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Old 07-25-2013, 10:05 PM   #1 
Flyby Stardancer
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Why am I getting ammonia?

Okay, I'm getting low-level ammonia readings in my tank and I have NO CLUE why.

My spreadsheet for my water parameters since I set up this tank is here on Google Drive. It's the second tab, Planted Betta Tank 1. I'm sorry, but you may need to zoom in to read it, I don't know why Google Drive is being stupid about it. It should answer any/all questions about the timeline of my ammonia/nitrite/nitrate levels, though.

So, my tank is 5 gallons. I used Eco Complete as the substrate, and once I had my initial plants in, I started fishlessly cycling it with liquid ammonia. Tank cycled, after a few days the stems kicked in and started sucking down nitrate faster than it was rising, everything was good. My tank sat cycled, with daily additions of ammonia, for over a week, no issue.

I got my fish and added him in, everything was dandy, and the next day my nitrate levels actually went to 0.

Then, 5 days after I added him (on the 17th), ammonia began to spike. Because it was at the same levels as chloramines put my tap at, I just added Prime instead to detoxify it, and waited until Friday (the 19th) to do a 50% water change, because I'm trying to get into a routine of Friday water changes. I also changed the baffle to a sponge baffle, and started my quest to try to get the filter baffled enough for him to be comfortable and able to move around the tank freely.

I added more plants on the 20th, stems and floaters.

The baffle was blocking some of the light from my bulb, so on the 22nd I switched to a more powerful light that also was shorter, and thus wasn't blocked by the baffle as much. The water finally got to 0 ammonia, but that didn't last. I got a MASSIVE spike in nitrates. I ended up doing two water changes to get the nitrates down to a tolerable level. Between the new light and the higher level nitrates, all the plants pearled heavily that evening.

However, by the next day, ammonia was back up to .25ppm and hasn't dropped below that since. I've been adding Prime daily to detoxify it. Plants haven't heavily pearled since, and nitrates are slowly rising. I added more stems and floaters yesterday, and I did another 50% water change today.

Can someone help me figure this out??? I'm at my wit's end!

Last edited by Flyby Stardancer; 07-25-2013 at 10:07 PM.
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Old 07-25-2013, 10:59 PM   #2 
RussellTheShihTzu
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Are you using the API Master Test kit? If so, it doesn't differentiate between ammonia and ammonium so you can get a false positive. A lot of forums recommend getting the Seacham Ammonia test kit if you use Prime.

I ordered one and should be getting by Saturday. I'll test my tank with both kits and post the results. When I was cycling my tank it drove me crazy because I added Prime to the tank every 24 hours. Finally learned to test right before the next dose of Prime and the ammonia reading was much lower than after adding the Prime.

Don't know if this help; I hope so.
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Old 07-25-2013, 11:40 PM   #3 
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I know that it will read positive for ammonia when using Prime. That's not the issue. I test before I change the water, and expect ammonia if I've got an uncycled tank.

The issue is that I'm getting ammonia in a tank that is packed full of plants (MANY of them stems and floaters), and the tank WAS cycled. There has been nothing done that could have crashed the cycle, and between the plants and cycle there should be NO ammonia in the tank. Nitrates, maybe if the plants aren't sucking it up as fast as it forms, but not ammonia.
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Old 07-26-2013, 09:41 AM   #4 
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Fishless cycling frequently grows a large colony of bacteria. Many keepers like this, especially if they're going to stock heavily right away. When you introduce only one fish, the bacteria die-back to accomodate the ammonia source....one fish. The colony then eats the dead bacteria producing ammonia.

Nitrate and nitrite only came from ammonia/ammonium. NH3/NH4 is what plants process first.

But you have a planted tank with healthy growing stems and floaters. I can't imagine what's up with your tank. Keep up the water changes. <sigh>

Last edited by Hallyx; 07-26-2013 at 09:43 AM.
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Old 07-26-2013, 09:49 AM   #5 
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If the colony is starving and eats the dead bacteria, creating ammonia, then wouldn't the starving bacteria consume that ammonia?
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Old 07-26-2013, 12:04 PM   #6 
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Hallyx, I did try to tailor the fishless cycling so that I wouldn't create too much bacteria for my small filter to support. 1ppm starting dose, .5ppm maintenance daily dose until the fish was in the tank.

Yeah, I can't figure out why the filter isn't converting the ammonia and why the plants aren't keeping up with the nitrogen, and it's driving me batty to watch the tank like a hawk when I expected this tank to be mostly fine with just a weekly water change.
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Old 07-26-2013, 12:17 PM   #7 
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Hmmm, maybe try adding some more media to the filter. maybe you just need some more real estate for the bacteria to colonize.

Or maybe the turnover rate in the tank is too low.

I would test the water leaving the filter to see what it reads.
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Old 07-26-2013, 12:23 PM   #8 
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I've completely filled up the space for media in the filter, along with adding a prefilter and sponge baffle which should add additional space for BB in addition to their intended functions. However, it started spiking before I changed to a sponge baffle and only had a water bottle baffle that in no way reduced the flow from the filter.

I can try to get some water from close to the filter tonight, but that will be tough with how baffled it is. I have a betta in the tank, and the filter is as baffled as I can get it and it's still at the upper range of the amount of current my betta can handle.
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Old 07-26-2013, 12:28 PM   #9 
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Hmmm, a single betta doesn't have that much of a bioload that a full filter would be insufficient.

Do you have decaying plant matter in the tank?
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Old 07-26-2013, 01:02 PM   #10 
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I try to pull dying plants/leaves. I had a small spike early on caused by a plant melting and pulled that plant, and the only other (single leaf on a) plant I've seen started dying after this current spike began. Nevertheless, it was pulled last night anyways during the water change.
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