Fishless cycling

FishAs the cycle of a tank develops large spikes in ammonia and nitrite occur. These rather toxic by-products of tank waste, in an incompletely cycled tank, are very detrimental to fish. Exposure to extremely high values of ammonia and nitrites has the potential to cause permanently curled fins, greater than average sensitivities to water qualities, lowered immunities, and a fish that may fail to thrive.

FishCreating a cycle in a tank without fish in the tank is a far less work intensive, less stressful way of cycling a tank. Daily water changes in attempts to keep the toxic by-products low enough that you do not poison your fish are simply not necessary since there is no fish to worry about. There is little work, little expense, little worry, and no fish are harmed. Fishless cycling is a great way to create a beautifully functioning tank!

What you will need:

Pure Ammonia - this can be purchased at the grocery, or any discount store that sells cleaning products. Ammonia is a cleanser. You want to buy pure ammonia - one that does NOT have a sudsing agent added. The label should say 'clear', not 'sudsing', and, when you shake the bottle, it does not foam.

Water tests- Ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH.

A Complete Tank Setup - That includes the tank, filter, heater, water conditioners, etc. Everything BUT the fish.

FishSet your tank up, fill it. Set the filter running, the heater heating to approximately 80F. Condition the water as necessary and add the decorations you wish.

FishNow you are ready to start cycling. There are two types of beneficial bacteria that create a tank's cycle. The first type processes ammonia (fish waste) into nitrite. You are going to start a colony of this type of bacteria growing by feeding it ammonia just as if you were a fish. You are going to add enough pure ammonia from your bottle to bring the reading to about 3-4 ppm ammonia.

FishIt is impossible to tell you exactly how much ammonia to add to reach this reading, for every bottle of ammonia has a different concentration contained within. Approximately 1cc per 20 gallons is what mine usually runs. Start with about cc and take a reading. If you need more, add a little more. When your tank reads somewhere on the order of 3-4 ppm ammonia, you are done. If you get itto 5 ppm, that is Ok - you do not need to change water out. Try not to get it over 5ppm, though.

FishNow comes the hard part. Waiting. You will need to wait for the cycle to grow. But you do not have to do anything else. Do not add more ammonia, do not change any water. Simply wait. In about a week, test your water for ammonia and nitrites. You should read ammonia of about 3 (or close to what you put in) and, before long, you will start to see a reading of nitrites. This means the first type of bacteria is beginning to grow and process the ammonia into nitrites.

GREAT! You have completed the first step. Now you wait some more.

FishThe second type of bacteria that creates a tank's cycle will now need to grow to process the nitrites into nitrates. These bacteria are far more touchy and temperamental than the first type of bacteria. The wonderful part of a fishless cycle is that you do not have to upset their growing colony by water changes or salt additions to protect your fish, and you can keep the water nice and toasty warm - just the way they love it.

FishWaiting for the second type of bacteria to grow takes patience. But have faith - it really does happen. Soon, you should start to see a little positive reading for nitrate. This means you are reaching the end of the process.

FishTo give you an idea of what you might see on a series of tests, here are some readings that I did in a 50 gallon tank that was cycled using the fishless cycle.

Day 1 4 ammonia 0 nitrite 0 nitrate
Day 7 4 ammonia 0 nitrite 0 nitrate
Day 10 4 ammonia .25 nitrite 0 nitrate
Day 14 3 ammonia .50 nitrite 0 nitrate
Day 20 1 ammonia 5 nitrite 0 nitrate
Day 21 0 ammonia 5 nitrite 0 nitrate

FishAt this point, .3 (point three, or three tenths)cc of ammonia was added on a daily basis. This continued to feed the ammonia processing bacteria. This is a tiny amount of ammonia in a large tank. A smaller tank will need less. This is the equivilant of one small fish producing waste each day. Every day from then on, the first type of bacteria should process all the ammonia from your daily addition into nitrite and the ammonia reading should remain at zero

Day 28 0 ammonia 4 nitrite trace nitrate
Day 30 0 ammonia 3 nitrite 20 nitrate
Day 36 0 ammonia 1 nitrite 80 nitrate
Day 40 0 ammonia 0 nitrite 160+ nitrate

FishThe tank has now grown a cycle of beneficial bacteria. To make this tank habitable for fish, you now need to do a massive water change to bring the nitrate levels down to a reasonable value (20ppm or less). Do 50-75% change. Test the water. Change a little more if necessary. Do not rinse, change or even touch the filter. Do not clean any equipment, decorations or tank sides. Change only the water. Turn down the heat to the temperature you wish for your tank. Add your fish.

FishSince this is a newly created cycle, it is still not adjusted to the number of fish you may wish to have in your tank. The amount of ammonia that you have been adding to the tank is not the amount that a full load of fish will add. You need to watch your water parameters carefully for the first week or so after adding fish to make sure that the growing colonies of bacteria can handle all the ammonia the fish are feeding them. Change a percentage of your water as necessary to keep any excess under control. Do not disturb the filter. Within a day or two, the entire tank will balance out and will work perfectly!

Congratulations. You have done a fishless cycle!