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Nitrate goal?

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IMO, it's not a number. It's a combination of factors that yield healthy "happy" fish/pets/critters. Whatever else you have going on in the tank (plants, stocking, feeding, etc) you control the nitrate level by how much and how often you change water, right? And IMO no matter what test you're using, you're not going to be able to nail "20" right on the dot. Nitrate isn't the only 'bad' in our tanks either, it's just the one that our tests are set up to assess.  Phosphorus, proteins, and the much larger bubble of "all the things that we can't see that make up water chemistry" are all there, we just rarely test for them.

<20 is great, 40 is probably fine, they can handle 60 or even higher for a while. Some fish are tough and can be upwards of 100 for ages (I'm thinking of the disaster rescue scenarios we see, not making a recommendation). I think I see your bolivian ram in there, so here, yes the lower range of nitrates etc is probably better. 🙂

Circling back, I think you're asking how often should I change water? Or how 'pure' should the tank be? It has the look of a new-ish tank, so we want to err on the side of caution. At this stage, yes nitrate testing can be your litmus test or indicator for when to change water, and sure 20ppm is a good indicator for that. But don't fret if the number goes above that, as long as behavior and other indicators of health look good. Yes go ahead and change water to suit your goals, but don't fret about it. 

I see a sand cap over... some kind of active soil? Gravel would be inert but most of the typical plant soils (including dirt soil) will release some ammonia (which adds to your nitrates if the system is working properly), and that means more changes until those cycles/levels stabilize. 

It's a pretty setup overall, and I love the simplicity. Have you thought about a light or transparent background screen? 

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Thanks @TOtrees!  This is an 11-year old tank.  It was started with an undergravel filter and then this year I put a sand cap over grungry gravel for a few reasons. 1) sand is a great filter and I wanted the aerobic and anerobic layers of sand for waste breakdown, 2) keeps plants in place; keeps root tabs from washing away from roots, 3) the gravel under the sand provides space for the roots, 4) leaving the gravel dirty provides nutrients for the plants.

I do weekly water changes on this. Parameters are stable, but I do like to suck up the snail detritus from the top of the sand to keep it looking nice.  (4 snails are in there)

I'm looking to fine tune my Easy Green dosing so that the plants & critters are happy.  I do add potassium powder as well, sparingly, for my java fern, as I was having black spots, and leaves turning brownish-black.  Since the addition of potassium, the java fern are doing much better.

I did have a background, but it was very busy.  I took it away, and it allows the plants to take center stage.  I'm hoping to get some more plants established in the back for that natural background look. Recently I planted some aponogeton crispus back there, but it's doing the new-plant-melt thing right now.  Bulbs & roots are nice & healthy.

Edited by Chick-In-Of-TheSea
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i agree with its not a specific number. i would monitor the numbers, and sneak up on it and see what works best for your tank. pick whatever the standard suggested number is for a starting point. let it run like that for a few weeks and see how it looks. if it looks good you found the number, if things arent quite happy try another number for a bit, rinse and repeat.

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