Cycling a Fish Tank:
When an aquarium is first set up, especially one using real soils and fertilizers to grow living plants, the ammonia levels are dangerously high for fish. In a mature system bacteria convert ammonia from fish waste and soils to Nitrites, then to Nitrates. At each step in this ammonia cycle (actually called the nitrogen cycle) the product is less toxic. So high concentrations of ammonia are the most dangerous to fish, while nitrates are relatively harmless. We want these these nitrates in the system because they are important as plant fertilizers.
Growing plants in a fish tank requires the right balance of many things including ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, oxygen and carbon dioxide. We are regularly testing for these indicators to know when to add additional residents. It can take weeks.
Day #1: 11-5-2017 Update
On Sunday we assembled many of the systems (Ex: filter, pumps, heater) and the hardscape (rocks and dirt) for this aquarium. The soil in the aquarium is high in Ammonia for fertilizer which will eventually make the ammonia levels in the water spike to above 2.0 ppm before healthy bacteria grow which convert that ammonia to nitrites and eventually to less harmful nitrates which plants can use. An ammonia level above around .5 ppm would be considered lethal to most inhabitants. Want to know more: https://www.algone.com/ammonia-in-the-aquarium-and-its-effects-on-fish-life
When Measured on this first day ammonia was still leeching from the soil and the levels in the aquarium haven't climbed very high yet.
Day #5: 11-10-2017 Update
The pH level is low, this is also expected because organic materials in the soil will usually lower pH. Before we add fish we may need to adjust the pH up to 6.5, but we can make that call later.