I just want to make sure I fully understand and do this right, as I have plenty of time to get it right!
I read over a guide here for cycling, and I think the raw shrimp method will be ideal for me. I'm going to get a shrimp, put it in a pantyhose and let it sit.
During this time do I run the water filter? Yes, that is where most of your BB will establish itself.
I keep up with the checks for the different bacteria/chemical levels and once it cycles through it recommends waiting "a bit" - what is a good amount of time to wait and make sure everything is clear?
Are you talking about before adding fish? I would test the water for about a week, upping the ammonia every 24 hrs to make sure the BB is processing it out. You cannot leave the tank without an ammonia source for more than a day or two or the BB will start dying off.
Once it is complete, it says to do a water change. Do I do a complete water change or how much? Do I need to do anything special to this new water?
Once you are comfortable the cycle is complete (0 ammonia/nitrites, <20 nitrates), do a big water change (50%+) then add your fish with 24-48 hrs. I would retest the water right before to make sure levels are still good. You need a good water conditioner such as Prime for anytime you do a water change or add water to top off the tank.
Also I am thinking of adding some Java Ferns later down the road, will I need to do anything like this when adding or is this a one time deal?
Not sure what you're asking is a "one time deal" cycling? So long as your filter continues to run & nothing happens to crash your cycle it is a one time deal.
I guess I got a little confused about when time comes to change my filters (about it being a one time deal).
Change your filters? Do you mean the filter media? ONLY when it is absolutely falling a part. Take out the existing filter cartridge or sponge, swish it, squeeze it in USED tank water then put back. If you change out any of the media rinse it in USED tank water before putting into the filter. Does this make sense or answer your question? I switched to sponge in my HOB filters because the cartridges I'm supposed to use fell apart to quickly for my taste. The sponge lasts MUCH longer & costs me less.
Yeah I think filter media is what I meant.. the cartridges/sponges. I was under the impression you had to fully replace them ever so often.
The instructions on filter cartridges say replace every 4-6 wks, which BTW is about how long mine would last. I've switched them all out to sponge & have yet to replace any of them. I just squeeze them out in used tank water when I do a water change & stuff them back in. Easy & last much longer which means lower cost.
I did a check with some Youtube videos of people doing water changes.. I have never done one. I totally get how to take the water out with a siphon.. but getting the water back in?
For these small tanks (5.5), we're going to start with just a siphon for a bucket, not the long ones that attach to a faucet. Do we prepare the fresh water before adding it, or just add the tap to the tank, then add the stress coat to de-chlorinate the water? I think I've gotten so confused because I watched people with those python siphons and it feeds tap water directly into the tanks.. or at least that is what I understood with the videos..
Here's what I do . . . I have 2 buckets; 1 is for fresh clean temp matched conditioned water & the other is strictly for used tank water. It's easier if they are the same size because you fill the one for new water, then syphon out of the tank the same amount into the other. I fill the bucket for new water add my water conditioner, ferts, etc. then set it aside, unplug the filter, unplug the heater, remove the hood/light then syphon/vac the tank, then clean the filter media if need be in the removed tank water, re-arrange plants/decos or whatever needs to be done inside the tank, then gently pour the new water into the tank. I have a decoration situated just right so I can pour the water onto it, my Bettas stay out of the way & I'm able to refill the tank without messing (well mostly without messing) up the gravel & plants. I plug the heater back in first & after I've cleaned up everything I plug the filter back in. Hope this helps. You'll figure out what works best for you just takes a little practice.