Strange water readings in cycling tank - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-28-2020, 03:41 PM Thread Starter
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Strange water readings in cycling tank

Hi there!

We JUST started our tank, added water on Friday. Then I added ammonia yesterday.
But I’m getting strange readings, not what I expected from doing reading about tank cycling.

36 gallon tank
Fluval 307 filter
Temp - 80
Sponge filter
Sand substrate
Driftwood
A few plants

6/26 - finished setting everything up. (I did add some root tabs and squirt of fertilizer for the plants)

Added water.
Added conditioner.
Tested the water.

PH - 7.6
High pH - 7.4
Ammonia - 0
Nitrite - 0
Nitrate - 0

So that was what I expected.

Then we left it. Got caught up with work and then it got too late to play with it. Started learning how our light settings work.

6/27 -
So this is when I got confused. I’m guessing the slight ammonia reading is from the plants. But how am I getting nitrate readings?

Ph - 7
High pH - 7.4
Ammonia - .25 ppm
Nitrite - 0
Nitrate - 5.0

I said well, let’s see what happens.
Added ammonia - looked to be right around 4
6/28 - This morning
Ph - 7
High pH - do I need to test for high pH if pH is 7?
Ammonia - 4.0
Nitrite - .25
Nitrate - 10

Is this normal? I thought my nitrites and nitrates should be 0 for days, if not weeks.

Also why is my pH changing?

I’m so confused!!! Help!

Thank you!
-L
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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-29-2020, 04:49 AM Thread Starter
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Very dumb question.

When people advise to test the tap water, they mean straight out of the tap, without adding any conditioner to it?

Just put in a bucket and test?

I’m wondering if my very first test of my water read all 0 because the conditioner was suppressing results and my actual tap water has stuff in it.
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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-29-2020, 05:33 AM
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I have to tell you... I don't know what this 'high pH' is. There is normally only one pH. I think that you have two different test kits. One general purpose pH test kit, and a second pH test kit that is meant to have a better color range to distinguish between the pH when it is in higher ranges. You might want to take a look at your test kits and use one OR the other to test your pH, based on which test looks to give you the most accurate reading.

Ammonia reading on a start up tank is expected. Even without fish, decaying leaves and bits of plants become ammonia (which is plant food but is poisonous in high quantities to plants and poisonous in low quantities to fish). Nitrosomonas bacteria breaks ammonia into Nitrite (also poisonous plant food), Nitrobacter breaks nitrite into nitrate (finally a less toxic version of plant food). This is a horrendously simplified version of what really happens, but is a good generalization of what is going on for our purposes.

If you put 'root tabs and a squirt of fertilizer' into the tank, you probably added Nitrates to the tank. Otherwise it is possible (although less likely) that your tank is cycled already. I really don't think that is the case though, given that you JUST started your tank. I'd take a close look at your fertilizer and root tabs.

Your tank pH changes if the stuff in your tank dissolves in water. So if you have aquasoil, wood or ornamental rocks in your tank they will change your pH. pH can also change if your tank is dirty. Organic acids in decaying plant matter, fish food, fish poop will generally lower the pH, if rocks have an effect they usually increase your pH. Also, our tap water often isn't as consistent as you might hope, so that might be a reason if you see a big change.

@Lanaquarium. You should test water after adding conditioner because that is what is going into your tank. Normally conditioner is just taking Chlorine / Chloramine out of the water. Some water conditioners (like Seachem Prime) have the advantage of neutralizing all kinds of reactive moieties in the water (notably ammonia and nitrite and chlorine and chloramine). The water conditioner masking issues with tap water would not be on my list of things to blame for things gone awry in the aquarium.
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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-29-2020, 06:28 AM Thread Starter
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I’m using the API master kit.

https://images.app.goo.gl/uGswgXFVbPmAkcTT8

It has 2 pH tests.
1 goes up to 7.6 (like the bluish color)
Then there is “high RANGE pH” - sorry for shortening. According to instructions, one is to perform this when the first pH is at the highest point

So first time I tested, the first pH Test was 7.6 and I tested high pH and it was 7.4

Then the next day first pH was 7
Then I tested high pH which was again 7.4

3rd test was 7 again so I didn’t test for “high pH”
Bc I’m ASSUMING that 7 is the correct reading and if it’s not going to the top of the scale of color, it’s right.

I’m a COMPLETE novice in testing so I am just absorbing any info via research and advice (why I joined here)

I figured as much about the SLIGHT ammonia reading yesterday. So this makes sense.

NitATes then I guess are coming from the plant food then. That’s the reading that threw me.

There is 0% any of this is cycled. Everything is brand new and we just put water in it 3 days ago without any bacteria additions. (Except anything that came with plants? But that can’t possibly be enough)

The tank can’t be dirty yet.
There are no fish. It’s been like 2 days lol

As far as pH lowering, maybe my driftwood is affecting it?
I have dragon stone in there as well.
My substrate is pool filter sand so that shouldn’t change things.

I am using the API water conditioner. I dosed it as accurately as I could when we filled the tank.

I might just be overly anxious. It’s been 2 days since I officially started cycling.

I guess I just want to make sure I don’t go Too far down the wrong path 🙂

Thanks for your insight @P.Isley
-L
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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-29-2020, 07:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lanaquarium View Post
Im using the API master kit.

https://images.app.goo.gl/uGswgXFVbPmAkcTT8

It has 2 pH tests.
1 goes up to 7.6 (like the darkest color)
Then there is high pH

So first time I tested, the first pH Test was 7.6 and I tested high pH and it was 7.4

Then the next day first pH was 7
Then I tested high pH which was again 7.4

3rd test was 7 again so I didnt test for high pH
Bc Im ASSUMING that 7 is the correct reading and if its not going to the top of the scale of color, its right.
Ugh, that's frustrating. Sounds like just using the 'regular' pH test kit is appropriate for your situation. I would go with the general pH test. pH of 7 is neutral, and since you are in that range makes sense to just go by that test. The two tests are just repeating the same tests using different reagents.

I use a broad strip tests to get an idea of the test result, before cracking out the better tests to see what the 'real' measure might be. I use Tetra Easystrips 6 in 1 as a general test (which actually are pretty accurate but with poor resolution to pinpoint a test result. And then if I feel I need more accuracy or to double check the results, follow up with more expensive Salifert or Seachem. In the case of pH, a I use a cheap pH pen. The pH pen has its own issues because it needs to calibrated constantly, then won't actually calibrate, but once you have it working well in a closer pH range (e.g 5.5 - 7.5) seems to need less adjustment. You don't need to do this... your test kit is fine, but the point is that hobbiest test kits don't have a high degree of accuracy so you understand that the result you are getting with within a range as opposed to an absolute value.

Anyway - 1) Don't worry about your Nitrate reading. That probably came from your fertilizer dose.
2) Ammonia at low levels is fine too, but it it starts to get above 2 ppm you need to either add Prime to neutralize it or do some big water changes to neutralize it. Ammonia is used for nitrogen by plants but can be toxic too!
3) Make sure to stay on top of your water changes. There is a balance between cleaning/messing with the tank too much and not cleaning the organic build up out. HOWEVER - there is practically no downside to being extra fastidious about cleaning the tank.
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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-29-2020, 07:23 AM Thread Starter
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I mean, I deliberately added ammonia to get the cycle going 🙂

But my understanding is that it has to stay around 4 until nitrites start going up.

It’s a bit of a relief to see that these weird readings confirm my suspicions of plant food reacting.

I’m going to continue to monitor this cycle daily.

There is just so much discrepancy in information depending on what you are referencing.

Some sources in planted tank communities say plant the tank heavily and have a fertilizing schedule with water changes.

Other places say to set it up and not to touch anything while it’s cycling.

I’m just want to get a little world safe for plants and fishes. If it takes 3 weeks or 13 weeks, I do not much care. I just want to make sure I can put living creatures in there and also not kill too many plants in the process.

Everyone’s conditions are so varied that I can understand why what works for some people doesn’t work for others, causing a lot of confusion for new comers lol
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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-29-2020, 01:45 PM
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If you let your tap water degas for 24 hours the ph will often be different than straight out of the tap. Prime will bind ammonia and hold it harmless but not remove it. The ammonia reading will come back.
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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-29-2020, 02:49 PM
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There's so much information out there, it can be overwhelming. For what it's worth, here are a few notes from my experience of getting back into this that I thought might be helpful -

I learned (here, I think) that municipal water treatment adds buffers to tap water to raise the pH to help fight pipe erosion. So from my understanding, if you test your pH straight out of the tap, it'll have a higher reading than after it degasses, even without adding any conditioner.

Like you said, tap water varies wildly across pretty much every parameter depending on where you are, so learn what's normal for your source, and go from there.

Don't get discouraged if you lose a bunch of plants, despite a ton of research, diligent care taking, appropriate equipment, and the best of intentions. I've come to think of it like gardening (my other obsessive pursuit), and some plants just WON'T in some places. Despite hours spent staring at them, they haven't told me their secrets yet.

Your life will be easier if you find plants and fish that can tolerate the water conditions you already have, versus trying to permanently sustain drastic parameter changes of your tap water. For example, I have EXTREMELY hard water, basically liquid limestone. It is what it is, so there are just species I can't keep. If your heart is absolutely set on a species that needs conditions very different than your tap water, you'll just need to be ready for constant management.

Ecology of the Planted Aquarium by Diana Walstad was very helpful. I read it months after I had everything set up and wish I'd read it before I got everything set up. She suggests starting off with a bunch of different plants to see what will thrive in your water. She also pointed out that some plants produce compounds that impede their neighbor's growth, or kill them completely, so not all plants will thrive in proximity to one another, regardless of conditions and fertilization.

I bought a plant package with 10 different plant species, and only half of those survived. I live in a rural area with LFS that leave a lot of be desired in the quality of their stock. I ended up having much better luck buying plants and fish online... until I didn't, and paid to have some dead fish shipped to me. The learning curve is steep and mysterious! This is definitely a hobby that will test your patience.

Best of luck! I look forward to seeing how your project progresses!
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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-29-2020, 04:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by P.Isley View Post
2) Ammonia at low levels is fine too, but it it starts to get above 2 ppm you need to either add Prime to neutralize it or do some big water changes to neutralize it. Ammonia is used for nitrogen by plants but can be toxic too!
Well, not to be pedantic, but that's not ENTIRELY true. If you're testing ammonia using an API test, the result it gives you is total ammonia (Ammonia AND ammonium combined), not free ammonia. The ammonium component is not dangerous. And actually, even free ammonia at 2ppm can be a "safe" level (but not a target for a healthy tank lol) if the PH is low enough.

If you use one of the Seachem Ammonia Alert badges, that actually shows you free ammonia only (the dangerous part).

And... Prime probably doesn't actually neutralize ammonia like Seachem likes to claim it does. Some people have tested it using Seachem's Ammonia Alert badge, at the instruction of Seachem, and the free ammonia was never "bound" by Prime at all. I've bought a lot of Seachem products, but a lot of their marketing takes some creative liberties with hard science.
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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 07-02-2020, 04:06 AM Thread Starter
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@Karley
“ Despite hours spent staring at them, they haven't told me their secrets yet.” - LITERALLY made me laugh out loud 🙂

Plants are fin icky creatures. In our old apartment I managed to kill a snake plant and philodendron. Figured I was hopeless. But in our new one I can’t trim them back fast enough.

I WISH I knew about an aquarium variety pack!!! That would have been so much more economical lol but I have a bit of variety going and we will see what takes.

Anyway.
I am in day 5 of my cycle after adding ammonia
All the readings are pretty much the same, still.
Nitrites went up a little but ammonia has not gone down.

Today it was
Ph - 7
Ammonia - 4.0
Nitrite -.50
Nitrate - 10
Temperature: 80 degrees

It’s been this way basically for 5 days. I’ve not changed any water, except for adding a bit that evaporated (conditioner as per bottle instructions) to keep the filter output quiet.

My driftwood grew a fashionable white sweater lol but I know that’s normal and harmless. At least SOMETHING is growing in there haha

Is this normal and I am just getting overly impatient?

Do I keep leaving It alone?

Thanks!
-L
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post #11 of 17 (permalink) Old 07-02-2020, 01:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lanaquarium View Post
@Karley


Anyway.
I am in day 5 of my cycle after adding ammonia
All the readings are pretty much the same, still.
Nitrites went up a little but ammonia has not gone down.

Today it was
Ph - 7
Ammonia - 4.0
Nitrite -.50
Nitrate - 10
Temperature: 80 degrees

It’s been this way basically for 5 days. I’ve not changed any water, except for adding a bit that evaporated (conditioner as per bottle instructions) to keep the filter output quiet.

My driftwood grew a fashionable white sweater lol but I know that’s normal and harmless. At least SOMETHING is growing in there haha

Is this normal and I am just getting overly impatient?

Do I keep leaving It alone?

Thanks!
-L
Your cycle sounds exactly like mine was the first week. The nitrite going up is a good sign - bacteria are starting to sort themselves out. Ammonia will continue to come from plant waste, so I wouldn't expect to see it going down much until plants start to establish and grow, and eventually bacteria also. From what I can tell, everything there sounds normal to me, and it will just need some time 🙂

As far as the pH tests, the way I normally think of it is "use the regular pH test only, unless it maxes out at 7.6 - then use the High Range test". Sounds like that what you were doing to start with, I don't see where anyone else was confused 🙃
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post #12 of 17 (permalink) Old 07-02-2020, 02:43 PM
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Step one to know is that water may be totally different with totally different treatment in every place we have tanks. So that throws a real hicky into most of the info we get from forums!
If you are in NYC, the water likely starts quite soft and acidic but if you are in the Central US and using water from an underground source, it is quite likely to start out hard and alkaline. The center of the country sets on a huge block of limestone, while the coasts don't! Each area uses different treatment to fit what the water needs to be safe to drink.
So it takes some filtering to know who has the same experience with treating water to match what you need to do.
Second step is to know that much of what we do is working with nature and nature is flexible, so we need to be also. There are few absolutes in fish keeping, just recommendations which may fit for many. But those recommendations are often written by the coasts as that is where media thrives.
With adding ferts, it will have made the nitrate, nitrite, etc a bit hard to predict as the ferts dissolve and the plants use them. The levels will not be from the cycle bacteria at this point as it is way too soon. Fishless cycle is a very slow process and may take a month. Having plants makes it a lot harder to predict how it will go,so be patient and don't get too excited about testing results just yet as they will likely be somewhat weird.
On testing PH, don't bother for a while as it is not really as important as we often read, so let it settle down and then use one test or the other, depending on which range you are finding the water. Likely to be the lower if normal East coast water. Not critical but a point to know so that you can choose fish and plants they like that PH and you can avoid all the drama of trying to fight nature.
Nature wins that fight in almost every case!
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post #13 of 17 (permalink) Old 07-03-2020, 01:04 AM
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Only thing I can suggest is to stop taking high Ph readings. The tests are for people with very alkaline water (mine is naturally 8.0), and I can't use the regular Ph test. There...I just saved you one minute of time per week!
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post #14 of 17 (permalink) Old 07-03-2020, 08:05 AM
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Hi, I just recently cycled a tank, Im on week six. Shrimp are in now. I used snails and food instead of aminia additive. Im a newbie to btw. But I had about the same reading but I also used turbo start bB which tends to speed the process. I also used shrimp salty mineral to the distilled water and aimed for a tds on 200. The first could of days my ph ran 7.6 which is the max readying on the api ph test kit so when I did the high ph test...that one was at 8.8. Surprising. It did go down through the weeks and was at 7.6 on reg pho test and less than 7.4 ph test so I tend to assume a 7.3 level. I do recommend doing both to ensure it didnt go higher. I have also found out that amazon sells a ph reader, similar to a tds reader so no guess work on numbers. I will be ordering that short. I just hate trying to figure out the colors so that may be an option for you. You can also buy the seachem ph and ammonia readers that hang on the tank and ,ast a year to clue you in on any issues. So that might help. They are under 13.99 for both. The digital reader is 17.99 dollars. Nut it may reduce some stress work. Just understand that the digital tds reader on alerts you have the bad ammonia level and not all which is a good thing in my opinion. You van also add prime to make the Aomori, nitrate and nitrite non toxic for 24 hours so the beneficial bacteria to catch up and ensure that although your test reading did not change. Your fish or shrimp are protected for a short time. Seachem stability can also be used for beneficial bacteria. Hope this helped explain the process and results.

Bump: Also ph level drops within 24-36 hours if you increase aeration. It has something to do with the chemical reaction. So you can test again after that to see a true base ph. You can also add drifter wood and Indian almond leaves. The tanners realeased can natural lower the ph.
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post #15 of 17 (permalink) Old 07-03-2020, 06:38 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks EVERYONE!!!!
I appreciate you sharing your experience to help me 🙂
So glad to get reassurance that my readings are not weird!!! HUZZAAAA

SO WE HAVE A NEW DEVELOPMENT

My nitrites shot up to 2.0 ppm yesterday!

Ammonia still looks pretty green. Still looks like 4 to my but my hubs says it looks more like 2 to him. So I guess somewhere in between.

I’m guessing it’s moving along

Tested my tap water.
Without anything in it, I got a pH of 7.2 and 0 on everything else.
So I am guessing that’s pretty good.
In the tank pH been steady at 7 all week.
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