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How often to test

Posted 03/03/2014 at 12:10 PM by Sk8r

How often to test: informational.
I admit I'm compulsive.

But first of all, I want a test that doesn't go 'green' or 'sorta green yellow.' I want numbers. I want exact numbers.

I recommend a logbook, especially for beginners. In this you write down the date and every test result. This becomes a valuable record over time. You can look back over a year and see changes. You can hand the book to a tanksitter you've taught to test, and say: run these tests---if the numbers don't look like these numbers, phone me! [Buy this person a steak dinner when you get home!]

I'd actually recommend testing weekly during the first 2 weeks of cycle, then daily.
Once you have cycled, you KNOW you should put in ONLY your CUC and quarantine that first fish, eh?

Write down test results for BOTH tanks.
And test at least twice a week.

Once you put in a fish, or start dosing, or whenever you have anything weird going on---test daily for a week. You'll learn a LOT about your tank and how it reacts. You can slack off this routine when you get to be experienced enough to 'read' your tank by various signs you'll learn along the way---but until then, regard those numbers as the truth your tank can tell you, better than any guestimate.

Here's what to test for:
During cycle: nitrite, nitrate, ammonia, salinity, temperature.

During qt and post-cycle: same, but add: alkalinity.

You'll notice I didn't mention ph: it's very volatile in a marine tank, as in, up and down during the day. Trust alkalinity instead. It becomes a very, very, very important test for fish-keeping.

As your tank is in ordinary operation, once a week.
After adding any additive like buffer.
After any water change.

When you add an additive, first do so ONLY if a test is proving it's going to be needed; second, don't wait to add it after the water is 'bad'. Add it when it's trending toward 'bad' and send it back toward 'good.'

Second, with additives, give them 8 hours to percolate through the system and dissolve fully before you test again. They take time.

Now: for reefs, you'll want to test for alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium. If they need dosing, start with magnesium, then alk, then cal. Again, observe waiting period.

If you have a reef, you can safely omit the nitrite, nitrate, ammonia tests because the corals will 'talk' to you and advise you whether all's well, or whether you need to test. Corals do not tolerate these, so if your corals are happy, you don't have these as a problem.

Phosphate tests are not that helpful on a basic level: if you have algae, you have too much phosphate, and should use a GFO to get rid of it. However, when you get into keeping sps or have a mysterious 'coral isn't thriving' problem, if it's not your [critical to corals] lighting or expired bulbs...take a look at a phosphate test. Most things hate phosphate---except algae. But you can, as a novice, be impoverished by test kits---you don't need this one in your first round of test buying, if you have to prioritize.

I recommend a refractometer for salinity: fast, accurate, no battery: just be sure it's calibrated and don't monkey with it. This is a lifesaver for fish in bags: you can test repeatedly as fast as you can fling water drops onto the plate, and no stray bubble on a swing-arm is going to lie to you. I've used every device known to man---and this is one worth the price.

I recommend an ATO (autotopoff). Salinity fluctuations occur in the ocean...yes. But a lot, often, is not optimum. Remember always---it's a salinity RISE that's worst.

And most of all, keep that logbook. You'll learn a LOT from those numbers. You can learn how your individual tank behaves, and what you changed before things went less well. Or better.
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