Aquarium cycling can be a slow (and painful for some :P) process, because the time required can be up to 6~8 weeks. This is especially true in the case of fishless cycling, because some people can’t wait to get their fish. There are certain things we can do to make the aquarium cycle a lot faster.
Reason for the slow cycling of aquariums
Since all the new fish tanks start with near zero beneficial bacteria of both types (nitrosomonas for converting ammonia, and nitrobacter for converting nitrite), it takes time for them to multiply to a level where you can actually see a change in the test readings. More importantly, nitrobacter will not even start to grow in number at all until the second stage when there is finally nitrite in the water. For nitrite to appear there must be enough nitrosomonas to feed on and convert ammonia first. It can take 2~3 weeks before nitrosomonas grow into sufficient number to provide nitrite for nitrobacter. The first stage is basically a bottleneck or choke point for the second stage. If we can make both stages starting simultaneously from the beginning, the whole aquarium cycling can be a lot shorter.
Three tips to speed up aquarium cycle
1. Heavy bacteria seeding
2. Higher water temperature
3. Higher oxygen level
Heavy Bacteria Seeding
To have some beneficial bacteria to start the aquarium nitrogen cycle will certainly speed up the cycling. More importantly, to have both nitrosomonas and nitrobacter to begin the cycle from the very beginning can be a huge jump start for the aquarium nitrogen cycle since it eliminates the waiting period for nitrite to appear.
Media from well established aquariums
Traditionally people seed bacteria for starting aquarium nitrogen cycle by using an object from an already established aquarium. This object can be a decoration, or some gravel. The best thing to use in this case is a piece of filter media. Since most beneficial bacteria colonize on the filter media, by putting a piece of filter media from a well established aquarium into a new filter in your new aquarium can give quite a jump start for cycling your new aquarium. Since not everyone has the access to a well established aquarium, this form of bacteria seeding is not available to everyone.
Bacteria in a bottle
Nowadays, there are commercial available bacteria seeding products for jump start aquarium nitrogen cycle in new aquariums. Yes, it is a fact there were some old bogus products with incorrect species of land based bacteria in them. When those bogus products were used in an aquarium, at first the tank might seem to be cycled quickly but it will not last because the land based bacteria will drown in the water eventually. The end result is the user must keep dosing those products in order to keep the cycle from crash. Due to wide spread of such bogus products in the past, many people believe all bacteria seeding products wouldn’t work. This is a misconception and old news.
Since Dr. Tim came up with a way to store bacteria spores in a bottle in liquid form, the first proven working product was Bio-spira. It was not long before Tetra re-branded the same product into Tetra SafeStart which was more widely available and many aquarium hobbyists have successfully used it to quick cycle their aquariums. The very same product is now in even more different bottles with different names. Dr. Tim’s One and Only is just another example. These commercially available bottled bacteria are all proven working after tried by many fish keepers. While it is true these products are meant for cycle with fish because the fact most people are not patient enough to do the fishless cycling in an empty tank, I have personally used Tetra SafeStart twice for fishless cycle with pure ammonia in two separated tanks. In both cases my fish tanks were cycled within a week, and the cycle was permanent. I have read plenty of good reviews from other fish hobbyists before I even tried Tetra SafeStart, the good results were no surprise to me.
Higher Water Temperature
Both nitrosomonas and nitrobacter love warm water. In the case of fishless cycling, you may turn the heater up and raise the water temperature to middle or high 80F, it will speed up the multiplying of these beneficial bacteria. High temperature can also increase their appetite for ammonia and nitrite. Although it will not make the day and night difference in the total time required to cycling an aquarium, it will certainly shorten it to some degree. Every little help counts when you can’t wait to get your hands on the new fish, right? 😛
Higher oxygen level
Both nitrosomonas and nitrobacter require oxygen to multiplying. A rich oxygen environment will certainly help them grow faster and therefore shorten the fish tank cycling time. You can easily achieve this by turn up the air pump and add more air stones. This is also required if you use higher temperature from the previous tip, because warmer water holds less oxygen.
There is no set time for how long it might take to cycling an aquarium before it is ready. By applying all of the tips you should be able to shorten it to less than two weeks.