Are Total Tank Breakdowns periodically necessary??
I've been having nitrate issues in my 25 gal community tank. Currently it only houses 2 praecox rainbows, 1 bumblebee gobie, 1 apple snail and 1 bamboo shrimp. I've lost 4 praecox, 3 rainbows and 1 shrimp so I won't replace any until I figure out what's wrong.
My tank is about 4 years old with standard gravel substrate. No live plants, no algea problems. However, after I started losing my fish, I realized my nitrates were 80+ppm!! I regularly test my ammonia and nitrites but I hadn't checked my nitrates in a while. It was consistently 20ppm. I have no idea what created such a spike. I did multiple water changes to bring it down and I can't get it under 40ppm to save my life.
When I started losing my praecox I had been performing 50% water changes weekly. I was told by a couple aquarists to do only 25% changes because I was removing too much of the beneficial water. So I tried it. I lost some gobies.
My ammonia has always been 0 and my nitrites 0, even after I added the snail (the bio-load monster). So I asked the local LFS who has been an aquarist for 20+ years. Once he heard about the age of my substrate he told me I needed to do a full tank breakdown. He said it was time. He stated my substrate was a timebomb.
Personally it makes sense, but I've never heard that total breakdowns are necessary. I don't have any live plants with the exception of one anubias. It seems its the only plant I can keep alive.
A total breakdown would be a drag but then again I'd be happy to set it up with sand. I converted some of my betta tanks to sand and they look great. I'm sure the gobies would be thrilled. I just want to understand what's going on before I move forward. Thanks for your advice!
Rainbowfish and shrimp as a whole are extremely sensitive to nitrates.
I don't see how a breakdown of a tank is in any way helpful. You'd have to restart the cycle (which rainbows will not survive).
It is possible that there is simply too much decay in the gravel/filter (since you have not enough plants).
A thorough vacuuming might be in order, however I don't know too much about unplanted tanks.
You could do a complete tear down, but it's usually not a necessity (think very large tank). You might do an aggressive gravel siphon to remove debris. On the other hand, now may be a good time to switch to sand if you're thinking of doing that anyway. You might check the nitrates in your source water as it seems odd that you suddenly have a nitrate problem after repeated water changes.
I have a problem with high nitrates in my well water. One thing I discovered is that with high tank nitrates, attempting to lower with [good] water changes is very difficult. I have had success reducing tank nitrates with Fluval Lab Series Nitrate Remover as well as API's Nitra-Zorb. These adsorb nitrates and can be recharged with salt water.
Another aid is Seachem Purigen. It adsorbs dissolved organics before they get processed and ultimately become nitrates. Once you have tank nitrates reduced, you might try some plants, even floating along with careful feeding and good tank maintenance to keep nitrates low. Assuming your source water is no/low nitrates, once you have tank nitrates under control, weekly water changes should keep in check.
Keep us posted.
What I'm not getting is how come there haven't been nitrate problems until recently. If there never was and now there are, wouldn't that just point to excess decay in the substrate?
I agree, if you want to do sand, now's a good time to get going on that. :D
Thank you for the quick responses! Unless I was forced to do a complete breakdown, I'm in no hurry to move to sand. Based on your advice I'm happy to know there are other alternatives! I'm confused about the recent nitrate issue as well. I checked my source water and the nitrate is 0. My tank has never been over stocked and I pride myself on good maintenance. It wouldn't hurt to get a better siphon though. I think I'll take your advice and do a ultra gravel cleaning and look into the nitrate products you mentioned. I'll look into some other live plant options as well. I attempted live plants with several of my 10gal betta tanks and they failed miserably. I spent a ton on new bulbs, plants, nutrients, etc and I just ended up with melted plants, cyano and lots of snails. I even lost a few fish. I'm a little gun shy on the live plants but I'm willing to try, try again. My house is filled with tanks so I'm in this for the long haul! Thanks again for the quick responses. I'll keep you posted.
First thing is, that there is a major difference between tanks with live plants and tanks with no live plants. I have plants in all my tanks, and would never even consider not having them; aside from the aesthetic appeal, the work they do in the substrate will avoid nitrates, assuming the tank is otherwise in balance. And maintenance has to be different too.
From what you've told us, we don't know how long the nitrates may have been increasing. And we also don't know the extent of substrate vacuuming you may have been doing during the weekly water changes. With live plants rooted in the substrate, vacuuming can be minimal or non-existent; but not having the benefits of the plants means more maintenance to keep the substrate fresh. You might find some helpful information on this here, esp in the section on the substrate:
There is a host of various bacteria in a healthy substrate, some nitrifying and even more denitrifying, and this helps to keep the nitrates in check.
Water changes. The advice to reduce from 50% to 25% in order to avoid removing too much "beneficial water" is complete nonsense. I don't know where people dream these things up.:roll: First off, there is absolutely nothing "beneficial" in the water. It contains ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pheromones, various toxins, urine, dissolved waste... what is beneficial in any of this? Fish swimming in what amounts to a toilet is not beneficial. Most of us know that more frequent and larger water changes will work to reduce nitrates, so that goes against this too. With live plants you can get away with less water changes--perhaps, depending upon the biological equilibrium. But without live plants the water change becomes even more critical. The fact that you lost fish when you reduced the water changes speaks volumes.
The use of various filer media/products to deal with nitrates can work but in my view this is only a substitute for water changes that are simpler, less expensive and frankly more beneficial. Since you have no issues in your water, this is the way to go. AD is quite correct for his situation, he and I have discussed this previously, and there are situations where that is necessary. But with your nitrate-free water, do the water changes, 50% weekly, with good substrate vacuuming.
Then i would seriously consider substrate-rooted plants. You mentioned previous difficulty with plants; this is only because something is lacking. If you are interested in improving things with plants, let me know your tank light fixture (fluorescent or incandescent, how many tubes/bulbs/ length of tubes). And what type of gravel, fine or pea-size? What is the GH and pH? There are several plants that would greatly benefit your tank that we can discuss.
Hope this helps.
Bryon - thank you! I went back to my 50% water changes just recently and that has helped. You've assisted me so much in the past but I haven't contacted you regarding my plant issues becuase I didn't want to drive you crazy with my millions of question. I'm obivously having issues with the balance in my tanks. Let me start by answering your questions:
1. I have pea size gravel substrate in all of my tanks but one. I set up a "live plant" tank w/play sand and currently it's filled with only anubias. I had a tremendous issue with algea and now cyano has appeared (sigh). The plants are starting to yellow slightly so I've increased the Flourish to 2x weekly. I manually removed the agea but it's creeping back in.
2. I have 8.5ph and I'll re-test my GH. I use the liquid API test kit.
3. I was doing weekly water changes with a GREAT siphon for the substrate cleaning each week. However, the nozzel was a little too big for my tank. (It could only fit in a few locations without having to move decorations, etc. I gave it away and now I regret it. I'm buying a new siphon).
4. I don't know how long the nitrates had been increasing, so I'll guess and say 4 weeks. But after I typed up #3 above I'm sure this whole issue is because I gave away my siphon. Grrrr.
5. Flourescent 18" T8 6500 K bulbs. I've had them for a few months so I'll buy new ones when I dive into live plants again.
6. Anubias seem to be the only plant that works for me. One of them actually bloomed. Cabomba works really well too, but with all the new plants I purchased I ended up with a million snails and they chewed my cabomba down to sticks.
7. Pennywort, Wisteria and crypts all hate my guts. I had these in excess and they died quickly, polluting my water and in my inexperience I lost some fish.
I'll test my GH and re-post. Thanks again for taking the time . . .
Have you tested your tap water for nitrates?
Stem plants are also not always easy, they need brighter light and more nutrients including CO2 to balance. The only stem plant i bother with is Brazilian Pennywort, and it has ups and downs too (seasonal cycles).
I have always found swords the easiest plants. They are impressive, simple to look after, moderately fast growing, do well in moderate light, and are highly beneficial as they have extensive root systems which helps the substrate. Echinodorus bleherae for tanks over 20g (as a specimen plant), or a group in a 55g or larger tank. Pygmy chain sword. Dwarf sword. Echinodorus cordifolius as a specimen in a 55g or larger tank.
Floating, essential. Water Sprite is the best. Brazilian Pennywort will do well floating. Again it is cyclical.
If you have medium hard or harder water, the Vallisneria are good, but not in soft water. The above plants will do fine in soft or medium hard.
Your light should be OK. I have a single T8 tube (Life-Glo 6700K) over my 29g (24-inch 20w) and 33g (30-inch 25w) and the plants are thriving. Flourish Comp once a week.
Hi redchigh - Yes, I've tested my tap on all three parameters. Nitrates 0, Nitrites 0 but ammonia is .50ppm. Odd because when I check the local water district parameters they list ammonia as 0. I'm sure another element is causing the API test to show .50ppm.
Byron - I just got done checking my GH and KH and here it is:
KH - it turned yellow at 3 drops which indicates 53.7ppm. 4 drops was obviously brighter yellow, which would be 71.6ppm.
GH - it turned green at 8 drops which indicates 143.2ppm. 9 drops was greener which would be 161.1ppm
I'm not the expert on the proper color schemes, that's why I listed all the drop tests to let you decipher the right numbers. I got the ppm's from the conversion chart that came with the test kit. I have a really nice LFS for plants so I'll get some swords and a few of the the other ones you mentioned above. Would you be so kind as to indicate how many total plants would be good to start with in my 25 gal?
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