Sunday, October 15, 2017

50 Ways to Kill Your Fish: Uncycled Aquarium

Don't Panic About Aquarium Cycling!

Despite being a habitual researcher, I balked at learning about the aquarium cycle. It's because everyone made it sound so tedius! They would immediately dive into complex chemical terms and scientific names, and it made my eyes roll into my head in boredom. Here's the very simple, "Cycling for Dummies" explanation...

How to Cycle Your Aquarium

What Does Cycling an Aquarium Mean?

It means your fish or other aquatic animals have the ability to live in an aquarium without dying in their own waste (like ammonia and urea). This can be accomplished in several ways:
  1. Do frequent water changes to manually remove the waste. 
  2. Grow beneficial bacteria that will convert the fish waste into a less toxic chemical, which buys you more time between water changes.
    1. Use live plants (or algae) that will directly uptake ammonia and convert it into new leaves and plant growth.
    Note: That means that putting water in your tank and letting it sit without fish for a week will not cycle your tank (been there, done that). Cycling is a means of removing ammonia, not aging water. Also, plecos and other bottom dwellers do not eat poop; they make it. :)

    What is the Best Method of Cycling My Aquarium?

    This is a totally a matter of opinion, so I'll tell you my story. When I first started researching aquarium cycling, the most popular method people on the internet recommend is method #2, specifically using fishless cycling to grow beneficial bacteria. This involves pouring liquid ammonia (aka fake fish waste) into your tank as a food source for the bacteria and then waiting till you grow enough bacteria to consume the ammonia. Since I did not have a source of beneficial bacteria to kick start the growth in my tank, a couple of months passed without anything happening so I gave up. (And apparently this is not uncommon.)

    The next thing I tried was fish-in cycling, which means putting a very small number of fish in your tank and growing beneficial bacteria off their waste. Unlike using liquid ammonia, having actual fish poop is a surefire way that bacteria will come. I used two cory catfish in a 20-gallon tank, fed them lightly, and carefully monitored the water parameters. Contrary to popular belief, they thrived without incident and naturally grew beneficial bacteria over the course of several weeks.

    Unfortunately, after a couple of encounters with disease, I had to wipe out all my good bacteria with the bad when sanitizing my aquarium. That's when I discovered the miracle of live plants. I'd always used fake plants before because a) live plants seemed difficult and b) I hated the algae problems that seemed to come with them. However, aquascaped tanks full of foliage looked so beautiful, so I decided to give it a shot with my nano tank. There are many super easy low-light aquarium plant species that can be tied to a rock and basically treated like a fake plant. The difference was incredible though. I did an experiment to see how long I could go without changing the water, and even a month later, ammonia and nitrites were still 0 ppm and the nitrate levels were only 5 to 10 ppm! Σ(°ロ°) That never happened in my tanks with no plants and beneficial bacteria only. Surprisingly, using live plants for biological filtration seems to be one of fastest ways to cycle your aquarium (assuming you're starting from scratch like I was).

    Betta tank with narrow leaf java fern, windelov lace java fern, and anubias nana petite
    All the java fern and anubias plants are tied onto rocks or décor that are easily moved for cleaning.

    Bottom line: how does nature clean up fish poop? It gets washed away or diluted (method #1) from rain and other water sources, and bacteria and plants (methods #2 and 3) break it down as food. I highly recommend using all three methods to keep your fish happy and your water clean.

    P.S. A huge thanks to Aquarium Co-Op's video that covers this subject more in-depth. I just discovered Cory's YouTube channel and I really appreciate how he speaks from his own experiences, not just what is repeated on the internet.

    Follow the rest of this series: 50 Ways to Kill Your Fish.

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