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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Howdy all, first time poster.

I have a 45gal filtered by both a canister filter rated for 100gal, and a backup undergravel filter (which is more for show at this point). Tank is lightly stocked; was stocked about 1inch:gal before I had a huge "dying off" of fish, now it's closer to 1:4. Nothing heavy loadbearing on it: guppies, cory cats, a single chinese algae eater, couple platys.

My nitrate levels are through the roof. Even after frequent 50% water changes and the addition of Tetra EasyBalance I still have nitrates that are in the 80ppm+ range. I'm not seeing what I'm doing wrong, lil help folks?

Side note: Water out of the tap is 0 or close to it. Ammonia/Nitrites in tank is at 0. Someone else I talked to suggested the UG filter, but since I've used them almost my entire fishkeeping life and have never had a problem with them before, I am not so quick to point a finger at it. I could be wrong though: that's why I'm here.

**EDIT1** The nitrate PPM could very well be MUCH higher than 80+ as I posted. I'm using a master test kit from Aquarium Pharmaceuticals, and about 80+ is where the shades of red start becoming fairly indestinguishable. The test vial is yeilding a shade that is "Cherry Red".
 

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Cornelius
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It is possible your UG filter is chocked full of Ammonia/Nitrite and is breaking down into Nitrate so fast you are seeing it even after a water change. I reccon that shows the ug is working.

I would either take it as an opportunity to add a load of plants, or try a really good vacuuming to see if that clears it up some. Plants will use the Nitrate up, it's a nutrient for them, so that might be your best angle of attack. Or a preventative measure for the future.


Edit: Also, Hi and welcome to the forum.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I've never had good luck with plants, can you recommend any that are pretty much unkillable, readily available and look good in a community type enviroment?

Also, seeing as my canister is rated for a tank twice my size, should I just ditch the UG completely?
 

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Cornelius
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There is a large debate about keeping UG filters now. I am indifferent, I run HOB filters exclusively because they are cheap and effective and I never liked the way the UG tubes looked.

Plants: I am a total newb to plants. I have a fern and something else on a trial run that have been seemingly doing well for a few weeks now. I told the LFS that I needed low light (I do not want to bother with upgraded lighting right now) and easy plants. So far they seem to be doing well. I had never had much luck with live before either, but I think it might be because I was buying them at petsmart and not getting true aquatic plants. After running a salt setup and seeing how amazing the natural bio filters and plants were for tank maintenance, I am really trying to give live plants in the freshwater a chance.

Now, the die-hard UG filter guy I know is very into plants, and he swears the UG's are great for them because their roots get right down to where the UG is hoarding all the Nitrates and the plants thrive. It makes sense to me, but I have heard various theories on that.
 

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Water Chemistry/ LiveBearer Specialist
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I would be looking to the canister filter for any matter in it that might be decaying to produce ammonia which, of course, would be quickly processed through to nitrates. If you are doing a regular gravel vac, the canister is where you will have most of the organic build up in your tank. At a 50% water change of weekly or more, the nitrates should be dropping down nicely unless you have an undiscovered reservoir of organic material or some plants in poor health that are decaying in the tank and thereby creating their own bioload.
 

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nitrates of 80ppm+ are very common with tanks where there are no plants and "convienent" water changes are being done. like 10%/week 30%/month etc etc.

IMHO what you should do (other then nothing) is increase the nitrate consumers by adding live plants. Fast growers like anacharis and vals really help with the nitrates.

That way the tank will consume the nitrates so they are unmeasureable (or at least at low levels) regardless of the water changes.


my .02
 
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Alright, update on the situation:

Backstory - 2-3 months ago I did a small teardown of the tank when I got the new canister filter (75%/refill/75%/gravel washing) and the tank was glowing. The UG was removed, all the crap for a few years siphoned, and replaced.

Today - I had not done a gravel washing since and decided to; had just been siphoning and replacing water. It seriously looks like I did absolutely no work a couple months ago. I decided to go with the UG filter removal (cause I'm still feeling stubborn on plants) and I was amazed at how much was under there. It looks like what a UG alone would take up over the course of a couple years; not even exaggerating. So right now I'm in the process of another 75/refill/75 change, gravel is already cleaned and then riled up so I can make one more pass on the surface and get almost all of what was trapped.

Also, I bought 6-in-1 strips from Jungle and found my nitrates were closer to the max on it (220ppm I think - wow).

The question I am now asking is how the hell did I aquire so much crap in the tank in a 2-3 month span? The tank was once populated with about 40 inches of fish, mostly guppies/platys, 2 chinese algae eaters, 4 cory cats. From then till tonight, I had lost most all my platys and a handful of guppies, along with 1 algae eater (he went down in a fight with the other). So I don't think there was ever a huge waste load on the tank, although I could be wrong. Also, feeding is never more than 2 small-med pinches of the tetra crisps (I added a lil more in a powdered form when my guppies were bearing).

Any guess on the culprit?
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Alright, almost 24 hrs after, the 75/refill/75 got me down to 20ppm nitrate, 1/10th of what it was. Going to watch the tank carefully over the next week or two and see if I get a spike somewhere, otherwise I think the UG was the issue. If things work out or if I just can't seem to ditch that last little bit of nitrate, I may try a single plant and if I can manage to keep it alive, try out more.

Thanks all around!
 

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Water Chemistry/ LiveBearer Specialist
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There is no reason to get too concerned about that last bit of nitrates in the water. There is no problem for the fish with water at 20 ppm of nitrates. If you can get some of the easier plants, Susan can advise better than I can on plants, they will suck up an amazing amount of nitrogen if you keep them in large numbers. The other side of the coin is that dying plants will significantly add to your bioload. Don't do plants unless you are ready to work to make them grow properly, they will be counterproductive.
 

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I am a fan of UGF's, so sorry you decided to ditch it. But it is important for you to do what makes you feel comfortable. I have used UGF's for 30 years with no problems, you do have to vacuum with them regularly. It sounds like you are on your way now, but IMO, when you said you washed the gravel, was that just doing a vacuum, I would be careful with disturbing your substrate too much , you don't want to damage all that good bacteria growth, that will definitely get you a spike in your nitrates. I hope you didn't actually take the gravel out and wash it. I would be careful using that Tetra Easy Balance, on another forum, I have heard some disturbing reports about how effective it is. I have also taken another stab at some live plants, updated my lighting and everything, got a good deal on e-bay. My nitrates were rising a little bit some months ago, but I know mine was from a lack of regular maintenance, once I got back on a good regular routine, down came the nitrates.
 

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Alright, almost 24 hrs after, the 75/refill/75 got me down to 20ppm nitrate, 1/10th of what it was. Going to watch the tank carefully over the next week or two and see if I get a spike somewhere, otherwise I think the UG was the issue. If things work out or if I just can't seem to ditch that last little bit of nitrate, I may try a single plant and if I can manage to keep it alive, try out more.

Thanks all around!

As I understand it you did back to back 75% water changes. So each time only 1/4 of the water originally in the tank remained. 1/4*1/4=1/16 of the original water remains. So your results of ~1/10 of the nitrates sounds about right.

I recommend much more than a single plant. Try several bunches of anacharis and many vals. I tried plants at first by timidily addding one or two and just lost the plants while continueing to lose fish. When I stocked the tank full of plants both the plants and fish survived.

I don't touch the substrate and my substrates are full of crud. Yet nitrates and phosphates are unmeasureable on my Fw and marine systems.


my .02
 

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Well it is good to hear you didn't disturb your substrate too much, I didn't understand when you made this statement, "Backstory - 2-3 months ago I did a small teardown of the tank when I got the new canister filter (75%/refill/75%/gravel washing) and the tank was glowing. The UG was removed, It sounded like something happened with the gravel. Well, it sounds like your nitrates are going in the right direction now. I got another plant today, I found out after I bought it that it is only a semi-aquatic plant, Dracaena Sanderiana. It is a beautiful plant, but I read it will eventually rot out, too bad for me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Hi all, about a week and another update.

First off, the tank is looking good, even with some more fish to increase the load, nitrates are still hovering about 30's (somewhere in between 20-40 at least) so I'm happy about that. I've got a single fern in the tank that I'm playing with to see if it thrives. If so, I'm going to add another plant, maybe another, ect although as I understand it anything 40 or lower is just fine.

As for the gravel washing; I'm sorry if I made it seem like I was removing and scrubbing it. No no, just multiple vaccums on it till the water started coming up relatively clean.

The Tetra EasyBalance - ditched it. Had little to no effect, so I'm not running with it any longer.

Otherwise, things seem to be going swimmingly, pardon the pun. Going to see how things react after I stock the tank some more this weekend (shooting for about 35 inches of fish).
 

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Pleco n bn breeder n BOSS
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A little advice, the ferns are slow growers and will be slow at taking up nitrates. I would suggest vals and elodea as beaslbob suggests. Also you should be doing your water changes each week. As with 30 nitrates do a 15% change and it will drop your nitrates by that much. If you want to cut them in half do a 50% water change. Lots of water being changed won't hurt anything. In fact in my growout and breeder tanks they get 80 to 90% a couple of times a week.
 
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