Within hours of publishing my last blog post Sunday night, and sharing it with Chuck Dinkel, TIC Coordinator for Maryland and D.C., whom I've often referred to as the country's TIC GURU, I got a wonderfully detailed and informative response from Chuck. I think you'll find it helpful.
Regarding using baking soda to raise KH, Chuck said:
Make sure teachers add 1 teaspoon per 55 gallon tank for a 17.9 ppm increase and not 1 tablespoon. I’ve had a couple of teachers who misread the Tsp and Tbs notations and added too much. Also, the carbon from the baking soda is the food source for the autotrophic bacteria. NiteOut II bacteria are autotrophic and use KH as a source of carbon during the nitrification (oxidation of ammonia to nitrite and then nitrates) process. When KH drops, the pH also tends to drop, and around a pH value of 6.0, the bacteria stop reproducing.
About high ammonia, he offered this:
We know that as pH increases towards 7.8, the ammonia component of the ammonia test increases while the ammonium component decreases. I used to think that having an ammonia test reading of 3 or 4 at a pH of around 7.2-7.4 was okay, since most of the reading was ammonium. The fish could tolerate this. However, I have since determined, from a review of the chemical equations taking place, that both the ammonia and ammonium participate in the nitrification process and both have to be converted to nitrites and nitrates by the NiteOut II bacteria. So the bottom line is it is really a good idea to keep the ammonia reading low so as to reduce the work required by the bacteria to oxidize the ammonia plus ammonium.
He also commented on the subject of cloudy water:
Cloudy water is often caused by excess nutrients in the water. Make sure teachers are proactive about siphoning the tank bottom and gravel to remove excess food and fish waste. Also I have rarely seen a build-up of food on the mesh intake of the filter. I do think this is an indication that too much food is being fed. We recommend teachers divide the amount of food for a given day in half and feed in the morning and afternoon. Special Blend contains bacteria that reduce cloudy water by promoting flocculation (defined below) and settling of organic and inorganic particles. Perhaps adding an additional dose of Special Blend will help the cloudy water problem. In most cases the cloudy water I've experienced in some tanks seems to be more a cosmetic than fish-health issue.
Finally, in response to high nitrates (and no other high readings) at Castleton Village School, he wrote this:
I don’t think bacteria can “go dormant.” If there is nothing for them to feed on, they stop reproducing and die off. That’s why there is no sense in adding bacteria until something live goes into the tank, such as trout eggs. The denitrifying bacteria of Special Blend play a role in reducing nitrates to nitrogen gas. If nitrates are “soaring,” I would change some water and add some Special Blend. If they get too high the fish may be the “soar losers.” (Had to get at least one in before I sign out.)
Thanks, Chuck! You're the best.
Joe Mark, Lead Facilitator, Vermont Trout in the Classroom
In June 2012, I retired after 40 years in higher education, having spent the last 32 years of my career as dean at Castleton. One of the first things I volunteered to do in retirement was to work with Jim Mirenda to help the Dorset School, where his kids and my Vermont grandkids attend, start a TIC program. Gradually that commitment grew into my current role, which is both demanding and highly rewarding.