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The Soft Cycle thread


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#1
Greenstar

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I have been seeing a lot of people throwing around the term soft cycle when referring to how they plan to start their tanks or as to how they are cycling their tank. Unfortunately most don't grasp the true meaning of a soft cycle and just jump on the bandwagon, as with so many other things in reefing. Hopefully I can clear a few things up.

The concept of soft cycling is simple, to keep as many sessile inverts and plants already on the rock alive during the cycling process by keeping the ammonia at a minimum. The key to a good soft cycle is high quality, fresh live rock, good lighting on a regular cycle, strong filtration (skimmer and running carbon are sometime necessary), regular water testing and very frequent water changes. Before you even think of soft cycling a tank you need to make sure you have the resources at your disposal to correctly soft cycle a tank. Do you have the money for high quality rock? Do you have a place to get the rock from? Do you have accurate test kits for NH3/NH4, NO3, NO2? Do you have plenty of salt and water on hand for water changes? Do you have enough storage space to store premixed salt water for water changes (sometimes as large as a 100%)? Do you have enough time to do daily water changes, test the water, monitor the tank, empty skimmer cups for up to 3 weeks? If you answered "No" to any of these a soft cycle is probably not right for you.

For those of you who did answer "Yes" to all the questions lets go over what preparation should be done for a soft cycle. The most important part of a soft cycle is the quality of the rock you start with since you can only maintain the animals that initially come in on the rock. A lot of people on this site I have seen claiming to soft cycle their tanks using very white or drab rock with almost no life, this entirely defeats the purpose of a soft cycle. The best way to get high quality live rock is to find a local store that can get direct shipments from importers or, even better, directly from the source in the eastern pacific or the Caribbean. Learn when they are expecting a shipment and have your tank ready before it arrives to minimize the amount of time that the rock remains out of water. If a local source can not be located then you can always get live rock from one of the many online sources, I would highly recommend Premium Aquatics. Call them and learn when they are expecting a shipment from a source that is known to typically have high quality live rock covered in life. Next set-up a shipment so that as soon as they get it they turn around and ship it to you. The most important thing about getting live rock shipped to you that it is shipped Overnight; Express or Ground WILL NOT WORK. It is vital that transfer time is kept to a minimal.

Once you get the live rock it is important to go over it thoroughly before you add it to your tank. Remove any dead crabs, worms, sponges, etc. from the rock. Determine which face of the live rock is up and identify where potential corals are and make sure they are facing towards the light. I would also leave as much macro algae, even potential pests, on the rock as possible as they can metabolize a significant amount of free nitrogen and carbon into their tissue. Its best to point strong flow going parallel across the face of the live rock so as to remove as much debris as possible and get it into the water column where it can be removed mechanically or neutralized chemically. Skimming is also going to be to be crucial to success (at least IMO) as it is perhaps the easiest method to remove dissolved organics from the water column. Remember to tune your skimmer to maximize the amount of skimmate that is pulling, keeping a constant watch to ensure the skimmer is running as efficiently as possible.

Now comes the hard part, keeping as little nitrogen in the water as possible. Nitrogen in the form of ammonia and nitrite will readily burn many of the animals that are intended to be saved by a soft cycle. The water in the tank must be monitored constantly and appropriate action must be taken based on these results. Water should be tested once if not two or three times daily. During the first couple days you should expect to see a spike in ammonia and large water changes (between 50-100%) should be preformed according to test results. It is important to set-up a water standard as far as temp, salinity, PH and alk are concerned and adhering to these standards for any new water entering the tank, so as not to shock the animals any further. Testing should continue and water changes done accordingly until nitrATES are registering near zero for a few day. There is absolutely no time table that can be set for a soft cycle as it is largely dependent on you filtration system, quality of live rock, and time spent in transit.

I hope this is helpful and I will readily edit it as need be.

To be continued.......

Edited by Greenstar, 29 December 2008 - 11:42 PM.

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#2
masterbuilder

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Crap. I hate to say it....but what Greenstar said is about right. Thats how I did my last tank (more or less) and worked for me.

Mark

Edited by masterbuilder, 01 January 2009 - 03:55 AM.

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#3
wombat

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Nice write up.

I would also suggest, if one has the time and inclination, to prepare a chemically seeded wet/dry or fluidized bed filter in advance. It needn't be fancy or expensive. You can cycle this abiotically by adding ammonium nitrate or ammonium chloride and monitoring daily for N compounds. Once nitrate begins rising you can add larger and larger amounts (keeping total ammonia under 1.0ppm) to produce a "bioload". When the rock arrives, do a 100% water change and keep everything running.

Inside the container you are using to do this I would also suggest elevating the rock on a frame so that shedded detritus settles where it is easy to siphon out or suspend for filter removal. Pulling the rocks out and swishing them around vigorously in seawater in a separate container will help as well.

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#4
NanoReefNovice

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Thanks for all the info greenstar. :D

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#5
Mr. Fosi

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You know, if you added some pics, that would make a nice article for the Information/Nano Reef Articles Section.

IMO, we need to build that section up; it would certainly save time for the more experienced members because we can just direct people to articles instead of typing the same thing over and over again. Better than stickying threads.
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#6
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I'm letting my tank cycle without loads of live rock right now (there's a foam rock wall in the main display and only two small pieces of rock in the fuge- lots of sand). I'm planning to buy some sealifeinc rock or premium aquatics rock (whatever the best deal is) and add that to the fuge after my tank finishes the cycle that's going on right now. I'm hoping that this should help out with soft-cycling the new rock and keep all the hitchers alive. I'll still go for water changes, etc. Think having an established bio filter in the tank is going to help?

#7
Mr. Fosi

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Think having an established bio filter in the tank is going to help?


It couldn't hurt but I think the question is more about capacity rather than simple presence. If your bacteria are set and ready to go, they can chew through a lot of NH3 and NO2 in a swift amount of time.
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#8
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It couldn't hurt but I think the question is more about capacity rather than simple presence. If your bacteria are set and ready to go, they can chew through a lot of NH3 and NO2 in a swift amount of time.


True - I guess I'm wondering if I'll have enough of a capacity to handle the new rocks without running into a huge second cycle. The whole rock wall will be populated along with sand beds in both the display and the fuge. I'll just have to keep a close eye on it.

#9
Urchinhead

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Thank you Greenstar. You very effectively summarized what I have had to go through twice in the last 6 weeks and will again in about 2 weeks.

I would add the following:

1. You can fully cure live rock before you put it in so you do not have to buy all new high quality live rock. Just a portion that you use to seed the other rocks.

2. Running carbon and a skimmer are not options they are mandatory

3. Testing at least twice a day and better 3-4 times is also mandatory

4. Macro algae is also a good addition to take up Nitrates et al.

5. Over 50% water changes are not wise and should only be done in a true emergency situation. Better to do a 25% then wait several hours, test again, and if needed do a second 25% water change than a 50%+ one all at once.

#10
Maeda

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So I guess the dead rock/boiled rock/cooked rock fad is over huh?

Personally I wish an unhappy death to most everything on my live rock. I want my rock as rock-like as possible, with NO hitchhikers. In my experience ALL hitchhikers end up as pests, save for stomatella.

Edited by Maeda, 26 February 2009 - 11:57 AM.

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#11
Mr. Fosi

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I like the stuff that came in on mine... Nice macros, coral, etc.

I could do without the bubble algae than came with some of my early frags though.
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#12
johnmaloney

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Really no one hard cycles anymore? I use base everything, add a dead shrimp wait until amonia spikes and then is taken care of by the hob biowheel. (The best thing I ever did was keep my old hob biowheels running all the time. Whenever I set up a new tank these mature filters that now sit in a 500 gallon system are ready to cycle a 70 gallon tank overnight). Only after the tank is fully cycled I would add liverock slowly, keep an Ammonia Alert on the tank just in case of sudden change, and I never really see ammonia again. Any liverock losses are unnoticeable. I then add the more rock, algae, etc... Eventually the hob is removed and the biowheels go back in a tank to stay alive. IIf you have a tank and are thinking about another this works for me at least. I think prolonging the process with mini cycles put undue stress on inverts. Get it done and forget about it.

#13
Diatome

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Really no one hard cycles anymore? I use base everything, add a dead shrimp wait until amonia spikes and then is taken care of by the hob biowheel. (The best thing I ever did was keep my old hob biowheels running all the time. Whenever I set up a new tank these mature filters that now sit in a 500 gallon system are ready to cycle a 70 gallon tank overnight). Only after the tank is fully cycled I would add liverock slowly, keep an Ammonia Alert on the tank just in case of sudden change, and I never really see ammonia again. Any liverock losses are unnoticeable. I then add the more rock, algae, etc... Eventually the hob is removed and the biowheels go back in a tank to stay alive. IIf you have a tank and are thinking about another this works for me at least. I think prolonging the process with mini cycles put undue stress on inverts. Get it done and forget about it.


Get 'er done!

Best rock I have I grew myself. When I came later and added rock covered in hitchhikers to my base, no noticeable die off or spikes.

Edited by Diatome, 26 February 2009 - 02:57 PM.

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#14
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For carbon, are we talking normal carbon or something HQ like chemi-pure elite?

#15
Mr. Fosi

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Just activated carbon would do some good.
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#16
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Just activated carbon would do some good.


Alright, good. that's what I"m running. How often should I change it out? I'm running a small media bag full.

#17
Mr. Fosi

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You could easily change it out every day but I am sure that two days would be fine too.

Are you pushing water through it? You'll want to have water move through it to maximize it's affect.
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#18
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You could easily change it out every day but I am sure that two days would be fine too.

Are you pushing water through it? You'll want to have water move through it to maximize it's affect.


It's in an old AC30 I had - I don't have a media reactor so that's the best I can do. At least it has a good amount of flow going around the bag.

#19
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Would it be ok to soft cycle in a smaller tank so I could use less water? I'm setting up a 35 gallon tank with a 10gal sump and a 10 gal refugium. I plan to have around 25 to 35 lbs of bulk reef supply "reef saver" rocks and around 15 to 25 lbs of Sea Life Inc rock (overnighted). So could I soft cycle the 15 to 25 lbs of live rock in say a 10 gal tank (with carbon and skimmer)? I'm thinking that the added gallonage of doing the soft cycle in the 55 gal system would help buffer the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates much better than a 10 gal. But would it be worth the added trouble of the added gallons need for a 25%-50% water change on the 55 gal system? Of course as I write this I'm thinking that a 10 gal soft cycle system would probably require more water changes than the 55 gal system would, so the amount of water used would could be the same in the end. I have an ro/di unit so as long as I premake the salt water I guess the water changes will not be too big of a deal.

Any thoughts?

#20
Bamato

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I followed these suggestions for cycling my tank because I spent a lot of money on my rock and wanted my hitchhikers to survive. Just wanted to say it worked marvelously :) I did smaller water changes though. Lot's of stuff survived :) Thx

#21
Urchinhead

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So I guess the dead rock/boiled rock/cooked rock fad is over huh?

Personally I wish an unhappy death to most everything on my live rock. I want my rock as rock-like as possible, with NO hitchhikers. In my experience ALL hitchhikers end up as pests, save for stomatella.


Yeah. Me too. I would much rather not have to deal with the nasties like Apstasia and GHA that seem to come along with the nice stomatella and micro brittle stars. Ergo why my 'new' live rock has been cooking in a trash can for three months. By now *EVERYTHING* over 100 micron's should be dead on it but it should be nice and populated with bacterium...

Another thing you might want to add to this list would be vodka dosing. Especially if its about getting bacterium up to speed quickly. I believe Mew mentioned something about using 2-4 ml of the stuff daily to really jump start the bacteria growth in a new tank and shorten the cycle time...

#22
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5. Over 50% water changes are not wise and should only be done in a true emergency situation. Better to do a 25% then wait several hours, test again, and if needed do a second 25% water change than a 50%+ one all at once.


Hey Urchinhead,

What's your reasoning here? :) :huh:


Yeah. Me too. I would much rather not have to deal with the nasties like Apstasia and GHA that seem to come along with the nice stomatella and micro brittle stars. Ergo why my 'new' live rock has been cooking in a trash can for three months. By now *EVERYTHING* over 100 micron's should be dead on it but it should be nice and populated with bacterium...


I so wish Aiptasia would go away by doing that but it seems that it rarely does IME. Seems like it can do just fine without any light at all.

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#23
Urchinhead

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Hey Urchinhead,

What's your reasoning here? :) :huh:


When I posted it I am sure there was a stunningly brilliant and well reasoned cause for it... Now I can't seem to remember... :) I am guessing I was transposing QT tank and soft cycle upon looking back and in the timeframe.

To retract what I said... I would agree if its a new tank then 50%+ to cut down NO3/4 and NH3 levels is a good thing.

I so wish Aiptasia would go away by doing that but it seems that it rarely does IME. Seems like it can do just fine without any light at all.


Argh! And here I was hoping that the salinity shifts and keeping it in the dark with high amounts of Ammonia/Nitrite/etc and a hypoxic environment (as the big stuff on the rock dies and bacteria blooms) would kill everything off! LALALALALALA I AM NOT LISTENING TO WOMBAT! NO AIPTASIA! ALL DEAD! LALALALALALA! :lol:

#24
wombat

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:P :lol:

Salinity shifts do NUZZING!

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#25
johnmaloney

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Would it be ok to soft cycle in a smaller tank so I could use less water? I'm setting up a 35 gallon tank with a 10gal sump and a 10 gal refugium. I plan to have around 25 to 35 lbs of bulk reef supply "reef saver" rocks and around 15 to 25 lbs of Sea Life Inc rock (overnighted). So could I soft cycle the 15 to 25 lbs of live rock in say a 10 gal tank (with carbon and skimmer)? I'm thinking that the added gallonage of doing the soft cycle in the 55 gal system would help buffer the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates much better than a 10 gal. But would it be worth the added trouble of the added gallons need for a 25%-50% water change on the 55 gal system? Of course as I write this I'm thinking that a 10 gal soft cycle system would probably require more water changes than the 55 gal system would, so the amount of water used would could be the same in the end. I have an ro/di unit so as long as I premake the salt water I guess the water changes will not be too big of a deal.

Any thoughts?



if you are setting up a refugium in the system then just cycle that part then add the LR in stages and you will be fine.