Dark Start Method
Why the 'dark start method'?
When starting up a new aquascape, you are advised to change half the water daily for the first week, every other day for the second week, every three days for the third week, etc...
This is intensive, requires a lot of work and uses a lot of precious water. You can avoid this with the dark start method. The beneficial bacteria in your aquarium have time to develop without annoying start-up algae and the likelihood of your plants growing slime is much reduced.
A list of the pros:
> no big water changes during start-up
> no start-up algae
> reduced likelihood of plants growing slime
> less intensive
> it allows you more time to work on and evaluate your hardscape
> it gives you time to plan your planting
> you can buy extra plants with the money you save
How do you begin the 'dark start method'?
Place your substrate in your aquarium and add the hardscape.
Install your technology but don't start it up yet.
Fill your aquarium, add bacteria if using and start the filters.
Wait 4 (to 6) weeks, keeping your lighting off during this time. During this 4 to 6 week period, bacteria use the ammonia released from your aquasoil as they establish themselves in your filter. Seeing that there are no plants at this stage, there is no need to add plant food or CO2. You can always add a start-up plant, such as the 'Limnophila sessiflora' to speed up the process, particularly if you're not using a powerful aquasoil. You can get rid of this plant at the end of the start-up period.
Maintenance during the 'dark start method'
The best thing about the dark start method is that it doesn't require much maintenance, actually none at all. Your lighting isn't on, you don't have to trim your plants and you don't have to add plant food.
What you can do is assess the way you've set up your aquascape. Can you still improve the design? Is the hardscape nicely balanced? Should you move or add a few stones or bits of wood? What plants are you going to use? Now that you've formed a nice picture of what you want your aquarium to look like, it's a good time to draw up a planting plan.
Planting the aquarium
After 4 (to 6) it's time to really start your aquascape. Clean the glass and remove 90% of the water from your aquarium. Now you can start planting. You've had 4 weeks to work on your planting plan. Now the time has come to really get going and plant your aquarium up nicely. Be careful not to let your plants dry out. Especially if things take a little longer, get yourself a plant sprayer filled with water. Once you've finished planting, fill your aquarium with water. This is the time to add plant food and start up your CO2 system. You may now switch on the lights.
This is when your patience gets rewarded. A beautiful, elaborate aquascape with fresh plants and no annoying start-up algae. Thanks to the biofilm that's already present, your plants will grow better from the get-go too.
You can add your first fish.
- Add the substrate and the hardscape
- Fill the aquarium
- No light during this cycling period
- 4-6 weeks wait time
- 90% water change
- Plants in and lights on. Start plant food and CO2.
- The cycling period is complete