Since not everyone has the access to pure ammonia, cycling with fish food or raw fish is another way to do fishless cycle if you do not wish to cycle with fish. It is a slower and messier way to start aquarium nitrogen cycle.
To cycle a fish tank with fish food or raw shrimp or fish, you first need to set up an aquarium.
Additional supplies you need for the cycling with fish food is
1. Fish food or raw fish/shrimp
2. a water test kit
Things to know before cycling aquarium with fish food (or raw fish/shrimp)
Flakes are easier to break down and to produce ammonia quicker than pellets. In the case of using raw fish or shrimp, it is faster if you chop them into smaller pieces.
Four stages of cycling with fish food (or raw fish / shrimp)
Stage I. Waiting for the organic matters to break down to produce ammonia
Stage II. Ammonia is presence in the water. Wait for nitrite to appear.
Stage III. Both ammonia and nitrite can be detected. Wait for nitrate to appear.
Stage IV. There is now a reading on nitrate. Wait for ammonia and nitrite both reach 0ppm.
Steps for cycling with fish food (or raw shrimp / fish)
Step 1. Make sure the tank is set up correctly and everything is running. The most important thing is the filter system. It must be running 24/7. The aquarium water must be treated with aquarium water conditioner to neutralize chlorine in the tap water, or it will kill the very same beneficial bacteria you try to have.
Step 2. Add the fish food or the chopped up raw shrimp/fish into the aquarium. Try to spread them out as evenly as possible. There is no need to hold back on the dosage, since there is no live fish in the tank. Just use your common sense for not overdoing it.
Step 3. Since this is still the stage one, we are waiting for ammonia to appear. Test the aquarium water for only ammonia every day after 3 days into the fish tank cycling. There is no need to test it on the first a few days since it takes time for the organic matters (fish food, raw shrimp/fish) to break down into ammonia.
Step 4. Once you start to get a reading of ammonia, it has just entered the second stage. You should add more fish food or raw fish/shrimp into the tank, but the amount should be less than the first dosage. In the case of fish food, just dose as much as the amount you would have used to feed to the fish every day. You should also start to test for both ammonia and nitrite from this point on.
Step 5. If the ammonia gets above 6ppm which is a toxic level for even the beneficial bacteria, you need to do a partial water change to lower it back to 6ppm or less. The partial water change should not include gravel vacuum because you still need the organic matters at the bottom to produce ammonia on a constant basis.
Step 6. Continue to dose fish food or raw fish/shrimp in small quantity every day, and testing the aquarium water for ammonia and nitrite.
Step 7. Once you get a reading on nitrite, the fishless cycling has entered the third stage. You must test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate on daily basis, and continue to add fish food or whatever you were using as a source of ammonia.
Step 8. As soon as you start to get a reading on nitrate, it has entered the final and fourth stage. You must start to test the water for PH in addition to ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate on daily basis. Nitrate production process can be acidic. It eats away the water buffer slowly and can cause a sudden crash of PH. When the aquarium water is too acidic, the cycle can be stalled because it is undesirable for the beneficial bacteria. On the first sign of PH dropping, you should do a partial water change to restore the water buffer and to remove the nitrate.
Step 9. Continue to dose the fish food on daily basis and test the aquarium water for all readings. Once you get 0ppm on ammonia and nitrite a few days in a row, the aquarium cycle is finished.
Step 10. Since you have cycled a fish tank with organic matters, there is a lot of phosphate in the water. You need to do several large partial water changes to get rid of most of the phosphate as well as nitrate before you can safely add fish. During the partial water change, you need to use the gravel vacuum to remove all the remaining organic matters at the bottom of the tank.
When you add fish, it is recommended not to add too many fish at once. Add a few fish every two to three weeks until the tank is fully stocked is the best way to do it. You need to test the water for ammonia and nitrite every day as soon as you get the fish. If there is a sign of ammonia or nitrite, large partial water change is recommended every other day with Prime as water conditioner.
Cycling with fish food can be a lot slower than cycling with pure ammonia, but it is still just as safe for your fish since you cycle the tank before you add the fish. The whole cycling process can take more than 2 months with fish food. There are some tips for tank cycling can be used to greatly reduce the time required.