Planted Tank Guru
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Contra Costa CA
I have heard of getting is started dry, but sometimes it objects to later getting submerged. I think I would just go ahead and start with it under water. Sounds like you have plenty of light, and the pressurized CO2 is important.
I would do things in this order:
1) Set up and test the CO2 so you know it will not be variable when you really need it. It may take a few days, perhaps a week to do this, so go ahead and start the fishless cycle.
2) Drain the tank, plant it then fill it back up right away. Continue the fishless cycle, but only allow the ammonia to be about 1 ppm.
3) When the fishless cycle is done, go ahead and stock, but go easy. The reduced level of ammonia during the fishless cycle has grown less bacteria.
Alternate: If you want to skip the fishless cycle you can add any of the bottled cycle products that contain Nitrospiros species of bacteria right before you stock the tank. These are the actual bacteria you need to grow in the tank. Any other product is a waste of money. Wrong bacteria. If you will be stocking it over several weeks or months keep the Nitrospiros in the fridge and add some each time you add fish or shrimp.