Before we go into the details of cycling, let do a quick overview of what occurs biologically during the process. Toxic ammonia is converted by bacteria into nitrite, then nitrite is converted by bacteria into nitrate. Nitrate is the final byproduct and will remain in the aquarium.
Since nitrate is the last step in the cycle it is also an indicator that a cycle has occurred and that your bacteria colony has grown.
For more information on the bacteria itself make sure to read our Blog Post:
"The Bacteria You Want to Keep"
A water quality test kit will be your best friend during this process. We highly recommend that you purchase a master water quality test kit (avoid the strip tests as they are not accurate). The test kit will tell you exactly what is happening with your water and the results are a clear indicator of the bacterial activity.
Don’t let the science scare you, it’s not as complicated as it sounds!
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, when it comes to creating a strong cycle in your Jellyfish Art aquarium there are many different ways to do this! No particular method is necessarily the best way; at the end they all essentially do the same thing. Basically, an ammonia source is provided, then bacteria are added and then time is given for the bacteria to break down the ammonia and nitrites.
Once your saltwater has been properly mixed and added to the aquarium, you will be ready to introduce your ammonia source. This is an area of varied opinions, methods and suggestions. Typically, everyone has a different way that they feel is the correct way to accomplish this... hooray controversy! All-in-all, each method works just the same; so, decide which of the following methods you prefer and then stick to it.
The following are valid ammonia source options, more details on each method will follow:
A) Blue legged hermit crabs + fish food
B) Live brine shrimp
C) Tiny piece of raw shrimp tail
D) Ammonium Chloride drops
The second crucial aspect of an aquarium cycle is live beneficial bacteria which will “feed” on ammonia and nitrite. This bacterial process will naturally occur, but to help boost the bacterial activity we add our Jelly-Bio Starter. The 2 oz bottle contains both strains of beneficial bacteria allowing you to speed up the process and help establish the biological filtration (aka bacteria colony) in your aquarium.
Our Jelly-Bio Starter is a live product and expiration date must be observed prior to use. The product should be shaken before using to suspend the bacteria particles. 3 capfuls of Jelly-Bio Starter will treat 2 gallons.
In addition to the Jelly-Bio Starter we highly recommend a weekly addition of Jelly-Bio Maintain. This product will give a bacterial boost through the cycling process and will provide additional bacteria that will help stabilize the water parameters.
If you want to add an extra boost of bacteria, you may consider adding a few small pieces of live rock. Live rock is sold in most marine aquarium stores and contains living microorganisms that can be beneficial to an aquarium. It is important to note that rock should never be placed in the main display area of your aquarium as this can cause injury to the jellies. Instead small pieces 1” in size can be placed in the back of the tank on top of the black sponge where it has a cut out. This method is great, but we will mention that live rock always carries the risk of bringing worms and other critters with it. These critters may or may not be pests, but it’s important to note.
Let’s jump back to our ammonia source and discuss this a little further. The goal of any of these ammonia sources is to reach an ammonia level of 2 ppm. This level can be tested with the master water quality test kit. Avoid ammonia levels higher than 2 ppm as this can be too much and stall the whole process.
Note: Cleaning products that are ammonia based should under no circumstances be used in or near an aquarium. Additionally, using a live fish (damsel fish etc.) should never be used to cycle a small aquarium.
Let's get our ammonia levels going, pick ONE of these methods whichever sounds more practical or fun:
A) Blue Legged hermit crabs
Add 3-4 small blue legged hermit crabs to the aquarium; these may be purchased at a local marine aquarium store (pick small ones no bigger than 1”).
Buy a small pack of frozen brine shrimp – Feed the hermit crabs a tiny sliver of brine shrimp once per day. Only feed enough food that the crabs can fully consume in 24 hours.
The crabs will eat the frozen food and produce ammonia via their waste. These hermit crabs are the only other thing you can keep with jellyfish. They will actually serve as a great companion cleanup crew that will eat small amounts of jellyfish food that may have been missed.
B) Live brine shrimp
If you already have the Artemia hatcher that comes with the Jelly Cylinder 5 kit great! If you don’t, then consider getting one as it is a preferred feeding method and is actually a cleaner food source to feed (less maintenance).
To use this as an ammonia source you will hatch 3-4 scoops of brine shrimp eggs in the hatcher. Once they hatch (24-48 hours) start adding all the brine shrimp that hatches. The hatcher should produce for about 3-5 days; just make sure not to move the hatcher so that egg shells don’t make it into the tank. Check your ammonia levels and repeat the hatcher process until the ammonia reaches 2ppm.
C) Tiny piece of raw shrimp tail
For this method you will need a for human consumption raw shrimp. When you remove the tail shell you can put a tiny piece of the shell into the aquarium. The piece of shell should be small about 1/4” - 1/2”. Watch the ammonia daily until it reaches 2 ppm. In this method, avoid reaching ammonia levels higher than 2 ppm as this can stall the cycle process.
D) Ammonium Chloride drops
This product has been used in aquariums for a long time, it works well, but can easily be overdosed which will ruin the cycle. Follow the manufacturer instructions and dose it slowly, test frequently until 2 ppm of ammonia is reached in the aquarium.
Before you start counting days, it is very important that you check your aquarium for proper flow. There should be bubbles visible in the back of the tank when removing the lid and looking from above.
Now that you checked for proper flow and chose your cycling method, stick to it and give the tank some time. This is the moment where a little bit of patience goes a long way. We get it, you’re probably anxiously excited to order your jellies, but believe us that a proper cycle is worth it. A tank that is fully cycled will yield healthy thriving jellies. On the other hand, if jellies are added to a tank that is not fully cycled it will turn into a tedious battle to control ammonia. Ultimately jellies in an un-cycled tank will develop holes and most probably die unless a strict and tedious protocol is applied for a number of weeks.
You may want to take advantage of this waiting period and join our Facebook group Jelly Care Club. There you can peruse through a ton of valuable information from other members and enrich your jellyfish knowledge as you wait for your tank to cycle.
Note: During the cycle process no water changes should be performed. Water changes will only start after the aquarium has fully cycled.
The ammonia should reach 2ppm at some point so keep an eye on your parameters. Once the ammonia reaches this level you will start to eventually see it decline. As ammonia goes down the nitrite will go up. This is good and on the right track! As the process continues your test results will start to indicate nitrates, this means your closer to the finish line. Make sure to keep a log of each water test you preform, you may want to photograph the results for easy access. Maintaining this data is good to identify how the bacteria are behaving.
The tank is fully cycled once your test results read as follows:
Zero – Ammonia
Zero – Nitrite
10+ ppm - Nitrate (if Nitrate is at zero, the tank is not ready)
Congratulations your aquarium has fully cycled, before ordering your new pets make sure to check the nitrate levels. Since nitrate is the byproduct of bacterial activity it will build and highly elevated nitrates are not ideal for marine life. Nitrate should be maintained bellow 40 ppm and ideally below 20 ppm. After the cycle process your nitrate levels can very well be at 80 ppm or even 160 ppm. To reduce this you may perform a series of water changes spread out over a couple of days to reduce the nitrates. (Make sure the new salt water is the same salinity and temperature as the water in your aquarium)
Hooray! You have successfully accomplished a good strong cycle! Your aquarium now contains a strong healthy colony of beneficial bacteria. These bacteria will maintain a healthy ecosystem for your new jellyfish.
Give yourself a nice pat on the back, as a great Jellyfish parent you have created a healthy environment for your new pets!