The Fishless Cycle

Princess x

Member
May 12, 2009
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Dorset
The fishless cycle.

It has occured to me that there is interest in how the fishless cycle work's and it's benefits pitfalls of doing one.
Whilst the fishless cycle is by no means, the be all, and end all, it is worth remembering that it is the most ethical and humane way of introducing fish, into your new aquarium.
Why?
When fish are introduced into a new aquarium the nitrogen cycle starts to take place, that nice new filter has a job to do to keep your fish alive however before it can begin to do so, it has to have the required bacteria that will happily dispose of the fish waste produced by your new fishy friends.
Ammonia (fish waste etc) turns into slightly less harmful Nitrites (still dangerous to have) into Nitrates the end product of the nitrifying bacteria which are common in almost all aquariums and certainly can be found in your normal tap water.
whilst less toxic a reading above 40 would be cause for concern aiming for nitrates below 20ppm is acceptable there are still ongoing disputes about this.

How does it work?
Basically what it does is artificially replace the ammonia produced by fish waste thus keeping your fish safe from ammonia poisoning and respiratory problems which could lead to the death of your fish prematurely in an uncycled tank.And because we are able to control the amount of ammonia added unlike fish food or indeed the use of hardy fish, the cycle will in most cases be a lot quicker and you will have the satisfaction of knowing it will be safe for when you add your fish.

What do i need
the first thing you will need to arm yourself with is a good liquid testing kit a bottle of household ammonia (this must be free of perfumes and added colouring etc 100% pure
commonly found in the uk at branches of Homebase and Robert dyers.
and a medicine syringe handy for the small ml's you may need.

got those? excellent.....

What next?

what has worked for me and countless others is to turn the heater up to the low 80's this helps the growth of the nitrifying bacteria to take hold.providing you have good circulation and extra air as oxygen levels deplete at high temps all should be well, it may be worth removing the carbon if any you have at this stage personally i only use it to remove meds from the water column.
Test your tap water, that will get you into the swing of taking tests and give an estimation of what your tank water is likely to be.
Note water that has a low ph (soft) and kh and gh will need to take extra steps to follow the cycle through. (may need a little intervention)
next you will need to work out how much ammonia to add to your tank.
remember to subtract the displacement caused by substrates and decor that you have.
By keeping to a basic required ppm of 4 not only will it be easier to read on those test cards it will be easier to half when the nitrifying bacteria starts to take hold, 2ppm is still plenty to fully stock a tank at the end of the fishless cycle.
Build up the ammonia slowly over 2-3 days then when you have reached 4ppm simply wait until it starts to fall.
When this has occured simply top up the difference to read 4ppm again until the nitrites show a reading of 2.0 or above at this stage knock down the ammonia you are adding to half the original dose
so instead of adding to 4ppm add only to 2ppm
this will help speed the cycle along and will still be more than enough to fully stock the tank. (some will drop it in half again but i keep in mind that you may be stocking big fish that produce a lot of waste and although any unused bacteria will die back it is still viewed better than not having enough to cope with the bioload imposed upon it.)
by this time the ammonia would have been consumed within 24hrs or less and the nitrates would have started to show.
then simply keep adding until both ammonia and nitrites are zero
a large water change of 50% will then be needed to help rid any high nitrates and you can fully stock your tank. remember to turn down the temp to suit the fish you are about to stock.

You may notice that your ph will fluctuate during your cycle and is not uncommon the only time to intervene is when you have a ph falling to below 6 as this will stall your cycle but adding a coral bag or bicarbonate of soda will be enough to kick start it again, one teaspoon to 50ltrs water.

Can i cheat?
yes you can, if you have an existing tank with mature media placing some into your new filter or squeezing the media into the water column will help kickstart the process and the cycle is more than likely to be finished in some cases as less as 10 days

Ammonia calculator
whilst i have one in my own spreadsheet data i don't have the knowledge to put it into practice here, if anyone can help me do this please do,
 

st24rsap

Member
Apr 21, 2009
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UK
:goodpost:

there are calculators on the net and other fish sites to work out how much ammonia you need to add for the size of your tank

the following is an example of how much ammonia to add to get 4ppm in 100L tank, this is based on a solution containing 10% ammonia

Tank Volume : 100L
Level required: 4ppm
% of ammonia in solution: 10%
amount of solultion required: 4ml
 

plecmom

Member
Jun 2, 2009
115
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AB, Canada
:clap: Really great read, very informative! :goodpost:

another point I would like to add. If needing to set up a hospital tank asap for fish. You can take some rocks, or gravel from your current tank, place them into a nylon stocking or a store bought nylon bag, tie it, and place that into the filter for your hospital tank. Also taking water from the current tank, to the new tank, preferably 50%. Fill rest of tank with stress coat treated water. Then (like mentioned above) squeeze current filter media into new filter. I have done this many times, and the readings are perfect right from the start so fish can go into the hosp. tank asap.
 

Princess x

Member
May 12, 2009
114
0
16
Dorset
:goodpost:

there are calculators on the net and other fish sites to work out how much ammonia you need to add for the size of your tank

the following is an example of how much ammonia to add to get 4ppm in 100L tank, this is based on a solution containing 10% ammonia

Tank Volume : 100L
Level required: 4ppm
% of ammonia in solution: 10%
amount of solultion required: 4ml
Excellent yes the formula i use is to multiply the ammonia by 10
divide the result by tank volume
required ppm - existing ppm divided by result above
gives actual ammonia to add
for example as it gets confusing based on a 96ltr tank
9.5% * 10 = 95
95/96 = 0.9895833
4 required ppm /0.9895833 = 4.04ml required for arguments sake
 

peter

Member
Jan 19, 2010
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Wagga Wagga Australia
Hi all, great post, what is the opinion of other members of using a biostarter, to kick things along.
There is some better quality biostarters out there, I have used some in the past, and some are useless. Some people swear by them and some say they are detrimental in the long term. Whats everyones opinion?
 

Akraziatic

Member
Jun 30, 2009
150
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16
Canberra, Aus
Hi all, great post, what is the opinion of other members of using a biostarter, to kick things along.
There is some better quality biostarters out there, I have used some in the past, and some are useless. Some people swear by them and some say they are detrimental in the long term. Whats everyones opinion?
biostarter as in bottled bacteria? Generally I would use just some old sponge from an aged tank. Why pay money for something I can grow? And is it certain that the bacteria in these 'biostarters' is living?

And if half of the bacteria is dead on the sponge (which well could be, I know I can't measure it) then it's going to be a food source for any living bacteria which eliminates the need for adding ammonia. I've cycled all my tanks this way (plus adding aged water from water changes of running tanks) and I haven't had any ill effects to date.
 

Doodles

Retired Staff
Apr 8, 2009
8,786
0
36
Hi all, great post, what is the opinion of other members of using a biostarter, to kick things along.
There is some better quality biostarters out there, I have used some in the past, and some are useless. Some people swear by them and some say they are detrimental in the long term. Whats everyones opinion?
:hi:
It might be an idea to start a thread in aquarium set up forum as its an interesting subject you have bought up:yes:
 

Big Den

Member
Jan 26, 2010
53
0
6
beyond
One small point, I hope you don't mind a new member pointing out. You won't find a bottle of 100% pure ammonia in the shops,the highest concentration I know of is 9.5% I think what was meant was, it should not contain perfumes of any sort.
 

kupper

Member
Apr 28, 2012
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0
1
melb
I have used seachem stability in the process of setting up a new tank in the past few weeks , it is and has proven to be a perfect way to get a tank started, I have trialled the product with a dozen mid sized goldfish and have fed generously twice a day with no ill effect at all no water has been changed and still no spiking or issues
 
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AusPleco

Retired Staff
Oct 1, 2011
676
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16
Rural NSW
I tried start smart complete s aid to cycle your tank in 24hrs i think its a load of codswallop. I went back to using seachem stability
 

AusPleco

Retired Staff
Oct 1, 2011
676
0
16
Rural NSW
I find it to be realiable aslong as you are patient :) and remember to do the doseages each day on startup and to feed the tank something :)
I quiet like the seachem products. I have previously used aquasonic instead of prime however that was short lived :)