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I'm not a barb guy so better let others who keep them make those recommendations. The only barbs I've kept lately were tiger barbs and black skirt and they were both pains for my other fish so I can't really say about the others.
I go slow and steady and make changes very slowly so I'm likely to just set and watch for a while? Adding some plants is not going to rock the boat much if it feels right.
 

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Sounds like you are moving in the right direction but need some minor adjusting. I like the advise above but differ on some points. I like the cories but whether to bother trading the oto or not is iffy to me. Is the value received worth the chase? I find there are many things more important to fish overall besides being in the correct numbers. So is it worth possibly disrupting the tank to catch and relieve the potential stress of one fish? I might watch the fish and see how he fits in before going to much trouble.
Then there is always room for differing opinions on test methods. I fully recognize that the liquid tests can be more accurate but I have some other thoughts as well.
In many cases, I find I will test if it is quick, easy and cheap with little doubt as to how I might screw up the results. Once fully trained and with practice, one can get more accurate readings with the liquid. But it is also super easy to get the wrong answer when first starting testing. Time involved, using correct shaking and timing the results can make the liquid less useful for a first time tester. In my case, I find I don't need fully accurate test results and we are only left with comparing colors so it is not really precise at best.
I go with keeping the liquid tests on the shelf but mostly using the Jungle (now Tetra) brand strips. I find the best price on them at Wal-mart but the main reason is that I will use them for quick and easy when I would not bother to use the liquid. For my use a poor test done well will certainly beat a higher quality test not done because of the hassle. Once I get past testing for ammonia, I go with the 5-in-1 strips for quick reports on whether things are the same or changing as that is all I need to know. Drifts and trends, not precise numbers?
I think your approach here is totally reasonable and sensible. Regarding the oto, you're right -- if it looks happy it's probably not worth it. As for the testing, this should be up to the OP; starting out, it really helped me to test my water to understand what was going on, or whether an action I took like adding a small school of tetras showed a spike in ammonia, etc. I have no experience with strips so I can't say how accurate they are. On testing, I just have the personality type where I like to see lots of granularity, but to each his own =)

Bump:
I went to my LFS yesterday and it took me +/- 30 minutes to get there walking. Unfortunately, they don't take live stock back so I can't return them. Also, my oto looks pretty happy. He swims around, does his thing and when he feels lonely he swims with my harlequins. Do you think it's a good idea to add chilis with the harlequins? I was hoping I could add some harlequins so they're not completely alone. I'm also scared that if the fish are too small, Patrick (the betta) will get aggressive with them or try to eat them. I see he's ok with these so I'm pretty happy for now. @ibebian
That sounds great, and I would follow advice from @PlantedRich -- if it looks happy, keep it, and it will help you battle some BBA!

I will check and search the internet to find a cheap test kit for my fish, even though liquid testing is pretty much simple chemistry and I see no complications in that. Do you have any recommendations on how to continue stocking it? @PlantedRich

I was thinking of adding 4 to 6 more harlequins and see how it goes from there. In terms of algae control, I need something that will keep my carpet clean, so maybe some shrimp, but for now Patrick is my limiting factor. (he killed my cherry and crystal red... went to LFS, asked for 2 cherries, got a CRS and RCS). He decapitates them. I was thinking maybe the bright colour bothered him. So once my aquarium plants start to cover the ground completely, I'll try to an Amano and see how it goes.
Unfortunately it sounds like you'll need to choose between one or the other here.. Shrimp or betta?


My cleaning regimen is intense, once a day to twice a day if necessary. Right now I have:

- 2 Cryptocoryne x willisii
- dwarf hair grass carpet eventually
- anubias nana (I bought it yesterday)

I'm thinking of adding other plants that have good filtration I just don't know what unfortunately. So to some extent my aquarium is decently planted. Any recommendations in terms of what to to add? @PlantedRich @ibebian
In my opinion, daily maintenance is too much, especially if water changes are involved. Many do weekly, and if you strike the right balance, you could go longer with top-offs. In terms of plant recommendations, it all depends on what you like, your lighting/CO2 situation, and how you will make nutrients available to them. In general I like floating plants to help eat up nitrates and reduce light going into my tank, not to mention I like the look of the roots hanging downward.
 

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Got to agree with Ibebian on the testing. It is not that liquid nor strips are better or worse but it does depend on the situation and user. Part of it is where the user comes into play. At different times we may need/want different tools. When first testing one may not know how often he will want to test or even if he will have the correct mindset to do it properly. With liquid tests, there is considerable upfront different in cost. That price varies a bunch but currently Petco has the master test kit at $27. So that can be compared to test strips at Walmart at $11. Newer folks often want to go at lower upfront cost.
Then when we get into the test itself, we need to look at how well we may do the tests. Several of the liquid tests are really dependent on shaking correctly and other small things like rinsing the test tube each time after use. Both rely on viewing the results under the same lighting to get consistent results but they do come down to how well we can judge colors. Some are better than others. Liquid testing is more often a five minute or so deal but varies with which test while strips can be dipped and done in under two as the wait time is about a minute. So do we want 5 tests read somewhat less accurately or do we want a single test taking longer?
I use the API tests but find the master test kit doesn't provide the tests I use most so I wind up with those provided being expired more often than not before I use them. It frustrates me to buy a kit that doesn't fully do what I want and then expires before I use all the tests that it does provide. I like single function items that are simple to replace only the part that is needed in tools as well as test sets.
Since I do quite a lot of testing, I do use both but then what fits best for each of us is something we each have to use and try for a while before we can know.
 

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So a couple recommendations:

1) I personally like Lambchop rasbora better than harliquens. They are also smaller, which would ease the bioload a bit. These are not always available, but worth a look. Still provides a small school, but easier to maintain water parameters and a similar look.

2) Everything I have read says 1 oto per 10 gallons. Otos rarely eat prepared food, thus without enough algae it will starve. I personally find the smallest nerite I can for a spec and it works great. Occasionally you will have to swap them if you get a female due to eggs. The eggs bother me in nano tanks. The nerites will grow quickly to fit the tank size.

3) As for the cycling issue, this will take time. Dosing prime as recommended above will help to reduce stress.

4) Also as recommended previously, floating plants or so fast growers would take care of the chemistry issues pretty quick. Especially if you can local CL some that are already grown underwater. Emersed plants will take some time to adjust before they start pulling nitrogen rapidly.
 
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