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Establishing the nitrogen cycle doesn't have to be something to fear or be overly complicated.

The filtered tank will cycle without you doing anything, however, since the process takes time to complete- if you don't make water changes the high levels of ammonia and nitrite can kill the Betta...But wait-you are going to make water changes anyway....RIGHT.....
So, you have been cycling your filtered tank with your Betta this whole time and didn't know it....See how easy that was......

Establishing the nitrogen cycle for the Betta in 1gal-10gal filtered tank can be safely completed with a healthy Betta with or without testing products.....provided that you make the needed water changes......

No matter what container you have your Betta in...You will need to make water changes due to the byproducts produced.....
The difference when cycling is that you are growing beneficial bacteria that can help keep the water safer with limited water changes once established.

Since the filtered tank is a closed system-you still have to make water changes.
Nothing leaves the tank until you remove it manually with the water change, however, once the nitrogen cycle is established-the BB can convert the most harmful byproduct (ammonia) to a less harmful byproduct(nitrate).....

You don't want to base water change needs on water test alone-due to the DOC's (dissolved organic compounds) that can be harmful when they buildup to high levels.

You can establish the nitrogen cycle in 1-4gal filtered tanks, however, due to limited surface area the cycle might not be stable and twice weekly water change will be needed to maintain water quality.

You don't have to have water test kit on hand to safely establish the nitrogen cycle for the Fish-in cycle method with a single Betta in a small filtered tank, however, having one can take the guess work out of the game...Plus, its a good idea to know how to properly run water prams test, understand what they mean, how they interact, what to do with test results and its really good overall to have this knowledge base for fish keeping in general and you can look cool and impress your friends....

Sadly, due to the cost of a freshwater master test kit-sometimes we can't always afford one and this is when you can take your water to the pet shop for a Free test-Just always get numbers-don't accept "Fine" or "Okay" and find out what type of test product they used too-watch them do it if you can.....


Understanding the beneficial bacteria:
The beneficial bacteria (BB) you are colonizing for the nitrogen cycle are self limiting. What this means-you can only grow a colony large enough based on-
Food source-byproducts from anything organic-like the Betta, fish food, live plants, shrimp, snails...etc....
Oxygen-when the water flow from the filter disrupts the surface you have gas exchange
Surface area-all areas inside the tank-like the walls, decorations, plants-both real and fake, in the top layer of the substrate and in the filter media.

The BB are sticky and adhere to all the surface areas within the tank-very little are in the water column itself.

The BB are alive..and many things can kill or slow the BB growth/colonizing.
Like dehydration, suffocation, chlorine/chloramines and some medications
If the BB dry up they die
If they are buried in mulm/debris that limits access to dissolved oxygen they can suffocate.
If the filter is turned off longer than 6 hours the BB will start to die
Both chlorine and chloramine will kill the BB
Many different medications will kill the BB
With pH 6 and less the BB can't colonize

It is important to vacuum the substrate in all areas that can be reached without moving anything or disruption of plant roots- at least weekly to keep the mulm/debris from suffocating the BB
It is important to rinse/swish the filter media in old tank water or fresh dechlorinated water a couple of times a month to maintain good water flow to the BB. The filter media should look dirty-this is normal and good.


The fishless cycle is intended for community tanks-this method was developed so that you could safely fully stock large tanks. Since we are only stocking our smaller filtered tanks with a single Betta and maybe some shrimp and/or snails. The Fishless method isn't always needed.

The Process:

Once you setup your tank and properly acclimate the Betta.

Your first water change should start on or about day 3 and schedule the second weekly from that point.....

In a 1gal-4gal filtered tank-without live plants:
Water changes of twice weekly 50%...1-50% water only and 1-50% to include the substrate by vacuum or stir and dip method.
Filter media needs swish/rinse in old tank water a couple of time a month
*The long term care and established cycle care will be the same on 1-4gal filtered tanks.

In 5gal-10gal filtered without live plants:
Water changes of twice weekly for the next 4-6 weeks
Of... 1-50% water only and 1-50% with vacuum in all areas you can reach without moving anything or disruption of plant roots.
*The 50% with vacuum will be the water change schedule for the life of the system to maintain water quality once the nitrogen cycle has established.
Filter media needs swish/rinse in old tank water a couple of time a month

*If you have water test kit-base the water only change on: ammonia, nitrite 0.25ppm or greater.
With a low bioload often you don't need the second water only-I always recommend it when you don't have test kit to err on the side of caution...its the safety net....

Live plants can change the cycling process as well, however, you have to have enough of the right species of plants that are actively growing.
Not all plants can use enough of the byproducts fast enough to help keep the water safe for the Betta.

Using lots of fast growing stem plants and floating plant you will have a silent cycle. The active plant growth can use the ammonia before conversion and it can take a long time if ever to see the nitrate reading we look for to tell us cycling stages/completeness.

With enough of the right species plants that are in active growth can also decrease water change needs in 1-4gal filtered tanks to 50% weekly.

*Remember-some additives can change or skew water prams results-
Like some dechlorinator products can change ammonia to ammonium so its not harmful to the Betta-but, live plants and BB can still use it as a food source to colonize.
Some plant foods can cause false readings in ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.
Its not uncommon to have ammonia, nitrite and nitrate in the source water
When using test kits-they test at a ppm level (parts per million) so you will always have some ammonia in the water at very low levels that can be used by the beneficial bacteria.

Once the nitrogen cycle has established your water prams should read:
Ammonia 0ppm
Nitrite 0ppm
Nitrate 5-10ppm ideally...You want to keep this under 40ppm
pH-can vary- Betta can adapt to most source water pH without issue and use of chemical to altar the pH should be avoided-except in rare cases......
 

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Thanks so much OFL for posting this. We had a power outage here when a terrible storm came though and my power was out for 28 hours so I lost my good BB so now I am doing a fish in cycle on my 5 gallon tank. You make it sound so much easier and I am trying not to be to scared , I have the API Master Test Kit and checking levels everyday. I have 0 readings on Nitrite and Nitrate but with Ammonia its around 0.25 and I have been doing more water changes then you say to do like 3 50 percent a week and 1 25 percent per week so should I cut back on the water changes ? No live plants as of yet beside 3 small moss balls but planning on adding some Hortwot not sure that spelling is correct but anyway going to add some soon its about a 12 inch long piece. Anything else I can do to get though this cycle correctly without to much worry ? Thanks !!!!!
 

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Just because you lost power doesn't mean your bacteria are all gone

I've unplugged my filter for well over a week and it didn't kill off my cycled filter in Emperor 400.

I think you'll be fine.

What type of brand/model number filter do you have & how often do you change the media in the filter?

BTW, very thorough thread OFL. Extremely easy to read & comprehend I think.
 

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I have a Eclipse Hex 5 gallon tanks with a Bio Wheel that is where the good BB is suppose to start living same as the ones with filters the BB grows on the wheel instead. The only thing I change once a month is the filter cartridge that has the activated carbon. Have you heard of these type of tanks ? They are made by Marineland. This is my first tanks ever so its scary...lol Thanks for any help you can give me maybe I didnt lose the cycle that would be great but how would I know for sure ?

It says to never replace the bio wheel since that is where the BB lives.
 

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What about a non filtered tank? This stuff still confuses me. Buster is in a 5.5 unfiltered tank. I put some substrate and two fake plants from an established tank in there...I am on a 50% water change every other day schedule right now.
 

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I am sure a unfiltered tank like yours needs more water changed then a filtered one so that sounds about correct to me but wait till someone comes along with more answers. You might even need one 100 percent water change a week just not sure sorry I cant be of more help I am so new at this myself.
 

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I am sure a unfiltered tank like yours needs more water changed then a filtered one so that sounds about correct to me but wait till someone comes along with more answers. You might even need one 100 percent water change a week just not sure sorry I cant be of more help I am so new at this myself.
Thanks..yeah, it is confusing..I do have a filter I can use. I just didn't like it in Buddy's 5g cause it vibrated the whole tank. Maybe I'll try it on the 5.5g glass tank and see if there is less vibration. My new guy is still so edgy he's not eating yet, so I don't want to play around with his tank too much..sigh. Hard to want to do the right thing, and not knowing what that is.
 

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Yeah it sure is ! I think your right though about not playing around with the tank he is with your new guy till he starts eating and get more at ease with his new home. You might want to do a search here for how to baffle a filter, that might help with the vibration issue. Good luck and best wishes for you and the new little guy !
 

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Sticky please! Thank you OFL!

It's so nice to know that I don't have to worry about cycling with a single betta in a five gallon because it will basically take care of itself!

Just another reason to love betta fish....:)
 

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Thanks for mentioning the biowheel system is built into the hex tank.

I'm definitely missing those pieces, but it doesn't matter. I don't plan on using the hex tank again due to how scratched up it is.

I used to use the decommissioned tank for collecting the siphoned water, but now I use a water cooler bottle instead. It's just more practical. Also I would recommend using the bottles with the ridges.

PM - your test results are typical of a cycled tank. There's always going to be a little bit of ammonia, but as long as it's under .50ppm, I wouldn't worry.

Just continue with the water changes as normal. I personally would replace the media every 45 days instead of a month.

However, if you are concerned, keep an eye out on the ammonia. Write it down, or start a log for your test results. If the ammonia results goes past 2.0 or higher, then your filter may be overloaded, but don't panic. Do a 20-30% change every day till the numbers drop back down.

As for the nonfiltered tanks. I don't like them because they're a lot more work.

I don't like to see the oil slick on top, or the bits on the bottom. That's why I'm cycling a tank now. Makes life a lot easier.
 

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Yeah it sure is ! I think your right though about not playing around with the tank he is with your new guy till he starts eating and get more at ease with his new home. You might want to do a search here for how to baffle a filter, that might help with the vibration issue. Good luck and best wishes for you and the new little guy !
Thanks..I decided against the filter all together...it's way too big anyway. I just put a bubble stone in there for some air flow. I need to calm down about them. I feel like I did when I had my first child lol!
 

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Wonderful post OFL! It answered what I suspected; I am activley and slowly cycling my 2.5 g tank. :-D I should get more live plants to add to my tank today from my LFS and will be getting an ammonia test kit to check water prams.
 

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Since the non-filtered tanks without live plants will lack the oxygen needed for a healthy colony of BB-you don't get a stable nitrogen cycle.

With unfiltered tanks more water changes are often needed...

On 5gal unfiltered without live plants-50% weekly with 100% monthly should maintain water quality for a single Betta.

Yes, bio-wheels can help with the nitrogen cycle since this provides more surface area for the BB and when used on smaller tanks-this can sometime help with stability of the nitrogen cycle.

In unfiltered tanks with enough of the right species of live plants-they can produce the oxygen needed to support the BB colony in a Betta tank.

Unless you want to use carbon (not needed) you don't need to change out the filter media until it is falling apart-just a swish/rinse is all that is needed a couple of times a month.
If you do want to use carbon-change this per package direction since it is a short lived product that can't be recharged.
 

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So, for a 5gal unfiltered without live plants... Is that three consecutive weeks of 50% water changes and then 100% on the fourth week?
 

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More or less...either way....3 weeks of 50% then 100% on the 4th week or 4 weeks of 50% with the 5th week 100%...depending on how dirty and if you over feed or if you have shrimp and/or snails...etc.....Kind of a judgement call on your part....really not a wrong way and personally I don't even feel the 100% are really needed in the sense of emptying the tank totally out-Especially, in 5gal and if you have a vacuum and can vacuum the mulm/debris out on a weekly basis...you could just do a couple of back to back 50% every 4th-5th week so you wouldn't have to remove the Betta or worry about any other livestock if you had them too.....Its just easier to explain/write on the internet 100%.....
Even in unfiltered tanks with a Betta-too clean can be as hard on them as too dirty in some regards....A Betta doesn't produce as much byproduct as you think-most of the byproduct and water quality issues are related to poor quality food and/or over feeding.....
 

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Oh okay, so if I have a five gallon tank(filtered or not) and I only feed like 4-5 high quality pellets once a day and have no shrimp or snails or anything....than it's more than likely that from the moment I get the fish, that weekly maitenance is perfectly sufficient. Am I correct?
 

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Thank you very much MSG and OFL...this helps so much !!!! This is my first fish and tank ever so everything I can find out sure helps put me more at ease !
 

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Fantastic guide! Breaks everything down real nicely. From reading other websites, they make it seem like rocket science almost.
 

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Since the non-filtered tanks without live plants will lack the oxygen needed for a healthy colony of BB-you don't get a stable nitrogen cycle.

With unfiltered tanks more water changes are often needed...

On 5gal unfiltered without live plants-50% weekly with 100% monthly should maintain water quality for a single Betta.

Yes, bio-wheels can help with the nitrogen cycle since this provides more surface area for the BB and when used on smaller tanks-this can sometime help with stability of the nitrogen cycle.

In unfiltered tanks with enough of the right species of live plants-they can produce the oxygen needed to support the BB colony in a Betta tank.



Unless you want to use carbon (not needed) you don't need to change out the filter media until it is falling apart-just a swish/rinse is all that is needed a couple of times a month.
If you do want to use carbon-change this per package direction since it is a short lived product that can't be recharged.
Does a bubble stone add the needed oxygen?
 
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