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Diatoms - Where is the ammonia coming from?

AphoticPhoenix

New Member
Joined
22 Sep 2009
Messages
4
First post as I've been lurking around for a bit. Great forum, and have learned tons! Unfortunately I've got a bit of a brown algae problem on my two year old tank, and there are multiple potential sources, so I'm hoping someone here can help me find the root of the problem. I apologize for the huge wall of text that is going to follow, but since no one here is familiar with my tank I thought it best to give as much info and back history as possible. XD

Aquarium age: 2 years
Size: 28G / 105L 24L x 16W x 21.5H (61x41x55 cm)
Lighting: 65W CF, ~7 hours per day
CO2: Yeast system + 2.5 ml Excel daily
Dosing: PMDD + PO4, and root tabs
Filtration: 2x HoB rated for a total of 350 gph (1325 lph) - if cut in half would be 6x turnover per hour.
Substrate: 2 inches plain gravel (should be deeper, but tank wasn't originally meant to be planted)
Water chemistry: ~ 160 ppm / 9 dGH (altered chemistry as the tap is 320 ppm / 18 dGH)
Animal stocking level: Fully stocked
Plant coverage: Mostly new plants so hard to gauge accurately

So first of all, this isn't really *my* tank. It's the household tank that appeared one day, and I was asked to "help" with it. (I.E. be responsible for anything more complicated than feeding the fish.) I learned a lot in the first year, and was having success with keeping some delicate fish species, but made the mistake of letting the actual owner take care of the tank while I was busy with studies for at least half a year, and it was a horrible horrible mess when I came back. :/

Several fish had died, and had most likely never been removed. The bulb had blown out the higher powered hood, and instead of replacing the bulb, they threw the old .5 wpg bulb on, and probably didn't turn it on very often anyway because most of the remaining fish were skinny and malnourished. Java moss was a straggled mess, full of crud, and the leaves of the biggest anubia had a thick coat of both diatoms and perhaps BBA. There were some heavy brown patches of brown algae on the tank walls as well.

Sooo... over the next few weeks I did several large water changes, manually removing as much of the algae as I could, deep vaccing the gravel, gave the filter media a really good rinsing (not both at the same time), removing any dead bits of java moss I could find etc. I was then begged to restock the tank, which I did, and then my boyfriend decided to buy a 75 gallon that he want's to go high tech with...so my experiment with planted tanks began.

Within the last month I have:
- Replaced the blown out bulb, and am now running the tank at 2 WPG 7 hours a day.
- Rescaped the tank, adding some new plants including Cryptocoryne walkeri 'lutea' , Microsorum pteropus, and Hygrophila difformis (Have more coming in soon too)
- Started the DIY CO2 (mixture replaced each week), and dosing excel.
- Started mixing my own ferts.
- Replaced some (not all) of the old filter media (which was basically just expired carbon) with ceramic media.

Yet, despite trying to remove as much dead/rotting material as possible the brown algae seems to get even worse. :/ The anubia that wasn't really affected before is now gets it almost as bad as the other. The large rock in the tank has become covered, and the patches on the walls reform within a few days time. So now I'm trying to find out the WHY.

Some possible sources:
1. I've caused a small mini-cycle in the tank by mucking with my filters too much? Although I kind of doubt this, because I always rinse in tank water, and didn't remove that much of the original media, I suppose it is a possibility.

2. My housemates started overfeeding the fish, causing a snail population explosion, and now the baby snails are dying in the substrate? Once I was around to pay attention to the tank, they started feeding the fish again...and suddenly lots of MTS babies appeared. >_> I said something about it, they got busy, and now that I've been feeding the fish over the last two weeks I'm finding tiny empty snail shells getting sucked up by the siphon.

3. Decaying roots in the substrate? I was pretty careful to keep as much of the anubias root system intact as possible when I pulled them up for the rescape, and trimmed them before replanting so I'm not sure this is much of an issue.

4. Damaged plants leeching ammonia? The H. difformis I bought last week was in pretty crap shape when I bought it. Almost every leaf had some sort of mechanical damage, and although I removed the worst of them, I had to leave at least some leaves on. These plants aren't really growing any algae, but I've recently increased my trace dosing since the new leaves seem a bit pale and thin. Both anubias don't seem especially happy after being moved, as all the leaves collect algae now, and I'm not sure how many leaves I can safely trim off them. The crypts never melted, but some of the bigger (I presume emersed form) leaves are starting to get a little brown dusting.

I would actually like to pull everything out, stick it in my spare tank, give the current gravel a good clean, and lay down a layer of fluorite before replacing the old gravel since my current bed isn't very deep at the moment. While I could see this potentially removing some decaying matter that I've yet to find, I'm worried that it'll be rough on my anubias and crypts that were only planted/replanted about 3 weeks ago. If I'm not mistaken, crypts should be given at least a month between being moved? Oh, and if you're wondering why I'm not dosing EI, at first I didn't understand how flexible it was (50% waterchanges gets expensive when you use distilled water to cut your tap), and I'd really like to get a firm grasp on both methods anyway.

If you've managed to finish reading all of this...thanks. Any input would be greatly appreciated!
 

Dave Spencer

Member
Joined
3 Jul 2007
Messages
1,387
Location
N. Wales
Thanks for all the info, and welcome to the forum.

First off, it sounds as if other members of the household have spent quite a bit of effort preparing a guest suite for Mr algae. Unfortunately, once algae gets its feet under the table, it can take a bit of effort to shift it.

On the other hand, diatoms can be quite easy to shift. A lot of the persistent ammonia feeding the diatoms could well be from the substrate. Whenever I carry out any major disruption of the substrate, I follow it up with a couple of days of 50% water changes. I think you need a schedule of daily large water changes, and lots of manual removal of the algae. It could also be the case that some of your plants aren`t too healthy at the moment, leaching ammonia. With good ferts and CO2, this should turn around pretty soon. The fact that you are not getting Crypt melt suggests to me that your CO2 is pretty good, which is a pretty good achievement with the DIY method.

My tanks these days are started up using Zeolite, which I find helps to prevent a bloom of diatoms in my new tanks. A recent, new set up was started without Zeolite, and I found that I started to get diatoms before the plants and filter were fully established, and dealing with the ammonia. I have never added Zeolite retrospectively as a means of controlling an established diatom outbreak, but it would be interesting to see if it would have any impact, should you find that the diatoms are persistent.

Should you go down the Zeolite route, don`t worry about it becoming depleted and leaching ammonia back in to the water column, as this is not the case. The Zeolite will contain ammonia, which your filter bacteria will find to be an inviting guest suite, full of easily accessible nitrogen.

Brown diatoms are often connected with low light, but I have found that they can appear in areas of high light too. I suspect a little elbow grease and water changes will solve your problems.


Dave.
 

ceg4048

Expert/Global Moderator
UKAPS Team
Joined
11 Jul 2007
Messages
9,191
Location
Chicago, USA
Hi,
Welcome to the forum. Sorry to hear of your many troubles.
Some of the data is uncoordinated so there are some false correlations that ought to be corrected for proper troubleshooting.
In the first place, I see no reason whatsoever to cut your tap with distilled water. Both flora and fauna shouldn't have any difficulty with 18 GH water. So right there you can save hassle and implement full water changes by not worrying about this irrelevant parameter.

Here is an example of uncoordinated data:
AphoticPhoenix said:
...The bulb had blown out the higher powered hood, and instead of replacing the bulb, they threw the old .5 wpg bulb on, and probably didn't turn it on very often anyway because most of the remaining fish were skinny and malnourished....
There should be no correlation between the light energy level and the fish health. Fish in natural systems inhabit very murky waters so malnourished fish would be more related to lack of feeding, dirty water or pathogens rather than lack of light.

It's also not really clear what "Started mixing my own ferts." actually means. It's all good and well to say that one is dosing this or that method but the proof is in the pudding. Exactly how much of what product are you adding to the tank, and how frequently? The algae could easily be caused by poor nutrient application if there is a mistake in the preparation or dosing. These issues could also be caused by poor CO2. Do you have a dropchecker filled with pH reagent and 4dKH water for example, as described in the article CO2 MEASUREMENT USING A DROP CHECKER? Is there a lot of splashing going on in your HOB? You could be losing quite a bit of CO2 if that's the case, but you need at least a clue of what the levels are.

The type of your algae is directly related to the cause and therefore will be related to the corrective action. Are you absolutely certain this is diatom algae and not GSA (or a combination) for example? Patches on walls sounds more like either GSA or GDA than diatoms to me. Have you compared your algae to that described in JamesC's Algae Guide?

So you may need to increase the nutrient levels if this is a nutrient related algae or you may need to get better CO2 or flow distribution if this is a CO2 related issue. In any case it would be a good idea to do 2 or 3 huge water changes per week, dose heavily with Excel (or add a second DIY bottle), get yourself a dropchecker and review your dosing.

Ironically, adding more light may have hurt more than helped as evidenced by the increase in algae.

Cheers,
 

AphoticPhoenix

New Member
Thread starter
Joined
22 Sep 2009
Messages
4
ceg4048 said:
In the first place, I see no reason whatsoever to cut your tap with distilled water. Both flora and fauna shouldn't have any difficulty with 18 GH water. So right there you can save hassle and implement full water changes by not worrying about this irrelevant parameter.
I started cutting my tap after I had repeated trouble keeping apisto's and even bolivian rams healthy. Not to mention a weekly crusty build-up of calcium deposits on my tank and hardware. You can see calcium sediment collect in the bottom of drinking glasses in my house. After cutting my tap I've had no further problems with softer water fish like German Rams.

ceg4048 said:
There should be no correlation between the light energy level and the fish health. Fish in natural systems inhabit very murky waters so malnourished fish would be more related to lack of feeding, dirty water or pathogens rather than lack of light.
I'm sorry about that section, I knew I wasn't wording it properly. What I meant was...they were leaving the tank unattended for days at a time, not bothering to feed the fish or turn on the lights but maybe once or twice a week.

ceg4048 said:
It's also not really clear what "Started mixing my own ferts." actually means. It's all good and well to say that one is dosing this or that method but the proof is in the pudding. Exactly how much of what product are you adding to the tank, and how frequently?
Sorry, the Macros mix was 1 Tablespoon Potassium Nitrate, 1 Tablespoon Magnesium Sulphate Heptahydrate, and a guesstimate pinch of Potassium Phosphate (don't have scales/tiny measuring spoons) in 500 ml of water. I was aware that I'd forgotten the Potassium Sulphate, but I was using TPN for the micros, and the Potassium Sulphate, plus a 1 lb. of CSM+B trace is sitting at my post office right now. (Darn postal holiday!) I was dosing 2 ml Macros and 1.5 ml Micros daily because at first I only had a few slow growing plants, and a lot of fish. I've only had the H. difformis for a week, so I had to give that a chance to grow and show me what was lacking nutrient wise. One thing I'm confused about is...why can James dose both iron and phosphates on the same day, while in EI dosing the phosphates and iron are dosed on separate days to avoid chemical reaction?

ceg4048 said:
The algae could easily be caused by poor nutrient application if there is a mistake in the preparation or dosing. These issues could also be caused by poor CO2. Do you have a dropchecker filled with pH reagent and 4dKH water for example, as described in the article CO2 MEASUREMENT USING A DROP CHECKER? Is there a lot of splashing going on in your HOB? You could be losing quite a bit of CO2 if that's the case, but you need at least a clue of what the levels are.
I do not have a drop checker yet, although I plan to get one, and have had to "rely" on pH testing instead. This is partially why I've had to rely on full doses of Excel. Unfortunately, my housemates are terrified of the idea of a pressurized CO2 container in the house, and I cannot afford that investment at this time. Saving for it, but it may not be allowed anyway.
I keep my water line right at the output edge of the HoB to avoid gassing off CO2 as much as possible. There is no splashing.

ceg4048 said:
Are you absolutely certain this is diatom algae and not GSA (or a combination) for example? Patches on walls sounds more like either GSA or GDA than diatoms to me. Have you compared your algae to that described in JamesC's Algae Guide?
I love JamesC's site (it's where I learned about PMDD+PO4), and the algae looks exactly like the diatom algae on his site. It is rusty brown, and gritty on the walls. I wish it were green...it would be prettier that way. :/ If it's combined with anything it would be BBA or some other dark fuzzy algae, but that's only on the anubias, and that has decreased a fair bit after the regular Excel dosing. I'll take some pictures if that helps.

ceg4048 said:
In any case it would be a good idea to do 2 or 3 huge water changes per week, dose heavily with Excel (or add a second DIY bottle), get yourself a dropchecker and review your dosing.
I was already planning to add a second DIY bottle, changing them both once a week (one on Mondays, one on Thursdays), and I guess I can up the Excel dosage in the mean time.

Dave Spencer said:
I think you need a schedule of daily large water changes, and lots of manual removal of the algae. It could also be the case that some of your plants aren`t too healthy at the moment, leaching ammonia. With good ferts and CO2, this should turn around pretty soon. The fact that you are not getting Crypt melt suggests to me that your CO2 is pretty good, which is a pretty good achievement with the DIY method.

Several large waterchanges throughout the week would be tough at the moment as I've already bought out the stores stock of distilled water, and with a Electric Blue Ram in the tank I dislike the idea of rapidly changing the GH, but I'll see what I can do. I knew that risk existed when I started altering my water chemistry. XD I do remember seeing a post by ceg with pictures of his tanks, one housing SA dwarves in a GH of...12 or 15? I've just had multiple bad prior experiences with mixing high GH with softwater fish, but perhaps there was some other factor I'm unaware of at the time.

This is why I almost prefer the idea of just ripping everything out, and giving everything non-living a really good scrub/rinsing, because the tank is going to get torn down and moved at some point anyway. Might as well take care of all at the same time. XD I'm just not sure if it's too early to do so, especially before getting the correct fert balance in place.

Dave Spencer said:
I have never added Zeolite retrospectively as a means of controlling an established diatom outbreak, but it would be interesting to see if it would have any impact, should you find that the diatoms are persistent.
Might be worth testing out, but I've been packing my filters full of canister media in anticipation of jump starting my boyfriends tank when he eventually gets started. Of course, he's a chemistry freak, and loves zeolite, so I'm sure he wouldn't mind. I've also heard of people using zeolite in their substrate, any experience with this?

Thank you both so much for your input! I'll definitely try to keep everyone updated.

*Edit* Actually, now that I think about it I could actually transfer the filters/fish/shrimps/heater to my empty 20 gallon long, and do as many huge waterchanges as I could stand on the main with pure tap as I wanted...but I'd have to invest in a powerhead or two, and maybe a heater? I'm not really sure how that would be much different from stripping the whole thing down in the first place though. XD
 

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