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Old 09-16-2021, 09:38 PM   #1
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Unhappy Nervous beginner in custody of fish looking for advice

Hi, this is my first post, so it's probably going to 100% stupid and predictable. Please bear with me.

I am writing this because I have recently joined this fascinating hobby, and I have obtained a tank and some fish, but I am worried that my lack of knowledge and probable failure to cycle properly before adding fish will cause harm to my pets. My primary source of information has been asking at the local pet store, but I've increasingly become unsure whether that information is complete. I hope I can explain my situation and that you can help me understand if what I am doing is good or bad, and help me plan ahead.

Here is a log of sorts, of what I've done:

7th of September: I bought a Juwel Primo 60 (60 liters, 15 gallons) Led tank with included lighting and filter. I added 10kg of dark gravel that I washed before putting in the tank.

10th of September: I bought 2 plants and a couple of driftwoods.

11th of September: I added Tetra SafeStart bacteria.

14th of September: I tested the water at the store. They tested ph, nitrite, and one more thing I can't remember. They gave me a thumbs up to put fish in it.

15th of September: I bought 4 Neon Tetras per store reccomendation, and added them after 1 hour of gradual temperature and water acclimatization. I love my new fishies and want them to be happy, so I felt encouraged to read and watch about the species and aquarium keeping in general. I learn that Neon Tetras can be stressed in too small groups, and more about their preferred water parameters. I learn more about the nitrogen cycle, and begin to worry that they are lonely and that the water might not be good.

16th of September (today): I go to the pet store and buy 2 more neon tetras because I read that 6 is minimum, and I figured 6 less stressed fish is better than 4 more stressed fish, despite the risks. I also buy a Pro JBL 7 in 1 test kit to ensure the water is good, even though the store told me it was. I also bought a third plant with long leaves that float to the top and create some shade from the light, which I read the Neon Tetras like.

I go home and test the water, and see the GH is >3, which is a !!! red/bad, and KH is !! and yellow/borderline, and it also gives a slight reading on chlorine. So I am kind of freaking out and immediately goes back to the pet store and buy some salts for the GH and Tetra AquaSafe to neutralize the chlorine. (When reading about AquaSafe I learned that this is usually encouraged by pet store staff even though it is often not needed, but my area has a bit of chlorine in the tap water and they never mentioned it when I asked multiple times if there was anything missing / needed to check / needed to buy). I added those and the chlorine now seems to be good, but it's a bit hard to measure the color on the test strips. But I think that it is ok. The GH is still low, but I didn't want to add too much salts too fast, since there is fish in it. Will gradually increase over the coming days.

I read and watch more about water paramaters and the nitrogen cycle. I have a 0 reading on nitrite and a 0 reading on nitrate. My test does not measure ammonia, but I will get that ASAP along with some more accurate chlorine tests. So I realize that my tank probably just barely started the bacterial growth necessary. And I'm a bit worried about the coming weeks and my ability to keep my fishies happy and healthy.

If you made it this far, thank you so much for your time. Please give me advice on how to provide proper care in this situation. I can't unstupid the past, but maybe the future.

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Old 09-17-2021, 02:53 AM   #2
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Hi. Welcome to the community.

Sounds like you made a good start. No fish losses so far.

You are correct with what you are thinking about cycling the tank. You arent likely to be cycled.

The first thing you will see in an uncycled tank is ammonia, which you cant test for yet. Until you can test for ammonia i would change 25% of the water daily. After you csn test for ammonia, your target should be to keep ammonia + nitrite combined no higher than 0.5ppm by doing water changes whenever it gets above that combined target.

Unless you know your water is chlorine/chloramine free, you should always use a water conditioner like the aquasafe you bought. No need to test for chlorine as long as you use a water conditioner with every water change.

Water hardness? I wouldnt stress to much about water hardness. Rather than adding salts to new water you could consider some crushed coral in a media bag and put it in your filter. The main issue with water hardness is acclimating fish from say hard water in the fish store and soft water in your home. Your fish store is likely using similar water to what you have anyway, but it sounds like you did a thorough job on acclimating anyway.
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Old 09-17-2021, 11:19 PM   #3
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Thanks for anwering Aiken Drum.

I'm a bit more relaxed now. I've obtained a test kit for ammonia, and I have very low amounts (>0,05ppm). I added some more salts (I have no immediate source of obtaining crushed coral or the likes), same kind as the store uses, to slowly increase hardness. I'm less worried about KH because I read that Neon Tetras prefer low KH and do well with low ph (which I currently have, around 6,4 I think). Things should be fine, for now, afaik.

Since my ammonia, nitritre, and nitrate leves are basically 0. I guess I just wait at this point? Should I do water changes before nitrite + ammonia exceeds 0,5 combined, or do I just wait at this point?
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Old 09-17-2021, 11:24 PM   #4
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I am a little bit confused by the KH parameter. To my understanding the KH has a signifacant impact on the fluctuation of ph, and that low KH can allow dangerous situations. Yet, when reading online, neon tetras are OK / wants low KH. (https://modestfish.com/neon-tetra/). Why would low KH be fine, if it allows bigger flutctuations in ph, which small tetras are vulnerable to?
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Old 09-18-2021, 03:08 AM   #5
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You are getting into some complex water chemistry for a beginner. I hope i get this right.

KH (Carbonate hardness) can be considered as buffering capacity. A measure of how much acid can go into the water without affecting the pH. There is a link between KH and pH, where as KH goes up pH increases.

Some fish are from areas with naturally soft low pH water. A lot of tetras are like this. But, most fish are quite adaptable to pH and are generally comfortable at levels between 6.5 and into high 7s.

There is a level where low KH will become a problem, generally 4dGH is considered a good level, below 2dGH is where you get issues. Fish respiration produces acid and uses up your buffering. In very soft water, what little buffering your water has is quickly used up and the acid from respiration will cause pH to drop rapidly. This has to be managed. You can either raise the KH so you have more buffering, or make sure you do plenty of water changes to add clean water and top up the buffering. Some fish arent so adaptable to higher KH and pH, such as discus, so safely managing their water becomes more difficult. This is why discus are considered a difficult fish to keep.

In their natural habitat soft water isnt so much of an issue, because fish don't live in such congested conditions as they do in an aquarium and there is plenty of water turnover. The buffering capacity doesnt easily get used up.
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Old 09-18-2021, 05:12 AM   #6
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Nervous beginner in custody of fish looking for advice

Tanks with low KH will indeed have much more unstable pH levels.

pH in itself is never an issue. What caused the pH change poses a bigger threat to your fish.

For example, you can add vinegar, a weak acid to your tank and you can add battery acid, a strong acid. pH will drop in both instances similarly but the pH change alone is not the reason all your fish are now floating on the surface of the water. Strong acids release a large number of Hydrogen ions which by nature electrically attack the surfaces that it touches. pH change is just an end result. A calculation based on all those extra H+ ions. Without context pH is meaningless.

Another example of pH decline is by having excessive amounts of toxic ions like ammonia. Nitrification (the nitrogen cycle) uses up KH, KH falls and can no longer resist pH change, pH falls and the fish die. Hobbyist measures pH with test strips and conclude that the pH was the reason their fish have died. In the meantime the ammonia is eventually taken up by the nitrogen cycle and plants and the unsuspecting hobbyists measures ammonia which is now 0. They go to the shop, by pH up which incidentally has more harmful chemicals in it than those that suppress pH in natural habitats. pH down chemicals use strong acids. In fact the manufacturers probably all buy these strong acids in bulk from common suppliers and just stick their logo on them.

In Central and South American freshwater systems there are no buffers in the waters and tannic acids leach from the fallen leaves on land due to heavy rainfall. The tannic acids are byproducts of the natural insecticides that the trees use to protect themselves from leaf browsers such as insects and mammals. These acids leach into the streams, often staining the water a tea color. pH in these systems is low. There is little geological rock that offer water hardening minerals such as calcium carbonates, magnesium carbonates etc.

Neon tetras come from black water systems. Areas often devoid of plants life and low microbial activity. pH is low. But does this mean neon tetras cannot adapt to harder water?

Many people keep different types of fish in different types of waters quite successfully. Parameters like KH and pH are not the real dangers. Uncycled tanks and low dissolved oxygen levels pose much bigger threats.

6 small neon tetras in a 60 litre tank will probably never produce enough ammonia to cause themselves harm before the weekly water change is performed. They are too small and the volume is too great.

The trick to cycling with fish is to stock sensibly and slowly. Ten Mollies for example, different ball game.

You are doing very well so far for a beginner. Your attentiveness and desire to learn will serve you well in this hobby. But do not stress. Stress is bad for humans as well as fish. Give them regular clean water, feed sparingly and they will be absolutely fine.
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Old 09-18-2021, 11:20 PM   #7
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Caliban07, thank you for your answer.

I appreciate your insight on pH's cause and effect (and non-effect). I don't fully understand it yet, and I need to read it a few more times and google stuff, but I find it very interesting! I will probably have follow-up questions for this, but I wanted to ask you now about the low dissolved oxygen levels. Can you elaborate on this or point me to a good source? I am a bit embarrased to say that I have zero knowledge about o2 and co2 in the water. Is it related to the filter/pump unit, that introduces bubbles and (presumably) aerates the water? (Mine is set to roughly 50% output).

Regarding the stocking, I will not add any other species than Neon Tetras until I feel more confident. My plan is to double their numbers to 12, to have them feel safe in an adequately sized school, but I'm not sure when (suggestions appreciated!). The topic of other species is super interesting, but I am currently not focused on it. I think I want to cycle completely with just the Neon Tetras.

And thank you for the encouraging words. I'm a bit neurotic by nature, and am trying to ensure that I do my best.
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Old 09-18-2021, 11:22 PM   #8
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Aiken Drum, thank you for your answer.

I did something of an emergency deep dive into the chemistry because of the scary situation with chlorine in my water, and a following urge to identify and understand any other critical factors I might not know about.

I am relieved to learn that Neon Tetras do well with soft and low PH and KH water. And they seem happy and healthy with slim bodies, bright colours, and much activity. My PH is currently around 6.6 and my KH is around 2.4 (a bit hard to measure accurately on the strip).
So this seems okay for my particular fish, but the JBL 7-in-1 test kit regards 3 as yellow/low, and the "OK" range is from 6 to 15. You say 4 is generally considered good. But multiple sources for Neon Tetra (https://modestfish.com/neon-tetra/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neon_tetra) states that 1-2 KH is preferred.

So that is a bit confusing, but I am interpreting that I am basically learning that different fish species like different things, and that I shouldn't freak out about what the generalized 7-in-1 kit states as OK or not. Is that right?

Also, I am wondering; if all my water paramaters are OK (no excessive ammonia and nitrite, and ph - kh - gh are okay), should I change water, or should I leave it be to optimize growth of the varous bacterias for the nitrogen cycle?
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Old 09-19-2021, 03:04 AM   #9
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The figures i gave you for whether KH is good or not are a generalisation and not specific for an individual fish. And some sources will state different values to others.

I think Caliban07 is correct. Your water will be fine with hardness if you are changing some water weekly. If you want to raise it a little, the crushed coral will do this, and apart from periodically replacing it as it dissolves is a one time thing.

As to water parameters generally, if you are seeing ammonia + nitrite combined below 0.5ppm in your daily water check you don't need to do a water change. I would change some weekly regardless. If they are both consistently 0 you are cycled for your current fish and can add some more fish if that is your longer term plan.
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Old 09-19-2021, 05:37 AM   #10
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Youíre welcome. I would give 2 weeks then add some more Neons. That way you can be sure you have some sort of cycle going. Again, it is highly unlikely these fish will produce enough ammonia to harm themselves. Whatís more is the fact that the lower the pH the less toxic ammonia is. Ammonia NH3 becomes ammonium NH4+ as the pH falls. Temperature also plays a role in this chemical change. Therefore, your risk of ammonia toxicity is even lower.

Scientists use Biological Oxygen Demand to calculate surface waters oxygen levels. Itís much more meaningful but takes 5 days to gather the data. In your aquarium, just like natural waters there are many chemical and biological processes occurring that use up oxygen. Nitrification and decomposition of organic wastes demand oxygen and it is taken from the water. Keeping these organic wastes like uneaten food, fish waste and leaf littler low will ultimately reduces the biological oxygen demand and improve oxygen within the tank. Having a filter outflow gently disturbing the surface to cause a ripple effect will encourage gases like carbon dioxide and oxygen to leave and enter continuously.

Generally speaking you can tell by looking at your fish when the oxygen levels are low. They become less active and their colours fade. Tap water has high levels of oxygen which is another benefit of replacing water on top of removing oxygen stealing substances.
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Old 09-19-2021, 09:40 PM   #11
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Thanks a whole bunch Aiken Drum and Caliban07. I think I am on top of the situation for now. I will do daily testing, and, at the very least, weekly water changes (30% is good?). Will wait roughly 2 weeks to double my neon tetras. Otherwise waiting for more nitrogen cycle action. And of course, monitor color, bellies, and behaviour of my fish.

Probability of further questions in near future remains high though �� But for now I think I am good.

My fishies also send their regards (probably) ����
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Old 09-20-2021, 01:18 AM   #12
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Doubling bioload in one go isnt a good idea. Increase stock gradually. No more than 30% increase at a time.
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