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  • What Is the Cycle?

    Once your tank is set up with water, sand and live rock you will need to complete the initial nitrogen cycle before you add livestock. When you add livestock to the tank they produce ammonia as a waste product. Corals produce very little, fish produce quite a bit. Ammonia is toxic and burns gills and tissues. So how do we deal with this? By providing biological filtration based on the nitrogen cycle. There is often a lot of confusion about how to cycle a tank, how long it takes and exactly what it means.

    Especially when using uncured live rock (LR) there may be enough die off to start the cycle. You can determine this by monitoring the ammonia. If you don't have any ammonia after a couple of days you can jump start the cycle by adding a big pinch of food or a RAW shrimp. If you use a shrimp it can be removed after a couple days. Tying it in a woman's nylon stocking will make it easy to remove.

    In order to monitor cycling you will need ammonia, nitrite and nitrate test kits. You should buy kits that give you measurements in numbers, not in terms like high and low. The dipstick type of kits are not accurate and should be avoided. I test daily when a tank is cycling.

    Once ammonia (NH4) is present in the tank aerobic nitrifing bacteria, Nitrosomonas, take over. As the ammonia rises the bacterial population explodes and begins converting the ammonia into nitrite (NO2). When this happens you will see the ammonia begin to fall and it will soon be zero. While the ammonia is falling the nitrite is going up and a second kind of bacteria, Nitrobacter, is building up to convert the nitrite. As the nitrite falls you will see nitrate (NO3) building up. This is the end of the aerobic bacteria's work. These aerobic bacteria live on the surface of your rock and sand and on bio media like bio-wheels, bio balls or ceramic rings.

    As you see the end result of digestion by nitrifing bacteria is nitrate. Nitrate is well tolerated by fish but not by corals. If you have a fish only system filtration with bio-media is fine but not if you keep or want to keep corals. To complete the nitrogen cycle you need the anaerobic denitrifing bacteria, Pseudomonas. This bacteria lives in the lower layers of a DSB or deep in the LR. If you have an excess of surface area for aerobic nitrifing bacteria to colonize, i.e. bio-balls, compared to the area where anaerobic denitrifing bacteria live you will probably not be able to lower your nitrates below 10-20 ppm. Typically it takes some time to lower the nitrates to zero.

    To recap, first you will see ammonia, it will peak and fall to zero. As it begins to fall you will start seeing nitrite which also peaks and falls to zero. During this time you will see nitrate start building. Once ammonia and nitrite have been at ZERO for several days you are ready to add your first livestock. I recommend adding hardy corals first. You can see why in this http://forum.marinedepot.com/Topic23945-9-1.aspx article.
    Comments 12 Comments
    1. V's Avatar
      V -
      Once your tank is set up with water, sand and live rock you will need to complete the initial nitrogen cycle before you add livestock.
      For the sake of explanation, using "live" rock term is fine, however in the true sense live rock is an established advantage to seeding, nothing more. The process will still happen regardless, albeit slower.

      Good write up carmie
    1. CarmieJo's Avatar
      CarmieJo -
      Quote Originally Posted by V View Post
      For the sake of explanation, using "live" rock term is fine, however in the true sense live rock is an established advantage to seeding, nothing more. The process will still happen regardless, albeit slower.
      Yep, that is true. It doesn't have anything to do with bacterial populations but even the highly prized (and then total pain to keep scraped off the glass) coralline algae will appear out of nowhere.
    1. Meengineer0128's Avatar
      Meengineer0128 -
      cycles, the quickest way for newbs to kill there fish!!!!! (note: I was that newb at one time)
    1. Amphibious's Avatar
      Amphibious -
      Of course we all were there at one time.

      Welcome to TR, Jason.

      Dick
    1. CarmieJo's Avatar
      CarmieJo -
      Hi Jason, to TR! I always say only disasters happen fast .
    1. rayme07's Avatar
      rayme07 -
      Hi Jason Welcome to TR.
    1. PapaMcEuin's Avatar
      PapaMcEuin -
      So a question on cycling. What experience do you all have with a product called "Microbe-lift Special Blend". It is designed to kick start a cycle from what I can tell, a form of seeding I would guess.
    1. V's Avatar
      V -
      Never heard of it till you mentioned it today.

      See this is interesting.

      They have the NH3 & chlorimine lock product, then they have the special blend. The special blend is basicly noted as being a bacterial charged product. Ive not seen anything say its directly used as an initial cycle catalyst. More along the product lines of "im giving your bacteria , so fastfood permission is given to load up"

      But lets assume its the first case for a sec. what would that mean??, how bout we break it down to find out.

      In order to produce a cycle we need nutrients, 10 drops of NH3 please.
      Then we also have bacterial strains that are both capable of salt &.....freshwater environments. (It maybe just me that has a question so far, so we'll keep moving.)
      So whilst we're on the band wagon, lets assume afew more things at this point.
      In order to achieve this only a few things spring to mind.

      A) We let both mix inside the bottle, winner takes all !
      Result: Placebo solution that your dosing with a goofy smile.

      B) They drop the holding solution into the acidic range, NH3 converts to NH4, bacteria goes dormant.
      Result: a better delivery system, yet conceptionally no different than any other silver bullet product.

      At any rate, i dont believe this to be the case, its sounds more like cycle or prime products.


      Now, the question I have is, how does this really assist our considerably long travelling friends in bags as they claim.

      Fish produce NH3, they consume O2, bring CO2 dissolved levels up, stripping the alk balance. Given enough time if it drops below 7PH, NH3 starts converting to NH4 anyways. The dangers are more along the lines of when we acclimatise them on the receiving end that we do the most damage. Cause once we add water to the bag in as wilful jester of kindness, we're effectively poisoning them via a sudden parameter shift unbinding the extra molecule freeing NH3 once more.

      Concentration camps come to mind with that outcome.

      Interesting just the same bud. Interested other view points on the subject at any rate!
    1. PapaMcEuin's Avatar
      PapaMcEuin -
      Dual purpose, yep, I was wondering about that. Maybe the bottle is just a solution of shimp guts with some bacteria in it but the main purpose is that what won't live in saltwater becomes nutrients for the natural process that will occur anyway. Just in a fine solution so you don't have the ugliness of a piece of shrimp sitting in your new prestine tank. Anyway, my ammonias have gone up and seem to be headed back down while nitrates and nitrites are yet nil. So waiting none the less and not anticipating any miricle product that puts everything in at once and removes the waiting. When I poured it in at lunch break, it smelled like garlic as well but when I got back from work 5 hours later the smell was gone.

      On the topic of concentration camps, a friends little girl, early teenager, is wanting to get a fish. She is thinking a gold fish or beta in a 1 gallon vase. After asking her how she would like to live in a box the size of our dining table I think she will be changing her mind. I told her she can start off with claiming a rock in our fish tank until she can afford something with more room. At least with a larger tank would only be akin to house arrest, but I guess though that is why we buy captive bred not wild since they don't know any better they are fine with live in captivity.
    1. PapaMcEuin's Avatar
      PapaMcEuin -
      So, just looking for questions of experience with 55 gallon tanks with DSB LR. How much time did it take to cycle the tank?
    1. CarmieJo's Avatar
      CarmieJo -
      Quote Originally Posted by PapaMcEuin View Post
      So a question on cycling. What experience do you all have with a product called "Microbe-lift Special Blend". It is designed to kick start a cycle from what I can tell, a form of seeding I would guess.
      Papa, I don't suppose the product will hurt but I would not count on it to be a panacea either.

      Quote Originally Posted by PapaMcEuin View Post
      So, just looking for questions of experience with 55 gallon tanks with DSB LR. How much time did it take to cycle the tank?
      That is the $64 question. I'd tell you ballpark of 2 - 3 weeks but there are just too many variables to tell.
    1. CarmieJo's Avatar
      CarmieJo -
      Here is a great article on cycling. http://forum.marinedepot.com/Topic23945-9-1.aspx
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