i can't get nitrates down - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 02:42 PM Thread Starter
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i can't get nitrates down

i have an established for 3 yrs pretty heavily planted tank with anubias, val, wisteria and some bacopa but my nitrates stay way up. my ammonia and nitrites are fine. i have a penn plax cascade canister on this 120 gal. it's the cascade w 5 trays (can't remember the capacity i think 150 gallon). i do monthly 30% water changes. i only feed once a day with beefheart and they eat it all still wanting more. i stopped using flourish or advance several months ago and even tried nitrazorb but still have nitrates. this is my discus tank so i have to be careful... help!
the pics are water parameters done today, a couple different angles to get better light reading in the pic. .
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post #2 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 03:08 PM
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How old is your test kit? Have you tried a different kit?

Are you shaking the kit as directed in the instructions?

That said, if your kit is fine and another kit gives you the same reading, you'll obviously want to change your water more frequently than once per month.

Even without nitrate issues, you'd want to do more frequent water changes. That's just good practice as a hobbyist - especially with something like discus.
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post #3 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 03:21 PM
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Have you tested the water you are using for the change before adding it to your tank i.e. if you are using tap that could already have high nitrates.
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post #4 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 03:21 PM Thread Starter
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it's a new kit, less than 6 months old. i used to do wc at 2 wk intervals but my plants started looking wilty and the discus started losing color so i went to monthly. i do clean the canister every 2wks. but just rinsing the media to keep the biologicals, i do change the carbon each time. i only have 6 discus, 2 clown loaches, 3 twigs, a featherfin and a gold spot pleco so it shouldnt be overstocked.
i'll try a new test kit when i go out to lfs again.
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post #5 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 03:23 PM Thread Starter
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i do test the new water periodically. for my discus i use spring water tapped from up on the mtn. it comes out like an artisian spring straight out of the ground w a ph of 6.0 naturally. there are no livestock around so the water is always pretty pristine.
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post #6 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 03:33 PM
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The only reason that would likely be happening is if you aren't matching parameters - which you should be with something as sensitive as discus. And if plants are suffering, they're not receiving proper nutrients. There are several ways to resolve that without impacting your fish.

Far be it for me to tell anyone what to do but only changing water once per month is likely 99% of the problem. Frequent water changes are important. There's no way that tank is planted heavily enough to allow for such breaks between changes. Not even bi-weekly changes. I'd be doing it on a weekly basis. Nitrate compounds and continues to increase on a daily basis.

I've never seen a discus keeper go that long between changes. At least not that I can immediately recall.

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Originally Posted by mtndweller View Post
my plants started looking wilty and the discus started losing color


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post #7 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 03:54 PM Thread Starter
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ok, i'll go back to weekly and see. i'll increase the plants too. i thought it looked pretty crowded but i guess it's not.
the marlboros and blue are just over 2 yrs old and seem to be doing ok. any suggestion on additional plants? and is there such a thing as too many plants (lol!)?
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post #8 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 04:16 PM
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I agree it's the 30% monthly changes. Lets say you start with 0 nitrate from your spring and you build up 40ppm over the month. Then you change 30%. That brings your nitrates back down to 28ppm. Over the next month you build up another 40ppm, so that's 68ppm total. This time your 30% brings it down to 47ppm. By the end of three months you are up to 87ppm and your water change only brings it down to 60ppm. It will keep gradually climbing a little each month and a few more months (or three years) down the line it gets really high.

Now imagine a 50% change. You start at zero, build up to 40ppm, change 50%, you'll even out around 35ppm max over time as you are always cutting it in half.

Doing 30% every other week will add up to roughly 50% a month too, if you prefer more smaller changes.

To reset you want to do a few changes in a row e.g. twice a week for the next two weeks do 30%. That will bring it right back down so you are starting from scratch. It's quite likely other things in your water have built up too so I'd do a series of not huge changes, rather than a massive 80% change. You can make them even smaller and do more if you want to make it an even more gradual change.

For plants, you want fast growing stems or floating plants and you may need to add ferts too, they might be missing one of the nutrients they need so can't make use of the nitrates effectively.
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post #9 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 04:19 PM
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Ok so I have good news and some moderate bad news for you.

The good news is that your filter has a strong and thriving culture of bacteria. The moderate bad news here is "Beefheart." Don't get me wrong, you shouldn't stop feeding it to your discus but at the same time you have to realize that Beefheart (and the other meats a beefheart blend contains) are more protein rich and in short, result in more nitrates at the end of the nitrogen cycle.

I'm using both a fish mix and beefheart mix and going from a planted tank, that was fed flake food, to beefheart was a "shock" in terms of the levels of nitrates it created. My advice? Two water changes a week and employ some faster growing, nitrate consuming plants. If you chose to add a fertilizer to boost growth use one that doesn't have macros like nitrate.

Lastly, and I say this with some trepidation considering your tank is beautiful, I'd remove the large flat/grey stones. At a glance, they look like they're creating a lot of crevices which could trap uneaten food and also be a breeding ground for bacteria and dead spots. That said, I am no expert. So please feel free to disregard any advice that doesn't suit your vision for your aquarium.

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post #10 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 04:30 PM
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You can see that the discus are being adversely affected by the water change schedule as well.
Their growth has been affected by the high nitrate level by being moderately to severally stunted in growth. You can see this in the shape of the head, eye to body ratio, and thin bodies (girth of body and head).

As sub-adults, discus should have a water changing schedule of at -minimum- 2 x 50% weekly. 100% turnover rate. That is minimum. I do this still, with my adult discus- but, i want many discus to be of maximum health.
Discus are a lot of work- that's why so few people keep them.

Edit: 2 years old? I just saw that. They are not sub-adults. They are adults. Well, the ability to change the effects of high nitrates on growth has sailed. At minimum- 50% water change weekly or nitrate level never higher than 15 ppm.
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post #11 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 04:38 PM
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To echo others, 30% monthly is just not enough!...and with the exception of the wisteria, your plants are not fast growing plants that would convert nutrients (aka pollution) into plant tissue quickly enough.
In addition to checking your source water for ammonia and nitrates, I think you'd find that 50% weekly is more what you need to keep your fresh water fresh.
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post #12 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 05:11 PM Thread Starter
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hmm, ok. the discus were 1.5 -2 inches when i got them so they have grown. the nitrates are just a within the last year issue and i've been trying all kinds of stuff during that time.
kind of disheartening to learn all this when i thought i was doing pretty good. but i'll cut the beefheart and replace with discus hand flakes. i'll do every other day water changes to try to get the nitrates down. fingers crossed... geez, now i feel like a failure tho.
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post #13 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 05:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mtndweller View Post
hmm, ok. the discus were 1.5 -2 inches when i got them so they have grown. the nitrates are just a within the last year issue and i've been trying all kinds of stuff during that time.
kind of disheartening to learn all this when i thought i was doing pretty good. but i'll cut the beefheart and replace with discus hand flakes. i'll do every other day water changes to try to get the nitrates down. fingers crossed... geez, now i feel like a failure tho.

Well you have kept things alive and ticking over this time period. Ecosystems are complicated so I wouldn't feel too bad. You could easily have more then one issue here so trying to diagnose it is pretty complicated.

Speaking of which, have you ever had your water tested in a lab to find out what kinds of minerals and metals might be in it? If you have a lot of heavy metals in your water you could have a situation where the metals are poisoning your plants but not enough to kill your fish. That would explain why your plants were looking bad with more frequent water changes. Those metals can be removed by yet more plants, but as others pointed out the slow growers would do especially bad in that situation. Something else to test /shrug.
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post #14 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 05:43 PM Thread Starter
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i sent my spring tapped water to a lab once along with a sample of some R/O a friend gave me, just to do a comparison. my water came back with better results than the other. it's been a while and i don't remember the specific mineral breakdown but it was pretty spot on for tannic mountain spring water. my land is in the mtn and joins national forest so there are barely any pollutant issues. i may have a friend of mine who works in the hospital lab do a sample for curiosity now.
i just feel so bad that my fish may have been suffering and i didn't even realize it.
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post #15 of 26 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 06:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Discusluv View Post

Edit: 2 years old? I just saw that. They are not sub-adults. They are adults. Well, the ability to change the effects of high nitrates on growth has sailed. At minimum- 50% water change weekly or nitrate level never higher than 15 ppm.

Ideally at that age they should be about 14 -16cm, right?
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