01-13-2011, 07:02 PM
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To answer your question, when is the tank cycled: it takes anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks normally for a tank to cycle. Many things impact this. When ammonia and nitrite both read zero for consecutive days, and nitrates begin to show in tests, the tank is probably cycled for the biological load in it at that moment. Adding fish, overfeeding, dead fish or plants, killing off nitrifying bacteria--all these affect the biology and can cause a mini-cycle or even a whole new cycle pattern depending upon which and the extent.
There is no way to immediately cycle a tank. The closest to this is having live plants; in a well-planted aquarium, there will be no initial "cycle" detectable, either by test kits or by the fish. The nitrification cycle still establishes itself, but with live plants the ammonia is grabbed mainly by the plants who use it as their preferred source of nitrogen so little is left for bacteria. [To digress a moment and explain this: in basic water plants have the ability to change ammonia to ammonium and thus assimilate it; in acidic water ammonia automatically changes to ammonium and the plants just assimilate it directly. Ammonium is basically harmless to fish and plants, unlike highly toxic ammonia; ammonia detoxifiers such as Prime, Ammo-Carb, etc, detoxify ammonia by changing it to ammonium, which is why it will still show as "ammonia" with test kits. These products cannot "remove" ammonia per say, they simply convert it to ammonium.]
Back to the cycle. No product will "cycle" a tank. Those mentioned earlier in this thread "jump-start" the cycling process, but not all are worth using. Jaysee is correct, but permit me to expand a bit to explain. Tetra's SafeStart is 100% live nitrifiying bacteria; the formula was originally developed by Dr. Tim Hovanec and Tetra bought the patent a couple of years ago. Dr. Hovanec and other scientists working with him also identified the second phase strain of bacteria as primarily nitrospira, which previously was believed to be nitrobacter. Nitrosomonas bacteria is the first phase. SafeStart "seeds" the tank with live nitrifying bacteria, the same as using filter media or substrate from an established tank. Seachem also have developed this same process and their Stability also is 100% live bacteria.
Products such as Cycle are not live bacteria, and that makes the difference; they may or may not work depending upon your point of view. Personally, I would use (and have successfully) Stability or SafeStart because they are 100% natural and cannot do harm. They should only be used at the initial start of a new tank, not continued, as there is no point once the bacteria are established--unless something occurs to kill some or all of the bacteria resulting in a mini-cycle.
StressZyme is not the same thing. It "claims" to clean a dirty aquarium by breaking down organic compounds; this releases ammonia, which adds to the cycling. My personal view is that such products do not belong in an aquarium with live fish. There is a natural set of bacteria that should colonize the substrate to handle organics; live plants aid this immensely. But in either case, it should be allowed to develop naturally and not interfered with.
Regardless of how one "seeds" the bacteria, the cycle still takes time to develop. Using a bacteria supplement (SafeStart or Stability) will certainly help if fish are present. The nitrosomonas bacteria must first appear and begin to colonize, and that takes much more time without "seeding." It takes approximately 9 hours for nitrosomonas bacteria to multiply by binary division, at optimum water parameters (temperature and pH). Nitrospira bacteria take approximately 20 hours to multiply once established. So whatever the method (except for live plants) there is going to be ammonia in the tank and then nitrite. As both are highly toxic to all fish, reducing their levels can only be good. The larger the water volume and the fewer the fish, the easier this process is on the fish. Bacteria will multiply if "food" is available, but within the afore-mentioned time frames. Fish must be very few at first, and added very slowly over days and weeks to ensure the bacteria have time to increase sufficiently to handle the additional ammonia/nitrite.
Some fish are able to live through this process, some cannot. Those that do are very often weakened internally and as a result may be more susceptible to health problems and almost always an earlier death [premature]. Ammonia and nitrite toxicity does take a toll on fish, even if outwardly it is not apparent. It is certainly preferable to reduce this stress on the fish by going slow, using some form of "seeding," or even better, live plants.