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Dark Start

Leepants

Seedling
Joined
31 Aug 2021
Messages
6
Location
UK
Hi folks - first post!

After needing to (impatiently) wait for LFS to get plants in, I decided to do this in my brand new shiny 40 litre tank. I have a neighbour who has a couple of tanks, so is going to give me about 10 - 20 litres to pop in my tank to help mature it all.

Would this help with my impatience in potentially lowering the maturing time? I have about 1cm of fluval sratum and then 3 - 4cm (going up to about 6 inches in one corner) of flourite black and intend to plant the whole floor and some moss "trees" on the hardscape.

A secondary question - I will add a clean up crew of a few clithon snails and a small herd of amano shrimp soon after planting and therefore lights going on. Roughly how long after planting, or is it basically to keep an eye on algae as both crews should be readily available? I also intend to add a few Otocunclus catfish to assist too, but possibly a little later as I believe they aren't quite so hardy.
Final aim is to basically have cardinal tetra and a few teeny loaches / barbs (can't remember the name). I'm thinking around christmas for these so let the plants do their thing and settle in.

Happy to hear any other thoughts on my plans! I'm very new to actual plants (I also weirdly despise gardening in all forms) but have a fair ability to learn, but there is a fair amount of contradictory stuff about, so I believe it's not a binary "yes" or "no" to doing various practices. I have had a bit of a read around and will be reading more on here too!

Thanks.:thumbup:
 

dw1305

Expert
UKAPS Team
Joined
7 Apr 2008
Messages
13,862
Location
nr Bath
Hi all,
I have a neighbour who has a couple of tanks, so is going to give me about 10 - 20 litres to pop in my tank to help mature it all.
Welcome to UKAPS, rather than water you really need some filter media out of their filter (or even just <"the sponge squeezings and mulm">)?
Roughly how long after planting,
I like <"six weeks">, but there are a number of variables.
I'm very new to actual plants (I also weirdly despise gardening in all forms) but have a fair ability to learn........
I'd recommend plants from the <"Tropica "Easy" section">.
but there is a fair amount of contradictory stuff about, so I believe it's not a binary "yes" or "no" to doing various practices. I have had a bit of a read around and will be reading more on here too!
I'm biased, but I'd take anything you read on a forum (other than UKAPS), or ae told by a LFS, <"with a pinch of salt">.

cheers Darrel
 

Leepants

Seedling
Joined
31 Aug 2021
Messages
6
Location
UK
Thanks DW! I should have thought about filter maturity rather than just "water" maturing on it's own - appreciated. I'll see if there's an option to pop my filter innerds into his fancier set up.

For variables, is it dependant on testing water, although that in itself seems to be a dark, unagreed-upon type of magic!?

Yep - I have a list of plants, so will correlate with the easy section. I haven't yet done that........ again, thanks for the shout. Something LFS advised too.

I'm finding my LFS are pretty decent - they absolutely aren't just about selling - they are just getting into fish stuff (traditionally a reptile place) and one of the 2 staff was employed specifically for his aquaria knowledge and he's super chilled and is enjoying my impatient giddiness, but is VERY much telling me that patience is key. But I hear you! He also knows I'm happy to shop elsewhere and doesn't really care! :lol:
 

dw1305

Expert
UKAPS Team
Joined
7 Apr 2008
Messages
13,862
Location
nr Bath
Hi all,
For variables, is it dependant on testing water, although that in itself seems to be a dark, unagreed-upon type of magic!?
Opinions vary about the usefulness of test kits and meters, some members will regard them as an <"essential part of tank maintenance">, some will be less sure. We aren't anti-testing, I'd really like to know the <"water parameters of my tanks">, but you just need to bear in mind that there are a <"number of issues">.
I'm finding my LFS are pretty decent - they absolutely aren't just about selling - they are just getting into fish stuff (traditionally a reptile place) and one of the 2 staff was employed specifically for his aquaria knowledge and he's super chilled and is enjoying my impatient giddiness, but is VERY much telling me that patience is key.
There are a lot of good LFS, you can see our forum sponsors and links in the <"Where to buy threads">. Generally I like a <"fish keeper with a shop">, rather than a "shop keeper with fish", mainly because I'm reasonably good with plants, but a <"pretty shoddy fish keeper">.

cheers Darrel
 
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Leepants

Seedling
Joined
31 Aug 2021
Messages
6
Location
UK
Yeh, the blokey keeps fish and has for a long while, even though he's not an old man!

As for test kits - I don't know another way (yet) to have an idea on what's going on with the water, besides plants or fish dying, which is, frankly ££. But test kits aren't exactly cheap.......
 

dw1305

Expert
UKAPS Team
Joined
7 Apr 2008
Messages
13,862
Location
nr Bath
Hi all,
I don't know another way (yet) to have an idea on what's going on with the water
That is really the advantage of a planted tank, if the plants growing they will improve water conditions for the fish. If you like the plants do the <"heavy lifting for you">.

If you take nitrate (NO3-) as an example in non-planted tanks its level continually rises and it can only be reduced by water changes, denitrification or expensive anion exchange resins. In a planted tank NO3- levels fall as plants convert <"that fixed nitrogen"> (N) into chlorophyll. When you remove that plant matter the nitrogen goes with it.
But test kits aren't exactly cheap.......
@sparkyweasel might have a <"thread for you">.

cheers Darrel
 
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Dominik K

Member
Joined
14 Jun 2021
Messages
80
Location
Southampton
Yeh, the blokey keeps fish and has for a long while, even though he's not an old man!

As for test kits - I don't know another way (yet) to have an idea on what's going on with the water, besides plants or fish dying, which is, frankly ££. But test kits aren't exactly cheap.......

As someone recently embarking on this journey, I would certainly advise against the test strips. Those things are pretty much useless.
I picked up a 3in one (PH, Nitrate & ammonia) reagent kit from LFS.

Although its not perfect Its comforting to know that when I added my Neon tetras to the tank with some nerites the fish were just shy rather then being killed by amonia/Huge levels of nitrate. :)
 

Leepants

Seedling
Joined
31 Aug 2021
Messages
6
Location
UK
Dominik - I'm waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay off thi! I need to learn to balance fish needs and plant needs....
 

Leepants

Seedling
Joined
31 Aug 2021
Messages
6
Location
UK
Hi all,

That is really the advantage of a planted tank, if the plants growing they will improve water conditions for the fish. If you like the plants do the <"heavy lifting for you">.

If you take nitrate (NO3-) as an example in non-planted tanks its level continually rises and it can only be reduced by water changes, denitrification or expensive anion exchange resins. In a planted tank NO3- levels fall as plants convert <"that fixed nitrogen"> (N) into chlorophyll. When you remove that plant matter the nitrogen goes with it.

@sparkyweasel might have a <"thread for you">.

cheers Darrel
I half understand that. But I want to keep fish in a pretty tank, so the fish are my priority. Does that make sense? I as yet, have NO clue what NO3 does for fish. I know NO4 (I think) makes my voice squeek.,......
 

MichaelJ

Member
Joined
9 Feb 2021
Messages
1,690
Location
Minnesota, USA
I half understand that. But I want to keep fish in a pretty tank, so the fish are my priority. Does that make sense?
@Leepants Yes, and there is (usually) no conflict between a beautiful planted tank and happy fish - you just have to be mindful of what you put together.

I as yet, have NO clue what NO3 does for fish. I know NO4 (I think) makes my voice squeek.,......
Nitrate (NO3) is plant food - and don't worry about Nitrate (NO3) levels in a planted tank... just make sure you have enough of it with your fertilization. (for non planted tanks NO3 is different beast as it may indicate build up of other toxins).

Nitrite (NO2) on the other hand, and Ammonia (NH3) are the livestock widow makers - both are highly toxic even in very small quantities - Test kits, such as API, usually measure the total (NH4 + NH3) so even a very low (non-zero) reading may not be a problem depending on the temperature and pH of your water, that said, I would always take any non-zero reading in a cycled tank, and established tank as a huge warning sign regardless of temperature and pH and immediately do massive water changes etc.

I am not a very chemistry savvy person - I am trying to educate myself constantly. It always bugged me to pieces that all these important chemical names that are part of the hobby are so close :) for instance:
Nitrate (NO3) (harmless) vs Nitrite (NO2) (very toxic),
Ammonium (NH4) (relatively harmless at low levels) vs Ammonia (NH3) (very toxic)
Chloride (harmless) vs Chlorine (very toxic)

(I think I got that right :lol: )

Welcome to UKAPS! :)

Cheers,
Michael
 
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Leepants

Seedling
Joined
31 Aug 2021
Messages
6
Location
UK
O hell..... sooo, how to regulate nitrates? Plants spring to my drunken mind....... But! PH too? From school (40 years ago) I seem to recall that NH is alkaline....... As yet, I don't know which is "worse". And I get that temp affects all as add heat = add energy = increase reaction.
I'm also aware that ammonia is bad for ANY living thing. So, how to reduce the N or the H.N is "kind of" easier. H is a by product?I not pumping bubbles in.... So where does the H "appear" from?
 
Joined
6 Sep 2017
Messages
40
Location
Berkshire
Hi all, again I can testify that the method works like a charm. Used it ever since starting the hobby 6 years ago and now in the process of creating my second IAPLC aquascape using this method.

Key is to let ammonia levels decrease to 0 (which usually takes 2-3 weeks from setup). Definitely a plus when using wood as it gets it past the 'white mould' phase. Only drawback for me is if you were ever thinking of doing a moss heavy aquascape - as because the hardscape is now in situ in the tank - you'll need to be patient when tieing moss to the wood as it's more difficult than doing this outside the tank!

But positives definitely outweigh this negative. Don't worry if nitrite or nitrates are still high as long as you plant heavy the plants will use these as food. Some tips below however to make sure you get the most out of the dark start method (as although it's a lot easier than the traditional once a day water changes, it still requires some effort for the tanks filtration to become optimum):
  • Use a surface skimmer and raise lily pipes (biological filtration requires lots of oxygen to multiply - as the tank has no plants just soil, the oxygen levels are really low so you need to increase this to speed up the maturation process)
  • Large water changes twice a week (this is more of a precautionary method but (especially with aquasoil amazonia) the ammonia levels are through the roof and any ambient light that might get into the tank may cause a small algae outbreak and therefore I found it better to do this than not! Also it helps with point one above!
  • Cover the tank and all sides so no ambient lighting can get in (a follow on from my second point but definitely one of the most important during the dark start method to prevent any chance of algae)
  • If using Ro water, remineralise water to the same as when plants/fish are in the tank (I made this mistake in the past and thought I wouldnt need to remineralise my water as there's no fish/plants to use it! This is wrong as bacteria (especially in very acidic water) don't multiply as rapidly and the start up will be prolonged)
  • Add algae clean up crew 1 week after planting (generally if doing a 3 week dark start you can get away with adding the algae crew 1 week after planting or 4 weeks since setup. You can in fact add them straight away if ammonia and nitrite are 0 but if you are using tissue culture plants i'd advise against this as you'll find they'll float to the surface when shrimps/fish touch them as they aren't properly rooted.
  • Plant heavy - despite doing the dark start method it is advisable to still plant heavy as another precaution against any sudden change in water quality
  • Add seachem prime for first 3 weeks of dark start - helps with promoting growth of beneficial bacteria
  • Keep to water changes two times a week for first few weeks post dark start - again another precautionary approach but this time you can afford to do the standard 30% water change as now you'll have plants and even fish in the tank so you have to be mindful of not changing too much water at once!

Hope that helps!
 
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