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Very nice looking tank setup. Nicely planted but you are probably right, not enough to skip a cycle altogether depending on your eventual fish load but if you have the patience for an ammonia cycle you could have stocked fish in small groups with a couple of weeks between each addition. The plants would have grown out more each time, the nitrogen cycle would have still established in the background. Of course those who cycle will say to cycle and those who use plants instead will say to use the plants... eanie meanie miney moe....

Dropping the ammonia to 1ppm is a good idea as this will serve to allow the nitrite oxidizers to kick in much better, they tend to go dormant at levels above this and it will be better for the plants.

Patience is the key no matter which way you go and now that you have it where it is your best bet is to let everything settle and see where your pH lands, get the proper test kits to nail your GH/KH down.

Oh... you won't kill the micro organisms, they go dormant and are not that easy to kill off. Once your plants are nicely established they will act as a huge ammonia sink in that they will consume most of the ammonia which circumvents the nitrogen cycle, less ammonia converted into nitrites which also means less nitrites to be converted into nitrates. I would always suggest to add fish slowly regardless of the method of bio filtration that you setup as that lets you monitor the water rather than getting hit with a huge imbalance all at once.

If you don't already have the betta, (I don't recall if that is the case here), I would rethink that addition. I have one with cherry barbs and catfish and they are all large enough not to get eaten and there is not aggreassion/fin nipping going on but I wouldn't have chosen this mix other than the betta was pre-exisitng.

Jeff.
 

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When were the nitrates 80ppm? Before or after the 95% water change? I know I test before changes out of curiosity but yours should have dropped from 80 to less than 5 if your tap water is zero.

I think (but am not certain) that 1ppm ammonia oxidized to nitrite and then to nitrate yields 1ppm nitrate. With plants the ratio of added ammonia to end nitrates will not be 1:1 only because a lot of the added ammonia will be consumed by the plants and it never gets to nitrite stage let alone nitrate.

Jeff.
 

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Something is definitely off with your testing results if your tap tests zero. 95% really should have the tank close enough to tap levels that you might not be able to differentiate on the test and you are very unlikely to a have 40ppm increase over night. You might try using a white LED flashlight to compare your colours or just get someone else to read them. I do this occasionally when I am not certain but also usually just trying to decide between two colours, not the whole card.

Are you using the liquid test? Perhaps if you are using the strips the colour representation is weak or if you are using the liquid you aren't shaking the crap out of the bottle #2, that will throw off the results and I think read higher falsely. Eventually not shaking enough will throw off all future tests.

Jeff.
 

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Nitrates don't mean much until you start adding fish then you should aim to have them as low as possible, under 20ppm anyway. Melted plants will add to the ammonia but not to the level that you have been adding and not directly adding to the nitrates. The melt may have been due to high ammonia but a lot of plants have pretty good tolerance to ammonia, although sustained high levels, not sure.

Jeff.
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