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Dark Start

SMW945

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17 Aug 2020
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Gloucestershire
Hi. Not doing it at present, but seen a little on social media and YouTube regarding dark start for tank setup and minimising ammonia and algae etc. Looks good on paper. Has anyone tried it and been successful?
 

Deano3

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8 Feb 2012
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I have seen it mentioned a few times now and i will certainly be trying when i rescape, no water changes while dark starting for 3 weeks or so and the beneficial bacteria should build but whilst cycling then after drain and plants only 1 water change a week but i may do more but sounds good

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SMW945

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I agree. Especially if using an aqua soil that tends to give off a lot of ammonia. Gives chance for the beneficial bacteria to build up and, as you say, no water changes for that 3 week period 👍
 

Zeus.

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Its the similar method which was use by James Findley & The Green Machine on many of his scapes ( I went there once and was informed by one of his crew), it doesn't show in his video's. They hardscaped, paused filming, flooded tank, wait four to six weeks with filters running no lights or CO2, drain to substrate level, resume filming and plant etc
But waiting weeks with a dark tank like @foxfish says :bored:
 

SMW945

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Yep Zeus, I hear what you and Foxfish are saying. ‘Normal’ setup with daily water changes week 1, bi-daily week 2 etc is what I have done for a long time. Just interested if anybody has successfully done dark start and if it was worth 3 weeks or so looking at a dark, hardscaped only tank
 

Wookii

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I personally would run a dark start every time when using aqua soils, even with a mature filter, for me it's not about 'cycling' a tank, that's best done fully planted, it's about getting rid of all the ammonia at start-up, so only needs to happen for a week or two with plenty of water changes. I've lost loads of plants on initial start-up due to ammonia melt, which then leads to algae from the higher than normal organic loading - it just puts your tank on the back foot from day one unnecessarily.

I did a dark start on my recent rescape, though only for one week as I only added a couple of litres of new soil. Even then though the initial ammonia inrush was well over 1ppm, and enough to melt leaves on more sensitive plants like Buce or invitro plants. As it is I've not had a single issue on the rescape so far.
 

Courtneybst

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I personally would run a dark start every time when using aqua soils, even with a mature filter, for me it's not about 'cycling' a tank, that's best done fully planted, it's about getting rid of all the ammonia at start-up, so only needs to happen for a week or two with plenty of water changes. I've lost loads of plants on initial start-up due to ammonia melt, which then leads to algae from the higher than normal organic loading - it just puts your tank on the back foot from day one unnecessarily.

I did a dark start on my recent rescape, though only for one week as I only added a couple of litres of new soil. Even then though the initial ammonia inrush was well over 1ppm, and enough to melt leaves on more sensitive plants like Buce or invitro plants. As it is I've not had a single issue on the rescape so far.
Would you recommend dark start for mature/used soils? Or only for new?
 

Wookii

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Would you recommend dark start for mature/used soils? Or only for new?

Just for new I'd say - they load them with so much bloody ammonia its a real PITA to be honest. If using just old/bacterially mature soil, I'd probably be inclined to do a 100% water change immediately after planting to remove any organics released into the water column from disturbing detritus trapped in the soil, but after that it should be fine. That's a much better way to go on a rescape I reckon to help get your tank back up to that bacterial maturity sweet-spot quicker, providing the old soil isn't ancient and completely turned to mush.
 

Libba

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12 Jan 2021
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I dark started my tank for two months before planting. I had all the gear but didn't want to plant until I moved house so I just ran it lights off. Since lights have been on I've never changed more than 30% of the water once per week. Practically zero algae at any stage and I'm two months in.
 

arcturus

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6 May 2021
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Germany
Hi. Not doing it at present, but seen a little on social media and YouTube regarding dark start for tank setup and minimising ammonia and algae etc. Looks good on paper. Has anyone tried it and been successful?
A lot of the discussion around the "dark start" method comes from the aquascaping community that often uses specialized nutrient-rich soils. As others have commented, a goal of this method is to allow sufficient time for the substrate to stabilize and to reduce the concentration of chemicals before you plant the tank. This is important with substrates that contain a high amount of ammonia, such as ADA Amazonia and Tropica Substrate. If you plant right away in such substrates you risk melting more sensitive plants due to the significant amount of chemicals that will leech out of the substrate for weeks. And if your plants are struggling and melting away while the tank is not yet stabilized then you are opening the doors for algae. This is a reason why very frequent water changes are required in such setups. With the dark start you basically skip the frequent water changes - I would say it is an excellent method to use before going on vacation ;) However, if you use a "neutral" substrate the dark start should have no major advantages compared to starting the tank with plants.
 

Dogtemple

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just to make it easier, could you not chuck the substrate in a bucket (or a few buckets) and top off with water. and just skim off the ammonia rich water, refill every couple of days?

might be a quicker and easier way to do it
 

Ady34

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Hi,
Interesting thread.
I will definitely be dark starting my next scape that uses new soil, despite having to look at an empty unplanted tank.
My three most recent scapes have been plagued with plant melt in the early weeks despite daily water changes. I have used predominantly tissue culture plants and new soils both Tropica and ADA. This has been exceptionally frustrating and I’d much rather look at an empty tank than struggle with a failing one. I will try this method and see if it makes a difference to my success or failure. I believe I have been doing everything I can to ensure success regards co2, lighting, distribution and maintenance and plants have still failed. I have used mature media in the filter but with little impact. I really do not know exactly what is happening but the dark start and ammonia eradication will be my next port of call.
cheerio
Ady.
 

Deano3

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8 Feb 2012
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Hi,
Interesting thread.
I will definitely be dark starting my next scape that uses new soil, despite having to look at an empty unplanted tank.
My three most recent scapes have been plagued with plant melt in the early weeks despite daily water changes. I have used predominantly tissue culture plants and new soils both Tropica and ADA. This has been exceptionally frustrating and I’d much rather look at an empty tank than struggle with a failing one. I will try this method and see if it makes a difference to my success or failure. I believe I have been doing everything I can to ensure success regards co2, lighting, distribution and maintenance and plants have still failed. I have used mature media in the filter but with little impact. I really do not know exactly what is happening but the dark start and ammonia eradication will be my next port of call.
cheerio
Ady.
Thats my thinking i agree may he boring but if saves you a fortune and saves daily water changed for me will be easier i do 12 hour shifts and coming home and doing daily water changes is a pita so of that can be saved i am all for it, and will certainly be trying it.

Thanks

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arcturus

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just to make it easier, could you not chuck the substrate in a bucket (or a few buckets) and top off with water. and just skim off the ammonia rich water, refill every couple of days?

might be a quicker and easier way to do it
The "dark start" is a kind of tank "cycling" method. Its goal is not only to reduce ammonia and other chemicals from the rich substrate but also to initiate the "cycling" of the tank. That is why the tank is left on its own for 4-6 weeks (with just a couple of water changes during this period) with all equipment running except lights and CO2. The result is that the substrate and the rest of the tank, including filters and media, will (start to) stabilize due to chemical processes (such as ion exchange) and organic processes resulting from the bacteria cultures that will develop during this whole process. So, the dark start is not the same as simply washing the ammonia out of the substrate, which you can certainly do if you place it in a bucket.
 

Dogtemple

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22 Nov 2011
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The "dark start" is a kind of tank "cycling" method. Its goal is not only to reduce ammonia and other chemicals from the rich substrate but also to initiate the "cycling" of the tank. That is why the tank is left on its own for 4-6 weeks (with just a couple of water changes during this period) with all equipment running except lights and CO2. The result is that the substrate and the rest of the tank, including filters and media, will (start to) stabilize due to chemical processes (such as ion exchange) and organic processes resulting from the bacteria cultures that will develop during this whole process. So, the dark start is not the same as simply washing the ammonia out of the substrate, which you can certainly do if you place it in a bucket.

I was think doing this but running a filter along side it too. Only say this as it would be easier to have it set up in a spare bathroom or something running out of sight and would be easy to empty and refill. Just a thought of course.

When I do this I won’t be using a large amount of substrate due to a relatively small tank. Might be easier for my set up at least.
 

Tim Harrison

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UK
Hi,
Interesting thread.
I will definitely be dark starting my next scape that uses new soil, despite having to look at an empty unplanted tank.
My three most recent scapes have been plagued with plant melt in the early weeks despite daily water changes. I have used predominantly tissue culture plants and new soils both Tropica and ADA. This has been exceptionally frustrating and I’d much rather look at an empty tank than struggle with a failing one. I will try this method and see if it makes a difference to my success or failure. I believe I have been doing everything I can to ensure success regards co2, lighting, distribution and maintenance and plants have still failed. I have used mature media in the filter but with little impact. I really do not know exactly what is happening but the dark start and ammonia eradication will be my next port of call.
cheerio
Ady.
It must be catching Ady me too. I tried the dark start method a while ago and it worked like a charm, no diatomaceous algae and no melt that I can remember. I hooked up the filter and left everything well alone for a couple of weeks then drained scaped and planted.
 

Andrew74

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13 Aug 2021
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8
Location
Sheffield
I currently doing the dark start method on a 180l tank. Initially filled on Monday 9th aug. Plan on draining and planting weekend of 4th sept. Livestock weekend 2nd oct.
 

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