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Muffin87

Can I completely ignore Ca, Mg, PO4 for now and introduce corals later?

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Muffin87

Hello! I've just ordered my first nano reef tank kit, it's a 15 gallon tank. Can I do things in this order?

 

  1. start cycling my tank
  2. testing for pH dKH, NH3, NO2, NO3 (ignoring Ca, Mg, Po4)
  3. finish cycling my tank
  4. introduce fish: (2 ocellaris, 1 gramma loreto)
  5. FOWLR phase: use some months to familiarise myself with fish-keeping with no corals
  6. Start testing for Ca, Mg, PO4 as well
  7. Introduce corals

 

If I started testing for Ca, Mg and PO4 after months of ignoring them, and the values were all terrible, would they be that difficult to adjust in order to introduce corals?

 

I'm a bit confused by 'cycling products' like "Red Sea Mature Pro", which make your tank coral-ready. It gave me the impression I must plan ahead for coral-keeping, even if corals are gonna come much later.

 

Thanks!

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BulkRate

Kinda, with a couple tweaks.  Spare yourself some headaches - start with some Dr. Timms or Fritz Zyme ( or just about any reputable live bacterial culture starters), an ammo alert badge from Seachem and just dose in pure janitorial ammonia until the badge just changes to the warning color.  Keep it there for 2 to 3 or more weeks.  Midway through this you could also add some decorative macro algae so the tank doesn't look so fallow.

 

IMO nothing can be added to a brand new tank to instantly make it ready to support a full load of fish & corals, save moving fully established sand and rock over from an already running tank.  And even then it's up in the air for some critters.  Save your money and do it right.  ;)

 

This will spare you a lot of testing - when the badge no longer registers ammonia, add some more slowly over a couple hours until it does.  I wouldn't bother with nitrite testing at all during this, and nitrate only towards the end of the cycle to make sure you actually have a biofilter and at a safe level for fish to thrive.

 

After the initial cycling, suggest you track alkalinity instead of ph.  It'll lead to being able to keep many soft corals or large polyp kinds and give you more meaningful idea of what's going on.  If alk starts to rise, your calcium may be going down; if you can't keep alk stable, magnesium might be low.  The macro algae will also tell you a lot about what's going on... when it's growth takes off you may have an excess of nitrate/phosphate and need to do some water changes; if it starts to break apart you may need to feed more or one of your big three is too low.

 

That's also a pretty heavy bioload of fish for a 13.5/15 gallon tank.  Choose smaller specimens and be prepared to have to be more disciplined about feeding/water changing than most.   Adding them slowly over time (weeks apart, better a month or so) will also allow time for your tank to adjust to the increase in waste.

 

It can be done... I won't lecture you to the contrary as there's at least one TOTM on here with a whopping 5-6 fish in it that's smaller than yours and fully stocked with corals to boot.  And my own 9 gallon tank's full to the brim with lps, rock flower anemones and crabs/shrimp plus 2 fish.

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seabass

I basically agree with BulkRate.  But here is my take on it.  If using live rock from the ocean, don't add any ammonia (it can harm the non-bacterial life on the rock).

 

While establishing the nitrogen cycle (biofilter), test for ammonia.  If dosing ammonia, also test for nitrite.  Neither should go above 5 ppm or the process will slow down.  Do a water change only if ammonia OR nitrite exceeds 5 ppm.  There is no need to test anything else at this point.

 

After the cycle has become established, test for nutrients (nitrate and phosphate).  You should have a low range phosphate test kit for this (note that API's phosphate test kit is just a high range kit).  If your rock has processed ammonia, your tank should show nitrate.  If nitrate is above 10 ppm, change out enough water to bring it down below 10 ppm.  Phosphate comes from food and the breaking down of organics, and can potentially leach from the rock (if phosphate is bound to the calcium in it).  Ideally, phosphate should be between 0.01 ppm and 0.03 ppm.  Water changes can help export excess phosphate.  There are also phosphate reducing chemical media which can help if needed.  At this point, most people stop testing ammonia (and nitrite if they were dosing ammonia).

 

When nutrient levels are proper, you can slowly start adding livestock.  As you add livestock, start testing for ammonia again.  You are making sure that you don't overwhelm the biofilter or have a death of a snail or something else (which might cause an ammonia spike).  When you get constant undetectable readings of ammonia, it's OK to stop testing for it. Then test ammonia only if there is a death, you add more livestock, or things look "off".

 

I don't test for pH.  However, it is a good test to determine if you have a CO2 problem.  If you don't have a CO2 problem, or dose anything that can affect CO2, then testing pH is usually unnecessary.

 

In general, fish, your cleanup crew, and soft corals won't consume more alkalinity, calcium, or magnesium than water changes can replenish.  IMO, it's pointless to test these elements until you get stony corals and/or coralline algae.

 

Once you get enough coralline and/or stony corals, you should test for alkalinity and calcium.  Compare it to a freshly mixed batch of saltwater to determine how much consumption has taken place.  If levels are starting to drop despite performing weekly water changes, you will have to start dosing alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium.  As soon as you are ready for dosing, you need a magnesium test kit too.  So now you would be regularly testing for nitrate, phosphate, alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium (and making adjustments accordingly).

 

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vlangel

To answer your question, yes, you can ignore testing for Ca, alk and Mg while your tank is cycling and even while it is a fowlr.  If you are doing faithful water changes those parameters will not be terrible. To be honest, even if you are keeping a reef tank with soft coral IF you are doing faithful water changes you can still get away without testing for Ca, alk and Mg.  The coral will use some but if you are using a reef salt it will have enough to replenish what the coral are using.  However as soon as you move into lps or sps where the coral are building a skeleton it is a good idea to start testing at that point if you have a fair amount of growing coral.

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BulkRate

Good points, all.

 

I'll admit I was working from an assumption that the OP was going to start the tank out with uncured base rock and was seeking the lowest cost, least testing-intensive way to get this show on the road while avoiding the need to be concerned about any existing livestock in the process.  And contributed my own personal bias against the "dead shrimp ina pantyhose" starter method <shudders at what a tank going through this smells like>.

 

Muffin87 - as you can see there's a lot of ways to do what you're trying to do.  Good luck!

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Muffin87
23 minutes ago, BulkRate said:

seeking the [...] least testing-intensive way to get this show on the road while avoiding the need to be concerned about any existing livestock in the process.

Oh it's not that. I've never owned an aquarium and I don't want any information overload at the beginning. That's why I wanna start off with a FOWLR phase and get some experience with fish-keeping before making things more complex

 

2 hours ago, vlangel said:

To answer your question, yes, you can ignore testing for Ca, alk and Mg while your tank is cycling and even while it is a fowlr.  If you are doing faithful water changes those parameters will not be terrible. To be honest, even if you are keeping a reef tank with soft coral IF you are doing faithful water changes you can still get away without testing for Ca, alk and Mg.  The coral will use some but if you are using a reef salt it will have enough to replenish what the coral are using.  However as soon as you move into lps or sps where the coral are building a skeleton it is a good idea to start testing at that point if you have a fair amount of growing coral.

Exactly what I wanted to know! Thank you! Can I avoid testing for PO4 too while it is a fowlr?

 

20 hours ago, BulkRate said:

 start with some Dr. Timms or Fritz Zyme ( or just about any reputable live bacterial culture starters), an ammo alert badge from Seachem and just dose in pure janitorial ammonia until the badge just changes to the warning color. 

This is what I wanted to do. I wanted to use Seachem Stability (I live in southern Europe, so a lot of the american products are very difficult to find) plus 2 lbs of live rock to seed 16 lbs of dry rock. I am a poor PhD student on a budget, so if possible I'd avoid using only live rock! I'd rather spend the money on a decent protein skimmer.

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seabass

If you want, you can avoid testing everything accept specific gravity and temperature.

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Muffin87
4 minutes ago, seabass said:

If you want, you can avoid testing everything accept specific gravity and temperature.

I'm too afraid to kill the fish drowning them in Nitrate or Ammonia, or the wrong pH!

I think I got the gist of the nitrogen cycle, but I just am not sure what's the relevance of PO4 in a nano FOWLR.

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seabass
1 hour ago, Muffin87 said:

I'm too afraid to kill the fish drowning them in Nitrate or Ammonia, or the wrong pH!

Once the cycle is done, you shouldn't have to worry about ammonia.  Weekly water changes should be sufficient to export excess nitrate (unless your tank is overstocked).  Still, it's good to know what your tank's nitrate level is at.  And don't worry about pH.

 

1 hour ago, Muffin87 said:

I think I got the gist of the nitrogen cycle, but I just am not sure what's the relevance of PO4 in a nano FOWLR.

it isn't important to have detectable phosphate in a FOWLR.  However, once it gets above 0.03 ppm, algae growth can accelerate.  Also, high phosphate levels can impede coralline growth.  In addition, phosphate can bind with calcium; so if you maintain high phosphate FOWLR, it might cause phosphate leaching (from the sand and rocks) once you decide to convert it to a reef tank.

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Muffin87
39 minutes ago, seabass said:

once it gets above 0.03 ppm, algae growth can accelerate

My tank will be a 16 gallon, would adding a 1.5 gallon hang-on breeding box used as a refugium help discouraging algae growth in the display tank and keep PO4 low? I was thinking of adding cheatos plus brine shrimp eggs or copepods.

 

Initially, I was hoping to breed pods in a breeding box like this one to partially support a mandarin fish, but then I thought he would still starve to death eventually if I weren't around for a week to feed it frozen food. (I know mandarins are very difficult to keep in anything under 75 gallons, but a friend of mine who worked in an aquarium shop had a mandarin for years in a 25 gallon tank and he made me dream) 

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seabass
25 minutes ago, Muffin87 said:

would adding a 1.5 gallon hang-on breeding box used as a refugium help discouraging algae growth in the display tank and keep PO4 low?

Yeah, it should help, to an extent.  But it's hard to predict the phosphate input and output of a tank, as there are a lot of variables.  Some people just run a media bag of PhosGuard in a power filter.

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vlangel
3 hours ago, Muffin87 said:

 

 

Exactly what I wanted to know! Thank you! Can I avoid testing for PO4 too while it is a fowlr?

 

 

I am not sure if you are using well water, or a municipal water system or buying water but some water is high in phosphates, particularly water that comes from municipal systems.  If your source water is low in phosphates then water changes should keep phosphates in check.  If your source water is high in phosphates, like seabass said, you can lower them with a media bag to lower phosphates.  In the end its not necessary to test phosphates for a fowlr tank unless you are having excess algae problems.

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Muffin87
23 hours ago, vlangel said:

I am not sure if you are using well water, or a municipal water system or buying water but some water is high in phosphates, particularly water that comes from municipal systems.  If your source water is low in phosphates then water changes should keep phosphates in check.  If your source water is high in phosphates, like seabass said, you can lower them with a media bag to lower phosphates.  In the end its not necessary to test phosphates for a fowlr tank unless you are having excess algae problems.

Oh I'm using municipal system water but I'm just waiting for a RO/DI unit I got on amazon. I just installed a second tap under my sink so I can use the unit without having to connect it and disconnect it every time.
My understanding is that most kinds of water will be fine after being treated with a RO/DI machine.

Thanks for checking!

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vlangel
2 hours ago, Muffin87 said:

Oh I'm using municipal system water but I'm just waiting for a RO/DI unit I got on amazon. I just installed a second tap under my sink so I can use the unit without having to connect it and disconnect it every time.
My understanding is that most kinds of water will be fine after being treated with a RO/DI machine.

Thanks for checking!

That is correct.  I also have municipal water but I have an RO/DI unit too and it works well.

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