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What does cycling a tank really mean? How do I know when my tank has cycled?
 

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The "Fishless Cycling" article is the one you want I've done it several times and it's easy.

My only suggestion/addition to that article is to recommend you moderately-to-heavily
plant the tank once you finish the last water change before you add fish. Even if it's
the stuff at PetCo or better yet check out the 'For Sale/Trade' forum here.

- Brad
 

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By far the best way to "cycle" a planted tank is to use plenty of fast growing stem plants from the first day you set it up. It is the growth of those fast growing plants that keeps the ammonia in the water at virtually zero. That way you can add some fish within a week or so, waiting just long enough to be sure nothing is drastically wrong with the setup. I usually add otocinclus and a half dozen or so of some cheap, but enjoyable fish, like guppies or other live bearers, or tetras. After another couple of weeks you can safely add just about any fish you want.

The nitrifying bacteria colonies will still establish themselves on the substrate, plant leaves, hardscape, and filter, but they will obviously not be as big as they would be if you didn't have the plants doing their work for them.

Cycling a tank is very important for a fish only tank, and our "standard procedures" are built around that type of aquarium, not planted tanks. With lots of plants it just isn't required.
 

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Well said, Vaughn.

I would also urge you to test the water parameters regularly, especially when you have fish in the tank to take any precautionary measures should the parameters go out of range. Get a standard, pH, Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate test kit from your LFS. If you're interested in learning about what happens during the cycling process, track the measurements for the above-mentioned 4 parameters and chart it. You'll see how it works.

You can also check out the chart here.

regards,
Ravi
 
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