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Beginner stuff: Cycling and Water Changes

This is a discussion on Beginner stuff: Cycling and Water Changes within the Beginner Freshwater Aquarium forums, part of the Freshwater Fish and Aquariums category; --> Originally Posted by stephanieleah Okay, let me distill this. Low nitrate = healthy, cycled tank because plants are using nitrate in addition to ammonium ...

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Beginner stuff: Cycling and Water Changes
Old 11-11-2009, 11:39 AM   #21
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stephanieleah View Post
Okay, let me distill this. Low nitrate = healthy, cycled tank because plants are using nitrate in addition to ammonium which they convert from ammonia (?). My ammonia reading may be coming from ammonium because some of the water I added with my pleco had ammonia detoxifier in it. I thought it was better not to detoxify the ammonia for some reason or other. With the bio filter still build up bacteria if there is ammonium?

And just to get it straight, I should still do a 30% water change (I have one brand of chorine, choramine, and ammonia detoxifier, don't know off hand but it's in a yellow bottle). What do we do water changes for anyway? And how do I know when and how much water changing to do?

You guys are awesome, I love all the feedback. It makes me feel like this whole forum is about me :0) which it is in my limited little fishy microcosm over here.

By the way I haven't looked at the water link, Angel...maybe I should brace myself!
I'll just follow-up and detail some of what subsequent posters have mentioned since it is very important. First on the ammonia and nitrification cycle, second on partial water changes.

In a planted tank a low nitrate reading that is consistent means the biological equilibrium is working. Other things can still go wrong, like an increase in ammonia from this or that, but most of us find that once a tank is established (3 months and beyond) it tends to be stable unless we do something to interfere with the biological equilibrium (adding too many fish, mega overfeeding, dying fish and plants, chemicals that kill off biological organisms, etc).

Ammonia is highly toxic to fish and plants and will kill both if left as ammonia. Fortunately, plants grab it and convert it to ammonium to use for food, and nitrosomonas bacteria will establish themselves and use ammonia or ammonium as food and nitrite is the result, then nitrite is used by nitrospira bacteria or perhaps plants, and nitrate results from the bacteria. Plants can use nitrate by changing it back into ammonium for food, but they "prefer" to use ammonium or ammonia for this. Whatever occurs, either way, the end result is a low nitrate reading.

Nitrosomonas bacteria use ammonia and ammonium in the nitrification process; in a planted tank the plants use most of it so the bacteria will be less than in a non-planted tank.

When you do a partial water change, if there is ammonia in your tap water, you want to use a good conditioner that will detoxify the ammonia; they do this by changing it into the less harmful ammonium. The plants and bacteria still use the ammonium, but if the ammonia was just added without the detoxifying conditioner, it would be a sudden onslaught of highly toxic ammonia and that would stress and possibly seriously damage the fish.

Now to the partial water changes. The only reason to do a pwc in a planted aquarium is to rid the tank of toxins that build up and cannot be effectively removed any other way. These toxins are urine and solid waste from the fish. No filter will remove these, period. Plants can, but it is a slow process and only effective if the fish load is very minimal and there are many plants. One author used the example of 6 or 7 neon tetras in a 55g tank that was heavily planted as being the upper limit. Most of us have far more fish in our tanks that this, so we need to do the pwc to remove the pollution. If a well-planted aquarium has a small fish load, fewer pwc's will be needed; Diana Walstad writes of doing one every few months, and that works if the fish load is not beyond the capacity of the plants and biological system. Again, most of us have more fish than the system can support without our assistance via the weekly pwc. In non-planted tanks, the pwc also dilutes/removes nitrates, but this is irrelevant in a healthy planted tank because the plants consume the ammonium, and nitrates are therefore minimal.

It is frequently said that the pwc should be more frequent with less water in order to sustain stability in the water quality. In a planted aquarium the plants are doing the major filtration and the water is, as I've indicated above, going to be stable if everything is working the way it should. So that leaves us with the pollution (toxins). The more water changed, the more pollution is removed, plain and simple.

In the November issue (2009) of TFH there is a good article on this. The author ran tests and explains why changing more water is preferable to changing less water. Pollution accumulates daily (the waste from the fish is steady) and every day an equal amount of waste is added. In other words, the toxins are increasing far more as each day goes by, so each day there is a high percentage of pollution in the aquarium. In contrast, changing 50% once a week is cutting the pollution in half, with the result that day by day the pollution will gradually increase toward the end of the week; in other words, the fish are only going to be subjected to very high levels of pollution at the end of the week just before the 50% water change, so during the previous days they are exposed to slightly less pollution that they are with a daily 10% water change. OF course, changing 50% or more each day would be ideal. But most hobbyists can find it easier to maintain a regular weekly schedule rather than a daily one.

Coming back to the water stability issue: there is no logic in maintaining more stable pollution in a tank. No one could logically dispute that reducing pollution is a benefit and the more the better. At the same time, a significant weekly water change will actually work to maintain more stability long term in the water parameters.

To sum up, a weekly pwc is the minimum in an aquarium, and changing 50% will be healthier for the fish.

Byron.
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Old 11-11-2009, 11:13 PM   #22
 
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Okie dokie, I tested my water from my PUR filter and it's pretty much ammonia-free. I did my first water change with help from you tube videos about how to do it. I tested the water again and the ammonia and nitrate levels are the same, for some reason. Maybe a 20% wc was not significant enough to alter the readings. But now I feel great that my fish have water without all that gunk that I sucked out today!
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Old 11-11-2009, 11:26 PM   #23
 
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Byron in response to your post:

1. You mention plants using ammonia and ammonium...is that why I never really got a nitrite reading? It's always tested zero, even before I got any detectable nitrate readings.

2. Does the ammonia-loving bacteria (Nitrosomonas?) love ammonium as well? If I detox the ammonia, will my bacteria still build up in my bio filter? What if I just dump a few drops of Amquel (Kordon) in my tank? How will that effect the long-term chemistry of the tank?

3. I accidentally let my light on top of my filter and my filter got really hot. I am wondering if my biological fauna was killed as a result (this has nothing to do with your post, just thought I'd add it in there)

4. I don't know what my tetra waste looks like, but the pleco poop that was in my discarded water from the water change was abundant, to say the least.

5. Wouldn't a 50% wc cause thermal havoc in the tank? My tap water is so cold! It seems like it would make t he water suddenly too frigid.

6. What do you think of the wc procedure of taking only a portion of the percentage of water out, putting some new water in, taking some more out, and putting the rest in? It's not as efficient getting rid of the pollution (mathematically speaking) but seems less stressful for the biology of the tank.

Thanks for the detailed replies. I hope I can pass on all this new knowledge once I become more experienced!
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Old 11-12-2009, 07:23 AM   #24
 
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Cannot add any more to Byrons information and so I won't. As Byron mentioned,the nitrifying bacteria will use all forms of ammonia.
As for the thermal shock you mentioned,, All new water added to the tank should be as close to water in the aquarium as we can make it to avoid the shock you mentioned. Most water faucets have some way of adjusting the temp. I have seen and heard of those who place thermometers in their change water to ensure that the temps are close.Myself,, I just use my hand to guesstimate,,not to hot,not too cold.
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Old 11-12-2009, 05:14 PM   #25
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stephanieleah View Post
Byron in response to your post:

1. You mention plants using ammonia and ammonium...is that why I never really got a nitrite reading? It's always tested zero, even before I got any detectable nitrate readings.

2. Does the ammonia-loving bacteria (Nitrosomonas?) love ammonium as well? If I detox the ammonia, will my bacteria still build up in my bio filter? What if I just dump a few drops of Amquel (Kordon) in my tank? How will that effect the long-term chemistry of the tank?

3. I accidentally let my light on top of my filter and my filter got really hot. I am wondering if my biological fauna was killed as a result (this has nothing to do with your post, just thought I'd add it in there)

4. I don't know what my tetra waste looks like, but the pleco poop that was in my discarded water from the water change was abundant, to say the least.

5. Wouldn't a 50% wc cause thermal havoc in the tank? My tap water is so cold! It seems like it would make t he water suddenly too frigid.

6. What do you think of the wc procedure of taking only a portion of the percentage of water out, putting some new water in, taking some more out, and putting the rest in? It's not as efficient getting rid of the pollution (mathematically speaking) but seems less stressful for the biology of the tank.

Thanks for the detailed replies. I hope I can pass on all this new knowledge once I become more experienced!
Re your numbered questions:

1. Yes. There is too little nitrite for the test kits we use to detect.

2. Yes to questions 1 and 2. Nil for the third; ammonia is changed into ammonium by such products, and the plants/bacteria use it.

3. Possibly, depending upon the temperature. But I wouldn't worry a second about this. The bacteria colonize every surface, and as Dr. Ted Coletti mentioned in an article on filtration in TFH, there are far more bacteria living outside the filter than inside it. Plus your plants do most of the ammonia-grabbing anyway. As I've mentioned, you can dispense with "filters" in planted aquarium simply because they cannot outperform plants. It is true that suddenly-dead bacteria create other issues, but not as much in a well-planted stable aquarium.

4. True.

5. Use a mix of hot and cold; I have for more than 15 years, and test it by hand--I take a small container of water from the tank to the sink and adjust the water temp by hand before switching the valve to fill the tank (on the Python). In my South American tanks I let the tank temp drop by about 1-2 degrees with each pwc; this simulates a tropical rainstorm, and often results in the characins or corydoras spawning the next morning. In my SE Asian tank I ensure it is slightly warmer, because I have very sensitive fish (two species of Chocolate Gouramis, dwarf loaches, kubotai loaches, and pygmy sparkling gouramis), some of which are highly prone to skin problems and parasites if water parameters change even slightly.

6. I understand the logic, but don't agree on its benefit. Removing 50% of the water at once is removing half the pollution. Absolutely nothing can be better. As for the water parameters, as I mentioned they will tend to be more stable due to the on-going effect of the plants, biological processes, etc. My tanks are at pH 6.0 and my tap water is 6.8 and after the 50% pwc the tank is around 6.4 and I have, to my knowledge, never had an issue with fish over this. This same pH change occurs every 24 hours due to the diurnal variation that is common in all planted aquaria. Hardness remains basically the same, because the tap water is zero GH and KH and the tanks are 1-2 dGH so it is very minimal.

You're welcome.

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Old 11-14-2009, 10:39 PM   #26
 
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Ok, I have to assimilate all of this information. Basically it sounds like chemistry stabilizes after a pwc so no need to get it down to an exact science.

How is your pH so low? I'm a little worried because mine is at a steady 7.8/8.0.

Byron, do you have your aquarium pix and info posted somewhere? And I'd love to know what kind of plants are in the background of your profile pic.

I have to also mention that I'm always leary of using anything but cold water from the tap...I always think of heavy metals and toxins coming from the hot tap water. If I need warm tap water I run it cold then microwave it.
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Old 11-15-2009, 11:18 AM   #27
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stephanieleah View Post
Ok, I have to assimilate all of this information. Basically it sounds like chemistry stabilizes after a pwc so no need to get it down to an exact science.

How is your pH so low? I'm a little worried because mine is at a steady 7.8/8.0.

Byron, do you have your aquarium pix and info posted somewhere? And I'd love to know what kind of plants are in the background of your profile pic.

I have to also mention that I'm always leary of using anything but cold water from the tap...I always think of heavy metals and toxins coming from the hot tap water. If I need warm tap water I run it cold then microwave it.
My pH stays at 6 because my tap water is very soft, less than 1 dGH and KH. The KH (carbonate hardness) is the pH buffer, so with basically no KH the pH in an aquarium will drop due to the natural biological processes. Out of the tap the pH is 6.8 and after setting up a tank it begins to lower within a month or two (depends upon size, what plants and fish, how many, etc). I add half a cup of dolomite to the filter to stabilize it when it drops to 6 and it stays there because the dolomite adds a tad of mineral calcium) and the tank remains pH 6 and 1-2 dGH. In your case your tap water probably has a higher GH and KH (went back through this thread and didn't see these numbers) and the higher the KH the more it buffers pH keeping it steady as it comes out of the tap. This is why the chemical pH adjusters don't work and are dangerous to fish; the KH buffers the water preventing changes, and using pH adjusters keeps the pH jumping up and down and that is stressful at the least and dangerous to fish health.

There are photos of my aquaria under my "Aquariums" but the avatar pic (the Tatia perugiae) is not my tank, this photo is from a website; I had to find a small photo for the avatar.

If you use a good conditioner it removes/detoxifies chlorine, chloramine, ammonia and heavy metals. There is not going to be anything in your hot water tank beyond this. It's up to you, but I would never boil or microwave cold water/hot water. With my larger aquaria it would probably dissuade me from doing frequent partial water changes.

Byron.
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