There is a lot of information out there about keeping aquariums, and a ton of it makes absolutely no sense to someone trying to figure out what to do. Broken down, the nitrogen cycle and process of cycling a tank is actually pretty simple. Essentially, the nitrogen cycle is the process in which nitrogen moves through plants, animals, air, water, and soil. It is critical in the life-cycle of a tank because it establishes the bacteria your tank need to break down harmful chemicals (such as ammonia created by waste). To keep an aquarium happy and healthy, you don’t need to know every little detail about how these systems work (feel free to learn it though, it’s pretty fascinating) but knowing the basics of why it is important can be more helpful than anything else. Beneficial bacteria (BB) is probably the most important element of starting your aquarium before you ever think of adding fish. While there are ways to “instantly cycle” a tank, it is always better if you take the time to let everything work out on its own. There are two main ways to cycle a tank, fish-in and fish-less. For a fish-less cycle you are going to set up your tank and let it sit for anywhere between two weeks and a month. You’ll want to have it running and add in small amounts of a source of ammonia such as fish food or even a frozen shrimp. Once the ammonia is added the BB will start feeding on it and breaking it down into nitrites, this will then trigger a second type of BB to form and convert the nitrites into nitrates. Plants, water changes, and good filtration will all help to remove nitrates from the water and keep them at safe levels. Fish-in cycle is the same process, just with one or two fish (keep in mind they may die) helping to build up the ammonia levels. You will know your tank is fully cycled and ready for your fish when you test the water (either with an at home kit or at any store that sells fish as they test water for free) and the levels are: Ammonia-0, PH- dependent on type of fish (look for PH blog post coming soon), Nitrite-0, Nitrate-10-40ppm. To instantly cycle a tank you need to have media from an already established tank, generally an old filter. Adding this to the new tank will add in the already established BB colony and you should be good to go. Contact us for any other questions or even send pictures of your water tests if you aren’t sure if your tank is ready or not. Happy keeping!