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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 03:31 PM Thread Starter
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A first tank

I've been trying to cycle this tank for about a month, and it still has very high nitrites. Ammonia has gone down, so I guess that's good, but nitrites are off the chart. Not sure what it's going to take to bring them down as I've been changing the water frequently.

Anyway, by way of background, I bought the tank off Craigslist. I came filled with kitschy decorations and broken equipment.

I painted the tank white, redid the silicone sealant along the edges, and put in some turface for substrate with a layer of peat below the turface. I got miracle grow peat with fertilizer in it, puzzled as to why that would be bad. Everyone seems to add ferts to the soil anyway, so why not just have them in there to begin with? Perhaps that's my problem with nitrite.

I forgot I had ordered some bacter100 and so I ended up putting that in after some of the water was added. Probably means it didn't work at all.

Bought a couple more lacerock stones from a local guy who collects in southern Utah. They look good. I tried vinegar on the rock and didn't see any bubbling, so hopefully they are not a mistake.

Finally added a few plants right after Thanksgiving. I hooked up a yeast DIY reactor and the very next day there was visible growth, which was pretty exciting.
Dec 1 2011:

Dec 2 2011:

Since then it's been a cycle of crazy bacterial and algae weirdness, that I assume must be somewhat typical for what happens while cycling. I've had hair algae, green stuff on the glass, brown stuff on the glass, brown slime on the leaves, brown crumbs (I assume diatoms?) on the leaves. So, I just watch and keep waiting, but I'm now coming up on a month since putting the water in. And the nitrites are still sky high. I don't want to add fish until it's safe. It's taking forever.
Here's how it looks now:

Parameters have been tricky. My tap water is ph 9. My tank has been between 6 and 7, presumably because of the peat. Carbonate hardness has been nearly zero. GH is 8. Temp is around 78. With that low carbonate and that big of a difference in ph between the tap and the tank, I imagine there are huge fluctuations in pH with water changes contributing to the erratic algae and plant growth.

For lighting I have a SHO bulb and an LED, both in DIY fixtures sitting on plexiglass. (Hefty trash cans... classy, I know). I'm sort of experimenting with which one has better growth from the plants nearby and then I'll probably make the light uniform.

Anyway, I ended up taking the bacter100 and putting it into some gelcaps and sticking it in the soil in a few places today. I don't know if that will help, but I'm kind of lost as to why the nitrite is not budging after a few weeks of running. it's all an ongoing experiment with uneven light, uneven CO2 dosing with a yeast reactor, fluctuating pH, and one each of 5 plant species. Looking forward to the fish... someday. But this has always been intended as a planted tank and things seem to be going surprisingly well, all things considered.
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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 04:18 PM
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I am going to say this, your nitrites seem high cuz you are doing water changes. When cycling a tank, it is best to leave things alone. That, and the soil you used could be leaching it in the water. I used Miracle Gro Organic Garden Soil in one of my tanks, and it was an ammonia and nitrite factory for almost a month and a half. I would say, let up on the water changes as that will slow down the nitrification process, and let nature take its course a little bit more. You will be surprised by what will happen.

The tank looks good other wise, and I like it much better in white than the faux wood.

Do you notice any benefits in one light over the other yet?


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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 04:40 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the tip on the water changes. I did do them a bit infrequently for a while and when the nitrites weren't budging, I thought doing them every other day or so would dilute the nitrites outright. Then yesterday I tested our tap water and it has nitrites in it too, so apparently that strategy wasn't a good one! Or, maybe, I'm just not so handy with the testing. Seems unlikely that our drinking water is that poor of quality. Anyway...

The LED on the right is too focused and I probably need to raise the "pendant" fixture that is currently sitting on the plexiglass. But overall the growth and health of the plants seems to favor the brighter spots (for both lights), and this makes me think that light is the limiting factor and that seems to be right on target. The SHO bulb makes a lot of heat and is HUGE. It would stick way out of the reflectors I have, so I had to make an aluminum foil/ garbage can DIY monstrosity, that really doesn't look too bad. So, it would be nice to use a set of the LED ones, but the jury is still out. The tank seems much better lit, but not unreasonably bright, on the side of the SHO for now.
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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 04:45 PM
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Originally Posted by doc bonsai View Post
Thanks for the tip on the water changes. I did do them a bit infrequently for a while and when the nitrites weren't budging, I thought doing them every other day or so would dilute the nitrites outright. Then yesterday I tested our tap water and it has nitrites in it too, so apparently that strategy wasn't a good one! Or, maybe, I'm just not so handy with the testing. Seems unlikely that our drinking water is that poor of quality. Anyway...

The LED on the right is too focused and I probably need to raise the "pendant" fixture that is currently sitting on the plexiglass. But overall the growth and health of the plants seems to favor the brighter spots (for both lights), and this makes me think that light is the limiting factor and that seems to be right on target. The SHO bulb makes a lot of heat and is HUGE. It would stick way out of the reflectors I have, so I had to make an aluminum foil/ garbage can DIY monstrosity, that really doesn't look too bad. So, it would be nice to use a set of the LED ones, but the jury is still out. The tank seems much better lit, but not unreasonably bright, on the side of the SHO for now.
SHO?

It is possible the your drinking water does have nitrites in it. But I am going to blame the soil first. All tap water have some stuff in it. It is just a matter of how much and what type.

I have no experience with LED lights that is why I am curious. Keep us posted on that.


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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 04:59 PM Thread Starter
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"super high output" Why it needs a separate acronym from "very high output" I'm not sure. I read up on lighting and ended up getting this SHO and this LED. The tank cover that came with the tank was noisy and had tiny fluorescent lights that weren't going to cut it. I also wanted to have a mainly open top. The two bulbs I chose use a standard screw-in socket making them good for someone of very limited DIY capabilities like me.

As for the soil, I have pretty low ammonia and have had for a while now. So it seems odd.
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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 05:02 PM
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I have never had to wait for a tank to cycle before adding fish. I have set up quite a few from scratch, like you seem to have set this one up in this case.

I used Miracle-Gro Spaghnum Peat Moss with no problems. Ammonia may be in the peat like cableguy was saying, and if that is the case it gave me no problems. I've gone through 1.5 5 lb. bags.

If it is ammonia...then you can aerate the tank for a day to get rid of it.

Maybe your test kit is old.

Maybe you need more "bacterophilic" filter substrate. It's my favorite, and consumes the most volume in my filters. I never wash it, rinse it, or anything; for fear of killing a beneficial bacterium. The "biomedia" in pet stores is retardedly expensive. Small lava rocks work great for me (< 2 in. diameter at the most). I used inert (not eco-compete or anything) substrate wapped up in woman's stalkings for a while too. With the lava rock, I bought a bag, poured it in a bowl, and picked out the small ones. I also crushed a bunch with a towel and hammer. Don't use a favorite towel.

Last but not least: I always have some "test fish" on hand. Whatever fish are cheap; I plop them in there, and wait 15 minutes.

I think I've tested for nitrite like 3-4 times in my short life, and it was only because I bought a kit for it. I have NEVER had a problem with it. My fish die of old age, or they mysteriously vanish.


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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 05:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by doc bonsai View Post
"super high output" Why it needs a separate acronym from "very high output" I'm not sure. I read up on lighting and ended up getting this SHO and this LED. The tank cover that came with the tank was noisy and had tiny fluorescent lights that weren't going to cut it. I also wanted to have a mainly open top. The two bulbs I chose use a standard screw-in socket making them good for someone of very limited DIY capabilities like me.

As for the soil, I have pretty low ammonia and have had for a while now. So it seems odd.
Those lights are beasts!

and +1 to what steak said as well. There are a lot of different factors in the nitrites. It could be cuz the ammonia from the soil is not gone yet and it is going through the natural process. Or it could be something else. Only time will tell really.


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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 05:46 PM
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High pH usually goes with high KH, so when you mention that carbonate hardness is near zero, it probably refers to tank KH rather than tap KH.

Due to its high CEC, raw turface is a notorious KH sink. So if you are seeing substantial KH losses from tap to tank, the missing carbonate is probably disappearing into your substrate. This will continue, at a progressively decreasing rate, until equilibrium is established.

The water here is very soft, so I don't have any first hand experience with this phenomenon. But my guess is that you are looking at a few months of frequent water changes to get to a fairly stable situation. Or you could preload a new batch of turface with lots of Ca++ ions (never done this, but I would imagine that soaking it in a tub of kalkwasser might do the trick) and replace most of what's currently in the tank.

But either way, you will greatly simplify nitrogen cycling by first stabilizing your water chemistry.
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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 09:32 PM
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Mossback brings up interesting points.

Tossing baking soda in the tank would probably work on the Ca+ issue. You're having pH swings anyway.

I'd stop changing the water so much, either way. I would not change it unless the nitrates got high; "Let nature takes its course", as cableguy said.


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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 09:46 PM
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the pic with the little kid is cool, by the way...makes me wonder if he'll be on this forum one day.


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post #11 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 11:12 PM Thread Starter
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I'm hoping this is not brown beard algae. It's just kind of brown slime, so it doesn't really look like the pictures of BBA I've seen. Anyone know what to make of this?
The roots on this plant have been going crazy all up and down the stem, but the roots right in the middle of the frame are the ones coated in brown slime:

It's on the rocks and gravel too, but mainly the plants.

And while I'm asking questions, here is the same three stems I have pics of up above. You can see that there's been a lot of growth in the last week and half, but the "original" leaves are turning black. They're not falling off, so I don't know if they're dead or what. I was going to pick them off, but there's a whole bunch of colors on these leaves that seem to possibly be normal variants depending on iron and stuff. What do you think?
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post #12 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 11:19 PM
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I got huge clumps of brown slime like that on plants from overdosing potassium. I read, at the time, that they were diatoms.



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post #13 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-11-2011, 11:35 PM Thread Starter
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Wow! Mine hasn't gotten that bad since I keep vacuuming it with my water changes, but it is interesting stuff. Does look like it's probably the same. I haven't dosed *anything* in this tank yet. It's all the miraclegro peat, I guess. Thanks for the response.

So, how did you get rid of it? Do certain species eat it?
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post #14 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-12-2011, 12:33 AM
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It was only because of the Leaf Zone potassium I was overdosing. I stopped dosing it, and the algae disappeared in a week, at most. I don't know of anything that eats it, but I'm sure there is something.

Yea, it seems like it's all the peat. I use about 1/2in on my tank bed, and cover it with as much substrate as I can muster (Your turface looks identical to the stuff I use.). It doesn't look like you used too much from these pics. I am puzzled, and it all does seem to point to the peat.

Even if it is the peat, I'd stick with it, and hold off on water changes for a bit. It'd be good experimentation.


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post #15 of 16 (permalink) Old 12-13-2011, 05:45 PM Thread Starter
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I finally broke down and added a couple fish last night. Despite the nitrite, I've been told that you can't cycle a tank unless there is a fish in it. I've also been told that's not true and that with the ammonia and all the nitrogen products coming from my miraclegro peat, that should be able to cycle. Regardless, I'm the new owner of a pearl gourami and dojo loach. So, here goes nothin.
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