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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all,

I am new to this forum and I am really hoping that someone could suggest what's going on with my tank/fish.

As stated in the title, I used Miracle Grow Organic Choice Garden Soil (note, not Potting) to set up a 1G tank as an experiment. The tank has lots of plants, as many as I could fit, and it has a snail that is doing well and multiplying. When the tank was 1 week old I put a betta fish in. Within minutes he started twitching, like seizures. It was sporadic and the rest of the time he was happy. I had him in there for 3 days, but the twitching wouldn't stop, so I took him out. As soon as he got into clean water the twitching stopped.

I am guessing it has to do with the soil, but have no idea why and what I did wrong. Any ideas?

Thanks!
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Hey mistergreen, thanks for the reply! I tested it with api master test kit every single day, everything was 0 and the ammonia was between 0 and 0.25. Could it be releasing something I can't test for? What do I do about it - was it the wrong kind of soil to use or is there some way that I can rectify it? I didn't mineralize it, is that why?
 

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Is the tank fully cycled? I have a dirt planted 60g without any twitching fish.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Dreanimal, I don't know how long it would take a 1G to cycle or how to tell if it is. The tank was only 7 days old, but all ammonia/nitrite/nitrate was registering at 0 or < 0.25 every single day.

Also as an experiment I siphoned as much water out of it as I could, and then filled it with the water from the fish's tank where he is now (and shows no twitching), then put the fish in and within a few minutes he was twitching again.

What kind of soil do you use? I am wondering if I used the wrong type?
 

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Check the pH between the different waters. pH shock can cause convulsions.

Might as well check GH, KH, temperature while you are at it.

Can you list the ingredients list from the soil?
 

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PH was also consistently 7.6, just like my tap. Temperature is a long story. The first time I put him in, I transferred him from his "hospital" which was at 74F into the npt which was at 80F. First I warmed up the hospital to 80F slowly - it took all day, about 12 hours. Then I put him in, but I didn't acclimate him. I thought maybe that was the issue, which is why I kept him there for 3 days, but the seizures did not subside. The 2nd time I tried, like I said, I filled the tank with 90% his clean water (now at 80F) and put him in.

The bag doesn't have ingredients listed. Soil looks nice though, no wood chips. There is a seedling growing in there, I am guessing it's a stray weed, which I guess would mean they didn't use any weed killers.

I was thinking - could suspended soil particles get into the fish's gills and cause this kind of behaviour?

Or, if it's something to do with soil releasing toxins, would mineralizing help? Or should I just use different soil?
 

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Children Boogie
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Any soil without manure is fine. I usually soak it in water and skim off chunks of bark and twigs. They are problematic organic components. Clay is not essential.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Ok, thanks, I'll try that one I think. Just want to make sure I understand though, if manure was causing issues wouldn't api test kit show ammonia? Or does manure cause a different issue that I can't measure?
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Hmm, just looked very carefully all over the bag, no ingredients but found this line "do not use near open water". ??? Okay, I am switching soil!

Thanks mistergreen.
 

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Hmm, just looked very carefully all over the bag, no ingredients but found this line "do not use near open water". ??? Okay, I am switching soil!

Thanks mistergreen.
its on there somewhere. You want "poultry litter" which is what used to be in the old miracle grow organic potting soil that worked very well in aquariums. Basically you want chicken poop instead of cow poop in the dirt.:grin2:
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Yeah, I made the mistake of buying "garden" instead of "potting". Other threads here though say that cow manure should be okay, just give it more time because it will be producing too much ammonia in the beginning. I am confused, because the first week my test kit has not been showing ammonia (and it's the liquid test kit which is supposed to be very accurate). So why did it bother the fish?

BTW, I dug up an analysis sheet on the garden soil and it says that there is nothing toxic in it, so "don't apply near open water" is probably a blanket statement. We e-mailed them as well about it.

Now the tank is 2 weeks old, and I just tested and it's showing ammonia=0.5 and nitrites are just ever so slightly over 0. Should I just stick with it and see if it cycles? Or should I give up and get a different soil? Or should I start over with the soil I have and mineralize it first? I am curious to experiment, but I don't want to risk hurting my fish down the road. (He is in a different tank now of course).

What would you do?
 

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Children Boogie
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"don't apply near open water"
Probably means that it will leach ferts into possible drinking water table which is illegal.

If you're want to stick with it, every week, do 90% water change for a month and then add fish back and see. Don't add anything that'll you'll miss.
 

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I would try mineralizing the soil, try it again in the tank, and watch for ammonia. Even mineralizing it might not deal with all the nitrogen, some might still show up as ammonia.

Whether you mineralize or not, I would do the fishless cycle. This will give the soil about 3 weeks of being under water with no fish added. It will allow a lot of microorganisms to grow. Or, if the stuff stops the nitrogen cycle bacteria from growing, then you will know it is not good for the aquarium.
Many soils go through about a month of changes when they are first submerged. Even in the bag, there are microorganisms, perhaps in a dormant stage. When they are submerged they either live or die.
Even if the soil had no manure these microorganisms would cause an ammonia spike if they could not survive under water and died.
The ones that are OK with being under water will grow and reproduce. If there is enough ammonia, then you may not have to add any to encourage the nitrifying bacteria to get going.

A lot of 'Ifs', but that is the point- we do not know. Try a few things, and lets see what happens.

Here is the fishless cycle. Check the water parameters to be sure they are in the right range for the bacteria to thrive, and lets see if it will cycle.
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. (7.5-8 seems to be optimum)
Temperature in the upper 70s F (mid 20s C) is good. Higher (to 95*F or about 35*C) 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, and trace elements like CSM+B 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 may use the carbon in carbonates, and if it is all used up (KH = 0) the bacteria may die off. They use the carbon from CO2, and this is generally pretty low in water, but can be replenished from the air and from carbonates. Keep the carbonates up to keep the pH up, too.
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. To grow them at optimum rates, keep the pH on the alkaline side of neutral.
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. 1 ppm twice a day will grow almost as much bacteria as 3 ppm once a day.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Wow, Diana, what an awesome detailed post! Thank you so much for typing that all out for me, I am honored! I just finished a fish-in cycle in another tank and I read about fishless cycle, but this is just great. All in one place and step-by-step. I just have a few questions:

- If not jump started, this method should take about 3 weeks to cycle, correct?
- "Or, if the stuff stops the nitrogen cycle bacteria from growing, then you will know it is not good for the aquarium." - so if I don't see nitrites/nitrates?
- I read that cycling with a raw shrimp or fish food can grow bacteria that causes columnaris. Is that true?
- If bacteria need water movement, how are they going to live after the cycle once the aerator or pump are removed?
- I am guessing once the cycle is complete, oxygen for bacteria is going to be provided by plants?
 
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