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I have my first tank set up (20gal) and have been testing the water at least once a week for about a month.  Ph 7.6/ PH HI RANGE 8 / AMMONIA 0 / NITRATE2  0/ NITRATE3 0.  I'm still having trouble digesting these parameters.  I sort of understand what they mean, but it seems to be different for different fish.  I just want to know if i am ready for fish.  The plan is 1 male betta, 10 celestial pearl danios, 4 panda cories and 2 nerite snails.  Maybe a few cherry shrimp (maybe).   I'm confused about the nitrate3, shouldn't it be higher?  Or does that come after adding fish?  I have added the bacteria as instructed but the parameters have not changed.  

Am I ready??!!  Thanks for your comments


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@Kelly  what did you use for an ammonia source?  Without fish or another source you can’t start the cycle. I’m not an expert on fishless cycling a tank, but the end result is nitrate in the water regardless. 

if u just add the betta with one or two live plants and watch the water quality carefully, you should be ok.  Just wait until you are seeing nitrates before, slowly, adding any more fish.  The live plants will bring in a tiny amount of good bacteria, use the ammonia and nitrate for food, and bettas love hiding in them.  The betta will naturally add ammonia, but should not flood the tank too quickly.

or you could add fish food and wait.  

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Ken Burk is right--if you aren't getting nitrate at the end, your bacteria may not have any food, and if it WAS starting, it has stalled. 

Think of it like this: you want bacteria to clean up the toxic part of fish waste. You need to have enough bacteria to do that for all the poop from at least one fish, before you add one fish. 

  • Alternative 1, if you just put fish in they would poop, feed the bacteria, and it would grow to match the load. BUT! In the mean time, the fish would be stressed by the toxic "fumes" and maybe get sick. Even die. Not a great way to start. None the less, some people choose this path, using very tough fish. 
  • Alternative 2, you put in some non-living ammonia source to feed the bacteria. It grows and coats your tank. Now when you put your first fish in, it is ready to go, and expands as needed as long as you add fish gradually. 

Ammonia sources can be: actual ammonia chemical. Or you can just "feed" the empty tank with fish food as if there are fish in there. As the food rots it will make ammonia. Advantages of food is that it is simple. Advantages of chemical ammonia is that it is cleaner--you don't have to look at rotting food in your tank while it works. 

  • Alternative 3, you put in a ton of live plants, and they clean the ammonia out of the tank while the cycle gets established, sort of giving you a buffer, among other things. It works best if you love plants, and really want them as much as fish. That is for me, but not everybody. 

In your case, I would go with the food method because it is simple. Get some flakes. sprinkle it in 1x/day, imagine how much those fish will want. Go watch an old Mr. Rogers Neighborhood intro if you are having trouble picturing it, and keep track of your parameters. If you have more Seachem Stability, put that in too for a day or so, just as insurance to get things going.

The goal is that ammonia turns into nitrite, which turns into nitrate, which is safer for fish.

What you are looking for is that 2 days (or so) into feeding the empty tank you will have ammonia at 1-2 ppm. Then the next day or two (or so) you will have nitrite at 1-2ppm and ammonia will start to drop maybe to 0.5ppm. Then the next day (or so) you will have nitrate at maybe 5ppm, nitrite at 1ppm, and ammonia at 0ppm.

Your cycle is done when you have only nitrate, and ammonia and nitrite stay at 0ppm, even though you are still putting in the same amount of food each day. At that point, you can clean out all the gross food and put in the amount of fish that will eat the amount of food you have been feeding (mostly--don't go crazy with 40 fish).

If you want, you could do the same thing with tiny amounts of pure ammonia salts. It is less messy, and it does the same thing. This is a link to the kind of ammonia you would want in that case.

Please excuse geeky gratuitous Mr. Rogers footage--I miss him. Maybe feed just a tiny bit more than he is...🙂


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I am so grateful for all of the input i am getting.   You all have explained this so very well.  I am again excited about starting my new tank.  I was so frustrated.

When i first started my tank, I used Seachem prime and Stability.  I have continued to add both periodically, I thought that would be enough.  But, nothing changed much. 

I ordered some ammonia chloride this morning.  It will be here tomarrow.   I will start adding that and more Stability and watch  my parameters .

I have printed out your recommendations and will follow them closely.

Again thank you so much

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So prime isn’t an ammonia source, it is a dechlorinator which can also detoxify ammonia, which means it makes the ammonia that’s already in the water non toxic to fish. Brandy said it best for sure. My best advice would be to stock it slowly. Get just the betta first, since that’s the hardiest when it comes to water parameters. Whenever I first add a fish I like to wait a day before feeding, and feed very small, then over the course of the next week slowly up the frequency and the amount I’m feeding until I reach what I want to normally feed. Good luck! Also, I’d up the amount of corydoras to 6. I’m excited to see what you end up with 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thank you all that responded to my post "newby am I ready for fish"  I am so grateful for all of the info I got.

I followed the advice I received and let the tank do it's thing and what do you know it finally cleared up and my parameters are good.  I did buy my Betta 4 days ago and he appears to be very happy.  He thinks I dumped him into the ocean (20 gal tank).  I bought several different types of food for him and he readily eats any thing I feed him.  I feed him every morning around 7:30 and give him a snack at around 6:30 or 7:00.  I feed him just a really small pinch.  What are your thoughts on how I'm feeding.  I don't want to overfeed.  I use a ring at the top to keep food in place.  He is the only fish so far, but plan on adding 6 cherry barbs in about another week.  Look forward to any comments.  I sincerely appreciate the help everyone gave.  I was about to give up.  The best advice I got was to grow an enormous amount of PATIENCE.   I was fussing way to much.


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