10 Gallon Tank Cycle won't start after 1 month

StellarIsopod

Hi guys! First post here, although I've been a long time lurker. I've been trying to get back into aquarium keeping after quite a few years of being without one and I'm currently cycling a 10g from scratch, but I've been encountering some problems...

The tank was set up May 19th, dechlorinated, a few plants added, seeded with a small amount of fish food (I know pure ammonia is better, but I wasn't able to find a bottle and this was how I did it before, so I figured it'd work this time).
Waited 24+ hours, ammonia was just starting to rise, and I added a bottle of TSS+.
Left the tank to do its thing with no water changes for 2 weeks.
Ammonia rose to about 1-2 ppm and stayed there, 0 nitrites/0 nitrates.

Around June 4th, I started getting antsy.
I went out and bought another bottle of TSS+, assuming my last one was a dud, or maybe there hadn't been enough ammonia when I added the first bottle.
I did a water change to bring the ammonia down to about 0.25, dechlorinated, waited 24 hours, and added the new bottle.
Ammonia rose to about 1-2 ppm again, and stayed there for another 2 weeks. I did start to see brown spot algae/diatoms on some of my plants, but other than that no change.

Now here's where I've really messed up. I was fully committed to the fishless cycle until this point, but I ended up bringing home 2 small mystery snails at some point, who are now currently living in this still-to-cycle tank, and my stress levels are through the roof thinking I've now doomed them. I've been doing water changes now to keep the ammonia down, but it's definitely not showing any signs of dissipating on its own, and there's still 0 Nitrates and 0 Nitrites well over a month in.

Last Wednesday I went out and got some seachem stability, which I've been adding 2x the dosage of for almost 7 days now. But there's still been no change. 1-2ppm ammonia, 0 nitrite, 0 nitrate. WC every time it hits that 1-2ppm level back down to about 0.5, and it steadily climbs right back up. PH is about 7.8/8 the entire time.

I'm ordering a copper test kit, because it is an older house, but my snails have been very active and ravenously hungry and have grown a ton, I'd assume enough copper to hinder my cycle would have killed them or at least hindered them as well? Not to mention I've now found baby ramshorns in the tank, and they've just been hanging out chilling for about a week now, apparently thriving.

A LFS said I can bring them media and they will run it in their tanks, so I still have that option left (I should've started with that honestly, but I didn't find out until this last visit).
Please let me know if there's anything else I can do, I know I jumped the gun on the snails and I know cycling takes quite a while, but even without the bottled bacteria I'd expect to see some change by now, right? I would love to hear I'm just being impatient, honestly!

Thanks so much for your help, I know these threads are a dozen a day!
 

Amatyi1

Hi guys! First post here, although I've been a long time lurker. I've been trying to get back into aquarium keeping after quite a few years of being without one and I'm currently cycling a 10g from scratch, but I've been encountering some problems...

The tank was set up May 19th, dechlorinated, a few plants added, seeded with a small amount of fish food (I know pure ammonia is better, but I wasn't able to find a bottle and this was how I did it before, so I figured it'd work this time).
Waited 24+ hours, ammonia was just starting to rise, and I added a bottle of TSS+.
Left the tank to do its thing with no water changes for 2 weeks.
Ammonia rose to about 1-2 ppm and stayed there, 0 nitrites/0 nitrates.

Around June 4th, I started getting antsy.
I went out and bought another bottle of TSS+, assuming my last one was a dud, or maybe there hadn't been enough ammonia when I added the first bottle.
I did a water change to bring the ammonia down to about 0.25, dechlorinated, waited 24 hours, and added the new bottle.
Ammonia rose to about 1-2 ppm again, and stayed there for another 2 weeks. I did start to see brown spot algae/diatoms on some of my plants, but other than that no change.

Now here's where I've really messed up. I was fully committed to the fishless cycle until this point, but I ended up bringing home 2 small mystery snails at some point, who are now currently living in this still-to-cycle tank, and my stress levels are through the roof thinking I've now doomed them. I've been doing water changes now to keep the ammonia down, but it's definitely not showing any signs of dissipating on its own, and there's still 0 Nitrates and 0 Nitrites well over a month in.

Last Wednesday I went out and got some seachem stability, which I've been adding 2x the dosage of for almost 7 days now. But there's still been no change. 1-2ppm ammonia, 0 nitrite, 0 nitrate. WC every time it hits that 1-2ppm level back down to about 0.5, and it steadily climbs right back up. PH is about 7.8/8 the entire time.

I'm ordering a copper test kit, because it is an older house, but my snails have been very active and ravenously hungry and have grown a ton, I'd assume enough copper to hinder my cycle would have killed them or at least hindered them as well? Not to mention I've now found baby ramshorns in the tank, and they've just been hanging out chilling for about a week now, apparently thriving.

A LFS said I can bring them media and they will run it in their tanks, so I still have that option left (I should've started with that honestly, but I didn't find out until this last visit).
Please let me know if there's anything else I can do, I know I jumped the gun on the snails and I know cycling takes quite a while, but even without the bottled bacteria I'd expect to see some change by now, right? I would love to hear I'm just being impatient, honestly!

Thanks so much for your help, I know these threads are a dozen a day!
Fishless cycling does take quite a while sometimes as long as 3 months sometimes as short as a month. Unfortunately snails produce a lot of waste. What goes in a fish must come out, they eat constantly. That is probably the reason your ammonia level is rising. I would only run your filter media through your lfs if you really trust them. A lot of fish stores have different diseases and parasites in their tanks from getting so many deliveries and their fish being so stressed. I would probably just recommend doing more frequent water changes you can also put seachem prime in your tank and it will make your ammonia non harmful to your fish for 48 hours, if you can't do water changes. The best thing to do is frequent water changes and you should see nitrites showing up soon and you'll be closer to cycling. Good luck.
 
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mattgirl

This is a strange one. Skipping the nitrite spike isn't all that unusual when adding bottled bacteria but since the ammonia isn't dropping at all and there are no nitrates you are right. This cycle hasn't even started. Taking media to a trusted shop is a good idea but I am afraid it won't help. If neither bottle of TSS nor the stability has accomplished anything I fear even seeded media won't get this cycle going until we can figure out why it hasn't started.

What I am going to suggest may seem drastic but it should get this tank cycled.

Something is killing off the bacteria in the bottled bacteria and preventing your ammonia eating bacteria to even start growing. You may want to break down and totally restart this tank. Is it possible for you to buy and use bottled water? Spring or just normal drinking water should work. If it is possible then remove everything including all the water from this tank and refill it with bottled water. Rinse everything really well in that same bottled water before putting all of it back in the tank.

If you choose to do this move your mystery snails to a container with some of the original tank water in it. You will want to drip acclimate them to the new source of water once the tank is set back up. You may or may not want to try to save all the ramshorns. They are much tougher than mysteries so you don't have to do much to acclimate them. I've removed gravel from tanks with ramshorns in it. I rinse the gravel with water straight from the tap and the snails don't miss a beat. I just pull them out as they make their way to the top.

Once done wait 24 hours if you've added a water conditioner and then add another well shaken bottle of TSS+. If you've not added a conditioner then add both snails and TSS at the same time. Since you will be using bottled water there should be no need to add a water conditioner. TSS recommends adding the TSS and fish at the same time so I don't think you need to wait until you see ammonia to add the TSS.

Hopefully taking this drastic step will get this tank cycled.
 
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StellarIsopod

Thanks so much for the help, both of you!

I do trust my LFS as much as I can trust someone else's tanks, they have a big dedicated tank with permanent residents (freshwater puffers) specifically for cycling media, and they take very good care of their other tanks as well, as far as I can tell. But I am a little nervous that something's killing the BB off in my tank and seeded media won't help much, unless I've just had really terrible luck so far!

Honestly I'm happy to try anything at this point. I'll pick up some 5g jugs of water at the store when I get a chance, luckily with such a small tank it's not too much trouble. If I do get a cycle this way (chickens hatching, I know), would it mean my source water here's contaminated and I'd need to do all subsequent WC with bottled water?

I don't know if I feel better or worse knowing this is kind of a strange situation, haha.

Also, I usually used Prime with all my tanks, but I've been using AquaSafe+ to dechlorinate this time. I'm really starting to wonder if it could possibly be a bad bottle? I'm definitely grabbing a bottle of Prime either way, it's tried and true for me anyway.
 
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mattgirl

Thanks so much for the help, both of you!

I do trust my LFS as much as I can trust someone else's tanks, they have a big dedicated tank with permanent residents (freshwater puffers) specifically for cycling media, and they take very good care of their other tanks as well, as far as I can tell. But I am a little nervous that something's killing the BB off in my tank and seeded media won't help much, unless I've just had really terrible luck so far!

Honestly I'm happy to try anything at this point. I'll pick up some 5g jugs of water at the store when I get a chance, luckily with such a small tank it's not too much trouble. If I do get a cycle this way (chickens hatching, I know), would it mean my source water here's contaminated and I'd need to do all subsequent WC with bottled water?

I don't know if I feel better or worse knowing this is kind of a strange situation, haha.

Also, I usually used Prime with all my tanks, but I've been using AquaSafe+ to dechlorinate this time. I'm really starting to wonder if it could possibly be a bad bottle? I'm definitely grabbing a bottle of Prime either way, it's tried and true for me anyway.
yes, If the tank cycles with bottled water I have to think you will have to continue using it.

As far as the aquasafe going bad. I don't know but just about anything is possible. Did you at one time have a cycled tank? If so, were you using the same water you are using now? If you were and had no trouble cycling a tank while using it then I have to think it isn't your water causing the problem you are having now.
 
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Amatyi1

This is a strange one. Skipping the nitrite spike isn't all that unusual when adding bottled bacteria but since the ammonia isn't dropping at all and there are no nitrates you are right. This cycle hasn't even started. Taking media to a trusted shop is a good idea but I am afraid it won't help. If neither bottle of TSS nor the stability has accomplished anything I fear even seeded media won't get this cycle going until we can figure out why it hasn't started.

What I am going to suggest may seem drastic but it should get this tank cycled.

Something is killing off the bacteria in the bottled bacteria and preventing your ammonia eating bacteria to even start growing. You may want to break down and totally restart this tank. Is it possible for you to buy and use bottled water? Spring or just normal drinking water should work. If it is possible then remove everything including all the water from this tank and refill it with bottled water. Rinse everything really well in that same bottled water before putting all of it back in the tank.

If you choose to do this move your mystery snails to a container with some of the original tank water in it. You will want to drip acclimate them to the new source of water once the tank is set back up. You may or may not want to try to save all the ramshorns. They are much tougher than mysteries so you don't have to do much to acclimate them. I've removed gravel from tanks with ramshorns in it. I rinse the gravel with water straight from the tap and the snails don't miss a beat. I just pull them out as they make their way to the top.

Once done wait 24 hours if you've added a water conditioner and then add another well shaken bottle of TSS+. If you've not added a conditioner then add both snails and TSS at the same time. Since you will be using bottled water there should be no need to add a water conditioner. TSS recommends adding the TSS and fish at the same time so I don't think you need to wait until you see ammonia to add the TSS.

Hopefully taking this drastic step will get this tank cycled.
The problem with bottled bacteria is that there's no food in there with the bacteria so unless it's extremely fresh you don't know if it's even alive. If you start fresh then your just gonna have to wait longer to wait on your tank to cycle. All tanks don't cycle within a month. You also don't know what's in your water that your putting in the tank. My tap water happens to contain nitrates in it from soil runoff so my tank cycled quicker then most but that doesn't always happen. It's up to you but I wouldn't start from fresh.
 
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mattgirl

The problem with bottled bacteria is that there's no food in there with the bacteria so unless it's extremely fresh you don't know if it's even alive. If you start fresh then your just gonna have to wait longer to wait on your tank to cycle. All tanks don't cycle within a month. You also don't know what's in your water that your putting in the tank. My tap water happens to contain nitrates in it from soil runoff so my tank cycled quicker then most but that doesn't always happen. It's up to you but I wouldn't start from fresh.
I do agree with you up to a point. This tank is a special case. For some unknown reason the cycle won't even attempt to start even with an ammonia source and bottled bacteria. The advice I gave in this case was much different than I normally give but I try to give specific recommendations for specific situations. This is an unusual one.
 
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jdhef

The problem with bottled bacteria is that there's no food in there with the bacteria so unless it's extremely fresh you don't know if it's even alive.

I do not believe that is true. I know Tetra claims that TSS+ is bacteria in a "stabilzed ammonia" solution (whatever that is). I deduce from that that the stabilized ammonia provides food for the bacteria. I guess they figured out how long that stabilized ammonia will feed the bacteria for, hence the expiration date on the bottle.
 
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StellarIsopod

So I emptied out the tank and I've been using water from a new source for about a week now and continuing Stability. I'm not sure because it's still very pale, but does this look like trace nitrates? I still haven't gotten any nitrites, and ammonia is still not really reducing on its own yet, but it does seem to at least be slowing down.


1625684280529.png
 
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Pfrozen

People sometimes run into issues like this because the cycle as we typically describe it isn't the complete process. Fish don't excrete ammonia directly... They excrete urea, which gets processed into ammonia, then nitrites and nitrates. In natural systems the nitrates get processed into either N gas or NO2, depending on whether the bacteria responsible is aerobic or anaerobic. Contrary to popular belief, denitrification is not a specialized function and can be/is performed by an incredibly diverse range of bacteria. Perfectly achievable in a home aquarium.

Anyways, certain bacteria are responsible for the Urea step, so that part can be "missed" when dosing with pure ammonia, or partially incomplete when simply using fish food. This is why people have mini-cycles after running a fishless cycle and stocking fish.

Usually bottled bacteria will take care of the Urea step, but they don't directly advertise this. The bacteria on the label are specifically nitrifying bacteria meant to process ammonia. They are also specific species found in soils. Because of the incredible diversity of these bacteria, the bottled bacteria simply helps your cycle "get started" enough to maintain 0 ammonia and 0 nitrites. After your tank matures and becomes well-established, different species of bacteria may over-colonize and take over the nitrification process completely.

Long story short, there are specific nuances to cycling, so even with bottled bacteria and fish food you may end up "missing" something. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. These things also depend on minute differences in your water chemistry and a whole range of things that cannot be directly tested for.

My advice is to continue waiting this out. You definitely have some nitrates, which is a very positive sign. The fact that you still see ammonia means that specific parts of your cycle have started, but not necessarily completed yet. Because nitrates are the "final" step (at least for the sake of this conversation), your cycle should complete itself by simply waiting. I wouldn't be overly concerned at this point :)

Let me know if you have any specific questions. If you need peer-reviewed academic sources to validate the information I've given just let me know. I have them saved somewhere :)

Regards
 
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StellarIsopod

I was still trying not to get my hopes up toooo high, but I've been seeing trace amounts of nitrates for a few weeks. Finally went out of town for a few days, and came back to this!! So I am DEFINITELY cycling now (and due for a WC)! Thank you SO much, I thought I was going to lose my mind and I probably would have been too stubborn to clean the tank out and start over without the suggestion. Still not quite there, but at least I'm on my way! :D

1626971318902.png
 
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mattgirl

This is a very positive sign. Are you still seeing ammonia and/or nitrites?
 
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StellarIsopod

Yes, there's about 1ppm ammonia at the moment and no nitrites. I'm not sure what rate the ammonia is going down (since I've been out of town for a few days), but I did expect it to be a bit higher. I'll keep tracking the levels going forward, I'm sure I still have some weeks ahead of me before I'm in the clear. ^^
 
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Pfrozen

That's great. If nitrites are still reading 0 by the time your ammonia disappears you should be in the clear :)

What kind of media are you using? I ran a couple experiments where I tried cycling a tank just with quartz balls and stuff like that. It definitely matters. If you have some kind of foam/sponge in there at the very least then you should be okay though. Just a thought. I've had excellent success with a coarse foam/ceramic bead combo
 
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mattgirl

Yes, there's about 1ppm ammonia at the moment and no nitrites. I'm not sure what rate the ammonia is going down (since I've been out of town for a few days), but I did expect it to be a bit higher. I'll keep tracking the levels going forward, I'm sure I still have some weeks ahead of me before I'm in the clear. ^^
At this point I don't expect you to see nitrites. Quite often when bottled bacteria has been added we seem to either skip or miss the nitrite spike because it happens quickly. Now that we are seeing the nitrates rising I suspect the ammonia to drop. To be perfectly honest though I am surprised to hear you are still seeing so much ammonia.

Pfrozen asked a very good question. Filter media can make a difference. Lack of adequate filtration can cause all kinds of cycling problems.
 
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StellarIsopod

I have a Quietflow 20 on it since I wanted a little extra filter power, and I added a little bag of biomax bio rings to the back, as well as a sponge over the intake.

That does remind me, I did end up taking a carbon insert out when I tore down the tank, I just figured it was spent anyway and didn't put it back in -- but that was the only thing I removed. The original sponge pad, intake sponge, and bio-rings remained in/on the filter. ^^ I was kind of wondering if the carbon would have been a problem, but everything online seemed to say it wouldn't hurt a cycle, so I think it was just a coincidence.

I'm hoping the ammonia will continue to go down, but honestly I was starting to wonder if something had somehow died in there with how fast the ammonia was rising. It may have been that a clump of food was stuck somewhere from the fishless cycling attempt. I was hoping it wouldn't be up to 2ppm again when I got back (I did a WC before I left), so seeing it at nearly-1ppm was a relief.
 
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mattgirl

I have a Quietflow 20 on it since I wanted a little extra filter power, and I added a little bag of biomax bio rings to the back, as well as a sponge over the intake.

That does remind me, I did end up taking a carbon insert out when I tore down the tank, I just figured it was spent anyway and didn't put it back in -- but that was the only thing I removed. The original sponge pad, intake sponge, and bio-rings remained in/on the filter. ^^ I was kind of wondering if the carbon would have been a problem, but everything online seemed to say it wouldn't hurt a cycle, so I think it was just a coincidence.

I'm hoping the ammonia will continue to go down, but honestly I was starting to wonder if something had somehow died in there with how fast the ammonia was rising. It may have been that a clump of food was stuck somewhere from the fishless cycling attempt. I was hoping it wouldn't be up to 2ppm again when I got back (I did a WC before I left), so seeing it at nearly-1ppm was a relief.
It doesn't look like filtration is an issue. I do think you are right about what you saw after removing the carbon was just a coincidence. I really think it is just a matter of giving it time to finish up now. :)
 
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