Optimal conditions for fastest cycling:
Make sure your pH is between 7-8 (by adjusting your KH – bacteria consume the carbonates), keep temperature between 85F-95F for fastest response and oxygenate heavily, particularly at higher temperatures.
Don't withdraw the ammonia or the nitrosomonas may die. Maintain ~2 ppm total ammonia (since you have plants) readings until cycled, then change water to bring it down.
I've had test kits go bad long before expiration. In any case, I find the Salifert test kits to be much easier to use (no shaking) and much more accurate at lower ppms.