Cycling issue in acidic soft water tank

Discussion in 'Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle' started by mcrousse, Dec 14, 2012.

  1. mcrousse

    mcrousse Valued Member Member

    Hi all,

    I have a soft acidic tank setup.

    A little background:
    In my original 10 gallon tank, I played with altering the water chemistry a bit by adding baking soda and got the pH up to 6.8. That probably grew the original bacteria. I am now more interested in not altering the water from my tank and in keeping fish adapted to my water instead.
    My main current tank is a 55 gallon freshwater tank, pH 6.2 with 1 small amazon sword, 1 unknown stem bunch plant, 1 large piece of Malaysian driftwood, 4 neons, and 1 dwarf flame gourami. Before I put the gourami in there (about 3 weeks ago) I had just the 4 neons in there - I know, not enough for a school. (I have had these fish (both gourami and neons) a while. I moved all my stock out from a 10 gallon starter tank gradually). When only the 4 neons were in the 55 gallon, I was getting 0ppm ammonia/nitrites and 20ppm nitrates. I had attempted to seed the 55 gallon with BB from an old tetra whisper filter I had on my original tank. Since adding the gourami, the ammonia has gradually gone up to now somewhere between .25-.50ppm ammonia. Nitrites are still 0ppm and now nitrates are 5ppm. I have been doing water changes once a week.The pH of my tapwater is about 6.2 (both out of the tap and in the tank). It is soft acidic water straight from our well. This is only 5 fish in a 55 gallon tank.

    So.. my question is - is my cycle stuck? I am wondering if the low pH has affected the BB's ability to deal with the ammonia (which is probably ammonium at this point). I do use Prime as well with my water changes. The fish all seem quite happy at this point, eating and behaving normally. In fact the neons have been exhibiting spawning-type behavior. :eek: Would it do any good to add something like TSS or ATM Cycle to this tank or would it be better to just keep up on the water changes? How do discus folks or other acidophile tanks handle cycling anyway?

    Thanks!
     
  2. c

    catsma_97504 Fishlore Legend Member

    Welcome to the forum!

    Something doesn't quite add up. You had only 4 Neon Tetras in a 55G tank, with live plants; and still had 20PPM Nitrate?

    It is very easy to cycle and maintain an acidic tank. My tap water is 6.4 pH with very low hardness levels. And I do not have issues with maintaining the cycle or stabilizing my tanks, so long as the hardness levels are up.

    What test kits do you have? Do you have a GH/KH test kit? If not, I would see if a LFS could run both tests for you; or better yet purchase the kit.

    Using Prime can affect the test results of the API kits. In order to get accurate results you need to wait for 24 hours after dosing. Please repeat your test kits and post the results. Make sure you beat the #2 nitrate bottle. This bottle contains crystals that must be put back into suspension for an accurate test result.

    Have you been doing any water changes? With low pH I assume you also have low hardness levels. The cycling process can bind and lower hardness; and if it gets too low then the pH becomes unstable and can crash. This is when adding baking soda would help. However, now that you have fish I would not recommend randomly increasing these levels or the fish can suffer.

    With what little is known about your tank, I suspect that it has never actually cycled. There simply is not enough of a bioload to support a bacterial colony; the plants would have completely consumed what little nitrogen waste would have been created.

    One last question, are you using any plant ferts?

    With additional information we'll be able to gain a better understanding of what is happening in your tank.

    Good luck.
     
  3. OP
    OP
    mcrousse

    mcrousse Valued Member Member

    Thank you for your response!

    I did answer some of those questions in my first post but I will repeat some here. :)
    "Something doesn't quite add up. You had only 4 Neon tetras in a 55G tank, with live plants; and still had 20PPM nitrate?"
    My well water has some nitrate in it already. It measures (as per my API test kit) 5ppm out of the tap. So, I have nitrate from the get-go. I only have 2 plants in there- what was leftover from my old 10g. I think the tank was cycling before the gourami was added - the sword plant was about half dead. I did remove a lot of yucky leaves off of it. Maybe cycling stopped when I was doing water changes, cleaning, vacuuming substrate, rinsing the filter, and the gourami was then added after all that. Maybe I took out too much BB, what little there was. And yes I do follow the directions explicitly on the test kits. I even sit there with a timer in my hand to make sure I shake the bottle up long enough. :) The last nitrate test I ran was yesterday. It has been 5 days since my last water change and I have not put any prime in it for 5 days, so I am thinking this is correct. I was reading that Prime just changes the ammonia to ammonium, so the "ammonia" should still show up on the test.

    "It is very easy to cycle and maintain an acidic tank. My tap water is 6.4 pH with very low hardness levels. And I do not have issues with maintaining the cycle or stabilizing my tanks, so long as the hardness levels are up."

    Good to know!

    "What test kits do you have? Do you have a GH/KH test kit? If not, I would see if a LFS could run both tests for you; or better yet purchase the kit."

    I have new API test kits for Ammonia, PH, and Nitrate. My GH test and NitrIte kits are older API kits I got from a relative. I put all the info from my test results in my profile - I had thought this was the right place for them? I only have a GH test kit, not KH. It only took 1 drop to color the solution blue so according to the info that is 10ppm GH, right? I went to my LFS 2 days ago and they did not have any GH or KH test kits in stock so it looks like I will have to order some. I am assuming my KH is also pretty low.
    "Using Prime can affect the test results of the API kits. In order to get accurate results you need to wait for 24 hours after dosing. Please repeat your test kits and post the results. Make sure you beat the #2 nitrate bottle. This bottle contains crystals that must be put back into suspension for an accurate test result."

    As I mentioned earlier, I am careful to do this, after reading the directions. Also I have been testing ammonia/ammonium levels in the 55 every day since I noticed ammonia showing up on the test, and today it is still somewhere between 0.25-0.5ppm. I ran the nitrate test yesterday, I doubt it has changed much.

    "Have you been doing any water changes? With low pH I assume you also have low hardness levels. The cycling process can bind and lower hardness; and if it gets too low then the pH becomes unstable and can crash. This is when adding baking soda would help. However, now that you have fish I would not recommend randomly increasing these levels or the fish can suffer."

    Yes, as I mentioned in my first post, I have been doing water changes once a week. The fish in there seem quite happy ...for now.

    "With what little is known about your tank, I suspect that it has never actually cycled. There simply is not enough of a bioload to support a bacterial colony; the plants would have completely consumed what little nitrogen waste would have been created."

    I did attempt to seed the tank, using the old tetra filter, as well as some decorations from the old tank. I am guessing that was just not enough.

    "One last question, are you using any plant ferts?"
    I did put a Seachem Flourish tab in with the amazon sword. I have not put any liquid ferts in there. I have a bottle of API Leaf Zone but I have not used it - yet.

    Do you think I should just dump a bottle of ATM Cycle in there 24 hours after my next water change?
    Or, just wait this out with more frequent water changes to keep ammonia/ammonium down?

    Thank you for your kind advice!
     




  4. J

    JoannaB Well Known Member Member

    The problem may be not that you don't have enough bacteria to cycle the tank but rather that your fish are not producing enough waste to grow or maintain a nitrifying bacteria colony. Adding seeding materials or bacteria in a bottle (Tetra Safe Start is known to be the right bacteria, whereas I do not know whether ATM Cycle is, some brands are not) anyway adding bacteria will only add them temporarily, but only so many bacteria will survive as have enough food ie fish waste, so if you have a large tank and only a few small fish, you may not be able to sustain enough bacteria to keep tank cycled.

    You may need to get more fish to cycle a 55 gallon tank. Until you get more fish, test the water daily, and change it if ammonia or nitrites are not 0. Also keep testing your pH to make sure it does not change drastically. While there is suspicion that your tank may not be cycled and that your KH may be too low to keep your pH stable, testing water is important because your tank may or may not be stable enough for fish without daily water changes, but daily water changes with low kH pose the risk of pH swings, so test frequently but do not necessarily do more frequent water changes unless you have to to keep fish safe.

    Wait until you can measure the KH before trying to adjust your ph, and be very cautious with any attempt to adjust pH - it needs to change gradually. If your KH is low as suspected, you may want to add crushed corals to your filter for example to gradually raise the KH.
     
  5. OP
    OP
    mcrousse

    mcrousse Valued Member Member

    Thanks for the info. I do have more fish waiting in my 10g QT. I was just a little unsure about adding them to the 55g when it (the 55 g) is showing .25-.50ppm ammonia. :confused:
     
  6. c

    catsma_97504 Fishlore Legend Member

    I would not add more fish, unless you plan to do large daily water changes. To help things along you may want to consider using TSS, but there are precautions when using bacterial additives and using Seachem Prime.
     
  7. J

    JoannaB Well Known Member Member

    Never mind, I was not paying enough attention when I wrote my previous comment. After rereading things again, I would like to retract my advice on adding additional fish, since actually you already did: you added the gourami. And that's when your ammonia started to go up. So your tank is now cycling. I do think you should get TSS because the ammonia is not safe, but if your pH is not stable and there is suspicion of kH being too low, then daily water changes may result in too drastic pH swings. Or alternatively, maybe you should listen to someone other than me, because I may be wrong again (I was definitely wrong in my previous comment, which was based on misreading previous parts of the thread, sorry).
     
  8. Eienna

    Eienna Fishlore VIP Member

    Colony, you mean, not Cycle. :) If you're going to use any, safest would be TSS.
    If your ammonia is .5 after that long, 5 days, and your pH is likely turning it into ammonium, I'd just let it come down on its own (continuing your weekly changes) - though you'll want to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't rise above 1. Make sure there's nothing else dead in the tank, as this can lead to spikes. Don't add any new fish until the ammonia reading is again 0.

    As far as removing too much BB, you do know to rinse your filter in old tank water, rather than tap water, correct?

    It occurs to me that your nitrite and GH tests may be expired. Check the dates. The GH kit should be turning the water from orange to green, not blue. You're sure you don't have the KH kit? That comes out blue and is supposed to go from blue to yellow when you have the right number of drops.
     
  9. OP
    OP
    mcrousse

    mcrousse Valued Member Member

    Haha, yes, I meant Colony. :)
    Yes, I did rinse the old filter media in old tank water, and then I went even further and threw part of the filter floss away because it looked so gross (mistake I know). I have an Aquaclear 110 and cut a large filter pad to size to fit it in a few layers as well as using the floss, and I'm guessing I threw out too much BB.
    RE: expired kits, that is possible. This older GH kit is made differently than the new ones. It uses sodium hydroxide, calagmite, and EDTA color indicator (3 bottles). It's def. GH. No KH.
    I went to yet another LFS last night since I had to go out of town and while I was out, I looked in there for GH/KH tests and they didn't have any, either. At any rate, the ones I ordered will hopefully be here soon. When I was first starting out this past January, I used the stick multi-tests and while I know they are not very accurate now, they always indicated my water was very soft anyway, so I am thinking this old GH kit may not be too far off.

    Thanks everyone for the advice. I will be keeping a close eye on things!
     
  10. Eienna

    Eienna Fishlore VIP Member

    Glad to have you with us, by the way :)
     
  11. OP
    OP
    mcrousse

    mcrousse Valued Member Member

    Thank you, Eienna - this hobby is quickly becoming an obsession with me. Just ask my hubby - "What are you thinking about?" Me: Oh, nothing, just fish. ;)
     
  12. Eienna

    Eienna Fishlore VIP Member

    I know exactly what you mean. It's great to be able to come here and share the obsession because my family gets tired of hearing about it.
     




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