Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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AmyK 04-28-2009 11:23 AM

Carbon filter question
I have a 5 gallon acrylic that has almost finished cycling.(Did the fishless, add ammonia cycling) I will put a Beta in it eventually. My question is, I have a bio wheel filter with a carbon pad part to it. As my ccycling is almost complete, I have lots of brown junk (I've been told it's not good bacteria) on the carbon. It has been cycling for about 5 weeks - should I change the carbon insert before I get my fishy?? Also, I have heard that carbon will eat up plant fertilizers. Is this true? If so, what do you use to keep your plants healthy? Thanks!!

Byron 04-28-2009 12:25 PM

My personal opinion is that carbon should never be used as a regular filter media in an aquarium, but only when needed to remove toxins or medication. The "natural" toxins (so to speak) in an aquarium (ammonia, nitrite...) should be handled by the natural biological bacteria. I have never used the filter you mention, so others with experience may have more to say, but I would not use carbon regularly. And certainly never in a planted aquarium.

As for keeping plants healthy, you need three things: light, nutrients and CO2 (carbon dioxide, which is technically a "nutrient" but frequently mentioned separately). If these three are in balance, the plants will thrive. Light must be adequate (in terms of type (strength) and duration. Nutrients are added as liquid fertilizer once or twice a week depending upon the needs in the individual aquarium; in a small setup this might not even be necessary depending upon the trace elements in your tap water that would be used for the partial water changes. CO2 is provided by the respiration of the fish and weekly partial water changes.

Of course, clean water and a suitable substrate (for rooted plants) are a given. Filtration in a planted tank should provide minimal water movement (to aid the plant leaves in collecting nutrients from the water as well as through the roots), and as little surface disturbance as possible to avoid driving off the necessary CO2. Unless you need to soften the water and lower the acidity by filtration through peat, I would not use any filter media other than the foam pad or rock material for bacteria colonization.

In a 5g setup with only one betta you could probably manage with no filter, as the plants would handle things (they are after all nature's filters) along with the weekly partial water change. Water movement occurs in all aquariums by natural means even without filters: temperature variations (the heater generates currents), plant activities, and the movement of the fish all serve to move the water around.

Tyyrlym 04-28-2009 12:26 PM

Fertilizers, just don't use carbon. You don't need chemical filtration of the water. I have an Eclipse tank and I modified the cartridges to remove the carbon so it doesn't soak up my plant fertilizers.

I'd highly recommend against trying to use plants to remove nitrates in a 5 gallon tank. A betta is a large fish for that volume and its unlikely you'd be able to have enough plants for the method to work. Don't try to avoid water changes, especially on such a small tank.

AmyK 04-28-2009 01:19 PM

Ok - thanks for the great answers. Tyyrlym, I went to your Mod link and I have a question. The carbon in my tank is just that blue pad that is easily removable. Can't I just take that out? And what is a "bonded filter pad"?
And yeah, I just have the plants for the aesthetics. I'm really not a plant person, but I've always thought the fish may like a real plant too!So I am sort of relying on my filter to take some of the nasty stuff out and not so much the plants. Thanks again.

Tyyrlym 04-29-2009 06:22 AM

The blue pad is both your mechanical and chemical filtration. You want that blue pad in there to help remove solid gunk from the water, you just don't want the carbon. If you want you can dump out the carbon and go about your business just fine with the blue pad as is.

The bonded filter pad is a blue and white piece of filter material you can get in most stores with a half decent fish section. It's just polyester mat that acts a lot like the blue pad on the filter. I add it in because I'm kinda obsessive about things. You don't absolutely have to have it.

AmyK 04-29-2009 08:54 AM

Ok thank you so much. I was thinking that blue pad was the carbon; why I don't know! How often should I change the blue pad? After 5+ weeks of cycling it is looking pretty ugly, with brown yuck on one side of it.

Tyyrlym 04-29-2009 12:50 PM

Well in my case the carbon was the black stuff within the plastic box on back of the blue pad. I'd have to see your exact filter material to determine how best to rig yours.

Carbon is pretty much spent after 4 weeks, the filter pad itself will last until it falls apart. If it's gunked up I'd swish it in a bucket of tank water to get the grime off and put it back in.

AmyK 04-29-2009 01:38 PM


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