The Nitrogen Cycle

One of the most important things for your tank is the Nitrogen cycle. A closed environment gets dirty very quickly. The only thing keeping your tank clean is bacteria. Like anything else in life, bacteria eat and produce waste. Then other bacteria eat that waste and produce their own. That is how your tank functions. In nature the ocean is so much larger than the amount of waste that there is no worry of build up. In your tank however, things can get dicey quickly. Once established things will run nice and smooth with the occasional water change. No system is perfect and eventually your tank will get build up. Weekly partial water changes take care of this problem.

First step:

Your fish and dying plants produce ammonia in their wast. Too much ammonia is toxic to fish and will burn, and eventually kill them. To get rid of the harmful ammonia you need nitrifying bacteria. Certain nitrifying bacteria eat the ammonia. Their waste product is called nitrite. Nitrite is also poisonous to fish.

Second step:

Nitrifiying bacteria (not the ammonia eating ones, another type) come in and eat the nitrite. They produce nitrate. Nitrate is not poisonous fish in small quantities. High nitrate levels suggest that you might be overfeeding your fish (the left over food producing extra food for the bacteria, which then produce more waste). It can also suggest you have too many fish for your size tank. If you nitrates are always high, try feeding less, and if that doesn’t work, consider buying a bigger tank, or moving fish out of that tank.

Third step:

In nature the nitrate would be recycled by something else. In your tank it just builds up. Once it builds up you change the water and replace it to remove the nitrates.

Here’s a diagram from Petco’s website.

Your goal is to create a perfect balance of producers and consumers in your tank. This process can take up to 8 weeks. I’m no chemist so instead I’ll link you to two different sites. The first site is very clear and provides pictures and a video at the end. The second site is a little more complicated and provides a little more info. These sites provide info on fishless cycling, the safest way to establish your tank.

  1. Wiki
  2. Pet Keepers Guide

Now I took the other route, cycling with a fish in the tank. I didn’t know better. Doing a cycle with a fish can cause fish death or illness. I listed everything I used in my blog here.

It was really a stressful process. I tested the water everyday and in the beginning did water changes everyday. The ammonia was my biggest problem in the beginning. The levels were always high. I purchased an ammonia detoxifier a little ways into the process. It makes the ammonia safe, but provides false ammonia readings with most water tests. It took my tank around 4 weeks to cycle. I added beneficial bacteria, but I’m not sure if that helped, or the fact that I have a small tank resulted in the quick cycle.

I was really worried that I had hurt my fish when I noticed black dots all over her tail fin. 20141203_003915

I wish I had taken a picture of her the first day I got her. I have no way to compare. I think that the spots were naturally on her. They are very symmetric and haven’t faded. Ammonia burns can fade over time with proper treatment. I used stress coat+ to help heal her.

I’m glad it’s over. Doing water changes every other day was very time consuming and everything got wet every time. I treated the replacement water every time and also allowed it to sit out a few hours so it would reach room temp. If you don’t have a tap dechlorinator you must allow 24 hours to pass before you put that water in the tank. I use Top Fin dechlorinator.

Either way, it’s a time consuming process that takes determination. It’ll all be worth it in the end I promise!

Also, I have ordered some new decorations off Petsmart as they were having a 20% off everything black Friday promotion. I can do a blog unboxing once it comes and tell what I think of the products so check back soon!

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