Okay, here's the basic facts ~
Right about Thanksgiving time I purchased a 6.6 gallon Tru-Aqua cube tank, set it up with heater and filter (Aqueon internal 15) and decorated it with gravel/ big rocks, etc. First occupant was small female betta. When I added her I added safestart and also a small nerite snail. Also gravel and some filter media from one of my older tanks. The tank cycled nicely in about a week - 10 days and had been stable . About 2 weeks ago I added a mystery snail. Weekly water testing always showed the same values - 0 ammon, 0 nit, 10-20 nitrates.
This weekend I purchased an awesome piece of mopani wood from LFS. Boiled, etc. Decided to redo the decor in 6.6 gallon. Took out a big rock cave and some fake plants. I had a lot of decor in there, when I removed it, there was a surge of debris/deitrus from the bottom of the tank. The water was super cloudy and didn't settle and the next day I tested and it showed an ammonia spike up to about .35.
The original gravel was natural small rock aguarium gravel mixed heavily with larger decorative rock pieced. (about nickel and dime sized pieces.)
I never really liked the big rock pieces and I guessed that even though I do regular pwc with vaccuuming, the big rocks were letting too much junk settle down through them. So I moved the fish to a bowl for a few hours, and sifted through and dug out about 95% of the bigger stone pieces. Left the old gravel and added some new of the same type. Cleaned well. Added the wood, with some java fern and anubis tied to it. Added some new rooted amazon swords. Refilled tank ( I had emptied it about 75%) added back one or two of the old rocks and a piece of cholla wood with another anubis tied on.
I moved the nerite snail to another tank and added back Thelma, the betta and the mystery snail. Treated with prime.
Each day this week I've done a big water change, retreated with prime, and yet the ammonia keeps spiking. Today it was up to slightly over .50, even though I did not even feed them yesterday! Decided to try something different this morning, did a 60-70% water change, treated with aquasafe, waited an hour and dosed the tank with Safestart.
I'm praying this works. Thelma Lou (the betta) seems to be doing okay but she is stressed and just not quite herself. Snail seems fine.
Any ideas why this mini-cycle has become so severe? I thought the small bioload and the live plants would get me over the hump.
(Sorry to be so long-winded....