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Fish Tank Forum • View topic - Aquarium Cycling with Fish
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Aquarium Cycling with Fish

If you are new to the hobby.

Aquarium Cycling with Fish

Postby malakye » Sat Feb 21, 2009 9:01 pm

You set up a tank and you already have fish in many cases due to bad advice from your LFS but you find they are not doing very well, maybe ill or had some deaths. So you join a forum like this to hear the words you should have done a fishless cycle.
Don't panic its not all bad news.
If it is at all possible you should return these fish to the store and then do a cycle without the added pressure of fish.
If however thats not possible or your simply attached to your new fishy friends and are prepared to do your best by them we can over come this. But you must be prepared to accept that some of these fish may die over the next few weeks, you will need to do a lot of hard work to get through it...........then the first step is to go and buy a good water test kit. API Master test kit is one of the best, liquid tests give better reading than strips.

Still want to keep your fish? Cool, Do you know anyone with a mature filter? If so ask them for one third of their media in return for some new media materials. (The least you can do is replace their media) This will contain the bacteria you need to get your filter started, help your fish survive and will take a lot of work out for you. Remember if you get some you must be careful transporting it, you should keep it in tank water and get it into your filter within 12 hours. If you do this you should still follow the instructions below, it'll just be easier and quicker for you.

If you can't get any mature media then you're going to have to work harder. Firstly you need to look at what fish you have in the tank, you actually need to have a reasonable amount of fish to get your cycle going, its normally recommend to have about a quarter of the total stocking for the tank. The normal recommended stocking level is 1" of fish per gallon of water.(This is not always true though and can only be used as a rough guide) So if you have a 40 gallon tank, you should eventually aim for roughly 40" of fish (not a single 40" fish, but 40" total combined from many small fish). In order to cycle the tank you need a quarter of this so 10" of fish. Look up what fish you have, check what size they get to, add it all up and it should come to a quarter of the size of your tank. (You are working on full grown fish sizes not what you may have.)
Once you've got the number of fish sorted out you need to test your water for pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. Keep a daily note of the readings you get when you test the water and what the individual results are. What your looking for is the ammonia to go up then down while the others stay relatively low, then when ammonia has almost dropped to 0 nitrite will start to rise and then fall, and nitrate will start creeping up, this is your tank cycling.
You will almost definitely get a reading for ammonia, possibly a reading for nitrite and you may even get one for nitrate depending how long the tank has been running and what your tap water contains.
So now every single day you should check your readings, if you get a reading for ammonia or nitrite that isn't 0 you should carry out a 20% water change. This will most likely be every day for a few weeks; it can even take months in some cases. If you get some mature media you may find it's done in a couple of weeks, again there is no set time scale. When you do water changes (ALWAYS Make sure you add dechlorinator/water conditioners to the water you put into the tank.) you should also vac the substrate and pick up any uneaten food or fish poo. However don't be too thorough as some of the bacteria you need will live in your substrate and you don't want to kill them off. If Ammonia levels rise too high then you may find you will have to do water changes twice a day. Yes its going to be boring and a lot of work but stick with it at the end of the day your fish are going to be be better for this than they would be if you let the ammonia burn them etc.
Remember some medications can stop your tank cycling. Be extra vigilant and check several times a day for sick fish as you don’t want to be treating the full tank if you can avoid doing so.

Eventually your readings for ammonia and nitrite will reach 0 and you can stop doing daily water changes. You should now cut back to between 10% and 25% water changes once a week. Please remember though, just because your filter is cycled it is only able to cope with the amount of waste your current fish produce, if you rush out and buy a whole load more fish at this point, the filter simply won't cope and you'll have to go through this all over again. From now on you should add fish very gradually, a couple at a time, leave time in between for bacteria to grow and cope with the new bio load before adding again. Keep testing the water, if you add too many fish, too soon, you may see a mini cycle in which case do your water changes again until it's finished, then leave the tank a week or so and add some more fish. Take your time and very gradually over a few months your filter bacteria will build up and you'll be able to finish stocking your tank.
Most importantly don't beat yourself up over simple beginners mistakes, no ones perfect and we have all made mistakes.




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