Ammonia – Nitrite – Nitrate
So, you’ve figured out what tank to get and what equipment it needs and now everything is hooked up and the water is bubbling away. Now what?
Well you can either buy a couple of sacrificial fish or use one of the fishless methods to cycle your tank. Most people opt for the sacrificial fish method, so I’ll describe this process first.
During the first five to six weeks of a tanks life, the water will go through the ammonia nitrite nitrate cycle. You will need to put a few hardy fish into the tank to supply the waste product which the cycle needs. This is the source of ammonia which is the starting compound that begins the cycle. As the ammonia accumulates, the water will populate with ammonia consuming bacteria (Nitrosomonas marina and Nitrosomonas europaea).
The bacteria in turn produces nitrites which are less toxic to the fish than the ammonia. As the nitrites accumulate other bacteria populate the tank (Nitrosomonas and Nitrosococcus), and Nitrococcus (gamma proteobacteria/purple sulfur bacteria), which consume the nitrites. These bacteria produce as waste product nitrates which are the least harmful for the inhabitants of your tank. Once you’ve reached this stage where there is no detectable ammonia, no detectable nitrites and the level of nitrate can be seen rising, your cycling has completed.
Now is the time to slowly populate your tank. Be advised though that nitrate levels need to be maintained that are less than 10 PPM to avoid stressing your tanks inhabitants. Handling the nitrates is accomplished with water changes, media reactors and resins which can be added to your filtration system. Reef Octopus makes several reactors for example Reef Octopus MF-2000 Media Filter (OCT-MF2000). Bubble Magus makes other reactors such as Bubble Magus BioPellet and Media Reactor BP100.
There are many testers on the market to choose from. But for some fairly inexpensive options API are a good choice. For cycling I would recommend the following kits.
For ammonia testing, API Ammonia 130 test Kit is a reasonable choice.
For nitrite testing, API Nitrite Test Kit is reasonable as well.
For nitrate testing, API Nitrate Test Kit will do the trick.
If you want to purchase slightly higher end test kits, I would go with the Red Sea products.
For ammonia testing, Red Sea Fish Pharm ARE21460 Marine Care Program Ammonia Kit for Aquarium, 100 Tests is a good choice.
For nitrite and nitrate testing, Red Sea Fish Pharm ARE21465 Marine Care Program Nitrate/Nitrite Kit for Aquarium, 50/100 Tests
will work fine.
Another method called the fishless method involves seeding your tank with bacteria and some source of ammonia and letting the tank cycle this way. Again throughout this process you monitor the tank parameters to watch as the ammonia first goes up and then the nitrites go up and the ammonia down. Finally the ammonia and nitrite go down and you watch the nitrate rise as the end of the cycle after which you may begin to introduce the long awaited live stock. There are a couple of fishless method of note. There is the Dr. Tim’s method using his bacteria DrTim’s Aquatics One & Only Live Nitrifying Bacteria for Cycling Aquaria, Fresh Water, 2-Ounce and his ammonia source DrTim’s Aquatics Ammonium chloride – 2 oz bottle. He claims that this cycling method can bring down the time from six weeks to as little a one.
There is also the Fritzyme bacteria Fritz Aquatics AFA80205 Fritzzyme 9-Saltwater Nitrifying Bacteria for Aquarium, 32-Ounce which you can add a small piece of fresh shrimp to the tank and let it rot to feed the cycle.