Under normal reef setup, you have to wait upwards of a month for the live rock to 'cure.' Live rock is old pieces of dead coral and rock that have been coated with a layer of microorganisms and dirt, providing biological filtration for the tank. When purchasing live rock, most of the time it has been shipped dry, and much of the needed material has died. As such, one must put the live rock in water for a while to rebuild the filtration.
I purchased mine locally, which had the twin benefits of being able to pick and choose, and being thoroughly pre-cured. It is beautiful stuff, with hard coraline plaque algaes of assorted colors coating it. I can't get a picture that adequately shows the colors, especially since my camera died, but once I can, I will share.
After I saw the tiniest of cycles lasting all of two days, the rock was ready to take corals and other critters. After a couple more days monitoring, I started with a peppermint shrimp, a couple hermit crabs, and three snails. All of them have been doing quite well, wandering around and eating loose material from the rocks. The peppermint shrimp has the added benefit of eating Aiptasia, or nuisance anemones, of which I had a couple in with the live rock.
A couple days ago now, I took the first major jump and added corals. The manager at Aquatic Design Aquariums, which I heartily recommend by the by, helped me select a few hardy, attractive corals, gave me a very fair price, then knocked off ten dollars for a first tank. Right now I have two mushroom corals, a blue and a purple, a kenya tree coral, two different types of Zoanthus polyp, and the prize of the tank, a single head of frogspawn coral.
There are also a few patches on the live rock that look like they might be corals, and two that I know are. One is a fairly beat up cabbage leather coral that is making a nice recovery. The other is some variety of Acropora that I bought apparently dead, but woke up this morning. I'm not sure if I can keep that one alive, as they are fairly high maintenance and generally too difficult for a small tank, but I hope it lives. I may have lost one mushroom that kept getting blown around by the current from the filter, but I've got it secured now, so I'm hoping it'll come back.
All that's left to go into the tank are a couple more corals, another shrimp, and a fish. Hopefully I'll have those ordered within the week.
Overall, things are going very well. I am pleased.
This has been a remarkably painless introduction to marine tanks. Whether it will stay as such remains to be seen.