and retest. Repeat the ammonia dosing until 3-5ppm is achieved. Write down the dosage you used to obtain this level. This is why the concentration of the ammonia is not important as mentioned earlier. If you should happen to over dose donít panic. Replace some of the water in the tank with some of your tap water and retest. Eventually you will get it right.
Now just sit back and do nothing for 72 hours. Tell your wife/husband I said it was okay. (let me know if this works). No need to test during this time. The time has passed and it is time to start monitoring the progress of the cycle. Test your ammonia levels at least once every 24 hours. Once they begin to drop add the appropriate amount of ammonia to bring the levels back up to 3-5ppm.
Now that the ammonia levels have begun to drop it is time to pull out your nitrite test kit and begin monitoring both the ammonia and nitrite levels. Again testing should be done at least once every 24 hours. Keep dosing ammonia to maintain adequate levels (3-5ppm).
At some point your nitrites will peak at around 5ppm. At this time I recommend cutting your ammonia dosage by 50% and reduce the frequency of dosing to every other day. Monitor the ammonia levels closely! To high of a level may stall the cycle and prevent the colonization of bacteria. When nitrites begin to decline begin testing for nitrates. When nitrates begin to register you are getting close to completion. Continue to dose ammonia at the reduced level and monitor closely.
*(More dosing info at the end of article)
Your cycle has completed when you can dose the ammonia up to 4ppm and after 24 hours when you test the results are zero ammonia, zero nitrites and X ppm nitrates.
Do a water change to bring the nitrate level down to less than 20ppm. Do not do any filter maintenance or gravel vacuuming at this time !
Donít forget to adjust the temp of the tank water to the appropriate range for the fish you plan on keeping.
The tank is prepared for fish now. A great benefit of this cycling process is that your aquarium has a large bacteria population and can support a greater initial bio load (number of fish). Do not wait to stock your tank after cycle completion as the bacteria will die off if an ammonia source is not present.
You should continue to monitor your ammonia and nitrite after introducing your fish into your aquarium. Better safe than sorry. After about a week of continued readings of zero for ammonia and nitrite you can quit testing for them.
Monitor nitrate levels and base the percentage of water changed out on the results of this test. Letís say after a week of zero ammonia and nitrite you test the nitrate and the results are 40ppm. A 50% water change using replacement water with zero nitrate will result in a 50% reduction in the nitrate level. Your new nitrate level will be 20ppm. I would not recommend any filter maintenance at this time and light gravel vacuuming to avoid triggering a mini cycle.
The following week keep some of your tank water you drain in a bucket and clean your filter media in this water. Do not clean the bio media unless it begins to impede the flow of the filter. I recommend alternating deep vacuuming of the substrate and the cleaning of the filter. You should never deep vacuum and clean all of the filter media at the same time.
I have at least two filters on all my tanks. Besides improving water quality and circulation this allows me to alternate filter maintenance. Also in the event of a filter failure an established backup is in place and running. If you can do the same.
How long does this take?
Well letís see. When the Earth was first formed it took around two billion years before the first bacteria showed up. If you have read the Bible God did it all in seven days (he must have had a real good bacteria in a bottle product!). So I would say some where between 7 days and 2 billion years. No, really it will take as long as it takes. Patience is the key here.
My best guess is somewhere from 21-28 days.
Use the time to research the fish you want to keep. Read all you can about the hobby. Participate in this forum. Post pictures of your tank, ask questions, help others along. The time will go by fast and the results are well worth the time invested.
If you have managed to read through all of this and have learned a thing or two, than I have accomplished one of my goals for writing this. My other goal was to completely waste your time.
Type at ya later,
Additional dosing instructions added 06/09/11 (Thank you Holly!)
The plan here is to maintain the ammonia levels at the level needed to feed the colonizing bacteria with out rasing levels to high. In a freshly set up system (no bio help what so ever) it is pretty much useless to test the ammonia for around 72 hours after the baseline has been accurately recorded. It will take this long for the bacteria to start forming.
You should have at this time a baseline reading for your tap water and a baseline reading for the tank water. You should also have recorded the initial dose of ammonia required to achieve the desired range (3-5ppm) Using this info you should be able to calculate the amount of ammonia needed to maintain this level.
Example: Baseline ammonia level of tank water was zero. After dosing one tsp for every 10 gallons your new levels were 2 ppm. Not quite there. You add another tsp per gallon and retest. Levels are now 4ppm. Perfect. It took two tsp to achieve the desired level. Initial reading was zero end reading was 4 and dosage was 2 tsp. Divide dosage (2) by change in ammonia level (4)=0.5 tsp. This gives us the dosage required to change the ammonia level by 1ppm, 1/2 a teaspoon.
In a case where the intial dose of 1 teaspoon per 10 gallons was enough to reach the desired level you divide 1 by 4 = 0.25 or 1/4 tsp per gallon would adjust the level by 1ppm.
Maintain the ammonia level dosing your calculated amount of ammonia as needed. As the concentration of ammonia varies by product the initial tank dosage is the best way I know of to account for this.
I couldn't just say dose "X" amount because with some products this would be way to much and with others not enough.
Hope this clears things up a bit.