Planted Tank Guru
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Contra Costa CA
Add as much flakes as you will ultimately feed the fish, or add more, up to double that amount.
You can add ammonia directly to the tank, but some plants do not like it, so I would not go higher than about 1 ppm.
Here is the fishless cycle as worked out by a couple of scientists who wanted to grow the maximum bacteria in the shortest time:
First few days: Add ammonia so the test reads 5 ppm. Check daily but you may not need to add much right away.
When the nitrite shows up allow the ammonia to drop to 3 ppm, and maintain it there until the end. You will probably be adding ammonia daily, the bacteria are growing fast and using it up.
If nitrite goes over 5 ppm, do a water change. These bacteria do not do well when the nitrite is too high.
These guys were aiming at the most severe test of a cycled tank: Can you add a full tank load of African Rift Lake Cichlids when the cycle is done? Note that Rift Lake Cichlids are often overstocked and almost never in a planted tank. A fishless cycle done this way is usually done in 3 weeks, and yes, you can overstock the tank even if there are no plants to help with the biofiltration.
Other ways to help the nitrogen cycle:
These bacteria do best when the GH and KH are over about 3 German degrees of hardness. They need a few minerals, they get their carbon from carbonates.
Optimum pH is anywhere in the 7s. They are OK down to about 6.5, but that is not optimum.
High oxygen, so good water movement throughout the tank.
Plant the tank so densely that you cannot see the back of the tank. Take good care of the plants (light, fertilizer, CO2) and you can stock right away. Perhaps not a full fish load until the plants have rooted and are over the transplant shock.