First Aquarium In 20 Years!

  • #1
I didn't know where to turn, so I turned to the internet and found this forum! Bare with me here. I had an aquarium as a kid and it absolutely fascinated me and I continued having fish until my teen years. Fast forward 20 years and I'm at it again, but with little true knowledge and learning as I go like a sponge. 6 months ago I had a relationship end and she had a betta in a tiny 2 gallon unfiltered tank, which I felt was inhumane. Never fed it, never changed water - I always did. When we broke up... I took the fish! Immediately put her in a 5 gallon filtered and heated tank. The betta thrived for a while (weekly water changes and tested water parameters constantly), until a month ago when it started to get sick. Treated with antibiotics, but after fighting for several weeks she went belly up (I was prepared to euthanize with clove oil at the end it was tough). Nonetheless, after all this I realized - I REALLY like fishkeeping.

So I immediately went out and got a 38 gallon tank/stand from my local aquarium hobby store. It has a precision heater, Aquaclear 70 HOB filter, and fake plants/décor for hiding places. Gravel was a mix of small to medium gravel. (Photo attached)

So I have self taught myself about the Nitrogen Cycle in aquariums (I'm a scientist so this was not a foreign concept) and am currently doing a fishless cycle. The guy at the aquarium store said he never does fishless and tells most not to bother. But I just felt if I did a cycle with fish, most would die anyways and waste money. Went with pure ammonia instead of fish flakes, thinking flakes would take longer to degrade and also after a while would dirty up the tank. I added Fresh Start bacteria (40ml) and Dr Tims Ammonia Chloride (4 drops per gallon/150 drops total) and immediately saw my ammonia test around 4ppm. 24 hours later, still at 4ppm with 0 nitrites. Added one extra dose of Fresh Start bacteria yesterday. This morning, still 4ppm ammonia (though my semI color blindness makes it hard to distinguish 2ppm/4ppm/5ppm) and 0 nitrites. Oh man... this is going to be like watching paint dry and all I want is to get some fish to sit back and watch (for hours). Something tells me this process will take a month or 2, even with the ammonia/bacteria added. And since the ammonia has spiked, it's took late to go back and add fish. I know I would kill them with 4ppm ammonia.

So, now I have all this time to research aquarium setup and fish stocking. This is where I turn to anyone reading here. A few questions:
1) Recommendations for freshwater tropical fish? I want a community tank, so different species that can co-exist. I know some like schools (so like, 6 or more) and others are fine being the only of their species or 1 of 2. The more colorful the better (I know saltwater fish have better colors). Growing up I had tiger barbs, so that's one species I may very well go with. Others? I didn't overcrowd the tank with plants and décor to allow for bottom feeders, but not sure what are good.
- Any online guides that have a complete listing of freshwater fish and their needs/temper?
2) Do I need an airstone? Does the filter provide enough oxygen or should I really consider an airstone? Pros and Cons?
3) I know weekly 25% water changes. But, how often should I change the filter media? Some say every month. Others say, never change it, just rinse in the dirty aquarium water. What's the correct way? Do I change all 3 media (sponge, carbon, bio) or just some?
4) Any way to speed this fishless nitrogen cycle up or am I just stuck for the next 4 to 8 weeks?
5) If the photo uploads right - recommendations on decorating? More/less plants... more/less décor? Suggestions where to place things?
6) If anyone out there is from New Jersey - recommendations for a solid tropical fish store?
7) Recommendations for food? I have Tetra flakes and freeze dried brine shrimp. What else? How often to feed?
8) Other input to help me do this all the right way?

Thanks all!
  • #2
1) I would find a couple types that you really like and then we can give you compatible fish to go with them seriously fish is a good reference sit
2) You don't need one but you can have one if you want one!
3) DON'T CHANGE YOUR FILTER MEDIA. Your beneficial bacteria (bb) lives there, taking it out will restart your cycle. Rinse it in dirty tank water as needed, you'll only replace when it's about to fall apart. And even then you will put the new one in beside it so the bb transfers to it first.
4) I would add the whole bottle of bacteria and turn the temp up to 78ish, other than that, not really.
5) I like more natural style aquariums, but I think everything is placed nicely in yours! I would move the blue plant to the left side where the green plant is, move the rock out to the right a little and move the other two plants behind the rock a little to the right so the blue one fits there.
6) I'm from Ohio, sorry
7) Tetra isn't the best. New Life Spectrum and HikarI are supposed to be good
  • #3
Welcome! Valerie had some good advice, especially on looking for a certain fish you are interesting and then stocking the rest of the tank around that. I think your tank looks good! Nothing wrong with artificial plants, I started with these and as I slowly got more experience started to switch them out for live plants one at a time. Live plants really make the tank come together nicely but let's work on the cycle first

Yes you can speed up cycling your tank to about 14 days with Tetra safe start! This is a fish IN process and many people (myself included) love this product for being effective and working fast.

Two things you will need are seachem prime water conditioner (this is the standard Conditioner we use for it's countless benefits that other Conditioners do not have) and an API master test kit so you can test your water (test strips are frowned upon for being less reliable).

If you decide you want to use tetra safe start and cycle with fish in we can certainly help you and is much easier than dosing Ammonia.
  • #4
Remove/replace the carbon every 30 days or just don't use it, it's not necessary. But keep the rest of your filter media as long as possible. Look into sponges (marineland) that you can cut to fit. You can get filter bags and bio balls and/or ceramic rings to use along with the sponge. These should last you indefinitely...

The food depends on what kind of fish you get, usually a variety diet of flake, frozen, live is good. Worms are fatty, use them sparingly like as treats. Some fish & some snails appreciate blanched veggies.

I'm waiting for my 40 gallon cycle to catch up with the ammonia (it's a dirted tank). But I plan on stocking it with nano fish. It is planted (live plants) but it has a long way to fill in lol. The hope is that with smaller fish and lots of plants, I can stock several fish and let it be like a paradise for them. So it will have at least some chilI rasboras and cpd and dario dario and mystery snails. I would loove to have some dwarf emerald rasboras or pygmy cories or blue eyed gertrude rainbowfish at some point but not anytime soon though... Sigh.
  • #5
Welcome to FishLore!

I'm not familiar with Fresh Start, but I can tell you, most bacteria additives do not work. But there are exceptions such as Dr Tim's One & Only and Tetra SafeStart+. Many people also like Stability. I myself an a big fan of doing a fish-in cycle with Tetra SafeStart+. It is fast and easy. Dr Tim's O&O is pretty much the same (as it should be since Dr TI'm invented TSS+). If you think you are interested in using TSS or O&O, just post and we can give you some guidance on how to successfully use it. Stability works very differently, but actually has instructions on the bottle (unlike TSS+) so if you wanted to use Stability, just follow the directions on the label.

If you want a community tank, I would stay away from Tiger Barbs, they can be very nippy. But a good substitute might be Odessa Barbs, or even Cherry Barbs, since they do better in a community tank.

I feed my fish a pretty varied diet of frozen blood worms, frozen brine shrimp, some kind of frozen vegetables (I forget the name), New Life Spectrum with Thera A, Tetra color enhancing pellets and Tetra Color enhancing flakes.

If you are getting good surface agitation from the filter an airstone should not be required, but the again it can hurt.

You should let your nitrate level be your guide for the % of water changed each week. Ideally you want to keep nitrates under 20ppm at all times.

I don't know what part of NJ you live in, but there is a really good LFS near me called The Aquarium Center () it's in Blackwood NJ.

And lastly, here's a thread that may help out also:
Anybody Else From Jersey
  • Thread Starter
  • #6
Wow, thank you for everyone's replies so far...

Not changing my filter media - do you mean all 3 (mechanical, carbon, and bio)?
Huge dose of API Quick Start added and temp is at 80 degrees already

I already have a full test kit (not strips), so I'm already good there! I have API Stress Coat and API Conditioner. Are these no good?
Why is cycling with fish easier than ammonia dosing? I would think having full control over the dosing is better. Also... since my ammonia is 3 or 4 ppm now and not dropping, it's my belief that I cannot add fish right now. If I wanted to add fish, I would have to wait for it to drop back to 0 ppm... and THEN do a fish-in cycle? And is it humane to cycle with fish? Exposing them to high ammonia and nitrates seems bad (and actually what I believe killed my betta).

I was wrong on the name. It is API Quick Start. Is that not reliable? I've already put in 3 doses worth (3 x 40ml). I would definitely be interested in TSS or O&O, if it's gonna work (and if the API Quick Start I have now is just a waste). I want to speed up this cycle process best I can. Even if I wanted to do a cycle with fish, I couldn't now since I added the ammonia and it's steady at 3 or 4 ppm and not dropping. Not the best condition to put fish in.
Thanks for that tidbit about tiger barbs because those were the one species I specifically remember loving as a kid. Though I don't remember them being nippy, I was also young and probably not paying attention. Cherry barbs are also on the list though. As well as maybe a Panda Cory cat... Harlequin Rasbora... Neon Tetras (would get a school of 6 if I did)... swordtails... I also remember having some sort of bottom feeder as a kid that would also kind of suction itself to the glass and clean the algae. Not sure what species it was. I like how blue dwarf gourami's look but not sure how well they would match with the others. What other species should I check out? I wish there was a complete guidebook of all freshwater trop fish!
Where do you get your food? Store or online?
I'm in North Brunswick, NJ... but for a top notch store would be fine driving an hour or so. The place by me in East Brunswick was terrible and I'll never go back.
For replacements, should I not use Aqueon sponge that was made for this specific filter? Why isn't carbon needed?
  • #7
I haven't heard any success stories from people who have used Quick Start.

That fish that would suction to the glass is a pleco. There are several species of pleco but for a tank your size you'll want a bristle nose pleco. Common pleco's get way to big for a 36g tank. FishLore does have profiles on many of the commonly found fish, you can access those profiles from the homepage.

I buy my food at either PetSmart or The Aquarium Center.

If you look at that Anyone Else from New Jersey thread you will see that several members from North Jersey trekked down to The Aquarium Center and were very happy they did.
  • #8
Welcome to FishLore!

I'm not from NJ, but I'm across the river in Bucks County, PA. If you're willing to make a little trip, hit up Reef To Rift in Hatfield, PA. Another good one is Natural Pet (formerly Captain Nemo's) in Norristown, PA. I know there are good shops in NJ too, but I haven't personally been to any; maybe some other semi-locals can help.

My advice for stocking is to make a flexible list of what types of fish you like. Don't get too set on any one stocking plan unless you know you can get them locally, OR you definitely know you are only willing to accept one specific thing. I like to get a general idea ("I want a school of 6 somethings, a pair of centerpiece somethings, and a group of six cory cats") and then make lists of which fishes I like in each of those categories. Then, I hit the stores and see what I can actually get my hands on.
  • #9
You already have a test kit so this is great news! First, prime is so highly praised because it is not just a water conditioner but renders ammonia and nitrite non toxic for up to 24 hrs. On top of this it will also remove heavy metals from your tap water.

TSS is easier than adding ammonia because there really isn't any dosing needed as long as you buy the appropriate sized bottle for your tank size. You would do a large water change and dose with Prime. 24 hours after dosing prime you would add the TSS along with your fish. After dosing the TSS you just wait approximately 14 days without testing or doing any water change(this includes not adding ANY conditioner). That's all there is, 14 days after adding you should have a cycled tank!

Some people prefer fishless cycle and that's okay if you decide to continue down that road. It is a preference but many people love TSS because you can add fish right away instead of having to wait for the dreaded cycle to finish

I personally have not used those API products but no one seems to disagree that prime is hands down the best product to use. You would be absolutely correct in saying that these levels of ammonia and nitrite are very dangerous to our fish, which is why a water change would be necessary. Throwing fish in an uncycled tank is indeed inhumane but many people have had great success with TSS (I've never lost a fish with TSS)

Ultimately it is up to you to continue fishless cycling but TSS seems to be a safe alternative to cycling your tank. Hope this helps
  • Thread Starter
  • #10
jdhef - I may take a trip down when it's time to stock. I also was looking at Absolutely Fish in Clifton (because I pass by there once a week and may have a new job up there). But seems like both are good rated stores.
For TSS or O&O... is one better than the other? I think I have only seen O&O online. Petsmart MAY have TSS, though I don't remember seeing it. Just want to do whatever I can to speed up the cycle and get it moving.
  • #11
Hello! Welcome to fishlore and welcome back to the fish world!

You’ve gotten wonderful advice. Mostly.
I’m sorry Valerie. The blue thing is fine. The castle needs to go a little further right and have some of the green stuff behind it. The little columns should be on the opposite side from the castle. The rock should be in between the little round green thing and the blue thing. And need more green things.

Had to do a little edit. Hubby is dyslexic.
  • Thread Starter
  • #12
Scott - Hmm.... I may try TSS then. Just because I have this beautiful new aquarium and its empty lol.

Gypsy - HAHA I had to read that like 8 times before I got what you meant lol. Green thing. Round green thing. Blue thing HAHAHA
  • #13
I also was looking at Absolutely Fish in Clifton

They're having a massive sale this weekend, could be a good time to pop in and get insane bargains on any supplies you're still in need of!
  • #14
Scott - Hmm.... I may try TSS then. Just because I have this beautiful new aquarium and its empty lol.
This is why a lot of people love TSS no need to wait upwards of a month with an empty tank!
  • Thread Starter
  • #15
Scott - Ok. So I'm pretty much sold on TSS. How much water should I take out to reduce? Or should I take it all out and refill from start? Do you add the TSS at the same time as fish? Or the day before?
Once fish and TSS are there... what should I do if I see ammonia/nitrite spikes? I anticipate there being some. Or do I just ignore it and hope the fish survive? Should I get extra hardy resilient fish during this (what would that be haha)? Or anything is fine?
  • #16
If you want to water change until those levels go down you can but I feel it would be easier to just start over since you don't have any fish.

1. Fill tank with water and treat it with Prime
2. Wait 24 hours minimum (no less)
3. Buy TSS and fish when you are ready to begin.
4. Add TSS to the tank and start acclimating the new fish immediately. (If you have questions about acclimating ask)
5. Once the fish has been properly acclimated and within 2 hours of adding TSS the fish need to be introduced to the tank.
6. That's all, just remember to feed lightly, don't add any more conditioner or test your water and after 14 days your tank should be cycled

There will be some ammonia in the water and that is fine, if there was none the TSS would not work because that is what the bacteria needs to feed on.

While you wait for the 24 period needed after dosing Prime you could make another post about stocking ideas for your tank. You can technically fully stock your tank from the start with TSS but for novices it is recommended to start with 1 small fish per 10gal according to Tetra.

Hope this helps
  • #17
Scott93 is right. If you are using prime as your declorinator you must wait 24 hr before dosing or it will all be in vain. And the reason for not texting in those early days is that tss makes the numbers do all sorts of odd things. People then tend to panic and water change --which again stops everything.
  • #18
For replacements, should I not use Aqueon sponge that was made for this specific filter? Why isn't carbon needed?

Carbon isn't needed because a sponge and other media should suffice. Most of the good bacteria will live on the sponge or bio balls or ceramic rings. Carbon loses it's effectiveness after 30 days and from what I hear it starts to leak stuff back out. It's good for removing meds from the water though.

You can use the aqueon sponge but in my opinion it doesn't hold up very well for long. Seed new media for at least a month before tossing the old media. I have an aqueon quietflow. There's a kind of guard that the cartridge sits in. I removed the carbon from the cartridge and stuffed a filter sponge in between the plastic remains of the cartridge and the guard. If you have a quietflow filter there should be enough room to put your own media into it.
  • #19
jdhef - I may take a trip down when it's time to stock. I also was looking at Absolutely Fish in Clifton (because I pass by there once a week and may have a new job up there). But seems like both are good rated stores.
For TSS or O&O... is one better than the other? I think I have only seen O&O online. Petsmart MAY have TSS, though I don't remember seeing it. Just want to do whatever I can to speed up the cycle and get it moving.

I buy O&O once at The Aquarum Center (when it was first introduced) but I do not know if they carry it anymore. It seems most people buy it on-line. I always had bought TSS at PetSmart, but a word of caution, check the expiration date on the bottle.

I don't know that one is better than the other. Here's a little history for you...
Dr TI'm invented a product called BioSpira. It was licensed by MarineLand. It was actually the first bacteria additive I every used, and it worked great. The only downside to BioSpira was that it needed to be refrigerated at all times.

Dr TI'm then developed SafeStart. It worked just like BioSpira only it did not require refrigeration, so it was easier to ship and store while in the store. Tetra Had bought the rights to SafeStart. Dr Tim, then went and started selling Dr Tim's One & Only.

So basically, I think one is as good as the other, since they are most likely the same product.
  • #20
I just finished a fishless cycle with Dr Tim's one and only and his ammonia chloride on a 65 gallon. It took 32 days to complete to the point where it could process the ammonia and nitrite in 24 hours consistently. Not sure it was worth the money but I'm new to this as well.
  • #21
Another way you could help jumpstart the cycle would be getting some cycled materials from your lfs. For example, wood or plantation that are already in a tank with fish will have bb on them. Live plants are also helpful because they naturally consume some of the fishes waste as their food.

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