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Discussion Starter #1
So I have been battling with my 55 gallon tank for 2 years now, and I'm finally at a point where I can invest some money and time into it. For a long time it seemed that just about everything I tried with this tank backfired, and I just gave up. I also contracted a staph infection back in 2013, and I developed an aversion to digging around and moving things in the tank for a while. I had hopes for this tank. Now I'm ready to pursue them again.

I have in this tank:
1 Three Spot Gourami
3 Dwarf Gouramis
3 Harlequin Rasboras
1 Cherry Barb
1 Yoyo Loach
1 Kuhli Loach
I had more of each species, but haven't restocked.
Plants I may need help identifying.

The filtration is a Marineland Penguin 350 filter with Biowheels. I use Water Conditioner and pH down when I do water changes.

I know that the first thing I have to do is fix my Nitrates. My pH is 6.0, and my ammonia and nitrites read 0 ppm, but my nitrates read somewhere between 40 and 80 ppm (I can't tell, the colors on the chart are almost identical). I am in the middle of a water change right now.

In the mean time, I would appreciate some opinions/advice for some goals I have for this tank for after I fix the nitrates.

There is a coat of green algae that grows on my tank walls It needs to be scraped off every two weeks or so. This would be due to the high nitrates, correct? It's not really hurting anything, this is really my most minor of concerns. Unless it is, please tell me if it is.

I have three gorgeous pieces of Mopani that I want to reincorporate into the tank. Originally, they were in the tank, serving as a hangout for my loaches and CAE, but they stained the water so much that they inadvertently killed my plants. I boiled two of them, soaked the other, but now I have a pot big enough to boil the last one. I ordered Purigen to help filter out what the boiling doesn't get. Is this the best way of going about it?

I've had trouble with plants, too. Sometimes I bought plants that were mislabeled as aquatic, other times they would just melt. Or when I finally got some Hygrophila difformis to grow, hair algae grew with it. I used this treatment :

http://www.malawicichlidhomepage.com/aquainfo/algae_peroxide.html

It worked very well. Afterwards I went for (what I think are) Moneywort, Pennywort, and Rotala macrandria. This is the first time in years that I've have plants thrive. Well, there are still some issues-- the moneywort has what appears to be a coat of dark green algae coating some of its leaves and roots. The Rotala is green on the top of the leaves and pink on the underside, and its growth is kind of ugly and gangly. Can I post pics for identification and not have this thread moved to plants?

I have everything under two ZooMed Flora Sun lights. I don't use any fertilizers, I have just been letting the plants grow. Is there anything I should be adding for the plants I have? I'm saving up for a big order of live plants, since there are no stores locally that sell healthy freshwater plants. I'm considering Green Temple, Cryptocorynes, Wisteria, other Rotalas. Could there be any care conflicts? What would I need for these plants?

Lastly, there are the fish. I have a problem with my town's water pH. I keep my tank at 6.0, and the water here is at 7.8. This is a huge difference, right? I feel like it's a huge difference. I just want to know the proper acclimation time for this specific aspect. Please note that I am NOT planning on buying any fish until my parameters are sorted out.

I appreciate any input!
 

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It's considered unhealthy for the fish when the nitrates exceed 40 ppm. To reduce your nitrates you need to do a 50% water change at least once every 7 days. Check your tap water for nitrates too as some tap water contains some. How often do you do water changes and how much?

What type of light do you have and how close is it to the substrate? Is it fluorescent T12, T8, T5, or T5HO and how many bulbs? Who is the manufacturer of the fixture and does it have good reflectors? Do you know if you have high light, medium light, or low light? How many hours do you have the light on for? Is it on a timer so it's consistant? Look up Hoppy's thread in the lighting forum, I think its a sticky now.

What type of substrate do you have? Is it just inert aquarium gravel or something like Seachem Flourite?

What is your bio-load? Good rule of thumb is 1" of adult fish to 1 gallon max. Add up all you fish in inches based on what size they'll eventually get, not what they currently are. The higher your bio load the more maintenance you'll have to do. Some fish impose very high bio loads like goldfish and so that rule doesn't apply.

High nitrates in a non planted tank will induce algae to a point but algae in a planted tank is more due to an imbalance of nutrients, C02, and light especially if you have high light. You will always have some algae as that's just normal.

I suggest you not invest in too many plants except for maybe some fast growing easy plants like water wisteria and water sprite to help with water conditions. You may want to look in your area for an aquarium club where people trade plants. You should purchase some books and read this forum to educate yourself before you dive in because your liable to be disappointed and frustrated in the end. Setting up a tropical aquarium by Stuart Thraves is a good basics book that also covers plants. This website has a lot of good information and also info on the estimate index fertilization method http://www.barrreport.com/forum . Ecology of the Planted Aquarium is a good read on planted aquariums. You'll need to decide on what type of tank you want to keep from very low tech non C02 to Excel based low medium light to a C02 injected setup. I'd suggest to keep it simple and go low tech.

You need to check your carbonate hardness (KH) with a test kit and also your general hardness (GH) too. The KH helps stabilize your PH and is directly linked to it. If it's low than you'll have trouble keeping your PH stable. I use Seachem Alkaline buffer and Acid buffer together to adjust my KH and PH so that they are 4-5 dKH and 7.0 PH. These are carbonate based buffers. Most fish can do very well with a PH of 7.0 but stability of PH is more important. You can adjust your PH a couple of points each day until you get to 7.0 without harming your fish. Even a PH of 7.8 isn't bad for most fish so long as they are given ample time to acclimate to it.
 

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Learning to care for plants may be wise before investing in any large order of them.
The Crypts are low light plants and the "other types" of Rotala are usually higher light plants. The one you have needs med light. I know what you mean about don't have healthy plants. Our local "mom & pop" type old time fish store is great on fish. They often quarantine their fish for a while before selling them and I don't remember seeing any dead ones in their tanks like you often do at the corporate run shops.
But plants sometimes stay there for a while and it's hit and miss/w those.
I'm thinking your light is too high. Plus IMO that "bio-wheel" is counter productive for long planted tanks. Like I said...IMO. Mostly because all the current is in the middle of the tank/w none on the ends. A water circulating pump can help a lot/w that however.
I did see one apparently very successful tank(55g) with two Penguin 150's on it.
More detail about the lights would be helpful. T8 T5 ? Two 4 ft bulbs ? Ultra sun ?
This is just a joke OK, but you say you have no ferts, do you have any pets that you also don't feed ? It is a joke but meant to point something out.
A tank/w a dirt sub may not need any ferts. A tank/w several fish and not so many plants can get by/w no ferts. But any noticeable amount of plants in a tank/w gravel or sand sub needs some nutrients to be added to it.
A tank/w lots of(healthy) plants can use a lot of light but other tanks need to tone that down. So what were the lights ?
 

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It's considered unhealthy for the fish when the nitrates exceed 40 ppm.
I've run mine well over that with no harm. In fact if I use KNO3 my nitrates go into the 100s.

Nitrites are dangerous. Nitrates not so much so, those can run quite high before they become threating to live stock.

Get the ferts and lighting right and those 80ppm nitrAtes will be used up as the plant growth becomes more healthy.


 

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I've run mine well over that with no harm. In fact if I use KNO3 my nitrates go into the 100s.

Nitrites are dangerous. Nitrates not so much so, those can run quite high before they become threating to live stock.

Get the ferts and lighting right and those 80ppm nitrAtes will be used up as the plant growth becomes more healthy.


It's not that black and white for nitrate because it really depends on the species of fish like for example Discus or wild caught fish, which would not be tolerant of high nitrates. Yes nitrates aren't directly toxic to the fish like nitrite but if nitrate gets too high it will compromise the fishes immune system over time and the fish will get an infection and die. Yes, nitrite will directly kill the fish. Some fish species also are very good at adapting to poor water conditions but even then if kept sky high for too long they will eventually succumb to poor water quality. If a non planted or lightly planted tank had nitrates in the 100's and the source was from fish waste not No3 fertz than I can guarantee you your algae issues would be out of control.

Picture your house as the fish tank and let's say you couldn't dispose of all the poo and pee you and your family do over time. Think of that poo and pee as nitrates. It wouldn't kill you but I imagine it wouldn't be a comfortable place to be either and you'd want to get out of there fast.

So in summary as a rule of thumb the nitrates should be kept below 40 ppm especially when the source is from ammonia/ammonium and nitrite and especially if your tank is non planted or not heavily planted and especially if your other plant nutrients, light, and CO2 are not balanced. If you do regular water changes and keep your bio load in check than your nitrates in a non planted tank should never have a chance to exceed that. I know because I've been keeping non planted tanks for over ten years with great success.

I also know the difference between Nitrates and Nitrites thank you. I'm only new to the planted part but so far having good success with that too thanks to educating myself before going in blind.
 

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Tabby:
See that FKD is going in that same direction that I am/w your lights especially and the need for good ferts.


Get the ferts and lighting right and those 80ppm nitrAtes will be used up as the plant growth becomes more healthy.
 

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Don't know if anyone mentioned but dont Use ph down. Your ph is what it is. Using ph down will only temporarily change your ph and then swing back to where it was which is not great for the fish.
Everyone else seems to be putting you on the right track.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
UPDATE: So I'm sure that some of you have heard about the blizzards in New York. Well, not only am I located in that area, I also sprained my ankle in the snow Monday. Very badly. I will answer what I can for now. What happens to my tank now is largely up to how much assistance I can get from my family. With that having been said...

The Nitrates in my town's water are at 0 ppm. I got no visible change in my nitrates after this week's 50% water change.

I had been doing the Nitrate test wrong, so I thought my Nitrates were at 0 ppm until last week. Therefore, I did a 25-50% water change every 2 months or so before.

The lights are two fluorescent FLORA SUN, 18 inch, 15 watts- T8. They are "5000K". One is in a "Shelby" model fixture, the other is in a "ZooMed" fixture, I believe. I will have to have someone look for me today. They are not on timers. I try to keep them on 12 hours a day, but they usually are on longer. I consider my lighting to be high.

Substrate is sand.

Not sure of Carbonate Hardness, but Calcium Hardness is ND-2.2, and Total Hardness is 2.1-3.6. This is coming from my town's water quality report.

Good fertilizers... what are good fertilizers as opposed to bad ones? I have some API Plant Food tabs, but they are about 2 years old, are they still any good? I have some liquid ones, too : Seachem Flourish Potassium and Comprehensive Supplement, they are over 4 years old, though. I stopped using them because someone told me they feed black algae.
 

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I just read on here that ferts don't expire. But I've also heard the Flourish can get mold in it if not refrigerated.
I'd probably prefer to say complete and incomplete ferts rather than good/bad.
Even though if you buy enough different types of Sea Chem or other nutrients you can get complete ferts, they will not last near as long as the same price paid for dry ferts.
This has a variety of options on it.
http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/showthread.php?t=806066
If you have one 18" bulb on each end/side of the tank and it's a T8 bulb in each of them it's not high light. There is a chart for T8 on here.
http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/showthread.php?t=184368&highlight=
You may have enough for low light plants since you run so many hrs.
I wish I had it bookmarked because someone on here has a list of plants which will grow in lower light. Perhaps someone reading this will give it to you.
I would try getting a complete fert and see how the plants respond to it before doing anything/w the light.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
UPDATE: So I did an experiment today. I poured 1/2 cup of tank water into a container. Then I poured 1/2 cup of tap water into said container, tested it, then added another 1/2 cup, and so on. According to these results, I will have to replace 14/15 of the tank water to achieve something with an amber color. 20 ppm? 10? Have a look:

IMG_20150129_172709726.jpg

Water 1 15 Resize.jpg

IMG_20150129_184436211 - Copy.jpg

I hope I did that right. My apologies for the color inconsistencies; my phone takes pictures that look sunburned. I fixed the one of the plain test tube- that is as close to real life as the color gets.


I suppose I should post a photo of my setup as well. Be warned, it is pathetic.

IMG_20150129_171723107 Resize.jpg

The plants are all floating because I was making some cuttings of them, and intended on replanting them the next water change. If I keep recovering at my current pace, that may be as early as next week.
 

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Very cool experiment!

I wouldn't think about starting ferts until you get you nitrates down. My nitrates went way up when I was dosing EI for a 75 gallon tank. I brought the nitrates down over a couple weeks by doing 30% water changes every few days until it made it to 10. I started adding the amount of ferts for a much smaller tank and testing the impact so I don't get the nitrates really high again.

I really like you tank.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
 

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My take on nitrates:

Clearly raised levels of nitrates when added as fertilizer seem to be harmless, but are probably being done in conjunction with good water changes and healthy plant growth.

Raised nitrates from fish waste alone indicate either overstocking or insufficient water changes/filter maintenance. I suspect the nitrate in this case is a surrogate marker of all sorts of pollutants (and probably raised TDS) which are actually damaging the fish, and not measurable by home tests.

Bump:
UPDATE: So I did an experiment today. I poured 1/2 cup of tank water into a container. Then I poured 1/2 cup of tap water into said container, tested it, then added another 1/2 cup, and so on. According to these results, I will have to replace 14/15 of the tank water to achieve something with an amber color. 20 ppm? 10? Have a look:
Well done - you've done a better job than most undergraduate chemistry kids!
As you can see, the colour change as the nitrate halves can be pretty subtle....
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Thanks for the compliments, guys! It was actually a suggestion by Clear Water from my other thread.

Hmm, well those Flourish Bottles have never seen a refrigerator. Now I'm a little more scared of them...

I really appreciate the plant advice from everyone, too!

I suspect the nitrate in this case is a surrogate marker of all sorts of pollutants (and probably raised TDS) which are actually damaging the fish, and not measurable by home tests.
Pollutants? Could you name some? Perhaps I could find them on my town water report. Raised TDS... The report says there are 21-58 mg/l.

Random question for everyone: Is there any use in the aquarium/planted tank world for water filtered through Reverse Osmosis?
 

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Fish food doesn't break down into pure ammonia/ammonium, whether fish poop it out, or its uneaten.
There will be various other ions/proteins/peptides (partially degraded proteins)/hormones/amino acids/organic acids etc - probably in tiny amounts, but that does to some degree accumulate.
I'm not saying high levels of nitrate aren't hazardous, they would be at a point, just that don't think that is all that is building up....
 

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I would rater have my nitrates at 40ppm than less than 10ppm. When you get to low and with lots of light you have a chance to get blue/ green algae . Mine runs between 10ppm and 20 ppm and I only change water every two weeks.
 

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You are definitely on the right track and taking a healthy approach to solving your problem. I honestly don't think you are as far off as you may thing you are.

Typically, I find a bit of green algae to be normal in a healthy tank, and while it may be growing a bit fast, that can be amended by getting healthy plant growth and something to help eat it back a bit.

Your nitrates are not at a terribly dangerous level, and I wouldn't be that concerned about "other pollutants" unless I was having significant issues keeping things alive. As for a Reverse Osmosis (RO) water, that's unnecessary in 90% of situations and counterproductive in at least 50%. With the water coming out of your tap at 7.8 and you not stocking any fish with low pH needs, I would not worry about it. I think it would be counterproductive for what you want to do.

Your immediate goal should be stability. That is, get on a regular water change cycle and try to use water changes to bring your pH back closer to the 7.8 out of the tap. I would suggest 50% water changes 2x per week for the next month or so, and then dial it back to once a week and see where that gets you.

As for moving forward, I think you could start looking at trying to get some plants in there. It'll help with the nitrates and you will feel like you are making good progress on bringing the tank back as you will immediately see results. I don't know what you have for plants that are already in the tank, but given your light and substrate, I would aim for low light stem plants and low light plants that you can attach to the driftwood.

Anubius, Java Fern, and Java Moss are all good starting points. Hornwort would help considerably with your nitrates and almost qualifies as a stem (it doesn't really root, you would need to weigh it down and trim it regularly). If you are willing to get root tabs, Crypt Wendtii and Amazon Swords may be possible, though I'm not sure with your lights how they will fare. It sounds like you should have enough.

Hopefully, within 6 weeks or so you should start seeing growth and your parameters will get more in line with what you want to see. At that point, I would invest in a few Ottos to help combat what algae is left and then you can look to going whatever direction you want to with the fish.
 

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Discussion Starter #20 (Edited)
Well, there seem to be a large amount of opinions on appropriate Nitrate levels... I think I want to get them to 10-20 ppm first, just so I can watch them and try to figure out how they got so high in the first place. How would I do that though? Is there a way at all, or will I just have to assume based upon what happens next?

Keeping things alive; that is subjective, I suppose. I have a difficult time adding anything to my tank. At one point last year, for example, I added 8 Harlequin Rasboras and lost all but 2. The third one I have is older than them- the only one of five to survive. The only Cherry Barb that ever survived more than a month in my tank is my Albino, and I tried to add 5 companions for him. My lonely Kuhli Loach manages to vastly outlive any additions of his species also. Whether it's the Nitrates or the contrast in the pH, I think you all would be able to figure that better than me.

On a lighter note, I have managed to start walking again, and am ready to start my first water change of many. I must ask, is it a good idea to keep using Water Conditioner? If not, how long should I wait to add the water if I leave it standing, and only standing?

Okay. I only mention the Reverse Osmosis because we have it coming out of the sink. Separate faucet, of course.

Thank you all again for your wisdom! If only I had done this sooner...
 
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