13 December, 2009

Cycling Aquarium

Introduction to cycling a new tank:
After buying a new tank and filling it with water, what is the first thing you do? Rush to the local fish shop and get hand to some colorful attractive fishes, right? And put them in your new tank. The tank is great to see now, is not it? You are so happy and proud of your new fish tank. Totally wrong, you should regret what you did just few minutes ago.

It is very much important that before putting any fish in the new tank you create an ideal condition for them to live in it comfortably.
Otherwise you will find all your fishes dying one by one, called the New Tank Syndrome. This in most cases is a major disappointment for the beginner and he/she starts losing interest in the hobby.

Why do we need to cycle the tank:
Like all living beings fishes also produce waste, these nitrogenous waste products break down into ammonia (NH3), which is highly toxic to all the fishes. In nature, the volume of water per fish is extremely high, and waste products become diluted to low concentrations. In aquariums as it has small water volume, however, it can take as little as a few hours for ammonia concentrations to reach toxic levels. Every newly set up aquarium goes through a process of establishing beneficial bacterial colonies which in their turn breaks down ammonia into nitrite and then nitrite to nitrate in two steps(refer to nitrogen cycle). Here comes the cycling of the new tank.

There are 2 ways you can cycle a new freshwater fish tank:

Without Fish(Fishless cycling)
With Fish

Cycling a tank without Fish:
Now you have your fish tank ready and water filled in. Turn on your thermostat, filter and air pump. Put some lab grade solution of ammonia(diluted ammonium hydroxide or ammonium chloride) and a starter colony of bacteria into the tank. A small piece of meat or prawn can be a good alternative to raw ammonia. Even some recommend urine as a possible source of ammonia, but this is quite debated and not so popular. In this regard please keep in mind that while 4-5ppm ammonia is good for starting the bacteria culture, more will not move the process faster. Instead you will end up with a very low pH water volume in which bacteria can not survive. Now about the starter bacteria colony you can use a filter(or the filter cartridge) from an established tank. This filter already has the bacteria needed to breakdown ammonia and nitrites. Another method used is to transfer little bit gravel from an established tank. Bacteria fertility rate is very high, so within a week or so there will be an established bacterial colony to fight with toxic chemicals harmful to fishes. Now a days there are commercial products available such as Bio-Spira which can cycle a tank overnight.
Now the other parameters, bacteria thrives at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Fix your tank's thermostat at a higher temperature while cycling fishelss, the process will be faster. Turn on the light 4-5 hours per day, it will help bacteria population to grow faster. Turn on your air pumps, put as many airstone as you can, turn on the filters, if you are using internal power filter, let the air enter the water through the filter nozzle, in short oxygenate the water as much as you can, the bacteria will thrive.

Cycle the tank With Fish:
You can use some hardy fishes while cycling your tank as well. The fish waste will do the work of raw chemicals. Some people still believe cycling never starts without fishes in the tank and it is the most natural way to cycle a new fish tank. Although we differ as cycling a new tank with any type of fishes will stress it a lot, with no bacteria present initially to lower down the ammonia/nitrite level, it is really torture to a fish. However, people use hardy and cheap fishes like guppy, molly etc to cycle their tank. Do not put many fishes, 3-4 fishes is enough. If possible, feed them on live food, do regular water changes, turn on the filters, air pumps, lights and thermostat(at a suitable temperature as your fish like) as before.

In any of the ways, cycling a new tank will take almost 3-4weeks.

In a planted tank however the cycle does not take so much time, as plants themselves use nitrates while photosynthesis, so with less number of fishes present you can start a planted tank with as less as 4days pre cycle.

Maintaining the Bacteria colony:
Now like everything these bacteria colony too want proper maintenance. Clean the filters with tank water, do not use tap water, and never ever use hot water, it will destroy the bacterial colony. Use of two filters or filter with two cartridges is highly recommended, never clean the two simultaneously. When you are cleaning one, it's bacterial colony will somewhat disturbed and take some time to go back to its proper stage, the other filter in the mean time can take the lead role.

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