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post #1 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-22-2015, 06:14 AM Thread Starter
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Back in the hobby, need some advice!

Hey folks,

Used to be a fairly serious planted tank keeper. I dropped out due to time/energy reasons, but I'd like to set up a Painted RCS tank, mainly for fun, but I might be doing some active breeding eventually. For reference, here's the current proposed parameters for the tank:

Size: 20g long
Lighting: Standard single bulb strip light (Full spectrum bulb)
Substrate: Gravel (Tentative, will explain below)
Filtration: 2x AquaClear 20s (Tentative, will explain below)
Heater: Duh
pH: Last time I checked it was pretty high, about 7.2
GH/KH: God only knows, but I've successfully bred RCS in it before, shouldn't be a problem.
Ferts: NilocG's liquid ferts

If you need any further parameters or clarification, let me know.

But now to the questions:

1. Cycling. I've always been one for fish-in cycling, simply because they do all the work for you. Yeah sure the gills might not be perfect after, but it was easy. Dosing ammonia seemed kind of tedious and boring. But I'm just looking for general opinions on what I should do, and how I should do it. Please do not give your opinion without supplying your personal cycling method as evidence to support your claim. Thanks!

2. Filtration. I remember that AquaClears are pretty effective, however, they generate a lot of flow. Is there a way to lessen the output without reducing filtration efficiency? Or are these filters a completely ridiculous idea that should be discarded? (If so, what alternative would you propose?)

3. Gravel/Cleaning. I like gravel because of its ease of cleaning via the gravel vacuum. I like the look of sand, but it's a pain in the butt to maintain and you can't clean it. So I'm wondering, do any of you shrimpers clean your tank any further than vacuuming out water and replacing it with clean water? If so, what's the method you use?

4. Tankmates. I have admired the bristlenose plecos for years, but never got around to purchasing one. Is their bioload too high for a shrimp tank? I can't rightly remember.

I might think of some more questions, so just bear with me!

Feel free to respond to questions that have already been answered, I know the value of varied opinions.

Thanks folks, stay chill.

No matter how hard you try, you cannot escape this hobby. You have been warned.

Last edited by phoenixkiller; 09-22-2015 at 06:23 AM. Reason: Edit
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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-22-2015, 12:45 PM
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I recently started up after a long absence from the hobby. I have a 30g and a 10g quarantine tank. I used the fishless process with the 30g using Tetra SafeStart Plus and ammonia. I spent a long time planting and cycling this tank. I wanted it stable before I added fish. You have to keep feeding the bacteria with ammonia until you add fish.

I fount that with SafetStart, once ammonia levels get to zero then nitrite levels will also be zero and nitrates are all that is left to worry about.

The 10g was started up in a hurry, so it was done with fish. Also used Tetra SafeStart Plus with this tank. Plant the tank, add Tetra SafeStart Plus, add fish. If you can give the plants a bit of time to get established it will be better for controlling nitrate levels.

After adding fish, monitor ammonia and nitrate levels daily until things stabilize. Getting to zero ammonia levels is pretty easy. Getting the plants to the point where they can handle the nitrates can be more challenging unless there are a lot of plants and just a few fish. My quarantine tanks is a bit overstocked with fish, and short on plants, so it takes frequent water changes.

KH and GH are more important than pH. Try to get them close to the same values in the range that is good for your fish. Diana has posted good info on this.

Last edited by Argus; 09-22-2015 at 12:49 PM. Reason: nitrite info
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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-22-2015, 03:39 PM
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My experience with fish-in cycling (I was impatient to stock, boo me, and this was before I fully learned about fishless cycling)- I missed testing for a few days and inadvertently killed some fish. Over the doors of the cycling period, I ended up killing 3 fish, and the next month, another one (I'm going to guess it was compromised due to the exposure to ammonia and nitrites from the cycling). During this time, the plants were just growing in and I re-arranged plants and hardscape twice. Not fun for the fish I am sure.

Fishless cycling since then- allowed me the opportunity to rearrange scape if needed. Plants were well established at the end of the month-ish period, any fails were replaced easily (big plus). No guilty feelings regarding fish death.

PS
Gravel/cleaning question- for my shrimp tanks I have a couple different substrates (fine gravel and aquasoil, and combo of both). I do not vacuum either substrate. I just wave the siphon around to pick up whatever mulm I can that way, the rest of the mulm becomes plant food.
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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-22-2015, 04:20 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Argus View Post
I recently started up after a long absence from the hobby. I have a 30g and a 10g quarantine tank. I used the fishless process with the 30g using Tetra SafeStart Plus and ammonia. I spent a long time planting and cycling this tank. I wanted it stable before I added fish. You have to keep feeding the bacteria with ammonia until you add fish.

I fount that with SafetStart, once ammonia levels get to zero then nitrite levels will also be zero and nitrates are all that is left to worry about.

The 10g was started up in a hurry, so it was done with fish. Also used Tetra SafeStart Plus with this tank. Plant the tank, add Tetra SafeStart Plus, add fish. If you can give the plants a bit of time to get established it will be better for controlling nitrate levels.

After adding fish, monitor ammonia and nitrate levels daily until things stabilize. Getting to zero ammonia levels is pretty easy. Getting the plants to the point where they can handle the nitrates can be more challenging unless there are a lot of plants and just a few fish. My quarantine tanks is a bit overstocked with fish, and short on plants, so it takes frequent water changes.

KH and GH are more important than pH. Try to get them close to the same values in the range that is good for your fish. Diana has posted good info on this.
Alright, I'll be checking on the nitrate levels. I have an especially hard time keeping those down, but I'll try to do lots of water changes.

I'll probably just stick with fishless cycling. What ammonia do you use? You got a brand?

Thanks, friend!

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Daisy Mae View Post
My experience with fish-in cycling (I was impatient to stock, boo me, and this was before I fully learned about fishless cycling)- I missed testing for a few days and inadvertently killed some fish. Over the doors of the cycling period, I ended up killing 3 fish, and the next month, another one (I'm going to guess it was compromised due to the exposure to ammonia and nitrites from the cycling). During this time, the plants were just growing in and I re-arranged plants and hardscape twice. Not fun for the fish I am sure.

Fishless cycling since then- allowed me the opportunity to rearrange scape if needed. Plants were well established at the end of the month-ish period, any fails were replaced easily (big plus). No guilty feelings regarding fish death.

PS
Gravel/cleaning question- for my shrimp tanks I have a couple different substrates (fine gravel and aquasoil, and combo of both). I do not vacuum either substrate. I just wave the siphon around to pick up whatever mulm I can that way, the rest of the mulm becomes plant food.
I'll be doin fishless then! What brand of ammonia you use? How often do you dose?

Fine gravel it is then! But wouldn't that extra mulm in the gravel deteriorate and raise the nitrate levels?

Last edited by phoenixkiller; 09-22-2015 at 04:23 PM. Reason: Oopsie daisies
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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-22-2015, 07:25 PM
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Yes, the extra mulm gets converted eventually to nitrates plus whatever minerals were in the original material. The plants should be able to use it unless you have such a high bio load that they can't keep up.

My favorite fine gravel is Caribsea Peace River. I'm sure there's other options but in my neck of the woods this is what I can get in the colour that I want.

Are you in the US? I can't tell from the mobile version, my iPad doesn't want to load the full version with this new Forum web format. I heard some people there are able to find the ammonia (without other additives) from Ace Hardware.

If you pm forum user 'Diana', she can give you details on fishless cycling. Or search for a thread on it. There's quite a few even in the past month.
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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-22-2015, 07:40 PM
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Originally Posted by phoenixkiller View Post
Alright, I'll be checking on the nitrate levels. I have an especially hard time keeping those down, but I'll try to do lots of water changes.
It's what plants are for. Some here have said that the API nitrate tests exaggerate the nitrate levels. I think it might be something to do with color perception. The color differences are subtle and everyone's perception is a little different. Also, it is difficult to compare a translucent liquid with an opaque printed.

According to Stuart Thraves (Setting Up a Tropical Aquarium Week by Week) nitrates are less harmful to fish than ammonia or nitrites. He says 25 mg/liter is safe.

Quote:
I'll probably just stick with fishless cycling. What ammonia do you use? You got a brand?
You want an ammonia that has no additives. I got mine at an ACE hardware store. It is Janitorial Strength Formula, contains 10% ammonium hydroxide, and lists no other ingredients. The ACE website says $41.85. I don't recall it being that expensive, but I might not have been paying attention to price. It is way more than needed, so perhaps a smaller quantity could be purchased from a chemical supply house.

You first dose with enough to reach levels of 4-5 mg/liter. When it drops to zero you dose again. If you added a lot of SafeStart this could be 24 hrs.

When you have ammonia levels dropping to zero within 24 hrs, dose with 2 mg/liter to maintain the bacteria. Dose whenever levels reach zero.

In the early stages test for nitrites as well. If you have the same experience I did and find that nitrite levels match ammonia levels I think you can skip the nitrite test.

Begin testing for nitrates. See how well your plants use them up. If you reach crazy high levels, do a water change.

When the system seems stable and plants are keeping the nitrates down to safe levels you can add fish. Be sure ammonia and nitrites are zero before adding them.
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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-22-2015, 07:52 PM
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My favorite fine gravel is Caribsea Peace River.

If you pm forum user 'Diana', she can give you details on fishless cycling. Or search for a thread on it. There's quite a few even in the past month.
Agree on both counts. Diana's posts are very helpful.

I researched what the optimum gravel gain size would be for plants and fish. I found Peace River to be perfect. The grain size is large enough to allow the desired amount of water circulation through the gravel. Fine enough that food doesn't fall too far down for corys to get it, and the grains are rounded and smooth so not hard on cory barbels.

I have Peace River over CaribSea Eco-complete. I'm not sure whether Eco-complete was a great idea, or a bad idea. However, my plants seem to be doing well. The main downside is that when planting it is difficult to keep the Eco from coming to the surface.

Perhaps I should have planted before adding the Peace River layer.
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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-23-2015, 02:58 AM
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Whenever I cycle, I use microbacter instead of safetstart. That's probably personal preference, but it's always worked well for me. You can do sand if that's what you want. It's not any more difficult than gravel. What I do is with the drain end of the vacuum covered with my thumb, I plunge the vacuum end into the sand to the bottom of the tank. Then I lift it strait back out. Once the majority of sand falls back down, I uncover the drain end and suck up all of the detritus before it spreads out into the tank. I just repeat this process until the tank is clean. If you have snails, you really don't have to be worried about doing this very often. Yes gravel is better for plants, but black sand really makes colors pop on the shrimp and fish.

Whatever type of filter you get, just make sure it has adjustable flow and a way to keep baby shrimp out of the intake. I if you really don't mind how it looks, nothing can beat a sponge filter for a shrimp tank.

When I do a fishless cycle, I use Wal-Mart brand non-scented ammonia. I believe it's in a white and yellow bottle if I remember correctly. It's something like $.99/gallon.

Best of luck
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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-23-2015, 04:02 AM
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Fish food is protein, and this is where the nitrogen is coming from that shows up as NO3.
Less N into the tank = less NO3.
Improved removal (ie- thriving plants) means lower NO3, the plants are removing it.
To vacuum sand: Raise the bucket that the siphon drains into so the flow is slower.
Hold the outlet tube in your hand, ready to pinch it off to stop the flow.
Hold the intake at an angle so only half of it is in the sand. The other half is just inhaling water. Adjust it to suit the flow rate.
I also find a fine gravel is easier to deal with than sand, but even better is a plant specific substrate that does not get vacuumed.

GH, KH, pH:
Set the GH to suit the livestock.
Make the KH match the GH plus or minus a degree or so.
If you are keeping a black water species, then filter the water through peat moss, or in other ways add the organic acids these animals like.
Allow the pH to do what it will. If the GH and KH are in the right range, then the pH is highly likely to be OK, too. Filtering through peat moss, soaking alder cones, oak leaves, Indian Almond Leaves or other things will drop the pH.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Here is the fishless cycle.
I have done it several times. I have a lot of tanks, though, so starting a new tank usually means I share some cycled media from several well established tanks, then build the fish population slowly, as they become available in the local stores.

Cycle: To grow the beneficial bacteria that remove ammonia and nitrite from the aquarium.

Fish-In Cycle: To expose fish to toxins while using them as the source of ammonia to grow nitrogen cycle bacteria. Exposure to ammonia burns the gills and other soft tissue, stresses the fish and lowers their immunity. Exposure to nitrite makes the blood unable to carry oxygen. Research methemglobinemia for details.

Fishless Cycle: The safe way to grow more bacteria, faster, in an aquarium, pond or riparium.

The method I give here was developed by 2 scientists who wanted to quickly grow enough bacteria to fully stock a tank all at one time, with no plants helping, and overstock it as is common with Rift Lake Cichlid tanks.

1a) Set up the tank and all the equipment. You can plant if you want. Include the proper dose of dechlorinator with the water.
Optimum water chemistry:
GH and KH above 3 German degrees of hardness. A lot harder is just fine.
pH above 7, and into the mid 8s is just fine.
Temperature in the upper 70s F (mid 20s C) is good. Higher is OK if the water is well aerated.
A trace of other minerals may help. Usually this comes in with the water, but if you have a pinch of KH2PO4, that may be helpful.
High oxygen level. Make sure the filter and power heads are running well. Plenty of water circulation.
No toxins in the tank. If you washed the tank, or any part of the system with any sort of cleanser, soap, detergent, bleach or anything else make sure it is well rinsed. Do not put your hands in the tank when you are wearing any sort of cosmetics, perfume or hand lotion. No fish medicines of any sort.
A trace of salt (sodium chloride) is OK, but not required.
This method of growing bacteria will work in a marine system, too. The species of bacteria are different.

1b) Optional: Add any source of the bacteria that you are growing to seed the tank. Cycled media from a healthy tank is good. Decor or some gravel from a cycled tank is OK. Live plants or plastic are OK. I have even heard of the right bacteria growing in the bio film found on driftwood. (So if you have been soaking some driftwood in preparation to adding it to the tank, go ahead and put it into the tank) Bottled bacteria is great, but only if it contains Nitrospira species of bacteria. Read the label and do not waste your money on anything else.
At the time this was written the right species could be found in:
Dr. Tims One and Only
Tetra Safe Start
Microbe Lift Nite Out II
...and perhaps others.
You do not have to jump start the cycle. The right species of bacteria are all around, and will find the tank pretty fast.

2) Add ammonia until the test reads 5 ppm. This ammonia is the cheapest you can find. No surfactants, no perfumes. Read the fine print. This is often found at discount stores like Dollar Tree, or hardware stores like Ace. You could also use a dead shrimp form the grocery store, or fish food. Protein breaks down to become ammonia. You do not have good control over the ammonia level, though.
Some substrates release ammonia when they are submerged for the first time. Monitor the level and do enough water changes to keep the ammonia at the levels detailed below.

3) Test daily. For the first few days not much will happen, but the bacteria that remove ammonia are getting started. Finally the ammonia starts to drop. Add a little more, once a day, to test 5 ppm.

4) Test for nitrite. A day or so after the ammonia starts to drop the nitrite will show up. When it does allow the ammonia to drop to 3 ppm.

5) Test daily. Add ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. If the nitrite or ammonia go to 5 ppm do a water change to get these lower. The ammonia removing species and the nitrite removing species (Nitrospira) do not do well when the ammonia or nitrite are over 5 ppm.

6) When the ammonia and nitrite both hit zero 24 hours after you have added the ammonia the cycle is done. You can challenge the bacteria by adding a bit more than 3 ppm ammonia, and it should be able to handle that, too, within 24 hours.

7) Now test the nitrate. Probably sky high!
Do as big a water change as needed to lower the nitrate until it is safe for fish. Certainly well under 20, and a lot lower is better. This may call for more than one water change, and up to 100% water change is not a problem. Remember the dechlor!
If you will be stocking right away (within 24 hours) no need to add more ammonia. If stocking will be delayed keep feeding the bacteria by adding ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. You will need to do another water change right before adding the fish.
__________________________

Helpful hints:

A) You can run a fishless cycle in a bucket to grow bacteria on almost any filter media like bio balls, sponges, ceramic bio noodles, lava rock or Matala mats. Simply set up any sort of water circulation such as a fountain pump or air bubbler and add the media to the bucket. Follow the directions for the fishless cycle. When the cycle is done add the media to the filter. I have run a canister filter in a bucket and done the fishless cycle.

B) The nitrogen cycle bacteria will live under a wide range of conditions and bounce back from minor set backs. By following the set up suggestions in part 1a) you are setting up optimum conditions for fastest reproduction and growth.
GH and KH can be as low as 1 degree, but watch it! These bacteria use the carbon in carbonates, and if it is all used up (KH = 0) the bacteria may die off.
pH as low as 6.5 is OK, but by 6.0 the bacteria are not going to be doing very well. They are still there, and will recover pretty well when conditions get better.
Temperature almost to freezing is OK, but they must not freeze, and they are not very active at all. They do survive in a pond, but they are slow to warm up and get going in the spring. This is where you might need to grow some in a bucket in a warm place and supplement the pond population. Too warm is not good, either. Tropical or room temperature tank temperatures are best. (68 to 85*F or 20 to 28*C)
Moderate oxygen can be tolerated for a while. However, to remove lots of ammonia and nitrite these bacteria must have oxygen. They turn one into the other by adding oxygen. If you must stop running the filter for an hour or so, no problem. If longer, remove the media and keep it where it will get more oxygen.
Once the bacteria are established they can tolerate some fish medicines. This is because they live in a complex film called Bio film on all the surfaces in the filter and the tank. Medicines do not enter the bio film well.
These bacteria do not need to live under water. They do just fine in a humid location. They live in healthy garden soil, as well as wet locations.

C) Planted tanks may not tolerate 3 ppm or 5 ppm ammonia. It is possible to cycle the tank at lower levels of ammonia so the plants do not get ammonia burn. Add ammonia to only 1 ppm, but test twice a day, and add ammonia as needed to keep it at 1 ppm. The plants are also part of the bio filter, and you may be able to add the fish sooner, if the plants are thriving.
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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-23-2015, 05:25 AM Thread Starter
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GH, KH, pH:
Set the GH to suit the livestock.
Make the KH match the GH plus or minus a degree or so.
If you are keeping a black water species, then filter the water through peat moss, or in other ways add the organic acids these animals like.
Allow the pH to do what it will. If the GH and KH are in the right range, then the pH is highly likely to be OK, too. Filtering through peat moss, soaking alder cones, oak leaves, Indian Almond Leaves or other things will drop the pH.
First of all, my god, that was an incredible read! I'm guessing you didn't write all of this just now, but even so, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day for me!

That post was immensely helpful, with one exception. You mentioned here about adjusted GH/KH/pH.

What about water changes? If I'm altering the water parameters chemically or organically, that means that the added water is going to be, more likely than not, drastically different than the tank water. So how am I supposed to balance the new water (introduced after a water change) to be similar to that currently in the tank?

For example. If I have, let's say, 7.0 pH water and I start using, say, peat moss in my AquaClears. That reduces the hardness etc., and alters the pH to, let's say, 6.0. If I add dechlorinated tap water to that tank, that means that the pH will swing along with the hardness.

How can I treat the replacement water to be the same as the water already in the tank?

Also, for the fishless cycle, what general dosage would you recommend? Test kits are pricey and I'd rather not test more than once a day. Thus, I'd rather not test the water 20 times the first day just so it reads 5 ppm. Just looking for a recommendation.

Thanks again for your tremendous help!

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post #11 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-25-2015, 03:35 AM
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Absolutely right-
Once you have adjusted the GH, KH, TDS, pH of the tank, you then need to prepare the water ahead of time for water changes. If you have been topping off the tank with tap water, and the tank water is getting too hard, then new water for a water change can be made up a little bit soft so the resulting blend of tank water + new water results in a small drop in GH and KH. Better to top off with reverse osmosis water if the tap water is too hard.

Here is how I have done this:

For soft water fish:
Blend reverse osmosis + tap water until the GH and KH are right. My tap water has GH and KH about 4-5 degrees- close enough I do not need to do anything further about either. Filter this softer water though peat moss to add the tannic and other acids.
Details:
Partially fill a garbage can with RO, add tap water. Dose with dechlor for the amount of tap water.
Put a fountain pump (about 100 gph) in the garbage can. Set it on the bottom, outlet aimed up through the middle.
Knee-hi stocking of peat moss. (I have several garbage cans from 20 to 44 gallons, 1 knee hi is OK for all of them, the recipe is not exact)
Circulate the water over night. Monitor it- the knee high can get sucked into the intake of the pump.
Add an aquarium heater, not touching the sides, to warm the water.

If the GH and KH of the tap water are not similar to each other:
Blend RO + tap so the higher of the 2 is at the right level.
Then add minerals as needed to correct the other one.
For example, if RO + tap made the GH just right, but the KH dropped too low, then add potassium bicarbonate or baking soda to raise the KH.
If the KH was right, but the GH dropped too low, then I use Seachem Equilibrium or Barr's GH booster for GH.

For harder water fish, I set up the garbage can with pump and heater, then fill it with tap water. Dose dechlor.
Add Seachem Equilibrium or Barr's GH booster for GH. Make this in the optimum range for the fish.
Add potassium bicarbonate or baking soda for KH. Make this equal to the GH (plus or minus a degree or two).

In all of these I do not bother checking the pH any longer. I will check TDS, GH and KH. When these are very similar to the tank water the fish have no problems with varying pH levels. The pH usually won't be too far off.
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