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How To Start An Aquarium In 8 Ways

By King of DIY on

You know what's really crazy is just nine months ago, this building used to be my old garage and since then we've accomplished so much including starting up so many new aquariums, and it kind of inspired me to show you guys eight different ways you can start up your aquarium.

Now when I say start up your own aquarium, what I really mean is how to get it cycled in order to be able to support life like your plants as well as your fish and making it safe condition so they clearly don't die.

Anything organic in your aquarium, wood, plants, the fish, everything in there is creating waste, ammonia. Ammonia is deadly and we know it. Too much of it or even just a little amount of it can potentially kill off your fish. Now we know one thing. We all hear about this good bacteria, and that's true but these good bacteria exist everywhere just not in numbers able to support life like in an aquarium, what we need to do, is harbor as much of that good bacteria in our filtration systems and amongst all of the surfaces in our aquariums in numbers able to support the amount of waste that our aquariums are creating.

To simplify the nitrogen cycle though, all of this waste we're talking about is creating ammonia there's a bacteria called Nitrous enormous that's going to oxidize that ammonia into something that's less deadly called Nitrite. Nitrobacter oxidizes that Nitrite into Nitrate. Nitrate being entirely less deadly than the previous two and Nitrate we know is used by plants for example. However, a lot of times we measure nitrates in order to know when we're supposed to be doing our water changes, but a lot of the times that's not a good indicator as to when you should do your water changes as opposed to how many dissolved organics are in your water column.

That's not really the topic of today's video. All we want to do right now is how can we get as much of this bacteria into our aquariums in numbers that are going to be able to support the life within it? Like I said, these bacteria exist everywhere simply just not in numbers able to support life. Why can't we just set up an aquarium and wait until there's enough bacteria in it in order to add fish? And that's actually one of the methods of starting up a new aquarium. Is called the Fishless Cycle.

Basically, we set up a new aquarium and cross our fingers for the next six weeks and hope that bacteria establish within the aquarium in numbers able to support the fish we're going to be adding. Now regardless of the method that I'm going to be teaching you today, you want to start off with adding your fish in slowly. We're not taking a bunch of fish and adding them in all at once or you're going to have a bacterial bloom and probably an ammonia spike.

However, I will also show you how you can take a ton of fish and add them in all at once but that's probably going to be due to the fact that you already have some other established aquariums, more on this in a moment. With all of these different types of cycles, we're monitoring the water closely. We're testing for ammonia, we're testing for Nitrite and we're testing for Nitrate. With the fishless cycle though, this can be one of the most deceiving because all of these things don't appear in an aquarium that doesn't have any waste present. Of course, sometimes you might but this is one of the worst ways you could cycle off your aquarium is the fishless cycle.

Only due to the fact that you might have a completely sterile environment and not enough bacteria is present, you waited your six weeks, you add in your fish and everything starts dying. In my opinion, you should stay away from that method. But what if you use the fishless cycling method and simply add in bacteria in a bottle? And you guys know that there's so many companies out there that are advocating they have instant aquariums where you could just take this bacteria in a bottle, dump it into your aquarium and within a day or two you can fully stock your aquarium.

In my opinion, that's a bit iffy as well. There's so much reports out there that a lot of these bacterias in a bottle don't work. In my opinion, they kind of do, but it's not something I solely depend on ever. It actually takes a while for your fish to actually produce enough waste to get to that bacteria for it to consume, should you depend on that? Well, you can add in bacteria in a bottle along with other methods but in my opinion the fishless cycle, or just adding bacteria in the bottle is not something I do.

I always got add in these disclaimers. Some of these methods will work for others. I'm just explaining to you guys what has worked for me. Just because they are always out until I start shining the lights on them and sitting in front of them of course. You know when it comes to this bacteria in a bottle, you still want to monitor your parameters the same as any other aquarium. We're looking for ammonia, we're looking for nitrite, we're looking for nitrate. We want to make sure there's no ammonia, we want to make sure there's no nitrite and there's only a reading of nitrate and this can potentially take up to six weeks.

During this time you don't want to fully stock your aquarium or you're going to end up with a bunch of dead floating fish most likely. All right so the fishless cycle isn't that great. What if we just add in fish right away? Well, that's a method as well. It's called the Feeder Fish Cycle, or Insignificant Fish Cycle and in my opinion this is the cruelest method of cycling an aquarium. I highly suggest against it, but it works.

I mean when you add in a few tiny little comets or goldfish into the aquarium these guys are producing ammonia in the aquarium and over the course of six weeks you're going to cycle your tank the bacteria are going to have a food source. They're gonna populate your filtration, your substrate and so forth in numbers able to support that many fish that are in the aquarium all during this time though, your goldfish or feeder fish have to survive this ammonia cycle which in my opinion is cruel and again, it's not something I have done, but if you want to use organic materials, the next method is definitely your choice.

In the previous method, we talked about adding fish to produce waste in the aquarium to feed the bacteria that we need to cultivate. What we're really doing is kind of just adding in something that's going to produce waste into the tank so why not take a piece of raw shrimp, drop that into the aquarium and let that produce the waste and the ammonia as it decomposes and rots and the bacteria attack it, it's going to produce lots of ammonia in the aquarium and the bacteria will have a food source and have the ability to populate your aquarium.

Instead of using feeder fish which in my opinion is cruel, just drop in some organic matter like that into the tank and let that do the exact same job. At the same time maybe you take that bacteria in a bottle, dump that into the tank with its new food source of a shrimp or two and over the course of a week or so monitor ammonia levels and see if that bacteria in a bottle is actually working for you.

This is a much faster, much safer method and of course, it's not that cruel. Now we're getting into the ways that I cycle aquariums. With adding that shrimp into your aquarium all we're kind of looking to do is create ammonia within the aquarium and the answer is kind of yes. Why can't we just add ammonia directly to the fish tank? And the answer to that is also yes, but this is one of the most dangerous and deadly methods of cycling the aquarium just simply because most people overdose. We could take some household cleaner ammonia.

This is Old Country. It's widely reputable in the hobby to be fish safe. I've used it a ton of times. I do not use this for cycled aquariums, I use this to actually keep filtration systems alive when I shut down tanks, I'll explain that in a minute, but when it comes to selecting ammonia, not everybody's going to have access to the same brand. What we're looking to do is shake it up. Shake it up, open it. We're looking to see if there's any foaming at the top, a few bubbles is normal but if there is foaming that means there's some other agents within the ammonia that we don't want.

We just want ammonia and water that's it. Now a cup full per 100 gallons is typically what's been useful for me, but we're still going to have to monitor the nitrogen cycle with our test kits looking for that ammonia nitrite and nitrate. Of course how much you're going to need to add and how often it's going to vary depending on the size of your aquarium but in my opinion, a cup full every two weeks should be sufficient. You should only have to do this twice. If you add a cup full of this ammonia into one of my tanks, I'd kill my fish. That's too much ammonia all at once.

However, you can heavily cycle an aquarium depending on how much ammonia you use. In my opinion, you should take a bucket, you should add your filtration usually you'll have a canister filter or hang on the back filter or even a sponge filter handy, you could put that in a bucket and you could cycle that right in there. We're cycling the filtration systems, we're not cycling the water. Again, bacteria needs a surface to live on. It's not a free-swimming organism.

No, even though I would advise against using that method because simply put, most people overdose or don't doze enough or it's just too touchy in my opinion. What I use it for is this. You guys know that I'm going to be rescaping the 2000 gallon aquarium shortly and for at least two to three days I have to take the fish out in order to do so. These fish are going to be moved into another 100-gallon aquarium temporarily which will be running another filtration system that I'm already cycling or that it's actually already cycled and ready to go. But in the meantime what about the filtration system that's plumbed into the 2000?

Well for the fluid ice filter, I'm going to be able to add a cup full of this to feed the bacteria and keep it alive. For the canister filtration below, I'll be able to run this in recirculation mode, which means that it's just circulating the water within it. I'll pop the cap off and I will add a cup full and that should keep this alive as well. In fact, I probably won't even have to do a cup full for each. Maybe like a half a cup or something like that. I'll do some calculations, and I'll go from there. But this is why I have ammonia, is to keep filtrations alive in times like this, because if I shut these filtration systems down, bacteria start to die right away. You have around 24 hours to recover from a power outage like that or your filtration systems being without a food source. After that, the die off is extreme.

That last method is how I cycle an aquarium with a piece of raw shrimp, bacteria in a bottle if you want to grab it and I cycle it naturally. That way, of course, once again, we're monitoring levels the entire time. We're looking for the spikes in ammonia, that's going to happen but that's eventually going to come down. Nitrite starts to build up but the knack starts to come down. Then of course, nitrate at the end of the cycle. Then you should only see nitrate moving forward. At that point, that's when you can stock safely your aquarium.

However, I have a ton of fish tanks here, which means I have a ton of cycled aquariums and a ton of cycled media. Now media is the material we put in our filtration system that allows the bacteria to grow on. Now, I've shown you guys this method many times before but let's take another look. This is part of the filtration system to the 2000-gallon aquarium. It's a fluidized filter. This media here is a fluidized media.

We're not really going to get into the methods of filtration. I've done that so many times in the past. However, what I want to point out here is what's on the bottom. This is a ton of ceramic media that is cycled at the bottom. At any given point, I can grab a bunch of this and toss it into a new filter. Of course, we still had more filtration here. However, I just want to point out the fact that I always have additional media running within my aquariums. Right of course, everybody's got 100-gallon fluid eyes filtration system, of course you don't.

What I'm talking about is perhaps instead of just relying on the filtration that you have, you take a panty hose and you cut the leg off and you fill it with additional media and you hide it in your aquarium somewhere so that at some point, when you need a hospital tank or a quarantine tank or whatever the case might be, or you just want to set up a new tank rather quickly, you have established media already.

That still doesn't mean you can go ahead and pile a ton of fish into your aquariums, but this is exactly what I do in order to be able to stock them right away. Is have all of that media already established. It's not going to be enough bacteria in numbers and able to support whatever life I throw at it but it's putting me off to a great start. I don't really have to worry about the nitrogen cycle and that six week waiting period. I can start stocking right away and have no fish deaths.

I do a number of things in order to stock 50, 60 fish at once. We're going to get to that at the end. However, what if you don't have or what if you don't want to have a bag of media sitting in your aquarium or have the money to have additional media just cycling wherever when you never know if you might not use it or not? Well, one thing most of you have is substrate. You see the bacteria within our aquariums are not free floating. They need to live on a surface.

They live on your decorations and they live on your substrate. Now your substrate has a ridiculous amount of surface area. If you don't have cycled media, go ahead and take a couple of scoops of substrate from a heavily established aquarium. Toss that into a panty hose or some sort of a mesh bag and throw that into your filtration system. It's essentially the same thing as having cycled media on hand. That was seven ways of starting up your aquariums.

The last one is actually one of the oldest methods and I know a lot of you guys have heard about the word mulm, M-U-L-M. This basically detritus uneaten food, bacteria, all kinds of gunk that collects in your filter. Let me show you what I mean. You're going to have to come over here to see this. Now what I'm about to show you guys "I call liquid gold". The next time you're doing a water change or the next time you're doing maintenance on your filtration system, or if you're starting up a new aquarium and you have a friend that has an established aquarium tell them," Hey next time you're cleaning out your filters, can I have the disgusting mess it creates?"

Step one, get some aquarium water. You don't want to have water from your tap or anything that has chlorine in it or chloro mines you also want it to be the same temperature because at the end of the day, bacteria is also an organism that can die from conditions like that. Now, we all have canister filters, hang on the back filters, all different types of filtration that has a pre filter. The stuff that polishes the water, whether it's a sponge, or some form of poly filter, or whatever the case might be, we all have something. In my case, I've got some sponges here. That could use a bit of a scrub.

What I'm going to do here is take this and rinse it off in this bucket here squeezing it. I'm not going to run this under hot water. I never clean my sponges in freshwater. I always clean them in tank water, because this is also covered in bacteria. What I'm trying to do here is get off. This isn't all that bad, actually. What I'm looking to do, is to rinse off some of the bacteria, some of the detritus, uneaten foods and so forth. What's happening in this little concoction now is there's a bunch of bacteria with lots of food source.

What we're going to do with this is you guessed it, we're going to dump this into our aquariums. Now, of course, I know what you're thinking, I don't want to dump this into my tank. It's going to make it all cloudy and gross. Of course it is. Give it a few days. It'll be fine though. Personally, I prefer to dump it into my filtration system, because that is my life support system. That's where I want the majority of my bacteria to establish and be present in the highest numbers.

Even still, we're still going to need to monitor water parameters. At this point, we can still slowly start to add fish. Of course, you can pick and choose what works best for you and what you have access to with all of these materials that I've shown you. However, the most important thing is to stock your aquariums extremely slowly. It's not a race. A nice aquarium could take months to in order to establish.

If you're like me, and you want your aquariums to be established, almost immediately, I start off with already cycled media. What I mean by already cycled media is, I have enough biological media to fully stock my filtration system. It's like I'm taking it off one aquarium and putting it on another and I just did 100% water change. I'll also take mulm, what I've just shown you and add that to the aquarium system, so the bacteria and all of that detritus can establish throughout the aquarium itself.

Then I can essentially fully stock the aquarium as long as I monitor the water parameters closely as well as the fishes’ activity and do my water changes. Of course, this was only eight methods that you could use to start your new aquarium or establish one and add it to your collection. However, there's multiple other ways you could do so and I know many people. What I actually want to hear is how did you start your first aquarium? How did you cycle it? Did you know anything? I know the presence of the internet and YouTube and so many informational sources are available now.

Back when I get in the hobby, it was like "You're on your own." I had a lot of a big learning curve, to say the least. I wanted to bring this to focus and do these types of videos here and there. I do want to do some things that are some beginner type videos, perhaps we'll dive into the nitrogen cycle, and I'll talk about bacteria. Because at the end of the day, bacteria's your most important organism in your aquarium. I also want to talk about their preferred conditions.

I just want to dive back into making more of you a successful hobbyist by potentially emulating or at least getting some ideas on how I'm successful with my hobby. Anyways, if you have any questions or comments or you want to share how you started your first aquarium, let me know in the comment section below. I'm not here to make fun. I don't think anybody else is here but your story could potentially save somebody else's fish.

Full disclosure, I'm still sick. That's why I sound like this. I got a pounding headache, not thinking clearly and I just winged this video but I've been wanting to do it for quite a while now so I figured, "Hey, how about Tuesday afternoon when this video needs to be out in an hour?" If I missed any information or you want me to do something like this again with a clear head please let me know in the comment section below.

About King of DIY

Joey is THE King of DIY, and when he built his gallery of aquariums he chose the Custom Aquariums rack system with 120-gallon tanks...a lot of them!

Joey Mullen is also known as the king of DIY, uarujoey or the DIY fishkeeper on social media. Providing education and inspiration for aquarium enthusiasts on YouTube, he is also the author of The Ultimate DIY Handbook; for the DIY Aquarist. His channel is about educating all levels of fish tank hobbyists who are passionate about caring for fish and keeping an aquarium of their own. Joey's aquarium rack systems were custom made by our professional fish tank engineers, here at Custom Aquariums.

Please watch the King of DIY's videos for some helpful information and great tips on diy aquarium keeping.

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