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Nitrates and Plants


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Sometimes high nitrates are caused by overfeeding. If there were a group called Overfeeders Anonymous I would probably be a member. I think most people feel the urge to feed too much because fish always behave as if they are hungry and we don't want our fish to be hungry, I combat this tendency by measuring the food each day with a measuring spoon and by having a fasting day each week. This also helps improve water clarity. Water changes every 3-4 days will solve the problem in the short run, but you don't want to do that forever.

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Hi I don’t know what kind of filter you have but I read a post Last week on canister flow lines....I normally don’t use cans but got 2 last year for the current it produces.  I was shocked at the amount of goo I got out of the hoses after I read the post...before it never occurred to me to clean them...duh.  My nitrates plummeted and have stayed lower and do not rise as quickly since I did this.  Just wanted to share in case it helps. 

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On 6/28/2021 at 8:34 AM, HH Morant said:

Sometimes high nitrates are caused by overfeeding. If there were a group called Overfeeders Anonymous I would probably be a member. I think most people feel the urge to feed too much because fish always behave as if they are hungry and we don't want our fish to be hungry, I combat this tendency by measuring the food each day with a measuring spoon and by having a fasting day each week. This also helps improve water clarity. Water changes every 3-4 days will solve the problem in the short run, but you don't want to do that forever.

Thank you, there may be a bit of excess food but with just 1 fish right now he is just fed a small pinch of flakes.  I have got the count to come down from 160 to 80 but it has stayed at 80 for the last week even though I have changed out about 35 gallons in that week.

I will try a bigger dump of water at a time starting tomorrow maybe 30 gallons at once.

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On 6/28/2021 at 9:28 AM, Guppysnail said:

Hi I don’t know what kind of filter you have but I read a post Last week on canister flow lines....I normally don’t use cans but got 2 last year for the current it produces.  I was shocked at the amount of goo I got out of the hoses after I read the post...before it never occurred to me to clean them...duh.  My nitrates plummeted and have stayed lower and do not rise as quickly since I did this.  Just wanted to share in case it helps. 

Thanks, I am running 2 Penguin 375 bio filters. I filled one compartment with foam on one of them but the other 3 compartments have pretty dirty filters I was hoping to leave in until I got it all stabilized.  I guess I could pull them out and bag them with water in them and then see if I can get my count down?  I will do that on  my water dump tomorrow.

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Hello @Steve A, it sounds like you may have had old tank syndrome. Do you know what your tap water nitrate level and gh is? Also, just going based off of your nitrate readings you are giving, I am going to assume  you are using the api test kit. The 40 ppm and 80 ppm nitrate chart color is very similar so it may be that it has gone down and it is some color inbetween but is very difficult to differentiate. It is also a lot faster to get down from 160 to 80 than from 80 to 40 if the same amount of water is being changed. 

If you could give us a picture of the aquarium and the size, it would be very helpful. I would continue doing water changes at the rate you are going, if it is old tank syndrome, you want to get the levels back down gradually, not all at once or as fast as possible. 

As far as your plant question goes, yes, plants would eat at your nitrates and ammonia. However, it could have a nutrient deficiency if the nitrogen is high but it is limited in something else like carbon dioxide, potassium, phosphorous, etc. I would try to use a floating plant or riparian type plant like pothos (roots in the water but leaves outside of water) to remove the nitrogen as they will grow the quickest given they have access to the atmospheres carbon dioxide. 

If you want to clean your filters, you can just clean one of them while keeping the other one dirty. That will help clean out some of the sludge but still keep your system going more stable than cleaning both at once. 

I hope that helps! 

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If you have only one fish and feed it sparingly you could clean every filter in that tank all at the same time and that fish wouldn't know the difference depending on the size of the fish.  The plants would keep down any ammonia one fish could produce. Plants will take ammonia directly faster than using nitrates.

 Depending on the plants density that tank doesn't even need a filter.  If your filter is heavily gunked up like you say....take some tank water and wash the bejesus out of it ...all of it...and put it back. Your tank and fish will never know the difference.

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Posted (edited)
On 6/28/2021 at 11:09 PM, Isaac M said:

ello @Steve A, it sounds like you may have had old tank syndrome. Do you know what your tap water nitrate level and gh is? Also, just going based off of your nitrate readings you are giving, I am going to assume  you are using the api test kit. The 40 ppm and 80 ppm nitrate chart color is very similar so it may be that it has gone down and it is some color inbetween but is very difficult to differentiate. It is also a lot faster to get down from 160 to 80 than from 80 to 40 if the same amount of water is being changed. 

If you could give us a picture of the aquarium and the size, it would be very helpful. I would continue doing water changes at the rate you are going, if it is old tank syndrome, you want to get the levels back down gradually, not all at once or as fast as possible. 

As far as your plant question goes, yes, plants would eat at your nitrates and ammonia. However, it could have a nutrient deficiency if the nitrogen is high but it is limited in something else like carbon dioxide, potassium, phosphorous, etc. I would try to use a floating plant or riparian type plant like pothos (roots in the water but leaves outside of water) to remove the nitrogen as they will grow the quickest given they have access to the atmospheres carbon dioxide. 

If you want to clean your filters, you can just clean one of them while keeping the other one dirty. That will help clean out some of the sludge but still keep your system going more stable than cleaning both at once. 

I hope that helps! 

Yes I am using the API test,

Here are my numbers
                      Tank   Tap     Target
PH                  7.6      7.6      7.4
High PH         7.4      7.4     
Ammonia          0     0.25      0
Nitrite                0    0.5         0
Nitrate             80       0        <40
KH                   71.6    125.3  190
GH                  143.2  143.2  150

The tank is 80 gallons, 48x18x18

There is no nitrogen and I am not sure about the other things, I did order some Water Wisteria, Pogostemon Stellatus Octopus, and Water Sprite last night.

When I pull the 3 dirty filters I am changing them to foam like in Cory’s video.  I have done one and plan on doing them one at a time.  As the old filters are full of BIO mass can I vacuum bag them or freeze them and then vacuum bag them to use in the future?

Tank.jpg

Edited by Steve A
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Once the filters are taken out of the water the bacteria will die off.  Your sponges on the intakes have plenty of bacteria on them to keep the tank running without having to worry about any ammonia spikes.  

You ordered some great plants  You have tons of room to add more and still keep an open layout if thats what your looking for.

You have gravel vacced the heck out of it and did water changes...now clean the filters and convert them to sponge if you wish and your nitrates will start to come down.  

Edited by ARMYVET
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@Steve A thank you, that is all very helpful information. I would do 15 gallon water changes twice a week until you reach your goal of below 40 ppm nitrates, maybe around 30 or so. 

For the plants, the nitrogen I was talking about is in the form of ammonia and nitrates that the plants consume. That is a great selection of fast growing plants that you chose, I think they will help you for sure! 

For the filters, I assume you are meaning the video where Cory removes the sponges they come with and customizes them by adding coarse foam and such? Or do you mean you are taking out those filters that hang on the aquarium and switching them out for sponge filters? 

As far as trying to keep the bacteria alive for future use, I have never really heard of anyone doing that. Bacteria in most of our aquariums are aerobic and therefore need oxygen to survive, vacuum sealing them would likely cause them to use up all the oxygen and then die. Your new sponges will eventually be full of bacteria as well so if you need some for another tank, just take it from the new sponges. 

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On 6/29/2021 at 2:55 PM, Isaac M said:

@Steve A thank you, that is all very helpful information. I would do 15 gallon water changes twice a week until you reach your goal of below 40 ppm nitrates, maybe around 30 or so. 

For the plants, the nitrogen I was talking about is in the form of ammonia and nitrates that the plants consume. That is a great selection of fast growing plants that you chose, I think they will help you for sure! 

For the filters, I assume you are meaning the video where Cory removes the sponges they come with and customizes them by adding coarse foam and such? Or do you mean you are taking out those filters that hang on the aquarium and switching them out for sponge filters? 

As far as trying to keep the bacteria alive for future use, I have never really heard of anyone doing that. Bacteria in most of our aquariums are aerobic and therefore need oxygen to survive, vacuum sealing them would likely cause them to use up all the oxygen and then die. Your new sponges will eventually be full of bacteria as well so if you need some for another tank, just take it from the new sponges. 

Thank you, I am talking about taking the little flimsy insert things out and replacing them with coarse foam blocks that fill up the chambers.  The stuff I am using in the chambers is not quite as coarse as what the pre filter ones on the water pickup tubes in the picture.

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On 6/29/2021 at 11:01 AM, ARMYVET said:

Once the filters are taken out of the water the bacteria will die off.  Your sponges on the intakes have plenty of bacteria on them to keep the tank running without having to worry about any ammonia spikes.  

You ordered some great plants  You have tons of room to add more and still keep an open layout if thats what your looking for.

You have gravel vacced the heck out of it and did water changes...now clean the filters and convert them to sponge if you wish and your nitrates will start to come down.  

Yes i have given it a good cleaning, Candi at the Co-Op said I should do that before I start planting it.  I did it over a 2 week time span doing between 10 - 20 gallons at a time.

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On 6/29/2021 at 3:53 PM, Griznatch said:

Fill that big boy with plants! Any that you put in there will help.

Short term, you could do as mentioned and hang a pothos out the back. That'll help with the water column. If there's nitrate build up in the HOBs, then mucking them out one at a time -maybe waiting a few weeks between each one should work.

Thanks, I do plan changing them out one at a time.  I don't want to go to drastic all at once.

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@Steve A ok I see, yeah that is a good idea, I have always just kept sponge (mostly coarse but sometimes fine if I want to keep the water a little more clear but they will clog up faster) and some bio media in my filters. In this case, even purigen could help remove some of the organics.

But I would stick to the water changes and cleaning the filters one at a time for now. The plants will help long-term with keeping your aquarium stable and healthy. I think you are on the right track to success.

Let us know if you have any other questions! 

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On 6/29/2021 at 8:10 PM, Isaac M said:

@Steve A ok I see, yeah that is a good idea, I have always just kept sponge (mostly coarse but sometimes fine if I want to keep the water a little more clear but they will clog up faster) and some bio media in my filters. In this case, even purigen could help remove some of the organics.

But I would stick to the water changes and cleaning the filters one at a time for now. The plants will help long-term with keeping your aquarium stable and healthy. I think you are on the right track to success.

Let us know if you have any other questions! 

Thank you Sir, great advice  👍

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On 6/27/2021 at 11:21 PM, Steve A said:

I just finished a 2 week process of deep cleaning my substrate but I still have nitrates showing 80.  

Will plants handle this high of nitrates and help use it up?

Another problem is that my GH is still over 190 ppm

It depends on your plants. Hornwort is particularly good at sucking up nitrates, so are many of the other stem plants, like wisteria and water sprite.

Some other plants Cryptocoryne sp. for example do not effectively utilize nitrate as a nitrogen source. The plant will uptake the nitrogen and store it, but not utilize it for new plant growth, eventually it gets to a toxic amount in the plant, and the plant will die back.

 

The advice above about water changes is solid. As long as your source water does not have any nitrate in it, each 50% water change will cut the nitrate concentration in half. A couple of those kinds of water changes will soon have the nitrate concentration under control.,

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On 6/30/2021 at 9:14 PM, DShelton said:

 

Some other plants Cryptocoryne sp. for example do not effectively utilize nitrate as a nitrogen source. The plant will uptake the nitrogen and store it, but not utilize it for new plant growth, eventually it gets to a toxic amount in the plant, and the plant will die back.

That's pretty interesting, so what form of nitrogen does cryptocoryne use to grow?

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We have a 125 that is very overstocked. In our ignorance, we bought them as 1" juveniles which after less than 2 years, are now about a foot long each! It has 3 Pacu's, an Oscar, and a Pleco, all over 12" long plus 2 large parrots and 5 silver dollars. 

Initially they were in a 60G, then we moved them to a 125. We're now setting up a 300 for them as inevitably they won't fit in a 125 for long.

I prefaced this question with this description to explain why the nitrates in this tank are chronically high. Typically after 1 week they'll reach 80ppm or even 100ppm such that we perform 2 WC's a week to control it. This group tends to tear up anything (they love to destroy plants and relocate the remains!) I've planted so that hasn't been an option so far. 

So we tried adding pothos to the back. We added 2 large, $20 pothos plants across the back where the plastic, removable strip is usually located on most covers. We replaced that piece/s with plastic lighting grids and broke away sections for the stalks and stems.

We made a similar arrangement with Lucky Bamboo as a 'forest' if you will.  

Although admittedly this option was really more aesthetic than pragmatic, the results continue to confound me. With literally no other changes, the nitrates now have yet to exceed 20ppm. From circa 80-100ppm! It took 2 weeks to reach 40ppm and I never let a WC wait that long but I wanted to see how effective this might be insofar as nitrate reduction is concerned. 

Does anyone out there have a similar experience or know of any tests or data on using riparian plants for nitrate reduction? That is, is there any data on how much plant one might need for a given amount of reduction (when scaled to the tank volume)?

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Thanks so much. That's very kind of you. We found a few places that offer Lucky Bamboo in many sizes. I think we bought 10 stalks from each of these dealers for about $5/stalk: JM Bamboo and
NW Wholesaler. There's many such dealers on Amazon so there's a lot of choices, shorter and taller than mine. That particular tank is 24" tall so we ordered 36" stalks so the leaves would remain above the water even when they are rooted. Lucky Bamboo is safe for fish, doesn't get impossibly large and seems to really love the nitrates! We need some red fish in that tank though!

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