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Discussion Starter #1
Hey all. I would appreciate some advice regarding what I should be expecting from my water tests.

I recently got an API Freshwater Master Test Kit. I first used it on December 15th, and here were the results:

The “tap” water (I use tap water filtered with a Brita filter water pitcher, since there’s high trihalomethylates (sp) in our area):
Ammonia: 0 ppm
pH: 7.6
pH high range: 7.8

Aquarium water:
Ammonia: 0 ppm
Nitrites: 0 ppm
Nitrates: 0 ppm
pH: 7.6

I didn't do a water change last week since the water parameters looked good.
I was about to do one today, so I tested the water again, thinking that there must be some ammonia or nitrates by now. Well, again, this was the results of today:

Ammonia: 0 ppm
Nitrites: 0 ppm
Nitrates: 0 ppm
pH: 7.6


I did the tests right as directed, using the seconds counter on my computer's clock to make sure I shook all the tests for the right amount of time, especially the nitrate bottle and its test. My kit doesn't expire until 2020, and I bought it new, sealed, and unopened off of Amazon.

Is this normal for this kind of tank? Here's some quick specs:
- 5 gal Aqueon MiniBow 5.0
- sand substrate
- typical Aqueon carbon filter (which I haven't changed since November, instead I just rinse it about once a week or once every 2 weeks)
- 2 Indian Almond Leaves about 4in x 2in in size, one is really soft and the other is new and still stiff
- 3 plants - one is an unidentified plant that's about 16 inches tall, with long pointed leaves that are light green and dark green striped, with white stripes on the edges of the leaves. The other 2 are lucky bamboo that float with their leaves out of the water.
- There's some amount of brown algae, particularly on the big plant, but once I moved the tank out of direct sunlight it stopped growing algae all over the walls.
- I've been using the Tetra BettaSafe water conditioner drops during water changes, and I also added 3-4 drops two days ago since Omicron jumped out of the tank, I wanted to give him some help in getting his slime coat back.


Someone on tumblr mentioned that I could achieve these kinds of results if I didn't overfeed. That makes sense to me since I only give Omicron one pellet at a time, and I make sure he finds it and eats it, and I only give him 4-6 a day (he's still a growing teen and begs a lot less if I give him 6 versus the 2-4 I used to give him.)

Should I be worried about these results, or are these results saying I've achieved a pretty balanced cycle?
 

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So you -have- cycled your tank? It's kinda hard to say, because you have live plants. In a planted tank zero across the board is normal since nitrates get absorbed by the plants. But then again I have four different species in my 5.5gal and I still read 2.5 to 5ppm of nitrates each time I test. Maybe it's just my plants though, some plants absorb more nitrates than others. How did you cycle your tank?

EDIT: feel free to include a picture of your unidentified plant. People here have really good eyes and will ID it for you.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I suppose I have cycled it - I know this is really ignorant, but I didn't know anything about cycling tanks until about a month after I got the tank, so I guess it cycled itself since I kept up with water changes and monitored the fish's behavior and kept his waste in check. It's been about 5 months since I got it. I've heard tanks can tank up to 6 months to cycle, though, so I thought it might still be doing that.

Basically I left the tank to its devices and did water changes 1x-2x a week, at about 5-25% water change depending on how much water I removed when sucking up the fish and plant waste from the sand. Obviously in the future I will be more careful, because I could have stressed or killed my fish leaving him in during an uncalculated cycle.


Attached is a quick webcam pic of the tank- the unidentified plant is the big one directly behind the fish. The other two are the floating bamboo.
 

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On one hand, I'd say your tank is already cycled if it's been 5 months already. I don't know where you read that from, but as far as I know, fish-in cycle takes at most 8 weeks to complete. But on the other hand, you're still reading a zero-zero-zero. So I don't know, I guess I'll leave it up to the more experienced people.

In another news, now that I know what "lucky bamboos" look like (I asked Google), I gotta ask you if you're 100% sure that is a true aquatic plant. My grandparents have them in a vase. Although they prefer wet, humid substrate, I don't believe they can be grown fully submerged like that. This discussion board: http://www.aquariumadvice.com/forums/f24/lucky-bamboo-in-the-freshwater-aquarium-121021.html seems to say so too. This is a good plant to grow riparium style but their leaves cannot be submerged.

I still have no idea about your other plant though. Where did you get that from?
 

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So wait form reading your first spot I saw no mention of an ammonia source (live fish, fish food, dead fish/shrimp or pure ammonia used for cycling?
If you don't have something in there to produce ammonia the reading will be 0, that does NOT mean it is cycled.

Lucky bamboo aka Dracaena braunii or sometimes called Dracaena sanderiana is NOT a true aquatic plant. Pull the lucky bamboo up, the leaves must be above water. The thicker stock can be below water the the rest needs to be exposed to the air. If you keep leaves below water it will stagnate and slowly rot.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I know that lucky bamboos are not a true aquatic plant, but I didn't find out until I had already bought them. That's why they're floated. All their leaves are out of the water. It may not be obvious in the picture but there's about 4 inches of leaves sticking out the back of the tank lid. True there is a small branch that has some leaves in the water, but it's new- the plant grew it in the water like that despite how it's floating. I did rotate it so that bud is out of the water.

@Aqua_Aurora sorry if it wasn't obvious but I do have one live betta fish, and he does get fed. You can see him in the picture I uploaded. (I referred to him by his name Omicron in the first post). The fact that I do have a fish in the tank is why these low readings baffle me.
 

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If you've been running an inhabited tank for 5-months, you can be sure it is cycled. (See how easy that was?) Continue with your weekly 50% water change schedule -- mostly to remove dissolved waste and replenish minerals. It's good to see you're keeping your tank clean and not over-feeding (common beginner mistakes).

Lucky bamboo is a great ammonia eater as long as the leaves are out of the water. In fact, most emergent plants are great for water quality. It's the other plant I have reservations about. Most "stripey" plants are not aquatic. Keep a close eye on it and pull it if it starts to look bad.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks, Hallyx. The stripey plant has thrived ever since I got it- it's never dropped a single leaf, whereas all the other aquarium plants I bought (in the bundle the striped plant came in) died eventually. Knowing what I know now, Petco probably wasn't even selling all aquatic plants. I'm amazed I didn't accidentally take home a snail from that place.
 
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