New Plants Incoming

Today I bit the bullet and decided it’s time to get some more plants. Locally all I have are Petsmart/Petco which carry an extremely small number of truly aquatic plants. So, how to get plants? Well, online of course.

There are a couple people on Ebay that were recommended to me by fellow aquarists I talk with at the Tropical Fish Keeping forums. Both have very high ratings for past sales so I went with Planted Aquariums Central. They had some specific species I was interested in, particularly Brazilian Pennywort that I want to use as a floating plant.

In addition to the Pennywort I got Bacopa Carolina, Cryptocoryne Undulata, Giant Marimo Ball, and a Red Tiger Lotus. All are suppose to be workable in a low light tank, so we’ll see how it goes. I’ll be sure to post pictures when they arrive.

Cycling A New Tank

So you may have heard me talk about cycling a tank. But what exactly does that mean?

Fish create a fair amount of ammonia waste, and also any uneaten food will decay and produce ammonia. Ammonia is toxic to fish and will kill them if not removed. Thankfully there is bacteria in the world that just love ammonia and will happily use it, creating Nitrite in the process. That’s actually a bad thing as Nitrite is even more toxic to fish than Ammonia is … but once again there is a nice little bacteria that will use all it can find creating Nitrates (with an a) in the process. And yes, you guessed it, Nitrates are also toxic to fish, but far less so than Ammonia or Nitrite.

Unfortunately, there is no bacteria that will break down Nitrate into something non-toxic to the fish. To remove it, you have to do a partial water change each and every week, this water change not only removes Nitrates but other trace toxins as well. It’s easy enough to do and will only take a few minutes of your time, remove at least 25% but you can go as much as 50% and be fine.

If you test your water daily you can see the cycle progress. First you get a spike in ammonia, then it dies down and you see a corresponding spike in Nitrite. That then goes back down to zero and the Nitrates climb. Once ammonia and nitrites are both zero the aquarium is fully cycled and ready to go. This whole process takes at least 2 weeks, but more often 4 weeks … and can take up to 8 weeks. You read correctly, weeks, not days. So how do you start this cycle?

There are several different methods. The one most often used, usually out of ignorance, is to put fish in day one as your source of ammonia. This however is also the worst option available as it is very hard and stressful on the fish and so very often they don’t make it through alive. Some species are more hardy than others for surviving this process but the bottom line is … why use this method when there are alternatives that will do the same thing?

These alternatives are called fish-less cycles, and as the name implies you don’t use any fish. One method is to just feed the tank fish flake food as if you had fish in the tank. The food will break down into ammonia and start the cycling process. Once your ammonia and nitrites are gone, you use a gravel vacuum to suck up all the remaining excess food and put the fish in. This is a very imprecise method though as you never know exactly how much ammonia you are creating in the tank.

A more precise method is to put pure ammonia in the tank every day. The key word here is PURE ammonia, so no you can’t just use a bottle of windex as that has dye and fragrance and other garbage that is not good for fish. You put in enough to read a couple ppm (say 4), and you then put the same amount of ammonia in each day. Much like the other methods you’ll eventually see nitrites, and then nitrate. You should also read 0 ammonia the day after adding it. I highly recommend this method if you won’t want to deal with live plants.

Live plants? Yep, they’re the quick and easy method. A fully planted tank is instantly cycled because plants take up ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates all as food (they want the Nitrogen). In fact, they take it up so fast the regular bacteria can’t compete with them. You need a FULLY planted aquarium though, a few plants won’t cut it BUT even a couple plants does help. The faster growing plants remove the toxins faster than slower growing plants (of course). Does this mean you can skip the weekly partial water change? No, not at all. You still need to remove the other trace toxins, plus tap water contains trace minerals the plants use as nutrients.

Questions? Ask away.

Updated Layout

Over the weekend I moved things around and added some new decorations. In addition, about two weeks ago I placed the Java Fern onto a fake sand castle decoration as it was the cheapest thing I could find at the store ;)

Here is how it looks now.

Full Tank Shot

Full Tank Shot Janurary 17, 2012

As you can see I spread out the plants quite a lot, took out the fake plants, and you can see my java fern is on its sand castle. I also have a piece of African Mopani driftwood with an Anubias on it.

While looking around for driftwood that I could get easily without paying an arm and a leg in shipping I had an epiphany that I should look at Amazon, and sure enough they have some. I noticed they had something called African Mopani, so I did a quick google search and everything I was seeing was saying it can be used in aquariums like the label says. Since it is mainly marketed for reptile terrariums I went off to Petsmart and sure enough they had it. The price was a little more, but I figured that was worth it since I could actually see what I was getting instead of a blind online purchase. It’s real wood so that means every single piece is different and unique.

I took it home and started boiling the heck out of it, several several times to try and get most of the tannins out. Tannins are a natural substance that leeches out of driftwood and makes the water a brownish color, very similar to tea. It’s also slightly acidic so has the affect of slightly lowering water pH. I didn’t want the brownish water, but the lowering of the pH is a bonus since my tap water is on the basic side (7.8) and most fish prefer slightly acidic (under 7.0).

However, will reading some forums on tropical fishkeeping I happened to see mention of this type of driftwood and how it is susceptible to fungus. Yuck! A quick google search, this time adding the word fungus, came up with lots of hits. Bleh, didn’t see any mention of it in my initial search but sure enough, lots of people report having fungus problems with this wood. Great. Texted my wife while at work to take a look, and sure enough she said she saw some. I take a look when I get home, and this is what I found.

Fungus on African Mopani Driftwood

Fungus on African Mopani Driftwood

Most people talking about it said it cleared up in a couple weeks with no ill effects. A few mentioned seeing some problems with cloudiness and their fish and possible cause of death to some fish. All of my fish look healthy with no signs of trouble, so I’m going to wait and see. If the fungus gets really bad or the fish show signs of stress I will remove it and see if it can be returned. Of course, that will mean I have to find a new perch for my Anubias.