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I have been attempting to cycle a 20 gal. Started out with pieces of shrimp for 10 days and nothing happened. Then added 2 small fish. Ammonia went to .25 the very next day and I did about 30% water change, but one fish died and the next day the other one died. I have kept adding fish food daily and the ammonia has now gone up to .50 on day 17. The nitrite is 0, and pH 8.4. I have well water that goes though a softener but the pH is about 8.0 to 8.2 from the faucet.

I bought some Tetra Safe Start. My question is should I put the Safe Start in at this point? If I do, will that complete the cycle? Or should I keep adding fish food and let it cycle that way? I have also thought about finding some ammonia but I have no idea how much to add to speed the cycle up.

Please give me your thoughts. I have been trying to be patient, but am anxious to get a few fish.
 

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There's no harm in adding the tetra safe start if you already had it. I've tried it before and saw no difference, but the viability of the bacteria may depend on conditions in storage or something. You may find that it helps.

But mostly you need to be patient. You have such a high ph that any ammonia is going to be very toxic to fish.

Adding ammonia doesn't really speed up the cycle, it just acts as food for the bacteria. There can be lots of ammonia, but if there isn't a colony of bacteria to eat it, it's just going to hang out until they show up. (Then you need to wait for the nitrite processing bacteria to get established.)

I liked being able to add ammonia directly so I could control the amount and I didn't have to wait for fish food to decompose. I think I kept my ammonia between 1 and 2 ppm while cycling, but you can look up what other people recommend. Too much will slow your cycle down due to toxicity, but idk what that threshold is. More than 4 or 4 ppm maybe?
 

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But mostly you need to be patient.
It's sort of a sad but true thing. People always quote that a fishless cycle will take a month, but the best I've done is about six or seven weeks. It's boring and takes a while, but it's worth doing.

It might be a good time to work on how the tank looks, shop around for some decorations, or mess around with the equipment. Test the water every three or five days.

Enjoy the road, read up on the nitrogen cycle, it's actually kind of cool when you step back and take a look at what all is going on in there.

Aquariums are like a garden really, everything takes a good little while.
 
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