Nitrogen Cycle

Nitrogen Cycle

Struggling to get your head around what your filter actually does to keep your water clear and livestock healthy? Look no further, I’ll do my best to talk you through how the mini eco system you choose to keep within your household actually works. Whether it be Tropical, Marine, Brackish or Cold water, the nitrogen cycle all runs the same.

How a filter system works

A filter system is a housing unit for friendly bacteria which we will come to talk about through this blog. It comes in multiple forms of all different designs to fit a multitude of shapes and styles of aquariums, with Trickle, Internal, Canister, sump, and even air operated filters all available. These are all designed to draw through the water within your aquarium picking up waste particles and breaking them down allowing for not only clear water clarity but also keeps the aquarium free of toxins.

Mechanical vs biological filtration

Within your filter system, you should always look to keep both Mechanical & Biological filtration.

The mechanical side is sponges which can be bought in lots of different grades, in some cases multiple sponges of different grades can be used such as one course sponge & one Fine sponge. Positioned correctly within the filter compartments will ensure the sponges do not clog so quickly. The water would pass through the Coarse sponge first catching and trapping the large forms of detritus, any small particles that manage to get through then get caught and trapped by your finer sponge giving you the desired pristine water both your fish and you can appreciate. Mechanical filtration to suit all types of filter systems can be found here:- Filter media

As for the Biological part, we advise this to be greater than the mechanical as this is the housing for your friendly bacteria and where the eco system of your setup really kicks in. The more bacteria you can house, the more waste will be eaten up quickly and the safer the environment becomes for your livestock. Biological comes in many forms, some housing different bacteria. Alfa Grog for example quickly reduces Ammonia & Nitrite, but is slow to break down Nitrate, whereas Siporax develops Anerobic bacteria which requires more foods for survival, therefore breaking down Nitrates much quicker once the ammonia and nitrite are depleted. We in store tend to modify all types of filter systems so that both mechanical and Biological are used giving us the best results in store.

How it starts

When setting up a new aquarium the term cycling your aquarium is a pretty important term. Cycling in aquatic terms is when your water pushes through the Nitrogen cycle and this is caused by your friendly bacteria starting to form and reproduce.

The Nitrogen cycle starts once your filter is running creating housing for bacteria and also producing oxygen within the water. Once a waste source is added, ammonia will start to form. This can be done via adding food to the system or adding hardy species of fish and should be be monitored with the API Ammonia Testing Kit. Once you get a reading of ammonia the bacteria can start to take off. The bacteria will start to use up the ammonia as a food source which will gradually get converted over to nitrite. The nitrite levels can be monitored with the API Nitrite Testing Kit as at this stage the water may turn cloudy white as you see the bacteria swimming around within the water column. Best not to panic though as the water will eventually clear once the bacteria has entered the filter system and into its new housing. Nothing more needs to be done at this stage other than to wait patiently. So no food or extra waste is to be added until the cycle is complete. This process hasn't got a timescale and can take different amounts of time for different setups. Only once the ammonia is back down to 0ppm can the bacteria then start to break down the nitrite and this is then converted from the nitrite into nitrate. Nitrate is the least toxic form of waste to livestock and can be monitored with the API Nitrate Testing Kit, as it is still hazardous in very large amounts. Only once both the Ammonia & Nitrite are at 0ppm is your tank fully cycled and the eco system can begin.

So why the need to offer water changes?

Once your cycle is complete, dependent on the livestock and set up requirements it will be the Nitrates that require regular monitoring. This can be done with the API Nitrate Testing Kit. This is the element that bacteria struggles to break down the most, and this is why water changes are frequently offered. Water changes are essential as over time the Nitrate that you’re bacteria is struggling to break down will keep building and rising on the scale, becoming more toxic and hazardous towards the stock. So it’s important you help out the bacteria by removing all the solid waste that your mechanical side of things has picked up. This can be done via squeezing the sponges out from witrhin your filter, but only in water removed from the aquarium. Don’t forget your sponges harbor small amounts of bacteria as well as what’s within your biological filter media, and exposing the bacteria to chlorine & Chloramine both found within tap water will kill the good bacteria you have spent the time to build. This in turn can lead to spikes in your water chemistry.

How to combat the elements

Both during and after the cycle stages there are many products on hand to help, all offering up different solutions. A great product to use during your cycle are both Evolution aqua pure or AquaVitro seed, both these products contain nitrifying bacteria that once added looks for a food source, with both Ammonia & Nitrite on the menu it’s a great addition to help push through the stages much quicker. There’s also the offer of RP resins with RP ammonia removing resins to quickly reduce the early stages during your cycle, and RP Nitrate removing resins to combat the nitrates at the end period of the cycle. Seachem Prime is also another good product to use at the beginning as it not only removes the Chlorine & Chloramine from tap water it also aids in protecting your fish from toxins by detoxifying Ammonia, Nitrite & Nitrate, ideal to use during a fish in cycle. 

End conclusion

Ultimately, the Nitrogen cycle is an important factor in fish keeping so is not be taken lightly and following the many different methods in cycling an aquarium will ensure your fish keeping experience is kept both simple and successful for many years to come.

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