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Behold, Nitrates!

Presenting, the latest water tests. It looks like nitrites are really high now, so I am hoping this means there will be enough substrate for nitrite-to-nitrate converting bacteria to do their thing. There’s a slight sign of nitrates forming. The color is somewhere between the “zero” color and the 5 ppm color, hence the “2.5 ppm” designation. This is obviously not a precise test, so take my numbers with a grain of salt.

It looks as though ammonia is still quite high, which is annoying. Right now, the nitrite and ammonia concentrations of my system mean I definitely cannot consider putting fish or plants in there yet. I recently learned that nitrites are bad for plants – which is great to know BEFORE adding the plant side. I’ve ordered supplies for that already but now I’m going to sit on them until nitrite levels start dropping.

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Finally Seeing Signs of Nitrites!

I’m excited to report that I am finally seeing a faint sign of nitrites! The picture below shows that instead of that nice bright blue, it is now a purplish blue. It’s not quite purple enough to be considered the next level up on the scale, but it’s definitely less blue than it’s been for months. There is hope after all! I added another dose of QuickStart as a last ditch effort to “help out” the culture. It may not be doing anything, but it also can’t hurt.

To compare colors, see the previous post.

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Establishing the Biological Filter

I am plugging away at this biological filter, which has yet to be established. My water tests indicate that I don’t have any nitrites or nitrates yet, but lots of ammonia and a neutral pH. I’ve been running my system fish-free for 3 weeks using ground up Tetra Golfish food as the ammonia source. During that time there have been a lot of partial water changes and down time where the water temperature has fluctuated between 62 and 72 degrees because I would have to shut the pump and heater off while I worked on the system. So that could be slowing things down.

I bought a product a while back called Quick Start by API, and I’m skeptical if it works. It claims to contain the live bacteria that are needed to get a tank cycled, but 24 hours after adding it I see no difference in nitrites and nitrates. If the bacteria are there, they aren’t metabolizing the ammonia. Nitrifiers grow very slowly so, the claims on the bottle that it allows for “instant addition of fish” is so far misleading and hard to believe. I would never put fish in my tank with ammonia levels this high.

I also had to work on the biological filter’s construction. For the last 3 weeks, the water was running straight through the filter and probably was going through too fast to allow any biofilm to build up on the media. I plugged a couple of the holes with hot glue to slow the flow rate of the water exiting the filter, hoping that helps. The water level in the filter is higher now (as of 24 hours ago) and actually covers the media completely, which it was not doing before.

Technical specifications of my system are currently:

  • 250 GPH pump going up 2 feet into the swirl filter through 1/2″ PVC
  • Water is exiting the swirl filter through 1″ PVC, about a foot long, straight into the biofilter by gravity
  • The water in the biofilter falls through 200 bioballs/biowheels and two layers of Polyfilter
  • The water exits the biofilter through 4 3/8″ holes drilled into the bottom of the bucket, by gravity
  • The water temperature is now being kept at 72 degrees.
  • My tank is 40 gallons.
  • My swirl filter is 4 gallons.