Tetra fin rot in Walstad tank - good water parameters... - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 07:14 AM Thread Starter
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Tetra fin rot in Walstad tank - good water parameters...

New to the forum and to Walstad-style tanks. I've got a 10 gallon dirted tank (sifted, unfertilized soil under gravel) that I cycled for about a month with heavy plant growth and snails. The tank is very well planted, with a 5-4-5 lighting timer setup. The tank is running with a heater only, no air or pumps, so no circulation. Water stays between 74 and 78F. I do have salvinia and frogbit floaters.


After the month of cycling when my ammonia, nitrate and nitrite were all finally reading zero, I added five bloodfin tetras. This was about three weeks ago. They seem to be fairly happy and comfortable (if a bit skittish), they are eating well and I haven't noticed any respiratory distress in the mornings despite no water circulation.


I'm posting because I've noticed the tips of their pectoral fins have started turning white. Everything I read tells me this is the beginning of fin rot. But I've been testing my water religiously and my nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia have stayed at zero every day since I added the fish. I have been assuming that my plants are just chewing through any nitrogen that hits the water. I've done two 30% water changes since the fish were added, just because I noticed a bit of a fishy odor coming from the tank and also had plant detritus everywhere. (I use Tetra AquaSafe to treat the chloramine in my tap water) Water isn't crystal clear but it's not particularly hazy or anything. Algae has been slight, no big blooms. My substrate is looking pretty filthy but I think it's supposed to be that way - plants are growing faster than I want to trim!


Any ideas what would be causing fin rot, if my tank isn't showing even the least bit of ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate? If someone needs, I can try to get a photo of the fins or post tank photos.
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post #2 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 08:35 AM
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Walstad type tank, end product nitrates shouldn’t be zero. Neither should phosphate.

I know you’ve probably read that you can run these tanks with no filter and add no ferts but I will tell you that in your size tank if you add a Azoo Mignon 60 filter (16gph) and dose say Seachem Fluorish at 1/3-1/2 recommended rate your tank will most likely completely do a 180 for the better.

Unless you’ve piled organic substrate to deep and it’s becoming a anaerobic bomb adding a slight circulation and nutrient balance and distribution will only help tank.

Walstad 10gal OK if maintained properly, take that same tank and add a Mignon 60 with slight 16gph current flowing down center of tank and it will transform into type of tank you want.
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post #3 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 10:18 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the reply!
I don't have anything to test for phosphate but if that would be helpful I could get a phosphate test kit. I use the standard API liquid test kit, but I've also checked with Tetra 5-in-1 strips.

So why am I getting 0 nitrate after so long? I know Walstad wrote that plants will take up nitrate if ammonia and nitrite aren't available in the water column. That's where my assumption came from that 0 nitrate was normal. Is there any reason that lack of circulation is leading to these test results? Any reason it's leading to fin rot?

My soil layer is *slightly* deeper than I meant for it to be, maybe 1.2 inches deep in a few spots. I make sure to poke down to it in any spots there aren't established roots when I go in to do maintenance, to make sure I'm not letting it go anaerobic.

I'd be willing to add a filter if necessary but part of my intention for this tank was to spend as little on equipment as possible.
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post #4 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 10:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveKS View Post
I know you’ve probably read that you can run these tanks with no filter and add no ferts but I will tell you that in your size tank if you add a Azoo Mignon 60 filter (16gph) and dose say Seachem Fluorish at 1/3-1/2 recommended rate your tank will most likely completely do a 180 for the better.
Why do you recommend this specific filter? Is it different than other HOB?
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post #5 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 11:01 AM
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Not sure what lack of nitrates/phosphates has to do with the health of your fish. How do the plants look?
Are they healthy and growiing. How full is the tank of plants?


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post #6 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 12:30 PM
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From what I've gathered, 5 in 1 test strips aren't exactly the most accurate water testing systems. Get a decent, comprehensive liquid reagent test kit.

The fading of the fish's fins could be from a number of causes including bad bacteria, that could have nothing to do with the water parameters, but could be from disease organisms that came in on the fish.

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post #7 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 01:11 PM Thread Starter
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Not sure what lack of nitrates/phosphates has to do with the health of your fish. How do the plants look?
Are they healthy and growiing. How full is the tank of plants?
I'm mostly bringing that up because it seems like fin rot is usually caused by ammonia / nitrate levels, but that doesn't seem to be an issue here.

Plants are growing like crazy, and the tank is extremely full of them. To the point that I wouldn't know where to put any more plants. I've been trimming occasionally so my fish have some room to swim.



Quote:
Originally Posted by GrampsGrunge View Post
From what I've gathered, 5 in 1 test strips aren't exactly the most accurate water testing systems. Get a decent, comprehensive liquid reagent test kit.

The fading of the fish's fins could be from a number of causes including bad bacteria, that could have nothing to do with the water parameters, but could be from disease organisms that came in on the fish.
As I noted in my post, I've used a liquid reagent test kit mostly, and then reconfirmed with test strips. Both tests agree on my water.

Thanks for the tip on bacteria, this does sound somewhat likely. The fins were red all the way to the tips when I got the fish from my LPS. I'm hoping to figure out how to help them before it progresses.
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post #8 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 02:38 PM
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If your plants are growing like crazy then I doubt that your nitrogen levels are really bottomed out.

Have you checked to make sure you're following all the directions on your liquid nitrate tests? The API ones notoriously give you false readings of 0 ppm if you don't make sure you shake the second bottle quite a bit before using and then also shaking the test tube for a minute while the results are developing. I made this error myself and can confirm that proper technique can make a big difference. (Admittedly that doesn't explain the test strip, but I haven't used them before.)
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post #9 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 02:42 PM
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Fin rot is due to bacteria eroding fins and it is always a secondary condition with the exception of direct injury ( from fin nipping, object in aquarium, etc....).
The primary cause of fin rot is stress from an environmental issue (deteriorating water quality, improper water parameters or temperature for species, fighting among fish), nutritional deficiency, parasite or pathogen.

Healthy, unstressed fish do not get fin-rot ( again, with the exception of injury).

I would look at environmental issues: Like it has been mentioned, a tank that has never shown nitrates may be an un-cycled tank and the fish exposed to trace ammonia or nitrites. What is the temperature? Is there any fighting between fish/fin-nipping. Bloodfin tetras have been known to do this.

Nutrition: What are you feeding? How much?

Parasite or pathogen? Are all the fish eating? Any deaths in tank in last month? Any rubbing on objects indicating external parasites? Any white feces?
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post #10 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 03:12 PM
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It's completely possible, in fact likely that if you have a tank full of plants and few fish that no3 will register as nil. The plants are consuming any and getting what they need from the soil. Now if you have a heavy fish load and less plants, completely different story.


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post #11 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 09:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ElleDee View Post
Why do you recommend this specific filter? Is it different than other HOB?
Basically it’s because it’s smallest filter you can get by with on a 10gal. It only moves 16gph which is just enough to move water and gases around tank but still keep that Walstad quiet water tank feel.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by ikefox View Post
Thanks for the reply!
I don't have anything to test for phosphate but if that would be helpful I could get a phosphate test kit. I use the standard API liquid test kit, but I've also checked with Tetra 5-in-1 strips.

So why am I getting 0 nitrate after so long? I know Walstad wrote that plants will take up nitrate if ammonia and nitrite aren't available in the water column. That's where my assumption came from that 0 nitrate was normal. Is there any reason that lack of circulation is leading to these test results? Any reason it's leading to fin rot?

My soil layer is *slightly* deeper than I meant for it to be, maybe 1.2 inches deep in a few spots. I make sure to poke down to it in any spots there aren't established roots when I go in to do maintenance, to make sure I'm not letting it go anaerobic.

I'd be willing to add a filter if necessary but part of my intention for this tank was to spend as little on equipment as possible.
You should also read up on osmotic shock and think about if you may be doing that to your fish on water changes.

Anyway the mignon 60 or 150 (32gph) are only about $17 on Amazon, not bank breaking cost.

Last edited by DaveKS; 06-24-2020 at 09:18 PM. Reason: Content
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post #12 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 09:20 PM
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Just wanna say that a $16 filter probably cost less than your group of tetras. You don't need anything fancy. You could even do an airstone, you can get a nano usb pump and airstone for $10 from Aquarium Co-op.

In a natural ecosystem, wind will cause natural mixing of the water column. I would suggest at the very minimum an airstone in the tank to promote mixing. There might be ammonia rich pockets close to the bottom of the tank, and your sample from the top of the water column is not reflecting the true amount of ammonia/nitrates in the tank.

The "fishy smell" is usually due to ammonia, by the way. It's gotta be hiding in there somewhere.
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post #13 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 09:31 PM
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It's very easy to have ammonia in a very closed system like a Walstad tank. It runs on a very thin bandwidth of heavy plant mass and light livestock. The whole system is based on loading up on organics as opposed to getting rid of them. Not everything is detected by the inaccurate test kits we use.


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post #14 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-24-2020, 11:07 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by ElleDee View Post
Have you checked to make sure you're following all the directions on your liquid nitrate tests?
I am, including the laborious amount of bottle and test tube shaking haha. I bought strips because I found zero nitrate to be odd after weeks of fish eating and crapping in my tank.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Discusluv View Post

...a tank that has never shown nitrates may be an un-cycled tank and the fish exposed to trace ammonia or nitrites.
To be clear, it did show plenty of nitrate towards the end of my initial cycle before I put my tetras in. Once that nitrate crept down to near-zero is when I put my fish in.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Discusluv View Post
What is the temperature? Is there any fighting between fish/fin-nipping. Bloodfin tetras have been known to do this.

Nutrition: What are you feeding? How much?

Parasite or pathogen? Are all the fish eating? Any deaths in tank in last month? Any rubbing on objects indicating external parasites? Any white feces?
The fin nipping could be possible actually. I haven't seen that behavior but I have seen them "giving chase" sometimes. When I first put them in there were a couple who would spiral around each other in what looked like aggressive behavior. Now they mostly just school but I do see them chase each other occasionally. I'll try to watch a bit more and see if I've missed anything.

As for food, I've been alternating between Fluval spirulina / algae flake and freeze dried brine shrimp for daily food, and frozen bloodworm once a week. All five of them hide when they hear me at the tank, but after feeding they come out in a minute and eat very enthusiastically. Nothing has died in the tank and I haven't seen any rubbing. Their scales look okay as far as I can tell (they're pretty fast moving so I can't always get the best close up look).


Quote:
Originally Posted by Asteroid View Post
It's completely possible, in fact likely that if you have a tank full of plants and few fish that no3 will register as nil. The plants are consuming any and getting what they need from the soil. Now if you have a heavy fish load and less plants, completely different story.
Thanks, this is what I've been thinking but it's hard to know - there are many different opinions on this...

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveKS View Post
Basically it’s because it’s smallest filter you can get by with on a 10gal. It only moves 16gph which is just enough to move water and gases around tank but still keep that Walstad quiet water tank feel.

You should also read up on osmotic shock and think about if you may be doing that to your fish on water changes.

Anyway the mignon 60 or 150 (32gph) are only about $17 on Amazon, not bank breaking cost.
Quote:
Originally Posted by gjcarew View Post
Just wanna say that a $16 filter probably cost less than your group of tetras. You don't need anything fancy. You could even do an airstone, you can get a nano usb pump and airstone for $10 from Aquarium Co-op.

In a natural ecosystem, wind will cause natural mixing of the water column. I would suggest at the very minimum an airstone in the tank to promote mixing. There might be ammonia rich pockets close to the bottom of the tank, and your sample from the top of the water column is not reflecting the true amount of ammonia/nitrates in the tank.

The "fishy smell" is usually due to ammonia, by the way. It's gotta be hiding in there somewhere.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asteroid View Post
It's very easy to have ammonia in a very closed system like a Walstad tank. It runs on a very thin bandwidth of heavy plant mass and light livestock. The whole system is based on loading up on organics as opposed to getting rid of them. Not everything is detected by the inaccurate test kits we use.
All of these are good points. Especially the idea that maybe I'm not getting accurate readings from top water because I have pockets of ammonia or nitrate lower in the tank. You all have almost convinced me to get a small filter or pump. I really appreciate the input!
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