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I rushed the hardscape, now I'm halfway cycled. Can I change it up?

Lance Wisher

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22 Sep 2021
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Hi everyone!

This is my first aquascape (see pictures below) - I'm wanting to do it all "right" - or create the best conditions for the plants and fish to thrive (as we all do :) ). I chose a "dark start" fishless/plantless cycle strategy as what I gleaned was the most conservative/successful method and I am using some rocks raised on bags of lava-rock and a layer of standard black aquarium gravel with ~2 inches of ADA soil over it which gave me an initial ammonia boost which kick-started things. I figure I'm about halfway through the cycle at this point - Ammonia is down from 5ppm to 1.5ppm after 19 days and Nitrites are rising rapidly (from 0 to 3ppm over 3 days).

Here's the thing.

My wife and I are creating this scape together and it took so much research and prep time beforehand that when we got the soil, rocks, and wood together we arranged them quickly and excitedly on an "Iwagumi/nature" compromise style (I like the Iwagumi, she likes a very trimmed nature style). This planted tank is going to serve as a conversation starter right in our living room so we both want to agree on a specific feel/style.

After 19 days, and many more hours of "inspiration" research on aquascape design, and some wood-gathering of my own from a local river, I think the hardscape could improve a bit. My main question is:
  • How do you / can you / is it a good idea to: add wood/shift rocks around when you have already added the hardscape + soil and if it has been cycling for 19 days?
Main concerns:
  • Delaying the cycle:
    • Disturbing/removing the beneficial bacteria growing on the substrate
    • Releasing new/significant amounts of ammonia as the soil is moved around
  • Moving the soil so that it falls between the gravel and becomes a mess of a mix
    • Will plant roots grow in mixed soil/gravel?
    • Will I need to replace all of the substrate or add another solid layer of soil to the parts that mixed (leading to more ammonia)?
  • Draining the water and stopping the filter for a significant amount of time to re-scape
    • How long to stop the filter is feasible without killing BB?
Thank you all in advance, all thoughts and opinions are appreciated, and I know I am in good hands here!

Lance

________

Setup
Current readings:
Day 19: Ammonia 1.2ppm, pH 7.9, Nitrites 3ppm, Nitrates ~6ppm, 82 degrees F
Tank: 20 gallon long (75.7 Litres) - 77cm x 30 cm x 31.75 cm
Soil: ADA Amazonia 2.0
Hardscape: 4 rocks I collected from a mountain hike and soaked in bleach solution, a single piece of driftwood purchased from LFS
Filter: Fluval 207 with glass lily pipes
Heaters: Dual 50 watt (so they can fit less visibly in the back) keeping the tank at stable 82F
Air pump: Single bubble bar for oxygenation
Light: (Not used yet during dark start) Full spectrum plant growth LED bar suspended from the ceiling
C02: (Not used yet during dark start)
Chemicals (so far): Seachem Prime and Stability

IMG_20210922_084506005.jpg

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Toby C

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Yes, I wouldn’t worry too much about ammonia release / beneficial bacteria being affect. Your much better off altering / changing hardscape now rather than later.

It might be worth deciding upon the scape outside the tank, rather than have the filter off for ages while you tinker. (do you have the box from the tank to use for the dimensions)
 

Kevin Eades

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Change it now. your substrate will get mixed which is only an aesthetic problem plants won't care in the slightest. Put a new top layer on to make it look nice. Put some tank water in a bucket or tub etc. Run the filter on that while scaping. Take your time then and make sure you are happy. You'll always see things you want to improve though. Once the plants are in its hard to change and not make a complete mess. So now is the best time. I think the longest I've kept a scape so far without redoing it is about 6 months. And I have 4 tanks to play with the creative side is too much fun. And so many different styles layouts and plants to try out. Have fun. If you had planted from the start 19 days in you would have been cycled in my experience and ready to add clean up crew. The plants bring the bacteria with them. An empty tank has very little to start with.
 

Wookii

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I think you are worrying too much unnecessarily. If you want to change the hardscape, just drain it, make the changes and refill it, or just make the changes with the water in place (watching for displacement of course).

If you’re worried about additional ammonia release, just keep doing good sized water changes, which is what you should be doing already to keep the ammonia levels low.

As soon as the ammonia levels stay consistently low, crack on and plant it out fully (which you could probably do now to be honest).

I personally wouldn’t worry to much about the hardscape either - if you plan to plant it heavily from the get go, you won’t be able to see much of the hardscape in three months time anyway 😉
 

dw1305

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Lance Wisher

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Thank you for the insightful replies!

@Kevin Eades - Thanks for the encouragement to act now - that was a helpful motivator :) Also, your tip with running the filter in a bucket was a fantastic one - and I ended up doing that in a 5 gallon with a heater and air stone and then scooping out as much pure soil (not mixed with gravel) as I could out of the tank, and I was pleasantly surprised with how much I got out. (Images below). I've started re-scaping and ordered some driftwood and some smaller stones and sand that will finally achieve my vision for this scape :)

@Wookii - Thank you as well for your encouragement - I agree that I was worrying a bit unnecessarily, which I have found is easy to do starting out in this hobby with so many technical and scientific details and possibilities, as well as the overwhelming (and often opposing) opinions online. Your suggestion that I could even plant now was a good one as well - I think the ammonia-eating bacteria are well on their way and even with high nitrites the plants will do well if ammonia is low from what I have read.

I think after I re-scape I'll refill and make sure the ammonia is low, I'll go ahead and order plants :)

Does anyone see anything wrong with what I'm doing?

How long can the filter go in the 5-gallon bucket I have it in? I was thinking at least 2 more days...


Thanks!
Lance

IMG_20210923_124209515.jpg

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IMG_20210923_124220773.jpg
 

Kevin Eades

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Thank you for the insightful replies!

@Kevin Eades - Thanks for the encouragement to act now - that was a helpful motivator

How long can the filter go in the 5-gallon bucket I have it in? I was thinking at least 2 more days...

The great thing about fishtanks is its easy to change them up so don't be afraid to mix it up when you need to.

The filter will be happy as long as you need it to be in that bucket

Relax with the things a bit more and you'll enjoy the process more.

When I started in fish keeping I knew none of the fancy techniques or must do cycle techniques. Early 90s We were told to run the tank a week and then add fish. I've never lost fish due to a cycle. I never test water parameters. If I change water weekly don't overfeed or have any Contamination such as a death etc then why would my conditions change dramatically?

I think sometime we can over think things to the point of Confusion. If you understand the basic principles of how to keep the water you'll be fine

Looking forward to seeing what you came up with
 

Lance Wisher

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Here’s the graph for aqueous oxygen saturation against temperature if anyone’s interested.

View attachment 174622

:)
Interesting! Any scientific data out there on what O2 mg.L is best for plants, fish, and plants with fish?

i.e., In the normal temperature ranges that aquascapes are kept at (I assume tropical, 24-28C) - is there a significant difference in lowering the temp a few degrees to increase the O2 to help plant growth?

Lance
 

dw1305

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Hi all,
Interesting! Any scientific data out there on what O2 mg.L is best for plants, fish, and plants with fish?
In terms of oxygen content it is really more = better. It is possible to have <"too much dissolved oxygen">, but only in <"very exceptional circumstances">.
Most are kept at around 22-24 degrees - to maximise dissolved CO2 and O2.
If you have fish that need warmer temperatures you can go higher, but that is a good temperature range otherwise.

Cheers Darrel
 
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Wookii

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Interesting! Any scientific data out there on what O2 mg.L is best for plants, fish, and plants with fish?

i.e., In the normal temperature ranges that aquascapes are kept at (I assume tropical, 24-28C) - is there a significant difference in lowering the temp a few degrees to increase the O2 to help plant growth?

Lance

Most are kept at around 22-24 degrees - to maximise dissolved CO2 and O2.
 

Tim Harrison

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Most are kept at around 22-24 degrees - to maximise dissolved CO2 and O2.
I've pretty much always kept my tanks at 23 degrees for the same reason as above, and also to reduce evaporation from an open topped tank.
 

shangman

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When I started I also found everything overwhelming and confusing because there was so much conflicting info online, and honestly in this hobby there is simply LOADS to learn (in a good way though). Once I joined UKAPS it all became much clearer - everyone here is really kind and also has fantastic, coherant practical advice, so stick with us and there's no need to worry. :)
 

Lance Wisher

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Hi all,

Wanted to give an update on the tank. Thanks to your encouragement I drained the tank, ran the filter in a bucket for a few days while I rearranged the hardscape, and have now added C02 and have fully planted it (unless I get the urge to add something here or there).

IMG_20211005_101009870.jpg


Thoughts and tips are welcome and once again I appreciate the help getting me to this point! It's been a long road and very exciting to see it pay off with some initial greenery :)

Best,
Lance
 

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Wookii

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Thoughts and tips are welcome and once again

Well done on getting it planted.

You have quite low plant mass, so keep up with lots of big regular water changes - I’d go daily for the first week, even though you’ve ran an initial dark start, then every two days for the second week, and so on. Get the full ferts going in if you haven’t already, accounting for the water changes too, and make sure that drop checker is a good light green colour from lights on until lights off.
 

Lance Wisher

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Well done on getting it planted.

You have quite low plant mass, so keep up with lots of big regular water changes - I’d go daily for the first week, even though you’ve ran an initial dark start, then every two days for the second week, and so on. Get the full ferts going in if you haven’t already, accounting for the water changes too, and make sure that drop checker is a good light green colour from lights on until lights off.
Thanks for the input!
  • Just wondering, why the need for the frequent large water changes? I'm doing them anyway to keep nitrites down (ammonia is regularly 0 but nitrites are always high), but just wondering if low plant mass has something to do with the water changes.
  • As far as the plant mass - I was told not to plant Monte Carlo closer than about 3 centimeters together... Or any plant for that matter. Am I mistaken?
  • I've got Seachem Flourish as my fert and I'm consistent with dosing it. What are your thoughts on this fertilizer?
    Will make sure to get that C02 indicator light green :)
Thanks!
 

jamiepearson

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new to the hobby, I was caught out with Flourish - not realising that is was only micro nutrients. I guess once your cycle completes, nitrates will reduce and then you'll need a fert with that (and other macros)
 

Wookii

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Thanks for the input!
[*]Just wondering, why the need for the frequent large water changes? I'm doing them anyway to keep nitrites down (ammonia is regularly 0 but nitrites are always high), but just wondering if low plant mass has something to do with the water changes.

Large water changes just aid the stability of the system while it is still maturing. It flushes out organics, and any residual ammonia, and will generally help reduce the risk of algae and diatoms in those early stages. Ensuring you have a high level of surface agitation, especially at night, will also help. It will mean you off-gas more CO2, but the additional dissolved oxygen it will provide is very important to tank health early on, until the plants are sufficiently grown in to be able to generate this themselves.

[*]As far as the plant mass - I was told not to plant Monte Carlo closer than about 3 centimeters together... Or any plant for that matter. Am I mistaken?

Your planting is fine, its just a simple fact that when you first plant out a tank there is very little actively growing plant mass, and it takes some weeks before it starts filling out. Plant mass takes time to acquire on a brand new tank, so its a vulnerable time where you need to promote the active and rapid growth of the plants before algae can get a solid foothold.

[*]I've got Seachem Flourish as my fert and I'm consistent with dosing it. What are your thoughts on this fertilizer?

Nope, Flourish is a waste of time, its incredibly dilute, and missing most of the major nutrients your plants require. As you are in the US, you should look at NilocG Thrive as one of the best value all-in-one ferts (according to our resident ferts guru @Zeus.).

Will make sure to get that C02 indicator light green :)

Good stuff - as you have no livestock you can push the drop checker to a more yellow colour to start with, without any concerns, and then slowly back off until you get a consistent lime green colour throughout the photoperiod. Also, you need to move your drop checker position as currently it's right next to your CO2 diffuser outlet, and will therefore likely give you a skewed reading. Place it initially down near the substrate on the front right near the filter inlet. Once that is showing a nice green colour for the entire photo period, experiment by placing it in other areas of the aquarium to ensure you are sufficiently distributing the CO2 to all areas of the tank.
 
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Lance Wisher

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Large water changes just aid the stability of the system while it is still maturing. It flushes out organics, and any residual ammonia, and will generally help reduce the risk of algae and diatoms in those early stages. Ensuring you have a high level of surface agitation, especially at night, will also help. It will mean you off-gas more CO2, but the additional dissolved oxygen it will provide is very important to tank health early on, until the plants are sufficiently grown in to be able to generate this themselves.



Your planting is fine, its just a simple fact that when you first plant out a tank there is very little actively growing plant mass, and it takes some weeks before it starts filling out. Plant mass takes time to acquire on a brand new tank, so its a vulnerable time where you need to promote the active and rapid growth of the plants before algae can get a solid foothold.



Nope, Flourish is a waste of time, its incredibly dilute, and missing most of the major nutrients your plants require. As you are in the US, you should look at NilocG Thrive as one of the best value all-in-one ferts (according to our resident ferts guru @Zeus.).



Good stuff - as you have no livestock you can push the drop checker to a more yellow colour to start with, without any concerns, and then slowly back off until you get a consistent lime green colour throughout the photoperiod. Also, you need to move your drop checker position as currently it's right next to your CO2 diffuser outlet, and will therefore likely give you a skewed reading. Place it initially down near the substrate on the front right near the filter inlet. Once that is showing a nice green colour for the entire photo period, experiment by placing it in other areas of the aquarium to ensure you are sufficiently distributing the CO2 to all areas of the tank.
Fantastic and thorough advice, @Wookii ! Thank you.
  • Makes sense about the water changes and glad to know it's helping beyond lowering nitrites!
  • Thank goodness my planting is fine :) Took a lot of effort haha.
  • GREAT to learn about a better fertilizer. The tip to get NilocG was absolute gold. Already ordered some. Thanks :)
  • An excellent tip to move the C02 checker. Already done. Will pump it full of C02 until it goes yellow and then keep at lime green.
  • Is it just me or do I feel like with all this effort algae really won't be a problem here for me? Does it usually start growing after a certain period of time being planted?
Thank you all once again for giving me the best start possible!
Lance
 

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