AQUARIUM CYCLING GUIDE
By Stacey Blood
Director Of Operations
Blue Shark Trading Company
So you want to cycle a new aquarium! This is, no doubt, hobbyist’s least understood step in aquarium keeping. It promotes more questions, confusion, frustration, and giving up than any other. But Blue Shark views cycling differently. We actually think it is fun! Why? Because it is more simple than many like to make it seem. Cycling, be it the long way or instantly, is systematic and has certain rules and parameters that provide a logical check list on how to get a cycle established every time. At Blue Shark, aquarium cycling is an extremely important step of custom installations. So what is aquarium cycling? It goes like this:
What Is “Cycling”?
The term “cycling” is defined by establishing biological filtration in the aquarium. Biological filtration, or the “biofilter”, is made up of bacteria that filter out the toxic ammonia from the aquarium via a process called “nitrification”. Nitrification is a two-bacteria strain process that turns toxic ammonia ultimately to nitrate. One bacteria serves as an “ammonia converter” that turns ammonia to nitrite. The other strain serves as the “nitrite converter” that turns the nitrite into nitrate, the end of the process. What we will do for the sake of this article is encourage you to think less of bacteria in terms of “microbes”, and more in terms of “livestock. They have their own requirements, conditions, and care that must be practiced just like the live stock you can see.
Where Do They Come From?
Nitrifying bacteria don’t just “happen” in the aquarium, or in other words, just appear immaculately. Like everything else in your aquarium they must be imported from somewhere else into a new aquarium, even if it’s just a handful. They can be imported from media or objects from another system but most often they arrive in or on the fish themselves if media isn’t used. In order to start this colony of livestock, only one of each strain is required: One ammonia converter and one nitrite converter.
Let’s just say that in a system cycled only by introducing starter fish, one of each bacteria fall off and stick on some new media in the system. Starting with a population of 2 and with a division rate of once every 24 hours, with proper conditions and adequate food, nitrifying bacteria will grow to a population of 549,755,813,888 by the end of 40 days! With a flourishing colony your ammonia and nitrite will be at or around 0ppm with present nitrates and your aquarium is cycled.
The faster, and no less effective cycle, is to directly import nitrifying bacteria with a product such as Blue Shark Colony. While importing media from another system can establish biofiltration, using a biological proudct such as Colony works just as good and usually better because you know you have the amount of nitrifying bacteria needed in every bottle. Such information isn’t provided on a chunk of live rock. Colony also carries zero risk of transmitting any harmful viruses or pathogens that could be residing in other systems. Colony introduces millions of real, living nitrifying bacteria that gets the cycle done fast. The other benefit of this method is that you become aware of any possible water chemistry issues that could be hampering the performance and growth of nitrifying bacteria. It’s better to find this out in the first few days than 4-5 weeks later!
Sally’s Aquarium Cycled But Jim’s Didn’t. Why?
Water conditions. Before you start to cycling your aquarium it is important to go into it with some knowledge about how nitrifying bacteria live and survive. Think of your aquarium as a “power plant” for your bacteria and each individual water “parameter” as a toggle switch. As each condition is met, you flip the switch and the green light glows. When all of your switches are glowing green, your bacteria are powered and will function. Just one red switch and frustration likely follows. Just like you need a certain amount of oxygen, nutrients, water, and minerals to survive so do nitrifying bacteria. So what are these “parameters”?
Water: The Nitrification Powerplant
Before beginning your aquarium cycle, let’s look at the aquarium as something different like, say, a power plant and a light bulb. The water plays the part of the power plant and the nitrifying bacteria plays the part of the light bulb. In an aquarium the nitrifying bacteria is just as dependent upon the water conditions as the light bulb is upon the power plant. No juice? No go. Below are the water conditions, or toggle switches, that must get a green light before the power plant will work and the light bulb will turn on with maximum brightness!
Let’s Go LIve!
*hum… spark… spark…..* We’re live! With an introduction of an ammonia source your nitrifying bacteria now have a place to live, grow, and give you years of joy with a healthy aquarium!
- * Tap water is recommended for freshwater systems due to the fact it typically contains the necessary amounts of phosphate and trace elements for nitrifying bacteria growth.
- ** If R/O water is used in a new freshwater aquarium it is recommended to supplement it with trace elements and a source of phosphoric acid to “age” it.