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I recently started up an 85G without fish and have been using cichlid pellets and my algae eater food to start up the cycle.
Currently my levels are: ammonia 2ppm, nitrites 0.5-1ppm, nitrates 10ppm and pH 8.0-8.2.

My questions are:
1. How far along would you say I am in the cycle?
2. How much longer until the cycle is complete?
3. The water is quite dirty (also cloudy from substrate that just wouldn't run clear when I was washing it). When my cycle has finished and I am ready to add fish, how should I go about cleaning without killing my colonies or newly added fish? Should I do a massive water change or just scoop out the left over big of food?
4. I have 4-5 mainganos to pick up whenever I'm ready and the cycle is complete, as well as my bristlenose to add. Should I add them all straight to the tank? Will having the fish in there be enough to keep my colonies fed?

Please no judgemental replies, I am still learning and want the best for the fish that end up in the tank!
 

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I am not an expert on the cycling of a tank but I personally would do water changes Until the tank was clear and siphon out all of the food. In the past I have always added a pleco to get the cycling process moving along. Generally leave them in for a week or two then add fish. It has worked well for me in the past.

I am sure others will weigh in here but I wouldn't add fish until the water condition issues are cleared up.
 

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You are at the beginning of your cycle...I would allow another 2-4 weeks.

I would remove the substrate and wash it until the water runs completely clear.

I would definitely remove food and other debris. Then I would switch to using ammonia for the cycle. The advantage to ammonia is that you can add a measured amount and ensure the bacteria colonies will handle it within 24 hours.

What are the dimensions of the tank? Assuming it is 48x18 since you have maingano, I would triple the number of maingano. This is so you can end up with 7 females and 1 male when they mature.

No 5-6 fish is not enough fish to keep the tank cycled for a full fish population. If you add one species and wait...the beneficial bacteria will decline so that they can survive on the ammonia generated by 5 fish.

If you choose to do this, wait a month or two before adding the next 5 fish and repeat every time you add a species (wait 1-2 months for beneficial bacteria to increase to support the new bioload).
 

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I am not sure how the idea ever got started that rotting fish food would produce ammonia and initiate the nitrogen cycle. It runs counter to common sense because rotting fish food kills fish even in an established aquarium. Long before any protein in the food gradually breaks down into amino acids and then later into ammonia, the rotting food allows fungus and undesirable molds and bacteria to get established in the aquarium. They will delay any colonization of the aquarium by the nitrification cycle bacteria. All the surfaces the right kinds of bacteria would like to grow on have been claimed. Clean everything and start over following the fishless cycle method which uses ammonia.
 

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Mcdaphnia said:
I am not sure how the idea ever got started that rotting fish food would produce ammonia and initiate the nitrogen cycle. It runs counter to common sense because rotting fish food kills fish even in an established aquarium. Long before any protein in the food gradually breaks down into amino acids and then later into ammonia, the rotting food allows fungus and undesirable molds and bacteria to get established in the aquarium. They will delay any colonization of the aquarium by the nitrification cycle bacteria. All the surfaces the right kinds of bacteria would like to grow on have been claimed. Clean everything and start over following the fishless cycle method which uses ammonia.
Good advice!
 
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