Aquarium Nitrogen Cycling is the most important part of setting up a new fish tank. Most of the cycling process is automatic i.e it happens on its own. But the question is – how to start nitrogen cycle in aquarium? Fish-tank cycle or aquarium nitrogen cycle (aka the nitration cycle) is the process of breaking down nitrogenous waste as ammonia produced by fish and dead plants in aquarium into less harmful components. If you fail to understand this cycle process, you are putting major stress on the fish and eventually killing the fish. Learning about the cycle and dealing with the critical period will greatly increase your chance of effective and efficient fish keeping.

Why do We Cycle?

The Fishless aquarium nitrogen cycle accumulates the beneficial bacteria that convert these toxins into less harmful substances. Ideally, ammonia and nitrite levels should measure 0 ppm.

Treat the water for chlorine before beginning the cycling process. Chlorine will kill the cultures of bacteria created by cycling, which hinders the process of the fishless cycling. Do not treat the water with other chemicals in the fishless cycling process once water is dechlorinated.

The Need of Beneficial Bacteria

This may sound strange, but bacteria are vital to the health of any aquarium. As ammonia increases, ammonia-oxidizing bacteria grow. This bacteria transforms ammonia into nitrites. However, high levels of nitrite are also toxic to fish. The nitrite oxidizing bacteria convert this into nitrate, which is less toxic to fish and corals. As ammonia and nitrite fall, homeowners should expect nitrate levels to rise.

High levels of ammonia are key to stimulating the growth of colonies of beneficial bacteria. Unfortunately, high levels of ammonia can kill other aquatic lives in your tank. Unfortunately, the establishment of nitrite-oxidizing bacteria takes time. These colonies often grow slowly and take 30 to 45 days to mature. Be careful when adding ammonia sources. Once the bacteria start to grow, the ammonia should never surpass 5 ppm. Extreme levels of ammonia during the fishless aquarium nitrogen cycle can paralyze the process. Nitrifying bacteria, also known as good otherwise beneficial bacteria, are present after effectively cycling a new tank.

Nitrifying bacteria provide filtration of natural biological fishless cycling process as well as are responsible for breaking down organic waste within the fish tank. It can take several weeks for a good number of beneficial bacteria to grow in a new clean tank and it is better to be patient and let the colony grow properly rather than hasten the formation of the aquarium nitrogen cycle. Running can create rapid changes in water quality that can impact and harm delicate fish and corals, but with a little patience, you can create a balance of healthy water with good bacteria for your fishless aquarium cycle’s aquarium to thrive.

Why is Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle important?aquarium nitrogen cycle

Unlike nature’s environment, a fish tank is a closed environment for both fish and aquarium waste such as fish waste, uneaten fish food, decaying plant materials and so on. If you don’t to eliminating those waste, you are creating an unfavorable environment for the fish and eventually killing them. Even if the water looks clear, don’t get fooled by it, the water might be loaded with toxins, much like a septic tank. This is where the aquarium nitrogen cycle kicks in.

All those aquarium waste release ammonia into aquarium water, which kills fish. Bacteria in the filter media like lava rocks, k1 media will convert this ammonia into nitrite which is much more toxic than that of ammonia. But another type of bacteria is present in the filter media that feeds nitrite and converts it into nitrate. At low-level nitrate are not harmful to your fish. This conversion of ammonia into nitrite and nitrite into nitrate only happens after cycling. This is the basic step of aquarium nitrogen cycle which we will be discussing in detail in this article. And we recommend you to choose fishless cycling process for aquarium nitrogen cycle when you are setting up your fish tank for the first time.
There are various ways to start the aquarium nitrogen cycle in an aquarium:-

Traditional method

Traditionally, for the cycling process, hardy fish like zebra danios or guppies is used. These fish produce ammonia that the bacteria feed on which starts the cycle. Two fish per 10 gallons should be added to the tank in this process. You should not overstock fish at this stage. Since the tank is in its early stage and the bacteria that feed on ammonia are just beginning to propagate.

Alternative | Fishless cycling

Fishless cycling method is the correct way of cycling your fish tank since it does not risk fish health even if its hardy fish. Some of the alternatives to the traditional method are:

Media from a mature tank

The best alternative of fishless cycling is to use the filter media from the old mature aquarium that contains all the beneficial bacteria and aquarium waste. This process helps to introduce bacteria from a tank to a new tank that is already been cycled. So, you don’t need to wait for bacteria in your tank to start growing naturally. This process boosts up the aquarium nitrogen cycle in an aquarium.

Using fish food

Next alternative for fishless aquarium cycle is to use fish food. It is simple as sprinkling fish food in the new aquarium. This process takes a little longer time. Over the next few days, the fish food starts to decay and release the waste product containing ammonia into the water.

Using Ammonia

You can purchase ammonia from any kind of hardware stores in the form of water and ammonia solution. Since this mixture is toxic, you should keep the ammonia solution away from your pet and children. Fill a 3-gallon bucket water, add a drop of ammonia and stir. Now use an ammonia test kit to find the concentration of ammonia in the bucket. It requires 5mg/lt or 5ppm. If you don’t have the amount then again repeat the process for fishless cycling.

Fishless Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle process (Stages For Fishless Cycling)

Stage 1: Ammonia

As I said, the fish waste is mainly ammonia. This is direct from your aquarium, and also from the decomposition of your solid waste. In addition, excess food (due to overfeeding) also rots and produces ammonia.

Stage 2: Ammonia to Nitrite

Bacteria called “nitrosamines” feed on ammonia which is presented in the aquarium. It is great news because, in a fishless aquarium cycle where this colony of bacteria is established, ammonia is eliminated, thus eliminating the toxin and the risk to its livestock. The bad news is that nitrosamines create a waste of its own, called nitrite (NO2). Unfortunately, nitrite is also a toxin for fish and invertebrates, with effects similar to exposure to ammonia.

Stage 3: Nitrite to Nitrate

Another specific set of bacteria called “nitrobacteria” ends the important job of making your tank safe. They feed on the toxic nitrite and produce nitrate (NO3). Keeping nitrate to less than around 30 ppm (parts per million) is generally a safe zone. Over time, the nitrate will continue to grow (in a fishless aquarium cycle without plants). This is what regular (partial) water changes are mainly to keep Nitrate levels in the healthy range.

Stage 4: Help from the Aquarium Plants

For those of us who maintain living plants, they play a wonderful role in completing the final step of the Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle. Living plants consume nitrate as part of photosynthesis. The byproduct that arises from photosynthesis is oxygen, which helps oxygenate the water, which is the source of respiration of fish and other animals. For those who uphold very low maintenance, aquariums plants are key to limiting the accumulation of nitrates.

Steps to Completing a Fishless Cycling

In the following steps, we will be discussing the procedure to complete aquarium nitrogen cycle without risking a fish life. i.e. Fishless Cycling Process.

Step 1 – Ammonia Dosing:

Fishless cycling process starts with giving a “nitrosamines” bacteria something to eat. We simulate the waste of fish by adding ammonia to the fishless cycling process. Add 5 ppm of your ammonia to your aquarium. After adding ammonia, then regular ammonia and nitrite tests should begin. Actually, you could get away with testing only ammonia and looking for the value you will lose. Your tank is a closed system, so when you add the ammonia to 5 ppm, it will remain at 5 ppm until the “nitrosamines” bacteria develop in sufficient quantities to reduce ammonia. Any drop in ppm of ammonia will soon lead to detectable nitrite.

Step 2 – Maintain Ammonia and Watch Nitrite Levels:

At this point, the first crew of “nitrosamines” bacteria is in place and is producing nitrite as waste, which will be food for the next crew of “nitrobacteria” bacteria. “Nitrosamines” need food to stay alive, so start administering ammonia as needed. You may not need to take doses every day; simply test and add as needed, when ammonia read 0 or 1 ppm, continue and add about 2 ppm.

Apart from that, it is a waiting game for the second group of bacteria to grow exponentially; You know that this has happened when the nitrite shows a drop and nitrate is detected in a test. A second important part of this phase is to test ammonia and nitrite and make sure that they don’t exceed 5 ppm.  It isn’t that important with Ammonia as the bacteria will reduce this if it gets a little too high (from your dosing). When your tanks Nitrite reading is above 5 ppm, you need to perform a water change, and then test Nitrite again the next day.

Step 3 – Large Water Change to Clean Out Nitrate:

After passing the 24-hour test to demonstrate that the fishless aquarium nitrogen cycle has been established and eliminates ammonia and nitrite, your test is likely to reveal a high level of nitrate. Although nitrate is not toxic, it is small levels; we can eliminate it and create optimal conditions for incoming cattle. Make a huge change in water to get nitrate levels close to zero.

Step 4 – Add your Fish and Other Critters:

You did it! Your time and perseverance have been worth it and now you have optimized your tank to receive new fish, shrimp and any other cattle that you are planning. The established beneficial bacteria are strong enough for the full load of the cattle in your tank, so it is not necessary to introduce the fish gradually; you can add all your planned occupants at once if you wish. If you delay adding fish, you can continue to administer ammonia daily until you are ready (to continue feeding all the beneficial bacteria). Once you’re ready, just make your big water change to eliminate the nitrate.

Fishless cycling vs traditional cycle

Cycling elevates ammonia and nitrite to dangerous levels in a tank. If live fish are used for the fishless aquarium cycle, the owners should store their tank with sturdy fish. Resistant fish help promote the growth of bacteria through the production of waste. The owners often replace them with the most desired fish once the fishless aquarium cycle is completed.

Many times, resistant fish die as ammonia and nitrite levels increase. If the fish are lucky enough to survive the cycle, the fishless aquarium cycle’s aquarium owners usually send them to the fish store or exchange them for more desirable fish. For this reason, the use of live fish for the fishless aquarium cycle is not recommended. Aquarium nitrogen cycle without a fish is much more humane since no slaughtered fish are required. Also, biking with live fish can take more time than walking without a fish. This is because different fish produce different levels of waste.