Beginner’s Guide to Fish Keeping and Building your first Aquarium (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of my Beginners Guide

So  Let us review,

We have determined that  we will be creating a freshwater aquarium, What size and shape  and  we have cleared  an area for the tank.

We also know what essential Tools we will need once the tank is set up.

What’s Next ? Before we can add Fish we need to discuss Cycling and setting up your new tank.

Cycling Your New Tank

What Cycling your new tank means is that  the tank will need to have sufficient bacterial growth in order to start the nitrogen cycle. When a new Tank is first set up it is considered dead or no living bacterial organisms that consume ammonia and nitrites in order to break it down into less toxic nitrate.  Without this process, your fish will not survive long in the water.

There are a few ways  cycling your tank:

1. No Fish in tank method.

This method requires adding pure ammonia and/or food like bloodworms in sufficient quantities to your tank and the waiting for the entire nitrogen cycle to take hold. Food will eventually break down and release ammonia. This process is  long and could take anywhere from 8-9 weeks (8 weeks is usually standard to get a nitrogen cycle going). The other downside is that you  don’t have any fish in the tank for all this time.

This is a good option when there are no bacterial products or someone who can help seed your tank for you. Run a test kit every 4-5  days to see the resulting ammonia spike.

2. Fish in method (with and without bio-product)

This option means that you purchase a couple of hardy fish to start with instead of adding ammonia or wasted food to the water. Zebra Danios (minnows) are a good hardy and cheap choice for this method. Tank cycle time will still a long time. This is the method I choose when first starting out. It is not the best method for your fish as your fish will suffer periods of high toxicity. Hardy fish are required.  Cycling time is still going to take between 7-9 weeks (mine took about 8 and a half) especially if you bleached your tank previously.

3. All Fish in with Bio-spira product and Seeding from another healthy tank

The best Option if available to you is to purchase a Bio-Spira live bacteria product. There are only a few I would trust. Dr Tim’s Aquatics (the best), Marineland’s Bio-Spira or Tetra’s  “Safe start” are another. If they say Bio-spira or nitrifying bacteria and do not ask you to add some each month on the bottle then this is the product for you. Anything else is the wrong bacteria to add. Generally kept refrigerated or off the shelf with an expiry, these products add live colonies of the proper bacteria to your tank. Within a week or two your tank should be fully cycled.

Tetra Safe Start Marineland Bio-spira Dr Tims One and Only - Freshwater

Although some of the products say you can add fish right away, I would take this as adding a couple of Zebra Danios or other hardy fish right away and adding the rest slowly so that your bacteria and  your filter have time to build up to handle the increased load.  The bacterial colonies need to form and that usually takes at least 72 hours or so when there is ample food. The more ammonia and subsequently nitrites  for the bacteria to convert the more bacteria will grow.

Common misconceptions:

Allow most people think all of the bacteria lives  in the water only, you would be incorrect. Some Bacteria strains  do live in the water but in smaller quantities and varying types. The good “nitrifying” Bacteria likes to stick and build itself a home on course and high porous surface area material like Bio-media in your filter, live rock, porous gravel substrate, sand etc.

When pouring your bacteria product in your tank, it is also a good idea to pour some on your biomedia as well. This will colonize your biomedia and your tank. If you have a closed canister, consider pouring a portion of the biomedia near the water inflow tube of a fresh canister filter. Over time the colonies will grow anyways, but this will speed the process.

Also, if your local pet store has some pre-seeded biomedia, this is also a good idea to add to your tank to get a jumpstart. If not ask a friend. Pre-seeding your bio-media will significantly speed the process.

As long as your tank is set to the right temperatures (25 – 26 C), Within 2 weeks time or so you should start to see a fully cycled tank. It is a good idea to test the water every 4 days or so during your cycling to see the ammonia spike, then nitrite spike and then slow increase in nitrate.


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