Effect of plants on nitrate levels, general cycling questions

  1. kinezumi89 Fishlore VIP Member

    Hello,

    I've been cycling my 55 gallon tank since the beginning of March. I moved previously used filter media over, but I didn't fully understand the nitrogen cycle at the time, so that tank wasn't properly cycled. When I finally got a test kit and tested the water, the parameters were 0,0,0, so I don't think it was actually cycled.

    I found out recently that my tap water has 0.25 ppm ammonia in it. As per members' suggestions, I stopped water changes. I've been testing the water daily, and dosing Prime daily for the full volume of the tank.

    Today was the lowest the ammonia has ever been! Just the tiniest trace of green. However, seeing as I haven't done any water changes in awhile, I'm sort of surprised how low the nitrates are. I know that plants are supposed to keep nitrates low, but in the 55 gallon tank, I only have some hornwort; in a 10 gallon (which I'm also cycling) there aren't any plants! Yet when I tested just now, nitrates were 5-10ppm for both tanks, a bit less for the 55 gallon. In the 55 gallon, there is a BN pleco and three platys; in the 10 gallon there is a male betta.

    Is it possible the tank isn't actually cycling? Please don't say that :( I do shake the snot out of the second nitrate bottle (using the API freshwater master test kit, by the way); I actually shake all the bottles really well, just in case. But I'm confused as to how there could be so little nitrates when I haven't done water changes in ages, at least a couple weeks.

    Any information or advice would be greatly appreciated! :)
     
  2. catsma_97504 Fishlore Legend Member

    Plants will take in the nitrogen (ammonia, nitrite, nitrate) as part of their plant food. While this can reduce the nitrogen load on a tank, a few plants would not make all that much of a difference. If it were heavily planted, and if the plants were growing and appeared healthy, your tank could be cycled.

    What is your pH, GH and KH levels? These 3 parameters will be the clue as to whether your tank is actually cycled and the plants are consuming the nitrate; or it something else is going on.

    Also, as you have fish, I would go back to doing weekly water changes, minimum. There is much more to water chemistry than the handful of levels we monitor. As you know you have ammonia in your tap, just use extra Prime or other detoxing agent. Your tank's cycle should be able to process that little bit of ammonia in 24 hours.
     

  3. escapay Well Known Member Member

    This is new for me... Always good to learn something new. What do you want your pH, GH, and KH levels to be with a planted tank that is cycled?
     
  4. catsma_97504 Fishlore Legend Member

    KH and GH should be at 4 degrees/drops or higher. pH above 6.0 degrees.

    Many times an unclcyed tank will bind the carbonate (KH) which causes the pH to crash. This in turn puts the bacteria into dormancy and stalls out the cycle.

    If the KH and GH are both above 4 degrees/drops and if the pH is above 6.0 degrees, knowing the OP has plants would indicate the tank is truly cycled.
     
  5. kinezumi89 Fishlore VIP Member

    I used to be testing the pH, but I didn't know there were things that would cause it to change, so I stopped testing it. It was always 8.2, until I added some driftwood, which caused it to drop to 8.0. I'll be sure to test that today, and pick up a kH/GH test kit. Thanks for the information!

    Edit: I tested the pH for both the 55 gallon and 10 gallon tanks; oddly enough the 10 gallon's pH was slightly lower at 7.8 (even though it doesn't have driftwood), and the 55 gallon was at about 7.9 (I know the test doesn't test for odd-decimal pHs, but it seems like it's between 7.8 and 8.0 :) )

    I will pick up a kH/Gh test kit this afternoon. Unfortunately I'm not sure I'll be able to find the drop-style; I think I've only seen the strips thus far.
     
  6. kinezumi89 Fishlore VIP Member

    I purchased the API GH/KH liquid test kit. The KH is 5 or 6 degrees (to be honest I lost count half way through, but it's definitely 5 or 6) and GH is 10 degrees. Is it bad if it's too high? Do I need to do anything to correct this? Are there any fish that don't do well in such an environment?
     
  7. Lexi03 Well Known Member Member

    It was me that suggested she hold off on water changes, not weekly but the daily changes she was doing, with the ammonia in her tap, the daily changes were stalling the tail end of her cycle. I did tell her the ammonia from the weekly changes would eventually get to a piont where it would cycle out in 24hrs. We where just trying to get that last bit of ammonia to cycle out.
     
  8. kinezumi89 Fishlore VIP Member

    Yup. I've been diligently testing every day (not yet for today, just got home) and the ammonia has done nothing but drop. The strange thing is how low the nitrates are, too.

    I guess this is sort of related (related enough to hopefully not start a new thread), but I just got a snail. Does KH/GH affect snails specifically, or is that just calcium? How can I test for calcium? I've heard of putting cuttlebone in the filter housing, does that raise calcium? I know it's important for shell growth.
     
  9. catsma_97504 Fishlore Legend Member

    Sounds like there may have been a misunderstanding regarding water changes. While I can understand stopping the daily water changes, I believe weekly water changes are necessary to keep a tank healthy.

    With your current KH and GH readings, I'd say your tank has completely cycled. And has enough calcium for your snail. GH measures calcium and magnesium, among other compounds. So long at the level stays above 4 drops you are find. If ever it drops, you can try cuttlebone or Epsom Salts (magnesium) or Calcium Sulfate.
     
  10. kinezumi89 Fishlore VIP Member

    Excellent! Thank you very much. Now I can get a few more female platys, so I have the proper ratio.
     
  11. catsma_97504 Fishlore Legend Member

    You are welcome!

    Just stock very slowly. With ammonia in your water new additions will most likely lead to mini cycles.
     
  12. toosie Well Known Member Member

    Maybe I'm a bit confused but kinezumi89 indicates still having levels of ammonia and indicates "Today was the lowest the ammonia has ever been! Just the tiniest trace of green." This does not indicate to me a fully cycled tank.

    Kinezumi, you mention ammonia numbers and nitrate numbers but what are your nitrite numbers currently?

    I agree with catsma to resume weekly water changes. What do you have for filtration? Do you have a good bio media for the bacteria to colonize or are you using a filter that just contains a filter cartridge with poly fiber and activated carbon?

    Also, your 55 gallon tank info indicates you currently have two fish in it, a betta and a pleco, with other fish in the plans. If this is correct, you won't see a lot of nitrates develop because the bioload is very low for the size of tank you have. If you have ammonia levels after 2 weeks of no water changes in this large of a tank with 2 occupants it further leads me to believe this tank is not cycled. Biological bacteria should have no problem keeping up with the amount of ammonia they produce and you should be having 0 ammonia present except immediately after a water change being as your tap water has ammonia present in it.

    I'm hoping you can clear up my confusion if I'm misunderstanding things.
     
  13. kinezumi89 Fishlore VIP Member

    Last night the tube had just the tiniest trace of green; I am fairly certain that the next time I test (which will end up being tomorrow morning) it should be at zero. My nitrites are zero, nitrates have been between 5 and 20ish, but never got higher because I would change the water.

    I have a HOB TetraTec filter rated for 60 gallons (I don't remember the exact model number).

    Oops, I guess I need to update that! I moved the betta back into his 10 gallon tank, and put three platys in the 55.

    I had been doing daily water changes using water with 0.25 ammonia, which is why it has taken so long to cycle. To be honest, I don't remember exactly when I stopped the daily water changes; I can try looking for the thread in which Lexi suggested I change my regimen.

    Also, while I technically put a used filter in the housing to seed the tank, I did not understand the nitrogen cycle when I started up the tank from which the filter media came; I had tested the water as being 0,0,0 and thought "hooray! Looks good to me!" So I don't think it was actually cycled at all. Therefore, I probably didn't actually effectively seed the tank.
     
  14. toosie Well Known Member Member

    Ok, thank you kinezumi for shedding a little extra light on it for me. If your tank does soon test 0 ammonia, then you know the tank is cycled but if it is still showing even a trace of ammonia then your beneficial bacteria aren't strong enough to keep up with the bioload you currently have and that means your tank still isn't fully cycled. IF you do determine tomorrow the ammonia is now at 0, you should really wait at least another 2 weeks before you introduce new fish to give the bacteria time to get stronger. Adding fish immediately after you recieve 0 ammonia results will almost definitely overwhelm your bacteria colony and you will get levels of ammonia and possibly nitrites again. Patience pays off in this hobby.
     
  15. kinezumi89 Fishlore VIP Member

    No problem! I was afraid you'd say that XD It's not that I'm incredibly impatient to add fish (well, maybe a little bit :)) but I've had a bit of an issue with aggression in my platys. I stupidly bought them without knowing how to tell the genders apart, and got the only bad combination of three - one female and two males. I tried dividing them in the quarantine tank, but no matter which side I put one of the males on, he got bullied. So I put the betta back in the 10 gallon and put the platys in the 55. I know that three platys does not equal one betta bioload-wise, but I didn't want to stress them too much and have them get sick. (This was before I knew about the ammonia in the tapwater.) I've been dosing Prime every day (definitely didn't think I'd go through the bottle so quickly). Anyway, the aggression is less in the 55 gallon, but I think things would calm down if I could add three more females (I planned to have six platys total) so that it would be a 1 male : 2 female ratio.

    I realized I forgot to talk about the filter media specifically. It is as you described, mesh bags with carbon in them. However, there are four of them, plus the filter (same kind) from the 10 gallon, plus two small sponge-pad-things that are from a different filter (missing parts, so I can't set it up). What would you call a good media? Is there anything I can replace the carbon-filled bags with, without having to purchase a new filter? I would like to upgrade to a canister-style one day, but until I have a steady job, it's not in the cards :) (Obviously I know not to remove the current media and replace with new media all at once.)

    Thanks for your info!
     
  16. Lexi03 Well Known Member Member

    You stopped the daily water changes on march 30th. So it has been 7 days. I will try to link the thread so everyone else knows what is going on. So if it is 0 tommorow, then you would want to do a weekly waterchange, which will more then likly send you back into a mini cycle. Just remeber what I said, keep testing and adding Prime everyday after the waterchange and count how many days it takes to drop to 0ppm again. Each week it should take less and less time to reach 0ppm, until it will get to the point
    where it is gone within 24hrs, which will becovered by the prime added to the waterchange water.
     
  17. kinezumi89 Fishlore VIP Member

    It seems like it's been way longer than that! You know, the whole "the tank will be cycle when the ammonia drops to zero in 24 hours," I'm pretty sure you said that in the thread and I just forgot :( So much information to take in at once! No more platys yet, then. The good thing is the bullied male isn't hiding as much, and isn't clamping his fins as much. The female still hides a bit, but I see her out and swimming around too. Maybe she's just pregnant, who knows!

    Thanks for everyone's information!
     
  18. toosie Well Known Member Member

    Could you take pics of your filter and media? I'm having problems finding out what this filter's cartridge is like.

    Foam is a good mechanical media and also functions as a decent bio media as well. Foam shouldn't be replaced until it's disintegrating and starting to fall apart. Activated carbon should be changed monthly. Poly fiber can also just be rinsed and reused until it falls apart. Some cartridges have the activated carbon in behind poly fiber but it doesn't sound like yours is quite like this. When this is the case though, the activated carbon can be removed from the cartridge by slicing the poly open at the top and shaking and rinsing out the carbon. It can then be refilled with new rinsed activated carbon but some people just choose to not use activated carbon after it is removed. A media bag can be used to hold the carbon instead of refilling the cartridge too. If you do this and only rinse filter media instead of replacing it, you will save money and biological bacteria. Media only needs to be rinsed occasionally when it starts to get very dirty and impedes water flow.

    Oooops, I got side tracked. :) Foam makes a decent bio media. My favorite kind of bio media are the ceramic rings, Biomax. These you can buy in media bags of different sizes, or you can buy a box of loose rings to fill your own media bags with (purchased separately or the foot of a new pair of nylons works well too). These little rings are very porous and offer beneficial bacteria lots of area to set up shop. Most HOB filters have some spare room in behind the filter cartridge and a media bag of biomax can be placed in that portion of the filter unit. The more bio media you can offer the bacteria, the better. It's one of the reasons canister filters are loved. They have a lot of room for bio media as well as mechanical and chemical. Bio media needs rinsing occasionally and virtually never needs to be replaced.

    http://www.petsmart.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2754140
     
  19. Lexi03 Well Known Member Member

  20. kinezumi89 Fishlore VIP Member

    I didn't do a water change that day, but I think it had only been a few days since I had done one. I will definitely do one tomorrow! Er, later today.

    toosie, here is a link to the type of filter cartridges I use. There are technically five in there, plus two sponge-type things, roughly 3"x2". http://www.shopping.com/Tetra-Tetra-Bio-Bag-Disposable-Filter-Cartridges-medium-8-Pack-Tetra/info

    I actually have another filter that is missing parts, so I can't use it. But it does have those ceramic rings you're talking about (I think they're the same; they're sort of hexagonal-shaped). Would it be beneficial if I just pour some of those into the filter housing, to increase the surface area for the bacteria?