Originally Posted by OrangeAugust
5 months to establish your tank?! I'm going to start cycling my 5 gallon next week... I might not be able to put my fish and snail in it until January?
The speed of a cycle is mostly determined by how soon the nitrifying bacteria fall out of the air into your tank. Sounds silly, but it's true.*
Once you have some bacteria, a fishless cycle is faster because you can power-feed the bacteria with >4.0ppm ammonia.
The justification for a fish-in cycle is that you can have your stock in rhe show tank while it's cycling. The downside is your fish lives longer in a weak ammonia solution. And it takes a lot longer.
You can get the advantages of each by populating your show tank (with lots of water changes) and cycling your filter separately in a spare tank or bucket. Once your filter is cycled, any tank you put it in is effectively cycled.
Including a snail will speed up the cycle a little, once you have bacteria in the tank. They are hardier than most fish and can (in my experience) handle horrific amounts of ammonia.
*For a fast cycle, the most important thing is getting some nitrifying bacteria to kickstart your cycle. Gravel or filter media from an established/cycled tank (just an 1/8 cup of gravel or half a filter sponge) will do it. With this, cycle time can be under two weeks.
Some members are trying Tetra Safestart or Dr Tim's One-and-Only. These are two that I can remember offhand, that have the actual bacteria you need. If you go this route, please get back to me with your results.