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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hi, I got a lovely new 20gallon tank, about a month ago. I set it up and planted some hygrophillia and an anubis (sorry about the spelling) adding a little fertiliser to the water since the tank was brand new. Then 2 weeks ago I added 4 platys.
...I did everything the lfs told me to....so I now know, that was a pretty niave thing to do for starters ;-)

I tried fishless cycling with frozen prawns and "nothing" seemed to happen. I also added some bacteria balls that the lfs sold me. And I've been keeping close watch on the water parameters since adding the fish, using strips, and still "nothing" seems to be happening. First up, I'm going to get a liquid test kit tomorrow, because I think the strips are inaccurate, or I am not good at reading them, or both.

My parameters show a little ammonia, somewhere in between 0 and 0.5 on the strips. But it seems possibly that is what my tap water has naturally. Water changes don't really seem to be making much difference. I've been doing partial changes every 3 days, with conditioned water. The Nitrates came down after the 1st water change, as I guess I took out what the fertiliser had added - but the hygrophillia is still growing like mad and making a nice backdrop.

The fish seem absolutely fine, they are swimming around great, showing off their personalities and eating well. (I am feeding every other day, as I was told to do by lfs). They now come up to see me when I approach the tank.

I was expecting to get some more typical readings on the water levels (ammonia rising, nitrites showing) - to be able to identify a cycle starting. Am I being too impatient - what should I be seeing after 2 weeks in a partially planted tank with 4 platys? What kind of things might I expect to see if the fish were in any way distressed? (I am scared I'm not noticing that all is not well, despite me thinking it is ok)

And finally, one of them gave birth, so actually I have 5 fish now :) One fry seems to have survived. I see him occasionally pop his head out, but I don't often see him - I guess that's part of how he's survived. He's about 1cm long now, and 12 days old. I'm thinking that if the fry is ok, then the water parameters can't be too off. I keep reading that he'll be safe once he's too big to fit in the parent's mouth - but I've no idea how big an adult platy's mouth is! I'm wondering how long he will stay in hiding, and when I might expect to see him venturing out more often?

Any more advice, other than patience? I love my little guys, and I really want them to have a nice life. I am worrying that I'm doing it all wrong.

Thanks.
 

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Hi, I got a lovely new 20gallon tank, about a month ago. I set it up and planted some hygrophillia and an anubis (sorry about the spelling) adding a little fertiliser to the water since the tank was brand new. Then 2 weeks ago I added 4 platys.
...I did everything the lfs told me to....so I now know, that was a pretty niave thing to do for starters ;-)
I think everyone has done this and that is how we ended up here.

I tried fishless cycling with frozen prawns and "nothing" seemed to happen. I also added some bacteria balls that the lfs sold me.
Where did these bacteria balls come from? If they came from their tanks then you should have BB on them and pretty much an instant cycle. If they came from a package on a shelf then chances are you didn't get any BB (beneficial bacteria).

And I've been keeping close watch on the water parameters since adding the fish, using strips, and still "nothing" seems to be happening. First up, I'm going to get a liquid test kit tomorrow, because I think the strips are inaccurate, or I am not good at reading them, or both.
Most of us would recommend API Freshwater Master Test Kit over strips. Just be sure to follow testing instructions for accurate results.

My parameters show a little ammonia, somewhere in between 0 and 0.5 on the strips. But it seems possibly that is what my tap water has naturally. Water changes don't really seem to be making much difference. I've been doing partial changes every 3 days, with conditioned water. The Nitrates came down after the 1st water change, as I guess I took out what the fertiliser had added - but the hygrophillia is still growing like mad and making a nice backdrop.
Did you test your tap water for ammonia? It is possible that it does have it. In this case you would get the recommendation from others to use Seachem Prime as your conditioner as this will detoxify the ammonia but make it available for the BB to consume. Your plants will also consume ammonia from the water.

The fish seem absolutely fine, they are swimming around great, showing off their personalities and eating well. (I am feeding every other day, as I was told to do by lfs). They now come up to see me when I approach the tank.
I always watch my fish's behaviors. If they are typically active but seem sluggish to you then you might want to test and do WCs to help.

I was expecting to get some more typical readings on the water levels (ammonia rising, nitrites showing) - to be able to identify a cycle starting. Am I being too impatient - what should I be seeing after 2 weeks in a partially planted tank with 4 platys?
With plants you might not see ammonia rising and especially if you obtained the bacteria balls from an already cycled tank. If they did have bacteria on them then when your fish produce waste this bacteria will consume the ammonia and nitrites.

What kind of things might I expect to see if the fish were in any way distressed? (I am scared I'm not noticing that all is not well, despite me thinking it is ok)
Some signs of stressed fish are not eating, hiding, gasping for air the water's surface. top dwellers staying/laying on the bottom and not moving around.

And finally, one of them gave birth, so actually I have 5 fish now :) One fry seems to have survived. I see him occasionally pop his head out, but I don't often see him - I guess that's part of how he's survived. He's about 1cm long now, and 12 days old. I'm thinking that if the fry is ok, then the water parameters can't be too off. I keep reading that he'll be safe once he's too big to fit in the parent's mouth - but I've no idea how big an adult platy's mouth is! I'm wondering how long he will stay in hiding, and when I might expect to see him venturing out more often?
If your fish was already pregnant when you brought her home she may have delivered babies. I don't think that this could happen in poor water conditions because she would have been stressed and most likely would have died. They would not have spawned and had babies in poor water conditions. I am no expert in breeding as I have never done this or kept the kinds of fish that will reproduce wildly. I have read a lot of information about it and do know that water conditions have to be good for reproduction.

Any more advice, other than patience? I love my little guys, and I really want them to have a nice life. I am worrying that I'm doing it all wrong.

Thanks.
You can't be doing it all wrong if you have surviving fish. I am curious to see what results you get from a liquid test kit such as API's. Please post them for us.

My advise...what I do when testing...

I test twice to make sure I get consistent results. If second test is not the same as first I test again. Usually not necessary for me to test a third time. I don't know that others would recommend this, it's just how I do it. API boasts that each kit for these parameters tests something like 150 tests. I have had my current kit for over a year. How you test is up to you. This is just how I prefer to do it.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Hi, Thanks for the reassurance. Things seem to be going ok.
I noticed from my log, it is exactly 1 month since I set up with a plants-only tank. The filter was starting to be a bit odd today, and I've got a bit of algae growth, so I thought it was about time I did a bigger water change.

I swished out the filter in the old tank water and put it back - there seems to be conflicting advice about changing, but to me replacing it every month (especially when trying to establish a cycle) is illogical. Anyway the flow is running beautifully again. I've been worrying about my fry doing a big water change....and the big fish for that matter....it seems like such a stressful thing for them. I didn't see fry when I did the change - on the upside, he didn't get syphonned out, I checked really carefully!

My test kit hasn't arrived yet, I'll post parameters when it does. In the mean time the strips are still looking the same as ever, at least it seem the water is kind of stable, whatever it is.

I have a water conditioner that I was sold, it's not the seachem prime - so I don't know if its any good for removing ammonia. Hopefully it is.

I am sure that my girl must have been pregnant when we got her, she didn't look that big, but she still has the gravid spot - I noticed some of the other girls in her tank at the shop are also pregnant :) All 4 adults seem very happy - definitely no signs of sluggishness, they are eating well and not hiding from me. They sometimes blow bubbles at the surface, but it seems more playful than gasping.

I'll keep this thread updated for a little while, so hopefully other newbees can get some inspiration from my experience too.
 

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I cannot believe that you are new at this. You are doing everything like a pro. I cannot find anything fundamentally wrong and I read your post twice.
Keep it up. Happy fishkeeping!
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks Corina - I get a bit passionate about things, and read A LOT! :-D

I got my test kit today - so here are my parameters (and actually they are consistent with what the strips were saying):
pH: 8.0
Ammonia: 0.25
Nitrite: more than 0 but significantly less than 0.25
Nitrate: 40

Just to compare. My tap water is:
pH: 7.5
Ammonia: more than 0 but less than 0.25
Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: 40

....so it looks like I am getting ammonia being produced, but not in high levels. Looks like there is a tiny bit of conversion to Nitrite, but hardly an established cycle. The Nitrates seem to be being slowly absorbed by the plants, and getting topped back up to 40ppm when I do a water change! (That's according to my strip testing, because they were down to 20 before the water change).

And it seems like the levels are really static, judging by the strips they haven't budged at all in over a week.

Any advice? Obviously, I don't want my ammonia levels to go high, but I don't seems to be getting any cycling at all with the current setup.
 

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"Thanks Corina - I get a bit passionate about things, and read A LOT!"

You are not alone. There are more. lol

Something doesn't make sense. Your nitrate readings go UP after a water change? Check your tap water. Just not many things could make the readings rise. At least, from what I've read... :)
 

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nitrate is nothing to worry about tbh. My tank is 3 years old and runs at 40ppm and it's got strong community in it. Again PH is ok just get fiish which can cope.... I am assuming with the reduced PH you'll maybe have small gravel?

I have sand and bog wood which takes my PH from 6.5 to 7 for some reason. Might have something do with my slate and other rocks also.

My point been if your fish are happy get the ammonia down and you'll be fine. Watch out for those nasty nitrites mind.....
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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks for all the comments.

I'm not too worried about the nitrates - yes, I'm sure my tap water is fairly high in nitrates - its good old polluted English Thames water.

I've not been too worried about the pH, as 8 is absolutely fine for platys - but its good to know that's how it is. I was thinking that the small amounts of ammonia would be partly to blame in raising it. I've also been told the plants could be doing it. It is very stable and static, so I think that's more important than the actual value. The substrate is gravel.....white and red-dyed stuff, as chosen by my 5yo :lol: I've not got any bogwood or slate or anything else that I think could affect it. Only the plants - which I have now been told are actually very likely to be the reason why I have such a gentle cycle happening.

I think I like the gentleness of having the plants - I didn't think my tank counted as planted, as its only about 25% plant (and was a lot less when I started) but I am really pleased with the way its working out.....especially as the fish do seems to be doing well.

Gonna keep testing regularly to make sure those nitrites don't sneak up on me.
So far, I am loving this hobby :-D
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I've got more fry!!!

I'm hoping for a survivor or two - but I really have no idea how to look after them. I spent ages this evening just watching them, they are fascinating.
 

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Not that it's related but I had painted gravel (black and white) in my first tank and I couldn't get rid of ammonia. I changed the gravel to river rocks and no more ammonia. Not say this is at all your case but it could happen.

pH value is not as important as stability. I keep angels in higher pH than they traditionally like. I drip acclimate all fish to my tank. This process takes 1-2 hours but I haven't had any fish die from acclimation stress. FWIW.

It sill confuses me how you have a readable amount of ammonia with plants. That's usually what they consume first.
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Discussion Starter #12
Interesting to hear about the painted gravel....I wonder if that's to blame.... might look into that a bit more.

I went back to the lfs. These guys are pretty cool fish hobbiests, not just pet salesmen - although I still don't 100% trust anyone who sells anything ;-)

After 5 weeks, I have loads of algae growth, so they recommended some Panda Garra - so now I have 2 of these cute chaps as well, added a couple of days ago. The lfs know that my set up is pretty immature - and from what I read, no-one really knows too much about Panda Garra, but they live in pretty changeable water in nature - from fast flowing steams to stagnant puddles in the dry season. They also tested a sample of my water today. No nitrites; ammonia and nitrates "low" (in their words).

The ammonia has obviously gone up with the addition of 50% more fish, so now I am expecting to see a mini cycle. We will see.

lfs basicaly said, keep doing what I'm doing, and from what I've described about my fish behaviour, it sounds like the tank's ok. They did also say to have patience, and not to expect the tank to be mature for months yet.

The Panda Garra seem happy enough, and they have decimated my algae population!!! :lol:
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Tested my water last night and I got:

Ammonia: 0.5
Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: 50

So - the nitrate IS going up. The Nitrite really does seem to have zeroed, but the ammonia is still going up slowly but steadily.

What does this suggest?
I am thinking, there is a bit of a cycle going but not enough for the bioload.
I am about to do a pwc.

Any ideas on how I can get the cycle better established? I don't know anywhere I can get mature filter media, or I'd be doing that. I'm skeptical of using anything purchased (eg bacteria) unless anyone can give a definitive recommendation of something that works.

(If nothing else, I am about to set up another tank and try the fishless cycle again - this time with experience of what I am trying to achieve - and maybe I'll end up with the new tank cycled properly before this one is, and then I can use media from that one to help this one out).

The fish are still not showing any signs of distress, and the Panda Garas are making themselves at home - one has moved into one of the little caves I bought, and goes to bed at 9pm, like clockwork!
 

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I can't see how you have ammonia and no nitrite. Does you source water have ammonia? If not then take a container with your source water and some of your gravel in it. Give it about 24 hours and test ammonia. It just may be your gravel leeching into your water. I can't think of anything else.
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Discussion Starter #15
sprmankalel - thanks for the ideas about how to get to the bottom of this. I've done lots of testing of various things over the last few days to try and figure it out.

The upshot:
- my tap-water straight form the tap reads 0 ammonia.
- water left in a mini-setup pot next to the tank (that has never been anywhere near the fish) read 0 yesterday, and is now reading about 0.5!
- the water in my tank is reading just over 0.5 and hasn't changed in days.
- water taken out of the tank and kept in a separated pot of water, read EXACTLY the same colour as water directly from the tank even after 48hrs.

In the attached pic left to right (colours are interesting for comparrison, but the photo is *not* colour accurate):
Nitrite test - reads 0 nitrite
Tank water test - reads somewhere slightly above 0.5 not as high as 1ppm ammonia.
24hrs old, non tank water - reading pretty much exactly 0.5 ammonia
fresh tap water - reads 0 ammonia


So. I conclude, that the issue is not completely within the tank, and the gravel could well be to blame. The tank itself is remaining pretty stable and the ammonia is not going up from the 0.5, but I can't shift it below that no matter what I do.
Not sure what to do next though.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Hi, the set-up pot was just a mini version of the tank in a jam-jar, using gravel from the tank (but no heater, filter, etc). I've disposed of it now....it was interesting to see what the different water containers did over a coupe of days. Thanks for the idea.

Anyway - update: I have 0 ammonia! and somewhere between 0.5 -1 nitrite :-(
So now I am really scared that the nitrite is going to kill my lovely fish - at least I now know what happening: it's starting to cycle. I can't believe how long this has taken. Its the best part of 2 months, it seems to me the plants (and algae?) had been keeping the equilibrium (even during my poor attempt to fishless cycle). Until I got the panda gara, who ate all the algae and added to the bio-load.

One of my Platys isn't faring so well now. Poor thing. She's hanging in there, sometimes I think she is doing really bad, then a bit later she seems ok again. But this morning she was looking really hollow and I thought she was a gonner.

On the other hand, I did see one of my fry this evening though - about 2cms long and definitely too big to get eaten now. The ammonia obviously didn't harm it, but I am sooo worried how it will do knowing that nitrite is even more toxic.

Any idea how long it takes for the nitrite to be neutralised? I read the bacteria takes longer to grow. I'm not sure my nerves (or the fish) will cope with this for another 2 months.

If I could turn back time, I make sure the tank was better prepared!

I have set up another tank now. I am thinking of just leaving it for now, in case of emergencies, so I could transfer a casualty if needed. Although, the other side of me would like to get it cycled as soon as possible. I have a bottle of ammonia and decent test kit at the ready :) I've also ordered some Prime.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
if anyone is still following this thread...another update.

Little fry (who got named "up" by my teenage son) has been seen on a daily basis 5 days running now. I make her 6 weeks old - she seems to have slightly different colouring to the one I think is mum [dad is unknown] I am looking forward to seeing how she turns out....hoping 'she' is a girl too, I'm guessing its actually too early to know for sure. She's joining in when I'm feeding, although she's not plucked up the courage to join the frenzy right on the surface yet. Yesterday I also had a confirmed, simultaneous sighting of another, smaller fry. I think this other one is from the 2nd 'litter' I had, which would make it 3 weeks old.

The panda gara are both a tiny bit lethargic but still looking ok. You can read that as, they are now swimming about just as much as a platy, rather than being the total lunatics they were before the nitrite hit. It could also just be that they are getting more settled in the tank, I was told they calm down after a while, but I'm being realistic - I know the tank is not in the state I would have wanted it to be.

The poorly platy is still alive, and although not perfect, she is looking slightly better. She's feeding well, and not looking as skinny.

The nitrite seems to be coming down already. I make it .25 today, and I've not touched the tank in 2 days. Fingers crossed, I'm nearly there.
 

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Sounds like all is good. It usually takes less time for nitrIte to come down than ammonia. Keep doing what you're doing. Just remember that your tank will tank another few months to stabilize. So I would be careful with adding new fish or deep cleanings.
 

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Try to google "API nitrite test color chart". You will see how many shades are printed, depending on the quality of ink in each batch.
Look at your nitrates color chart. What's the difference between 10 and 20 ppm or between 40 and 80 ppm? That means that a sample could have a reading of more than 20 ppm but less than 160 ppm. How accurate is that?
Don't stress yourself unless you see something obvious.
For me, that is a zero nitrite reading
 
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