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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I guess this deserves a separate thread, as maybe others are dealing with this.

A newly setup NPT, but the HOB and gravel top-layer are from a fully cycled tank, with longstanding parameters of 0-0-(7-10).

In this new NPT 10 gallon, I am getting consistent parameters at NH 1.0, NO2 0-0.25, NO3 10, and although I have had to weigh a daily water change to save the fish (10 white clouds) and possibly some low-NH tolerant flora species) from either acute or chronic deleterious effects, I am also concerned about robbing the tank of necessary bio filtering. So, I could use some "best methods" thoughts on a fairly timely basis.

I am using Seachem Stability daily.

I plan on putting "ammo carb" in the HOB, in place of the regular activated charcoal. The downside I see is that this will rob the tank of the very water column nutrients from fish waste, food that it could use - but my presumption is that the soil substrate, even though it hasn't been enriched with anything (no dolomite, potash, Kh2PO4) will provide enough for the startup phase.

I do not want to continue doing daily water changes if I can help it, but if so, recommendations on percentages by NPT folks would be appreciated. As it stands, I've been doing almost daily 50% changes.

Thoughts on any of the above would be appreciated. Thanks.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Just an additional note, hadn't thought of this - the API test kit measures total ammonia, free ammonia and ionic ammonium. I'm using Prime to detox the gas ammonia. With a soil substrate and a pH 7.8, any thoughts of what percentage of this total reading (1.0 ppm) may, in fact, be ammonium, NH4+?
 

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it's on the nonlinear corner of the NH3/NH4+ s-graph.
My handbook states 98% NH4 at pH 7,5 and 94% NH4 at pH 8.
The 'critical' value of 0,02 mg/l NH3 is probably exceeded at pH 7,8.
regards
 

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Discussion Starter #4
it's on the nonlinear corner of the NH3/NH4+ s-graph.
My handbook states 98% NH4 at pH 7,5 and 94% NH4 at pH 8.
The 'critical' value of 0,02 mg/l NH3 is probably exceeded at pH 7,8.
regards
Thanks, Juergen - do you have a source for that graph?

I bought Seachem's "Ammonia Alert," an ongoing monitoring device that distinguishes free ammonia from ionic ammonium, something like a drop-checker, via gas exchange across a membrane. Using Prime at 2x the daily rate, the monitor showed "safe," though this morning it showed somewhere between "safe" and "Alert," which means anywhere from 0.00 ppm NH3 to 0.05 NH3, given the roughness of this consumer-level product. Still, a helpful guide, and dosing with Prime and Stability, I hope to keep it in check until the tank is fully (re)-cycled.
 

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Remove the fish and finish out a fishless cyle in this tank.
Soils and plants can take a while to settle in, and the ammonia that is produced is good food for nitrifying bacteria.
It may take a few weeks or a month for the soil to settle down, and the nitrifying bacteria to grow, and in that time the plants are also rooting and growing. All sorts of other microorganisms are establishing themselves, too. In this first month the aquarium is not really a very good habitat for fish.

Removing the ammonia with zeolite or similar products is simply starving the very bacteria you want to grow. Eventually the soil will stop producing such an excess of ammonia, and the various microorganisms will grow to a proper population. Once the ecosystem has stabilized, then add the fish.

I have not seen evidence that the bacterial additive you are using has the proper species of nitrifying bacteria. Look for Nitrospiros spp. if you want to, but good garden soil has some of these. It just takes time to grow them to the population you need in the tank.
 

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I used Organic Choice in a 10 gal tank with baby Rainbowfish. I don't remember having any ammonia problems (or doing any water changes, for that matter). I bubbled in air from a Whisper air pump to gently circulate water (no filter). Plants grew fine and I did not lose any of the 14 babies. I set up this tank one day and started putting babies in it the next few days. Babies are usually more sensitive to water problems than adult fish so this soil was definitely "fish friendly" in my opinion.

Are your plants growing? If they're not growing or they're dying, then they will release ammonia instead of taking it up.

Also, I'm wondering now if the additives that you are adding to this tank aren't causing the ammonia spike. For example, if you are adding a bacteria culture each day, in essence, you are adding a lot of protein with its nitrogen. Bacteria are very protein rich, that is, 12% by dry weight, and they are readily digestible (means their decomposition will quicky release ammonia).

In general, I am against adding artificial bacteria cultures. With your experience, I'm even more opposed. ;) The nitrifying species you're adding may be dead or can't adapt to your ecosystem. So all you're doing then is adding an ammonia source to your tank.

Bottom Line: I recommend that you stop adding anything to your tank except fishfood. Document your findings as a learning experience, but then relax and give Mother Nature a chance.
 

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Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)
I used Organic Choice in a 10 gal tank with baby Rainbowfish. I don't remember having any ammonia problems (or doing any water changes, for that matter). I bubbled in air from a Whisper air pump to gently circulate water (no filter). Plants grew fine and I did not lose any of the 14 babies. I set up this tank one day and started putting babies in it the next few days. Babies are usually more sensitive to water problems than adult fish so this soil was definitely "fish friendly" in my opinion.

Are your plants growing? If they're not growing or they're dying, then they will release ammonia instead of taking it up.

Also, I'm wondering now if the additives that you are adding to this tank aren't causing the ammonia spike. For example, if you are adding a bacteria culture each day, in essence, you are adding a lot of protein with its nitrogen. Bacteria are very protein rich, that is, 12% by dry weight, and they are readily digestible (means their decomposition will quicky release ammonia).

In general, I am against adding artificial bacteria cultures. With your experience, I'm even more opposed. ;) The nitrifying species you're adding may be dead or can't adapt to your ecosystem. So all you're doing then is adding an ammonia source to your tank.

Bottom Line: I recommend that you stop adding anything to your tank except fishfood. Document your findings as a learning experience, but then relax and give Mother Nature a chance.
I guess I was concerned, Diana, because prior adding in Prime or the Seachem bacteria, my ammonia levels were really high - as high as 1.0 ppm. With a pH in the 7.8 range, I got freaked, because I concluded a lot of that was free ammonia, and I was frying my fish. Seachem makes the claim that Stability nitrifying bacteria works by the following reasoning:

The bacteria used in competing products are inherently unstable. The conditions necessary for their growth and development fall into a very narrow range of temperatures, pH, organic loads, etc. When any of these parameters are not strictly within the proper range, the bacterial culture quickly crashes and dies. Stability™ does not contain any of the aforementioned bacteria.

The bacteria strains in Stability™ have been in development for over a decade. The necessary conditions for growth of our bacterial strains encompass a very broad range. When other bacteria begin to die off (usually from high organic loads caused by the undetected death of an organism), Stability™ simply works harder and grows faster! The strains function in fresh or saltwater. Stability™ contains both nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria, a blend found in no other product. Additionally, Stability™ contains facultative bacterial strains which are able to adapt to either aerobic or anaerobic conditions. The bacteria in Stability™ are non-sulfur fixing, another innovation in the industry. Most other bacterial supplements will form toxic hydrogen sulfide under the proper conditions. Stability™ will not, ever.
And recommends their Prime as a product that detoxes free Ammonia, and nitrites:

Prime™ also contains a binder which renders ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate non-toxic. It is very important to understand how those two functions work together. All dechlorinators operate through a chemical process known as reduction. In this process, toxic dissolved chlorine gas (Cl2) is converted into non-toxic chloride ions (Cl-). The reduction process also breaks the bonds between chlorine and nitrogen atoms in the chloramine molecule (NCl3), freeing the chlorine atoms and replacing them with hydrogen (H) to create ammonia (NH3).

Typically, dechlorinators stop there, leaving an aquarium full of toxic ammonia! Seachem takes the necessary next step by including an ammonia binder to detoxify the ammonia produced in the reduction process.
This, with the fact my plants seem to either be in shock, or somehow not taking in nutrients (yellowing, melt, patches of translucence), etc., told me something wasn't working, so I feared a total crash in the system.

I'm so used to micromanaging, and I guess I jumped ship before allowing the natural process to do what it does, though. I will leave it be, and report on what happens. Thanks again.

DianaK said:
Remove the fish and finish out a fishless cyle in this tank.
Soils and plants can take a while to settle in, and the ammonia that is produced is good food for nitrifying bacteria.
It may take a few weeks or a month for the soil to settle down, and the nitrifying bacteria to grow, and in that time the plants are also rooting and growing. All sorts of other microorganisms are establishing themselves, too. In this first month the aquarium is not really a very good habitat for fish.

Removing the ammonia with zeolite or similar products is simply starving the very bacteria you want to grow. Eventually the soil will stop producing such an excess of ammonia, and the various microorganisms will grow to a proper population. Once the ecosystem has stabilized, then add the fish.

I have not seen evidence that the bacterial additive you are using has the proper species of nitrifying bacteria. Look for Nitrospiros spp. if you want to, but good garden soil has some of these. It just takes time to grow them to the population you need in the tank.
Thanks as well, Diana. In terms of the Seachem Stability, by the above, I went with their explanation on the efficacy of the bacteria inside the product. When I realized I was getting such a high spike, I also thought to remove the fish, but I've nowhere to put them - my 20H is already stocked with cardinals, tetchy creatures at that (experienced die-off before finally getting the proper routine to acclimatize them), and I'd be concerned about dumping a quantum bio-load of the 10 white clouds back into the 20H. So, in essence, I felt stuck, trying to manage the cycling with the fish in the tank - something it seemed the Prime/Stability regime promised to do.

It seems it all comes down to lack of experience with this method, and I just need to truly attempt letting nature do its thing.

Paul
 

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Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
Incidentally, I had in place an HOB, with both carbon and Purigen. The carbon has expired, I'm certain, and this morning, I removed the Purigen. The only filtration are the plants, and a rough mesh sponge in the HOB. I am watching the NH3 drop monitor, as an ongoing process.

Also, on second appraisal this morning, looking more carefully at the plants, I do see many positive signs: although the needle leaf java is struggling, the mature corymbosa is patchy/translucent, the wisteria seems nutrient-deficienct, and the crypts and anubias barteri 'nana' are all generally diatom-covered, the najas, sunset hygro and younger corymbosa are all experiencing new and, knock on wood, solid growth. Additionally, I am seeing new, very light-tone (if pale) green fronds on new side-stems of wisteria.

Does this pattern tell anyone anything - younger growth healthy, mature leaves, etc., not so much?
 

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Perhaps you addressed this in another thread, Paul. But what happened after you removed the carbon and purigen? I just recently started a 10g with a topsoil substrate topped with gravel. There's a ton of hygro, wisteria, and hornwort now. HOB filter with carbon, purigen, and floss. Only threw the purigen in because I had purchased some for the hi-tech tank I'm planning and decided to give it a shot on my now cloudy 10g low-tech.

I just replaced the Purigen with another sponge because I decided I don't really think it's necessary and possibly detrimental to an establishing lo-tech tank - and because I just don't quite know enough about Purigen. So I have a sandwich of floss-carbon-floss (and plan on it being nothing but floss in a week or two).

I am also using Prime as a dechlorinator. So now I'm thinking I made a bad choice, because I decidedly just wanted a dechlorinator and nothing else.

In other words, my 10g sounds a lot like yours, so I'm curious how this worked out for you.
 

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I had a similar situation a few weeks ago with my new 10g NPT. Others have had great success with Miracle Grow Organic Choice potting soil, but I did have high ammonia and nitrites for the first couple of weeks. This bag had quite a lot of pieces of wood: maybe I didn't remove enough of them, or I didn't air it out long enough, or maybe it was just this particular bag. I also had quite a few new plants that probably had to get used to my water and didn't grow right away.

I also was worried about the high ammonia and did a lot of water changes the first week. I posted about my concerns (I thought I might not have enough light for the plants to grow) and was advised to leave the tank alone and let mother nature do the work. I am happy to report that soon after, the plants took off and ammonia and nitrites gradually went down and reached zero after about two weeks. I have had no algae problems and though I didn't have fish in the tank for the first week, I had a rogue checkerboard barb that had to be removed from another tank for the other fishes safety. I felt bad about putting him in there, but he has shown no adverse effects.

I can sympathize with you, it's hard to make the transition from higher maintenance tanks to natural, but I have found that it does work!
 

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My experience with Miracle-Gro Organic Choice was similar. I had a small ammonia spike for a few days, then everything settled down and began to work beautifully.

John R
 
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