This is some simple but important advice for Lake Malawi cichlid beginners. If this is your first freshwater tropical fish tank setup and you have had a chance to study up on the information I have provided through this site and you have reached the point of wanting to start an African cichlid aquarium then here is a tip that you will want to know to be successful. Cichlids are an awesome tropical fish species to have but it is very important to know how to properly take care of them.
What are some of the African cichlids tank requirement? Well, your new tank needs to be cycled before live fish are added. What does that mean? It means that you allow enough time for your tank water to properly build up a sufficient amount of natural bacteria that aids in reducing or breaking down organic material. Fish waste, plant matter, rotting fish, uneaten food are all broken down by certain bacteria. This bacteria produces ammonia and this is very toxicfor fish. So you can understand that if you were to put your cichlids in the tank right away, there would be no bacteria present to breakdown the waste and there would end up being a spike of ammonia (called 'new tank syndrome') once the bacteria show up. This would prove to be toxic and detrimental to the fish. Many would probably die. So you need time for this bacteria to appear and then you need time for additional bacteria to appear that will consume the ammonia. This bacteria then produces nitrite and then another bacteria appears to consume that, creating nitrate. When nitrate is detected in the tank water, and nitrite is no longer detectable, then your tank is ready for fish to be added. This is known as the biological cycle.
I cannot stress this enough that this cycling of your tank must be done FIRST. You must allow for the full cycle to get done. But what is a good way to do it without adding in your precious cichlids? I recommend that you begin by purchasing a freshwater test kit and using Stability by Seachem to help cycle your tank.