Daily tests: day 9

This morning’s test results were:

  • ammonia: 1 ppm
  • nitrite: over 5 ppm
  • nitrate: 5-10 ppm

I misread nitrite in yesterday’s reading, it was closer to 3-4 ppm.

Fluffy fungus

Fungus flufI have also noticed that the soft plastic inside the aquarium has started growing a white, fluffy fungus on it. This happens to most new plastics, nowadays, and is nothing to worry about. The photo above shows the fungus on the spray bar end cap, where it is at its worst. The photo to the right shows the power cord covered in a pale, milky membrane. The fungus is soft and slimy to the touch, readily flaking off when disturbed. One can either remove it manually, or wait for it to flake off on its own and be picked up by the filter sponge.

Daily tests: day 8

This morning’s test results were:

  • KH: 9 ° (161.1 ppm)
  • ammonia: 2 ppm
  • nitrite: over 5 ppm (edited, given that this is the first high nitrite reading I’ve seen, I misread it)
  • nitrate: 5-10 ppm

There are very clear changes in ammonia, nitrite and nitrate, while the KH is still dropping. At this rate, because KH is what keeps the pH steady, there would eventually be a pH crash. To prevent this, I will probably need to do a water change, in the near future, to make sure that both remain high.

I topped up with another 5 litres of undechlorinated tap water, which brought up the KH to 10 °.

Daily tests: day 6

This morning’s test results were:

  • KH: 11 ° (196.9 ppm)
  • ammonia: 3 ppm
  • nitrite: 0.1 ppm
  • nitrate: 3-4 ppm

I imagine that I probably counted the drops wrong for the KH test yesterday, so I’ll test it again tomorrow, to double check whether it really is dropping (which is possible, as a cycle progresses) or if it is steady. I did not test the pH as I am more likely to see a change in the KH. The nitrite and nitrate readings were both darker than yesterday, but not yet clearly readable yet. Ammonia is also looking less evergreen, although again, there is not enough difference for a clear 2 ppm reading.

Daily tests: day 5

While cycling..

This morning’s test results were:

  • KH: 12 ° (214.8 ppm)
  • GH: 18 ° (322.2 ppm)
  • ammonia: 3-4 ppm
  • nitrite: 0.1 ppm
  • nitrate: 1-4 ppm
  • pH: 8.2-8.3

The results show an increase in the KH and pH, the two are related and most likely caused by the sand. This should not be a problem as both should drop with the addition of plants and wood.

I am not completely certain on the changes in nitrite and nitrate, but neither looks as clearly blue or yellow as they did in every previous test. Or maybe I am just getting overenthusiastic.. tomorrow’s results should show whether there really is a change in either.

The temperature is mildly fluctuating between 28 and 28.5 °C, which is not unusual, and I have had to top up with 5 litres of water, due to evaporation, because I am currently not using the coverglass (it is on another aquarium).

Daily tests: day 2

I do not expect readings to change much in the first 5 – 10 days, but for the sake of knowing when ammonia will start to be processed, I will test at least once every 24 hours throughout the whole process. This morning’s test results were:

  • ammonia: 3 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate: 0 ppm

I was originally planning to test only the ammonia because it should not have changed, but on reading the 1 ppm change, I decided to confirm if my reading was correct by testing for nitrite and nitrate: if the ammonia reading really had changed, one or both of the others would have registered in the tests as well. As results show, there is still no nitrite and nitrate, so I suspect that either yesterday morning or this morning I misread the ammonia results. I have been reading the tests under daylight, with the difference being that yesterday, the sky was overcast, while today it is clear.

I have no way of telling which of the two readings is correct, although I will admit that I was trying to dose to 3 ppm ammonia yesterday, and thought that I missed the mark.

First water tests and ammonia dosing

Last night, while I was filling the aquarium with water, I also set aside a glass of the same, not dechlorinated, tap water. I did this because tap water readings are not reliable if tested as soon as the water is drawn from the tap. On the other hand, tap water parameters can be very useful as ammonia and nitrite is sometimes present in poor water supplies, it is also useful to know the pH and hardness, to better understand the buffering capabilities of the water. The results were as follows:

  • KH: 9 ° (161.1 ppm)
  • GH: 18 ° (322.2 ppm)
  • ammonia: 0 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate: 0 ppm
  • pH: 8.0

From those results, I can see that my tap water is quite hard but generally quite good quality. There are two pH tests included in the API kit: the “mid range” test gives a reading only up to 7.6 and the result was 7.6, while the high range test starts at 7.4 and the result was 8.0. From this, I can see that the value is higher than the mid range test will show, so I disregard that and use 8.0 as the correct result.

Next, I tested the aquarium water. I expected this to be almost identical, but with slightly higher ammonia. Test results were as follows:

  • KH: 9° (161.1 ppm)
  • GH: 18° (322.2 ppm)
  • ammonia: 0.25 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate: 0 ppm
  • pH: 8.2

My guess was correct: because my tap water contains only chloramine (NH2Cl), no chlorine, the dechlorinator will leave ammonia (NH3) and ammonium (NH4+) behind, after rendering the chlorine harmless. Ammonia is toxic to fish, so if doing large water changes, it is important to use a dechlorinator which will “deal” with it, leaving predominantly the less harmful ammonium. The pH reading for the aquarium water was higher than tap water, but I will still consider it to be no different because the kits are not particularly reliable.

Temperature is at a steady and favourable 28.5 °C, so I dosed the aquarium with 2 ml of 9.5% ammonia at 8:30, which has given me a 4 ppm reading.

Fish-less cycling

Fish-less cycling is a process which is used to grow nitrosifying and nitrifying bacteria inside the aquarium filter using household ammonia, which is to equivalent  to the ammonia that would normally be produced by fish, other live animals and rotting plant matter inside the aquarium. Without these bacteria, ammonia and nitrite will very quickly rise to levels that are toxic to aquatic animals.

There are actually three methods of cycling which are used most often:

  • Fish-in cycling: the traditional add fish and wait method. Without large daily water changes, the fish will be harmed by ammonia and nitrite, which may cause death, shortened life span and long term health problems for the fish. With the large water changes, it is still a lot of work, often involving testing the water multiple times per day, and takes a very long time. Because the animals are the source of ammonia, stocking also has to be very slow, so it may be as long as 6-12 months before one can stock fully. Even with reduced feeding, there is still the danger that something will go wrong when one is not there to do a water change and leaving the aquarium unattended for more than a day in the first 2-3 months is not an option.
  • Silent cycling: one of the less common and least known methods of cycling. It is very similar to fish-in cycling, with the main difference being that the aquarium is immediately heavily planted, while stocking is still very slow and the feeding is low too. The idea behind this method is that while the bacteria multiply, the plants use up any excess ammonia, so even as the filter cycles, there is never any measurable ammonia or nitrite present. The downside for this method is that it requires experience in keeping the plants well and slow stocking too.
  • Fish-less cycling is becoming more and more popular because there is no possibility of harm coming to animals during the actual process and it allows for higher “starting stock”. This is the method I am planning to use.

First, one needs to decide approximately how much ammonia the fish can be expected to produce. As a general rule, it is assumed that for a half to three quarter stocking, about 4 ppm (or mg/l) of ammonia can be completely processed to nitrate in 12 hours at 24 hour doses, although 2 ppm is enough for partial stocking. I plan to use a 2 ppm dose to start off with, possibly increasing later on, if I decide to add a higher starting stock.

I prefer to use the “dose and wait” method, which involves only topping up ammonia when it actually reaches 0 ppm. The other option is to top up ammonia at 24 hour intervals, but this requires more effort and should not make much difference to the speed of the cycle.

The most common problems I expect to encounter are pH crashes, cycle stalls (possibly due to high nitrites), algae and a slow start to the cycle. The first two, I expect can be prevented or countered by large water changes with dechlorinated and temperature matched water. Algae would result from light and the ammonia in water, the two combined create very favourable conditions for algae growth, so I will not be using the aquarium light for the duration of the cycle. The last is more difficult, but I hope it will not be a problem for me because the best solution for it is seeding the filter from an established filter, while I hope to run this project as if I was unable to get any help with the cycle. Seeding is the addition of a substantial number of bacteria, this is generally achieved by transfer of established media between a filter which has been running in an aquarium with fish for at least a few months and a new filter. Whichever cycle method is chosen, seeding will always speed up the cycle by a few weeks so it is advisable, if the option is available.