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I have not been changing the water on my 20 gallon every week for at least a year and things have gotten out of hand. There has been no algae so I thought things were alright. I lost my lights so I used a single T8 for six months until it started to fade. It was like driving with a spare tire for six months. It was terrible. We lost our fish and have been fishless for about six months. So I got new lights and still had no algae. I also reinstated the CO2. The plants have been recovering slowly and are not pearling. But still, they look pretty good to me. I remember when my plants used to pearl. Is that a young plant thing?

I have not been testing the water because when I was doing water changes they were 50% water changes so I did not think testng was necessary. Besides, there was no algae so I thought things must be alright. However, I did a 0-10 range Nitrate test last week and it was off the scale. Thinking Nitrate probably wasn't too far off the scale, I consequently did my now back on schedule water change and supplimented only half the Nitrate. I tested for Phosphate which was right on target at 2 ppm.

I retested for Nitrate last night with a new 5-60 mg/l NO3 range test and got a result off the scale again! So I diluted the sample over 50% and retested it and got a result of 53 ppm! I've learned that you need to do your water changes weekly if you want to fly by night and not test.

So what do I do now? How do I reset the tank and get things back on track with the dosing? I'm planning on doing two 50% water changes to get the Nitrate down. Also, I've started putting in an appropriate amount of Ammonium Chloride to get the filter going again for want of a fish. Why didn't I have bad algae? I thought algae was supposed to be the indicator of things going wrong. Should I test for Potassium or Iron or can Nitrate be used as sort of a lead dog test on my trail to recovery?
 

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Hey friend, I just wanted to input my advice but i am no where near an expert in this field. It sounds like you are using CO2 right? If so, that could explain why there isnt any algae. Also if your plants are still alive, then they are sucking up that co2, and the nitrates. If you dont have any fish, i wouldnt worry too much about the nitrate yet. You also said the plants are recovering slowly? I would do a 50% water change every few days for a week, then test your water. If the nitrates are still high, but lower than before, you could continue the same plan or cut back on water changes if you notice it is helping. The plants should also help with the nitrates as these are natural ferts for them. Not sure if you mentioned, but if you don't have a filter you should get one running right away. I always recommend a sponge filter as they make great homes for beneficial bacteria. Also, you can add some beneficial bacteria to your tank to help get the cycle back on track if you think that is necessary. But if your nitrites and ammonia are 0, dont panic yet!
As for potassium or iron, i think the nitrate should be sufficient enough since its also only a 20 gallon tank anyways. I have a few 10 gal heavy planted tanks and just test for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate and have been fine so far.
 

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So I got new lights and still had no algae. I also reinstated the CO2. The plants have been recovering slowly and are not pearling. But still, they look pretty good to me. I remember when my plants used to pearl. Is that a young plant thing?
No, it's a "plants have ample light to drive photosynthesis, and ample CO2 to feed their system, and the water is air-saturated to the point that the O2 they give off is seen as bubbles" type of thing. :smile2:
I wouldn't worry about pearling. If you have all the stuff in place (CO2, light, etc.) and don't see it, it just means your water isn't saturated with O2 or other gases. You don't have to "see" them doing their work to know that they are doing it (but it IS really cool, right?).
 

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If it's just plants (no shrimp, fish, etc.), then I'd just keep on doing 50% water changes one to two times per week until your parameters are back where you want them to be. And then add the fish, etc.

I can't comment on plant nutrients stuff because I'm not as well read on it as I feel I should be to comment about it.
 

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Thanks for the replies. That's a good point about the CO2 helping with the algae Nicole. Davemonkey's comments about pearling were interesting too. I didn't know O2 affected pearling.

I did two water changes and got the Nitrate down to 8 mg/l from > 60 mg/l. The following week I dosed 9/10 tsp NH4Cl and just 1/16 tsp NO3 which I thought was low dosing. At the end of the week I tested 33 mg/l which seems high considering light and CO2 gas. So apparently my filter is working and converted the now 0.09 mg/l NH3 into NO3. NH3 was higher before. There is only 0.01 mg/l Nitrite so I'm assuming the filter must be working after dosing all that Ammonia.

So I did two more water changes this week to get the Nitrate down from 33 mg/l and ended up with Nitrate at 21 mg/l. Wrong! So I tested the tap water and got 4 mg/l NO3 which is fine. However, it doesn't solve the mystery of 21 mg/l NO3 in the tank after two water changes. Question. Should I divide my test results by 4.4 to get "NO3-Nitrogen"? This would preclude a lot of water changing. 21 mg/l NO3 is ok but I did a lot of water changing to get there. My testing must be off. The NO3 should have been around 9 mg/l after two water changes if I'm not mistaken.
 
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