3 Tanks, similar tests, what levels are safe and how to fix asap?
Hello, my name is Barb and I am new to this forum. I am also still quite new to the fish hobby.
I started my first tank, a 14 gallon, 17 months ago. It currently houses 4 silver dollars and a bristlenose pleco. I soon ended up with a 29 gallon that has 12 African cichlids in it, and I most recently, though it's been almost a year now, kept up with a 75 gallon tank with 3 kribs, 2 parrot cichlids, 1 jewel cichlid, 2 tiger barbs, 1 clown loach, and 1 fire eel in it.
The silver dollars are rather small, I feed them flakes. The 29 gal and 75 gal residents get a variety of foods, such as pellets, mysis shrimp, bloodworms, tubifex worms, and algae wafers. I feed everyone once a day, and I am pretty careful with what they eat and how much.
I used to clean and change water on all 3 tanks weekly, up until 3 or 4 months ago where I had little time and managed to maintain the tanks once every 3-4 weeks. I realize this isn't good, but everyone has survived. About a month ago, I put myself back into the game, maintaining all my tanks every weekend.
I am having 2 different struggles however...
First, I have had all the African cichlids for about a year now, and they really aren't much bigger than when I first bought them. I have had most of the fish in the 75 gal tank since it was ready after first putting it together and cycling it, and also don't seem to be growing. The silver dollars are new, so I can't say the same for them just yet.
My second issue is coming from a test I have just done on all 3 tanks. I haven't been the greatest with testing the water quality. As a matter of fact, I tested all tanks months ago, and I really don't remember my results, but I don't remember being worried. So I stopped by my local Petsmart and picked up some test strips just out of curiosity to see where my water is at....
All tanks have very similar results! And I am worried that these aren't the results I should have... they are as follows...
GH - 180 ppm
KH - 240 ppm
PH - 8-8.5
NO2 - 0 ppm
NO3 - 40-80 ppm
What should ideal levels be at? And how do I fix this so that I don't start losing fish? And is this why my fish aren't getting any bigger?? I'm looking for some help, and I am hoping I have come to the right place...
GH = General Hardness, it is a measure of how much minerals are in the water (calcium, magnesium, etc). 180 ppm = ~10 dGH which is medium-hard water.
KH = Carbonate Hardness. This is what buffers your water, which means how much it resists a change to pH. Your KH is quite high, which means your pH is not likely to change easily.
pH = That is a measure of how basic (alkaline, pH over 7) or acidic (pH under 7) your water is. African Ciclids like a high pH as do livebearers. Softwater fish (pretty much everything else you have) likes acidic water.
NO2 is Nitrite, this always needs to be zero so you are safe here.
NO3 is Nitrate. You want this as low as possible, but under 60 ppm is 'okay'.
As for your fish not growing ... they could be small fish (you don't say what they are) or they could also be stunted which could be a real possibility as you have some fairly large size species fish in some very small tanks. Rather than copy/paste the information on them I'll point you to the fish profiles here on the site. Second link from the left at the top of the pages, you'll find a lot of fish in there and it lists everything they need in terms of tank size, compatible tank mates, water hardness, pH, temperature, etc.
As to changing the values, that's problematic as GH, KH, and pH are dependent on your tap water, and using chemicals to change that is rarely a good idea and often do more harm than good. It is best to stock fish to what your tap water is.
To get soft, acidic water you would have to mix your tap water with RO or DI water, which is Reverse Osmosis or Distilled Water. A 50/50 mix between the two would probably work well, you do not want to use 100% RO/DI water as it has 0 GH and 0 KH, without any buffering (KH) you can easily get a pH crash.
For the Nitrate, water changes are your best bet. Weekly, at 50% of the water. During each change, siphon the gravel.
Another option is live plants, they use ammonia as a nutrient (thus preventing the ammonia from becoming Nitrite/Nitrate by bacteria). With several fast growing plants its possible to stay under 5 ppm on Nitrates with weekly water changes.
First, Barb, allow me to welcome you to Tropical Fish Keeping forum.:wave:
To your questions. I'm with Geomancer, except on the nitrates. There is increasing evidence today that nitrates are more detrimental to fish than we used to assume, and at much lower levels than most aquarists thought was OK. Nitrates should never be allowed over 20ppm. According to Dr. Neale Monks, all of our aquarium fish likely have difficulty with nitrates at or above 20ppm. And in one case, Dr. Monks has singled out cichlids as particularly problematic. This really should be no surprise, since the nitrate level in almost all natural waters in the tropics where our fish have evolved is so low it usually cannot even be measured.
Have you tested the tap water on its own for nitrate? This can occur, and it is wise to sort this out, as there are ways to deal with this. But beyond this, and assuming the tap is nitrate-free, weekly partial water changes of half the tank will (or should) keep nitrates below 20ppm. And live plants will help even more, as Geo said.
And the issue of the fish stocking in your tanks is going to add to this, if not already doing so. I won't repeat what is in the profiles, so please check those and if you have any questions, we're all here to assist.
After doing some more research, I am finding that Indiana is very well known for Limestone, which is the cause of my hard water issues. The bad news is I live in an apartment, which leaves me no control over what comes out of my faucet. The good news is that we are in the middle of buying a house, and should be in it by the beginning of December. Does anyone know a ballpark of how much it costs to have an RO system installed? Is it cheap and easy to maintain? And does it rack up the water bill? I'm reading that it wastes a lot of water as it purifies. I would definitely like to look into this some more. If I were to start using distilled water bought from the store for now, how would I start adjusting the mix? I would assume I can't just use a 50/50 mix on my next water change because of a drastic change in pH. Am I right? Should I just change it little by little every weekend? Would it be more beneficial to do it little by little every day or every other day?
As for live plants, I've been researching the pros and cons of having and maintaining them, and am still deciding if I'd like to try adding them. I may in the near future, after a little more research.
I appreciate everyone's help in this. I am really enjoying this hobby, and you guys are helping me enjoy it to the fullest by helping me do it right.
An RO system can be expensive, there are numerous options, brands, etc that all affect the price. Bassically, you would need one that can generate enough water each week for the water changes. For example, you can use a small one and just empty its resovoir into a larger container as it fills versus getting a larger unit that can old all the water itself.
It is true that it wastes a lot of water, which means yes it will increase your water bill (and likely sewer as that is linked to water usage). If you get much rainfall, that can be collected and used as well unless you live next to heavy industry.
Maintance isn't too bad, but does have a cost in replacing the filters periodically.
Your problem is more pH than hardness, 10 dGH isn't too high and is only moderatly hard. Several 'soft' water fish that have been tank bred have adapted over the years to tolerate that. I would experiment with different ratios of tap to RO/DI water, find something that will get you down. The delta in pH from a water change probably won't be that extream, since you would not be replacing all of the water at the same time. The maximum change would be half way between 7 and what the tanks currently are. Don't do the mix with the African cichlid tank.
There are other issues though that would need consideration which is fish selection. The Silver Dollar for example need to be in a 4 foot tank minimum as they get to be about 6 inches in length and they can not be kept with most live plants as they are herbavores. Do you feed them vegetable based foods? They shouldn't get normal fish flake food which is mostly made from fish meal.
I was feeding the silver dollars tropical fish flakes.... I realize they get bigger. I'm hoping to let them grow just a little bit before they join my 75 gal. Except that I'm worried they won't because none of my fish seem to grow. I think I may attempt the distilled water mix on my 14 and 75 gallon tanks this weekend. I'm hoping for better results than I got the other day with it.
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