonia = 1 ppm of nitrite - 1 ppm of nitrate.

The difference between the two scales is the nitrogen scale on counts the N in NH3/NH4, NO2 and NO3. However, the Total Ion scale counts the 3 or 4 Hs in ammonia/ammonium (added together these make Total Ammonia) and the 2 Os in nitrite and the 3 Os in nitrate. It is because of the relationships if the Total Ion scale that I know your test results are not possible.

Finally, there is a pretty big difference between cycling a tank and doing science in a lab. So the above numbers are a guideline. For example, ammonia evaporates. So when we add ammonia in a fishless cycle as it goes down some of this can be due to its evaporating so it is not being converted to nitrite. We have no way to know how much of an ammonia dose might evaporate, What we do know is what the max nitrite this can make it.

This is all complicated because the bacteria multiply. The first dose of ammonia we add is met but the fewest number of bacteria we will have. Because there is excess ammonia, the bacteria begin to multiply. When we hit the time to add more ammonia and we put in another 3 ppm we may never be able to test that much because there are bacteria consuming it from the get go. Eventually, we can see the ammonia disappear ever faster. The same happens with nitrite. When the ammonia bacteria begin to make nitrite, there are very few bacteria to handle it. because the nitrite bacteria reproduce more slowly than the ammonia ones. nitrite builds. peaks and declines. Even as we add second and third additions of ammonia, the nitrite levels never reach such a peak and in fact keep going lower.

This is the process that follows a predictable order. Only other factors can effect how fast this all may go. The bacteria do need other things- oxygen, inorganic carbon, some trace elements like iron etc. Most of these are in our water. temperature and pH also affect the speed of things. Finally, the base of the cycle are the ammonia bacteria. My tap water may contain more of these than yours. So even if we start with every other relative parameter being identical, my tank will cycle faster than yours.

The ammonia bacteria need about 8 hours to double under optimum conditions. But if I start with 1,000 individual bacteria and you only have 500, you can see why my tank should cycle faster than yours. The problem is neither you nor I know with how much bacteria we are starting. This is one big reasons for a fishless cycle taking anywhere from 5 - 6 weeks on average, some outliers will go a bit faster or slower.
 
zoomed.com
hikariusa.com
aqaimports.com
Store