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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello everyone. I've come to the forums for help because I seem to be having some water quality and nitrogen cycle problems in my new 10 gallon El Natural tank. Let me bring you up to date first.

~I'm VERY new to the fish keeping world (Literally a month at most)
~My tank is also VERY new, but was cycled for 4 days to encourage bacterial growth.
~I discovered Diana Walstad's NPT style of aquarium after losing several plants in my betta's tank.
~My ten gallon is now set up with 1.3 inches of sifted Miracle Grow soil bottom substrate. Sifting it removed all the little Styrofoam bits as well as some major twigs.
~The soil is covered with approximately 1 inch of natural colored gravel.
~The tank has a total of 8 rooted plants including 2 melon leaves, 1 amazon sword, 1 albanian sword (Is that name right?) 1 Cryptocryne (I think that's spelled wrong), one Golden Ribbon and another large fluffy plant who's name escapes me.
~The tank also has 3 Malaysian Trumpet Snails and 4 fish total including 3 Harlequin Rasboras and my beloved Betta, George.
~The light source is simply a window on the southern side of my house, and the tank has a petco brand waterfall style filter and a really nice rena heater. Both the filter and heater are more than sufficient for my 10 gallons.

-Fast Forward to today-

I've taken nitrate/nitrite, PH/Alkalinity and ammonia tests daily since I've added my fish and constructed the tank. The water, at day two after starting the tank and filling it up, became a hazy yellow. I'm almost positive that this haze is not an algea growth, so what could it be? Checking my levels shows that the nitrites and nitrates are moderately high (Somewhere between safe and stress on my bottle) and the ammonia is low (Around .2 PPM).

I wasn't initially concerned with this because both were within safe ranges for my fish and I assumed the tank would need some time to acclimate. However, I noticed tonight that my rasboras have been gasping at the surface of the water and my betta looks very lethargic. I sprung into action by changing out at least 4 of the total 9 gallons of water (Approximate) and by putting in an air stone which would add more oxygen to the water chemistry. My Rasboras are happily schooling around the tank and no longer gasping for air, and my betta is flaring at his reflection in the tank walls.

I'm worried that this hazyness which I've observed overtake my water may be a part of the problem and I'm also worried that this may be an indicator of my plants either not photosynthesizing or, even worse, dieing off. The Cryptocryne is growing wonderfully and sending up bulbs towards the surface of the water. The melon leaf plants are getting larger and sending out more roots. The only plants that I don't currently see explosive growth from are my ferns and swords. I actually observed fine streams of bubbles coming from several of my plants' roots earlier during the sunny hours of the day.

So I guess my full segmented question is; Should I be concerned with this yellowish haze in my water, does it sound like my tank is sufficiently planted to support 4 fish and is there any better way to keep my tank's levels in check?

TYTYTYX1,000,000 for any help.
 

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A similar thing happened to me a few months ago and it settled pretty quickly with a week of monitoring and 50% water changes as neccessary.

The yellowish tinge is likely tannins leaching from your soil and it is nothing to worry about, unless you don't like the look of it - in which case you could add a little activated charcoal to your filter. Actually your betta probably loves it, as tannis are often present in their native environment.

As for the cloudiness that is also often normal in a new tank - however, i've noticed that sometimes it accompanies high nitrite levels in a tank (as it did in mine). Some people have used miracle grow on this forum with good results, but it may have artificially added nutrients that will temporarily throw the balance off. Keep monitoring your levels and doing water changes as neccessary.

As for your fern - maybe the light is too high? Once I moved mine into a shadier area it came to life.
 

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Rus seems like a good response. Just want to say, I don't know much about Miracle Grow, I just use cheap topsoil and they work just fine. Don't want to get all those fertilizer mix in the water. Your tank should definitely support 4 little fishes. I have 10 gallons and I have 5 adult fishes, 6 guppy juvies and countless MTS snails in there I suspect the guppies pop. will grow if I don't get it under control. Added I don't have any filter/airstone running for 2 weeks now. I've never see them gasping for air or anything so I would be concerned why that is happening with filters and only 4 fishes. The yellowness may leave after a few water changes. Have you used charcoal in your filter? It should help and it's also good to use it the first time you setup a tank as well.
 

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Which Miracle Grow soil? there's a whole bunch --
http://www.scotts.com/smg/catalog/productCategoryLanding.jsp?navAction=jump&branPage=miraclegro&itemId=cat50150&id=cat50006

The styrofoam that you took out was probably perlite which would likely be in a potting soil and not a garden soil so you might be using potting soil.

They all likely have fertilizers. A lot of horticultural produces use urea for N (because it's cheap) and that might not should up on your tests until bacteria convert it to something else. But, maybe somethings eating it as it's converted.

I probably know less than anyone here about this stuff but I'd select some other soil next time and in the meantime do lots of water changes and hope the problem goes away.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks for all the responses, I'm relieve to know that my betta is comfortable and probably in safe conditions. The miracle grow was just a half empty bag in my garage which I used because I didn't want to go out and buy more soil or dig up my yard. It's of the average "Potting Soil" variety.

Also, I believe I've found out why my rasboras were having trouble breathing the other night! I noticed that my waterfall filter's output was very close to the water surface, particularly less than 1/4 inch. This allowed the water to flow down into the tank without having to break surface tension, so the amount of air being pulled down with the water was nominal at best. I've reduced the water level about an inch so the filter output now splashes down and pushes plenty of air bubbles down with it. Needless to say, I'll be closely observing my fish every night until I'm positive that the filter will provide plenty of oxygen for my fish.
 

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In an NPT you generally want to avoid too much splashing or disturbing the surface of the water as it encourages CO2 to dissipate into the air - and your plants will not have any left to photosynthesize with during the day. This will cause very slow growth and perhaps may be contributing to the problems some of your plants are having. You should not be having any problems with dangerously low oxygen levels in your tank as it would have to be absolutely exploding with plant life to be suffocating your fish. The gasping you were seeing was most likely a symptom of nitrite poisoning, especially since you did have elevated levels. I hope all settles down nicely!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Oh dear, that won't do at all. I'll pay very close attention to my water levels then. I am confused about the oxygen though; don't my plants take in CO2 and put out the oxygen? And in such a case, wouldn't the explosion of growth be a good thing for fish?
 

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Oh, my intuition would lead me to believe that cheap plant fertilizer is very bad in aquariums.

Remember I said most fertilizer uses urea for N because it's cheap. It's not available to plants till it processed by bacteria in soil. That takes a few days to a few weeks and it's no big deal for your begonias. I used to grow orchids and know that orchid fertilizer shouldn't be urea-based as there's no conventional soil to break down the urea.

Now, guess what urea is? The same stuff in animal waste. Bacteria goes to work on it just like your fish poop.

(NH2)2CO -> NH3 -> NO2 -> NO3

So if you add urea-based fertilizer, you are hugely increasing the bio-load on your aquarium. That could cause your NH3 or NO2 to raise.
 

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Yes you are right the plants DO oxygenate the water - don't let me confuse you on this! I was getting a little ahead of things and thought the reason you were adding aeration was because you were worried that the plants would not be producing oxygen at night - but reading back I think you were referring to a specific night - do I have that right now?

Here's a mini explanation of the rest of my post. Plants can take up O2 at night - that's why I mentioned that if your tank was absolutely plugged with plants, it could in theory reduce O2 levels to a low level. I'm not sure about how many plants this would require - but I imagine it would take so many that your fish would have nowhere to swim! Maybe one of the moderators or senior members can give us some more specifics on this?

Also, you should give Diana Walstad's book a look-see, it is explains this in more detail, and how and why an el-natural tank works.
 

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Thanks for all the responses, I'm relieve to know that my betta is comfortable and probably in safe conditions. The miracle grow was just a half empty bag in my garage which I used because I didn't want to go out and buy more soil or dig up my yard. It's of the average "Potting Soil" variety.

Also, I believe I've found out why my rasboras were having trouble breathing the other night! I noticed that my waterfall filter's output was very close to the water surface, particularly less than 1/4 inch. This allowed the water to flow down into the tank without having to break surface tension, so the amount of air being pulled down with the water was nominal at best. I've reduced the water level about an inch so the filter output now splashes down and pushes plenty of air bubbles down with it. Needless to say, I'll be closely observing my fish every night until I'm positive that the filter will provide plenty of oxygen for my fish.
Dear Fields of Blue,

I think I'd continue to follow your instincts here. If your fish are gasping for air, they need oxygen! You were right to bump up the oxygenation via your filter's splashing.

NPTs are going to need more oxygen when they are first set up. Soil bacteria are invariably consuming lots of oxygen and producing lots of CO2. So right now the plants aren't hurting for CO2, but the fish could be hurting for oxygen.

Once the substrate settles down, the situation changes.

So for the first 2-3 months you may need to change water and maintain good oxygenation to keep the fish healthy.

Your substrate (Miracle Gro Potting Soil) is a little richer than what I'd advise for a beginner, BUT it will work very well for the long term once you get through the "break-in period". Its what I've got in my 45 gal, and I love the results. Just make sure that the tank is getting enough good lighting to match the substrate richness.

Since your plants are doing well, I'd venture that you'll be fine.

Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Wonderful, thank you for the advice. I think the miracle grow will work out just fine, after all it is just a soil with specially procured nutrients and organic fertility, right? It seems that the main message from everyone so far has been to observe my water's levels daily and keep my fish happy untill the substrate stabilizes, and THAT is what I shall do! I've already gotten a copy of Diana's book for future reference on its way. TY again everyone! :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Hey everyone! It's been a while since my aquarium was planted and I was having troubles, so I thought it would be a good time to update everyone on how my fish are doing.

My substrate stabalized quickly and my levels of ammonia and nitrate dropped to absolute 0 within a week of posting. I've had some very minor algae problems which my malaysian trumpet snails and newly added Otocinclus catfish have more than taken care of. I've added three neon tetras with the catfish, and the increased fish load hasn't budged water levels at all.

I really couldn't be happier with the results, and I'll soon be moving up to a much larger tank (70 gallons) which I'll be making into another el natural. The low maintenance and fast plant growth have really made me fall in love with these tanks lol. Here's a video of the final results, enjoy and thanks again to everyone!

 

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Oh dear, that won't do at all. I'll pay very close attention to my water levels then. I am confused about the oxygen though; don't my plants take in CO2 and put out the oxygen? And in such a case, wouldn't the explosion of growth be a good thing for fish?
Dear FOB,

Enjoyed the video. Looks like a peaceful tank.

Whatever you are doing, I would keep doing it!

During the first 2-3 months, an organic soil will consume oxygen from the water-- more oxygen than the plants can pump out. Don't worry about losing CO2 by extra aeration or water mixing during this time. What many folks don't realize is that during the startup period, the usual rules don't apply. When oxygen is being consumed at a rate high enough to cause fish distress, there's no shortage of CO2 for plants.

Gradually as time goes by, oxygen consumption AND CO2 production will both slow. THEN you can try reducing aeration to conserve CO2 for the plants.

Remember: For every oxygen molecule that bacteria consume, they produce a CO2 molecule. Thus, if you have an oxygen deficit, you will also have plentiful CO2.
 
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