Looking after a fish tank may seem like a simple job and certainly a rewarding one, but you might not realise that a fish tank needs a little bit of help in the beginning to create a healthy, thriving atmosphere.
A fish tank cycle can happen on its own. But the tank has to be up and running for a while at the beginning. It’s essential to facilitate the process by cycling it before putting any fish in it. Also, it’s crucial to perform regular water changes.
In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss how the cycling process works, how long it tends to take, key things to know when it comes to a healthy fish tank cycle, and steps you’ll need to follow to facilitate the process.
Can a Fish Tank Cycle Naturally?
A fish tank can cycle naturally. However, it’s important to assist your tank at the beginning. You’ll want your tank to run for a while first before having any fish live in it. That way, your fish can have a healthy environment to live in, and you don’t risk your fish falling ill.
The Aquarium nitrogen cycle is nature’s way of letting plants, bacteria, and animals help each other out. Put simply, when the fish and plant life excrete waste (ammonia), bacteria will consume it and produce nitrites, which are then consumed by other bacterias that produce nitrates.
It’s essential to remember that nitrates are toxic compounds for your fish, so regularly changing the water once your fish tank is established, helps enable your fish to then to flourish.
Once an aquarium is up and running and the natural cycle is established, it can certainly continue the process on its own—with the help of a regular water change. Once the pH levels, temperature, nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia levels are consistent, you’ve done the job correctly.
Poor water quality is one of the biggest killers of a natural fish cycle, so to remedy this, you can purchase an aquarium monitor to make sure that you keep regulating the quality of the water. You can also purchase ammonia testing kits to ensure that the ammonia levels in your tank are sufficient to maintain the cycle.
You can easily attach the aquarium monitor to your tank, and it’ll regulate the water so that you’re always aware of any changes. It can even send a notification to your smartphone.
How Long Does It Take for a Fish Tank To Cycle?
Cycling a fish tank takes some patience. However, if done correctly, you’ll have a successful cycle that’ll help your fish live a long life, and plant life can thrive.
It takes about 6 weeks for a fish tank to cycle. In the beginning, the very first cycle to take place may take some time. It usually takes a while for the beneficial bacteria to grow, especially if you don’t have access to other aquariums that can help you kick-start the process.
If you decide to use compounds from a pre-established fish tank or aquarium (sometimes known as ‘seeding’), it’s undoubtedly possible to speed up the process. Doing this could speed up the process by a week or so, but not much more than that.
For example, using the filter from a pre-established colony, or placing the new filter into a cycled fish tank for a while before placing it in the new tank, can help good bacteria to flourish.
It would help if you remembered that, while using pre-established media in a new tank can be highly beneficial to the life of your new tank’s cycle, they should have around the same water parameters and pH level. Dramatic changes in the atmosphere of the tanks won’t help bacteria reproduce, which will inevitably slow down the cycling process.
How Do I Know if My Tank Is Cycled?
Waiting for your fish tank to cycle can be frustrating, especially if you can’t wait to have a full-functioning ecosystem for your chosen fish.
If you’ve followed all the necessary steps and you’ve waited a few weeks for the cycle to self-establish, then you can use a test kit to check the nitrate levels in your fish tank.
I would recommend this API Freshwater Master Test Kit from Amazon, as it helps you decipher which stage of the cycling process you have completed. Note that this product is designed for freshwater tanks only.
You know if your fish tank is cycled once you find a sufficient level of nitrates in the water. Once all the nitrite and ammonia levels are consistently at 0 ppm, and the nitrate levels are consistently above 0 ppm.
If Nitrate levels rise above 40 ppm, it’s time to change the water in your tank. Remember that nitrates in high concentrations are toxic for your fish.
You can add fish to your aquarium when this stage has been completed. It will ensure the healthy lifespan of your chosen species and allow them to thrive.
Always remember that placing your fish inside an uncycled aquarium will make them more prone to illnesses, so it is much better to wait until your tank has finished the cycling procedure before exposing your fish to the aquarium.
Can You Cycle a Fish Tank With Plants?
You can cycle a fish tank with live plants very easily, and it’s an excellent way to endorse the process, enabling good bacteria to thrive. There are many different live plants you can buy that will contribute to the atmosphere in your tank.
Live plants typically give off waste themselves, so this helps the procedure along before you put your fish inside the tank. Once your tank has cycled, it’ll be easier to tell by looking at the life of your plants. Once new growth is on and around your live plants, you know that the cycling process is complete.
You’ll need the following equipment (all available on Amazon) to cycle your fish tank with live plants:
- A filter provides a home for good bacteria in your tank. Many tanks come with a filter already included.
- Since tap water contains chemicals that can be harmful to life in your tank, you will need a dechlorinator, like this API Quick Start Dechlorinator. This particular water conditioner provides essential electrolytes to keep your water clean.
- Use the API freshwater Master Test Kit, as mentioned above.
- A water heater like the U-picks Submersible Aquarium Heater will help you maintain the correct temperature in your fish tank. Optimal temperatures sit at around 65–85°F (18–29°C). This is the aquarium heater I use. I have had it for over a year now and it runs perfectly.
- Any live plants you choose should be in good condition and able to acclimatize.
- You’ll need plant fertilizer like the API Leaf Zone Fertilizer. This product contains all the essential nutrients your live plants need to survive, including iron and potassium.
- A source of ammonia is essential to the first cycle your fish tank will undertake. Purchase the Dr Tims Ammonium Chloride for great results; just ensure you don’t have any fish in your tank when you use it.
Cycling a fish tank with live plants is a great way to ensure your aquarium has the atmosphere it needs for the fish to thrive and live a long life. Remember that the very first cycle the tank undertakes is arguably the most important one, so choosing plant life carefully is paramount to the success of this cycle.
Can I Cycle My Fish Tank Quickly?
Cycling a fish tank is a process that inevitably takes time and patience, and the best way is to simply wait for the cycle to run its course. However, there are a few ways you can speed up the process.
You can cycle your fish tank quickly by using gravel or a borrowed filter from another tank with a similar ecosystem or using ready-made bacteria from your local pet shop. Cultivating your tank to give it a good start is essential.
To do this, you can take a small handful of gravel or stones from the pre-established tank and place it in the filter of your new tank. It helps to promote bacterial growth in your new tank, thus speeding up the first cycle process.
Using the filter from a pre-established tank in your new fish tank is another way mentioned earlier, but the two tanks must have a similar pH level and similar size; otherwise, you risk slowing down the cycling process.
You may be able to purchase ready-made bacteria from a pet shop. It’s a good option if you really don’t have the patience to start the cycle from scratch, but it’s essential to remember that these products are often a waste of money.
Remember that there’s no magic button you can press to cycle your fish tank quickly. The only thing you can do to speed up the process is to ensure you complete each step correctly and not cut corners, as this could actually slow down (or even stop) the cycling process entirely.
Finally, if you cut corners with the first cycling process, it is very likely that your tank won’t be of sufficient chemical quality to enable your fish to live a long life. A fish tank that hasn’t appropriately cycled is a recipe for disaster—and it might well kill your fish.
In essence, a fish tank will indeed cycle on its own, provided that you’ve given it the necessary tools to do so.
Owning a fish tank doesn’t have to be difficult, but a bit of time at the beginning of your aquarium lifespan can help it thrive for longer. Nature will inevitably take over once you have done the hard work initially, so it’s best to trust the process, monitor your fish tank regularly, and invest in good equipment.