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Discussion Starter #1
Well it's been just over a year since we set up our first aquarium. We had been researching aquariums for about 6 months previous to that so we had an idea what we were committing to and we understood the nitrogen cycle. We didn’t research any specific fish as we knew we’d have 6-8 weeks waiting on the new system to cycle to decide what we wanted to stock it with. We were bored one afternoon and so we wandered into our local Petland just to look around and that’s when we saw the most BEAUTIFUL mustard gas halfmoon betta. He was so friendly, wiggling and dancing, not trying to hide at the back of his bowl like the others in the store that day. He stole our hearts right then and there! It happened that there was a package deal for a bowfront 26g with a hob filter, stand, hood with LED light and a heater for 250$ Canadian. Around our area that was a pretty great deal.
As the sales assistant walked toward us we were about to make our first mistake as fishkeepers…listening to ANY advice coming from a big box pet store sales associate. When she discovered we were aware of the nitrogen cycle she moved right into the “bettas are different” speech. “Because of their labyrinth organ bettas aren’t affected by a cycling tank, plus Nutrafin Cycle will almost immediately establish your cycle anyway. You would be fine to take him home today and keep him in a cup for two days, one to set up the tank and one more to make sure everything works properly.” And so, it began...

We bought the betta which we had already name Jack (Fight Club, anyone?), three unidentified live plants, some gravel, a decoration, the Aquarium kit, Nutrafin Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate tests and some frozen bloodworms and off we went. We set it up added the Nutrafin cycle, waited 2 days and float acclimated Jack to his new home. He seemed very happy, zooming here and there checking everything out.
Within a couple weeks the plants started dying, we bought root tabs and Seachem Comprehensive, they continued to die off. We bought an expensive light and they continued to struggle. About a month to 6 weeks had passed and Jack was still doing very well and so we decided to get him 4 cherry shrimp for company. The plants were still dying so we bought Seachem Excel liquid carbon. I used the carbon as directed for about 2 weeks without issue it seemed. I dosed the tank one day and when I went to feed everyone that evening all 4 shrimp were dead and Jack was in bad shape. We’d found a LFS with a girl who knew all about fish but not a lot about planted tanks. She (I’ll call her fish girl) helped me save Jack’s life in hospital bowl with some Epsom salt and lots of water changes. It was sketchy for about a month but he pulled through. I believe he had some permanent damage internally however because he was never quite the same or as active and he was a MUCH weaker swimmer but he seemed as healthy and happy as we were going to get him. We bought and set up a 10 gallon and a fluval 106 canister filter for him during his month in the hospital bowl. We decided we needed to figure out the planted tank without fish in it. We did add a couple of plants that seemed oblivious to our inexperience and bought him a cave. Once he was settled in we went back to trying to sort out the bowfront.

Fish girl realized we had used Nutrafin Cycle and she believed that our tank was not properly cycled and that we must be having mini cycles and that an ammonia or nitrite spike was probably what killed the shrimp and made Jack so ill. We had been testing for ammonia and nitrite but hadn’t seen any and I personally believe that it was Excel that caused the issue but I felt like we owed her a little faith since she had helped us nurse Jack back to health. We hated the HoB filter and figured that since we were pretty much starting over it was a good time to switch to a canister filter and so we purchased an Aquatop CF400 UV. We also switched out the gravel for Seachem Flourite sand. We ran both filters for a month and then removed the HoB. The plants were still slowly dying and we made many adjustments to the lights and fertilizers to no avail. We were reaching the 4-month mark now. We never did read any ammonia or nitrite so I don’t know what to say about that but fish girl said it was time to try some fish again. We chose white Cloud mountain minnows and brought 8 home. She warned us that we’d need to do extra water changes and to test often for ammonia and nitrite which we did. All went well we decided to get some Java Moss since it it’s easy care and we still weren’t having much success with the plants. We attached it to some spider wood and shortly after we started getting green water. We turned on the UV light that is built into our canister filter and it cleared up within a week. But now we had some weird sheets of bright green stuff growing on the Java Moss, I kept cleaning it off weekly but the stuff wouldn’t go away. One of the minnows started hanging at the bottom in the plants a lot. He got worse by the day and after about a week it died. The other 7 seemed fine and so we and fish girl chalked it up to a weak fish. The bright green sheet kept growing and was slowly spreading throughout the tank. The fish seemed fine however, A few weeks later we decide to get 3 otocinclus with the intention of getting 3 more in another couple weeks. Another minnow starts acting sick and another. One of the otos fell ill and the 2 sick minnows died. Now we know we have a real problem and think it’s the green sheet which research suggested was cyanobacteria. A few articles suggested that certain strains are toxic to fish and that we needed to correct the imbalance in our tank to make it go away.

We decided that co2 would be our next attempted correction. Looking around a new co2 setup was going to be about $350 which was too much for a “possible” solution. We decided to go with a DIY of baking soda and citric acid with a pressure gauge, solenoid and ball valve. I am not employed so I could watch it carefully through the day. It seemed stable at about 2 bps. The green sheet continued to grow and the remaining fish were getting sick and dying one at a time. I keep cleaning the green sheet off the plants and driftwood. I wake up one morning and the tank has EXPLODED with algae! It’s been suggested it was hair algae and in a matter of 3 days it completely took over the tank. Like you couldn’t see anything but the green sheet and the hair algae. We turned off the co2, did a large water change and blacked out the tank for 3 days. What a mess when it was over. We’re down to 3 minnows and 1 oto. We bought another 10g and moved the remaining 4 fish into it with some media from Jack’s 10g.

We felt like the tank was toxic and unsalvageable and no matter what we tried the green sheet wouldn’t go away and it’s getting uglier and uglier in there. I ripped the tank down. I used bleach to clean everything. I boiled and baked all the sand and driftwoods for hours, I ran my filter with a 5% bleach solution, fresh each day, for 5 days, I threw away the pads but I kept the media, I left it in the filter while it was running with the bleach. I disassembled everything and let it dry thoroughly for a few more days. I scrubbed the heck out of the tank and let it soak with bleach for a day (I was worried about the bleach destroying the silicon so I was afraid to leave it longer). The oto and 2 more minnows died during this time in the hospital tank. I soaked all my plants in hydrogen peroxide. Straight out of the bottle, if they died, they died, I wanted the cyano GONE. Most of them did die, LOL but whatever, I had a few tough bits survive. We’re at about 10 months at this time. We’re feeling pretty beat up and beat down at this point. We’re determined people though and so we set the tank back up. We decided no more fish in this tank until we’re SURE. I take their deaths really hard, I put them in a box of water and they are completely helpless to defend themselves against my ignorance.

I set the tank back up and planted the few plants that made it through the 2-day soak in hydrogen peroxide. I bought a Nutrafin liquid GH/KH test and we got an old PH pocket pen meter from a friend. We dropped the light down to low, threw away the DIY co2. No sign of the cyano, thank goodness. We find our KH is 4 and our GH 3 and our PH is about 7.5. Start cycling the tank again. This time the tests show the ammonia and the nitrite as they should but we still never see nitrates. We wake up one morning and the gosh darn hair algae was coming back. I cried. I literally cried. GRRRRRRRRRRRRR. My research suggested that algae and cyano can flourish in a low nitrate tank and that too much light can cause all types of algae as well. I had no fish to kill so I decided it’s time to be drastic. My gut kept telling me than even though every forum I posted on said to reduce ferts and lights it hadn’t worked in 11 months and it clearly was NOT the problem. The second last minnow died. One left. I named him Trooper. He seemed healthy but began sulking a lot and I know it’s a schooling fish and I felt bad for him. I bought 2 neon tetras as the minnows have been deemed an invasive species this last year and I can’t get them anymore. I thought at least something else about his size and living might make him feel better. It did. He perked right back up, so I think he was lonely. One of the neon’s died about a week after we got him but I had a feeling he was going to from day one. He just always hung near the bottom from the time he entered the tank. The other neon and the minnow hung out for about a month happily as they could in a bare bottomed, single cave, one fake plant hospital tank.
I semi ripped the tank down again. I cleaned all the plants in water and removed all the hair algae I could and emptied the tank of water and moved it. I maintained the filter as is, I only removed the water so I could move it. It was getting some filtered sun where it was originally and I wanted total control over its lighting. I placed it in our living room. It’s very dark as we love movies and hate streaks of light on our screen. We bought some powdered phosphates and nitrogen to add to the pmdd ferts we’ve been using. Before this the highest dose of ferts I put in was 1 ml 2x a week. For most of that period I was dosing .3-.5ml 2 or 3 times a week. I decide that I’m going to make that gosh darn test show me some nitrates even if I had to add 4 pds of ferts to that tank. I added 5ml every day. The hair algae tried to come back on day 2 or 3 but I just left it and kept dosing 5 ml a day. I tested nitrates every day too. I used more ferts in 2 weeks than I have since we bought the tank, lol.

The hair algae stopped growing! HOLY CRAP!!! I gave the tank a good cleaning and removed all I could again and kept dosing 5mls a day. I tested the nitrates, OMG IT’S NOT YELLOW KEVIN! IT’S NOT YELLOW!! I was practically screaming at him, lol. I had about 5ppm of nitrates, proudest day of my fish career! I have NITRATES people! Over the next couple days, the nitrate test went from 5 to 10 to 15. The algae weren’t coming back, as it turned out it was way too much fertilizer at that point. I had to do some pretty big water changes and stop ferts for a week to get them to stop increasing. This brings us to about the end of November. Trooper died, /sigh. One lonely neon tetra left.
Nothing is perfect yet but my plants had mostly stopped dying for the first time in 10.5 months. They are still weak and I haven’t found just the right amount of ferts yet to maintain my tank. But for 2 months I hadn’t had any algae to speak of. I began dosing Seachem Equilibrium around this time as well because our GH is only 3 and I know you shouldn’t chase the numbers but my research and some problems with my betta led me to feel like it was a little low. I have been maintaining a GH of about 6.5. My nitrates were still going up and down a bit more than I’d of liked but I finally felt like I had things under control.

My Ph was never stable but I didn’t trust the meter we were using. It was really old. We purchased a new one and a tds/ec meter. I began testing at random times but multiple times a week. My GH is stable at about 6.5, Ammonia, and nitrite are always 0. I tested .25ppm Ammonia 2x in 2 months but I believe that was Prime water conditioner reacting to my API test kit or user error. Our KH is a stable 5, I have nitrates almost figured out they are usually between 10-20ppm. I’m still working on the right dose of ferts so it drops to 5 occasionally and it goes up past 20 occasionally but’s slowly levelling out. My PH moves between about 7.4-7.6 which I think is fine but maybe that’s too much variation? My tds ranges from about 215-235 depending on where we are from a water change and my ec is usually approximately double the tds reading which I currently understand to be normal.
My neon tetra is getting like Trooper was, healthy but sulky. I felt bad for him. We decided to try some fish in the main tank in early January. We bought 6 platies. One of the 6 died before I could even acclimate them. I exchanged the one who didn’t make it the next day all 6 are still with us 2.5 months later. We even found a baby during a water change about a week after we got them under the driftwood! I moved him into a diy breeder tank and fed him and cared for him alone for about 5 weeks before reintroducing him to main tank. He is very well. The neon tetra spent about 1.5 weeks pacing, pacing, pacing back and forth along the wall that faces the main tank. I think he could see the platies and was dying to not be alone. I moved him over and he has doubled in size and gets along well. I know he is a schooling fish but we don’t really want neon tetras, they were just the closest looking thing to the minnows I could find at the time. During that time, we bought 6 guppies. Fish girl didn’t want us to get them, she said they aren’t that hardy anymore because of breeding practices and it’s hard to get a good stock. She said once you do it should be fine but I wouldn’t expect all 6 to live. We bought them anyway. One died about a week later but he was smaller than the others and his tail was weird from day one. Another went missing, I later realized he jumped out of the tank. I had carried a bit too much water upstairs during a water change and I carelessly thought it was no big deal to fill the tank a little fuller than usual. We lose about 1.5 g per week to evaporation so I didn’t think much of it. I won’t make that mistake again /sigh. One more guppy fell ill and died and I don’t know why. That was about 6 weeks ago, and we haven’t replaced them. We were warned that they can be weak but I want to just slow up in case something is wrong again because that third one looked and behaved perfectly fine and then was ill and dead in 3 days.

I’m nervous now, it seems like it’s about 3 months between catastrophes and it’s coming up. I’ve still not quite gotten the fertilizers figured out. My plants are doing much better and there is a lot more growing than dying going on but they aren’t flourishing either. They’ve been through a lot though. I’ve also noticed that I’m getting some green spot algae and it’s gaining. My research says this is usually too much light or not enough phosphates. I know it’s not too much light, it’s only on for 7 hrs/d and it’s on its lowest setting and the tank does not get any sunlight, filtered or otherwise. The stock light in the hospital tank is brighter, lol. I’ve just started upping the phosphates a little bit and am currently waiting to see if it slows the gsa. The platies, guppies and tetra appear healthy and happy currently and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
I didn’t expect this to be such a challenging hobby. Tons of people keep fish. It’s been a long frustrating year but I’m addicted and am determined to become successful at it. I have a long way to go for sure but at least I don’t feel sick every morning until I look into the living room and see all the fish begging for food and no algae explosions.

I plan to post some pics later but I'm out of time for today.
 

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Sounds like a year many of us can empathize with, at one point or another. No one is ever "in the clear" after the aquarium system fully mature, but as time goes on, everything that goes right is a "cushion" or "insurance" for future trials and errors. Glad to have you in the bandwagon. I think part of the addiction is the challenge, as disappointing and stressful as it may have been in the moment.

All this said, I don't think there's any one magic formula for fertilization. Maybe I'm too laidback. Here's a really awesome video by Dennis Wong on YouTube. He's a well known expert on planted aquariums found on the tube:


It's summarized visual video format, and objective look at established methods, that makes him my go-to for information.

Cheers!

Drew
 

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An awesome journey!

Sounds like a year many of us can empathize with, at one point or another. No one is ever "in the clear" after the aquarium system fully mature, but as time goes on, everything that goes right is a "cushion" or "insurance" for future trials and errors. Glad to have you in the bandwagon. I think part of the addiction is the challenge, as disappointing and stressful as it may have been in the moment.

All this said, I don't think there's any one magic formula for fertilization. Maybe I'm too laidback. Here's a really awesome video by Dennis Wong on YouTube. He's a well known expert on planted aquariums found on the tube:


It's summarized visual video format, and objective look at established methods, that makes him my go-to for information.

Cheers!

Drew
 
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