While you can cycle a tank with fish or plants, fishless tank cycling is quickly becoming the preferred method, as it mitigates the chances of a fish becoming sick or dying from the stress of tank acclimation. However, this can be a confusing process for beginners and those that don’t know about the nitrogen cycle. So here’s a guide to how fishless tank cycling works.
The Nitrogen Cycle
As fish eat and produce excrement, they release ammonia into the aquarium. This raises nitrite levels in the tank, which quickly becomes toxic to its inhabitants. Ideally, good bacteria in the tank will turn nitrite into nitrate, and you remove the nitrates when you change the water. It’s normal for nitrate levels to rise as ammonia and nitrite levels drop.
As the ammonia increases in the tank, ammonia-eating bacteria grow, turning ammonia into nitrite. While nitrite is still toxic to fish, with the increase in nitrate levels, nitrite bacteria will grow and convert it into nitrate, which is much less harmful to fish.
Before you start, you’ll need to set up your tank completely. You’ll need a filtration system, lights, heaters, skimmers, and whatever else your specific tank requires to stay clean. Additionally, you’ll need water test kits to measure salinity, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels.
Lastly, you will need ammonia with no other additives. Lots of ammonia on the market contain perfumes and soaps. You want strictly and purely ammonia. Remember, you’ll only be adding a few drops of ammonia per gallon. There are online ammonia calculators that can help determine how much you need.
To grow good bacteria, you need high ammonia levels, which is why you don’t want your fish in the tank just yet. Establishing a nitrite-oxidizer colony takes up to 30 to 45 days before it completely matures. During this process of adding the ammonia, you never want the levels to reach past 5 ppm, as it will take longer for the bacteria to grow if they do.
While you’re running your filtration system 24 hours a day, you should be checking the ammonia and nitrite levels every day. You’ll know ammonia-consuming bacteria are starting to grow once you begin seeing nitrite levels rise. Slowly reduce the amount of ammonia you add over 10 to 12 days.
At the 14- to the 20-day mark, you should only be adding a quarter of the initial dose, as nitrite levels should be rising. You’ll know your tank is in the final phase when the nitrate levels quickly drop. Soon after, you should see both the ammonia and nitrite levels reaching 0 ppm.
Once these levels are at that point, you’re ready to acclimate your fish into the tank.
Hopefully, this guide on how fishless tank cycling works helps you keep your fish healthy. It’s a long process that starts with getting the right fish tank. So make sure you know what tank you want and how to care for your tank before trying to care for your fish. There’s no better day to get started than today!
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