Aquarium adventure 4

Here begins the theory part. Skip to part 5 if you don’t want to know the cruelsome details.

I have to admit I am terrified of gas bottles. I dreaded connecting the 500ml gas bottle to the solenoid (which controls with electricity when gas comes and when not, so you don’t need to turn it on and off manually all the time). In the end it was rather uneventful and took maybe 30 seconds, once I had protected my torso fro the inevitable and imaginaty explosion by staying behind a cupboard door whilst connecting it.

It was also rather unimpressive moment of opening the valves, as in fact..well the solenoid arms lifted to signal pressure, but no hissing or bottles flying in midair followed.

Then it was a question of tubing it into the bubble counter (to know how much co2 entered) and finally into the tank and to the funny looking eyesore of a twirly ladder, that was supposed to make it dissolve to the water.

I also received a silly looking little mini cup that is used to detect the co2 levels in the actual water. Basically you pour some 20 drops of deep blue into the cup, close the lid and position it upright into the aquarium wall. Then with few hours of delay it should turn green when the co2 level is good, and yellow if you are trying to gas your poor pets with co2. Only issue was that mine turned water clear. I repeated the process few times, but persistantly each time the blue turned transparent.

I even complained to the aquarium guru. He was at loss…if should not go transparent. It can go really light yellow, but that would mean my fish would practically be sunbathing their bellies, that is floating on their backs, swimming in the heavenly puddle, whereas mine were rather indifferent to the enigma of transparent liquid, finning about and eyeballing me through the glass.

I concluded the test kit was faulty. There was some unknown reality happening in the tank, that turned my device transparent. I studied it for few days with the help of dr Google and discovered that the chemical used is actually bromothymol blue, and in its liquid state it can only be blue, green or yellow. It is quite a smart system in its simplicity. You put bromothymol blue inside the cup, and on the top of the cup there is a membrane that allows the aquarium water to enter into contact with the air pocket, on the bottom which bromothymol rests on. No direct contact, the contacts through the air media and that makes it change, as if it were to touch the water that would dissolve the chemical into the main tan water and….well, 5 ml of bromothymol would escape and it would appear…what colour?

Yes, you guessed it. I had attached the meter upside down. My aquarium was not a miracle tank after all. I felt so embarrased of what had happened. Not my best day in the office.

So I had co2 being pumped in 1 drop every 4 seconds, and that was supposed to lower the ph as dissolved co2 is acidic, and that was the theory.

Only that nothign at all happened. I pumped more co2, drop every 2 seconds, but nothing. The sensor remained deep dark blue, and ph did not budge from 7.8. I was so fed up of the high ph that I finally bought few litres of white vinegar, and slowly poured 5 dl over few hours to the tank. That was when for the first time ever the water went down to 6.8. It was like a party moment. Under 7 and the flakes were lessening and again I had hope.

But these results were fleeting. Within day or two the ph was up again, and the flakes reappeared, and the ph was going up and down like a yoyo and the algaes were multiplying, and plants dying…it was clear something else had to be done.

So I continued in the study. I was adamant this problem had science behind it. I was going to solve the equation.

Since the very beginning, even before getting the tank, I had been aiming to get to something thats called “a full cycle” in the tank, which means ammonia is 0, nitrites are 0 and nitrates are 0. To what I gather thats like the ultimate aim for saltwater aquariums, and I’d thought thats good for the freshwater, as then I don’t get the stupid algae. Because not having too much fertilisers results in lakes staying in their natural state and not blooming, so nitrites and nitrates and phosphorus are bad. But even though I had been having 0-0-0 for few months, in fact from 11th day onwards none of the tests had shown even traces of them, my tank was called Mr Algae.

Upon my investigation I found out that algae can actually grow also on the super nutrient deficient tanks, because it often grows in conditions where plants no longer survive. Its like the algae is little lower down in the developmental ladder, so just about anything will power its engine, whereas aquarium plants are actually rather picky of what they consume. So in my effort to create the ultimate clean tank, I had actually made it so clean it was really dirty.

The solution? Well NUTRIENTS. They said to put any all inclusive fertilier there according to the instructions, and also to put extra iron so that the red plants would grow, and to keep on measuring the parameters (ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, phosphates, silicates) to find whats really needed for it to go well. And the fish poop would to the rest.

And here we enter into a curiuous side of the game. In most hobby tanks people have too many fish swimming about. Fish eat and when they eat they poop. The poop sits in the aquarium water, and depending on the ph level, rots producing ionized ammonium NH4 when ph is under 7, or regular ammonia NH3 when its over 7. Ammonia is poisonous to the fish. It smells pugnant, and we don’t really want ammonia in the tanks. Well, part of the cycling is that the filters and gravel etc get colonised by ammonia eating good bacteria. These are those gelatinous balls of pure faith I had earlier dolloped into the tank. Basically these nitrosomanas bacteria eat the ammonia, and that process as a by product produces nitrites NO2. Nitrites are also very poisonous to the fish, so we don’t want nitrites either.

But luckily we have another type of bacteria called nitrobacter, that absolutely loves nitrites, so they eat nitrites, and the result is nitrates NO3. Nitrates in low quantity are ok, up till 20ppm many say, but when they go high you get dead fish. Hence the water changing.

So in my investigation I had concluded I really was not going to enjoy endless water games, so I had created a tank that is so well filtered I was not getting elevated nitrates. There are some bacteria that loves to dissolve nitrates, and of course the plants eat nitrates also. So I had decided I wanted those bacteria in such a quantity that the nitrate readings on water were zero always. Like none, I wanted it so well designed that I would only need water changes to vacuum the gravel, or to remove the dead plants, which in this point I had in abundance.

This is not the case in most aquariums. Commonly people have quite a number of fish in their relatively small tanks, that are filtered little along the lines of acceptable, and this means they actually have plenty of incoming ammonia converting to nitrites and nitrates. And when its too much, they do a weekly 15-25% water change, that lowers the levels, keeping them acceptable. The all inclusive fertilisers are made taking this into the account. MANY ALL INCLUSIVE FERTILISERS DO NOT CONTAIN ANY AMMONIA, NITRITES OR NITRATES.

What I had not tought was that all plants actually need nitrogen (nitrates). I mean, when we grow plants, lets say tomatoes, we add N-K-P, nitrogen, potassium (kalium) and phosphorus. And I had 0 nitrogen, 0 phosphorus, and propably tons of potassium as I had the all in fertiliser and iron extra fertiliser, that I was pouring in daily. I now added the beloved carbon dioxide, and my algae colonies went yeah man, keep it coming in. The little ammonia-nitrite-nitrate my fish made was taken by the vast algae, and plants were drowned, suffocated and barely alive.

I had created an algae breeding facility.

Green filamentous algae on all plants. It kills plants by suffocating them.

I was feeling right old stupid.