The life of a 20 gallon Quarantine Tank

OP
OP
M

mcordelia

Fish Herder
Joined
Oct 22, 2020
Messages
1,104
Reaction score
661
Location
michigan
ohhh nooo! Hopefully it won't have tainted my entire tank with narsty bacteria spores!

and ok cool on the hornwort then - I was planning on picking some up when I got the black skirt tetras, so I'll just break that down into two separate trips to give the hornwort some time to get acclimated first.

I guess this gives me a newfound urgency to clean the tank so I can get the bga out asap... as @mrsjoannh13 mentioned in another thread, if it wasn't for this pesky "work" thing that I have to do, I'd be elbow deep in it already! :D
 
OP
OP
M

mcordelia

Fish Herder
Joined
Oct 22, 2020
Messages
1,104
Reaction score
661
Location
michigan
haha, thanks! I've been posting here and there, but definitely not at my "usual" velocity :D

yes, it was incredibly relaxing. very low-key and involved just going and staying at the in-law's which seems like was in line with the spirit of a pandemic "getaway", but lovely to spend christmas with family nonetheless.
 
OP
OP
M

mcordelia

Fish Herder
Joined
Oct 22, 2020
Messages
1,104
Reaction score
661
Location
michigan
So. I can't say I have exactly been making good fishkeeping decisions in the past week, which I'm not particularly proud of.

I'm not sure if I mentioned it here or on another thread, but I started having issues with nitrites in the tank, without any inhabitants. I think, in retrospect, it is due to two factors: 1) I discovered my tap water has chloramine (for some reason I was under the impression that it was just treated with chlorine, because I like to think that our city would have our best interests in mind - maybe they do, and the only way they can keep the terrible water from making us sick is to add chloramine, who knows). In the few weeks that I had left my tank do "do its thing", it appears to have started its cycle due to the slight ammonia introduced from the tap water, which then resulted in ammonia being converted to nitrites. 2) A lot of the plants that I had ordered online took a hit while I was gone, and there was a lot of dead stuff in the tank for a while. I think it was also enough to be an ammonia source, resulting in MORE nitrites being built up.
When I first tested the water around the time that I last posted (over 10 days ago now), my nitrites were off the charts, so my solution was to do a 50% water change and introduce water wisteria. I also bought some Java fern that I attached to a rock:

1611075930570.png


For the record, the internet makes this "attach plants to rock with fishing line" thing sound easy. Whatever, I threw it in the tank figuring we will see what happens. worst case it'll all die, best case I can cut away the fishing line in a month or so and I will have a halfway decent attachment of java fern :D

As of 1/8, the tank looked like this:
1611076166572.png


you can see the rock towards the front left corner behind the crypt, and the water sprite is in front of the heater. two pieces of the water sprite came off, so I planted them in the back left between the bacopa bunches (there are two vals back there, not that you would know it.... I am interested to see if they survive or if they're just not meant to be lol.)


As of today, the tank looks like this:

1611076486715.png


New plant additions are hornwort and two amazon swords (this tank is being used as a "nursery" for them before they go into the 125g). The hornwort is not doing so hot for some reason. For a supposedly "unkillable" plant it sure seems to not be happy! what's also interesting is that one of them floats, while the other sinks, go figure.

You can also see some new animal additions, which brings me to my "not the best decisions in terms of fishkeeping" point.

So, nitrites. Nitrites were high, so I got the water sprite, and figured, "well, I'm sure the water sprite will mop them right up, 20gal is a lot of space for a snail so I'll get a mystery snail too since it's not a significant amount of extra bioload". Got the mystery snail, nitrites still crazy high a day after a 75% water change after introducing the snail, ammonia consistently zero. Daily 50% water changes for a few days, nitrites down to 0.25 after each water change, then back up to violent purple after a few hours or so. Zero ammonia constantly.
My thinking process at that point was: "ok, well clearly the water sprite isn't doing enough (despite practically growing in front of my eyes), I'll get hornwort too." So I did. And then getting to the store with the new superbug covid strains on the news, I decided I didn't want to come back in a week to get the fish just to risk exposure again, so I got 10 black skirt tetras and bacterial starter. I was planning on getting tetra safe start plus, but alas, they were completely out for some reason. I ended up with Seachem Stability, figuring it should be just as good of a product. Did a 75% water change, primed the crap out of the tank to help with any nitrites, acclimated and introduced the fish, and introduced the hornwort.

As all y'all have probably guessed by this point in reading, I've effectively committed myself to doing a fish-in cycle with a lot of bioload for a 20gal. sigh. Thank god for Prime and a hubby who doesn't mind carrying buckets back and forth from the bathroom for me. I've heard amazing things about tetra safestart plus, things like "my cycle was complete in 4 days!", and I unfortunately can't say the same thing for seachem stability. I'm dosing daily and after each water change, and the bottle claims that the cycle should be established in 7 days, but I'm on day four and nitrites are still high and I am reading zero for nitrates.

Yesterday, after my 50% water change, I still had to dilute my tank water sample by 50% to get a reading of 0.25-.5, so I concluded that my tank after the water change was around 1ppm. I dosed prime accordingly, and today my diluted tank water sample was reading ?maybe? 1ppm (hard to tell between 'violent purple' and 'violent purple'), so I dosed prime again accordingly, and will do a water change tomorrow.
I'm basically doing 50% water changes every other day, and dosing prime accordingly in between. The fish seem fine, their coloration is good, their appetite is good (only feeding once a day to balance between giving them enough nutrition to fight suboptimal conditions and not introduce more bioload), etc. The snail I can tell doesn't love the high nitrites, his antennae are retracted a little relative to how he was doing when I just put him in a tupperware to observe. I also think that the fish are showing a little more aggression than what they might otherwise potentially due to the not-awesome water parameters.

So that's my confession. I've never done a planted cycle before, and I'm learning since this is clearly a different ballgame than a fishless cycle. As I said, thank god for prime, and thank god for zero ammonia. Conventional wisdom would have it that I should be done any day now, but it just doesn't seem to be going that way for some reason...

My lack of getting anything else done since I spend all my free time doing water changes now is kind of getting to me, so maybe I should have done things a little differently, but here we are. I do have to say, the tetras really like the water wisteria and the amazon swords in particular. Before the tetras showed up the snail was really into chowing down on cucumber slices, but hasn't been into it for the past couple of days, so I'm keeping an eye on that. I am just hoping, HOPING, that the friggin seachem stability will start to work soon and I will hopefully either a) see some nitrates or b) stop seeing nitrites. I'm fine with either, if the plants absorb all the nitrates I'm good with that. but geeze oh pete, these nitrites....

So that's been my past week or so in fishkeeping life. some days are better than others....
 
OP
OP
M

mcordelia

Fish Herder
Joined
Oct 22, 2020
Messages
1,104
Reaction score
661
Location
michigan
I AM FINALLY SEEING NITRTATES!!! WOOHOO!

so In the end, it was not as painful or pessimistic as I made it sound yesterday :)

This tank was first set up on 12/7, with plants added on 12/9. No ammonia was added at any point. There is chloramine in our water supply, and I started running the filter on 12/10, so it's possible that may have in part contributed to cycling as well. No actual attention was paid to the tank until 1/8, which is when I did my first water change. At that point, I was already measuring 0 ammonia and some nitrites. Nitrites continue to stay high today, but this was the first time I saw a meaningful measurement of nitrates (previous days I may have seen a "hint" of orange, but not enough to account for variations in lighting, etc.

In bullet point form:
Tank set up: 12/7
First plants: 12/8 (plants did not do well, so lot of dead plant matter introduced simultaneously despite best attempts)
First reading of 0 ammonia: 1/8 (not deliberately cycling)
First reading of nitrites: 1/8
Bacterial starter (seachem stability) first added: 1/15
First reading of nitrates 1/20

total "cycling" time (start - nitrates): 44 days = 6 weeks and 2 days. Based on this, it appears that I did not gain much by adding plants in this particular case, but I also do not have a "comparison tank" to determine if my cycle would have taken even longer without plants, or doing something differently.

There has been a snail in the tank since 1/8, and fish since 1/15. This process could have gone a lot smoother if I would have made better choices, but I have a tremendous sense of relief today. I don't believe any inhabitants of the tank were in meaningful harm at any point of the process, since there was never any ammonia present in the tank, and water changes and prime have been used daily to manage the nitrites. It was more effort than a fish-less cycle certainly, but I do think (contrary to what I said yesterday) that the seachem stability made a meaningful difference.

So that's today's update, more to follow as we get the 125 set up, and these fishies reach their quarantine time limit and all those other good things. Next in the plan are corydoras sterbai (once the tank is vacated by its current inhabitants) :)
 
Last edited:

mrsjoannh13

Fishaholic
Joined
Nov 2, 2020
Messages
574
Reaction score
439
Location
USA
Well for a quarantine tank you are knocking it out of the park. It looks great!

In terms of the Tetra Safe Start I am one of those who had incredible success with it on my first tank. I was cycling it for a month trying to get it ready for my daughter's birthday and it was not going to be finished in time to put fish in it. So about 3 or 4 days out I added the Tetra Safe Start and within a few days it would reduce 2 - 3 ppm ammonia down to 0 in 24 hours. CYCLED! I'm a huge fan. Obviously now it's easier because I have established filter media but the TSS really worked a charm on my first one.

Your tank is really incredible (and so are both our hubs for carrying water buckets for us!) and I have really enjoyed following along with your posts!
 
OP
OP
M

mcordelia

Fish Herder
Joined
Oct 22, 2020
Messages
1,104
Reaction score
661
Location
michigan
aww, likewise! I also realized that I made the nitrites/nitrates typo on the first sentence of my post, ahhaha, what a fail!

Yes, I made sure to include the TSS in my "planted/silent cycle" article since I know that you had mentioned it worked so well for you! I was bummed they didn't have any since it was my first choice, but fortunately the stability seems to have done the job as well. I also read somewhere that trying to pick up a cycle in the middle with a bacterial starter is slower than using one from the get-go (since I had been at 0 ammonia for a while, despite my tap having chloramines). It was really interesting to notice that even though I added 10 fish at once (seriously, who does that?) I never saw an ammonia spike, and my nitrites, though they remained elevated, never went all the way up to 5ppm after the fish were added (I resorted to having to dilute the samples over and over since those purples are impossible to read in the test kit... I would just dilute and dilute until I had a test that read 0.5, and then I would multiply it back out for how many 50% dilutions I did to figure out ballpark how much nitrites I had lol). But yes, I am sure you know exactly the feeling I had today when I finally read nitrates!!!

Also, even though prime neutralizes ammonia and nitrites, I have to say the fish seem much more chill now that the parameters are better. I think it's one of those "first aid" things, of you put a splint on a broken arm until you can get to the hospital, and it'll still hurt like hell but at least your bone wont be flopping all over the place... I think prime is the same way, you put it in and your fish survive, but they are certainly exhibiting more natural seeming behavior now than when the nitrites were higher. aaaaat the same time, this could be either confirmation bias or them being better acclimated to the tank, since they have only been in for 5 days...

so upshot, your TSS did a full cycle in 3-4 days, my seachem stability started dealing with the nitrites in 5 days. Apples and oranges due to multiple variables in each respective tank, but I'm happy with where things are right now.

Next pain in the butt item I have to figure out is how to level the 125, I have to ask the wise people on this forum for advise and post some pictures/video of the tank, but, alas, these pesky work things come first! bane of our existences! :D
 

LostBear

Fish Addict
Joined
May 22, 2020
Messages
913
Reaction score
1,474
Location
UK
Just found this thread and am thoroughly enjoying it!

Very impressed with this - esp. for a quarantine tank. It's looking great!
 
OP
OP
M

mcordelia

Fish Herder
Joined
Oct 22, 2020
Messages
1,104
Reaction score
661
Location
michigan
Just feeling like an update, even though nothing has really changed :D

First thing: Duckweed. Really funny plant, if you have the right attitude about it lol. Because I have a HOB on this tank, with relatively high flow, the duckweed gets blown around a lot. I have a side edge where there is slow flow due to water sprite stalks that hit the surface and floating hornwort and a floating bacopa that I have never bothered to re-plant, so there's a sedentary pool area for the duckweed to chill. However, most of the duckweed goes surfing, and depending on how the plants re-align themselves after a water change, the effects are different each time. This morning, when I went to the tank, I think that some plant had shifted overnight, because it was "snowing" in the tank lol. massive amounts of duckweed were just being buffeted deep into the tank by the filter, and it was an interesting look. By now, most of the duckweed has either been pushed to the sedentary area or has gotten trapped in random plants underwater. I'm doing another water change tomorrow so I'm not too concerned, I just thought it was funny! I didn't have a chance to grab a video of the "snow", to be honest I thought it was going to last much longer than it did.

But I have a couple of pictures of duckweed regardless.

Here is a picture of a pile of duckweed that has now gotten itself caught under one of the leaves of the amazon sword plant:
1611607558971.png


and here's another one that shows the fish a bit better. The fish have colored up nicely.
1611608032724.png



It is interesting to note, that these fish are definitely not ideally suited for this size of a tank. Like, they're fine, but I can definitely see them appreciating more space to swim. They have a lot of hierarchy disputes, and I think if they had more space to dart away to / catch a breather, they probably would take it. It's a quarantine tank, and hopefully they won't be in here much longer than 2-3 more weeks, so as mentioned, it'll be fine, but just an interesting observation for anyone considering BST's in a 20g or similar sized tank.

Here's a fun picture I took the other day as I was setting up for a water change. You can see the massive amounts of duckweed, and the random floating hornwort on the side.
1611608601844.png




In other news, I am having a weird experience with my cycle. I started showing nitrates when I last posted, which was 5 days ago now. I have not added anything to the tank or changed the routine in any way, and have done every-other-day 50% water changes (and dutifully used prime every single day). For some reason, the nitrites are just stuck. My test values today are the same exact as they were on the 20th, maybe slightly higher nitrates, but definitely in a "normal" range (not red, but also not pale yellow or "barely orange"). I'm trying to figure out what the root cause of nitrites not going away, even though by all accounts I am effectively cycled.

As metnioned, my test results today were:
Ammonia:0
Nitrites: ~1ppm
Nitrates: 10-20ppm

The interesting thing is, that the nitrites don't seem to keep increasing, and the nitrates aren't continuously increasing, and there is no ammonia. Clearly, the plants are doing their job, but it's just weird that I have persistent nitrites, despite all logic suggesting that the cycle should effectively be done. I read that the bacteria that goes from nitrite->nitrate has a doubling time of 15 hours, so by all logic, I should be at a stable population. I am thinking that it could be due to one of the following reasons:
1) filter not having enough surface area for bacteria growth (I have two sets of floss in there, so it's physically full)
2) ongoing ammonia source from somewhere....? The hornwort is not doing so hot, so maybe it is releasing more ammonia into the water than the tank can handle..?
3) improper cleaning technique - I have read some advice saying that gravel vacuuming is discouraged during a cycle because it might "disrupt the beneficial bacteria in the substrate", but to date I haven't put much weight on that idea and vacuumed like normal so that I don't have extra gunk/poo providing an ammonia source
4) tank cannot keep up with bioload: I feel like this would be more plausible if I had sky-high nitrates, but the fact that the nitrites are high, it doesn't make me so keen on this hypothesis either. It's a 20gallon tank with a fair number of quickly growing plant species (three separate water sprites, two bunches of hornwort and two amazon sword plants) plus a bunch of other plants that seem to be doing well. There are only 10 fish, most of which are nowhere close to full grown (smallest is maybe 1.5cm?) and a mystery snail. I know mystery snails are messy, but I also have a ton of plants, and growing.

For reference, my tap water is 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites and 0 nitrates (at least this time of year, we will see how those nitrates change when it becomes spring haha)

Any thoughts? The hornwort does look kind of sad, but I don't think it would be a major contributor to the nitrites? picture:

1611609779707.png

Anything I should be doing differently? I would have assumed that if it was just a dilution/time thing, the 50% water changes would have taken care of it. I think there's an ongoing source that is either steady state and something is preventing my tank from finishing its cycle fully, or the ongoing source is not steady-state and is instead continuously increasing...?

Interested in hearing your thoughts! Sorry for the super rambling post!
 

mrsjoannh13

Fishaholic
Joined
Nov 2, 2020
Messages
574
Reaction score
439
Location
USA
Hooray for updates and pics! Beautiful tetras. We have the glo variety and agree about tank size. I have 6 in a 20 gallon tall and can tell they'd do much better in the 20g long. The longer I'm in this hobby the more I realize the bigger the tank you can get the better. There is no such thing as too big a tank. It's like buying a house. The more space the better!

Wish I could give you input on your nitrites issue but I'm cobbling my way through set up of my first planted tank, too. I don't have fish and am in no hurry so just letting it do it's think. Seeing ammonia, nitrite and nitrate so just measuring every day or so and letting nature take its course for now.

Your tank is looking great!
 

Fish4dawin

Fish Addict
Joined
Nov 30, 2020
Messages
846
Reaction score
293
Location
Uk, London
I got really confused for a second because I remembered at @mrsjoannh13 having skirt tetras but they were the glofish variety and I hopped on the thread and for some reason I thought that the glo tetras had magicly turned into regular black skirt tetras and some had duplicated. I think it's because it's 6:00 in the UK and I just woke up after seeeing my spotted raphael out and about. I also have school at 9:00 so yeah...

Love both of your tanks I follow both of these threads so I can't wait to see both of the finished products.
 
OP
OP
M

mcordelia

Fish Herder
Joined
Oct 22, 2020
Messages
1,104
Reaction score
661
Location
michigan
1611771999329.png


So, I'd say we're looking better on the nitrite front. Bonus cameo from the snail :D

The worst part is, is that the way I got to this was by not doing anything any sane fishkeeper would do. So Monday night, I was toast, and went to bed like 830pm. water change did not happen. Had nightmares that I would find my fish gasping at the surface (or worse) first thing in the morning. They were fine. I tested the water, and it may have been a little less purple than before, maybe maybe not. Tuesday was a crappy day in terms of work and I had to run an errand in the afternoon, and by the time my son was back home from daycare I was negotiating to myself in my head over the need for a water change vs just using prime, so I tested the water and we were definitely less purple than we had been. More in the .5 range than the 1ppm range. Figured to myself, you know, I have no idea what's going on since it defies logic, but I'm just going to let it ride and see what happens. Couldn't get rid of those dead fish nightmares, but testing this morning shows this. There's a portion of me speculating whether that bit I read about vacuuming too aggressively disturbs the BB layer in the substrate has any merit. it's a theory that fits the picture, but goes against everything else I have heard of the BB being pretty darn resilient once it actually shows up....

so, I don't know. My plan is to do an experiment, I'm not going to do anything again for today, and tomorrow or Friday I will do a regular weekly-style water change and cleaning (still too early to wash filter pads in my opinion), and then test nitrites the day after to see if my theory has any merit.

The de-worming medication is arriving today or tomorrow, so I think at this point I'll wait until I get that pretty sky blue before I start it to make sure I'm not stressing the fish. Another thing on my list is adding liquid ferts, I've been holding off this entire time that the nitrites have been high since again, I didn't want to add anything else to the tank that might have been a negative for the fishies.

Does anyone know how often you need to replenish root tabs? I put mine in about a month or so ago, and I'm wondering when I put new ones in.

Also anyone have any advice on what aquascaping tools I should get? I'm thinking a pair of those really long tweezers would be helpful, and probably the scissor things too, and they sell all sorts of kits on amazon for all sorts of prices and I'm just trying to figure out what I need and how much to pay for it...

Anyway, that's my ramble for today! Hope y'all are having a good one!
 

mrsjoannh13

Fishaholic
Joined
Nov 2, 2020
Messages
574
Reaction score
439
Location
USA
Also anyone have any advice on what aquascaping tools I should get? I'm thinking a pair of those really long tweezers would be helpful, and probably the scissor things too, and they sell all sorts of kits on amazon for all sorts of prices and I'm just trying to figure out what I need and how much to pay for it...
I almost got some of the inexpensive ones on Amazon but read reviews that they broke, rusted, etc. So I went with the UNS tools - the long tweezers and scissors. I would like the flattener, too but haven't been able to find it. I really like the UNS brand - seems very sturdy. I paid either $29 or $39 for each.
 
OP
OP
M

mcordelia

Fish Herder
Joined
Oct 22, 2020
Messages
1,104
Reaction score
661
Location
michigan
$30+ for aquascape tools?!!?! each?!?!? lol I am way too cheap for that :D I have turned up my nose at the $8.99 fluval pair of tweezers for sale at petsmart lol.

Then again, I totally hear you on the fact that all the amazon reviews for the really low end stuff say that it's all unfinished and rusts and just a bunch of crap, so I don't really want to put my money into supporting a scam artist either.

This is a dumb question, but how do you use the tweezers? like, it seems intuitive and seems like it would help a lot (I feel like I always make a mess of things when I use my fingers to plant stuff), but I'm curious what your experience has been. Do you default to your fingers at any point in time, or do you use the tweezers and other tools exclusively? Any tips/tricks you have found useful?
 

Most reactions

Top