With a new aquarium, cycling your tank is the first and most important thing you need to do. This is the process in which your aquarium needs to establish good bacteria. When you first setup your aquarium it will be contaminated with bad bacteria. Before putting cichlid fish into the tank it is important that this bad (harmful) bacteria converts into good bacteria. The first stage of bacteria will break down ammonia into nitrites, and the second stage of bacteria will break down the nitrites into nitrates. Both ammonia and nitrites are harmful to your fish, but nitrates are not, as long as they are at a safe level (below 20ppm).
There are two ways to cycle your tank: with or without fish. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but most fish enthusiasts prefer to do a fishless cycle. Doing a fishless cycle (which I recommend) has many more advantages: it’s faster, easier, and avoids permanently harming fish. Plus, the water will be completely ready for fish once the cycle is finished.
One effective way of doing a fishless cycle is to use media, gravel, sand, or decor from another (disease free) aquarium that already has good bacteria established. If you can’t find any of these materials, you can purchase bacteria in a bottle from your local fish store. Also, during this process I suggest raising the temperature in the aquarium to around 85 degrees, this allows for a faster chemical reaction.
Cycling with fish
If you decide to go the other route, then you will need hardy fish that can withstand these harmful water conditions; I suggest using either tetras or guppies. Cycling your tank with fish can take anywhere between 4-6 weeks for the nitrates to become established. You will need to do frequent water changes (20%) 3-4 times a week until the cycle is complete. Of course if you are doing a cichlid fish aquarium you will need to remove the starter fish before adding any cichlids to the tank.
Whichever method you chose, it is important to realize that this can be time-consuming (3-6 weeks), therefore patience is a virtue. It is also important to constantly test your water during this process to ensure that your tank is cycling properly. I recommend using a liquid test kit rather than the basic test strips. Make sure before you add sensitive fish, your nitrates are at, or below 20ppm.
If you’ve enjoyed this article by Tim Carter, you can visit his website at http://www.cichlid-fish.com for more information and tips on Cichlids.