Cycle Your Tank!
For real though, this is the biggest thing that can make or break the hobby for anyone.
It doesn’t matter if you want a betta, a goldfish, a few shrimp or even a tank full of nothing but plants. Get a proper filter and cycle your god damn tank. Fishless most preferably…
How and why to do this:
It doesn’t matter what you keep, all living things produce waste. In a lot of cases Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate are in your tap water already. It doesn’t hurt us, but it will kill your fish… and in the case of a fully panted tank… I hope you love algae…cause you’re going to get it. Planted tanks another time though. You don’t want your fish to die, cycle.
So how do you do this?
Step one: Set up your tank. It needs to be at minimum a 2.5 gallon but I always recommend bigger. If you’re new and planning to keep anything but shrimp or a betta I insist you go bigger anyways because they will thrive. Have this tank filtered with an appropriate filter. I highly recommend a filter that doesn’t use a cartridge, it cycles much easier and you won’t really ever need to replace your media and it keeps the cycle. Best filters for 20 gallons and under are usually sponge filters. But get a filter with removable media or a sponge.
Step 2: Get a liquid test kit. I say liquid because it’s more accurate (light damages the strips and readings), cheaper in the long run, lasts longer, and just overall easier. The test kit needs to check PH, Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate. Once you have this go ahead and test your tap water, write that down.
If your PH is lower than 6 or really close to you’re going to have to find someway to get it above stably (DO NOT USE PH UP OR DOWN FOR THIS) I have very hard alkaline water so I normally have to bring it down. Crushed coral in the filter can help bring it up though!
If you have ammonia in your water be glad that you’re doing this and not throwing your fish in… cause if you do congrats you just burned their gills. My water has 1ppm ammonia in it already so I don’t have to add as much while cycling.
Nitrite is the same as ammonia in terms of yay that’s one less step!
Nitrate, it can be frustrating to have. Learn how much you have though and adjust accordingly. You may need a remover, or some plants until the right bacteria form.
Step 3: Declorinate whenever adding new water(I like prime but use what you want). And get things running. Now the fun process of waiting begins. You need 3 things to happen:
Ammonia to form. This is produced by anything living including plants. You want a source though and for it to be between 2-4ppm. Sources can be fish food, a raw piece of shrimp, or carpenters liquid or powder pure ammonia/ammonium. I like using the pure ammonia because it’s less of a mess and easier to control. Remember this is to simulate a fish though and I pray you didn’t put one in yet. Either way dose it up (test your water to know what you’re at) and write it down. You want to keep track of things, temp, ph, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate…
Now you wait, check daily, or every second day. Wait until it hits 0 and dose it again. Basically what’s happening is bacteria is forming in your filter to convert the ammonia (which is deadly) to Nitrite (which is also deadly). Start checking your Nitrites after the first big ammonia drop. You’ll see one of two things, a huge spike possibly off the charts in Nitrite, or never see them but have nitrates in your water that weren’t there before. This can be the longest or shortest point in the cycle.
Wait for your nitrites to drop. If they get too high to read cut back on dosing ammonia or do a large pwc to help bring them down so you can read them. Once Nitrites hit 0 dose again. If within 24 hours or less there are no ammonia readings or nitrite and some nitrates, congrats you are cycled. Do a large partial water change and add a few fish! I recommend no more than 10% of your stock a week.
Things that can speed up this process (Normally can take 2 weeks - 3 months depending on a number of factors)
-Seed your tank. This is the best, if you have a friend with a healthy tank ask to borrow some decorations, gravel, or a chunk of filter media. Note bacteria is not in the water, don’t take that but transfer what you do take in it.
-Turn your temperature way up! Bacteria multiplies better in hot water, so turn the heater up.
-Add oxygen. Bacteria is alive and needs to breath.
-Plants they help buffer the water and if from a cycled tank can bring some bacteria with them.
-Bacteria in a bottle. Now be very careful with this… most don’t work and are a waste of your money and actually harm your cycle. Ones that have proven to be effective though. Dr. Tims one and only, safe start, bio-sphere, stability seachem. All others are the wrong type of bacteria and will die in your tank and starve the right type of bacteria.
I know this probably wasn’t super comprehensive, but if you have questions ask. I’m happy to help!