With a new aquarium, cycling your tank is the first and most important thing you need to do. This is the process in which your aquarium needs to establish good bacteria. When you first setup your aquarium it will be contaminated with bad bacteria. Before putting your cichlid fish into the tank it is important that this bad (harmful) bacteria converts into good bacteria.
The first stage of bacteria will break down ammonia into nitrites, and the second stage of bacteria will break down the nitrites into nitrates. Both ammonia and nitrites are harmful to your fish, but nitrates are not, as long as they are at a safe level.
There are two ways to cycle your tank: with or without fish. They both have their advantages and disadvantages, but most fish enthusiasts prefer to do a fishless cycle. Doing a fishless cycle (which I recommend) has many more advantages: it’s faster, easier, and avoids permanently harming fish.
One effective way of doing a fishless cycle is to use media, gravel, sand, or decor from another (disease free) aquarium that already has good bacteria established. If you can’t find any of these materials, you can purchase bacteria in a bottle from your local fish store. Also, during this process I suggest raising the temperature in the aquarium to around 85 degrees, this allows for a faster chemical reaction.
Cycling with fish
If you decide to go the other route, then you will need hardy fish that can withstand these harmful water conditions; I recommend using either tetras or guppies. Cycling your tank with fish can take anywhere between 4-6 weeks for the nitrates to become established. You will need to do frequent water changes (20%) 3-4 times a week until the cycle is complete. Of course if you are doing a cichlid fish aquarium you will need to remove the starter fish before adding any cichlids to the tank.
Whichever method you chose, it is important to realize that this can be time consuming, therefore patience is a virtue. It is also important to constantly test your water during this process to ensure that your tank is cycling properly. Before adding sensitive fish, your nitrates should be at, or below 20ppm.