Is it worth it to cycle a 5 gallon tank?

Luluwwwwww

Hi there

I'm semi-new to the fish keeping hobby, before you jump to the conclusion of yes of course every tank should be cycled please let me introduce the current situation in my first and only tank:

Short version:
5 gallon heated 78F and has filter(sponge+carbon+bio-ring). Not cycled. 1 betta and one snail. Current ph: ~6.7, ammonia: 0, nitrite&nitrate: 0. Considering the following 2 options:
A: remove snail, keep bare bottom, vacumm betta poop daily, perform 1/4 water change weekly.
B: keep snail, add aqua soil, plant some hornworts, add bacteria and try to cycle the tank.

Long version:
I got this 5 gallon tank for the HM betta since April 2020, decided it's something interesting to watch when I work from home, knows abusoltely nothing other than fish needs to be fed twice a day and 1/3-1/4 water change every week with conditioned water.

As you know betta is very hardy fish. He survived this unbelievable condition and is still alive to today.

After about 1 month of having te betta I started to notice that he had curled analfin and a floppy dorsal fin so it doesn't exactly look like other people's betta. That's when I started research about fin rot and pay attention to the water parameter.

(Until this day I still don't know what was wrong with his fin but i don't think it's fin rot, as the water parameter hasn't change much, if it is fin rot it'll probably develop and become more noticable but his fin looks exactly the same as 5 months ago.)

Over the months I have read more about the nitrogen cycle, added heater and upgraded the filter into theAquaclear power filter. I also read about how unstable small aquarium is and that it's not worth it to cycle a 5 gallon, so I removed all the gravel and vacummed the betta poop every day. It was not hard at all since betta usually only produce one big poop per day, plus it helped me monitor his poop to adjust the feeding level. I still perform the weekly water change even though the ammonia stayed at zero everytime I tested it. (I assume the nitrite and nitrate level are also zero since the tank was not cycled)

However things changed after I add a snail to help with the algea on the side of the tank. The algea wasn't even bad, I should of just clean it with a sponge but silly me thought a snail would be cute. I had no idea how much waste one single snail can produce and it was scattered everywhere, making the vacumming process much harder. Despite my attempt and upgrading the fiter, it is impossible to remove all the snail poop.

Due to the fear of ammonia spike, I decided that it might be worth it to introduce some bacteria and cycle the tank. That's how I'm back at ground zero.

A friend offered to give me some leftover ADA aquasoil and hornwort cuts, so I am really debating on whether I should start trying to cycle the tank, or to remove the snail and back to vacum. I know learn to cycle the tank will be a great learning experience for me if I'm going to get a bigger tank later, but can 5 gallon stay cycled? Is it really worth trying?

I know betta would love some real plants to hide and play with, but I don't know if my betta can survive the ammonia/nitrite spike during the cycle process, and I don't know if the betta will be happy in a potentially unstable water condition (if I remove the snail and back to vacum daily, at least the water will stay somewhat stable at 0/0/0 with no ammonia).

On the side note, how to tell if betta is not happy? My betta seems to be a lazy butt, his favourite thing to do is laying in the pvc tunnel I hang near the surface of the tank (I'm too cheap to buy betta log). He'll get out and greet me whenever I pass by, and maybe get out for 10 seconds of expedition and then straight back to the tunnel. He definatly has a good appetite and will beg for food whenever I'm around. When he swims the fin was neither clamp nor fully flared, it looks like he's too lazy to control his fins and was just let them float with water. Is he really just lazy or is it actually sign of stress?

Wow you must really love fishkeeping to read this far, I appreciate your time any any thoughts regarding my 2 options!
 

SinisterCichlids

Yes, it is worth trying. Have fun!
 
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mattgirl

If you have had this fish in a 5 gallon tank with a filter running for several months it will surprise me if it isn't already cycled. Tanks cycle whether or not we are trying to do it. As long as there is an ammonia source bacteria will grow. Your little guy has been providing the ammonia. Cycling a tank simply means growing bacteria. Your diligent water changes have kept the water safe for your little guy.

Personally I would go ahead and add some type of substrate and just vacuum it with each weekly water change. You don't have to have aqua-soil to grow hornwort. It can grow just floating or planted in sand or gravel.
 
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Cinabar

If you had it for this long it’s probably already cycled. Just keep dong what you’re doing, maybe add in some substrate.

Also, limp fins is just a betta thing, especially in ones with longer fins. They tend to drag all the weight behind them. Fin curl is also very common. It doesn’t affect the fish, it’s purely cosmetic.
 
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Luluwwwwww

If you have had this fish in a 5 gallon tank with a filter running for several months it will surprise me if it isn't already cycled. Tanks cycle whether or not we are trying to do it. As long as there is an ammonia source bacteria will grow. Your little guy has been providing the ammonia. Cycling a tank simply means growing bacteria. Your diligent water changes have kept the water safe for your little guy.

Personally I would go ahead and add some type of substrate and just vacuum it with each weekly water change. You don't have to have aqua-soil to grow hornwort. It can grow just floating or planted in sand or gravel.
Thank you! I assumed it was not cycled as it never showed any nitrite or nitrate, but maybe there was so little in the tank that the tester couldn't detect.

Good to know hornwort doesn't need soil to grow, I was debating between the 2 options because I thought once I added the aqua soil it will be impossible to vaccum all the waste up like I did before even with gravel vaccum.

I'm going to try floating hornworts with some extra light and see how it goes!
 
Upvote 0

Joshaeus

It's definitely a good idea to cycle any tank...besides the threat ammonia poses to virtually all animals we can keep in aquariums, ammonia will also encourage algae blooms even if present in quantities not large enough to obviously harm the fish. (For similar reasons, it is a good idea to remove fish waste, uneaten food, and - if present - dead/dying plant matter, which produce localized pockets of ammonia and other compounds that encourage algae to settle there and grow).

As a fellow that has kept MANY 5 gallon (and smaller) tanks, I can assure you that little tanks like this one DO cycle...I've cycled my most recent tank to the point that it processes 2 ppm ammonia (an amount that is lethal or at least very toxic to fish) to nitrate and a little nitrite within 6 hours. While little tanks give less room for error (adding X amount of food could add up to twice as much ammonia to a 5 gallon as to a 10 gallon), they are also much less work to do water changes and other cleanup on to correct this, and it's thus easier to maintain a smaller tank than a big one (which, while theoretically more stable, is much more work to maintain to the same degree, especially if the stocking level scales up with the tank size). It's also much easier to tear down a small tank and restart if stuff goes spectacularly wrong.

EDIT - The hornwort may be eating your nitrates as quickly as they form...the plant is a renowned nutrient fiend. I have a five gallon CO2 driven (via yeast reactor) planted tank with six persian killifishes, to which I dose some 18 ppm nitrate a week, and it never has nitrate readings of more than a few ppm.
 
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Luluwwwwww

It's definitely a good idea to cycle any tank...besides the threat ammonia poses to virtually all animals we can keep in aquariums, ammonia will also encourage algae blooms even if present in quantities not large enough to obviously harm the fish. (For similar reasons, it is a good idea to remove fish waste, uneaten food, and - if present - dead/dying plant matter, which produce localized pockets of ammonia and other compounds that encourage algae to settle there and grow).

As a fellow that has kept MANY 5 gallon (and smaller) tanks, I can assure you that little tanks like this one DO cycle...I've cycled my most recent tank to the point that it processes 2 ppm ammonia (an amount that is lethal or at least very toxic to fish) to nitrate and a little nitrite within 6 hours. While little tanks give less room for error (adding X amount of food could add up to twice as much ammonia to a 5 gallon as to a 10 gallon), they are also much less work to do water changes and other cleanup on to correct this, and it's thus easier to maintain a smaller tank than a big one (which, while theoretically more stable, is much more work to maintain to the same degree, especially if the stocking level scales up with the tank size). It's also much easier to tear down a small tank and restart if stuff goes spectacularly wrong.

EDIT - The hornwort may be eating your nitrates as quickly as they form...the plant is a renowned nutrient fiend. I have a five gallon CO2 driven (via yeast reactor) planted tank with six persian killifishes, to which I dose some 18 ppm nitrate a week, and it never has nitrate readings of more than a few ppm.

Thank you for your amazing reply! I'll start adding substrate and hornworts! I'm assuming cycle the tank just mean stop vaccum the waste everyday and add some liquid bacteria?

If I understanded correctly, hornwort might eat any nitrate as they form, then ammonia will be the only indicator to show whether the tank is cycled or not. So how often should I test the ammonia? Every few hours? Or once a day?

I use API ammonia test kit (the one with 2 bottles and a test tube) and the color was always bright bright yellow, never turned green enough to read 0.25 ppm (second level). I'll see how it goes without daily vaccum, hopefully it'll be high enough for me to read and notice the up and downs.
 
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Luluwwwwww

If you had it for this long it’s probably already cycled. Just keep dong what you’re doing, maybe add in some substrate.

Also, limp fins is just a betta thing, especially in ones with longer fins. They tend to drag all the weight behind them. Fin curl is also very common. It doesn’t affect the fish, it’s purely cosmetic.

Thank you for reassure me that my betta was fine! Have you ever had any betta that is as lazy as mine? Lol.
 
Upvote 0

Joshaeus

Thank you for your amazing reply! I'll start adding substrate and hornworts! I'm assuming cycle the tank just mean stop vaccum the waste everyday and add some liquid bacteria?

If I understanded correctly, hornwort might eat any nitrate as they form, then ammonia will be the only indicator to show whether the tank is cycled or not. So how often should I test the ammonia? Every few hours? Or once a day?

I use API ammonia test kit (the one with 2 bottles and a test tube) and the color was always bright bright yellow, never turned green enough to read 0.25 ppm (second level). I'll see how it goes without daily vaccum, hopefully it'll be high enough for me to read and notice the up and downs.
You didn't already have the hornwort? Oops...my bad! The hornwort would not be a bad idea, but do note that is is prone to shedding leaves when it transitions to a new tank; take the time to remove the shed leaves if that happens. It also is not recommended to plant hornwort, which doesn't really root in substrates in aquariums. Plants prefer ammonia to nitrates, but as mentioned above ammonia should not be allowed to accumulate to any degree in the water column. Aquasoils can be helpful for plants but do leach ammonia for the first month or two, so I would save that for another tank (which would be cycled before adding any plants or fish). Beneficial bacteria are definitely helpful (I use seachem safe personally)

Daily gravel vacuuming is probably excessive in a betta tank, but since that is what you have been doing up until now I'd recommend changing your cleaning regime slowly...maybe every other day the first week, every three days the next, until you are at weekly water changes (I do 40% a week). To remove detritus, I use a turkey baster to disturb the detritus from the gravel with my gravel vacuum hovering nearby to suck it up. Forgive me if I am struggling to answer your questions...I have the attention span of a gnat today
 
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RayClem

Biological filtration (nitrogen cycle) is very important in an aquarium. However, the nature of bacteria is such that it is nearly impossible to avoid of the bacteria responsible for the nitrogen cycle. They are found nearly everywhere in an aquarium with the possible exception of the water column. The stick to glass walls, sand or gravel, rocks, driftwood, decorations, live plants, artificial plants, filter media, lift tubes, filter boxes, heater tubes; well, you get the picture. The bacteria will only grow if they have a food source. In a heavily stocked aquarium, there will be plenty of food, so there will be large bacteria colonies. In a lightly stocked aquarium (a single betta and a few snails) the food supply will be scarce, but the bacteria will still grow to whatever level is needed for them to complete the nitrogen cycle based on the available ammonia. It does not really matter what size the aquarium may be: a gallon fish bowl or a 50,000 gal pond. Given enough time, the system will cycle.

Your filter media (sponge and bio-rings) need to be rinsed periodically. Use aquarium water removed during your water changes to rinse the media or use dechlorinated water. It is best to rinse the sponge one week and the bio-rings the next so you minimize disruption to the bacteria colonies. Never rinse your filter media in chlorinated water as that will kill off your good bacteria.
 
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Luluwwwwww

You didn't already have the hornwort? Oops...my bad! The hornwort would not be a bad idea, but do note that is is prone to shedding leaves when it transitions to a new tank; take the time to remove the shed leaves if that happens. It also is not recommended to plant hornwort, which doesn't really root in substrates in aquariums. Plants prefer ammonia to nitrates, but as mentioned above ammonia should not be allowed to accumulate to any degree in the water column. Aquasoils can be helpful for plants but do leach ammonia for the first month or two, so I would save that for another tank (which would be cycled before adding any plants or fish). Beneficial bacteria are definitely helpful (I use seachem safe personally)

Daily gravel vacuuming is probably excessive in a betta tank, but since that is what you have been doing up until now I'd recommend changing your cleaning regime slowly...maybe every other day the first week, every three days the next, until you are at weekly water changes (I do 40% a week). To remove detritus, I use a turkey baster to disturb the detritus from the gravel with my gravel vacuum hovering nearby to suck it up. Forgive me if I am struggling to answer your questions...I have the attention span of a gnat today
Thank you for the clarification! I currently have a bare bottom so that I could see every waste the fish and snail produced. Since hornwort doesn't need soil I might just keep the bare ground and add floating hornworts. There are bio rings in the filter for bacterias.

Just one more question: during the initial stage of cycling, how often should I test the ammonia?
 
Upvote 0

Luluwwwwww

Biological filtration (nitrogen cycle) is very important in an aquarium. However, the nature of bacteria is such that it is nearly impossible to avoid of the bacteria responsible for the nitrogen cycle. They are found nearly everywhere in an aquarium with the possible exception of the water column. The stick to glass walls, sand or gravel, rocks, driftwood, decorations, live plants, artificial plants, filter media, lift tubes, filter boxes, heater tubes; well, you get the picture. The bacteria will only grow if they have a food source. In a heavily stocked aquarium, there will be plenty of food, so there will be large bacteria colonies. In a lightly stocked aquarium (a single betta and a few snails) the food supply will be scarce, but the bacteria will still grow to whatever level is needed for them to complete the nitrogen cycle based on the available ammonia. It does not really matter what size the aquarium may be: a gallon fish bowl or a 50,000 gal pond. Given enough time, the system will cycle.

Your filter media (sponge and bio-rings) need to be rinsed periodically. Use aquarium water removed during your water changes to rinse the media or use dechlorinated water. It is best to rinse the sponge one week and the bio-rings the next so you minimize disruption to the bacteria colonies. Never rinse your filter media in chlorinated water as that will kill off your good bacteria.
Thank you for your advise! I did rinse the sponge but never thought of rinsing the bio rings since it never looked "dirty", I'll start doing that.

I know my tank is tiny compare to many, but the amount of waste that single snail produced was still overwhelming compare to the betta lol. When I eventually get a bigger tank and look back I'll probably laugh at how small the problem is.
 
Upvote 0

Joshaeus

Thank you for the clarification! I currently have a bare bottom so that I could see every waste the fish and snail produced. Since hornwort doesn't need soil I might just keep the bare ground and add floating hornworts. There are bio rings in the filter for bacterias.

Just one more question: during the initial stage of cycling, how often should I test the ammonia?
If you already have fish in the tank? Daily would be shrewd, and if it starts to climb over .25 (which is what a lot of us get with API test kits even in cycled tanks, for reasons I do not understand) do a water change. Seachem carries a product called ammonia alert that would make that task easier. In future tanks (which you would cycle without livestock and ideally before adding any plants either) once a week would suffice, and you can just do weekly water changes on the tank (if you set up a heavily planted tank I would recommend doing more frequent water changes for the first month after adding plants to keep ammonia and organic levels low; both of these will strongly encourage algae). During the cycle you should also regularly test for nitrite, NO2, which is produced as an intermediate between ammonia and nitrate and is also quite toxic to fish (it is the cause of blue blood disease in humans). Once both ammonia and nitrite are consistently zero and nitrate starts to accumulate, the tank is cycled.

In addition to hornwort, there are a variety of other plants that do not need substrate - Java fern, anubias, bolbitis, and mosses can simply be tied to a rock or a piece of driftwood so long as there are enough nutrients in the water column (not just nitrogen but also phosphorous, potassium, iron, etc...2 hr aquarist is a helpful resource for plant care topics in my experience), and there are quite a few plants that, like hornwort, simply float (frogbit, water spangles, water sprite, water lettuce, various others...). You can even grow many house plants bare root in water (EG with their roots in the water and the rest of the plant out of it...alternately you could put the roots in a pot filled with expanded clay, commonly used for hydroponics, and then place the bottom third to half of the pot in water). CO2 is difficult for aquatic plants to acquire for photosynthesis underwater, so plants whose leaves are above water have an immediate advantage over those that are completely submerged.
 
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mattgirl

Thank you for your amazing reply! I'll start adding substrate and hornworts! I'm assuming cycle the tank just mean stop vaccum the waste everyday and add some liquid bacteria?

If I understanded correctly, hornwort might eat any nitrate as they form, then ammonia will be the only indicator to show whether the tank is cycled or not. So how often should I test the ammonia? Every few hours? Or once a day?

I use API ammonia test kit (the one with 2 bottles and a test tube) and the color was always bright bright yellow, never turned green enough to read 0.25 ppm (second level). I'll see how it goes without daily vaccum, hopefully it'll be high enough for me to read and notice the up and downs.
You can add liquid bacteria if you want to but in this case I really can't see where it is necessary. Bacteria is every where. If I was in your shoes I would just stop changing out the water as often as you have been changing it. Spend a bit of time here and you will see this is not something I usually recommend. I am a firm believer in water changes.

If I were you I would wait at least a week before doing another water change. Run your ammonia test daily. If the ammonia starts rising don't let it get above .5 before doing a water change. You may find that it doesn't go up at all. It is very possible this tank is already cycled.

Cycling is simply growing ammonia and nitrite eating bacteria. During all this time this tank has been up and running with a fish in it it may have already grown as much bacteria as it is going to grow. A tank will only grow enough bacteria to process the amount of ammonia there is to process. One little fish isn't going to produce much. I would want to know if the tank is already cycled before I started doing anything to induce a cycle.
 
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mattgirl

oops, double posted for some strange reason
 
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Luluwwwwww

You can add liquid bacteria if you want to but in this case I really can't see where it is necessary. Bacteria is every where. If I was in your shoes I would just stop changing out the water as often as you have been changing it. Spend a bit of time here and you will see this is not something I usually recommend. I am a firm believer in water changes.

If I were you I would wait at least a week before doing another water change. Run your ammonia test daily. If the ammonia starts rising don't let it get above .5 before doing a water change. You may find that it doesn't go up at all. It is very possible this tank is already cycled.

Cycling is simply growing ammonia and nitrite eating bacteria. During all this time this tank has been up and running with a fish in it it may have already grown as much bacteria as it is going to grow. A tank will only grow enough bacteria to process the amount of ammonia there is to process. One little fish isn't going to produce much. I would want to know if the tank is already cycled before I started doing anything to induce a cycle.
You truely are a ledgend! Thank you for your practical suggestions!
 
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