Duck Invasion

Earlier this Spring, we decided that since we have a pond, and a big yard, we would head on down to the hardware store and get three Mallard ducklings. We thought it would be nice to have some quacking around and the thought of them eating slugs and pests out of our garden would be a welcome treat. Little did we realize, ducks can become very friendly…

Over the weekend I made the monumental mistake of showing our web-footed friends how to get up on our back deck. For the next few days they followed me up there, and wandered around begging for food until they grew impatient and waddled down to the pond. This was more or less harmless, and we didn’t really mind… Harmless, that is, until yesterday.

Since we allow our cats to come and go as they please, we always leave the sliding screen door slightly opened for them while we are around. Keep in mind, this is just a slit. Our cats are very thin and the screen door was only open about five inches. None the less, the three stealthy ducks managed to slip through this gap yesterday afternoon, and infiltrate our living room where they proceeded to carry our their nefarious black op mission of pooping on our floor!

I have no idea how these fat ducks were able to get through this tiny gap, but they had no intention of leaving after having worked so hard to get inside. They ran, quacked, flapped their wings and generally resisted ejection to the best of their duckly abilities until finally being ushered back outside where they belong. Even then, the quacks of protest could be heard for some time and they re-adjusted to outside life.

Cleaning up the mess was a fairly easy prospect, and the trouble of it was well worth the hilarious story. It would seem that I now must focus my attention onto the development of an elaborate duck security system capable of thwarting the invasion efforts of these winged masterminds… Most likely a small bit of mesh.

Troubles with NitrItes in colder water

It seems that we have a lot of koi keepers who need, for one reason or another to bring some of their fish in during winter months. Sometimes they find a sick fish in their pond that needs treatment, or sometimes they just want want to keep some of their best fish in for the winter.

Because Cyprinus carpio (koi) are cold water fish, many people chose to maintain water temperatures below 60* F. While the low temperatures used (50* F – 60* F) are somewhat dangerous for koi, is very doable provided the fish are in good health, not overcrowded, and the filter is 100% cycled. The real danger comes when the biological filter is not totally up to snuff before it is exposed to colder water. This is because of the different reproduction rates of the two types of bacteria responsible for oxidizing nitrogen.

Because biofilters take a very long time to cycle in water below 70* F many people use ammonia binders such as Amquel to mitigate its dangerous effects. When ammonia bound up by Amquel. It’s not toxic to fish, but is still indirectly dangerous because it needs to be converted to NitrIte, which cannot be controlled by ammonia binders. While it is true that salt helps control the NitrIte problem to some extend, it is really only a bandaid, and does not work when NitrIte levels are very high.

For folks who are dealing with cycling a filter in colder water, I suggest two things. First, filters in cool water need to be quite large, so we often need to add to the filtration. A simple way is to drill a bunch of holes into the bottom of a 5 Gal bucket, fill it with lava rock (stones for gas grills) or plastic kitchen scrubbies, suspend it above the tank, and feed it with a sump pump, letting the water trickle through the media, and drain out through the holes, back into the tank. Try to distribute the water evenly over the top of the media. Making a spray bar out of tube or pipe with holes drilled in it helps with this. Try to size the pump to turn over all the water in the holding tank 4 to 5 times an hour.

Next we need to get some bacteria in there. Nitrosonomas are the bacteria that first convert Ammonia into NitrIte and then another type of bacteria (Nitrobacter) takes over and converts the NitrIte into fairly harmless NitrAte. The problem is that Nitrobacter divide much more slowly than Nitrosonomas, and our fish have to live with NitrIte much longer than Ammonia throughout the cycle process. They will also divide much more slowly, or even not at all in colder water.

When the water temperature is low, we find ourselves in a bit of trouble. We need to keep the water temp down, and the Ph low to mitigate the toxicity of the Ammonia, but our Nitrobacter will either develop slowly or not at all under these conditions. Nitrosonomas will convert all the Ammonia to NitrIte, but Nitrobacter will never come along to detoxify the NitrItes into NitrAtes. NitrItes will spiral out of control, and the fish will suffer no matter how much salt is added.

So, we need an instant cycle. I’ve always thought how great it would be if someone kept a bunch of cycled filter material around to send off to folks facing this kind of problem. I keep planning to do it myself, but my wife can’t stand it when I run pumps all over the place. We always take our bacteria for granted, but it’s more precious than gold when you don’t have any.

I suggest everyone try to keep some live filter bacteria around at all times.

If not, one company bottles it up and sells it. They only ship overnight, with their product on cold packs. This is the ONLY company I know of that sells such a product, and it is NOT cheap! If you can find a person or company with healthy fish that can ring out their filters for you, that would be the best option, but if not, Fritz Pet’s Turbo Start is your best Option. It is also worth mentioning that, at least in my experience, Bio Spira from Marineland does not work.

No matter how you get the bacteria, you need to do a few things before you add it to make sure it works. If you get the bacteria from another person’s filter, you will need to remove all the fish for a couple of hours after dumping it in, or they will die. You can add them back in once the water becomes more or less clear.

1) Keep your existing filter running, and add the new one.

2) Doing hourly water changes, bring the Ammonia and NitrItes down to less than 1ppm.

3) Use a phosphate-based neutral Ph buffer. You could use baking soda, which usually holds the Ph around 8.0, but for cycling I suggest something that will hold it closer to neutral (7.0). I like Seachem’s neutral buffer because it holds the Ph at 7.0, which makes any Ammonia spike less toxic than it would be at 8.0. Either way, both types of bacteria require a Ph buffer to divide.

4) Add the bacteria. Don’t forget to remove the fish if you obtained bacteria (gunk) from someone’s filter.

5) Bring the temp up to at least 76* F. A 300 W aquarium filter should work for this. Make sure not to bring up the temp too fast or you will shock the fish. If your temp is still in the 60’s, you should be able to bring it up to 76* within 24 hours safely. You can let the temp fall again once the filter is cycled.

7) Keep a close eye on your Ammonia and NitrIte levels. I’ve done this a number of times, and the Ammonia usually rises to 1.0, and then drops. NitrIte then comes up to .5, and then drops. I’ve also done it, and never even seen Ammonia or NitrIte. With high stocking levels, I would expect to see a slight spike in both.

Bio Spira is bunk!

This past weekend, I was able to jumpstart a filter in two days with Turbo Start. You may have to add phosphate based buffers to get a KH above 80. The Doc has composed a method of getting Turbo Start to work, which can be found on the fritzpet website. The product is about $100 after the icepacks and overnight shipping, but it’s enough to treat 700 USG, and, I think you can get smaller bottles.

I tried my hand with Biospira from Marineland, and had no luck at all. My amonia was less than 1ppm, and more than two weeks after adding four times the suggested amount of biospira, the only thing that had changed is that the amonia had gome up to 2ppm. Marineland writes that there will be a short stint of amonia less than 1ppm for a couple of days, so I do not believe that the Biospira was simply running behind, and could not catch up with my amonia. More likely the bacteria had just expired, plain and simple. Marineland does not indicate an expiration date, but they make the claim that Bio Spira is viable for 1 year if kept cold, and 6 months if kept at room temp… Turbo Start only claims 3 months if kept cold. Both are simply bacteria and water, and both need carbonates and some phosphates to get properly established. Most old tanks have enough existing phosphates to support the bacteria, but virgin water may need to have some added in the form of a Ph buffer.

No doubt, the best way to seed any filter is with media from an established filter, but this could result in pathogens entering a clean system. I’ve looked far and wide, and the ONLY bacteria product I have found that works is Turbo Start. In my oppinion, the rest are snake oil. I’m sure fresh Bio Spria will work if you can get enough of it, but keeping bacteria alive in a bottle for 1 year… It seems Marineland is claiming their products can do things they simply can’t do. I admit I have not tried all of them out there, but I would run away from any bacteria in a bottle that A) does not need to be kept cold, and B) does not indicate an expiration date.

The stuff comes overnight packed in a cooler with cold packs, and it cycles WICKED FAST!!!! Make sure to read Erik Jhonson’s article on getting the stuff working. I was able to learn things about biofiltration from this article that I’d found no place else!

My test with was not done using the scientific method. I needed a tank cycled, and this stuff did it where others had failed. Is there a chance that Turbo Start is bunk, and it just so happened that the BioSpira I added more than two weeks earlier started working a couple of hours after I added the Turbo Start? Sure, but I’m not buying it! Still, that is the type of thing only scientific controls can rule out. I have a lot of TS left over, and I will be repeating the test with measures of control in place when I get my new koi home in a couple of weeks. I will publish the results. Who knows… I may be wrong… I thought I was wrong once, but I was mistaken.

Related:

Nitrifying bacteria division in cold water >