11-19-2013, 10:25 AM
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In my limited experience, the main reason for a nitrate spike is due to overfeeding, the death of animal or plant-life, or not keeping up on water changes. Basically anything that is increasing the waste in an established tank will cause the nitrates to rise, and the best way to bring them down is to keep on top of the water changes and vacuuming out old waste. Plants will also help to keep the nitrates under control in a tank, particularly noticeable in tanks that are heavily stocked, or stocked with fish that carry a high bioload, like goldfish, livebearers, and some plecs. . .
I'm not sure what water conditions are best for bacteria, but my understanding is that they colonize on the surfaces inside of the tank and in the filter, so when you're cleaning your tank ornaments, or the filter pads, be sure to do so in old tank water, as the chlorine in new, untreated tap water will kill off the bacterial colonies, and can put your tank into a new cycling situation. Some people change out their filter pads monthly, but the advice I see most often is to re-use that old media for as long as you are able, rinsing as needed in old tank water and replacing it when it's clean.
Hope that helps?