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Old 10-18-2013, 09:56 AM   #1
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High nitrates and plant leaves dying

Hi there! After a few weeks of fishless cycling, I put 10 Norman's Lampeye's in my 15 gal 3 days ago. They are doing very well as far as I can see. Two things concern me, however, the first being very high nitrates.

The night before buying the fish, I tested the water:

pH: 7.8
Ammonia: 0.25 ppm
Nitrite: 0 ppm
Nitrate: 40 - 80 ppm (I can't really tell which one it is on my API Master Test kit)

Seemed all fine too me, except for the high nitrates ofcourse. This can be expected after cycling a tank, so I did a 90% WC. The next day I got the fish and everything is going well. Yesterday I decided to run some tests and surprisingly, not one level changed; including the nitrates. After doing a 40% water change, I tested the water again, and the nitrates are somehow up again at 40 - 80. Testing my tap water reveals that it already has 20 ppm of nitrates in it. Is this normal? I live in Holland, by the way. I can't explain such a quick rise and also don't now how I can bring it down since a WC doesn't seem to help. Or could it be that the fertilizer beneath the gravel is the cause of this?

Which brings me to my next question, which I'm now thinking might be related. Ever since I got the tank, the plants are not doing that well. It's no disaster, but as you can see on the pictures, every plant has a few leaves that look as if starving off (some actually do and I remove them). I thought it might be my mistreating of the roots when I first got the aquarium, I moved them around quite a bit. But now also the Elodea is showing decay, even though it's no heavy root feeder afaik. I also added roots tabs some time ago, the Amazon Sword seems to be looking a bit better now, but still not in the race for a beauty contest.

Anyways, thanks for thinking along! I have a feeling these two problems might be connected, which is why I mentioned them both in this thread.
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Old 10-18-2013, 11:13 AM   #2
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What kind of lighting are you using in the tank? That may be one reason, your lighting is not strong enough. Also, are you using any enhancers for your plants like ferts, or co2 enhancement? The plants should be sucking up the nitrates.
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Old 10-18-2013, 11:23 AM   #3
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There's one light in there, a Juwel 15 Watt day-lite 438mm. As for the plant enhancers; underneath the gravel is fine fertilizing soil, don't remember what kind unfortunately. There's also a root tab beneath every plant.
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Old 10-18-2013, 11:26 AM   #4
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There's one light in there, a Juwel 15 Watt day-lite 438mm. As for the plant enhancers; underneath the gravel is fine fertilizing soil, don't remember what kind unfortunately. There's also a root tab beneath every plant.
Yeah, your light doesn't seem enough. In my case my case my tank have high lightning, high CO2 injection, and heavy planted, and the only way I found to remove excess nitrates is by water changes.
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Old 10-18-2013, 11:30 AM   #5
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I don't mind plants growing slow, but can the lighting really be the sole cause for these problems? I'd rather not up the lighting, also heard Norman's Lampeyes don't like very strong lights (of course, I could use floating plants, but then the plants underneath will receive even less light).

I also don't mind doing water changes every now and then; the real problem is that even these WC's can't fix the high nitrates (which, I understand, can be harmful to fish in these levels).
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Old 10-18-2013, 11:32 AM   #6
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The soil you used might be contributing to the high nitrates but its impossible to tell you for sure since you don't know what soil it is. But in any case the plants love high nitrates so that's not the issue here. Imho its probably the light.

The nitrates in the water can be taken care of in a couple different ways. Adding more light + faster growing plants + excel should help keep it under control. Also, you could run nitrate removing media in the water that you are going to use for a change before putting it into your tank
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Old 10-18-2013, 12:17 PM   #7
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Allright, I will look into another light then. Would an upgrade to 25 - 30 W be enough? And could it maybe be a solution to leave the lights on longer, let's say 14 hours a day instead of the 10 hours they're on now?

I will also look for nitrate reduction products, since a base level of 20 ppm might be a bit too high.
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Old 10-18-2013, 01:03 PM   #8
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Allright, I will look into another light then. Would an upgrade to 25 - 30 W be enough? And could it maybe be a solution to leave the lights on longer, let's say 14 hours a day instead of the 10 hours they're on now?

I will also look for nitrate reduction products, since a base level of 20 ppm might be a bit too high.
14hrs is too much, algea will grow. 30W should be enough for 15 gal, depends on your plants...
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Old 10-18-2013, 01:14 PM   #9
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Upgrading your lighting will help and you could go up to 12 hours a day right now as long as you don't have algae problems.

Something else to think about is if you don't want to change lighting try only using low light tolerant plants. You could use Crypts in your substrate. There are many different kinds to choose from. Then if you have any rocks or driftwood you can use Anubia's, Java Fern's, and Bolbitus tied onto them. These plants would all work in your light but remember all your plants in that lighting are going to grow at a very slow rate.

When tap water has nitrates present the easiest way to correct that problem is to use RO (reverse osmosis) water. Do you have that available in Holland? If so you can use 75% RO to 25% tap water which will keep nitrates low. Also dirty filters can cause nitrate levels to soar so be sure to keep filters clean.
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Old 10-18-2013, 01:28 PM   #10
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I will go for more hours a day then at this moment. I'll have to think about whether to change plants or upgrade the lighting. I'm quite happy with the way the aquarium looks so I'd rather just change the lamp, might not be best for the fish though.

I looked up the RO thing and I must admit that I had never seen it before. Don't think I can get easy access to that.

Thanks for the help guys!
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Old 10-20-2013, 12:38 PM   #11
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I googled around a bit and part of the problem is probably the API kit, since more people had some readings that were obviously way too high. I just tested my tap water more thoroughly (letting the water just stand still for an hour prior to testing and even more shaking of bottles and tubes) and the results are now even higher: 40 - 80 ppm. The maximum amount of nitrate in the Netherlands is 50 ppm so this almost can't be right (or they must be really pushing it). I'll call the water company tomorrow, maybe they can enlighten me. I guess it will still be high, since apparently I live in one of the few parts in the Netherlands where the nitrates are above 25 ppm.
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Old 10-20-2013, 12:42 PM   #12
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I honestly wouldn't blame the API kit before anything else. It is a commonly regurgitated piece of information that the API kits aren't accurate but they really aren't as bad as people say they are.

Is your water from a well or is it city water?
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Old 10-20-2013, 12:49 PM   #13
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I'm actually quite happy with the API test kit, imported it all the way from the UK too. But this specific nitrate test must be a bit off. Although I won't jump to conclusions before I get the nitrate ppm from the water company. It's regular city water, btw.
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Old 10-20-2013, 12:59 PM   #14
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I don't know how it is over there but each city releases a water quality report which lists all the contaminants and concentrations of everything in our water. You could try looking for something along those lines to see what it says.
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Old 10-20-2013, 02:26 PM   #15
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Yeah that's what I thought too, I can only find regional statistics though. Well I've sent them an email, now we wait
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Old 10-21-2013, 06:27 AM   #16
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Well, turns out you were right, the API kit wasn't off. The average nitrate level in this part of the country is 0.7ppm. In my city, however, the nitrates are among the highest in the whole country, with an average of 36 ppm. The last time they measured it even peaked at 38 ppm. No wonder I can't get my aquarium water below that.

To me this seems way too high, and even more plants won't fix this me thinks. I wouldn't know how to get my hands on RO water. Although I don't really like putting chemicals in my water, stuff like this seem to be my best bet. I'd rather de-nitrate the water before adding it in the aquarium though, so I can't go for things like Seachem De-Nitrate, right? (Which apparently needs to be put before a water stream in the aquarium). Any recommendations on products that I can use to (mostly) denitrate a bucket of water?

Edit: after some googling I came upon this product called Nitragon. You can clip it on your tap and it filters out most of the nitrates. Unfortunately I don't think it's manufactured anymore since I can't find it anywhere..
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