01-31-2011, 06:59 PM
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First thing, with plants you don't need to "cycle" the tank. Plants need nitrogen as one macro-nutrient, and they prefer it as ammonium. In acidic water ammonia produced by the fish and bacteria converts to ammonium which is harmless and plants just grab it. As they tend to out-compete the bacteria for the ammonia, there is less or basically no nitrite produced. Provided the plants are sufficient and the fish are few, this works well with no additional stress to the fish.
Bacterial supplements do not "replace" the cycle, they simply jump-start it by adding live bacteria, what we term "seeding." Provided it is one of the true bacteria supplements; Tetra SafeStart is one, and Seachem's Stability is another. I am aware of these two, they are 100% live bacteria and they do work. With plants it may be un-necessary, but considering the plants you have and they are small, it won't hurt. However, if you do get one, use it only when you put a fish in, not before, as without food (ammonia) the bacteria won't last.
The Activ-flora substrate has no nitrifying bacteria, or any bacteria for that matter; it contains trace elements or micro-nutrients that plants need. It may cause an initial rise in pH, I know some types do, like Flourite; I suspect this one is similar.
That is quite a jump though; is there any rock in the tank? Calcareous rock or stone will raise the hardness and corresponding pH. I would not put fish in the tank until the pH is stable, as fluctuating pH can harm fish.
What water conditioner did you use? This should not affect pH, but I'm just asking to know the brand so we are aware of everything in the water.
What light is over the tank? Plants need light, this is the single most critical component. Be specific: type, name, Kelvin rating, watts. And what is the tank size?
Back to the pH: the best course of action is to do nothing, and allow the natural biological system to develop and maintain the pH. However, if this is going to cause trouble some buffering may be best. But before we get into that, what type of fish do you want in this tank? A pH of 6.1 is ideal for soft water fish like most of the characins (tetra, pencilfish, hatchetfish), catfish, cyprinids (rasbora, danio, barb, loaches), gourami, and many others. We can discuss further when I know the fish.