Hello - Brand New Aquarium Ownder With Lots of Questions - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-12-2017, 07:54 AM Thread Starter
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Post Hello - Brand New Aquarium Ownder With Lots of Questions

Hi everyone - please bear with me. I'm one of those people who tends to over-research and overthink everything and I'm very confused ...

We were donated a 10 gallon aquarium about 6 weeks ago by neighbors who were moving out-of-state. They had purchased it for their young daughter and thought that my younger kiddos would appreciate having fish since they couldn't take it with them. I was assured that it was low-maintenance and that the fish were easy to take care of, but I'm discovering that the tank was probably not ever well-maintained or correctly set up to begin with, so I need some help.

My friend mentioned that she'd never changed the water - she'd only topped it off periodically when it evaporated out. She also mentioned that it had live plants in it at one point but she got tired of pruning them, so she'd taken them out and just put in plastic ones. It looked clean initially, but when I refilled it after it came to our house (she'd pulled a lot of the water out to make it lighter to carry) it stirred up all the junk in the gravel that had never been cleaned and was very nasty. She told me to let it settle overnight and that it would be fine. I had no clue what kind of fish we were getting, but I *think* after doing some research that we started with 4 large-ish tetras of some kind, 4 cory catfish of some kind, and some kind of pleco. I'm not positive about the identifications, that's just my best guess.

I started reading fish articles and quickly got overwhelmed by the conflicting information. So far this is what I've done, and some of my concerns/fallout from it:

1. Swapped the neon blue gravel in the bottom for neutral colored gravel, because it became rapidly apparent that the fish were stressed. All of the tetras and the catfish would flock around one spindly little plastic plant in the corner of the tank, and if they came out, the pleco would come out of the big ornament in the middle of the tank and charge them. At the same time that I swapped the gravel, I moved the pleco's decoration-cave-thing off to one side of the tank in an effort to give the other fish a little more room. I also added several live plants at this point, to increase the cover available for the other fish, and added a piece of driftwood to give them something on the bottom because it still looked very empty and I wanted something to give them more ground cover and refuge from the pleco. I left the plastic plants that were already in the tank there on the advice of an employee at a local big box pet store (we don't have any small aquarium stores here that I've been able to find) to help the bacterial colonies, since I'd changed out the gravel. I DID NOT change the water at all at that point, and it was very nasty for quite a while while all the stuff in the bottom settled. I changed the filter at the same time because it was disgusting, not realizing that with all the other changes I should have just let it be for a few days. I also added 2 snails at this point as a result of needing to console a 4-year-old who was extremely upset that said pet store did not sell pet dragons. I think they were both Mystery snails, but one may have been a Nerite. I'm not sure how to tell at this point.

2. I changed their food around because I was mortified that the fish flakes were primarily corn and soy meal and food coloring. They're now getting a rotation of freeze dried brine shrimp, blood worms, and a powdered/flake/pellet food that has spirulina, krill, and a lot of other good fishy stuff in it. Everyone in the aquarium seemed much happier after a few days - the pleco stopped charging the other fish and actually came out of his cave for extended periods of time, and the tetras started exploring the rest of the tank and were generally a lot less skittish.

3. Everything seemed like it was going well for a few weeks, but the plants weren't doing particularly well. I had been topping off the tank with R/O water because we're on a private water system that has notable levels of nitrates and extremely hard water (the filter was basically fused to the back of the tank because of all the buildup and there were deposits on the back of the tank underneath it) and this didn't seem like a fantastic idea to be putting in the fish tank, given what I was reading about the nitrogen/ammonia cycles. The tank was living in my north-facing bay window, but it is back from the glass and the window doesn't get much (if any) direct sunlight, especially not at this time of the year. I decided that the decorative color-changing lights that the tank had come with were not going to work for plants, and at the same time one of the mystery snails crawled out of the back of the the not-particularly well-sealed lid and died, so I replaced the lid with a glass one that fit much more closely and swapped out the light for one that was recommended to work for plants (also by the pet-store-employee).

4. At this point I read that I should be doing regular water changes, so I started with that. I still didn't know that I needed to remineralize the R/O water or that it needed to be oxygenated before going in. I pulled about 10% of the tank water out and just replaced it with R/O water.

5. A week or so later, I did another water change, but probably changed somewhere between 25 and 30% of the water, not understanding that I needed to go much slower than that in a tank that had never had any kind of water changes before. The next morning my kids found the pleco belly-up.

6. At this point I sort of started panicking. I'd managed to kill both a snail and a pleco, and I was afraid to do anything else to the tank (although we did replace the snail because my younger daughter had picked it out and was heartbroken). I backed off on feeding the tank, worried that I'd spiked some level of something too high. I didn't realize right away the pleco may had died from the water parameters changing too rapidly due to the sudden large water change.

7. About a week after the pleco died, the tank water started turning green and there was a visible algae explosion on the sides of the tank. I took a brand new sponge to the inside of the tank and cleaned off the worst of it, and stopped turning on the aquarium lights during the day. We went back to the pet store to look at replacing the pleco, which was when I discovered that a pleco shouldn't have ever been in a 10-gallon at all given the sizes listed on the aquariums. An otocinclus was recommended, but said pet store was out at the moment, so I was told to try again later in the week when they got another shipment of fish.

8. No otocinclus came in the subsequent shipment, and at this point I was already starting to worry that the tank was borderline overstocked even with the pleco gone. I was also discovering that the plants really needed a substrate designed for a planted tank and not just gravel, as I was getting really concerned at how brown and beat-up everything looked. I also realized that the algae was starting to grow on the plants and that they needed to be cleaned off, but I was getting ever more paranoid that doing anything to the tank at this point would just make it worse.

9. Fast-forward to today. The fish have been fairly listless for the past week, although none of them have been hanging out up near the top like a lot of articles seem to say they will if the nitrates/ammonia levels are dangerously high. I ordered water testing kits that just got here. I've read that otocinclus are tricky and that water really needs to be in good condition if you want to have a good chance of them surviving and acclimating, so I more-or-less did a complete overhaul on the aquarium today to try to get the tank ready for whatever else ends up in it, or just to get it healthier for the fish that are already there. I took out all of the plants and fish, pulled all the gravel back out (did NOT wash/rinse it off, though), and took all of the water out. I wiped out the inside of the tank and scrubbed off as much of the mineral deposits as I could. Then I replaced about 2/3 of the gravel with Fluorite, added about half an inch of the other gravel back on top of it, replanted all the plants, and replaced the decoration/driftwood. I took all of the water that had been emptied out, ran it through coffee filters to get out the fish poop and everything else that had settled in the gravel (man was that disgusting), and then replaced the water back in the tank, plus about a gallon of R/O water that had been treated with about 1/8 tsp of Equilibrium. At this point I realized that in the middle of everything, I'd forgotten to rinse off the Fluorite, so the water turned a kind of reddish-brown. I let it settle for a few hours and then started re-acclimating the fish and snails to the new water, which I strung out over another hour and a half or so. I added about a tsp of Tetra Aquasafe (which I haven't been doing at water changes because the water was R/O) out of sudden worry that the unrinsed Fluorite and/or the Equilibrium may not be great for the snails. And then wondered if the Aquasafe was going to counteract the trace minerals in the Equilibrium and make the whole thing a waste of time. I was getting nervous by this point about how long the fish had been in a small container for the cleaning, so I added them back to the tank and promptly fed them, even though the water was still a bit cloudy. They seem to be doing fine now, although the water hasn't yet fully cleared. After all of the water cleaning there were only about 7 gallons of water left, including the gallon of R/O water I added.

So now for the onslaught of questions.
1. Are you supposed to use both Equilibrium and Aquasafe in conjunction with each other, or is Aquasafe bad for planted tanks? Does it lock up the trace minerals the plants need?
2. I figured the safest thing to do would be to add about a quart of the Equilibrium-treated R/O water back to the tank twice a day for the next few days, until the tank is full again, rather than filling the tank now and doing what would be the equivalent of a 40% water change when they've historically had so few water changes, the last one appears to have killed the pleco, and I'm already freaking out about overhauling the tank (again). Would this be the best way to finish refilling the tank, or should I just fill it now?
3. I was going to order an Oto, but I'm reading now that they like to be in groups of 3+. This to me feels like it's probably too many fish to add to a 10 gallon tank, but since algae is clearly going to be a problem and the snails don't seem to be keeping it in check, am I better off working up to 20-30% water changes bi-weekly and doing the 3 of them, or what? Would red cherry shrimp be a better move here, and if so, how many? Would they clean the algae off of the plants? This is my biggest concern, and the leaves on several plants are turning brown/black from the algae.
4. Is there a way to get the dust from the Fluorite out of the tank at this point? I'm really kicking myself for not remembering to rinse it off.
5. In general, can someone reassure me that I'm on the right track for taking care of these fish, or just give me general pointers on what to do/not to do? We've probably dropped close to $300 on this "easy" gifted aquarium in the process of trying to get it on track and set up for long-term enjoyment and fish health, and although I don't mind spending money on something if it will be for the improvement of fish/plants, I'm getting a little hesitant to spend anything else until I know for sure I'm on the right track - a lot of aquarium information online seems very conflicting. Mostly I just don't like seeing things that I've committed to caring for dying, and I'm getting really worried that I'm in over my head here and that I'm just going to end up with more dead fish in the next week or two.

Thanks for your patience, and any help/reassurance/pointers anyone can offer.
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post #2 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-12-2017, 09:51 AM
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Perhaps you could post a picture of the tank?

Well, it sounds as if the fish were living in horrific conditions if the previous owner never cleaned the tank or did water changes without a proper substrate (the bacteria in the substrate is what changes the fish poop to fertiliser for the plants.)

It sounds as though you have changed everything up in the tank multiple times over (which may stress the fish). Relax, keep testing the water to see the readings if you are concerned. If you think the tank may still be dirty then buy more snails and shrimp - they're a great clean up crew and the snails will also aerate the substrate.

The filter will remove the dust.

I believe using equilibrium and aquasafe is probably fine - I just used water conditioner (like aquasafe) in my simple tanks so best to ask an expert. Googling Equilibrium, it says it is safe to use with fish.

Flake food is fine for many fish - they will live for years off it, you can get ones that have crushed insects etc. I am sure they will be happy for their fancy diet but it is probably an unnecessary expense if that is a concern for you.

Mostly just relax and use tests to determine the changes you need to make.
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post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-12-2017, 04:42 PM
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Hi, I'm not an expert, but I'll try to answer some of your questions.

1. I use Equilibrium and API Stress Coat or Seachem Prime in the same tanks. Those are about the same thing as Tetra Aquasafe. Equilibrium replaces calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese; it raises your General Hardnes (GH), it is safe for fish, snails, shrimp, and plants as far as I know.

2. I don't know, I wouldn't think that a water change could have killed your pleco unless there was something wrong with the water that you added or the parameters were completely different from what it was used to. Plecos are pretty tough. I personally would fill the tank up and put in some Stress Coat or Prime and some Seachem Stability (has beneficial bacteria).

3. Do yourself a favor and don't buy oto's, they are so sensitive that even in an established aquarium new oto's can just die. They are treated so badly after they are caught, and they are virually all wild caught, that few are healthy enough to last once they get to your tank. If you are the type of person who will feel really badly about them dying just don't do it. Nerite snail are very good algae cleaners and they some in different colors/designs. Amano shrimp are also fun to watch and are good cleaners. I wouldn't go for red cherry shrimp or some of the other little shrimp, they like very low pH water that doesn't match up with the needs of a lot of other fish.

4. I don't know what filter you have, but you could temporarily replace part of the media with filter floss to collect the suspended dust and then throw it out, but make sure that you keep your biological media in place. You can also try to vacuum the substrate, but I don't know how much flourite dust that will pick up. Either way, it will eventually settle out of the water column. Oh, there is a product called Seachem Clarity that you might want to check out. Seachem - Clarity

5. You did the right thing getting rid of the blue gravel and changing out the water and filter, you just did it too quickly, but it's done now. Keep testing the water for ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, hoping for reading of zero for the first two, but I bet that your tank is cycling, so again, try to get some Seachem Stability or one of the other beneficial bacteria additives and read up of cycling a tank if you haven't already.

You will read on here that an algae outbreak is caused by an imbalance in light, CO2, and fertilizers that allow the algae to out compete the plants. What light did you buy? There is usually algae in most tanks, the trick is in not letting it take over. Someone else will hopefully come along to answer this question because I'm not sure that I'm the best person to answer.

If you can post some photos of your fish, maybe we can identify them for you. Also, if you are interested in getting more, firstly I would wait until the tank has settled down and you have no ammonia or nitrites, and then, if you like you can check on AqAdisor.com to see how over or understocked your tank might be.

Good luck, and try to feel good about saving these fish from a bad environment. It's a learning process, hopefully for your kids too.
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post #4 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-12-2017, 05:00 PM
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It sounds like the tank suffered from old tank syndrome....w/o water changes, slowly over time the pH becomes acidic and the organics increase with high nitrates and pollutants. To a point, fish can adapt to slowly degrading water conditions, but rapid changes in pH can be a killer.
Often hobbyists that neglect water changes think things are fine because fish tolerate 'dirty' for a long time, when a new fish added to that water may die in two days!
There is debate on how to deal with old tank syndrome. Some say major water change(s) right away while others suggest that the rapid change in pH is very bad.
Fortunately it seems that you're past that.
You should settle into a weekly water change of 20-50%. Be sure to use a dechlorinator product and ensure the new water is at the same temperature as tank water. (Use enough dechlor to treat the entire tank volume). Depending on the hardness of your water, you might cut hard water 50/50 with RO. Aquasafe should be fine with Equilibrium...perhaps not with other ferts. For other liquid plant ferts, you would add the following day after the water change. Feed high quality foods, not the ones with fish meal and grain starch as the main ingredients. Fine filter cloth or polyester fiber should remove the substrate fines from the Flourite.
As to the algae, many new tank setups are prone to have excess algae until things are balanced. I'd say let the algae grow some on one side or the back wall (to act as a 'scrubber') while you focus on the front glass and plants. Algae is a great water purifier, we just need to control it. (I have plastic canvas on the left side of my tank behind a bubble wall to promote algae growth [e.g. an algae scrubber]). If algae is a real problem, you may need to adjust your photo period slightly....Generally as plants grow and with proper ferts and light, algae will become less and less of a negative issue.
On a final note, don't overstock the tank and steer clear of fish that will get too large for a small 10g tank.
Stay on top of weekly water changes and filter maintenance.
Good luck and keep posting!
-Mike
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post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-13-2017, 04:36 PM
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Sounds like you've got a lot going on - you've read a lot, gotten overwhelmed! I think you have come tot he right place - these folks know a lot. Here are some pointers I can give from the 10-20 years I've run freshwater fish tanks...

Filtration is important, it sucks up a bunch of gunk, keeps the water clean for the fish, make sure you have one rated for the size of your tank. Hang on back filters work fine for a 10 gallon tank.
Cleaning your filtration media is also very important. I get lazy sometimes and my tank crashes after about 6 months without changing my filter floss (the white fuzzy one). You probably want to change it once per month or two. It gets plugged up with gunk, reduces water flow back to the tank and generally stops working as a filter. The black plastic web of looser filter floss don't have to be replaced really (if you have one), those can just be rinsed and put back in. Charcoal is good too - but is something you want to replace every few weeks. I just use the white fuzzy stuff and a bigger more coarse grain floss for big particles.
Water flow is important - your filter should probably serve 100% of your water flow needs in a 10gal tank, unless its a sponge filter. If you have a sponge filter, you might want to add an airstone or a water circulation pump to just keep things moving.
I've never used RO water in a FW aquarium - you might be demineralizing too far if you were worried about plants and such. Fish should be okay in it - but listen for other peoples advice on this. If you were worried about re-mineralizing, just mix RO water with 25% - 50% tap water.

It sounds based on what you describe (green water) that your tank has low circulation / low oxygen. More water movement, good filtration will really help there.
Your nitrifying bacteria will live in the filter media eventually, so that is where you want to be careful on maintenance. Let your filter media keep a lot of bacteria. If you replace the white floss, don't rinse out the coarse filter. Your fish store probably said your bacteria were living on the gravel / plants - which is true, but eventually, when your filter media is full of bacteria, you want to really clean out your gravel during water changes. Get one of those siphons with a little gravel vac on the end to do all of your cleanings.

Big water changes can make fish unhappy when they have gotten used to a dirty tank (belly up pleco). But once you have things running pretty clean / stable water conditions, big changes should not be a problem. 20% a week should be what you target in terms of water change.
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post #6 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-16-2017, 02:19 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you all so much for your responses and encouragement. No one else has died since the tank overhaul and I'm doing the first water test tomorrow, since the last part of the testing equipment is supposed to arrive. I've had problems taking a good picture of the tank due to the lighting, but both the Fluorite dust and the green water has diminished considerably since the major cleaning I did the day of the original post. If anyone can positively identify the fish for me, I'd be grateful - I *think* the red and white ones (there are two of each) are some kind of larger Tetra? And then there is some kind of catfish, and we have 4 of those. But that's the extent of my knowledge about the fish.

One more question about shrimp - if we do get Amanos at some point, I'd likely have to get them mailed overnight from somewhere. Should I wait until the spring when it's not so dang cold here (regularly below freezing at this point, and continuing to get colder) or would they generally be ok in the mail? I'd hate to order something and then have it freeze to death, but the only shrimp I can get locally are Ghost Shrimp, which I suspect are probably feeder shrimp and unlikely to last long as such.

@Becky - thanks for the commentary on Oto's. I feel pretty awful when anything I'm taking care of dies, especially if there's any chance it could have been my fault, so I'll steer clear for now.

... I guess I can't post pictures without a higher post count, so the tank pictures will have to wait. Bleh.

Bump: Maybe this will work ...
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Last edited by Empy3; 12-16-2017 at 02:37 AM. Reason: Wrong dates given
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post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-16-2017, 12:41 PM
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Welcome, Empy3

All good advice given so far. Like a couple members before me said, I believe you need to calm down and just let things settle for a bit. What's done is done. Try to settle into a routine with this tank without doing too many changes at once.

We often wonder how others (like previous owner) can keep a tank so low maintenance and yet not kill fish. My wife has always commented on how she's seen a big goldfish in a small bowl and nothing happens to it. Like @AbbeysDad said, it's "old tank syndrome" and is terribly bad for the welfare of the fish, BUT it does show us something about stability. Even when bad, as long as you don't do too much, the fish can tolerate pretty drastic stuff. You seemed pretty cognizant of that in your care to not change out all of the water at once during these past weeks, but as I'm sure you've realized by now, you may have perhaps done too many of the other changes at once. Just keep that in mind going forward with all the recommendations that have been made. All good ones, but maybe in the course of weeks or more?

If you're feeling overwhelmed, settle down over there into a weekly water change regimen. Test your levels and get all of that fixed first (you're probably already almost there). Stop buying new stuff! Make sure your fish and other fauna are happy and that you've got something consistent going on. I almost hate what I'm going to tell you next as this IS a planted forum, but when you feel that the tank is no longer stressing you, THEN, come back and worry about your plants. As I sense that losing fauna is more distressing to you, you just might have to cut your losses. Literally. If a plant doesn't survive for you at this point, just cut it and let it go. Even after many years of growing both plants in my garden and in my tank, some plants... just won't work in our poorly reproduced facsimile of their natural habitat. If it sounds like I'm telling you to 'give up', ehhh, maybe a little. Just for now until you have the means or the time, or most importantly, the sanity to deal with a fickle plant. At the end of the day, year, process, whatever, a tank is supposed to bring you joy, contentment, and satisfaction. Stress is definitely not the purpose of it

Truth be told, some of your plants may be tougher than it looks and would do fine with a bit of ignoring (or stability, heh) I would suggest one small simple thing that shouldn't affect much other than to hopefully cut down on your algae. Find a way to cut down on the light level, time, or both.

The trick about conflicting information on the internet sometimes is to remember the parable of the blind men and the elephant. That piece of information may have been correct, but in its proper context. It's up to you to see the entire elephant and how the information plays into the bigger picture of your entire tank. Relax a little, and if you have free time, spend some time in the journals section here. You'll see that you're not alone and a lot of us have went through a lot of this too. You seem to be doing okay! You just need a dose of patience! I only wish I can gift you some.


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post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-18-2017, 01:40 PM
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Does the right side of the tank get no light? I personally think your tank looks pretty good. I also agree with what's been said. Leave things alone for now and do 30-50% water changes with RO treated with equilibrium and whatever other treatment you are using. You may find that you need a carbon supplement for the plants long term happiness. In a 10 gallon tank a 1 gallon container of metricide (available on Amazon) would last at least a year. Dose 1-2ml daily. Your plants will help tremendously with maintaining water quality and equilibrium if you keep them happy. I also really like Nerites for clean up. I'd wait on the Amano's. The tank should be older and have more established biofilm for them to eat. They also can be escape artists if they aren't happy.
Losing the pleco was a blessing. If it was a common one it would have outgrown the tank in a month and it would have been much harder for you, your family, and likely the fish. We all lose fish. It happens. Even those of us with huge tanks and thousands invested and a decade of experience. You're doing pretty good. Now just let it balance out.
I personally clean filters once a month and it is 3-4 days after the weekly water change. It's all about stability.
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post #9 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-18-2017, 02:15 PM
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I’ll be honest that I didn’t read all of the responses that you’ve received so far, so I apologize if I duplicate info, or give contradicting advice as someone else!

First thing’s first, you need to take a step back, calm down, and stop changing things every day in hopes of solving all of your problems. Fish can be sensitive to changes and stress, which you have brought them in spades. While dirty water is bad, changing their substrate, décor, and water parameters all in a couple of weeks is worse.

Second, you really need to get a grip on the nitrogen cycle and how it relates to your tank. This isn’t some mystery voodoo that takes years to understand, but it is important. The very long story short is that your tank (and everything in it) will develop bacterial colonies that convert fish waste into Nitrates. You remove the Nitrates by doing water changes. Any time you change the décor, change the filter media, or change the substrate, you’re removing these beneficial bacteria. Your tank can no longer convert fish waste to the less harmful Nitrates, and are causing your tank to “Cycle”. This is a bad thing. By changing their substrate and changing the filter media, you’ve impacted the nitrogen cycle. At this point, you need to stop touching things and let this equilibrium reestablish itself.

As a new fish keeper I would have advised against using RO water in your tank. Having some nitrates isn’t a bad thing at all, up to probably 30ppm or so. What is bad, is water with constantly changing parameters, like GH, KH, Ph, temperature, etc etc. Are you on city water or well water? If city water, I would request a copy of your water report (which they have to provide you by law), and share the results with us here. We can tell you if your water is safe for your fish. If well water, it’s almost sure to be fish safe. The only thing that could be off would be high nitrates, and even then you could just use half tap, half RO.

Until then, here is what I would recommend:
- Do weekly 30% water changes with the EXACT SAME RO / Equilibrium ratio that you’ve been doing. Make sure the water is aerated and at a matching temperature before adding it to the tank. Aquasafe is meant as a dechlorinator and will remove heavy metals. If you’re using RO water, it’s completely useless. Save some money and don’t use it. You’ll want to use this product if using city water from the tap.
- Clean the filter once a month. I’m assuming your filter has some form of coarse media and a filter pad. You’ll want to change the filter pad with a new one, and gently rinse the coarse media with tank water while you’re doing a water change.
- If you’re worried about algae, get the tank away from the window and only have the lights on in the afternoon / evening when people will be looking at the tank. 5-6 hours of light is plenty for your fish.
- Start having fun! Fish keeping is supposed to be an enjoyable, relaxing hobby. Nobody is doing this perfect, and we all are just learning as we go. You should smile at the fact that you care enough to try to do this right, and have come to knowledgeable people for their advice. Take a deep breath, and start enjoying your new hobby =)
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post #10 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-29-2017, 02:00 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you all. Sorry it's been a bit since I checked back in on this thread, things got hectic with Christmas.

@The Dude1 - I move the light every other day so that the right and left sides are both getting it. Otherwise yes, that front-right corner doesn't get a ton of light. The back of the tank gets some filtered light from the window, but it's not direct, as the front of our house has points that jut out and prevent the sun from ever shining directly in that window, and it's north-facing to boot. It's a bay window, but the part of the house is on is recessed, if that makes sense?

@jellopuddinpop - We're not on city or well water - it's somewhere in between. We're in a subdivision that runs on a common aquifer network shared by several other subdivision, but a private water company manages and treats it. It's not part of the city system. We're due for another report in March-ish, but I don't remember the exact numbers on the last one - just that the nitrates were high enough that they added several comments about them not being dangerous in spite of them being around the levels that the EPA lists as being something to watch. I'll have to call them and see if I can get ahold of the most recent numbers they have. Our water is *extremely* hard, though, to the point of being easily visible after a single shower or trip through the dishwasher. Our soil in our yard is 8.0+ and there is a lot of limestone in the area bedrock.


At this point, the water is holding steady at 0 ppm Ammonia and Nitrites, and about 40-60ppm of Nitrates, so I'm relieved about that. Temp is right around 78 degrees F. The pH is about 7.4, and I'm reading you really want to aim for 6.8-7.0 with plants and tetras? I suspect it was significantly higher than that when we got the tank since the former owner never did any water changes and used tap water only, and the mineral buildup had fused the filter to the side of the tank. Should I just keep an eye on it? Should I do a couple water changes a week for the next few weeks to see if I can get the nitrates/pH down slightly, or are those parameters ok for fish and plants?

Also @ipkiss - I'm just a huge fan of biosystems and plants and animals in general. I was going into biology and psychology for neuroscience, then got sidetracked by the microbiome influences on the brain, and that kind of exploded into just a general interest in ecosystems, biomes, and microbiomes in general. I'm a plant nut for sure, but I'd rather lose a few plants than fish. So I guess we'll get a handle on the fish first and then worry about the plants after that. Thanks!!!

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post #11 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-29-2017, 03:58 AM
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@jellopuddinpop - We're not on city or well water - it's somewhere in between. We're in a subdivision that runs on a common aquifer network shared by several other subdivision, but a private water company manages and treats it. It's not part of the city system. We're due for another report in March-ish, but I don't remember the exact numbers on the last one - just that the nitrates were high enough that they added several comments about them not being dangerous in spite of them being around the levels that the EPA lists as being something to watch. I'll have to call them and see if I can get ahold of the most recent numbers they have. Our water is *extremely* hard, though, to the point of being easily visible after a single shower or trip through the dishwasher. Our soil in our yard is 8.0+ and there is a lot of limestone in the area bedrock.


At this point, the water is holding steady at 0 ppm Ammonia and Nitrites, and about 40-60ppm of Nitrates, so I'm relieved about that. Temp is right around 78 degrees F. The pH is about 7.4, and I'm reading you really want to aim for 6.8-7.0 with plants and tetras? I suspect it was significantly higher than that when we got the tank since the former owner never did any water changes and used tap water only, and the mineral buildup had fused the filter to the side of the tank. Should I just keep an eye on it? Should I do a couple water changes a week for the next few weeks to see if I can get the nitrates/pH down slightly, or are those parameters ok for fish and plants?
You're both right and wrong about hard water and plants / fish.

For plants, most will do well in almost any type of water. Some species of plants may not thrive in hard water, but you'll find out what those are over the course of time. Some people just can't grow some plants, and that's just the way it it. I wouldn't worry about your hardness at all. For whatever it's worth, the ph of my my well water is right around 8, and I haven't found a plant I can't grow (because of my water) yet.

For fish, again most will be fine. As a general rule, yes Tetras prefer soft water. If you were adding wild caught Tetras to your tank with only a brief acclimation, I would worry about it. The fish you have now have been living in hard water for most of their lives, and they've adapted. Also, remember that any LFS you buy fish from is more than likely on the same source of water as you. Most fish stores don't bother with RO water unless they are selling very expensive, very finicky fish. For your fish, stability is more important than the actual numbers. Your tetras and probably the cory cats come from water that can be as acidic as 5.8-6.0, but they were living in very hard water before you got them. I promise that if you changed their original water for the water that "they were meant to live in", they would die overnight.

Going one step further, you said the previous owner never did water changes at all, and only topped the tank off with tap water. The minerals in our water that give it hardness don't evaporate, so the water was getting harder and harder every time she added water.

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post #12 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-29-2017, 05:00 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks. Should I just get the water report regarding nitrate levels then and make the decision about whether to use straight tap water or cut it with R/O? I just worry that the water changes won't reduce the nitrate levels as much as they should if our tap water is high in nitrates to start with.
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post #13 of 13 (permalink) Old 12-29-2017, 01:35 PM
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Thanks. Should I just get the water report regarding nitrate levels then and make the decision about whether to use straight tap water or cut it with R/O? I just worry that the water changes won't reduce the nitrate levels as much as they should if our tap water is high in nitrates to start with.
Once your tank is heavily planted, your nitrates will go down all on their own. I have a heavily stocked tank, 10ppm Nitrate in my well water, I dose about 21ppm weekly, and after my weekly 50% water change, my Nitrate is around 7ppm.

I would estimate that my fish load is generating roughly 20ppm of Nitrate weekly based on a previous, unplanted tank, so that means that every week, my plants are absorbing roughly 45ppm nitrate.

I would check your Nitrates myself if I were you. Get a liquid test kit if you don't already have one. Do the test using 1.25mL tap water to 3.75mL RO water (the test tube fill line is 5mL). Multiply your results by 4 to get the actual Nitrate ppm. This is one way to more easily read high nitrates, because most of us can't tell the difference between 40ppm and 80ppm on the card. You can then compare what you found against the water report when you get it. As long as your Nitrates aren't over 40ppm or so, then you'll be fine.

If you ever think you're too small to make a difference, spend a couple of nights sleeping with a mosquito.

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