wow--ammonia out of control - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-15-2012, 12:45 PM Thread Starter
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wow--ammonia out of control

Old tank is set up anew, the plants and landscape are set up; will post pics when I upload them, but so glad to be back in the planted tank world. I use pressurized CO2, have very good lighting and I'm using the EI fert regimen. But....

I initially had some trouble hitting the right CO2 levels, and once I did, the CO2 tank ran out and Sports Authority had to fix their regulator before I could get a refill. Plants suffered a bit, but they're back on track now. BUT....

I put in four white clouds to cycle. Ammonia went up a bit so I did a 50% water change and found three dead the next morning. The fourth has done well, but it came time for my weekly water change yesterday, and this morning the last fish was dead. Tested my tap water this morning from the faucet and found ammonia at 3 mg/L!!! Tested the tank and it's at 1.5, so I guess the cycling is underway, but if I'm going to do EI I need to do 50% water changes.

My plan A and B, pending feedback from anyone willing to share:

A--use Prime. I've stayed away from water conditioners since I had a bloodletting in my tank several years ago from adding too much, and I never had a problem without it. But I live in a different county now, and this ammonia level is shocking to me.

B--if Prime doesn't work well enough, I'd consider more frequent, lesser quantity water changes to minimize the effect on the tank. But I'd have to adjust my fert schedule, and not quite sure how to figure it out.
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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-15-2012, 01:13 PM
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I would retest the tap water. If it is the same either ask a LFS what the local water is like or buy a new test kit. I would be highly surprised that any municipal water supply would have 3ppm NH3 in it.

My city water runs chloramines at 2.4ppm per the annual water quality report. The federal max guideline is 4ppm. This shows up a shade between .25ppm and .5ppm.

Could there be another source of ammonia that high, bad test kit, am I missing something?
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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-15-2012, 01:37 PM Thread Starter
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I would blame the test kit, but the fish all did well until the water changes and then died right away so the readings are consistent with what happened in the tank. I had used old dry fert's and Excel the first water change, but ordered and used new ones this time (only dry; will dose dry trace today, not going to use Excel in this tank). Tested the tap water twice this morning because I couldn't believe the first reading, and got the same result.

Can't think of another ammonia source in the tank, and certainly not from the tap. All dead fish have been removed, and this is a 65-gallon tank; a few white clouds shouldn't have much effect on it at all. Plant detritus? Substrate is EcoComplete and pool filter sand, separated by lava rock. I have driftwood in the planted areas.
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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-15-2012, 01:46 PM
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As an aside, what is your CO2 tank size? I use a 5 lb and even if i "have trouble figuring out the right level" as you mentioned, it should last a few months and you may need to check for leaks once you get it going again.

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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-15-2012, 02:10 PM
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Well if that is coming out of your tap that is crazy. I would still get some form of corroboration. Consider going fishless for the rest of the cycle regardless. I find it faster and cheaper, which i will admit are big motivators for me.

Good Luck

Keep us updated.
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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-15-2012, 02:14 PM
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Oh and in regards to CO2 tanks, I am a big believer in go big or go home. Had a 2.5lb that I inherited from my dad. I ended up upgrading to a 20 lb no I refill every year or two. It's great. Refill on a 20lb last month 16 bucks.
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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-15-2012, 03:21 PM
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well do u do a bucket fill method?
if so buy a small pump and get a whole house filter. fill it with ammo carb and circulate each bucket for about 30 minutes. wit will remove chlorine and ammonia all in one

if u have chloramines treat with dechlorinator first to break that bond

also u said u never use dechlorinators. did u age the water before dumping it in? if not a 50% water change would add enough chlorine to kill most if not all ur fish

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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-15-2012, 03:42 PM
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I would always use Prime. Adding too much dechlor to kill fish would be a gross amount of overdose.
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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-15-2012, 07:00 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks all! First off, I made a mistake about the past problem--it was after a water change, but the problem was the use of pH adjust drops, dropped the pH too low (the only time I've ever used those, before I had a pressurized CO2 system). I never used dechlorinator and always did 50% changes without issue where I used to live, but now I'll go with Prime. I use a python for water changes.

CO2--I use paintball cannisters, they usually last a month, but this was a partial cannister to begin with. I had two, discarded one because of a leak so I had no backup.

Could the chlorine or chloramine in the tap water have given me a false reading?
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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-15-2012, 07:38 PM
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Do not cycle with fish.

My tap water tests quite constantly 1 ppm chlorine and ammonia from chloramine. This is exactly what the water company says they put in the water, so within the levels of accuracy, I have the dosing of the dechlor dialed in really close, then dose just a hair more to be sure.

Fishless Cycle
You too can boast that "No fish were harmed in the cycling of your new tank"
Cycling a tank means to grow the beneficial bacteria that will help to decompose the fish waste (especially ammonia). These bacteria need ammonia to grow. There are 3 sources of ammonia that work to do this. One is fish. Unfortunately, the process exposes the fish to ammonia, which burns their gills, and nitrite, which makes their blood unable to carry oxygen. This often kills the fish.

Another source is decomposing protein. You could cycle your tank by adding fish food or a dead fish or shellfish. You do not know how much beneficial bacteria you are growing, though.

The best source of ammonia is... Ammonia. In a bottle.

Using fish is a delicate balance of water changes to keep the toxins low (try not to hurt the fish) but keep feeding the bacteria. It can take 4 to 8 weeks to cycle a tank this way, and can cost the lives of several fish. When you are done you have grown a small bacteria population that still needs to be nurtured to increase its population. You cannot, at the end of a fish-in cycle, fully stock your tank.

The fishless/ammonia cycle takes as little as 3 weeks, and can be even faster, grows a BIG bacteria population, and does not harm fish in any way.

Both methods give you plenty of practice using your test kit.

How to cycle a tank the fishless way:

1) Make sure all equipment is working, fill with water that has all the stuff you will need for the fish you intend to keep. Dechlorinator, minerals for GH or KH adjustments, the proper salt mix, if you are creating a brackish or marine tank. These bacteria require a few minerals, so make sure the GH and KH is at least 3 German degrees of hardness. Aquarium plant fertilizer containing phosphate should be added if the water has no phosphate. They grow best when the pH is in the 7s. Good water movement, fairly warm (mid to upper 70sF), no antibiotics or other toxins.

2) (Optional)Add some source of the bacteria. Used filter media from a cycled tank is best, gravel or some decorations or a few plants... even some water, though this is the poorest source of the beneficial bacteria.
Bacteria in a bottle can be a source of these bacteria, but make sure you are getting Nitrospira spp of bacteria. All other ‘bacteria in a bottle’ products have the wrong bacteria. This step is optional. The proper bacteria will find the tank even if you make no effort to add them. Live plants may bring in these bacteria on their leaves and stems.

3) Add ammonia until the test reads 5 ppm. This is the non-sudsing, no surfactants, no-fragrance-added ammonia that is often found in a hardware store, discount stores, and sometimes in a grocery store. The concentration of ammonia may not be the same in all bottles. Try adding 5 drops per 10 gallons, then allowing the filter to circulate for about an hour, then test. If the reading isn't up to 5 ppm, add a few more drops and test again. (Example, if your test reads only 2 ppm, then add another 5 drops) Some ammonia is such a weak dilution you may need to add several ounces to get a reading.

4) Test for ammonia daily, and add enough to keep the reading at 5 ppm. You probably will not have to add much, if any, in the first few days, unless you added a good amount of bacteria to jump start the cycle.

5) Several days after you start, begin testing for nitrites. When the nitrites show up, reduce the amount of ammonia you add so the test shows 3ppm. (Add only half as much ammonia as you were adding in part 4) Add this reduced amount daily from now until the tank is cycled.
If the nitrites get too high (over 5 ppm), do a water change. The bacteria growth is slowed because of the high nitrites. Reducing the level of ammonia to 3 ppm should prevent the nitrite from getting over 5 ppm.

6) Continue testing, and adding ammonia daily. The nitrates will likely show up about 2 weeks after you started. Keep monitoring, and watch for 0 ppm ammonia, 0 ppm nitrite and rising nitrates.

7) Once the 0 ppm ammonia and nitrites shows up it may bounce around a little bit for a day or two. Be patient. Keep adding the ammonia; keep testing ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.
When it seems done you can challenge the system by adding more than a regular dose of ammonia, and the bacteria should be able to remove the ammonia and nitrite by the next day.
If you will not be adding fish right away continue to add the ammonia to keep the bacteria fed.

8) When you are ready to add the fish, do at least one water change, and it may take a couple of them, to reduce the nitrate to safe levels (as low as possible, certainly below 10 ppm) I have seen nitrate approaching 200 ppm by the end of this fishless cycle in a non-planted tank.

9) You can plant a tank that is being cycled this way at any point during the process. If you plant early, the plants will be well rooted, and better able to handle the disruption of the water change.
Yes, the plants will use some of the ammonia and the nitrates. They are part of the nitrogen handling system, part of the biofilter, they are working for you. Some plants do not like high ammonia, though. If a certain plant dies, remove it, and only replace it after the cycle is done.

10) The fishless cycle can also be used when you are still working out the details of lighting, plants and other things. If you change the filter, make sure you keep the old media for several weeks or a month. Most of the bacteria have been growing in this media (sponges, floss etc).
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post #11 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-18-2012, 11:09 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks Diana. My CO2 and other water parameters are all now good. From what I've read about Eco-Complete, it has the bacteria required for cycling already in the substrate, and the single fish doing so well for a full week without an iincrease in ammonia leads me to still blame the tap water. I know the 3 ppm I measured sounds crazy, but that's what I tested. I'm picking up Prime soon and will keep testing the water before re-introducing any fish. Thanks everybody!
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post #12 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-18-2012, 05:15 PM
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No. EC does not contain the right species of bacteria for the nitrogen cycle.

Do the fishless cycle, or buy the right species of bacteria. Look for Nitrospira in the ingredients. All other 'cycle in a bottle' products (including those sold as part of the substrate or stuck on thing like filter media) are the wrong species.
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post #13 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-18-2012, 05:29 PM
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Skip the bottle in my opinion. Even if it was the right stuff at one time you have no idea ho long its been there or in what conditions its been stored and at best it saves you what 2 weeks.
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post #14 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-18-2012, 06:16 PM
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Yes, there is a question of storage conditions of any of the bottled products. These bacteria are sensitive to overheating and freezing. Usually they are shipped and stored cold, refrigerated.
When the bacteria are still alive, though, it is the fastest.

Here is a very rough guide. There are still some variables in each answer, but a basic timeline for each method of cycling:

Fastest: Stock the full load of fish within hours of set up.
Nitrospira from a bottle
a LOT of cycled filter media from a high bio load tank
densely planting the tank, especially with fast growing species

Moderate rate: Stock the full load in less than a month of set up.
Fishless cycle, but jump start it with some cycled media from a healthy tank.
Pretty good plant load, then let them grow.

Slower, but still under a month:
Fishless cycle with nothing to jump start it. (3 weeks)

Slowest, and most cruel to the fish: Several months to a full stocking level.
Fish-in cycle
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post #15 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-18-2012, 06:34 PM
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I would not think four white cloud minnows in 60 gal planted tank would cause ammonia or nitrites to spike to toxic level's.
They just would not create the bioload to cause this unless massively over fed.
I agree with other's with regard's to a good dechlorinator such as PRIME.
Might even consider zeolite or purigen in mesh bag for the filter if ammonia reading's from tap are as posted.
Would also submit that the lava rock separating the two substrates is very good surface for accumulating bit's of food,gunk,poop,that could influence the reading's for ammonia.
You can cycle a tank with fish, but fish must be small and few in number's to prevent ammonia and nitrites from killing them.
Four white clouds in 60 gal would be about right with ten to fourteen day's between the addition of another three or four fish. Build the bacteria colony slowly this way,and if fish are not over fed,over stocked,or too large,,no harm will come to them .
Have set up lot's of class room tank's by using a couple three small fish where children were not inclined to sit and stare into empty tank.
If done right,,no daily water changes/testing, dosing of ammonia,and tank's mature slowly,naturally.
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