I agree that the API master freshwater kit
is a valuable tool! With it you can monitor ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates (as well as pH but that is the least of your worries right now). It is expensive but it will last you a very long time.
I recommend using Seachem Stability
(or any similar product that has good online reviews) which can help speed up the cycling process and reduce stress for your fish. Use 2 capfuls on the first day and then 1 capful each day thereafter for the next 2 weeks. (The bottle says 1 week, but it doesn't hurt to use it for 2 weeks.) Also, be aware that if you use things from an established tank that belongs to someone else (maybe your local fish store) you risk introducing any diseases which that tank my carry. If you know the person who owns the tank very well then it may not be a problem. You can still use Seachem Stability either way.
Use the API freshwater master kit to test for ammonia and nitrITe
once or twice per day during the cycling process for the next 2 weeks (3 weeks if you don't use Seachem Stability or a similar product). If there is a positive reading for either of those chemicals you need to perform a water change immediately. For instance, try a 30-50% water change (smaller water changes, like less than 50% are usually less stressful) and re-test afterwards. Repeat the water changes until the ammonia and nitrITe are zero. Once ammonia and nitrite are consistently zero for at least 10 days, then the cycling process is probably completed by then. Then you can focus on monitoring for nitrATes and performing routine/weekly maintenance 15-30% water changes.
Since you may be doing frequent water changes you need to make sure the new water is similar to the tank water. Remember to use a de-chlorinating water conditioner to the new water, just add it directly to the bucket of clean fresh water. Try to make the new water the same temperature as the tank. You may need an extra thermometer for this, but any cheap one will do as long as it is easy to read. During this winter my clean new water is cold so I use an 'aquarium-use-only' plastic container, fill it up with the new water and put it in the microwave for 2 minutes. (By 'aquarium-use-only' I mean that it has never been washed with soap. I bought the containers brand new and labeled them for fish-use only.) I add the microwaved water into the bucket of clean fresh water and test the temperature. I repeat until the bucket of new water is 1-2 degrees from the tank water. Then I carefully add the new water to the tank.
Do NOT clean the 'filter media' (foam or anything in your filter) during this time since this is where much of the good bacteria will be living. You can put an aquarium filter sponge
over the intake tube of your filter as an extra source of healthy bacteria. Just use a knife to cut a slit in the sponge and try to carve out a hole in the middle of the sponge, then slip the sponge over the intake tube of your power filter. The sponge can stay there forever until the sponge is tattered and falling apart. That way whenever you change out the filter media every month (or so) your sponge will always be in the tank as a home for the good bacteria. You can rinse out the sponge in the dirty water that you siphon out of your tank during water changes. Using the dirty tank water preserves the beneficial bacteria living on the sponge.
Be careful not to overfeed your fish since this will contribute to water pollution. That is a good general rule, not just for cycling your tank. Fish stomachs are the size of their eyeball. I feed my betta just 3-4 of the tiny betta pellets, or 3 tiny pieces of high-quality flake food per day, or 4 frozen blood worms.
Originally Posted by kuklachica
I have four fish in a divided 20 gallon. I am afraid that I got too excited and did not do my research before adding them to the tank. They are in there (since Tuesday). What do I need to do to make sure that it cycles properly? Can someone suggest a testing kit and a schedule to follow to properly cycle the tank? Would it be necessary to put them in temporary small containers until the tank is cycled? Or can it be done with them in it?
Thank you again everyone for helping me out. I know I have posted a lot lately, but I just want to make sure I am doing things correctly.