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5 Gallon Tank Cycling Log | Home Fish Aquarium Guide

Home Fish Aquarium Guide

Fishkeeping Information and Resources for the Home Aquarium

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5 Gallon Tank Cycling Log

What follows is a log of the cycling process of our 5 gallon tank. We used substrate from our previous attempt at keeping fish. I can only assume that the gravel had old fish food and other material in it as we had an ammonia reading from day one. This may not graph to a perfect curve like you always see representing the cycling process, but I would blame that on two factors, 1) changing test kits in midst of the logging period and 2) interpretation errors. Some of the test kits are/were particularly challenging to interpret.

All of the materials (tank, undergravel filter, decorations, gravel) were washed as best as possible in clear water. The gravel was rinsed through a strainer several times. Everything had been in a barn/storage building for about 9 years and squirrels had stored some nuts in it.

Although this tank is destined to be freshwater, my son REALLY wanted to put some seashells in. We started with 4. Our tap water is very acidic (6.2 or 6.4 out of the tap). After seeing the dramatic impact on pH (pushing it up around 7.2 or 7.4 we pruned back to just one seashell.)

Day 0 – Ammonia between .5 and 1 ppm (part per million), 0 nitrite, 0 nitrate pH between 6.2 and 6.4 (0-40 KH (buffering), 0-25 GH (hardness)) Adding Cycle in daily doses starting with day 0
Day 1 – Ammonia 2-3 ppm, 0 Nitrite, 0 nitrate, 7.2pH, 40 KH, 0-25 GH
Day 2 – Ammonia 1-2 ppm, 0-0.5 nitrite, 0-20 nitrate, 7.2 pH, 80 KH, 25 GH
Day 2 evening added – fiigree frill and amazon sword plant (and inadvertently two baby snails that we found several days later.)
Day 3 – Ammonia 2-3ppm, .25 nitrite, 12.5 mg/l nitrate, 7.2 pH 80 KH, 25 GH
Day 4 – Ammonia 1-2ppm, .5-1 nitrite, 12.5+ nitrate, 7.2 pH, 80 KH, 25 GH
Day 5 – Ammonia 3-4ppm, 1+ ppm nitrite, 25ppm nitrate, 7.2 pH, 80 KH, 25 GH
KH and GH levels are stable in all following readings and were not tested further after day 10. Will not note them further
Day 6 – Ammonia 1-2ppm, 1ppm nitrite, 25ppm nitrate, 6.8 pH
(pH readings fairly stable at 6.8 for further readings, not tested past day 10)
Day 7 – Ammonia 1-2ppm, 5ppm Nitrite (difficult reading? 1 or 5 on one kit and 5 on another test), 20-40 nitrate
Day 8 – Ammonia 2ppm (new test kit), 1ppm nitrite (3 with another test), 25 nitrate
Day 9 – Ammonia 1-2ppm, nitrite 5ppm, no nitrate test.

At this point I had read reviews of a number of products. Cycle I had been using in larger than prescribed doses for 7 days (it says you cannot overdose.) Cycle is supposed to be able to kick start the cycling process with good bacteria. Some reviews suggest that it does nothing for them. The local fish store has a product called Stability which IS highly recommended I had switched to Stability on day 7. Other bacteria in a bottle products that were more highly recommended were not available (biospyra).

At this point I had also read that a product called Prime can be used to detoxify ammonia and nitrites in a tank (as well as it’s typical use which is to prepare chlorinated water for use in a fish tank.) Now, we have a well and so there is no chlorine or other man added substances to our water, but eager to have fish I read further about Prime (by SeaChem – the same maker as Stability). We went ahead and added doses of Prime and 2 fish on day 9 evening. (Peanut and Nikki). They are both zebra danios – Peanut is a longfin and Nikki is a regular zebra.

Verified that in spite of the addition of prime our test kits will still give accurate readings. Prime needs to be added every 24 hours when used as an ammonia or nitrite detoxifier. It does not prevent the beneficial bacteria from consuming it. (Which was an important point for me because I didn’t want to disrupt the cycle if I could help it and then be dependent on buying a bottle of that every few weeks.)

Day nine also saw a big water change after the testing (but before the prime.) With regards to Stability, I dosed in amounts large enough for a 10 gallon tank, again because it should not be a possibility to overdose with the good bacteria.

Up to this point I had also been “feeding” the empty tank with flakes to try to help keep up the ammonia levels for the purpose of feeding the good bacteria.

Continued daily doses of Stability and Prime from here until both Ammonia and Nitrites are 0.

Day 10 Ammonia 0.25 -0.5 ppm, 1ppm nitrite, 25ppm nitrate – fed fish. (They seem to be doing well, but Nikki is getting chased almost constantly.)

Day 11 Ammonia 0-0.25, Nitrites 1ppm, ~25ppm nitrates, Added Java Fern and Anacharis, fed fish.

Day 12 Ammonia 0, Nitrites 0.5+, nitrates 12.5 (anacharis and java fern consuming nitrates)

Day 13 Ammonia 0, Nitrites less than 0.5 ppm, 0-12.5 nitrates
Day 14 Ammonia 0, Nitrites 0.25, Nitrates 0+
Day 15 Ammonia 0, Nitrites 0-0.25, Nitrates 0-12.5

Since Nitrites are almost zero, we thought it would be safe to add 2 more fish. This time Leopard danios, one longfin (Marlin Jr.) and a regular fin Leopard (Nemo). At the local fish store the first two were quick and easy catches which bothered the attendant a bit and he decided to replace one (the replacement was nemo). As I was acclimating the bag I noticed that marlin jr. (the long fin) was missing his left eye. I did some research and found that fish can survive without an eye of course and proceeded with the acclimation.

They both seemed to settle in quite well. A partial water change has been done each day since adding the first pair of fish. (10-20%)

Day 16 Ammonia 0, Nitrites 0-0.25, Nitrates 0-12.5
This day I located and removed the two snails. I was afraid if we let them go we would NEVER get them cleaned out of the tank. (Thus end Gary and Gary the snails….) They were about the size of a large piece of rice each.

Day 17 Ammonia 0, Nitrites 0-0.25, Nitrates 0-12.5
Marlin jr. was floating on the morning of this day. I removed him into a hastily put together hospital bucket and he perked up for as much as 15 minutes and swam in circles. I tried adding a bit of salt (as suggested for hospital tanks) and a touch of food, afraid that the others had beat him out of the opportunities to eat. Sadly, none of the above helped. Upon inspection his wound looked worse than just the eye. The entire left side of his face was somewhat inflamed. Fins had been beat up and nibbled and he was a little thinner than the others. My wife suggests that he looked quite beat up and she is pretty sure he was looking that way before he got into our tank.

Peanut, Nikki and Nemo all seem to be zipping around quite happily.

Day 18 – Ammonia 0, Nitrites 0, Nitrates 0-12.5 – The tank is NOW finally cycled. Discontinue adding Prime and Stability.

Day 19, Nitrite test 0 (I went ahead with a test to make certain that the prime wasn’t masking it. All occupants of tank look healthy. (Anacharis turning transparent though – not enough light?)

Added Java Moss

Day 20, No test today – will move to weekly tests starting on Day 21. Additional two danios to bring the stocking up to 5 (I know Danios would prefer more room to swim around in. That is our goal for them, to have a larger tank.) New occupants are another longfin leopard danio and a gold danio, Marlin Jr. (shoudn’t that be the third?) and Coral Jr.

Day 21 Ammonia 0, Nitrite 0, Nitrate 0-12.5 Removed anacharis to mason jars on the window sill to try to get some green that we could prehaps reintroduce. Did a 20% water change and pulled out some of the java moss to rework. Part of the Filigree Frill broke off and I buried the bottom in the substrate to see if it would root. All fish seem healthy and zipping along at times in a school.

End of log.

At one point we had a growth of brown algae (diatoms?) on the filigree frill. It was during the stretch that we had high ammonia levels. I understand this is normal during a tank establishment. At first I thought the filigree was dying, but later could tell that it was just covered with something else. As the ammonia levels went to zero it seemed to do less well. Finally I noticed the zebra danios nibbling at it.

Day 16 (first day that started with 4 fish in the tank) we noticed that almost all of the brown was gone. The fish had picked the plant clean overnight.

The additional plants that we added on Day 11 seemed to really help the happiness of Nikki. It gave her more places to hide from the near constant chasing she had experienced before. Along this time we also introduced a 90 degree pvc elbow as another cave or hiding place for Nikki. It took several days before we saw her making use of it, but it helped take the pressure off.

I know Danios chasing are happy, but when one fish is constantly harrassed it can be detrimental to them. Ideally we will move these guys to a larger tank now that our confidence in getting a tank established has grown. But for now, we will enjoy them in their well planted space.

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    January 10, 2009 - 4:46 PM