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Doing all the right things, but fish don't live long.


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Hi everyone.  I'm very frustrated and need some advice.  I have a 55 gallon tank.  It's been up for 3 months now.  My dip stick tells me no chlorine, no nitrates, no nitrites, 6.5 Ph, acidic water, but I still can't seem to get my ammonia levels to zero.  I have been doing 50-80% water changes for a week now.  The gravel is spotless and I condition the water coming out of the tap.  I really want fish!  I have some plants that seem okay, but the few times I've put fish in there, they don't last.  I'm a fish killer, and I feel so bad about it.  What could possibly be so wrong with my tank?  I'm really wasting a lot of conditioner in this battle for good parameters.  Any help would be very appreciated.  Also, love your videos.  You are very helpful and mellow.  Keep it up.  Thanks, Sweet Sharon

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28 minutes ago, Sweet Sharon said:

Hi everyone.  I'm very frustrated and need some advice.  I have a 55 gallon tank.  It's been up for 3 months now.  My dip stick tells me no chlorine, no nitrates, no nitrites, 6.5 Ph, acidic water, but I still can't seem to get my ammonia levels to zero.  I have been doing 50-80% water changes for a week now.  The gravel is spotless and I condition the water coming out of the tap.  I really want fish!  I have some plants that seem okay, but the few times I've put fish in there, they don't last.  I'm a fish killer, and I feel so bad about it.  What could possibly be so wrong with my tank?  I'm really wasting a lot of conditioner in this battle for good parameters.  Any help would be very appreciated.  Also, love your videos.  You are very helpful and mellow.  Keep it up.  Thanks, Sweet Sharon

Hey there, welcome to the forum. Don't worry, every new fish keeping goes through a "fish killer" stage. Don't beat yourself up too much about it. It is not water changes that will remove ammonia (water changes and plants remove nitrates), but beneficial bacteria that grows on surfaces in the aquarium. To provide maximum beneficial bacteria coverage, add extra sponges or bio-media to your filters, rather than interchangable cartridges. If you want more, consider getting a sponge filter if you don't have one already. These sponges will provide homes for bacteria that will in turn consume ammonia and convert it into the easily manageable nitrites and nitrates. Here is a video that Cory posted on this topic:

Here is a video on the nitrogen cycle.

Anyways, I hope this helps. Good luck!

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Hi.  I've got three different water conditioners: Dr. Tim's aqua cleanse, Top Fin water conditioner, and Fritz complete.  I can't remember which chemicals I used to cycle, but I did put some goldfish in there after two weeks, and they lived three weeks and then died.  That was my fault for putting in 10 comets, and I was surprised that they went from being friendly and swimming at all levels and eating from my hand.

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Step one. if you have ammonia and don't have fish, STOP CLEANING. You do not have a cycled tank. You need to let the tank grow bacteria that will eat the ammonia. You need to leave them alone to do that.

You don't really want "spotless" gravel. You don't want to be doing massive water changes. You want to see ammonia go down, and eventually nitrates to go UP. Then you can think about fish.

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16 minutes ago, Brandy said:

Step one. if you have ammonia and don't have fish, STOP CLEANING. You do not have a cycled tank. You need to let the tank grow bacteria that will eat the ammonia. You need to leave them alone to do that.

You don't really want "spotless" gravel. You don't want to be doing massive water changes. You want to see ammonia go down, and eventually nitrates to go UP. Then you can think about fish.

agreed. and maybe dont put any goldfish in a 55 gallon. I put 2-3 platies in my 60g and was still nervous, even with a few bunches of wisteria and val.

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Thanks for the advice.  I was wondering if I was changing water too much.  But it just got depressing spending all the money on conditioners and cycle chemicals, so since the main theme seems to be water changing I started doing that.  After watching Cory's video, I think I will put a sponge on the intake and back off water changes.  What do you suggest for restarting the nitrogen cycle as if I'm just starting this again?

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If I use half a shrimp or salmon, how long will it be before it's cycled?  I think I assumed that when I got the nitrites and nitrates down to zero on the test strip that he tank was cycled.  Should I also leave dead leaves in the tank instead of scooping them out?  And...did the water changes kill the good bacteria?  I've got a Fluval 406, and I replaced the carbon with more sponges, and I learned a few years back not to do anything but take big pieces off of the sponges.  (I used to be good at this, then I had a snail infestation, and just stopped being a fish keeper for two years.) Thanks so much for helping me out here! 🙂

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The only concern I've heard when using raw fish/shrimp for cycling is that it can smell. I opted for a bag of ammonium chloride off Amazon. Odorless and easy to measure!

20 minutes ago, Sweet Sharon said:

Thanks for the advice.  I was wondering if I was changing water too much.  But it just got depressing spending all the money on conditioners and cycle chemicals, so since the main theme seems to be water changing I started doing that.  After watching Cory's video, I think I will put a sponge on the intake and back off water changes.  What do you suggest for restarting the nitrogen cycle as if I'm just starting this again?

The tank is empty right now, yeah? If so, leave it that way for a while. Stop cleaning anything in the tank. Even if things get brown and gunky, let 'em be for a while. Like @Brandy said, you'll need to add a source of ammonia into the tank if it's empty. Snails work for this, but they don't produce much. You can also "feed" the tank every day or so. Eventually, the fish food will start to rot. Same principle behind the raw shrimp/fish/NHCl3. 

Just a waiting game after that. Once you see ammonia start to rise you'll know things are moving along. 

  

1 minute ago, Sweet Sharon said:

If I use half a shrimp or salmon, how long will it be before it's cycled?  I think I assumed that when I got the nitrites and nitrates down to zero on the test strip that he tank was cycled.  Should I also leave dead leaves in the tank instead of scooping them out?  And...did the water changes kill the good bacteria?  I've got a Fluval 406, and I replaced the carbon with more sponges, and I learned a few years back not to do anything but take big pieces off of the sponges.  (I used to be good at this, then I had a snail infestation, and just stopped being a fish keeper for two years.) Thanks so much for helping me out here! 🙂

First, dont use half a salmon, haha. Use a tiny chunk of raw fish or shrimp. I think folks usually end up having to weight it down for a bit.

Did you actually have ammonia and nitrite rise in this tank?

Leave all the dead stuff in there!

Water changes probably didn't kill any good bacteria you had started, but they can certainly slow the process by depriving them of food from the water column.

Snails are awesome. Let them infest all the tanks!

Edited by Schwack
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6 minutes ago, Sweet Sharon said:

If I use half a shrimp or salmon, how long will it be before it's cycled?  I think I assumed that when I got the nitrites and nitrates down to zero on the test strip that he tank was cycled.  Should I also leave dead leaves in the tank instead of scooping them out?  And...did the water changes kill the good bacteria?  I've got a Fluval 406, and I replaced the carbon with more sponges, and I learned a few years back not to do anything but take big pieces off of the sponges.  (I used to be good at this, then I had a snail infestation, and just stopped being a fish keeper for two years.) Thanks so much for helping me out here! 🙂

I honestly don’t remember how low it took, it’s been a while and I wasn’t in a hurry. I never had a smell problem. If you had nitrites, than you were getting there, but the water changes did probably hurt. The most important thing is patience on this. You’re getting good advice, just go it slow and it will come around. 

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The tank is still up and running because of the plants and my desire for optimal parameters for the fish I hope to slowly add.  Since it's reading ammonia in the tank, I'll just let it be and maybe throw something in there like some fish food.  

 

If you don't all mind, I have another question.  I've spent countless hours watching videos and reading my aquarium books, (twice!) and the more knowledge I acquire, the thing that is front and center is how stressed fish can be with all the handling and what not that goes on.  That's why I put 10 comets in at once, so they'd be comfortable.  How many small tetras should I put in when the tank finally cycles?  I want Cory's too, but unless they are babies, more than 3 at a time would probably not be good.

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When the tank actually does cycle, you can put in 6-8 tetras OR corys, and just feed not at all for the first few days. Right now, as you are feeding the empty tank, feed the amount you expect to feed those first fish, to build the bacteria up to prepare for that load. 

 

Go light here--you don't want to end up with a disgusting mess, but just a constant trickle of food can help. Then you get the fish, dont feed for a few days, then start slowly feeding a little, and slowly ramp up. That will let your bacteria adjust.

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6 minutes ago, Sweet Sharon said:

The tank is still up and running because of the plants and my desire for optimal parameters for the fish I hope to slowly add.  Since it's reading ammonia in the tank, I'll just let it be and maybe throw something in there like some fish food.  

 

If you don't all mind, I have another question.  I've spent countless hours watching videos and reading my aquarium books, (twice!) and the more knowledge I acquire, the thing that is front and center is how stressed fish can be with all the handling and what not that goes on.  That's why I put 10 comets in at once, so they'd be comfortable.  How many small tetras should I put in when the tank finally cycles?  I want Cory's too, but unless they are babies, more than 3 at a time would probably not be good.

I cant remember where I saw it, but someone on this forum broke down how much most farmed fish are handled before they even get to a fish store. We treat our fish like royalty compared to how they're handled in many fish farms. I wouldn't worry too much about over-stressing your fish by adding them to the tank. However, 10 goldfish at once probably overwhelmed your biological filter. With a 55 gallon, you could probably keep something like 30+ neon tetras and have room for more fish down the road. So long as you add them slowly, you won't overwhelm your tanks ability to process their waste.

How long has the tank been without livestock?

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It's been about two weeks since the last fish died.  Actually ordered them online despite the price because I figured they'd be handled less, but they died too.  It was two Cory's and 3 H. rasboras.  I get very attached to the fish, and want nothing but a great tank for them, that's why it's been so frustrating.   May I ask, any of you, what type set up you have with plants and fish?  And ho long you have been addicted to this hobby?

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Hi Sharon, welcome! Sorry you’ve been having such a hard time with the fish, the good news is that you have Ammonia already so now you just have to wait. The bacteria will grow in the filter and on the gravel and other features in the tank. Follow @Brandy’s advice in the thread and all should go well. 
 

Edited by Patrick_G
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One of the hardest parts of this "hobby" (some might call it a lifestyle) is learning patience.  Cycling tanks takes time.  There are lot of good suggestions on shortening it but it still takes time.  There are a few ways to do it; I personally do not do fish in cycling, I just put some unscented ammonia liquid in daily (the amount depends on the tank size) and monitor for nitrite after a few days.  I'll usually dump in some filter media from an existing tank and some stability.  Test for Nitrites only until they show up (I have not figured out how they size the test kits 8 drops for ammonia, 5 for nitrite, 10 for nitrate.  The bottles should be sized better but that is another discussion) 2 days later test for nitrates as well.  As soon as the nitrites go to 0 large water change and start adding fish.

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52 minutes ago, Sweet Sharon said:

It's been about two weeks since the last fish died.  Actually ordered them online despite the price because I figured they'd be handled less, but they died too.  It was two Cory's and 3 H. rasboras.  I get very attached to the fish, and want nothing but a great tank for them, that's why it's been so frustrating.   May I ask, any of you, what type set up you have with plants and fish?  And ho long you have been addicted to this hobby?

Any chance you have snails or anything in there? It seems like a good bet there's still ammonia being produced from leftover food and fish waste, but it's probably not a bad idea to create a new, continuing source for your bacteria to consume. Adding fish food each day will give you some decaying organic matter and ensure the bacteria in the tank are able to feed and grow. I'm a huge fan of using pure ammonia, mostly because it's fast and easy to dose. The fish food method will get you to the same place, but will take a bit more time.

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There is already a lot here, and so I don't mean to pile on, but I'm curious - how much ammonia is in your tank right now?  And have you ever tested the water out of your tap to see if there is any ammonia in it? 

It can take up to at least a month to cycle, and as others have mentioned, with regular testing, you should be able to see the ammonia drop to zero, at which point you'll start getting nitrites, and then the nitites should drop to zero (which for some reason for me always takes much longer than the ammonia and is harder to be patient about because you're so close!), and then you'll start getting nitrates.  Once the tank is fully cycled, you'll know because you can put a source of ammonia (food or a fish) into the tank and you should still be able to maintain 0 ammonia and nitrites, while nitrate levels increase (and ppl differ on the exact level - but you can set your water change schedule based on how high your nitrate levels get). 

When you say "brown leaves" do you mean leaves from live plants you bought that died and fell off, or like dried leaves (cattappa, etc.) that you intentionally put in there?  I'm curious why your pH level is slightly acidic, or is that just normal for your tap water?   

The three water conditioners you mentioned will not help your tank cycle. Conditioners are primarily for removing chlorine from the water, and secondarily for detoxifying ammonia and/or nitrite if you have those in your water in case you have fish in there. (But will only detoxify for 24 hours and will not remove ammonia or nitrite, and overdosing the conditioner itself can be potentially harmful).  You could try Fritzzyme 7 or Tetra safe start (bottled beneficial bacteria) to "boost" the cycle -- some ppl say those do not do anything (and they are certainly not necessarily, beneficial bacteria are already present), but I do feel like they worked for me.  Even though they advertise it, I do not recommend adding fish right away even if you do use those -- I still waited at least a month to let the tank cycle after adding Fritzzyme 7 when I didn't have any established media available (filter or gravel from another already cycled tank). 

Good luck and keep us posted! 

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Welcome Sharon! You’re getting great advice on cycling, so I won’t add to it. Just be patient, feed the bacteria with something (fish food, half a shrimp, whatever you choose), and let the bacteria grow.

20 hours ago, Sweet Sharon said:

May I ask, any of you, what type set up you have with plants and fish?  And ho long you have been addicted to this hobby?

I’ve personally been in this for about a year and a half. I have a 55 gallon tank.

When I started cycling (in Nov 2019) it looked like this:

7ED89516-49D3-4010-9326-B7C2240879F7.jpeg.da7b16734532a30b9b2b84ae83496df4.jpeg

I added plants in December. Still no fish.

EA4C8C88-C163-4D4C-B327-93F2CE5E8B75.jpeg.8c20774346c7097a449983ca14f7d3cf.jpeg

Two months later in February, I added a few pygmy cories and some cherry shrimp. (And I had lots of snails!)

D6BE88E7-96EC-44D4-9A56-6122D3441DA0.jpeg.9d386066ec87e5a9d754dfabf7d39a2a.jpeg

And here’s the tank after a year (with a new background)!

CEFADD2D-40EF-4ADB-87C1-9C6E9225B076.jpeg.76f150652ab622b695663e77507f9d66.jpeg

Just showing you that cycling can take a while, and it’s okay if things look ugly in the meantime. You will get there!

Edited by Hobbit
Changing picture order to be chronological
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Hi again.  Thanks for all your suggestions.  I can see patience is needed here, and I guess that's the hardest part.  Until then, I'll have to keep stopping in and visiting the fish in the tanks at the fish dealers around here.  I really don't remember having these problems in the past.  But then again....memories...not so clear as we think sometimes eh?  Love your nicknames by the way.  I've never inquired to a forum before, and you have made it easy for this introvert!

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