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Soft water and cycling

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So I’m new to fishing keeping hobby and I wanna have a planted tank, I currently have a 5 gallon planted tank with amazon swords and Java ferns that’s doing well. I wanna plant  a 20 gallon but I’m having some confusion. If plants prefer to grow in a slightly acidic environment, how do you also grow beneficial bacteria for the nitrogen cycle? As I understand it, the bacteria needed for the cycle grow best at around 7.0 ph and will slow down in growth as the ph drops. How do you keep a tank cycled, while also having slightly acidic water for the plants and fish? Should also state that id like to have 6 kuhli loaches for this build. 

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Hi Ursus, 

Welcome to the forum and the hobby! Here are some thoughts to help guide you in the right direction:

1) First things first, I would not put too much stock into the "ideal" parameters that you see online. I would say to just work with the water that comes out of your tap, unless there are lots of harmful substances like Copper or Mercury OR you are trying to maintain a very specific plant/fish. The reason I say this is because most plants may "prefer slightly acidic pH" but will grow just fine at higher pHs like 7.4 or even 8.0. Trying to chase an ideal parameter, especially as a beginner, can be difficult and discouraging if something goes wrong. So get a test kit and see what your water is like out of the tap, and make adjustments to stocking or substrate based on your water. 

2) Plants and bacteria have ranges for pH tolerance. This goes for fish as well. Beneficial bacteria can probably go all the way down to about 6.0 pH before you have serious die-off (someone correct me if I'm wrong), but anything above that will be fine if you want to establish a "cycle". Those beneficial bacteria will live in your filter, on the walls of the aquarium, in the substrate, and on the plants. Some people don't even run filters and just have gravel and air stones. In your case, it will be even easier since plants will also take up calcium, magnesium, and nitrogenous wastes like nitrates. I have kept Kuhli loaches in the past in a planted tank where the pH was 8.2. Like I said, living things are adaptive, and as long as there aren't a ton of stressors like poor nutrition, bullying from tank mates, improper temperature, or high nitrates/ammonia, fish can adapt to your water. I would like to add that Kuhli loaches are especially sturdy and resilient. 

3) As you learn more about planted tanks, you will also learn about other parameters called GH (general hardness) and KH (carbonate hardness). GH is basically how much minerals you have in the water like magnesium and calcium, this is what makes "hard water". KH is how many buffering compounds you have (like carbonates and bicarbonates). The reason why this is important is because you can have "hard" water with a pH of 8.0 but be subject to pH crashes because you like buffering components like carbonates/bicarbonates. 

4) Having a balanced and aged tank is more important than having a "cycled" or "ideal parameters" tank. With fish tanks, we are trying to establish ecosystems that are resilient against change. It can take months for your aquarium to balance out, but when you reach that point, it's almost bulletproof. Cory coined the term: "Seasoned Tank Time". Here is a video explaining that concept: 

5) Let me know if you have any other questions / your questions didn't get properly answered. 


Edited by AnimalNerd98
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Thank you so much everyone! This has really eased my mind on the subject. So essentially, I should test my water and see what the perimeter are from the tap, then try to make a game plan based on the results. Also having a  a seasoned tank is far more important than chasing perimeters, which honestly removes some of the headache involved I feel haha. 

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