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How do you set-up a new tank and cycle your tanks?


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How do you set up a new tank?

...Sounds like a bit of a basic question doesn't it?

But getting this stage right is going to eliminate the majority of problems you'll come across in fish health, from the spawn tank, community tank, betta barracks, small jars, and 8 foot displays.... water chemistry is where the party's at.

Obviously every setup is unique to the needs of it's inhabitants, I'm hoping everyone will contribute their own processes here.

Inspired by a lecture on Water Chemistry by Scott Haymes (AQUAPICS) at the most recent EDAS meeting, there were several "ohh's" and "aah's" on simple fishkeeping and water quality points - plenty of those coming from me, and many from the more seasoned fish keepers in the audience!

I'm going to share a few basic resources, along with images from the talk.... and show you how I set up my tanks, covering the following:

Tank details

litre capacity of tank:

Type of filtration:

Tank ornaments:

Plants & Driftwood:

Substrate if any:

Fish details

Type/s of fish:


Desired Ph for fish:

Desired Kh for fish:

Setup details

What do you add to water:

What is your cycling process:

Some online resources about cycling your tank here

"Cycling the tank" means that you are establishing a bacteria bed in your biological filter to remove the toxins that the fish's metabolism creates. There are right and wrong ways to do this, and several things you can do to slow this process (which you don't want to do). There are two steps to cycling, but you don't have to do anything special for either of them. First, your filter will grow a culture of bacteria that digest ammonia and turn it into Nitrite (which is more toxic than the ammonia in hard water or water with a higher pH), then your filter produces bacteria that digest Nitrite and turn it into relatively harmless Nitrate. However, Nitrate will contribute to loss of appetite and stress in your fish, as well as contributing to algae growth, so it is important to do regular small water changes to keep your tank in best condition."

Scott had a slide to show the cycle:


"Understanding the Nitrogen Cycle" here

Biological filtration is by far the most important forkeeping fish in an aquarium. From the moment fish are introduced into theaquarium, they begin releasing ammonia, their principle waste. If allowed tobuild, this ammonia can kill fish by burning the gill tissues and preventingthem from taking oxygen. Beneficial aerobic (oxygen-loving) bacteria help usfilter the water through biological filtration. Essentially, waste laden waterpasses over bacteria, which consume the waste and convert it into less toxiccompounds.

Nitrosonas bacteria are traditionally held as the bacteria that are responsiblefor converting ammonia into compounds called nitrites. The establishment of ahealthy reproducing colony of these bacteria takes about 2-3 weeks. Oncecreated in the filter media, these bacteria will instantly change all ammoniapresent in the water into nitrites. Nitrites, though, are fairly hazardouscompounds to fish health as well, so the filter must employ the use of anothergroup of bacteria to adequately filter the water. Nitrobacter or Nitrospirabacteria are held accountable for the conversion of nitrites to nitrates. Thesebacteria behave in a similar fashion to the Nitrosomonas bacteria in that theywill consume nitrites and excrete nitrates as a waste product. Two weeks aregenerally necessary for these bacteria to fully seat themselves into a filter’smedia. Again, once established, these bacteria will instantly change (throughan oxidation process) all nitrites present into nitrates.

"The growth and establishment stages of bacterialcolonies are what are referred to as “cycling” the aquarium. In all, it takes4-6 weeks for the cycling to complete. The amount of bacteria that grow or colonizein the aquarium and filter is dependent on the amount of “food” (wasteproducts) available in the aquarium. However, once complete, the bacterialcolonies will continue to reproduce on their own, sustaining themselves on fishwaste until the filter is cleaned."

How a canister biological filter works (from the bottom up, through the coarse materials first)


Understanding PH... bottom line - don't bother with ph up or down, they're merely band-aids and aren't dealing with the issue of what is causing the high/low ph levels, for this - you need Carbonate Hardness my friends!


Carbonate Hardness saved my life... and guess what, it comes in a bottle.

You can literally treat water with a small powder that dictates the Kh


This is a shot of Scott doing a demo, from two lots of water, one was acidic - one was alkaline.

He did a Ph test so we could see what colour they went on the Ph chart.

Once this was clear he added Kh powder =7 and we watched as the water quickly went from deep blue / yellow to the correct green for ph=7

Ah - Ma - Zing.... What's your Carbonate hardness? ..aye?

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I seed up the filter by running the filter in an established tank for some time, then when I feel it's ready, I moved it to the new tank. That way, I don't need to wait a long time for the cycle to establish. I feel bacteria in liquid (like Seachem stability or Sera nitrivec) also helps. I read a journal that used Sera Nitrivec in another forum for fishless cycling and cycled the tank in 10 days. I have yet to try it out though. I'd love to some time in the future. I am only using Stability at the moment.

On my very first time though, I did a fishless cycle instead of cycling with hardy fish.

My first trial was using pure ammonia (I put in way too much). For like 2 full weeks and my ammonia reading was still off the chart :lol:. Emptied the tank out, and started again. Feeding empty tank generates source of ammonia too. Once a tank is cycled, you'd practically be able to cycle any other tank reasonably fast.

When possible, rather than using new gravel to set up the tank, I'd use old gravel from the established tank and put the new gravel in the established tank. That'd give me a kick start.

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After realizing I had a few things to correct in my Sorority tank (as I was leaving the filter off over night and letting the GOOD bacteria go BAD and upset my ladies) I decided to document my new tank process...

Tank details litre capacity of tank: approx 60 litres

Type of filtration: Eheim 2215 Cannister (bio filter)

Tank ornaments: none

Plants & Driftwood: 3 pieces of driftwood, anubias, various other green things, duckweed, japanese riccia, ferns etc

Substrate if any: bare bottom

Heater: 24-26 degreez (50watt) + thermometer

Fish detailsType/s of fish: female betta sorority

Quantity: approx 12, more to come, around 20 eventually

Desired Ph for fish: 7 (I choose to stabalize my water at this, I understand it can be more flex for betta, so long as it's stable)

Desired Kh for fish: 4

Setup detailsWhat do you add to water: Indian almond leaf extract / Stability CYCLE / Stresscoat / Carbonate hardness powder =7 / Shell grit / Aquarium Salt / bettafix

What is your cycling process: 1. Clean glass well, free of algae and disinfect if there's been disease in the tank (small amount of dettol, VERY diluted)2. Place filtration inlet/outlet 3. Just add water, and lightIMG_0537.jpg

4. Add appropriate amount of goodies:IMG_0540.jpg

5. Don't forget shell grit for calcium and mineralsIMG_0542.jpg

6. Looks a bit mucky, add heater, thermometer and turn it all on.IMG_0543.jpg

7. Once my heater has stabilized at around 26 degreez... often over night (I put a bigger one in after this shot) I add plants and light.....


8. This is the stage where I'm a bit naughty.... as I've put cycle in, and let the thing settle for 24 hours with no fish, I know it isn't "cycled"

So I've taken a reading of the following:

Nitrate/Nitrite =0

Ph 7

Kh 4

But I pop my fish in anyway, as I have nothing else to cycle with.... and there are so few of them.

I will be doing 20% water changes daily to ensure there is no major spike, and for 2 weeks, particularly that I am establishing a new filter... I will test the parameters every day and monitor the fish.... sure not to over-feed at this stage.

I'll let you know how it goes, and when/if I get an ammonia spike.


Edited by melbournebetta
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I hope I'll remember to fill this in when I set up my 4ft tank.

I plan to move literally everything from the current 90lt community tank to the 330lt tank. Including the gravel! I have a canister running on it at the moment and a 1000 L/ph internal filter, the canister will be moved over to the new tank but I will be placing the sponge from the internal filter into the brand new canister to help seed that. I'll probably also be using Nutrafin Cycle.. When I finally get the new tank I'll document how this works out for me. :)

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I have to admit that I've never ever properly cycled a tank. Well not intentionally anyway. And I've never bothered to monitor ammonia, nitrite and nitrate to check that it has in fact cycled. Just so everyone is clear about where I'm coming from... THIS IS BAD!! I'm a bad, bad, bad fishkeeper. DON'T follow my example!! *lol* Having said that, bettas do appear to cope better than other fish. I recently lost half my newly acquired endlers because they didn't cope with my tank setup procedures (ie no cycling, just a bit of Seachem Stability). I don't generally have problems with bettas when I set up tanks that way. However, after Scott's talk the other day, I might take a little more care, especially when I'm using the tank for species other than betta.

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Yeah I'm with Razzi on that one. I've only ever tested ammonia in a new tank if it looked like there was a problem. I've always just cycled a tank by adding in a filter from a developed tank or just adding small groups of fish each week and water changing each week. Never had a problem doing it this way, but definitely wouldn't do it with marine fish.

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My gouramis bred continuously in a pH of 5-6 and an ammonia level of 4ppm. My brother dumped them on me unexpectedly, so they had to live in a 40 litre tub until I could rehome them. They never showed any signs of distress, and managed to have more than 500 or so fry.

I once found an uberis fry in a unheated, half-filled tank where I used to tip all my old fish water. The ammonia reading for that was about 8ppm. However, the fry was healthy and surviving off all the little organisms in the water.

I never cycle any of my wild betta tanks because the pH is so low as to make any traces of ammonia negligible.

In fact, I always run into trouble cycling my tanks because of the softness of my water. The pH of our tap water crashes to around 6-6.5 if left in a bucket for a couple of days. Therefore, if I want any of my tanks to cycle I have to manually add crushed coral to the filter to act as a buffer.

Surely in the wild, there would be high levels of ammonia present in water systems during drier weather. Perhaps bettas are just better adapted to dealing with ammonia toxicity since they and goldfish, are some of the only fish I can think of that can survive in a cup or bowl for any extended period of time.

Edited by Wild Nut
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Yep, I am another one with bad cycling habits. I pretty much do what Razzi does, I just make sure the filter I use has been seeded in an established tank for a couple of days... I've only checked water parameters if something is wrong. Once again, as above DON"T FOLLOW MY EXAMPLE!!!

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I am a horrible fish keeper as well. I have never tested hardness and only test ph, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite when a problem appears. I am very regular with all wc most of the time.

When I set up a new tank or clean my filter (every 12mths) I add a sludge buster for outdoor ponds. It's full of good bacteria and I only use a pinch. add fish once temp stable. Use dechlorinator when adding water. All betta tanks have IAL. I only salt sick fish.

Not saying it's right, just what I do. :-)

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Go easy on the aquarium salt ness, don't always follow what the instructions.

Until recently I've always followed the instructions on the label for a tsp per 10 liters of changed what. But I had a water hardness test (TDS) pen said I had 468 ppm of hardness in my tank! It's almost rate extremely hard water when I thought my tank water was soft! So I recommend you beware of the labels on the chemicals and don't alway believe what they say.

I cycle my tank by squeeze an cycled filter water out and then use that water to wet my new filter. Run the new filter with very minimum fish load, have lots of plants no matter whether it's low light or high light (only if I have the lighting for high light plants if not just low light ones). Plenty of moss, plenty of java fern, and some anubias cuttings. The plants work two ways, first it's already has large amount of good bacteria on it's surface of plants that gives jump start to the cycling process. The second is that the plants will use the ammonia, nitrite or nitrate produced by the fishes, reducing the toxicity of the water. I usually slowly add extra stock to the tank after some water tests.

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At the ASV meet, I remember that the speaker said that TDS doesn't always work, so you ought to use the GH and KH test kit.

I can't recall exact reason that he mentioned, hopefully someone who attended can remember and enlighten us again. :blink:

(All I can remember is the funny part where he said that if you urinate on the tank, the TDS would pick it up :lol: )

I wish I have his presentation slide for reference..

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Definitely, we all have our own methods... all's I know is; until Yan asked what my carbonate hardness was in my fry tanks (that all happened to be melting) ....I had no idea

Every new tank gets (literally) a pinch of salt, I often use it to medicate along with other treatments too - but while I'm heavy on the salt at dinner, i'm careful in the fishroom.

Also, I have to agree with Joan, the measurements on the packet of ANYTHING is just a guide - when I'm doing something the first time, I'll test my water (out of the tap) treat, and test again to ensure I've done it right.... then a week later to ensure it's stable.

Obviously I'm not too OCD about it, as I do it once, and then I know how to set up a 60lt tank (for example)

It's about establishing practice, and monitoring it every now and then....

I've thrown the ladies in the tank, and the ph is up a little, I'll continue to WC (as I know this filter has very little bacteria in it, as I gave it a good ol' scrub)

Thanks for y'all's feedback.

Bussy - do you know what your hardness is out of the tap?


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Here's some anecdotal evidence, our fighters at work were having some issues with melt and generally looking poorly a while ago. We had been water changing them with water from the plant tank (no or very low added salt). Since we switched to water changing with salted water out of one of our tropical 2 system, most of the issues with them have stopped.

Needless to say I'm a fan and keep my fish well salted, pepper on the side please.

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I used Scott Haymes Aquapics products when I had my African Cichlid tanks set up. The conditioning salts and the GH/Kh generator were excellent and the parameters never fluctuated. It set the pH at around 7.8-8.0 and kept the kh/gh locked as well. I probably owe a lot of the success of my broods to those products.

Have also set up a tank using the Tropical salts and KH=7, with similar good results.

At home, I try to test the Kh and Gh of the water every now and again just to see what's going on with the tanks. And now for the bro-science part of my rant, it seems to me that when everything reaches equilibrium in the tanks, and there are no constantly changing variables, the fish are more alive and seem to want to "get their spawn on" almost like clockwork. This is probably true for African mouthbreeders at least.

Heh, 3 paragraphs and I'm still not sure if I made any relevant point to the discussion ;P

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  • 3 weeks later...

Spot on, once my tanks stabilise, I rarely need to check anything - and do so just to keep an eye on things..

In summary (oh I do love a science experiment) I discovered the following:

a.) you're an idiot if you turn your filter OFF (external canister that is) as you end up killing the good bacteria, and pumping poison through the tank each time it turns back on.

b.) setting up a tank for Betta is particularly easy - adding Carbonate Hardness stabiliser, stress coat, salt, pinch of shell grit, and CYCLE you have an instantly stable(ish) water chemistry

c.) other people cheat like me too

d.) except it's not cheating because I tested the tank every 4 days and didn't even never get no spikes or nothin.

e.) I love my eheim 2215


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I started 'cheating' the other day. I was fed up with our super soft water causing my pH to crash all the time so I decided to find something to buffer it to 7.0 and hold it there until the next water change.

Feeling a slight tinge of guilt (this is the part where everyone usually jumps in and screams "NO!! Don't touch the pH!!! :lol: ) I bought a 2L bottle of Betta Basics and have been using it in my smaller betta tanks for a week or so now.

Where my pH would usually be 6.0 or below, it is now holding nicely at 7.0 even 3 days after a water change.

I'm now testing it in a container with an IAL and leaving it out for a week to see how well it truly does work.

Honestly though, my most productive tank, is the one that houses my rutilans. It smells terrible, has a weird jelly-like fungus growing on the leaf litter, and hasn't been given a water change in a couple of weeks but the whole family is incredibly healthy, and they have spawned at least ten times or so now.

Unfortunately Jaws Junior keeps sneaking in and eating all his siblings before I can net them out.

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Well, it's started. Prepping for the 330lt 4ft. While taking some measurements I figured out the new tank won't fit through my door way because the 90lt tank is in the way... OOPS!! Major oversight on that one - so yeah, 90lt tank had to go and it had to go NOW LOL. Sitting outside I have a standard 4ft tank (120lt). On sunday, I moved almost the entire contents of the 90lt tank to the temporary 4ft.

I first half filled the new tank with RO water then went to work on the 90lt tank. I removed all of the plants, then moved the equipment (heater and 2 filters, I also added a 2nd heater as this thing has to sit outside) to the 4ft, then I drained 2/3 of the water and poured that into the 4ft. Waited for temperature to balance then moved the fish. Half an hour later I removed the rest of the water from the 90lt tank and put 1/3 of the old gravel into the 4ft tank without washing it and added the plants. There hasn't even been a mini cycle, not a bump or a hitch. I will wash and place the rest of the gravel in the 4ft though as the fish are a little too fascinated with staring at themselves on the bare bottomed half of the tank.

Oh and on monday night I also added a brand new Eheim 2228 canister filter to the 4ft to kick start it. In a few days I will remove one of the old filters (it's a 1000 L/PH internal). This is getting exciting!

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we have verry hard water hear in Perth But I pump my water straight from the bore it is of th meter for hardness as it comes from a limestone cave under my property I have a 200 Ltr barrel filled with 2 FT of blue metal wedged in this is fly wire and then about two KGs of peet on top I add dry Bannana leaves and pandanas to this amd it is not put it to the second tank for a week there are mosquitoes and scuds and black worm thriving in it after a week I put it in to the second tak that has Just 1Ltr of Banana tea added each time it is filled and four AIL leaves this sits for a week and then it is filterd through chuks in to buckets for water changes

i DONT CHECK THE WATER ANY MORE AS EVERY TIME i WATER CHANGE THER ARE BUBBLE NESTS IN EVERY JAR AND THEY HOLD FOR AGES oppS must have hit capps but I dont cycle tanks as the water has it all I do have filters in every tank but they are very rarly on



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Granted I am not testing, I have a Seachem Ammonina Alert thingymabob sitting in the tank and it has shown no trace of ammonia and I haven't bothered with pH since I am using RO water (7) and old tank water (6.5-6.8) and then adding an amazon river buffer. Once I finish my tea I'll go test the basics but I am expecting it all to come up around the same levels that my 90lt tank used to sit at, 0 0 0 and 6.8. My substrate mix is designed to buffer water to 6.8 for plants anyway. For the sake of this thread, I'll try to test everything once a day when I get the 330lt tank up and running.

Nitrate and Nitrate shouldn't even really need to be tested for as I've just added a bazillion litres which would have diluted any nitrate level (I regularly had 0 in the 90lt but it was water change day) and nitrite shouldn't be present because there has been no ammonia present to turn into nitrite.

Hopefully that all made sense to anyone other than me, I'm battling a hangover from hell.

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