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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Up until now I've been relying on the water report from my water company ( Water report ). I however ordered my own test and it'll be here tomorrow or Saturday. The reasoning being that my aquariums keep wanting to dip in ph. My heavily planted stem tank is the worst. Even adding GH booster I still run a ph of >6. More worrisome is the .5 ammonia. At that ph I realize it is ammonium, and not ammonia but I still don't like seeing it.

By heavily planted I mean 25% coverage with Amazon frogbit and dwarf water lettuce on the surface and about 66% Rotalas. The tank has been set up for a year with no great fish losses (I've lost 2 in a year). Water changes of 50% weekly every Monday. Temperature is around 76. Stocking is 20 Boraras brigittae, 8 dwarf hovering loaches (typing the scientific name creates page problems. go ahead and try it), and 5 Dario hysginon. Feeding is once a day, 6 days a week. Other parameters in that tank 0 nitrites, 10 nitrates.

Just looking for some advice for now and after the test arrives.
 

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Gurg, BWG. . .
So sorry to hear you're having issues with your lovely tanks. I really wish I could help, but super soft water is a thing of mystery that I still have a ton to learn about myself. When in doubt do a water-change? 's all I've got. :/

. . . hopefully someone will be along soon who can help you out.
 

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Lucky you, no problems in what you describe.

Your source water is very soft, and very low in KH (Alkalinity). In a healthy aquarium, the water will naturally become more acidic, and the pH will lower. The fish mentioned will love it.

Adding GH is not going to impact this, or shouldn't. The GH is just the mineral sulphates of calcium, magnesium, potassium basically. For the benefit of the plants, raising the GH in the tank to 5 dGH or at the most 6 dGH may be beneficial (to the plants). The pH should not change.

I have much the same situation, though my tap water is even softer, about 1/2 of 1 dGH and KH. My pH used to drop well below 6, I had a kit down to 5 and it was I think even lower than this. I just left it alone, with soft water fish. I now have the pH in the mid 6's because they are adding stuff to the water to raise the pH (without affecting GH or KH) and as this doesn't seem to be harming the fish or plants, I leave it alone.

Byron.
 
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Discussion Starter #4
Just to follow up on this. The GH is 5 (what I was boosting it up to) and the KH is 1. The PH remains constant at 6.0 or below. The ammonia still reads about .5. The ammonium in low concentration is non toxic, but is there something I can do to help remove it so that I can eventually add more fish?
 

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Just to follow up on this. The GH is 5 (what I was boosting it up to) and the KH is 1. The PH remains constant at 6.0 or below. The ammonia still reads about .5. The ammonium in low concentration is non toxic, but is there something I can do to help remove it so that I can eventually add more fish?
Maybe I should start testing my tanks for ammonia.:lol: Might be surprised.

I assume you have tested the source water for ammonia? Though even if present at this level, it should quickly disappear via the plants. I would add fish. Ammonium is not harmful, though I agree that one wants to know why. My only thought is that it might be connected to the rapid breakdown of organics?
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Maybe I should start testing my tanks for ammonia.:lol: Might be surprised.

I assume you have tested the source water for ammonia? Though even if present at this level, it should quickly disappear via the plants. I would add fish. Ammonium is not harmful, though I agree that one wants to know why. My only thought is that it might be connected to the rapid breakdown of organics?
Chloramine in the tap water so I do get low readings. Ammonia is not present in any of my other tanks, just the heavily planted one. Organics might be possible if they are buried in the substrate. I only even vacuumed the surface.

This tank did have pressurized CO2 previously, but I stopped that as there was slight leak. The ammonia seems to have appeared after that (to be completely honest I think it did. I don't test for ammonia in established, cycled tanks and this one hasn't had any additions in about 6 months). Not sure if that fact is relevant or not.
 

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Chloramine in the tap water so I do get low readings. Ammonia is not present in any of my other tanks, just the heavily planted one. Organics might be possible if they are buried in the substrate. I only even vacuumed the surface.

This tank did have pressurized CO2 previously, but I stopped that as there was slight leak. The ammonia seems to have appeared after that (to be completely honest I think it did. I don't test for ammonia in established, cycled tanks and this one hasn't had any additions in about 6 months). Not sure if that fact is relevant or not.
I just threw that out, because the breakdown of organics produces ammonia obviously, so any excess organics might create this. Soil based tanks frequently have this issue for the first 6 months or so.

The tap may be connected too, though again one would expect the plants to deal with this. But I am not familiar with how ammonia breaks down with chloramine...another thought.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Even my unplanted black water tank handles the ammonia from the chloramine breakdown.

I've come up with dozens of theories on why just this tank, the latest being low KH with the stems using it as a carbon source and the already limited bacteria being unable function without it. No idea if that makes sense given all the stem plants I have. Like I said I had lots of theories lol.
 

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I was just reading an article today that touched on nitrifying bio films and a lack of KH (not quite how it's worded but it amounts to the same thing) affecting their ability to process ammonia. As an experiment you could bump up the KH and see if the low ammonia disappears all together. Of course I would expect that raising the KH would result in an increase in the pH as well.

If the plants are enough, I would expect the ammonia should be zero. What if the low KH and its components was affecting the plants ability to suck every last bit of ammonia out of the water? No basis for this idea at all, but it's possible that the plants aren't taking it all up when the concentration gets low enough and the nitrifying organisms may not be working up to snuff at the same time due to the same reason.

Result, non-zero ammonia readings.

Having said all that, I had a period where my tank had "non-zero" ammonia readings for days, GH and KH are both high though.

Just some "out loud" thoughts.

Jeff.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I was just reading an article today that touched on nitrifying bio films and a lack of KH (not quite how it's worded but it amounts to the same thing) affecting their ability to process ammonia. As an experiment you could bump up the KH and see if the low ammonia disappears all together. Of course I would expect that raising the KH would result in an increase in the pH as well.

If the plants are enough, I would expect the ammonia should be zero. What if the low KH and its components was affecting the plants ability to suck every last bit of ammonia out of the water? No basis for this idea at all, but it's possible that the plants aren't taking it all up when the concentration gets low enough and the nitrifying organisms may not be working up to snuff at the same time due to the same reason.

Result, non-zero ammonia readings.

Having said all that, I had a period where my tank had "non-zero" ammonia readings for days, GH and KH are both high though.

Just some "out loud" thoughts.

Jeff.
Your "out loud" thinking though is exactly what had been running through my mind. There are calculators that allow you to figure out how much sodium bicarbonate you can add safely without spiking your PH high. I could do it as an experiment, had even considered, although it's not feasible long term because of the increase in TDS. Still might be worth trying.

I had also wonder if restarting CO2 would achieve the same effect. My thinking is that it would give the plants their preferred carbon source and allow them to photosynthesize more. Right now I think they are limited to whatever CO2 occurs naturally in the tank, since there really isn't any carbonate for them to use as a secondary source. If that makes sense.
 

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I wouldn't use sodium bicarbonate just due to the sodium. I crushed egg shells and added calcium carbonate and I was able to raise the KH this way without affecting the GH. It was on a much smaller scale though. I'm not sure that the plants were able to use it so it may only serve to raise your pH.

Adding CO2 back in would supply easy carbon for the plants as well as for the nitrifiers and might push both to keep taking up the ammonia at the lower concentrations.

I've heard of adding alcohol to do something similar but I have not looked at that at all.... and I haven't read the article to see what they did to get the biofilms working again... I'll see if I can do that this weekend as it may have more application than I thought. Perhaps the cycle is needed after all to continue to use up the ammonia right to zero... although I am sure that the plants can normally do this on their own.

Jeff.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
The sodium bicarbonate would be optimum for an experiment since I know how much to add and how much it will increase PH and KH. In the case of this tank .56 teaspoons would raise the KH by 1 dh and PH by 0.3. Trying anything else without knowing the end results would be difficult as I can't even read the actual PH since it is so low. I could have a too large swing and never even notice it from the tests.

I did a fishless cycle on my blackwater tank using pure ammonia and it was difficult to say the least. The bacteria I was trying to build would use up all the KH quickly and plummet the PH stalling my cycle. I eventually resorted to using Argonite sand in the filter. I still have that, but that definitely raised the PH too much. Adding it I went from below 6.0 to over 8.0 in a matter of hours. Most likely because I wasn't worried about adding a certain amount.

The alcohol is new to me. I will have to try and look into that. :D

Seems the safest thing to try first is definitely the CO2. I'll be able to pick up a new tank on Monday. If that doesn't work I can go from there. I mean intellectually that my fish are safe and aren't in danger. I just don't like seeing that funky test result.
 

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I can't add to this discussion, except to say that sometimes leaving things alone is better. As one of you has mentioned in the last couple of exchanges, fiddling with KH has side effects, such as increasing TDS and raising the pH. Taken in context, both of these do and will affect the fish in this tank, being wild-caught soft water species, and we do know scientifically that increasing TDS shortens the lifespan of these fish. So while the ammonium may be present--or may not, frankly, since we can't scientifically determine if various factors might be affecting the test--it is not having a detrimental effect on the fish. In my view, the fish are better off as things stand than they will be with any sort of fiddling with KH.

Your observations on aragonite are spot on. I tried this, only as half a cup added to the canister filter, and within a day the pH rose from 6.6 up to 7.8, while the GH and KH remained near-zero. This was an experiment to raise GH marginally that failed. Back when I had tap water coming out below pH 6, I used 2 or 3 tablespoons of dolomite in the filter, same tank, and the pH remained steady at 6.4 for years until the dolomite gave out. I tried the aragonite, but at the same time the water authority raised the pH to 7 or 7.2 so that played into the equation as well [this lowers to around 6.4 to 6.6 in the established tanks]. But a sharp rise in pH is a detriment of this method.

Byron.
 
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