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Established Tank - Issues For A Long Time

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Offline Lee2Gould

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Established tank - issues for a long time
« on: February 06, 2017, 12:26:03 PM »
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Hi,
I was hoping I could get some input or advice a problem Iíve had for a long time now. Basically, Iíve had a tank (180 ltr) for over 5 years now and unfortunately I donít have many fish in there as fish Iíve added such as Rams, Cardinal Tetras, Pygmy Corys and a few others have not survived. I do have Harlequin Rasboras and Flying Foxes which have been fine in there. Obviously throughout all of this time I have continually tested the water and taken many samples to different pet shops and Ďexpertsí who have all been equally stumped and advised everything in the water tests are absolutely fine, encouraging me to add more fish, which is something Iím not willing to do until I find some sort of solution to this problem.

Water is as follows:
PH 7.1 (will sometimes drop a little of an evening when the lights go off) Ė the only concern I had with this is the tap water is more 6.8 or 6.9 but something in the tank has taken this up but then always stays a steady 7.1
Gravel all tested fine Ė I have in the past replaced this just to ensure thatís not the problem
Amonia Ė 0ppm
Nitrite Ė 0ppm
Nitrate Ė 5.0ppm

Iím close to giving up to be honest as no one has figured out what this is. My only conclusion is that itís the actual tank because Iím completely stumped. I appreciate this is not easy to diagnose over text but if anyone has anything to add thatíd be great and much appreciated.

Thanks

Offline Richard W

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2017, 01:29:01 PM »
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Very difficult to say what is wrong, but rams and Pygmy cories seem to cause problems for many people, rams are heavily inbred to get the colour forms and are therefore genetically very weak. There are also many reports from people here, including very experienced fish keepers, of Pygmy cories dying out for no obvious reason. Rams and Cardinals do need softer water than you have, perhaps, though Cardinals have lived OK for years in my water which is pH 7.4 and quite hard so         ........ who knows?

I would advise you to get some more "cheap and cheerful" fish which are known to be tough and resilient and see how they go. I keep to the easy ones myself, and they are just as attractive.

If your water tests are correct, then that is unlikely to be the cause.

I also advise people to try and get plants growing well, as they do have many beneficial effects. Do you have live plants in your tank?

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2017, 01:46:40 PM »
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Thanks for your reply. I do have plants but they hardly flourish in the tank. I'm currently adding a number of fertilising products in an attempt to encourage more growth with them.

Offline Richard W

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2017, 01:58:21 PM »
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Getting plants to grow in pure gravel, if that's what you have, is difficult. Fertiliser tablets in the gravel are a better bet than adding liquid fertiliser to the water. The easiest way is to get bogwood and tie plants to it, such as Java Fern, Java Moss, Hornwort, Anubias and Hygrophila all of which grow very well like that.

Offline Sue

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2017, 02:09:51 PM »
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Do you have very hard water? I know it is unlikely with your pH but I need to check  :)

As for the pH, the tap water pH - is that freshly run or water that has been allowed to stand overnight? It is common for the pH to go up slightly in tap water that has been allowed to stand due to carbon dioxide gassing out (carbon dioxide dissolves to make a weak acid which pushes the pH down a bit. When it gasses off the pH rises).


I can vouch for java fern, anubias and bolbitis growing well on wood - or any other decor you may have in the tank. I cannot grow plants that are rooted in the substrate but those that grow attached to decor grow well for me. I just use Seachem Flourish (with nothing else in the name) as fertiliser.

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2017, 02:26:04 PM »
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I have the clay balls to add to the gravel and have also got the liquid fertiliser. They do seem to steadily grow but was hoping to boost it a little.
Re: the tap water - What was a little strange was the PH remained at 6.8 both immediately and 24 hours later (this includes adding dechlorinater). When testing the tank water when the lights had been off for a while it looked around 6.9 but when the lights are on it was 7.1. I have however only tested the ph when the lights are off once quite recently.

Offline MarquisMirage

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2017, 05:11:44 PM »
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Hi Lee, what is your water change regime?

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2017, 06:10:57 PM »
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It's once a week or at least every other week.

Just to add to this (coincidentally) this evening one of my rasboras has a very slight white film over it, not very noticeable and also staying at the top of the tank.

Other fish I'd lost didn't really show symptoms just seemed to be fine one day and not the next.

I'm all out of ideas and can only see a complete start over at some point in the future

Offline Sue

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2017, 06:55:55 PM »
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How much water do you change?

Your low nitrate does suggest your water change regime is OK, though I need to check about the tester you use. Is it a strip or a liquid one? And if it is a liquid one, the instructions will tell you to shake one of the bottles before using it - do you shake it according to the instructions, or even better, more than they say?

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #9 on: February 06, 2017, 07:50:19 PM »
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Thanks for all replies.

It's a 180ltr tank and I change about 30ltrs each time.

I have 2 test kits, one was relatively cheap and I was advised to get the JBL one so got that too. To be honest both show the same results. In addition to this I've taken the water into a couple of different places just to make sure I'm not making any silly mistakes and their results show fine too.

Quite frustrating that there's not an obvious thing I'm doing wrong so I could put it right.

Offline fcmf

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2017, 08:04:02 PM »
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Sorry to read about this. Not sure that there's anything I can add but I just wanted to check if this has been the situation throughout the 5 years? I'm guessing it has been but thought best to check in case the tank had been fine for the first few years but then the situation changed.

Moss balls are also good in the tank - I have a few and, apart from one which I think rolled up against the heater and is slightly discoloured in one place, they seem to be indestructible. I wonder if it might be worth giving something like a catappa leaf a try too?

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2017, 08:21:08 PM »
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Yes I've struggled with quite a few fish for the 5 years or so. The harlequin rasboras have been in since day one. Many other types have come and gone.

I'm willing to try adding anything but won't add any more fish.

Cheers

Offline Matt

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2017, 09:39:53 PM »
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Have you tested your water hardness as @Sue has suggested?

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #13 on: February 06, 2017, 10:03:31 PM »
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That's been tested too. The KH was 0 wh8ch I thought may have been a problem I. E. Could affect the ph but was advised that's fine.

Is 0 KH something that could cause issues?

Offline fcmf

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #14 on: February 06, 2017, 10:17:01 PM »
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Your very soft water ought to favour the fish you've had. However, it may be that you should increase it a little so that there is some KH. If you can get some Tufa/limestone rock pieces, it may bring your KH up to 2. I keep some in my tank.

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #15 on: February 06, 2017, 10:23:47 PM »
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Ok thanks. It could be worth a try. I do have quite a lot of lava rock in there, should that be helping or doesn't that do anything?

Cheers

Offline Matt

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #16 on: February 07, 2017, 06:27:19 AM »
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The lava rock won't help unfortunately as it contains no calcium carbonate which is what will raise your hardness.  This is the same thing that causes limescale on your kettle/taps.  This will stabilise the pH of your aquarium and aid the fishes bodily regulation.

Alternative would be to use a SeaChem buffer as per this useful article (http://kh-aquarium.blogspot.co.uk) which also explains why it is important for fish health:
Quote
increase resistance to degenerate diseases by lowering the acidity in the body. This will help with prevention of ich, fungus, and general ďwear and tearĒ in your fish. Calcium also helps in healing and stress, and without proper calcium levels healing may be difficult or impossible.

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #17 on: February 07, 2017, 10:45:09 AM »
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Great. Definitely worth trying and hopefully something I can track by continually tracking the KH.

Many thanks

Offline Sue

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #18 on: February 07, 2017, 02:05:55 PM »
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It's a 180ltr tank and I change about 30ltrs each time.

I have 180 litre tank and I change somewhere between 60 and 80 litres a week.

Your very low KH would be expected to cause a pH crash as you are doing such small water changes - I have KH 3 and I need to do water changes of at 30% to stop my pH crashing - that has happened to me when I didn't change enough water.


With such a low KH I assume you also have low GH, which is the important one for fish, though the fish species you names all like soft water so they should be fine.

Offline Richard W

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #19 on: February 07, 2017, 02:45:50 PM »
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These hardness values sound very weird, considering your pH. Were they from tests or from your water company web site? I'd check both personally, just in case.

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #20 on: February 07, 2017, 06:31:45 PM »
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The tests were from my own test kit. I've been unable to figure out why the ph rises in my tank given what's in there.

Offline Richard W

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #21 on: February 08, 2017, 07:15:25 AM »
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Test kits are not always absolutely reliable. If you know your water supplier, they usually have a web site where you can enter your postcode and get the parameters for your supply. It's worth checking, just in case, they have much more sophisticated test equipment. I'm always a bit suspicious when anything other than ammonia or nitrite come out as zero unless it's pure rain water.

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #22 on: February 14, 2017, 06:38:25 PM »
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The water from my supplier shows as "very soft".

I've continued to have problems and would describe the remaining fish as quite lethargic. As I've said I really have explored a lot of avenues but one thing I was thinking and maybe someone could offer their opinion is...could some of my fish be carriers of some sort of disease but not affect them, I say this because I have 3 harlequin rasboras that have been in there from day 1 (5 years ago) and 2 flying foxes that that were introduced maybe a year ago. All other species have not survived.

As ever any help/opinion would be appreciated.

Thanks

Offline MarquisMirage

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #23 on: February 14, 2017, 09:02:14 PM »
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The symptoms of your problem sound like old tank syndrome to me.  Your old fish aren't carriers, they're just used to the water parameters as they've grown with the tank over time.  The new fish come straight from the fish store and aren't used to your water parameters and die.

The problem is your water parameters as far as the pH going up doesn't match an expected pH drop with old tank syndrome.  The low kH is a classic indicator though.  The good news is there's a very easy fix.  Add baking soda gradually to raise the kH to around 3-4 kH.  Gradual is important as your existing fish will be killed if you try to go to 3-4 kH in one go.

Modified:
Oops, I need to add that adding baking soda will raise the overall pH of the aquarium!  If you don't want to raise pH try and get hold of some potassium carbonate (which shouldn't be hard as they're used in planted tanks).

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #24 on: February 14, 2017, 09:31:23 PM »
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Ok great. I will try this.

Just one question, is adding baking soda something I'd need to keep doing continuously or once kh is up it's fine again?

Cheers

Offline MarquisMirage

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #25 on: February 14, 2017, 09:36:33 PM »
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If the root cause is old tank syndrome when the kH is up give the aquarium a deep clean.  Clean the insides of the glass and get as much gunk out as possible.  If the root cause is low kH in your tap water you'll need to add the source of carbonates to the water your adding at the same ppm.  So make sure to do some measuring as you go.  I would recommend going the potassium carbonate path as sodium is basically salt and you really don't want to get too much of that in your tank.

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #26 on: February 14, 2017, 10:01:47 PM »
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Great. Appreciate all the info and advice.

Offline Sue

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #27 on: February 15, 2017, 09:28:33 AM »
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Personally I am not a big fan of adding bicarbonate of soda to a tank with fish in. Apart from the Rift Lakes, no fresh water contains much in the way of sodium, or even potassium.

Have you increased your water changes form more than 17% once every week or two? In the absence of well growing, fast growing plants, there will be a lot of chemicals building up in the tank, which is old tank syndrome. Water changes will also replenish the carbonates in your tank.

Do you know the KH of your tap water? It could be worth taking a sample of tap water to a fish shop and get them to test both GH and KH, then we have a base line for your tank. If you have at least KH 3 in your tap water you should be OK with 40% weekly water changes. This is how I keep my KH topped up.

Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #28 on: February 15, 2017, 09:47:01 AM »
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Not that I doubt upping the water changes won't help but I'm not entirely convinced that  it would resolve whatever is going on in the tank. I've been in and out of a number of Petshops (each of which have said all water tests are fine, the KH aspect was dismissed recently due to my PH being ok) and posting on a forum was a sort of last resort.
What I find frustrating are the amount of people I know who would change their water far less than me and have zero problems.
I'll certainly check my kh in the tap water.
Thanks again

Offline Sue

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #29 on: February 15, 2017, 04:36:48 PM »
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The thing is that we can't test for more than a handful of things. There are countless chemicals excreted/secreted by the fish which we can't test for. Many years ago I used to work in a hospital chemical pathology lab and you'd be amazed at what we tested urine for. The fish equivalent of all those things, plus countless more, end up in the tank water. When insufficient water changes are done, these things build up and as they do the fish acclimatise to them. This is what old tank syndrome is. When new fish are put in the tank they are not acclimatised to them and the sudden move to a tank containing a lot of chemicals damages the new fish.

Old tank syndrome can also affect the existing fish if the fish keeper suddenly does a big water change. This is why when a tank suffers from OTS, small frequent water changes must be done initially to gradually dilute all those chemicals and allow the fish to acclimatise to lower levels.

Offline MarquisMirage

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #30 on: February 15, 2017, 06:17:09 PM »
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Sue's totally right about the slow approach with correcting old tank syndrome with water changes.  I should have been clearer with that.

Offline Littlefish

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #31 on: February 15, 2017, 07:27:02 PM »
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Offline Lee2Gould

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #32 on: February 16, 2017, 08:17:03 PM »
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That link was a really good and interesting read.
Thanks to all of you for your replies. I've certainly learnt a couple of things if nothing else.

Offline Helen

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #33 on: November 04, 2017, 09:02:39 AM »
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@Lee2Gould, did you ever find a solution? I was searching for something else and found this conversation. Your problem sounds an awful lot like the issues I had when I set up my tank. I have fairly neutral pH, soft water and most importantly very low nitrates.

I also have a planted tank. You said you had plants, but they weren't thriving. How many plants do you have and what type of plants.

I eventually discovered that the issues included low calcium (not hardness, which measures carbonate part of the calcium carbonate), which both fish and plants need. Fast growing stem plants and faster swimming fish need more calcium than slow growing /swimming plants and fish.

The ratio of phosphate to nitrates is also really important. The phosphate comes from the fish food, so you need to make sure that you have enough nitrates in your tank to enable the plants to use up the phosphate.

When considering terrestrial plants, fertilisers always talk about NPK, which is nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. Aquatic plants are the same, and it is the balance between these three macro nutrients that optimises growth and water conditions.

I finally got my tank into good condition by adding calcium nitrate and potassium nitrate salts at water change (as well as dosing liquid micro nutrient fertilisers). Once I'd sorted the plants, the fish started to thrive and as I increased the number of fish in my tank, I was able to reduce the additional nitrates.

Something else to note is that a lot of easy to care for starter plants have high demand for nitrates - this is good for most people who have to keep nitrates down with water changes. Less good for those of us that have water with low nitrates. My Amazon sword died completely when my tank got neglected and I stopped adding nitrates.

Hope it isn't too late for your tank.
Helen

Offline Matt

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #34 on: November 05, 2017, 06:56:35 AM »
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a lot of easy to care for starter plants have high demand for nitrates - this is good for most people who have to keep nitrates down with water changes. Less good for those of us that have water with low nitrates.

Firstly sorry for jumping in as Im not who you addressed your message to... but I found this really interesting to read Helen and its not something I'd come across before. 

I have low tap nitrates at 2.3mg/l.  What are your tap water levels? I've always been concerned that nitrate sensitive fish would likw the extra nitrates from a more comprehensive fertiliser (I'm just dosing micro nutrients and keep rams). Have you found any issues here with species you've kept in the past? Do you add CO2?

Offline Sue

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #35 on: November 05, 2017, 09:33:27 AM »
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It seems that nitrate is plants' second choice for fertiliser - they prefer ammonia. This is because a plant has to turn nitrate into ammonia inside itself to utilise nitrate and this uses energy.
With a fully stocked tank the fish should provide enough ammonia for the plants to use. In fact, in a fully stocked tank with a lot of plants ('lot' is the important word here), we don't actually need a filter as the plants would use all the ammonia made by the fish. Lightly stocked, heavily planted tanks would need extra nitrogen fertiliser though.
Aquarium plant nitrogen fertilisers would be better for the plants if they contained ammonium salts rather than nitrate, but the addition of a dose of ammonium salts would not be good for the fish so they have to contain nitrate instead.

Offline Helen

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #36 on: November 05, 2017, 02:59:05 PM »
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According to my water supplier, the typical nitrate in my water is 3.06mg/l. I just measure it as the lowest reading on any test I do ie <5ppm.


Offline Sue

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #37 on: November 05, 2017, 03:15:10 PM »
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Your tank is not fully stocked at the moment, if I recall - there is room for more fish. The numbers of fish you do have probably won't make enough ammonia for all the plants you have, even while you have fewer plants during the substrate change. So yes, you will need to add some form of nitrogen for the plants.
The fact that your tank nitrate is more or less the same as your tap nitrate suggests that the plants are indeed using all the available ammonia from the fish. Plants don't turn ammonia into nitrite or nitrate like the filter bacteria do.

I have slow growing, low light plants of the kind that are attached to decor, and I too have very low tap nitrate. But my plants seem to thrive without the addition of nitrate. I think this is because my fish are stocked to the max, and probably overstocked  :-[ So lots of ammonia for my plants.
I did turn my filter off one evening in spring to straighten it (I had done a water change and the filter was on a tilt) and only realised I'd forgotten to turn in back on the following evening. After a panic, and tests for ammonia and nitrite I found zero of both. The plants and the bacteria in the biofilm all over the tank had used all the ammonia made by my fish in the previous 24 hours.
But I don't recommend anyone turns their filter off to test their plant ammonia uptake  ;)

Offline Helen

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Re: Established tank - issues for a long time
« Reply #38 on: November 05, 2017, 06:22:16 PM »
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I've not actually tested my tank water nitrate recently - for the reason that you mentioned: my tank is extremely under-stocked because of the upheaval I'm putting the tank through. But I also figure that at the moment, disturbing the substrate so much, I don't need to add any extra nitrates because I need my plants to 'clean' the water as much as possible to support the filter as I change so much.

When I get to the point where I've finished messing with the substrate, but I've not yet re-stocked, I will need to add nitrates.

I guess that a lot of new starters - with planted tanks, would be in the same position. When I first started my tank, I cycled, then planted, then stocked with fish. And in the early days, before I'd sufficiently stocked, my plants were failing, then the fish I had failed. So I didn't want to buy more fish for them to fail. It was the research into plants and then adding nitrates that got me over the hump and enabled me to sufficiently stock with fish. Then I got to a point where I didn't need to add nitrates and my tank was stable and almost self supporting. It's only micro environment.

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