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Beginner new tank question regarding cycling

CheckeredRust

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4 Jun 2021
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Asia
Hey all, I'm completely new to this. I've been reading around and there seems to be many different opinions.

Is it possible for me to start a new tank without using ammonia or fish food to start the cycle? Currently, my new tank has stones and some good amount of plants in it. I'm also using aqua soil as substrate. I read that the soil itself will release ammonia, and the plants will sort of do the cycle by itself within a few weeks, so technically I don't have to kickstart it with additional stuff.
 

shangman

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13 Jul 2020
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Yes that's true, you don't need ammonia or fish food to cycle your aquarium, when you use soil and plants they provide enough. It might be useful for you to think of the aquarium as "maturing" rather than cycling - to get your aquarium ready for fish and invertebrates (like shrimp and snails), you want your plants to grow well, and for bacteria to establish a good colony on everything inside the aquarium (they will grow on hardcape, plants, etc) and in your filter. So it's best to wait 6 weeks before adding livestock, and focus on growing your plants well. Make sure to change the water once a week (always add dechlorinator with tapwater), and fertilise the water when you do the waterchange to help your plants grow. :)
 

CheckeredRust

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Yes that's true, you don't need ammonia or fish food to cycle your aquarium, when you use soil and plants they provide enough. It might be useful for you to think of the aquarium as "maturing" rather than cycling - to get your aquarium ready for fish and invertebrates (like shrimp and snails), you want your plants to grow well, and for bacteria to establish a good colony on everything inside the aquarium (they will grow on hardcape, plants, etc) and in your filter. So it's best to wait 6 weeks before adding livestock, and focus on growing your plants well. Make sure to change the water once a week (always add dechlorinator with tapwater), and fertilise the water when you do the waterchange to help your plants grow. :)
Thanks for the informative reply! A few questions though, I thought most people said not to change the water during the cycling process until it's done/matured? As for the fertilizer, do I add it constantly even when I introduce the livestock in the future? Or is it just for the starting part to help the plants grow better during the cycling stage?
 

shangman

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No waterchanges is an outdated way of keeping planted aquariums, we know now that it is not beneficial. People used to think things like the beneficial bacteria are living in the water, so taking out the water reduces the bacteria, which is not true. The bacteria love on surfaces, which is why we try to create a lot of surface area with the media in our filters.

The other misconception is that you want to keep as much ammonia in the tank as food to grow the bacteria colony quicker, but the downsides of no waterchanges are far bigger than that small upside of no waterchanges. In a planted tank, there is a lot of detritus and chemicals given off by plants as they grow, and by the soil even more so. Bacteria need oxygen to eat and neutralise these harmful (to fish) chemicals in your aquariums. A waterchange is a really good way to get a lot of oxygen into the aquarium.

The harmful chemicals are not only the food of bacteria, but also algae, which will take advantage of your lack of maintenance and grow well. When you do water changes suck out extra detritus, and you replace dirty water with clean fresh water, which makes your tank cleaner, more healthy and less likely to have algae. This in particular is why people now do MORE water changes at first, to reduce the chance of algae weekend setting up.

When you have fish, they will also stay much healthier if you do weekly 30-50% waterchanges.

Fertiliser is added weekly forever, it's essential for helping your plants grow healthily. If you don't fertilise you can only keep a very limited number of plants and they will take a very very long time to grow. Fertiliser is not too expensive, it is worth it. I use TNC Complete and it's worked great for me.
 

CheckeredRust

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No waterchanges is an outdated way of keeping planted aquariums, we know now that it is not beneficial. People used to think things like the beneficial bacteria are living in the water, so taking out the water reduces the bacteria, which is not true. The bacteria love on surfaces, which is why we try to create a lot of surface area with the media in our filters.

The other misconception is that you want to keep as much ammonia in the tank as food to grow the bacteria colony quicker, but the downsides of no waterchanges are far bigger than that small upside of no waterchanges. In a planted tank, there is a lot of detritus and chemicals given off by plants as they grow, and by the soil even more so. Bacteria need oxygen to eat and neutralise these harmful (to fish) chemicals in your aquariums. A waterchange is a really good way to get a lot of oxygen into the aquarium.

The harmful chemicals are not only the food of bacteria, but also algae, which will take advantage of your lack of maintenance and grow well. When you do water changes suck out extra detritus, and you replace dirty water with clean fresh water, which makes your tank cleaner, more healthy and less likely to have algae. This in particular is why people now do MORE water changes at first, to reduce the chance of algae weekend setting up.

When you have fish, they will also stay much healthier if you do weekly 30-50% waterchanges.

Fertiliser is added weekly forever, it's essential for helping your plants grow healthily. If you don't fertilise you can only keep a very limited number of plants and they will take a very very long time to grow. Fertiliser is not too expensive, it is worth it. I use TNC Complete and it's worked great for me.
Wow, that's an amazingly informative answer. I really appreciate it. To start off, how much water should I be changing weekly during this maturing process? I'm running a 5 gallon / 21 litres tank.

Also, if going by this method, at the end of the 6 weeks where the tank is considered mature, do I still do a major water change, like 80% change? Because that was the general advice that I've read, like making a big water change just before introducing fishes or shrimps.
 

CheckeredRust

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Welcome! :)

Most of what you read about 'cycling' is outdated misinformation being repeated. There's a good thread here explaining the modern knowledge of the subject, with links to the science to back it up;
CyclingAh rha

Welcome! :)

Most of what you read about 'cycling' is outdated misinformation being repeated. There's a good thread here explaining the modern knowledge of the subject, with links to the science to back it up;
Cycling

Welcome! :)

Most of what you read about 'cycling' is outdated misinformation being repeated. There's a good thread here explaining the modern knowledge of the subject, with links to the science to back it up;
Cycling
Thanks for the link. So meaning to say, most of the information on websites and other forums like reddit, suggesting the method of introducing ammonia etc is actually pointless?
 

shangman

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Wow, that's an amazingly informative answer. I really appreciate it. To start off, how much water should I be changing weekly during this maturing process? I'm running a 5 gallon / 21 litres tank.

Also, if going by this method, at the end of the 6 weeks where the tank is considered mature, do I still do a major water change, like 80% change? Because that was the general advice that I've read, like making a big water change just before introducing fishes or shrimps.
The gold standard of water changes is 50% weekly. When you set up, it's ideally 3 50% the first week, 2 50% for the second and third weeks, and then can do the weekly after that. This can be annoying in some tanks, but yours is quite small and it will be less than a bucket each time so not too much hassle. If you do this your plants and animals will be much healthier long term, and your aquarium will be more stable, with less algae. Technically of you have a low tech (which means no CO2) you can change less, but in a small tank itll be almost no extra work for you to do the full 50%.

You can do an 80% change after 6 weeks, it won't do any harm, and you can really clean the substrate and filter (for the first time) with that larger amount of water. I generally add fish the day of, or the day after a water change so it's at its cleanest.
EDIT: as said in the below comment, definitely don't add all your fish in at this point, stock your tank gradually to keep it stable.

Thanks for the link. So meaning to say, most of the information on websites and other forums like reddit, suggesting the method of introducing ammonia etc is actually pointless?
Yes.

It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic!

When I started I read a load of stuff on Reddit and stuff what you have just said... Add ammonia, no water changes. My first fish died, I came here, and was taught the proper methods I've just explained to you. If you ask questions here and follow the advice, you won't go wrong! There are over 10 years worth of posts here to look through and learn from so use the search bar and have an explore :) I think it would be good to have a look at some of the featured journals to see what's possible, and at some of the Articles which you can see in the main navigation, especially <This Guide> is a really useful one to understand everything for your first planted tank!
 
Last edited:

Michael1212

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18 May 2019
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82
Location
Singapore
Agree with everything said above. Also since I don't think it was mentioned yet, when it comes time to add livestock try and do that gradually over a few weeks. This will give the tank time to adapt to the increasing bioload.
 

Karmicnull

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6 Sep 2020
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459
Location
Cambridge
Another vote for everything said above. Also one further observation - When you feed plants fertilizer, you never know quite how much they're taking up. Most people use the approach of 'make sure there's plenty, so they never run short'; that works pretty well and it's easy! So doing a regular weekly water change stops anything left over building up over time to levels that would be too high.
 

dw1305

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Hi all,
So meaning to say, most of the information on websites and other forums like reddit, suggesting the method of introducing ammonia etc is actually pointless?
Yes, <"most of the information">, and advice, isn't right. People also like a recipe to follow and <"black and white"> answers.

I think there are a number of reasons for the level of misinformation, but the big two are that.
  • People just repeat what they've read, or been told by their LFS, without ever really thinking about it.
  • A lot of businesses have a financial interest in selling the products involved in cycling and they really aren't interested in people having successful aquariums. What they are interested in is having people stagger from real (or imagined) disaster to disaster, so that they can keep on selling them their products.
I know it is <"cynical view">, but there is very limited money to be made out of a <"plants and time"> philosophy.

We have a thread by <"Dr Tim Hovanec">, which may be of interest.

cheers Darrel
 

CheckeredRust

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Thread starter
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4 Jun 2021
Messages
54
Location
Asia

Hi all,

Yes, <"most of the information">, and advice, isn't right. People also like a recipe to follow and <"black and white"> answers.

I think there are a number of reasons for the level of misinformation, but the big two are that.
  • People just repeat what they've read, or been told by their LFS, without ever really thinking about it.
  • A lot of businesses have a financial interest in selling the products involved in cycling and they really aren't interested in people having successful aquariums. What they are interested in is having people stagger from real (or imagined) disaster to disaster, so that they can keep on selling them their products.
I know it is <"cynical view">, but there is very limited money to be made out of a <"plants and time"> philosophy.

We have a thread by <"Dr Tim Hovanec">, which may be of interest.

cheers Darrel
Thanks for the insight. Kind of glad and feeling lucky I found this community instead.
 
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