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Why We Should Not Fishless Cycle Planted Tanks.

Discussion in 'Archived PARC threads' started by Dave Spencer, Aug 2, 2009.

  1. Dave Spencer

    Dave Spencer Gort! Klaatu barada nikto.

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    When I first start up a new planted tank, I have a different goal to those that start their tanks with a fishless cycle. My aim is to maximise plant growth from the word go to produce healthy, vibrant plant growth, and create an environment hostile to algae blooms.

    The fishless cycle requires the addition of ammonia, which is instantly a no no for planted tanks.

    Light + ammonia = algae

    If you absolutely have to fishless cycle on a tank that you intend on planting, then I strongly recommend the cycling is carried out in the dark, and the plants are added once the cycle is complete. Personally, I advocate that you don’t bother going down this long path, and save yourself a lot of time and effort by starting your planted tank with the goal mentioned in the first paragraph; “healthy, vibrant plant growth” from the word go. A fishless cycle establishes a large, robust bacteria colony that is suddenly going to be in competition with plants for ammonia, and plants are very efficient at ammonia processing, and get first dibs. The bacteria that you have just spent the last six weeks developing is going to reduce in number once healthy plant growth is established, so why bother in the first place? Certainly it is because fish need to be added to a tank that can process their waste before they reach toxic levels. Well, this can be achieved in a planted tank before the bacteria colony is fully established.

    The following is my own preferred method and, while many experienced planted tank people will have variations on my methods, the fundamentals remain the same.

    MULM
    Firstly, I take the mulm (substrate detritus) from an existing tank, and put it below the new substrate. Obviously, this wasn’t an option on my first ever tank, but it is worth using mulm if it available to you. Why?

    There is a popular belief that there is a minimal amount of nitrifying bacteria in the substrate. This may be true in unplanted tanks, and I am not entirely sure, but plants and their roots are covered in nitrifying bacteria. The roots bring a lot of aeration to the substrate and help to make an environment that is beneficial to the types of nitrifying bacteria we nurture in our filters. By adding mulm we are introducing a good sized colony of nitrifying bacteria at root level and creating a healthy environment in which the roots can quickly become established.
    Personally, I trim the roots back a fair bit to aid planting (Crypts are a good example), but try to promote new root growth as soon as possible.

    It is also known to use carbon in the substrate to absorb any toxins present that may inhibit initial root growth and health.

    CO2
    I run the CO2 at elevated levels that would be lethal to any fish or shrimp, just to ensure there is no CO2 limitation anywhere in the tank that could start any localised algae blooms. This is backed up with a high flow rate of water via over filtration and/or power heads to transport all nutrients to the four corners of the tank, along with surface disturbance to help keep O2 levels up. Once any fauna is due to be added, the CO2 is throttled back and established 30ppm, but getting the CO2 levels and distribution correct from the start is essential to avoid algae issues.

    ZEOLITE
    I don’t think a great deal of people in the UK bother with Zeolite a great deal, but it is popular in the US and I swear by it for algae control in immature planted tanks. It will absorb the ammonia being produced and remove a possible trigger for an algae bloom. My latest tank was started without Zeolite as I didn’t have any, and I have witnessed brown diatoms for the first time since I started using Zeolite. People say brown diatoms are inevitable in a new tank, but this is not the case in my experience. Remove the ammonia, remove the diatoms.

    This will instantly raise the question in many peoples mind “won’t it starve the bacteria colony?” No, not in my or anyone else’s opinion that use Zeolite, that I have read. The Zeolite provides a large surface area and a large supply of ammonia to nitrosomonas bacteria. Why wouldn’t the bacteria want to move in to this environment? Exhausted Zeolite just becomes filter media.

    The other thing to add about using Zeolite I am not aware of anyone having problems with ammonia leeching back in to the water column. Certainly not from those that have used it. People remove the Zeolite, see an ammonia spike, and then blame the Zeolite for having starved their bacteria colony, making it incapable of supporting the fish load. In reality, what they have done is removed a significant percentage of their nitrifying colony when they removed the Zeolite.

    DOSING AND WATER CHANGES
    I dose at full levels from day one. If the aim is to promote plant growth from the outset, then why would we hold back on the dosing for any given period? Water changes are carried out daily at around 50% water volume for the first week or two to remove algae spores and inhibit unprocessed ammonia levels. This becomes a bit of a chore on larger tanks, and is probably slackened off to just once a week more rapidly than on smaller tanks. Personally, I am usually at my normal water change of 50% once a week after the first month.

    PLANTING LEVELS
    For the inexperienced, getting planting levels right, along with non limiting CO2 throughout the tank are really key to the early success of the tank. Insufficient plant mass and/or CO2 will limit/inhibit plant growth, and open the door to algae blooms. For the inexperienced I would recommend the advice I was first given, which was to plant 75% of the substrate with fast growing stems. This will provide a large ammonia processing factory, and algae blooms will be suppressed by a healthy mass of fast growing plants. With more experience it is possible to start a tank with a lot less plant mass, but this will also require a lot more knowledge of controlling light intensity and photoperiod duration. Lighting is a whole other subject that is covered elsewhere, as are dosing methods.

    MISCELLANEOUS
    Other little bits of advice that I think help to establish an immature planted tank are, don’t be afraid to introduce pest snails if you are not too bothered by their appearance. All my tanks have small snail populations that eat rotting vegetation and detritus. A boom in the number of snails is an indication of excessive fish food in the tank. The population is easily managed, simply by not overfeeding your fish. Secondly, remove any apparently poor plant growth/leaves, as they will not get better, and will only contribute to the ammonia levels.

    From the above, some of you may come to the conclusion that I came too when I first started reading about EI dosing planted tanks. A newly planted, healthy tank showing positive growth signs will be processing ammonia at a rate that makes it possible to add fish long before it is possible using the fishless cycle. On my first tank I used common sense, and added fish to a 120l tank at the rate of five Cardinal tetras a week. I had no problems at all adding these supposedly sensitive fish, which were the first fish I ever bought, or added to a tank.

    Personally, I really concentrate on CO2 levels from the start these days, which means I don’t add fish until a month or two in to the aquascapes life.

    To anyone wanting to start a planted tank:

    Why bother adding ammonia daily and running all those tests?

    Why bother building up a large bacteria colony, only for it to reduce once you stop adding ammonia?

    Why bother running the risk of algae?

    Why bother waiting all those frustrating weeks before you get any fish?

    Not having to cycle a planted tank is a huge benefit IMO, and one we should all use. Fish only people will have to carry on fishless cycling, but we don’t have to. How cool is that?

    This article is subject to amendment and further advice.

    Dave.
     
  2. keenonfish

    keenonfish Member

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    Some seemingly good info their thanks!
    I have often contemplated the removal of filter media completely, as I am fully planted and my Ph level means the Nbacs (assuming I have got any!) are in near constant hibernation. I would still use some form of mechanical filtration. It would increase circulation but are there any disadvantages to doing this in a planted tank?
     
  3. Dave Spencer

    Dave Spencer Gort! Klaatu barada nikto.

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    All my tanks have a negligible KH, high CO2 and lots of wood and start out with a pH around 6, yet there is nothing to suggest that a healthy bacteria colony hasn`t developed. Some of my tanks have been quite low in plant mass, yet the water is still fine, with no obvoius "pH crash" (does a crash mean the bacteria are no longer active?). I would suggest that your tank has a healthy colony too.

    I honestly wouldn`t underestimate the amount of nitrifying carried out by your filter. I use a reduced amount of media due to there being a smaller bacteria colony in planted tank filters, and to increase output of the filter, but I still ensure that there is plenty of surface area for the bacteria to occupy.

    Dave.
     
  4. aaronnorth

    aaronnorth www.ukaps.org

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    I also prune heavily to promote new growth. You can tell which plants i removed lots of leaves from daily, and the others which are less accessible and are growing much slower. This is mainly reffering to rossette plants.... it doesnt matter much with stems.
    I also clean the glass and any learger leaved plants i rub my fingers over the leaves to remove biofilms.
    With stems plants & bushier plants i shake of waft my fingers through to remove any detrius that collects in them.

    Nice one Dave
    Aaron.
     
  5. keenonfish

    keenonfish Member

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    The only thing that would worry me there is Nitrites, which the plants could not use and if you stuck fish in a completely un-cycled tank, and for some reason at any time should the plants slow down processing of ammonia (maybe unnoticed by the owner) and your filter starts to take over you could potentially end up with a dangerous nitrite spike?
    Now having a very low ph and little to no filter media would almost eliminate any potential for a nitrite spike and also mean small amounts of ammonia would not be as dangerous, and would show up anyway with the snails / algae...

    I am not necessarily suggesting anyone try such a thing BTW just want to cover all bases!
     
  6. lljdma06

    lljdma06 Retired moderator :)
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    Why would plants not consume nitrite? It is a form of nitrogen like the other two. It would be consumed as well. Dilemma solved. Plants are pigs, they'll eat anything and are not particularly picky.

    I haven't cycled a tank in years and it is a glorious thing. Great read Dave and definitely pin-worthy, but what about adding something for the poor, under-represented low-techies? Or at least qualifying that this is mostly dealing with CO2 tanks? No biggie, a trifle really. But we do not have the luxury of pumping our CO2, at least not in the same way.

    You are too cautious with your fishies. :lol: I tend to add my fish much sooner. Days after setting up shop, in my experience, but again, I do not use CO2 in most of my tanks and I have a heavy initial plant mass, typical for my non-CO2, low-light setups. I'll add considerably more at a time too. While you'll do five, I'll usually do an entire school, up to 10, then do water changes for a week or two, watch, if nothing is amiss, then add the second school of whatever. It takes about 1-2 months of a tanks life for me to fully stock it according to the "standard" stocking levels. As the tank matures, I will continue to add more. By the time the tank is a year old, it is quite overstocked. My 10g, for example, has the following stocking levels.

    9 Dwarf platies
    22 C. habrosus
    14 C. pygmaeus

    My 3-year-old 20g has this

    10 Harliquin rasboras
    7 Rasbora pauciperforata
    10 C. aeneus
    1 oto

    This tank can handle a lot more stock, IMO, especially if I increase the plant mass, which I plan on doing. Probably building the schools, especially the oto, and adding a second species of corydora.

    This type of stocking does take some eyeballing and you must be up on your maintenance, though, and common sense is needed to get stocking levels right. Mostly consisting of researching suitable fish species for these types of setups. If you notice a trend, it is that I tend to favor small, slim-bodied fish schooling fish, and that I have species that occupy different aquaria strata. Obviously, my fish aren't suffering and my tanks aren't ridden with algae. This is conservative stocking too, I know people who add considerably more. :hey: My water is also quite hard and the pH out of the tap without de-chlorinating is 8.4. After de-chlorinating, it is down to 7.2 or 7.4. My non-injected tanks rarely get below 7ph and the kH is still quite high.

    My new Dutch, however, which will inject CO2, will implement much of what you've written, though. Great minds. :nod:

    Did you see the I Puritani picture at UKAPS?

    llj
     
  7. keenonfish

    keenonfish Member

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    Ah ok, chemistry not my finest subject and I had read plants tend not to consume nitrites so obviously duff info.
     
  8. degsod

    degsod Member

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    When you have a heavily planted tank do you still vac the gravel? I have one tank which I have a lot of plants in and it is a complete b****** to vac. The tank is 2'x1'6"x1' and I have about 40 bunches of plants with approx 5 plants per bunch. Would you say this is heavy, medium or light planting?

    tia
     
  9. SuperColey1

    SuperColey1 Planted Section

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    I go even further than the 2 above and start mine up as I mean to go on. Heavily planted, CO2 at 30ish ppm full ferts, full lights, once a week water change. And as soon as the water is up to temp (within a few hours) the fish, shrimp and snails go straight in. Not a problem. This is with no fast growing stems, just rosettes, rhizomes etc.

    As per above the plants will consume any form of Nitrogen whether is be Ammonia, Nitrite or Nitrate. They may have a preferential order that they will use it in but the bacteria colony will grow large enough to make the difference pretty quickly.

    I have seen multiple posts where people are waiting for their planted tank to cycle and immediately I don't bother reading anymore. Far too many old practices creeping back in that just make me want to 'flame'. lol.

    Good that Dave has written it up because if I try to write these things they turn into rants about the 'state of the world' and the 'recession'.

    As for adding how to do Non Co2 tanks? With a non Co2 tank you aren't (or at least shouldn't need to be) adding the additional ferts so therefore all the nutrients are coming from the fish/food waste and you can do exactly the same (assuming you are heavily planted.)

    Most aquascapers do vac the gravel/sand. Inexperienced planters/scapers should to take away one of the algae risk variables. I don't I just leave it in there but then I benefit from experience ;).

    Within reason heavily planted means if you look from above how much of the substrate is visible. If it is 25% or less then it is considered heacily planted. Of course this doesn't mean 1 Nymphea where the pads cover 75% of the water surface. However although this wouldn't be considered Heavily Planted it wouldn't suffer too many problems as the pads would reduce the light substantially. lol. Another of those things that come with experience.

    I would say that approx 25% of my actual substrate is planted, however I have huge amounts of rhizome plants attached to wood/rock. Looking from above you can probably see about 10% of the substrate. It is very heavily planted (Jungle)

    p.s. The 'quotes' above are all a little bit OTT. It is possible to just 'quote' some sections or even reply without quoteing ;) Keeps the thread tidier and easier to read :)

    AC
     
  10. lljdma06

    lljdma06 Retired moderator :)
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    Well, you can only pay for so much post at a time. :lol: Otherwise, my shipping would cost an aweful lot!

    llj
     
  11. aaronnorth

    aaronnorth www.ukaps.org

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    you are partially correct keenonfish. It depends on the plants, as NO2- uptake requires specific enzymes to utilise NO2-, wheras there is no need to do that with NH4+, because it is a cation and diffuses across the cell easily, i cant quite remeber how it goes. The same goes for NO3-, but it is still simpler for plants to convert this to NH4+ by combining it with Hydrogen atoms & water.
    That is why you hear more about NH4 & NO3.
     
  12. Dave Spencer

    Dave Spencer Gort! Klaatu barada nikto.

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    And I thought I was daring. :lol: From now on, I`m adding the fish before the water. :p

    Dave.
     
  13. RadaR

    RadaR The things we do for our fish..

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    Thanks for writing this, Dave. Nice to have something that people can easily be referred to.
     
  14. DBridges

    DBridges Member

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    Definitely a great post, and one worth pinning I think.
     
  15. OneOnion

    OneOnion Member

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    I don't get it. So can I just add fish to a heavy planted tank without cycling it? :blink: I don't have any CO2 or mulm would it still work?
     

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