Fishless Cycling For Dummies
(written by a dummy)
I doubt that any of you would consider bringing home that new little cute & cuddly kitten from the pet store, lock him in a closet with a litter box, throw in a can of cat food, close the door and let him live in his own waste. Of course not! Besides, he probably doesn't even know how to use the can opener!
Naturally, you prepare his area in his new home, with a clean dish, clean pillow and a fancy little feather toy. Well, I can tell you that fish do not like fancy little feather toys, but the concept is the same.
Why Fishless Cycle?
In addition to being a more humane process, since there are no fish in the tank to be harmed, it offers complete and total control over the process, is quite forgiving should mistakes be made, easily corrected, and if done properly, can allow for a slightly larger quantity of fish to be introduced at once.
However, I feel that best way to justify using this method is that Fish have rights. Just as any other animal in our care, whether domesticated or not, at one time was taken from its natural environment, and at that particular point we must assume the responsibility of providing a safe and healthy environment, allowing it to achieve, as it is entitled to, a good quality of life. (Remember the kitty cat?)
What do I Need?
- First and foremost a good quality liquid test kit. one that tests for ammonia, nitrIte and nitrAte (that's all for now) around $20-$30. Yes, I know it is expensive, but, heck, you already spent more than that on that stupid Castle, Sunken Ship, or Ship's Wheel you have sitting on the bottom of the empty tank!
- A pen or pencil and a Notebook. You are going to want to record your daily readings with the test kit, and probably refer to them often. You can also use it for photos, and doodle if so inclined.
- A bottle of pure ammonia. Since there are no fish, we are going to manually add the ammonia for the other bad boys to go after. It's important that it be pure ammonia without any surfactants. Test-shake it, if it bubbles put it back!
First a few points!
Point: Patience. Tanks cycle in their own time, you cannot force it.
Point: Of course the addition of some "already cycled" substrate, filter media, decorations, etc. that you might get from a friend will aid in speeding the cycle,
But, alas, some of us don't have any friends, so you may skip this.
Point: Contrary to some beliefs, the bacteria we are attempting to introduce will mostly take residence in the substrate, filter and walls of the tank. Very little, if any, lives in the water.
Point: Time tables & dosage amount will vary according to your setup size.
Weeks 1 - 2
Stand good and sturdy. Make sure it's level. Decorations & substrate in. Filter & heater in place. Filled with water. Filter & heater turned on. (approx 80-85 degrees). Test Kit ready. An air stone would be helpful (since the bad boys love oxygenation), but, lacking that, just lower the water level about 1" below the top of the tank.
Add ammonia. Start with 2-3 teaspoons. Wait an hour. Test (for ammonia only). What we are aiming for here is to get a test reading of 5.0 ppm (that's parts per million for the techies here), and yes, that's 5 point zero.
After an hour or so, you may have to add more.(for example if you get a zero reading, Doh!) Just remember, we're looking for 5.0 (yes, that's 5 point zero) for a reading.
If you overdose, a little, that's OK. (Have you ever heard a doctor say that?). Remember, no fish here to hurt. And this is not rocket science. A 5.0 or a 5.5 is OK too. Just don't go crazy bonkers.
Now we wait. Continue to test (for ammonia only) each day. Don't forget to record your readings in that sexy notebook you bought.
Somewhere into the 2nd week you should see some reading for NitrItes. During this time you should also see ammonia start decreasing. That's a good thing.
Weeks 3 - 4
By the 3rd week you should see the NitrIte reading increase and at the same time see the ammonia decrease.
Once the ammonia reaches zero, just continue to add 1 teaspoon of ammonia each day. Not enough to cause a reading, but just enough to keep the "ammonia eating" bacteria alive and happy. This is important! Remember to keep feeding these little buggers.
In the meantime, the NitrItes should start climbing and climbing. Somewhere in the 3rd or 4th week they should peak and start dropping down. This is a sign that you're getting close, and cause for celebration. Go have a beer!
At this point we grab our trusty Test Kit and test for NitrAtes. This part of the process will probably move faster than the previous ones. As with earlier tests, this new NitrAte should start climbing and the older NitrIte should start dropping.
Weeks 5 - 6
If it hasn't already, somewhere in the 5th week the NitrAtes will continue to rise, and the NitrItes should rather quickly lower to zero, often within a few days from spiking.
When your NitrItes are zero and your ammonia is zero, then, (drum roll please) your tank is cycled!
Don't break out the champagne yet, there's one more step (and it?s pretty darn important). Do a large water change (60% - 80%) to bring the still present NitrAtes down to a non-toxic level (which is <20). After the water change, do not, I repeat, do not remove or change the filter media, (hey, that's where a lot of those little good bacteria guys are!). Add your water conditioner and lower the temperature to 76 degrees or whatever is proper for your about to become resident FISH!
One final note, kind of for the future. As you add fish, (and you will), it's important to quarantine them a while (2 weeks or so) so as not to add any contamination/disease from the LFS. After all, you just went through an exhausting experience "cycling" to insure a pure and healthy tank. Don't want to see it all for naught.
I truly hope that I have convinced you to go with the fishless cycling. I can guarantee you that your fish will thank you, too, by letting you watch them live a happy, healthy life for many years, and will occasionally give you a wink! (or maybe a high five!).
* Final Note: I've taken great care to insure that the above instructions are accurate, (as well as the humor), and I ask that those posting after this, please feel free to correct/expand on or otherwise comment. I hope, too, that those using this method will further add their experiences with it.