What is Seeding a New Aquarium?

Seeding a new aquarium has become a popular practice. So what does seeding involve? It’s the process of transferring nitrifying bacteria from an established aquarium to a new aquarium. Seeding gives the new aquarium a jump start on the cycling process. It is not unusual for seeded aquariums to fully cycle in half the time it would normally take, thus allowing for stocking the tank sooner.

Other Benefits

  • Reduces stress to fish
  • Reduces or eliminates fish loss due to startup cycle
  • Reduces total cycle time
  • Reduces the time it takes to fully stock the tank

Where Bacteria Live

Seeding a new aquarium requires a means for transferring the nitrifying bacteria from an established aquarium, so it’s important to know where the bacteria live.

  • Filter media (ceramic rings, filter floss, sponge)
  • Substrate
  • Rocks, artificial plants, other porous surfaces
  • Not in the water

Contrary to some reports, significant amounts of nitrifying bacteria are not present in the water itself. Therefore, transferring water from an established tank won’t do much good. The lion’s share of nitrifying bacteria resides in the substrate and filter media. Getting your hands on some is why more people don’t seed their new aquarium.

Procuring Seeding Material

If you have at least one aquarium running already, seeding material is easy to get a hold of. If you don’t have another established tank, there are still options.

  • LFS – Fish shops may accommodate a customer’s request for seeding material
  • Fish Clubs – Any fish club worth its salt will assist a new fish owner by providing seeding material
  • Friends – If a friend has an established tank, ask them for some

Transporting Seeding Material

Always set up the new aquarium and allow it to run for a day to stabilize the temperature and water chemistry.

Once that is done, get your seeding material and use it within the hour.

When transporting seeding material, be sure to keep it covered with a small amount of water from the tank it was originally in. Don’t allow it to be subjected to significant temperature changes, and move it as quickly as possible.

Allowing seeding material to sit for more than an hour can result in the death of the nitrifying bacteria. In the event, something happens and your seeding material sits for several hours or is subjected to extreme hot or cold, discard it and get fresh seeding material.

Seed Setup Using Substrate

There are two options for seeding a new aquarium using substrate from an established aquarium. The first is to simply distribute the substrate from the established aquarium evenly over the top of the substrate in the newly set up aquarium. This option works well if the substrates are similar color and size. If the seeding substrate and the substrate in the new tank are different in appearance, use the bag option.

The bag option is relatively simple. Nylon pantyhose works well for this method. Fill the toe with one-half to one cup of the substrate, clip enough of the leg to tie off and hang the whole thing in the tank.

Viola, you’ve seeded your tank and recycled your used hosiery all at once. Once the tank has cycled, removed the bag and discard it.

If you really want to be ‘green’, don’t discard the used substrate. Instead use it to line the bottom of a potted plant, or place it on top of the soil as a decorative touch. The substrate allows excess water to drain from the soil, and the debris from the aquarium makes good fertilizer.

Seed Setup Using Filter Media

Filter media is an excellent seeding material. The easiest method is to place an extra filter on an established tank for a few weeks to allow nitrifying bacteria to grow on the filter media. Sponge filters are ideal for this, as they are small (thusly, easy to hide), inexpensive, and can be easily moved. However, power or even canister filters may be used.

Once the new aquarium has been set up and has run for at least a day to stabilize the temperature, the seeding filter can be moved from the established tank to the new tank. Leave the seeding filter in place until the new aquarium has fully cycled. If you wish you can leave it in place indefinitely, which gives you a readymade source of seeding material in the future. It can also be used to quickly set up a hospital tank if the need arises.

An alternate method is to use fresh filter media (ceramic rings, or a sponge) designed for use in the new aquarium filter. Place the media in a mesh bag and hang in the established tank for a couple of weeks prior to setting up the new aquarium. This will allow nitrifying bacteria to grow within the media. When the new aquarium has been filled, and the filter is ready to be installed, remove the sock from the established tank and immediately place the wet media in the new filter.

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