Hello! I'm new here Last week my kid's class pet betta went up for grabs and we got him the next day! Unfortunately, we didn't have anything setup yet! I ran around town looking for a tank and decorations, water conditioner (Prime), etc... had no idea about cycling. I have successfully kept about 5 bettas in the past so I figured I mostly knew what I was doing. The poor fish had clamped fins since we picked him up and going into a new tank didn't help, he just stayed around the top, barely swimming. I did a 30% water change adding more Prime, just incase there were high levels of ammonia. That night, he went nose-down in the gravel for a day before finally crossing the rainbow bridge. I don't think the tank killed him, but it certainly didn't help whatever was wrong with him. So, now we have this fishless tank with 6 nano marimo balls and a new plant that arrived today (I'm not sure what the plant is). I have since studied the nitrogen cycle and have been adding a few flakes of food each day to try to create some ammonia. I had purchased some test strips (no ammonia test on those) and was trying to see if the nitrites were building up until my master test kit came in. Levels on the strips were at zero still yesterday, we're on day 5 today. The master test kit arrived today and I tested twice for ammonia and nitrites, the second time I banged the bottles on the counter before adding drops to the test tubes. and everything looks like it's still at zero!! I have thought about going to grab a bottle of pure ammonia but summer break just started and I don't want to drag my hoard (3 kids) out to the hardware store for that! Ha! I might order one from Amazon. So, how long does it take for fish food to break down and release ammonia? The tank has been hanging around 75° and I got a little tank heater today, so hopefully that'll stimulate some bacterial growth. Anyway, I know timelines are hard, but shouldn't there be sooooome ammonia at this point. I have no idea if the fish pooped or not, he wasn't real interested in food after the first day. Not even bloodworms! Is a small tank quicker or slower to cycle? Do they all take weeks and weeks? I have some Tetra Safe Start OTW, is that worth trying or is it a scam/harmful in the long run? Also, the filter that came with the tank is disposable, like a tea bag or something, but I figure I should put something in there that's permanent so the good bacteria can live there. Any suggestions on what I can use to replace the tea bag-like filter? It's a Tetra XS cartridge. I apologize for the length and randomness of this first post but I am trying to get all of the info I have, out. Thanks in advance for any help and sorry if I forgot any important details. I may have the info, just ask if anything is unclear Oh, and my pH is ~6.8, very soft water, alkalinity is just about 0, the nitrate level on the test strip is *just barely* turning a bit pink. I'm considering that to be 0.