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Discussion Starter #1
When I first set up my tank, my only plant life was a single merimo moss ball. I figured that wasn't enough to silent cycle so I started dosing for a fishless cycle.

I later added plants and I now have a moderately planted tank. I am thinking that I have plenty to do a silent cycle, but I am currently in the middle of a nitrate spike. Should I stop dosing ammonia until I have triple zeros? Can I do a 100% water change in a planted tank? Should I do 50% water changes until I get nitrates to readable levels?

I currently have 7 stalks of ludwiga repens, 3 water wisteria, 5 Bacopa caroliniana, a sword plant and a merimo moss ball in a 10 gallon aquarium. I'm running 2 GE 11 watt 6500k CFLs DIY CO2 with a chopstick dispenser, am lightly fertilizing with iron rich fertilizer (Tetra FloraPride) I have a sponge filter in one back corner and a box filter in the other. Using inert black diamond blasting sand as substrate. Ammonia last tested at 1.00ppm, Nitrates at 160ppm, and nitrites are still off the scale even after a 60% water change. PH is between 7.5 and 8.0 gh is 120ppm and kh is 180ppm. Temperature remains between 78 and 82, staying just a hair under 80 most of the time.
 

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Wow you have really screwed up your tank....
Here is what I reccomend. Don't mess with your tank for a week, just let it do whatever it wants. Once you stop getting ammonia and nitrite readings (it will do this on it's own) you need to lower your nitrate to 10ppm.

If you do 100% water changes for 4 days you will get your nitrate down.

I also do a fish in cycle with lots of plants, after yiu fix your parameters I'd suggest get 2/3 hardy fish.
 

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Your numbers might be more related to the ferts and ammonia added and not the water itself per se'

What kind of testing products are you using, what is the base line on your source water used for the aquarium with and without additives.

Are the fish in the tank or any livestock? if so how are they doing?
Are the plants showing active growth?

When you have live plants you don't need to add any ammonia for cycling-The point of ammonia is to supply the system with a food source for the good bacteria. Anything organic will work-like live plants and you have them-as long as they are actively growing all should be fine, however, since you have been adding ammonia-what I would recommend....
Make a 50% water only change-stop adding the ammonia and plant ferts-give it 24h and re-check you water prams-be sure and check you source water prams too-so you will have a base line-be sure and do that with and without your normal additives like dechlorinatior-often dechlorinator, ferts and other additive can cause skewed test result or your source water might already be high ammonia, nitrite, nitrate....Base line is always good to have anyway...
 

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I'd just do several 50% water changes to bring those numbers down to a manageable level, personally. I'd never recommend switching from a fishless to a fish-in cycle -- why put the fish through the stress?

My nitrate numbers were crazy after finishing the fishless cycle, too. It took 3 or 4 changes to bring things under 20 nitrates
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I have done water changes to reduce levels to almost non-existant. (I did a test on distilled water just to check to see if there was a difference, there is but it is barely perceptible) I waited two days, then I added a Mystery snail and some Ghost shrimp.

So far everything is looking good. If things continue to look good for a while I will start slowly adding in some fish.
 

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I mistrust the term 'silent cyle.' It's misleading and inaccurate. There is the nitrogen cycle which oxidizes ammonia and nitrite. There is the planted tank in which plants eat the ammonia and the nitrite (after changing it to ammonium). No cycle involved.

The more healthy, growing plants you have, the less you need bacteria (Plants eat first). With no plants you need a larger healthy nitrifying bacteria colony.

All tanks which process ammonia are are somewhere along the spectrum between these two states.
 

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+1 Hallyx.

As long as you don't have fish in your tank, DON'T PANIC. You don't have fish in here yet, right? Right? :eek: No, bluenail's too knowledgeable to have fish in there and not be freaking out over that ammonia reading. Anyway, definitely don't put fish in until you're sure the tank is cycled... no switching to a fish-in cycle or anything silly.

About that ammonia. Keep it down with water changes--too much ammonia will kill your plants. Keep dosing your ferts, but be aware that until your plants establish, they'll use up less of those nutrients, so don't use full doses for the first week. Also, stop dosing ammonia, or at least cut way back on your dosage.

If you totally leave things alone, you could kill your plants. Keep doing water changes, just don't over-clean.

Don't add any more plants, or take any out. If you have more to put in later, just stick them in some other healthy tank for now if you can. Your bacteria should grow to fill the gaps in what your plants didn't eat.

Once you get all zeroes, dose a bit more ammonia and test how quickly it goes down.

The reason you don't want to do 100% changes in a planted tank is just that you don't want to uproot your established plants all the time. You can do big water changes, or maybe for example a 50% and another 50% right after if that's easier because of your fish or something.
 

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If you want to fully switch to the "Silent" cycle then you can do as big of a water change as you can, literally you could do a 98% water change, the plants would be just fine. You don't want to do a 50 and then another 50, it won't get everything out technically.

This is more in response to myexplodingcat, when doing a Silent Cycle or just a planted tank you'd actually want the fish to be in the tank, at least a single or a few fish depending on the tank size so that they can begin to feed the plants. You could dose the ammonia still but it's honestly just easier to have the fish in there once the plants have stopped melting and have begun to grow preferably. Once the plants start to grow, they take over eating up the ammonia and nitrate to keep the fish safe. The more fast growing plants you have, the better it is.

There is a point at which the ammonia could kill the plants but it's generally not something we have to worry about, even if you do dose the ammonia (without fish of course), if there are enough plants then they will just eat it up. However, if there aren't enough plants, that's where you get into more trouble. So, like with everything else, you have to find that balance. It's a lot of trial and error type things but generally, the more plants, the better it is.

I don't agree on not adding more plants though. You can always add more plants, it doesn't really matter if you're taking up food for the bacteria. There will also be some bacteria that will grow in but the goal is to have a safe tank and more plants (as long as they are growing) will make it safe and then the bacteria can establish later.

The "Silent" Cycle actually takes months for the bacteria to grow and colonize to what we'd think of as a "normal" size if they ever even actually reach that. Reason being that the plants soak up ammonia first, which means the bacteria don't have a chance to grow right away like they do with a tank with no live plants. But eventually, some will get a foothold.

Just in my opinion and experience, I've found for good planted tanks, you don't need huge filtration and preferably you don't want huge filtration. You want just enough to move the water around and clean up some of the larger debris but you don't want the bacteria trying to steal all the ammonia from the plants either if your goal is a planted tank in the end. Again, it comes down to the balance thing. My 29 has a AquaClear 30 on it and I only have a sponge in there, I use it basically to move water around and let the plants sway in the flow because they do like flow but I don't have a lot of media in the filter so that I have a smaller bacteria colony (well they colonize everywhere so there is technically no avoiding it) so I can feed my plants first.
 

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Holy cow, those numbers are insane. That tank is still lightly planted, at best. They're not going to be enough to handle all of those nitrites/nitrates/ammonia etc. You can, and should add more plants if that is what you're going for.

Meanwhile, LOTS of water changes are necessary. Until you maybe double or triple the plantload so it becomes a "heavily" planted tank (this is where you can see less than 25% of the substrate if looking straight down, if I recall properly (minus floaters, obviously) I wouldn't rely on them to clean up this mess.
 

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If you want to fully switch to the "Silent" cycle then you can do as big of a water change as you can, literally you could do a 98% water change, the plants would be just fine. You don't want to do a 50 and then another 50, it won't get everything out technically.

This is more in response to myexplodingcat, when doing a Silent Cycle or just a planted tank you'd actually want the fish to be in the tank, at least a single or a few fish depending on the tank size so that they can begin to feed the plants. You could dose the ammonia still but it's honestly just easier to have the fish in there once the plants have stopped melting and have begun to grow preferably. Once the plants start to grow, they take over eating up the ammonia and nitrate to keep the fish safe. The more fast growing plants you have, the better it is.

There is a point at which the ammonia could kill the plants but it's generally not something we have to worry about, even if you do dose the ammonia (without fish of course), if there are enough plants then they will just eat it up. However, if there aren't enough plants, that's where you get into more trouble. So, like with everything else, you have to find that balance. It's a lot of trial and error type things but generally, the more plants, the better it is.

I don't agree on not adding more plants though. You can always add more plants, it doesn't really matter if you're taking up food for the bacteria. There will also be some bacteria that will grow in but the goal is to have a safe tank and more plants (as long as they are growing) will make it safe and then the bacteria can establish later.

The "Silent" Cycle actually takes months for the bacteria to grow and colonize to what we'd think of as a "normal" size if they ever even actually reach that. Reason being that the plants soak up ammonia first, which means the bacteria don't have a chance to grow right away like they do with a tank with no live plants. But eventually, some will get a foothold.

Just in my opinion and experience, I've found for good planted tanks, you don't need huge filtration and preferably you don't want huge filtration. You want just enough to move the water around and clean up some of the larger debris but you don't want the bacteria trying to steal all the ammonia from the plants either if your goal is a planted tank in the end. Again, it comes down to the balance thing. My 29 has a AquaClear 30 on it and I only have a sponge in there, I use it basically to move water around and let the plants sway in the flow because they do like flow but I don't have a lot of media in the filter so that I have a smaller bacteria colony (well they colonize everywhere so there is technically no avoiding it) so I can feed my plants first.
I was sort of thinking that the small amount of plants suggested in the post wouldn't be enough for this. They wouldn't really be enough to need fish just to feed them, and if (as it was implied) that 1.0 ppm ammonia was a reading after a big water change, well, ammonia killing plants is something to be aware of. Correct me if I'm wrong.

With that amount of plants, though, it might be faster to cycle first (or it might not make a difference; I'm not entirely sure) with a minimal number of them before adding more--unless you had enough to actually plant the tank well and support it that way. In which case, your information would be totally right: you'd want fish, you'd stop worrying about ammonia so much, and you'd definitely want tons of plants.

If the OP isn't willing to commit to planting the tank heavily, though, that isn't really an option. For any tank relying on plants to soak up toxic substances, you need a TON of fast-growing plants in various species. That gets expensive, and sometimes just isn't doable all at once--which is okay, but it means fishless cycling is almost a necessity.

Oh, and you bring up another good point: that two 50% change thing--that sounded misleading, I didn't think about it well enough. That's equivalent to a 75% change. Sometimes you have to do it that way, if you have fish sensitive to fluctuations and you need to do the change in two parts, or if you've got tank decorations that prevent you from scooping everything you want to change out at once, or if you have physically fragile plants, or you have aggressive fish or a lot of fish that you don't want to cram into a tiny amount of water for any length of time. There are a ton of reasons for doing this. Two 50%s definitely don't equate 100% though--not what I meant to say. It was just an example of how one might perform a large water change on difficult tanks, that's all.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Here are my thoughts, If I had this plantload in a 2.5 gallon, it would be heavily planted. Therefore if my bioload is appropriate for a 2.5 gallon (not a ten) I will be okay while I increase my plantload through trimming and replanting. I have a minimal budget, but the amazing thing about stem plants is that you can get exponential growth. Every plant I trim becomes two plants etc.

I really think everyone here will agree that my current plantload is plenty to handle a snail and a few ghost shrimp.

I've now had about a week of good, readings, and seem to be on target. Once I have about 50% planted I will add in a betta, and will add the rest of my intended livestock only when I'm so heavily planted that when I trim I don't have a good place to plant my cuttings.
 

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I was sort of thinking that the small amount of plants suggested in the post wouldn't be enough for this. They wouldn't really be enough to need fish just to feed them, and if (as it was implied) that 1.0 ppm ammonia was a reading after a big water change, well, ammonia killing plants is something to be aware of. Correct me if I'm wrong.

With that amount of plants, though, it might be faster to cycle first (or it might not make a difference; I'm not entirely sure) with a minimal number of them before adding more--unless you had enough to actually plant the tank well and support it that way. In which case, your information would be totally right: you'd want fish, you'd stop worrying about ammonia so much, and you'd definitely want tons of plants.

If the OP isn't willing to commit to planting the tank heavily, though, that isn't really an option. For any tank relying on plants to soak up toxic substances, you need a TON of fast-growing plants in various species. That gets expensive, and sometimes just isn't doable all at once--which is okay, but it means fishless cycling is almost a necessity.

Oh, and you bring up another good point: that two 50% change thing--that sounded misleading, I didn't think about it well enough. That's equivalent to a 75% change. Sometimes you have to do it that way, if you have fish sensitive to fluctuations and you need to do the change in two parts, or if you've got tank decorations that prevent you from scooping everything you want to change out at once, or if you have physically fragile plants, or you have aggressive fish or a lot of fish that you don't want to cram into a tiny amount of water for any length of time. There are a ton of reasons for doing this. Two 50%s definitely don't equate 100% though--not what I meant to say. It was just an example of how one might perform a large water change on difficult tanks, that's all.
The thing about ammonia (and I'm not meaning to be argumentative here or anything! I swear!) is that it's not all straight ammonia, more than 75% of the Total Ammonia Nitrogen or TAN is actually NH4 which is the ammonium (the less toxic version) rather than the toxic NH3 Ammonia that we so freely talk about. This number changes depending on pH, higher pH there is more actual ammonia versus ammonium but it's not the full 1ppm that we read on our test kits unless you have a testing kit that differentiates between NH4 and NH3.

Doing more research now I've found that the benficial bacteria do indeed "eat" the toxic NH3 whereas the plants eat NH4 primarily. If you are using ACE Hardware Janitorial Strength Pure Ammonia you are using Ammonium Hydroxide which is actually NH4. Depending on your pH level, most of this is going towards your plants. pH levels of under 7.0 have a much harder time cycling successfully since the bacteria actually start to go dormant around that and lower. But it's primarily the stem plants and floating plants that eat the ammonium up, some plants prefer nitrate while others prefer ammonium.

I believe we're pretty much saying the same things but it's becoming irrelevant to the post at this point.

@bluenails, yes, if they are fast growing stem or floating plants then that bioload is just fine. It just becomes an issue as you know, when keepers start to throw fish in there without letting the plants do their thing just yet.
 

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My understanding is that plants process ammonium -- use it for energy in photosynthesis. First, they convert the other nitrogen compounds-- nitrate, nitrite, ammonia (NH3) -- to ammonium (NH4+).

It's hard to find good references on this. I'll never find that article again. <sigh>
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Just to make sure, everyone is aware the fact that I've done multiple water changes and there is probably isn't enough of a residual trace of my initial ammonia dosing for a homeopathic practitioner to think it is significant, right?

I'm currently (well last I checked, haven't checked today) running pretty dang close to tripple zero's.
 

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Yep, even if there is 1ppm of ammonia, the plants currently should be able to handle it more or less. But yes, water changes will help because even at .25ppm of ammonia, the tank will still cycle itself.
 
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