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Keeping Quarantine Tank Filter Media in a Planted Tank

Since we don't get new fish all that often, we normally don't have an active  quarantine tank. We have a 29 g tank in storage 
that we use when the need arises but it needs a filter seeded with bacteria to 
function. My plan was to keep a bag of Eheim media (Ehfistuffofsomekind) in the 
sump of a trickle filter. When needed, the media would be put in a 2213 canister 
to run the quarantine tank. 

We tried that recently and it didn't seem to work. After two days, we noticed 
ammonia building up in the quarantine tank. We've resorted to frequent emergency 
water changes and replaced the media with bioballs from one of the trickle 
filters. Luckily, the quarantinees are doing fine but our self-image of "expert 
aquarists" has taken a beating. 

I'm wondering if anyone has a hypothesis for why this didn't appear to work. 

Some guesses:   

1) The trickle filter biomedia is so efficient that no ammonium or nitrite gets 
to the sump, starving any bacteria that were in the biomedia. I would find this 
hard to believe. 

2) The plants consume all the ammonium generated and the "biofilter" is actually 
not doing anything to start with. I would discount this since nitrates build up 
in this tank. If the plants were using all the ammonium, I wouldn't see much in 
the way pf nitrates. 

3) The water flow in the sump is very slow and it cannot easily penetrate the 
biomedia in the bag. The inner biomedia has gone anaerobic and the bacteria in 
the biomedia have changed into denitrifying bacteria. That would be nice to help 
manage nitrates but not much use in the quarantine tank. 

4) The bacteria are very sensitive to temperature change (76 F -> 85 F) or pH 
change (7.0 -> 6.5) and expired. 

5) Our ammonia test kit is old (true) and the readings are bogus. Between 
regular tank cleaning this weekend, completely replanting an existing 100 g tank 
for the new fish and doing emergency water changes, I haven't had a chance to 
verify this. 

Has anyone had a similar experience? 

George Booth in Ft. Collins, Colorado (booth at frii_com)