Help Almost 4 Months And Tanks Will Not Cycle

Tonpole

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I'll say right now I made the mistake of doing fish-in cycle and I am aware that can make it take a lot longer. My problem is, it's been almost 4 months and I have never once had a measurement of nitrites and nitrates, only ammonia.

What also is kind of disappointing me is I'm doing a no fish cycle of a 2.5g (might do some cherry shrimp in it, just using it to hold plants right now), it's been going for over a month now, and it too has never had any nitrite or nitrate readings, only ammonia. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I'll see on reddit people having other readings less than a week into their cycles. I had been trying really hard with the 2.5g and trying to keep the ammonia at that 2ppm area. It'll instead slowly drop to 0 while the other two are always at 0. The 2.5g I'm thinking may not be cycling because I have quite a few plants in it and they're taking the ammonia first, but I don't understand why the other two won't do anything either.

The 5.5g is heavily planted (was trying to do walstad level of planting), with a layer of organic Espoma brand soil capped with small gravel and then sand on top of that. I'm using a sponge filter in that tank. Only fish in it is a male betta. The 20g is mild to moderately planted, substrate is just a mixture of gravel and sand, and I have an Aqueon Quiet Flow 20 filter and replaced the cartridge with a coarse sponge leading to ceramic rings and ending with filter floss. I kept the plastic housing components in the filter, too. The 20g is stocked with 1 female betta, 5 bronze cories, and 2 ADFs. Both tanks have a reasonably low pH at 6.0 - 6.2 due to almond indian leaves and driftwood in both.

Could the very low pH be what's causing my tanks to not cycle? My tap water measures at about 6.8 to 7.0, and I have no clue about the hardness. My last tap water report said the average general hardness is 150ppm, but I feel like the stuff in my house is a bit softer than that because the pH does change pretty easy. I condition the water with Seachem Prime and I'm dosing both tanks with double recommended dosage of Stability. I've also tried probably 3 or 4 other brands of bacteria starter.

All my fish seem healthy. They're all very active and eat well and have no signs of ammonia poisoning such as bruised appearance or torn fins. My male betta does have curled fins, and I'm trying to remedy that which is part of why I have almond leaves in his tank. He's showing no signs of illness with the curling and if I ever get the cycling problem solved, I'm going to say it's due to genetics since I've touched on every other thing that could cause it.

I do frequent water changes, but try not to do super huge ones since I do keep low pHs and don't want to shock the fish. I'm probably gonna make some almond leaf extract so I can lower the pH of water I'm using in changes, thus able to do larger ones.

What am I doing wrong? Or, should I just keep doing what I'm doing since the fish have seemingly adapted to whatever environment I've made and maybe in a couple more months they'll finally cycle? Thanks guys.
 

mattgirl

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I agree with everyone. It is difficult for the bacteria to thrive with a PH that low. You may want to consider adding some crushed coral to help stabilize it at a higher level. It won't instantly spike the PH so you don't have to worry about it hurting your fish. I raises the hardness of your water as it very slowly dissolves.

Try to find the chunks of coral instead of other types that have been crushed to about the size of sand. If that is all you can find just add a couple of tablespoon fulls of it to some type of media bag so it will be easier to either remove or add some as you are fine tuning the PH level. If you can find the chunks add a handful of it to a media bag.

If there is room in your filter put it in there. If there isn't enough room hang it under the output of your filter so the water is running over it.
 

Tonpole

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Thanks guys. If this does help my tank cycle, could crushed coral then help me achieve my actual goal pH of between 6.4-6.6? And will 6.4-6.6 kill the bacteria again? I'm trying to make my 20g blackwater. The water is very nicely stained, but yeah I never wanted the pH that low. I'd like the 5.5g to also be somewhere on the acidic side since bettas and plants like that, but I don't want the water too stained since I have some higher light needs plants in it like monte carlo. It has half a leaf in it and I'm probably gonna do just quarter of a leaf instead.

At the end of the day, I just want happy fishies . As mentioned, they do seem fine for now. The ADFs I was most worried about because they hide 24/7, but I've witnessed both eat and one bite a cory that made it mad, so they seem to have some sort of will to live
 

Tonpole

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I am curious as to why you want your PH that low. Your Betta should be fine with a higher PH. If you could keep it close to 7 both bacteria and Betta should thrive.
I actually don't want it that low. I think I have soft water and it drops low super easy. Half an almond leaf dropped my 5.5g from like 6.8 to 6.0. I just wanted some tannins for my fish. The 20g I do want to be blackwater, but I'd prefer if the pH was between 6.4-6.6. I can keep it there if I did a water change like every day.
 

david1978

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Here's my take on it. With a ph of 6 you will struggle to ever get a cycle. I worked hard to acheve this years ago. Good news is ammonia is ammonium at that ph which is a lot less toxic for fish. You can stay with it and keep low ph soft water fish or you can work to change it. You may even need to remineralize it a little if your water is really soft. Think rodi water.
 

Tonpole

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Here's my take on it. With a ph of 6 you will struggle to ever get a cycle. I worked hard to acheve this years ago. Good news is ammonia is ammonium at that ph which is a lot less toxic for fish. You can stay with it and keep low ph soft water fish or you can work to change it. You may even need to remineralize it a little if your water is really soft. Think rodi water.
I don't have a test kit for hardness, but I think it's safe to say I do have soft water. I never get any stains on my dishes or shower and my tap water actually tastes basically the same as filtered. I do know bettas and bronze cories can thrive in low pH, not sure about ADFs. I've seen wildly different care guides on them. All I know is they love hiding under the almond leaves because I have them resting on a piece of driftwood
 

david1978

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Yea there is so what's actually true is hard to tell. If you have had it 4 months and its doing good I would your ph is fine for them.
 

Momgoose56

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Yea there is so what's actually true is hard to tell. If you have had it 4 months and its doing good I would your ph is fine for them.
Crushed coral (gravel size is good enough) added to your filteroverflow in a fine mesh media bag, at about 1 cup per 30 gallons of tank water is enough to buffer your tank and not raise your pH or KH too rapidly. Just rinse and squish the coral around in the bag every 4 months or so to expose new surface area and clean off gunk. If you see your pH decreasing again in a year-or sooner-just replace the coral with a fresh load.
 

Tonpole

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Crushed coral (gravel size is good enough) added to your filteroverflow in a fine mesh media bag, at about 1 cup per 30 gallons of tank water is enough to buffer your tank and not raise your pH or KH too rapidly. Just rinse and squish the coral around in the bag every 4 months or so to expose new surface area and clean off gunk. If you see your pH decreasing again in a year-or sooner-just replace the coral with a fresh load.
Thank you for those measurements! I'll have to see if my local fish store has coral.

Do you have any suggestions on how I could add crushed coral into my 5.5g since it's a sponge filter?
 

mattgirl

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Thank you for those measurements! I'll have to see if my local fish store has coral.

Do you have any suggestions on how I could add crushed coral into my 5.5g since it's a sponge filter?
For your 5.5 gallon with sponge filter you could just add some to your substrate or as before put some in a media bag for easy removal if necessary. I have about 6 1 inch pieces in my 5.5 gallon tank. I too have soft water and run a sponge filter so just have the cc laying on the sand substrate. My water comes out of the tap at just under 7. The crushed coral keeps my PH at a steady 7.2.

Lots of stores carry a product called aragonite. It is crushed coral crushed into very small pieces. If that is what you get just start out with a very small amount. I would start out with no more than a couple of tablespoons. It is easy to add more if necessary but is difficult to get it back out if not contained in a media bag. Add it and just keep an eye on the PH levels. You can add more if necessary or remove some if it raised the PH too high. Once you determine how much needs to be used it will stabilize you PH at that level.

Eventually, as it very slowly dissolves, you will have to add more but it will take a very long time. I started using CC at least 3 years ago and it is still doing its job. Once a year I added a couple more 1 inch chunks to each of my tanks.
 




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