Different species' of fish and shrimps need different levels of hardness in the water. If a species that needs hard water is kept in soft water or vice-versa it will suffer long term health problems, increased susceptibility to disease and a shorter lifespan.
Similarly, different species' need different levels of acidity or alkalinity in the water and the same issues if kept at the wrong pH. The pH level shown on a supplier's site isn't completely helpful as a lot of suppliers use adjusters to alter the pH as it comes from the tap (which is the value they show online). After about 24 hours standing these adjusters dissipate and the water reverts to its true pH which may be higher, lower or in some cases unchanged. When you get your test kit, test the pH of your water straight from the tap and also run a cup of water and leave to stand, then test 24 hours later and compare the two results.
When it comes to choosing stock for your tank, choose species' whose hardness range, pH range and temperature range are all similar to your supply. Profiles on the species' will show the acceptable range for gH, pH and temperature so you can research easily. Our care sheets are here, though we don't have that many so another site which has reliable care data (many don't) is Seriously Fish.
The hardness will be quoted either as German Degrees or as mg/l or ppm (which is the same as mg/l). To convert from German Degrees to mg/l, ppm multiply by 17.89. In your case you'll be looking for species' whose hardness range includes 13 dGh or 233 ppm.
Hi Laura! Don't worry it can be really confusing. In fishkeeping we use German degrees, so 13.02 in your case, which is very hard. That's your general hardness (GH). Your carbonate hardness (KH) is also important. A high KH will resist changes in pH, and the carbonates are also necessary for the beneficial bacteria in your filter which break down waste products. Water changes replace carbonates which have been used up. The profile pages here on FK use ppm for GH. Your 13.02*dH converts to 232.38ppm (converter here: http://www.cactus2000.de/uk/unit/masswas.shtml). As for pH, that reading sounds about right - hard water would be alkaline i.e. pH more than 7. When you test it, test 2 samples - one straight from the tap and one left to stand for 24 hours, as the pH will often change when left to stand. Water companies artificially alter the pH to prevent pipe corrosion, and the chemicals used to alter it will evaporate when the water is left to stand, so it will assume its true pH. The pH reading given on Severn Trent's website will be straight from the tap. I'd recommend getting an API Master Test Kit - as well as pH, this includes tests for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate, all of which are very important. It's also worth having a hardness test kit - API do a very good kit which measures both GH and KH.
We've been talking to the lovely peeps at Maidenhead Aquatics which is at a local garden centre. We have a second hand tank and the man advised us on the filter, heater, substrate and some solution to put in. We set it up last night and the substrate had made the water black, it had cleared this morning, but not sure what it will be like when I get home later.
Once it's all settled and been running for about he said to call back with some water samples for them to test, if we buy some plants then it will be fine, I'm guessing it will be another test and another couple of weeks before the shrimps can be added.
We want to then have a second planted tank, larger than the shrimp tank that we can plant up and have a group of small tetra type fish in. But I'll look up useing the other site what is best.
Please don't stock the tank after a week based on clear tests for ammonia/nitrite.
A tank which has been set up and has no livestock in it is basically just a tank full of tap water and will test as being fine until you add fish. They will then produce ammonia from their waste, from their gills and more will be produced by left over food and so on. If a tank has not been cycled prior to adding fish, the ammonia produced builds up rapidly and poisons them, burns their gills and skin and is very unpleasant. Once the beneficial bacteria that turn ammonia into nitrite arrive (assuming fish are still alive, the fish are then subjected to a few more weeks swimming in nitrite laden water until the next lot of bacteria show yup to process that into nitrate. Nitrite is also extremely toxic to fish and causes them to suffocate due to its effect of chemically altering the red blood cells and making them less able to hold and carry oxygen around the fish's body.
Please read the article on fishless cycling using household ammonia linked in my earlier reply and do a cycle before buying any livestock.
So the advice we have had from the aquatic people is wrong? They said that once we have it set up to take some water from the tank from them and buy some plants, they are going to test it and tell us what to do next. The tank is too small for fish so having some shrimps, which the man said was a good move for the size of the tank and would be good as a starting place to get to a larger tank that can be planted and have small fish in. Will having the plants in help the cycle or does it have to be with the ammonia? Do shrimps have the same cycling as fish?
Yes what he said is wrong but is typical for most shops. One problem they face is that if they advise new fish keepers to cycle fishlessly many are put off because of the long wait before they can add any fish. They stand to lose the customer as they will just go to another shop who will (in some cases) even sell them fish on the same day as they buy the tank.
The problem is, that doing it the way they've advised means the water is sure to be "safe" next week because there's been nothing in there to produce ammonia. Without a fishless cycle, the cycle cannot begin until livestock is added and they are then subjected to toxins for weeks while the cycle becomes established. This is called cycling "fish in" and what you haven't been told is that this is risky for livestock, means adding stock very slowly and running the same risk again with each addition and performing daily water changes for up to 8 weeks to try and minimise suffering/disease an risk of death.
Cycling is arguably more important for shrimps than fish as shrimps are extremely sensitive to water quality issues.
I understand the cycling, I've read how to do it. Slightly annoyed that I've been mislead by the shop. When is it best to put the plants in? At the moment it's a tank with gravel at the bottom with the heater installed but not yet on and the filter going. The water is still a little dark from adding the water to the substrate but seems to be clearing. There is a shrimp house and a very untastful floating blue seahorse in the water at the moment. The sea horse is my daughters choice.
I'm in no hurry to rush things through, would rather get it right than get it wrong.