Cycling your aquarium

mature cycled aquarium

The first thing you should learn about keeping fish is cycling your aquarium. Once you understand the basic idea it will be the single most important piece of knowledge that helps you keep your fish alive.

Most newbie fish keepers learn about cycling after they have set up an aquarium with fish that have died. Only then will they pick up a book to see why their fish died. That is a lesson they will not make again when they read about cycling.

mature cycled aquarium
mature cycled aquarium

1. What every new fish keeper must learn

Fish live and breathe in water. They urinate and poop in the water they breathe. Only one thing can stop them polluting themselves and that is bacteria that eats fish waste and converts it to the relatively harmless fertiliser, nitrate.

Your job as a fish keeper is to grow and keep alive a colony of bacteria that will clean the fish’s water. That is the secret to keeping fish alive for any length of time.
When you add fish to a new fish tank the water is clean. But day by day the fish’s waste product will build up because there is no colony of bacteria to digest the fish waste.

2. Emergency cycling

This is where there is fish in an aquarium and there isn’t a colony of bacteria that can convert the fish’s waste product into nitrate.
This usually occurs when a new tank has been set up and stocked with fish. It can also happen when chemicals or medications have been added to the aquarium which kill off the beneficial bacteria in the filter. It can also occur when the filter stops working, such as when the pump stops working or the filter gets clogged up with gunge. In these situations the bacteria die off and stop converting the fish waste.
Sometimes even when there is a bacterial colony in your filter, there can be an overload of fish waste or a source of decay such as rotting food or a dead fish. Or you might have an overstocked tank, such as when you have just bought some new additional fish or your fish have outgrown the tank or even when your fish have bred with many new baby fish overcrowding the tank.

The question is: How do you deal with this situation?

You need a nitrite and ammonia kit that measures these chemicals coming from fish waste decay. When the reading for ammonia is above 0.25ppm or nitrite above .5ppm then you will need to do a water change with water that has been dechlorinated with a chemical you can buy from the aquarium shop. The closer this reading is to 0ppm the safer it is for your fish but the longer it will take for your filter to develop enough beneficial bacteria. To reduce the amount of ammonia produced by your fish, you need to reduce how much you feed your fish and even stop feeding them for a day or two.

Adding aquarium plants can also help this process because they can actually eat up the ammonia. And usually plants have beneficial bacteria around their roots that will help speed up the the colony in the filter becoming established.

If you have a fully stocked tank with high ammonia levels then you could also try moving some of the fish to a second aquarium.

If you have another aquarium or a friend with an established aquarium then you can squeeze off the sponge (which is full of the beneficial bacteria) from that filter into the new tank. This will make the water cloudy but the filter will draw in the cloudy water with the beneficial bacteria. You will see clean water after a few hours. And with good luck the filter may mature within a couple of days.

3. What is cycling

Cycling is the process where an aquarium develops beneficial bacteria (unsually inside the filter) that breaks down the fish urine and poop into a fertiliser called nitrate. Fish waste products break down into ammonia. The beneficial bacteria eat the ammonia and convert into nitrite and then nitrate. In a new aquarium there is very little bacteria. When ammonia is created by the fish the bacteria eat it and begin to muliply. This takes a while. During this time there will be an excess of ammonia and nitrite. When the bacteria culture is mature, it will completely eat all of the fish waste. At that point the aquarium is declared ‘cycled’.

4. Fish in cycling

Easiest way to cycle your aquarium is by having a few hardy fish in the aquarium while the bacteria colony in the filter is maturing. The fish do suffer stress during this process which is why many advanced aquarists have turned to fishless cycling.
Recommended fish for a tropical aquarium are zebra danios, barbs, platys, or some of the hardier tetras. For coldwater the common goldfish is a tough cookie. For a marine tank blennies, gobies and perhaps damsels are possible candidates. Even though these fish are quite tough don’t be surprised if you have some fish deaths on the way to getting your filter matured.

You will need to do large daily water changes keeping the ammonia under 0.25ppm and the nitrites under 0.5ppm

A way to by-pass or reduce the risk of fish deaths during cycling is by priming the filter by squeezing the sponge from a mature filter into your new aquarium. The cloudy bacteria laden water will be filtered allowing the filter to have an instant colony of beneficial bacteria. You could also cut the sponge from an established tank in half and placing that in the new tank’s filter. You must also cut the new tank’s sponge in half and put that in the old tank’s filter.

Ideally you should have a low stocking level of fish. You will need to monitor your ammonia and nitrite levels daily. When the ammonia and nitrites levels start to drop off then you should be safe to add a fish or two. Then carry on the water changes and water tests. And when the levels drop off again then add one or two fish again. Repeat this process until the aquarium is cycled and the tank is stocked to your satisfaction.

5. Fishless cycling

This is the best way to cycle your aquarium but few aquarists bother with the extra wait before buying fish and with the hassle of buying ammonia and dosing their aquarium with ammonia every day.

Fishless cycling is a safe way to mature an aquarium without risking any fish deaths. And once the tank is fully cycled you can fully stock the aquarium.

Fishless cycling is also faster the fish in cycling because you can increase the amount of ammonia present in the aquarium which will encourage the beneficial bacteria to grow much faster. You can also have the water temperature higher in the mid 80s Fahrenheit. The higher temperature speeds up the life-cycle of the bacteria giving you a full colony of bacteria much quicker. The ideal level of ammonia is about 4ppm in a fishless tank. Higher levels of ammonia much above 4ppm will actually kill off the bacteria in the filter.

How to do fishless cycling

To do fishless cycling you will need to buy a bottle of pure ammonia without any scents or other additives. You will also need to buy an ammonia, nitrate and nitrite test kit. A few drops of ammonia need to be added every day with the aim of getting the ammonia level to 4ppm by using the test kit. If the reading is too high then reduce the dose and if the reading is too low then increase the amount. Always test after you add the ammonia. If the ammonia level is very high then do a water change to get the level down to close to 4ppm.

As with fish in cycling you can also speed up the process by adding bacteria from a mature filter. You can also add plants to help the process. You will have to do the occasional water change to keep the nitrate levels below 40ppm. And you will have to do a final water change to get the nitrate levels below 20ppm when you add all your fish.

When the bacteria is eliminating the ammonia and nitrite very quickly after you dose your tank with ammonia then you know your tank is mature and ready to cope with fish.

6. Recognising ammonia poisoning

If your fish are gasping at the surface or lethargic or have red blotches or have ragged fins or have laboured breathing or they are not moving much then it is likely they are suffering form ammonia poisoning. This usually happens several days after a tank is newly set up. At first the new tank will be fine but as the fish continue to poop and urinate in their own water, the ammonia from their waste is building up. The fish can cope with small amounts of waste but as it builds up it becomes lethal.

You must take immediate action to save your fish. You need to stop feeding your fish. You need to change 50% of the water with water of the same temperature and with the chlorine removed using a dechlorinator. Then you will need to test the water again. You need to get the ammonia level below .25ppm and the nitrite level below .5ppm. You should also consider spreading out your fish by putting some of them into other aquariums.

How to maintain a clean tank

How to clean your tank

How to keep your water clear

Top 10 tips on African Cichlids

crowded malawis

Top 10 tips for a successful African cichlid tank

African cichlids on youtubeTip number one. Watch a lot of cichlid videos on youtube. With many expert hobbyists giving first hand experience of setting up a cichlid aquarium, which species to buy, maintenance of a cichlid aquarium through to breeding the various, mbunas, peacocks, haps, Tanganyikans and other topics. Always be prepared to learn more because there’s tons of information in video format.

Tip number two. Over filtrate. Always buy a filter that is twice as powerful as the recommended size. Your tank has to be super clean the reason is because most Malawi tanks are overcrowded. Malawi aquariums are over stocked to spread aggression. Malawis are big eaters and cichlids are constantly producing waste you need to over filtrate. Running two filters simultaneously in the same tank is also a great idea. Canister filters are a must. You need to stuff them full of good filter material to do both mechanical and biological filtration.

Tip number three. Overstock your tank. Overstocking will crowded malawishelp spread the aggression between the fish so that no individual fish gets singled out. Even then you will still see aggression, where one fish will want to eliminate another particular tank mate. It is something that you have to expect when keeping Africans. But do all you can to keep that kind of behaviour down. To reduce it to a minimum. over stocking your tank, rearrange the rock scape every two weeks, and be quick to act when you see one fish getting constantly bullied by another. If it looks like one fish has picked out another fish for destruction remove the aggressor or the victim immediately.

Tip number four. Act quickly when you see a fish getting beaten up or looking ill. If you see mouth locking, tattered fins or hit marks on the side of the body. Immediately remove the weak or injured fish. If you leave it too late and remove a harassed fish you will often find that the fish will still end up dying either the same day or a few days later.

yellow bags in bagTip number five. Always add 4 or more fish to an aquarium at a time. Adding just one or two fish to an established aquarium results in the new fish entering other fishes already established territories and so will get beaten up.

Tip number six. Spend less on the filter canister and use the money saved to buy good quality filter media. And again having two canisters will enable you to service one canister while the other keeps running doing its job of filtering the impurities from the water and avoiding ammonia and nitrite spikes. And if
one filter fails you will still have one filter running until you can fix the broken filter or buy another one.

Tip number seven. If you skip one day a week of feeding the fish or possibly two days a week you will notice that your fish are more healthy and active. Also they will be less prone to getting Malawi bloat which is common in Malawis which are always eating. They are supposed to be eating mostly algae. So when they eat dried foods which are a more concentrated food than they find in the wild, you are actually overfeeding them. Also the water will be cleaner because less eating results in less fish waste.

Aquarium water changeTip number eight. Change 40-50% water changes every week. Try and set up an automatic top up system. Use a long hose system of some sort. When you add tap water use a water conditioner. It is wise to overdose rather than underdose on water conditioner. The easier this task is the less likely you are to skip it. Carrying buckets of water up and down in your living room every time you do a water change is likely to cause an accident at some time.

Tip number nine. Research on YouTube on the particular species of African that you intend to buy. You need to find out whether your particular fish is overly aggressive or passive or even a carnivore. Or the fish may grow much bigger than you can cope with. Always be prepared to move on a fish that is not suitable for your aquarium. Some fish that are beautiful and small when young can become nasty monsters that quickly outgrow your aqurium.

sulphur head peacockTip number ten. Don’t be too obsessive over getting everything exactly right. This is a hobby that is meant to be enjoyed so relax and don’t be too worry if the tank is not too perfect. You don’t have to be overly precise. Remember Malawis are strong fish that are mostly immune to things like ich.

Lastly an overall tip is to always chat with other hobbyists on the forums. Ask questions. Answer other people’s questions. Share your experiences with other hobbyists.

How to stop your aquarium from getting dirty

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

How Do I Keep My Fish Tank From Getting Dirty?

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How to keep your aquarium clean?

various striated rocks and pebbles on gravel
various striated rocks and pebbles on gravel

Fish-keeping is enjoyable and rewarding for people of all ages. However, as with all the other pets, fish need to be cared for with a healthy environment. From harmful chemicals, various toxins to algae, and calcium deposits, they contribute to a dirty and unhealthy aquarium for fish. Thus, a regularly cleaned water tank and proper filtration system is a must to keep the fish and aquarium system healthy as well as beautiful.

Basic maintenance of a tank begins with filtering the water and removing various toxins from it at frequent intervals. As the task to scrape muck and slime from the tank, change water frequently and take other necessary actions requires time, any fish keepers find it to be one of the hardest things to do. But with the right techniques, looking after the aquarium would be a breeze for you.

The 5 essential ways to keep aquarium water clean and healthy for your fish:

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal
Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

Filtration Systems: As an aquarium is a living biological system, it produces several toxins that must be removed from the tank. A proper filtration system can help in removing the toxins while housing the majority of beneficial bacteria and maintaining a happy and healthy fish aquarium. Thus, having the right filter with enough power, is a must to ensure regular cleaning of the water and keep your aquarium running properly.

From filtering out particles from water, collecting debris and bacteria, filtration systems are a must, without which it would be hard work to keep tropical fish as a pet. However, as the market is full of a variety of aquarium filtration system pumps that remove toxins and impurities in water, it has become a daunting task to choose the most suitable filter. It is a must to buy a filtration system that utilize mechanical, biological and chemical filtration processes.

Regular Siphoning: As with time, fish waste, uneaten food, plant waste, and other debris build up on the substrate, rocks, plants, etc., a siphon helps in removing the dirt from the gravel easily. Make sure to stir the siphon into the gravel to release trapped dirt. The gravel will not be sucked up. It also comes in handy to make routine water changes and ensure that the water is fresh for your fish.

Careful Feeding Regime: Fish-keepers are often confused about the feeding regime that must be followed and the most common mistakes they make is that they feed the fish too much and too often. And when there is uneaten food in water, it rots causing pollution. Therefore, you have to ensure that you do not overfeed your fish or the water quality will suffer as the uneaten food rots and creates toxic waste. You must feed fish in small amounts of food, once or twice a day. The fish must consume all the food you feed within a few minutes. As long as they eat it all within a short time then you should be fine.

An aquarium blighted by algae
An aquarium blighted by algae is an eyesore

Cleaning and Controlling Algae: Algae grows in a healthy water tank and once it begins to grow, it does so very rapidly and there is no way to prevent it or remove it completely. However, you can control it with the right techniques. It is a good practice to keep a check the water quality and reduce nitrate, phosphate and iron levels, by adding water without these chemicals, as these nutrients are a source of algae. If any algae has grown on the glass of your water tank, you can use a magnetic algae scraper to get rid of it.
One of the most effective ways to remove phosphate and other fertilising chemicals is by using a Reverse Osmosis (RO) unit or tap water filter. But do not remove all the minerals from your water because aquarium plants and fish need trace elements. Also, if your aquarium is getting too much light, you can decrease the amount of light by either reducing the amount of time for your lighting is used or exchanging the bulbs for a lower wattage.

Partial Water Changes: Regular water changes keep your fish happy and healthy. So, it is recommended to change 10 to 20 per cent of water once a week, depending on the number and type of fish, feeding schedule, volume of water and filtration system. You can change water at the same time that you vacuum the gravel, which can be done by using siphon gravel cleaner with a hose attached.

Proper aquarium maintenance will keep your water tank healthy. With the right techniques to change water and clean the tank, you should never need to completely empty the water.
Depending on the maintenance requirement of your tank, you can take some steps to clean it daily and on a weekly basis. Listed below are those steps:

Daily aquarium cleaning tasks

  • Just like any other pet, fish need to be looked after on a daily basis.
  • It is essential to feed them the right quantity of food, ensuring they the food is consumed immediately.
  • You must also ensure that the filter, lights and heater are working properly.
  • Take a few minutes every day to observe if the fish are swimming normally. Also, look at their skin and take note of sign of disease, if any.
  • Check the water and ensure that it does not have a foul odor, is clean and nothing is floating around.

Weekly aquarium cleaning tasks

Besides keeping an eye on fish and water tank at regular intervals, there are certain steps that must be taken on a weekly basis to make sure that the water tank is clean and healthy for the fish.

  • Remove Dead Leaves: Your fish tank may be a home to a number of plants. Thus, it is your responsibility to remove any dead leaves from it and trim excess growth of the plants, ensuring that the water tank is clean for your fish.
  • Clean Off Algae: You can use a algae scraper or magnet to remove algae from the sides of the aquarium.
  • Clean Aquarium Glass: Using a clean cloth and water spray, remove dirt from the water tank’s front and side glass. No soap or chemicals!
  • Water Replacement: Every week, siphon nearly 10 to 20 per cent of water by using a siphon hose and replace with dechlorinated water.

You should set up a consistent maintenance schedule every week to ensure that the aquarium stays clean and healthy for your fish to live in!

You can now sit back and enjoy your fish without being distracted by a dirty tank!