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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I set up a 5g planted tank nearly 4 weeks ago and have been following Diana's boilerplate fishless method. On March 31st the initial dose of ammonia was consumed and nitrites measured around 5ppm. I dropped my dose to 3ppm and kept dosing once a day when the ammonia was consumed. After a few ays the nitrites were of course still measuring over 5ppm and I did a 3 gallon, 2 gallon, and 3 gallon water change in about 24 hours and added Tetra SafeStart+, but nitrites were still over 5ppm. I dropped ammonia dosage to 1ppm and saw a bit of increase in nitrates, to about .5ppm, but then it stalled after a day or two and nothing happened.

Today, a week after the last series of water changes, i did a 4gallon water change, right down to the substrate, and the nitrites are still over 5ppm.

Question is whether to do another water change right away or just practice patience. Do something else?
 

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Nitrites should not go above 5 ppm. I am surprised a couple of water changes did not lower it enough.
Sounds like the ammonia oxidizing species are growing well, but the Nitrospira (nitrite oxidizing species) are not.
How long ago did you add TSS? It usually works within 24-48 hours.

Is the KH reasonably high? pH >7? These bacteria do not do well in acidic conditions. When my tanks drop down below pH 7.0 the cycle stalls. I add potassium bicarbonate or sodium bicarbonate to raise the KH and pH, and the bacteria get going again.
 

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pH is too low for the bacteria to grow well.
Here is what I would do:

Do the water change to drop the NO2.
Add to the new water enough baking soda until the pH reads at least the mid 7s, and even into the low 8s is just fine.
1 teaspoon added to 30 gallons will raise the KH (not K, which is potassium. KH which is carbonate hardness) by 2 German degrees of hardness. This will raise the pH, too, but most of my experience is with much lower pH. Test yours and see what happens. Try 1/4 tsp, well dissolved. Allow it to circulate, then test. If the pH is under 7, then add another 1/4 tsp dissolved in water. Baking soda dissolves easily. Give it some time to circulate (I dump it into the filter, if the tank has a HOB, otherwise right into the water flow from the filter). Then test again. You will get to know how much baking soda it takes to raise the pH well into the 7s. Monitor it daily (same as you are doing for the ammonia) and add baking soda as needed.
Add barely enough ammonia to just read 1 ppm, or even .5ppm for a few days, until you get the KH and pH where it needs to be.
 

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Last night before bed I noticed that the pH had dropped below 7 again. I didn't actually have baking soda so I had used a lot of the "pH Up" from the API pH test kit, so I added more (24 drops), I'm guessing harder water holds the pH increase better?

Woke up this morning and Nitrites were about 2.0 and pH was about 6.4. I suspect something is buffering pH in the tank (spider wood?) and that seems like a lot of nitrites from 1.0 ammonia. Entirely possible that the water hadn't really mixed well yet when I tested, however -- I imagine the water in the substrate takes a bit to mix in with no direct flow on it.

I used distilled water yesterday for the water change (there are no fish so I felt comfortable using distilled to remove variables) and tested the ph and nitrite for 2 of the bottles just in case -- tested neutral -- so it's not the water.

After the water change I added a 1ml dose of Flourish to make up for the lack of minerals in the water, added ammonia (ACE brand) to ~1ppm (0.25ml), added ~1ml Excel. Tested parameters after an hour, probably not enough time as I noted.

In case it matters, the tank has no livestock, plants are a java fern mat, micro swords narrow leaf, three kinds of crypt. Hardscape is a few river stones and a piece of spider wood, substrate is a full bag of eco complete in a 5 gallon tank, water to substrate surface is almost exactly 4 gallons, but of course there is a half gallon or so mixed in with the substrate. Some clear slime has infested the wood that I think is from the high nitrites. Filtration system is the built in filter (Fluval Spec V), with the charcoal replaced with Purigen.

Tonight I'll do another(!) water change and use baking soda.

Okay, 4 hours after my third 85% water change in about 24 hours -- and the second with distilled water -- as well as the addition of 1/4 tsp of baking soda, my pH is at 6.8 and Nitrites are at about 2.0!! Where are these nitrites coming from? Is it leaching from the eco-complete somehow? Are there nitrites in Flourish that I don't know about? Am I somehow purple-colorblind?

I added another 1/4 tsp of baking soda and will test pH in the morning as well as Nitrites. The testing kit measures 0ppm nitrites in bottled water so it seems to be a working test kit. I'm quite frustrated and confused.
 

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Don't waste money on safestart.
It more often than not, does nothing.
Unless you can pick it up from their factory, chances are it has been exposed to temperatures that would kill all life in there.

As pointed out, the pH is the culprit. Below 7 ammonia turns into ammonium. Your bacteria needs ammonia, without food, there is no reason for them to exist.
To expedite the rate of growth, run high temperatures and high oxygen levels.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Experimentation:
  • Bottled water: 0ppm Nitrites
  • Tap water: .25ppm Nitrites
  • Half tank water/half bottled water: Seems to be between 1 and 2 ppm
  • 2 parts bottled water/1 part tank water: between .25 and .5

So the nitrites in the tank are roughly 2.5 ppm at the moment. Or the test is off. Or I have trouble recognizing shades of purple. But it seems to be returning a variety of values.

Bump:
Don't waste money on safestart.
It more often than not, does nothing.
Unless you can pick it up from their factory, chances are it has been exposed to temperatures that would kill all life in there.

As pointed out, the pH is the culprit. Below 7 ammonia turns into ammonium. Your bacteria needs ammonia, without food, there is no reason for them to exist.
To expedite the rate of growth, run high temperatures and high oxygen levels.
Ammonia is being consumed just fine, it's nitrites that are the problem.
 
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