Help: 20 Gallon Tank Won't Start Cycle

LavenderDrop

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Tank
What is the water volume of the tank? 20 Gallons
How long has the tank been running? Two and a half weeks
Does it have a filter? Yes
Does it have a heater? Yes
What is the water temperature? Been fluctuating due to heat in my area and a broken AC, but has stayed between 78 and 82 degrees
What is the entire stocking of this tank? (Please list all fish and inverts.) 6 ember tetras and an unknown baby (likely a guppy or a harlequin rasbora, got tangled up with the other fish at the store and didn't realize until they were all already in the tank, still figuring out what to do about it)

Maintenance
How often do you change the water? 3 times since I got the tank
How much of the water do you change? ~40%
What do you use to treat your water? Seachem Prime
Do you vacuum the substrate or just the water? Vacuum substrate, but it's heavily planted/decorated with fake plants so I don't get all of it

*Parameters - Very Important
Did you cycle your tank before adding fish? I added API QuickStart 4 days before I added the fish hoping to give the bacteria some time to colonize before adding them, I now know that was wrong and I needed to have added ammonia for them to eat (first tank, sorry all)
What do you use to test the water? API Freshwater Master test kit (I also have the strips but haven't really been using them)
What are your parameters? We need to know the exact numbers, not just “fine” or “safe”.
Ammonia: Currently at 4ppm, I came home after being out for the day and it was ~8ppm from what I could tell and immediately did a water change.
Nitrite
: 0 ppm
Nitrate
: 0 ppm
pH
: 6.8

Feeding
How often do you feed your fish? Twice a day
How much do you feed your fish? A teeny tiny amount, I've been trying to not feed them too much since I'm still just starting
What brand of food do you feed your fish? I've mainly been giving them Tetra BettaMin flake food, but have also given them some Hikari Freeze Dried Brine Shrimp 5 times to vary a bit
Do you feed frozen? No
Do you feed freeze-dried foods? Yes, as described above

Illness & Symptoms
Not really an illness problem afaik but will fill this out
How long have you had this fish? 2 weeks
How long ago did you first notice these symptoms? A day or two
In a few words, can you explain the symptoms? Not all the fish are eating
Have you started any treatment for the illness? I have been adding aquarium salt
Was your fish physically ill or injured upon purchase? No, but they were not really red like ember tetras are supposed to be
How has its behavior and appearance changed, if at all? Some of them that are eating have gotten a bit redder, but the rest have been pretty lethargic

Explain your emergency situation in detail. (Please give a clear explanation of what is going on, include details from the beginning of the illness leading up to now)
The following is an account as far as I can remember, I've got a bit of a memory issue and need to start taking a detailed recording of what I do with the tank. Forgive me for a bit of inconsistency and I'm happy to answer questions as best I can.

I started my tank two and a half weeks ago. I initially added API Quickstart and API Stress Coat to dechlorinate and waited 4 days before adding the fish. Parameters were at 6.6 pH, 80 degrees. Brought a water sample to the store to test before getting the fish, got the all clear and was told that there was some nitrate in the tank already (yay) and that I should be all set. Get 6 ember tetras as a starting school and end up having a stow away baby fish in there too (I still have no idea what kind of fish it is, current guesses are between guppy and harlequin rasbora but it's a teeny tiny fish). So, I started my fish journey thinking I've got some bacteria going, I swap out the normal filter bottom for my Marineland Penguin Pro 125 for a sponge so I don't catch the baby in the filter and hope for the best.

Now that I've got fish, I start testing the water to make sure all looks fine once a day, don't see any nitrites or nitrates on my reading but a tiny amount of ammonia (0.5 ppm). I figure that is ok, maybe the store had a better test that caught a low amount of nitrates, I do know that ammonia of any amount isn't good for fish and add API Ammolock to the tank just in case. I also purchase the Ammonia and Nitrite reducing chemical media for the filter to keep it low. I keep testing, hoping to get a nitrite reading, and no luck. I also add 4 of the Aqueon Bio-Balls to help the process along, thinking there just isn't enough bacteria colonizing. I check the tank again and I've got 2ppm of ammonia, water change, do more research.

I learn a couple things:
1. The API Quickstart bacteria likely died in those first four days since there was no ammonia in the tank to eat. It's highly unlikely that the store read any nitrates, and that instead the strip test they did probably wasn't accurate.
2. Seachem Prime is considered the best option for water conditioning and detoxing. I buy a bottle.
3. Tetra SafeStart Plus is considered a great option for starting up a new tank with beneficial bacteria. I buy a bottle.

I make a mistake and add Seachem Prime for conditioner as well as Tetra SafeStart. Obviously this doesn't work out since Tetra says not to use products that detox ammonia within 24 hours of using Tetra SafeStart. I buy another bottle of Tetra SafeStart. I do another water change, get ammonia down to 0.5ppm, temperature is persistent at 82 degrees due to the heat wave unfortunately. I add Seachem Prime to condition, wait 24 hours. Add another bottle of Tetra SafeStart and wait 24 hours before testing at all again. Ammonia is at 2ppm, no nitrites yet, figure it needs a little more time.

Which brings me to present day. Test again tonight (now 48 hours after adding the SafeStart) and the ammonia is at 8 ppm but still no nitrites. I panic, thinking that is way too high, and do another water change and use Seachem Prime to dechlorinate and detox.

At this point I've put in a ton of beneficial bacteria products - all of which haven't seemed to work - and I can't for the life of me figure out what I am doing wrong or how to get the tank cycling. I've got a sponge filter and a bio wheel where they should be colonizing (as well as everywhere else) and I just can't figure it out.

Other notable things about the tank (It's my first one, some of these may be super innocuous I don't know):
1. There is a jelly like substance about the size of a dime on my fake driftwood, I googled and it came up as probably just aquarium scum and have left it alone. Hasn't gotten bigger since I noticed it ~a week ago.
2. No living plants or natural stuff other than the fish. (I know planted tanks are usually better, I get it, but I wanted to add as few things to take care of at first. I figure learn how to take care of fish, then learn how to take care of fish and plants).
3. Water is currently cloudy, can't tell if it's a bacteria bloom or what. Still no nitrites so unsure.
4. I had the aquarium light on a lot in the 4 days before I added the fish, then added the fish and they seemed shy and I assumed they didn't like the light (it's pretty bright). Turned off the aquarium light and didn't really use it for awhile. Realized it's a little important to actually be able to see inside the tank rather than just testing the water, start using it a little more.
5. Other products I've used are API pH Down to keep the pH ~6.6 (mostly successfully but has fluctuated a bit between 6.4 and 6.8 which I know isn't great but I'm trying my best to keep the pH down below 7 for the embers), and aquarium salt.

Hoping I'm missing something obvious. Happy to just do daily water changes and dose with Prime to detox and say the products just aren't working, but I'd love to know if there is something fundamentally wrong with the water parameters that is just killing the bacteria. I just can't seem to get the cycle to even start. Happy to answer questions, at this point I don't know what is relevant or not and I'm out of ideas or things to google and learn. I'm hoping to keep the fish and figure out the fish in cycle, but if no one has ideas I'll try and return the fish and just restart the tank for a fishless cycle (the right way this time) since I don't want to keep stressing out the fish.

And for all who have read this far, even if you don't have ideas, thank you. It's my first tank and I'm trying my best but I just don't know what else to do short of finding someone in the area with an already cycled tank to seed (I just moved to my area and don't really know anyone so that would be tough) and I'd really love to not kill these fish.
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Idkitsathrowaway

okay! one if you have another tank use the filter in that for a wile(even if too small) shake the finter in the water nere the filter so it can get the bacteria! and abought the baby, get a tiny breeder box (or a glass gar,foating in the tank, if you change the water 1-2 a day it should be fine in a jar till it get bigger or it would work as a temporary or emergency.
 
Upvote 0

Azedenkae

Whew, this is a lot. But also why I like fishless cycling, a lot less painful if something goes wrong. But anyways, it's okay! It's your first tank, we all make mistakes. ^_^

So, let's start!

I started my tank two and a half weeks ago. I initially added API Quickstart and API Stress Coat to dechlorinate and waited 4 days before adding the fish. Parameters were at 6.6 pH, 80 degrees. Brought a water sample to the store to test before getting the fish, got the all clear and was told that there was some nitrate in the tank already (yay) and that I should be all set.

No idea how the LFS gave the go ahead just based on this. Nitrate can be present in tap water, so just measuring nitrate does not say much. It is only meaningful if you actually had ammonia, and then that and nitrite dropped to zero, and then nitrate is present. Since you did not add an ammonia source, a call on whether the cycle is complete at this point is not possible.

Now that I've got fish, I start testing the water to make sure all looks fine once a day, don't see any nitrites or nitrates on my reading but a tiny amount of ammonia (0.5 ppm). I figure that is ok, maybe the store had a better test that caught a low amount of nitrates, I do know that ammonia of any amount isn't good for fish and add API Ammolock to the tank just in case.

Yeah that's fine, and a good idea.

I also purchase the Ammonia and Nitrite reducing chemical media for the filter to keep it low.

This is not preferable, because 1. if ammonia and nitrite is present, then the tank is not cycled and well, needs to be cycled. Ammonia and nitrite removal chemical media at this point is paradoxically good and bad, in that it removes the ammonia and nitrite that could harm your fish, yes, but also starves your nitrifiers of the ammonia and nitrite they'd need to respire (and reproduce). So I would not suggest ever using these kind of media unless really in a pinch. But generally Prime is enough to detoxify ammonia and nitrite, water changes would do too.[/quote]

I learn a couple things:
1. The API Quickstart bacteria likely died in those first four days since there was no ammonia in the tank to eat. It's highly unlikely that the store read any nitrates, and that instead the strip test they did probably wasn't accurate.

1. Where did you learn this? This is not true, API Quickstart introduces nitrifiers like (almost) any other bottled bac product. Nitrifiers can go for months if not years ammonia-starved. Here's one of many papers of nitrifiers and ammonia-starvation: Strategies of aerobic ammonia-oxidizing bacteria for coping with nutrient and oxygen fluctuations

I make a mistake and add Seachem Prime for conditioner as well as Tetra SafeStart. Obviously this doesn't work out since Tetra says not to use products that detox ammonia within 24 hours of using Tetra SafeStart.

I don't know the interactions between different conditioners, so won't comment on this.

Which brings me to present day. Test again tonight (now 48 hours after adding the SafeStart) and the ammonia is at 8 ppm but still no nitrites. I panic, thinking that is way too high, and do another water change and use Seachem Prime to dechlorinate and detox.

At this point I've put in a ton of beneficial bacteria products - all of which haven't seemed to work - and I can't for the life of me figure out what I am doing wrong or how to get the tank cycling. I've got a sponge filter and a bio wheel where they should be colonizing (as well as everywhere else) and I just can't figure it out.

I'd suggest removing your nitrite-removing media. I mean if that is removing nitrite, then you would not expect to measure any nitrite from ammonia-oxidation, right?

2. No living plants or natural stuff other than the fish. (I know planted tanks are usually better, I get it, but I wanted to add as few things to take care of at first. I figure learn how to take care of fish, then learn how to take care of fish and plants).

Do you have algae growing? Can't imagine your nitrates disappearing unless something (plant or algae) is consuming it. I mean nitrate can be utilized in other ways, but yeah.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Alrighty, concluding remarks.
1. I think this is all going a bit crazy with so many different things added all at once. Any chance you can return the fish and head into a fishless cycle? Might be less painful, and faster than trying to work through this as a fish-in cycle.
2. If you want to continue with the fish-in cycle, that's fine. Remove any chemical media that may be removing ammonia and nitrite, you don't really want that. Make sure you have enough biomedia. Do a 100% water change to reset everything. Test ammonia and nitrite (and nitrate, if nitrite reads 0) to see what your baseline is. Then follow the standard fish-in cycling protocol. Dose Prime or another ammonia detoxifier however often they need to be dosed, so that the ammonia does not harm your fish, but is still present to be utilized by the nitrifiers. If SafeStart has an issue with ammonia detoxifiers, then just use a different product. No need to have to use something so restrictive. FritzZyme Turbo Start 700 works. If your ammonia and/or nitrite increases too high, that is when you should do a water change to remove as much of it as possible. Continue until you hopefully start to see nitrification occurring.

Good luck!
 
Upvote 0

Mplsdjw

A couple of other thoughts for you. What is the pH of your tap water? I wouldn’t try to lower it if it is in the 7’s or low 8’s. I keep Ember Tetras in 7.6 pH water with no problems. Also, when your water is in the mid 6’s for pH it is harder for the tank to cycle. A pH under 6.5 will inhibit the cycle from starting. A pH above 7 is better for cycling a tank.
 
Upvote 0

PSYMON117

I was gonna comment but it looks like the community has already given you everything you need to succeed. Just be patient and use prime. You really don't need anything else other than possibly bringing your pH up as suggested. I cycled mine with prime and api ph7.0 stabilizer. I also did a fish in cycle with zero casualties. It was suggested to me to do minimal water changes until I start to see nitrites. That seemed to help a lot. And I would reduce feeding to once a day and possibly skip every third day. The fish will be ok. The problem with fish in cycle is there really is no perfect way without inducing stress on your fish. At least not one that I've ever heard of. I can't wait to see when you're fully cycled. It's a wonderful feeling. (•‿•)
 
Upvote 0

mattgirl

Lots has been covered so i will just say. STOP adding ammo-lock. It is what is giving you the high ammonia readings. The only thing you need to be adding to this tank while fish in cycling is Prime when you are doing your water changes to keep both ammonia and nitrites as low as possible.
 
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