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Priming the Cycle.

Posted 05/14/2010 at 02:23 PM by sacremon

When I set up my 125g a couple years ago, I reviewed all the methods people were using to start the cycle in their tanks. I wasn't keen on using live damsels, and having rotting shrimp floating in water in the family room wasn't all that appealing either. I decided to go the route of using ammonia (technically ammonium hydroxide). I went to several stores, trying to find plain household ammonia that didn't have some sort of contaminant in it, be it surfactant/perfume/whatever. No luck. Not even something like Walmart. So I found an online retailer that sell reagent grade chemicals, and purchased a 100ml bottle of ammonium hydroxide. The shipping cost of shipping a hazmat item was far in excess of the price of the material itself, but I wanted to be sure I had pure ammonium hydroxide. I dosed the tank several times, getting the NH4+ concentration up to 1 ppm, then waited. And waited. Very gradually, nitrite concentration went rose up from zero, and in all it took about 5 or 6 weeks for the tank to cycle.

When my wife set up her 24g tank, all the sand we used was commercial live sand. The tank literally cycled in a couple days. I could put a dose of the ammonia in to the tank to make it 1 ppm and the next day the ammonia was gone and the nitrate was up by 3.4 ppm (using a Pinpoint Nitrate meter).

Yesterday I added some ammonia to the still-filling tank. I had about 150g in the tank at that point. We tested for ammonia shortly afterwards, and found it to be somewhere in color between 0 and 0.1 ppm. I poured in some more ammonia, tested it and it was 0.1 ppm. Nitrite was around 0.05 ppm, though it was hard to tell because something was reacting with the reagent to cause it to turn brownish in color, not a pure pink/red. This is using Elos test kits.

This morning we test again, and found the ammonia around 0.5 ppm. Hmm. I have a Koralia Magnum 6 in the tank, so there is no question in my mind that the ammonia was well mixed into the water when we checked it yesterday. So where is the ammonia coming from? I do have a foam of what I assume to be protein around the edges of the water. I think that mostly developed after adding the 80 pounds of Caribsea live sand. In fact, there was so much I manually skimmed it off with a net. I also went through the sand with a section of eggcrate, and pulled out some fair sized chunks of rock and clam shell that had been in the Caribsea sand. Undoubtedly some of the organics that had been in my old sand remained and are probably rotting away now, but I had tested the water before adding any ammonia and it was clearly zero. Maybe I jump-started some bacteria to eat the organics. Nitrite hasn't moved anywhere yet, but we'll see what happens.

I say 'we' with the testing because my wife reads the color of the test vials. I am partially red/green colorblind, and it seems all the colorimetric tests devised for marine aquaria use some shade of green/pink/red/orange/yellow, which I cannot distinguish from each other. It is why I use a digital pH meter and got the digital nitrate meter. It was a pain as a chemistry major early on, as universities tend not to give underclassmen things like digital pH meters to use in labs, so we used pH paper that had a scale of green/brown (best I could see). Once I got to junior/senior level courses and then grad school I had increasingly more sophisticated equipment. I might get odd looks from Chris when I point to a coral in one of his tanks and ask about the yellow one, and he says 'There is no yellow one', but at least I can tell what the pH and nitrate of my tanks are by myself.
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