I Am Showing Nitrates In A Low-tech Planted Tank - Page 2 - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources
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post #11 of 28 Old 07-18-2012, 10:15 PM Thread Starter
Originally Posted by Chesherca View Post
You'd be surprised (obviously are ;)) at how much stocking can change things and how quickly! I don't think it's decay. . . look into the Walstead method - you need a LOT of fast-growing plants - and I mean a LOT!!! to keep up with a normally stocked tank.

Plants do take up ammonia and nitrite, but they seem to prefer to feed on nitrates, interestingly enough! You're correct. . . they absorb the toxins in your tank and convert it into food. When they die, or a plant dies off, they don't release these toxins back, rather the rotting creates ammonia, which will bump nitrites, which will eventually cause the nitrates to raise to compensate - same with any rotting organics in the tank (fish food, fish waste) As long as you do regular maintenance, and trim dead leaves, this really shouldn't be a problem for you :)

What plants do you keep? Are there any other fish in the tank? If you're really trying to create a balanced tank, you might need to increase the plantlife - most especially floating plants and fast-growing stem-plants.

Fish tanks are NEAT!
Chesherca, I was wondering if you might like to comment on this paragraph:
One more thing - plants use nitrogen in ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, competing with the beneficial bacteria - outcompeting I would say. I believe that plants get the nitrogen first and hold onto it, then the bacteria get the rest, if any, eventually showing up as the end product of the Nitrogen cycle, Nitrate.

Read more: http://www.tropicalfishkeeping.com/a...#ixzz212Bm9tSO
in the first post in the thread...

I'd realy appreciate your perspective on this.


Last edited by equatics; 07-18-2012 at 10:22 PM.
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post #12 of 28 Old 07-18-2012, 10:55 PM Thread Starter
I read this article about plants and Nitrogen vs. nitrifying bacteria mostly excerpted from Walstead and I wanted to leave a link here so anyone could read it.

Plants and Biological Filtration - The Free Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Encyclopedia Anyone Can Edit - The Aquarium Wiki
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post #13 of 28 Old 07-19-2012, 01:08 AM
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Looks like you answered your own question there :)

I looked back, and I actually DID incorrectly tell you to look into Walstad at the same time as I told you plants prefer to feed on nitrate - I knew what I meant, and typed it backward, I'm sorry . . I've actually been in some heated debates with older fishkeepers over this topic lately. . .

To actually answer your question. . . um, you're asking the wrong person! Go ask Byron, he knows stuff about stuff! I've actually been actively trying to figure out exactly what makes my little ecosystem work since the day I set it up!

I have a moderately planted tank, I guess - all of my tanks are or are getting there. I've now successfully cycled 4 tanks, fish in, with lots of gorgeous plants and NO toxin spikes. I am firmly convinced that my plants are solely responsible for this. After some time, the nitrate levels slowly start to rise, but stay low - and in the case of my one-time lightly stocked 29g, remained at 0 for quite some time. However. . . even when the nitrate reading in that tank had been at 0 for weeks, I was able to cycle a tank with no plants using a small amount of substrate taken from the 29 - there were slight traces of ammonia and nitrite as things were settling in, but only lightly, and only for the first few days. So I also had enough bacteria, even with a 0 nitrate reading, to seed the new tank very well.

After reading some of Walstead's book (it's big - I need more time!) I had the same questions as you seem to be asking - pretty much I was wondering if I even HAD a cycled tank - or if I just had enough plants to keep things happy in there. These things are kind of important!

From my own (very narrow) range of experiences, I think that in my tanks things are fairly evenly balanced between bacteria and plants. . . which is a good thing. I've run into trouble with both filters AND with plants, and cycled far more tanks than I ought to have - yet my tanks have remained toxin-free. I know for a fact that there is a good amount of bacteria in the filter, but I also know that there is at least as much of it in the tank - regardless of plant-life.

As to who gets the toxic goodies first, I really don't know! Figuring out what exactly is going on in my tank is fascinating to me, but as soon as I feel that I've gained some understanding, I run into conflicting, and seemingly equally scientific explanations for what I just *thought* I had figured out! I'm not very scientific minded, anyway - this stuff (though I LOVE learning about it) makes my eyes go all funny!
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post #14 of 28 Old 07-19-2012, 05:24 AM Thread Starter
Checherka (sorry if I misspelled your name - I didn't want to quote your whole post),

Thank you very much for your post. It sounds like you have been very successful with your tanks, and you probably have been doing this for some time. I haven't read Walstead, except in the article I put a link to.

Re my tank, I think I must have done a lot of the right things and not made too many mistakes, with Rhymon87's tutoring and sometimes by accident. Of course, I read a lot too, but Rhymon was the one who helped me the most.

Anyway, this idea of competition for ammonia by bacteria and plants and the issue of why a tank with lots of plants and few ammonia producers doesn't generate nitrates from the Nitrogen cycle. I don't know. It happened to me too. Maybe the answer I put forward in my initial post was wrong, and maybe the plants just take up ammonia faster than the bacteria. I just don't know. But it's good that things are the way they are.

As you can see, I've been trying to figure out how my tank works for a while, I really appreciate this discussion.

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post #15 of 28 Old 07-19-2012, 06:09 AM Thread Starter
A new article: Nitrogen cycle | The Skeptical Aquarist. Most of this article is interesting but two paragraphs are very interesting to me, about plants and ammonia intake and competition with nitrifying bacteria. They happen to bear out my original idea on the subject :)

Nitrogen cycle | The Skeptical Aquarist

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post #16 of 28 Old 07-19-2012, 07:09 AM
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heehee, I have only been doing this for 5 months... almost to the day - and I got some bad information on forums and such until I also found someone more experienced to help me through - which is why I'm always very careful to let folks know that I don't necessarily know what I'm talking about. I have 4 tanks right now, and have already shut down and re-started a few - every tank IS different, though the science behind them is the same. I've learned so much over the last few months from my experiences and reading everything I can find (which is often contrary - both online and in books). I'm always happy to talk fish, just don't want to lead anyone in the wrong direction ;)

I don't think that one counter-balances the other, in this case. The snippet of the article you sent doesn't get into all of the details . . .

Nitrification enhanced by filters is essential for protecting fish from toxic ammonia in aquariums without plants.
note the word used - ENHANCED. . . the bacterial filtration is still a part of the working tank - the filters are just providing the non-planted tank with a bit more surface area for the bacteria to colonize. The rest of this bit is as follows:

However, planted aquaria are a whole different ballgame. In fact, plants provide an enormously increased surface area within the aquarium for nitrifying bacteria. Planted areas (as opposed to unplanted areas) in natural habitats (rivers, lakes, etc) have been shown to provide an exponentially increased number of colonization sites for bacteria [9]. You can be sure that every leaf and stem surface in an established aquarium is coated with a layer of nitrifying (and other) bacteria.
Speaking of a natural environment - and the vast amounts of bacteria found there - without filtration, obviously. . .

I have been surprised at how little biological filtration is actually required in my planted aquaria. When I gradually decreased biological filtration by removing the packing media from the canister filters, the fish continued to do well. Finally, years later I took the decisive step and removed the canister and outside filters altogether and just used cheap internal pumps to circulate the water. Fish never missed a beat; the planted tank itself is a filter!
Hmmm? Again?
"I have been surprised at how little biological filtration is actually required in my planted aquaria."
Based on what was said previously, I believe this should have been written as "mechanical filtration" NOT biological, as what has been said before 'proves' that the biological filtration is already in place - even MORE SO in a planted tank with more surface area to colonize, and in nature - where there rarely ever is a detectable nitrate reading.

So. . . looking at the article you posted by Walsted. . .and also what I've seen first-hand in my own tanks, and read elsewhere. . . I think that both the biological filtration, and filtration from the plants occur simultaneously - even in nature. Thought it would be cool to know who gets the benefit of the nutrients first, I suspect that both the plants and the bacteria co-exist and develop simultaneously in the tank. . .

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post #17 of 28 Old 07-19-2012, 07:45 AM Thread Starter

Thank you for the response.

What is really interesting to me is that the normal state of a balanced tank with plants may be zero NO3. At this point the plants may be getting all or almost all of the ammonia in the water, because the ammonia is going along at such a low level that the nitrifying bacteria are inactive, as you must have a certain level of ammonia for them to be actively using it.

The plants hold on to the ammonia and release it when they or leaves die. And so things go on. However, if a new source of ammonia appears that the plants can't handle by themselves, in ride the cavalry of nitrifying bacteria and you start seeing nitrate after a while.

Most of this is weaving together things from articles with a little original thought. It's an interesting theory.

Thank you

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post #18 of 28 Old 07-19-2012, 08:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Nemo the Clownfish View Post
At this point the plants may be getting all or almost all of the ammonia in the water, because the ammonia is going along at such a low level that the nitrifying bacteria are inactive, as you must have a certain level of ammonia for them to be actively using it.
I don't know if that's really true, though - because in nature - where there is automatically a balance between low 'stocking' and much plantlife, there is a lot bacteria, and no readable nitrate. Granted, in some bodies of water, this is because the water is constantly changing itself - like in a stream. However. . . this is not the case in all bodies of water. . .

You may be right - I don't honestly know, but I was able to cycle a new tank with substrate and no plants in record time while my tank had the balance of a 0 nitrate reading, so I tend to have the viewpoint that it's there - whether you see it with your test kit or not, the bacteria is there. I'm a water-test junkie with new tanks, I just like to make SURE of what's going on - especially if living fish are concerned. I do water tests on new tanks once a day until I'm quite sure they're stable - and sometimes even more, if I'm feeling nervous. . . I don't know how much of this stuff we can actually figure out only with the test kit, though. You should start a thread, I'm sure there are others out there who have a far clearer picture than we noobs do

Really neat stuff, either way!
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post #19 of 28 Old 07-19-2012, 10:40 AM
I depends on lots of factors. Also plants won't touch nitrite far as I know, ammonia/ammonium is the most preferred form and nitrate is second. Nitrate must be converted back into ammonia/ammonium within the plant before it can be used. Many other factors are also responsible, from amount of current to levels of non-nitrogen nutrients. Also not all bodies of natural water have no readable nitrate. Remember a natural ecosystem is much more open then an aquarium and often rain events carry in runoff water that has picked up considerable nutrients from soil above the water line.

I run most my tanks following EI dosing principles. Preferably nitrate never hits 0, as nitrogen is a macro nutrient for plants. EI recommends 20ppm though and I dose nitrates to achieve that.

I have a few tanks that operate similar to the walstead method. AKA unfiltered with just regular water changes. My 20 high has been unfiltered and has 0 water movement all week and its doing fine.

.... I'm probably drunk.

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post #20 of 28 Old 07-19-2012, 01:29 PM
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Thanks for the input, Mika! I know you're laughing at us over there *giggle* You've been doing this sooooooo much longer than we have. . .
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