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I think I messed up my new tank with DIY root tabs - what now???

7231 Views 12 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  irresistible
Hello all,

This is my first post here, and my first foray in the aquarium hobby! So I think in my overzealousness I may have royally messed things up.

I've had my 24 gallon nano cube set up for about a month now. I started it planted with some anubias, java fern, red foxtail, and rosafolia. It has 3WPG integrated fluorescents in the hood.

I let it run for about three weeks with no fish, adding Dr. Tim's ammonia to jumpstart the cycle. Things seemed to be progressing as expected, so about a week ago I added six zebra danios.

However, my plants we still looking really sad, and undernourished so I found some info on DIY root tabs made with miracle grow. It seemed super easy, so I added those around the same time. I think around 10 in my 24g. None of the videos online made mention of it majorly messing with chemicals, so I didn't think anything of it.

When I started testing to keep an eye on things my nitrites were always through the roof, off the scale on the API master test kit! Strong magenta color - 5ppm plus. (It's worth noting that my ammonia is consistently at 0 and Nitrate around 10-20ppm)

To cope I've been doing 50% water changes everyday, and overdosing with prime to protect the fish - which seem fine. But nothing seems to be lowering them.

Yesterday I finally got frustrated and did back water changes - three 50% in a row over the course of a couple hours. This finally got my level down to the 0ppm on the API test. I figured at least this way it might have a chance to catch up.

I tested again a couple hours later just to see what was up, it had gone slightly purple - circa .25ppm. I figured this was just the normal cycle trying to catch up. I tested again this morning, less than 24 hours since the massive change, and it's back into the magenta range!!

Finally I dug a little deeper and found some posts on here about people getting crazy spikes with DIY tabs. I guess it was a total rookie mistake.

My question now is what the heck should I do??? I can keep up with 50% daily changes, but certainly not the complete change that I did yesterday. Do I need to ride this out, and how long might it take??? Will this ruin my chances of ever cycling my tank?? Any advice would be uber-appreciated.
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Hmmmm....I'm going to follow this thread for my own educational purposes....But:

I have 10 tanks and all of them have between 1-3" of dirt covering the entire bottom of the tank. So IMO 10 little tabs shouldn't be the cause of the problem...If anything the bacteria contained in the dirt should be helping the tank cycle.

You mentioned your plants were "looking really sad". Perhaps if they are rotting and dying they are contributing to rather than helping the problem.

I have heard of cycles stalling due to high nitrites so keeping them in check is going to be important.

Personally, I'd start again and dirt the whole tank ;) But seriously, if you trim and remove any rot I think you should be fine.
You're correct, the plants WERE looking really sad. But I cleaned them up, trimmed off the dead bits and rescaped. This was BEFORE I added any fish. I also started PPS-pro ferts on Friday and they've just taken off since then. I can see a ton of new growth, and almost no weak parts so I doubt it's that alone.

I was basing my assumption that the tabs could be causing a problem on this thread:

If it's any help, my substrate is Floramax, not dirt. Not sure if that would make it better or worse.

It's hard to say when my tank is still cycling, but the Nitrites are spiking out of control every day. Much higher than it seems my fish alone should be causing. I did two 50% changes today, and they're still around 2ppm. I'm hoping that the 4x dose of Prime I added will keep them safe.

It may just be an issue of riding it out, but I was curious if anybody had any thoughts.
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I think overdoing root tabs is an common mistake that's undercovered. When I did it my nitrates spiked off the chart. Odd that your nitrites are spiking. If your attached to your fish I would move them to another container until the chemistry settles down. I fought it with nitrizorb and water changes for 3 months.
If there is any way to dig out the fertilizer tablets, that would be my first idea.

Devil duck is also right: Move the fish to a new tank for the duration.

Nitrite enters the blood via the gills and makes the blood not able to carry oxygen very well. You can protect the fish with Prime, to a certain extent, but the extreme amount of NO2 happening in your tank is too much. You can also protect the fish with salt. The chloride prevents the NO2 from crossing the gills. However, the dose that is safe for fresh water fish and plants is not enough to handle this extreme level. 1 tsp per 20 gallons is fine if the level is rising slowly, to a max of 1 ppm. Since you are regularly seeing way more than this, move the fish.

When you dose the other ferts (pps method) do not dose any nitrogen in any form. Plants can use nitrite, but it is not their favorite form of nitrogen.

The bacteria that remove nitrite are slow growing. Eventually they can reach a high enough population to help with this problem, but not right away. They do not like NO2 over 5 ppm, so I would keep up the water changes to keep the level lower than that.

1) remove the fish
2) remove the tablets
3) keep up the water changes to keep the NO2 < 5 ppm.
4) when the cycle is back in balance return the fish.
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What DIY root tabs did you use exactly? And how many did you put in? What is your whole setup like?

Are you sure that your cycle completed? What was your experience with the cycle? Did you see all the spikes as they should happen?

I over dosed with DIY osmocote tabs once. Had to deal with off the chart nitrates. But not nitrites. That was in my 30 gallon.

In my 3 gallon, I had a nitrite spike once, but I attributed that to stirring stuff up too much and too deep a cleaning.
Hi Guys,

Thanks for all the helpful responses!

My exact setup is a 24g JBJ Nano cube, it has an integrated filter on the back which functions essentially like a canister, with a strong powerhead pulling everything through. I have a couple sponges, some pillow filling in media bags, and two bags with ceramic biomedia in there. Lighting is 2x36w 6500k fluorescents. Substrate is Floramax, it's planted with some anubias, java fern, red foxtail, and rosafolia. I have a few pieces of small manzanita driftwood.

I had the tank running on a fishless cycle with the plants in starting at the beginning of April. I was doing the tank with Dr. Tims ammonia. I also added a bottle of Tetra safestart. I saw the nitrogen cycle play out to the point where ammonia was being completely eliminated, with some low level nitrItes and nitrAtes.

To help the plants I added the tabs about a day before I put the fish in. I followed this recipe: It uses Miracle Gro instead of Osmocote, which is where I think I ran into my problem! I'm not sure, but I think there are about 10 in there.

I knew the tank was definitely not completely cycled when I decided to add fish last Saturday, but I know that Danios are hardy and assumed that if I kept and eye on levels and changed water as needed everything would be good. People cycle with Danios all the time. Obviously the NitrItes are spiking WAY more than would be expected on a normal cycle, so this has become majorly problematic.

Unfortunately removing the tabs isn't really an option, I'm sure they're dissolved by now and I don't know exactly where I put them. I can't really move the fish either, this is my first and only tank. They at least look well enough, so I think the big changes and Prime are at doing somewhat of a job to help them. I'll stop dosing macros, maybe that will encourage the plants to use more of the excess nutrients.

My last effort to save the tank is that I ordered two of the Active Filters - I read amazing reviews from people on other forums saying that they completely jumpstarted their cycle in a couple days. They should be here on Thursday.

If all of that fails, I guess I'm gonna have to replace the substrate and start from scratch. Here's hoping it doesn't come to that!

Thanks for the help, and if you have any other thoughts I'd definitely appreciate.

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Curious to know how you are doing water changes. You should be able to go around the bottom of the whole tank with a gravel vacuum and remove the DIY tabs or the remnants there of. If you're just doing the water column, this process is going to take fffoooorrreeeevvvveeerrrr
Chris, that's an excellent idea! I'm using a gravel vac, and hadn't thought of that.

You think that the siphon would have enough power to pull out the bits of fertilizer without taking all the gravel along with it??
It will help thin out the nutrients that the tabs are leeching to the water column. You might not get it all out, but it should help dilute them.

If you are showing nitrItes, you're filter still isn't cycled all the way. Your nitrite bacteria colony isn't completely up to speed yet. Watch those fish. Nitrites are just about as bad for your fish as ammonia is. It can slowly cause permanent organ damage to the fish if left unattended. Keep up on those water changes just like you're doing.

Have you tested your water hardness and ph? BB colonies are affected by low carbonates and PH levels. What filter media are you using in your aquarium?
Chris, that's an excellent idea! I'm using a gravel vac, and hadn't thought of that.

You think that the siphon would have enough power to pull out the bits of fertilizer without taking all the gravel along with it??
Definitely will, I've done this multiple times and still do it on a 120 tank I get to maintenance at my office.
As an update to all those who helped me with advice here, I received my active filters from Angels Plus yesterday. I thought it would take a few days for the tank to be seeded, but I'll be damned, in less than 24 hours nitrites went from 5+ ppm to zero and holding there! It's like the tank instantly cycled..!

I'm gonna keep a close eye on things, and take my time moving forward, but I think that a major crisis has been averted.
did anyone mix clay + nutrients with cement or plaster of paris(Gypsum) to make diy root tabs.
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