Aquarium Care

Useful articles, news, information, product reviews about aquarium care

Posts Tagged ‘Nitrates’

Sticky: Controlling Aquarium Algae

Most aquarium hobbyists have to contend with the problem of algae growth sooner or later. The problem can come over time or burst out suddenly as algae bloom.  Understanding the kind of algae you might get in your tank is a big step toward fixing any problem that might arise. The first thing to do is to learn how to identify the algae and then follow the protocol to control it.

Kinds of Algae

Brown Algae – This kind of algae is the most common and is usually found in new tanks or low-light aquariums. You can recognize it by the soft clumps that they form on aquarium walls and fittings.  They are also referred to as diatoms and can be removed by scrubbing. Because they feed on nitrates, adding live plants will help as will algae eaters like the Otocinclus catfish or aquarium snails.

Cyanobacteria – Although cyanobacteria are often referred to as blue-green algae, they are really microbes that float through the tank as blue-green sheets.  They are easy to remove and need to be controlled as they can cause the death of fish or plants in the tank.

tank with green algae

Green Algae

Green Algae – Green water in the tank is usually the result of this kind of algae and often comes because of poor water quality.  This is the kind of algae that is referred to as algae bloom and will grow in tanks that are getting too much light or haven’t cycled properly. It usually forms a film on the tank walls and fittings and can be wiped off. Once the water in the tank has stabilized the algae will usually disappear. If it doesn’t, more drastic methods are necessary.

Thread Algae – Long threads (up to 30 cm) hanging on leaf edges are thread algae.  Low iron is usually the reason for this condition. Threads can be removed by taking a toothbrush and twirling the threads around it. Another way to control this growth is with Siamese algae eaters.

Green Spot Algae – Hard green spots on tank walls and on aquarium plants are the difficult to remove green spot algae. They usually occur in tanks which have too much light or are low in CO2 and phosphate. Normally, they are removed by scraping with a razor blade.

Red/Brush Algae – Red algae or brush algae are most likely to develop on slow-growing plants. pH does not affect them and they are hard to remove by hand. The only control known are Siamese algae eaters.

How to Control Algae

The best ways to avoid algae problems is to limit organic waste and keep good conditions in your tank. Regular water changes and limiting fish food to about as much as they can eat in a minute will help. Live plants also use up the nitrates which feed the algae which will keep them from growing. Algae need light, so keeping the tank out of the sun and only using artificial light for up to 12 hours a day will also discourage growth. Another simple and easy way to reduce the likelihood of getting an algae problem is by the addition of beneficial bacteria, which keep the tank clean and non-conducive to algae growth.

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In Search of the Right Aquarium Plants

If you are setting up an aquarium and you don’t yet have any decorations or plants, you may notice that your tank looks incomplete. In fact, plants aren’t just decorative, but a necessary addition to your aquarium. Aquarium plants provide hiding spots for your fish, making them more comfortable in the tank.

There are two main choices for aquarium plants: real and fake. Keeping real plants alive requires specialized care, above and beyond keeping your fish alive. Plastic plants, on the other hand, are easy to care for, even if it’s your first aquarium.

Plastic plants are long lasting and very easy to clean. You only need to take them out of the aquarium and wash with soap and water. The colors are varied and sometimes even more vivid than real plants. Although you have to be careful about the too bright colors or it might stress your fish. Some of them will adjust their colors to a less vibrant color in order to be less conspicuous to predators. Better stick to the more natural marine tones to bring out the natural bright colors of your fish.

There are also aquarium plants that are made of silk. They are a little more expensive but they appear more realistic and are easier to care for than other plastic plants. It is important to buy only silk plants that are designed for aquariums and not those found in craft stores that may contain chemicals that are harmful to your fish.

Fresh plants are of course, the most natural looking. Like some kinds of fish, though, they can be very hard to maintain. Some of them will thrive only under specific water temperatures or pH levels. Find the fresh plants whose specific needs are compatible with the water requirements of your fish.

There are other more noteworthy benefits in choosing real plants over fake ones. They give out oxygen and use up nitrates in the water thereby maintaining some balance in the nitrogen cycle. They also provide for breeding grounds for some fish and can be the natural food source to some others.

Although, fresh plants may appear to have many benefits, most varieties have special requirements that may discourage some people from using them. Many of them need lighting and special fertilizers. All fresh plants need light for photosynthesis. The amount of light required by these plants may vary depending on their kind. A special aquarium fertilizer is also a requirement for most plants. You cannot use your ordinary garden fertilizer. This will most likely kill your aquarium.

Cleaning fresh aquarium plants is more difficult than cleaning fake ones because you’ll have to clean them where they are planted. Decaying plant matter means a lot of waste at the bottom of your tank, which can reduce water quality. Products like EcoBio-Block can help keep your water healthy by providing a continual source of beneficial bacteria that breaks down organic waste, such as decaying plants, into safer by-products. Prune dying parts of the plant just like you would prune your houseplants. Healthy live plants improve your aquarium habitat, but if not cared for properly, they can reduce your water quality. Only you decide whether fresh aquarium plants are worth the additional maintenance.

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Sticky: How to Cycle an Aquarium

aquariumcycleDid you ever think you couldn’t have fish because “they just die”? If all your fish die within a week of buying them, it’s not just the fish. The most common cause of mass fish deaths is an improperly cycled tank. Before you buy any fish, it’s absolutely imperative to make sure your aquarium is well-cycled.

What is cycling? Simply put, the cycling process is the time it takes to set up a biological filter for the nitrogen cycle to function inside the aquarium. Your aquarium is much more than a tank full of water, it has to be an entire contained eco-system to keep your fish healthy. The goal with your cycling time is to develop a culture of beneficial bacteria (or “bio-bugs”) that will break down the ammonia from the fish’s waste into nitrites, and then from nitrites into nitrates. Ammonia is extremely toxic to your fish and will kill them very quickly with much less than one part per million in your aquarium.

There are several methods for cycling. This is a method that is very effective, easy to do even for beginners and does not subject any live creatures to the potentially deadly cycling process. First, set up your aquarium with filtration, heater, aerator, etc. and fill with water. Add whatever de-chlorinator you prefer; if you’re not sure what’s in your water be sure you use a treatment that eliminates or neutralizes chlorine, chloramines and potentially harmful metals. With the filter running, add a tiny amount of fish food…about one or two flakes. The food can be old, stale food that’s no good for feeding anymore — it’s only there to rot. As the food decomposes it will produce the ammonia that will feed the bio-bugs as they get established in your aquarium.

That’s it! Keep adding one or two flakes every day throughout the cycling process, then do a partial water change before you add fish. It’s safe to add fish when both ammonia and nitrites test at zero but there are nitrates in the tank to show that ammonia is actually being broken down. A full cycle takes 36 days to complete, though some hardier fish can be added after a couple of weeks as long as you keep a close eye on the water parameters.

Don’t want to wait 36 days? There are a few products on the market that can help speed up the process. There are bottled, refrigerated products such as Bio-Spira that can give the cycle a big boost by adding the bio-bugs directly (via a liquid) instead of having to wait for them to get established in the aquarium. The only problem I’ve found with those products is that you add them, it boosts the bacteria, and that’s the end of its use. One great cycle-time reducer is the EcoBio-Block. This product is a little more expensive than Bio-Spira, but you get a lot better value for your money.

To use the EcoBio-Block, rinse it off in some de-chlorinated water and then place it in the tank after the water has been treated and filtration is going. Make sure you set it somewhere near the aerator or below the flow of an HOB filter (the kind that hang on the back of your aquarium). The EcoBio-Block has the beneficial bacteria the aquarium needs sealed into it; the flow of water facilitates the dissolving of the seal and ensures that the bio-bugs get the oxygen they need. These blocks can take a couple of weeks to start working (though sometimes they work much faster), and once it’s working you’ll be able to begin adding the fish you want, hardy or not, because this effectively finishes the cycle. Test your water; it may not be necessary to do a partial water change before adding fish unless there’s an excess of decomposed fish food in the bottom. Don’t take the block out! The EcoBio-Block is still useful for about 1 1/2 to 2 years; it’ll keep the bio-bug population healthy and contains all the trace minerals that normally have to be replenished through water changes. The minerals are time-released into the water to keep it healthy without constant water changes.

In short, the cycling process is simple but time-consuming. If you decide to shorten the cycle time take care with which product you purchase to help, there are a lot on the market that don’t actually do what you need. The above have proven to be good, reliable products that greatly aid with this process. Once you’ve achieved a good biological filter and the nitrogen cycle is up and running, you can start adding the fish!

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