Help needed with low CO2 setup

PK81

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25 Jan 2009
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5
Hi All,
I am converting my 180L to a low CO2 low tech system. I have been reading extensively and am in the process of getting together the 'ingredients'. I do need a bit of advice though and hopefully some of you can help:

1. Substrate: My interest to be honest is the fish and I want a tank to show off their colours etc. I plan to use fluorite black sand but I am recommended ADA Aquasoil by the LFS. My concern about using the latter is longevity. I don't want to be changing substrate after 3 years, moving fish out to cope with new ammonia spikes etc. Any thoughts on how long the ADA will last?

2. Ferts: I cannot get KNO3; it is not allowed to be sold. Anybody used an alternative to the expensive specialist products? What about Miralce Grow or something like that? If I have to go down the specialist route which to choose and how much to dose in a low CO2 set-up. My lighting by the way will be 2x35W T5s.

3. Excel / Easy-Carb: Should I go for a halfway house and use these produsts? How should I change my fert dosing?

I do hope someone can help. Many thanks.
 

Ed Seeley

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Whereabouts are you based? I assume you're not in the UK?

You can use excel/easycarbo as a complete replacement for CO2 but the growth is slower and it may get rather expensive on a 180l tank!
 

PK81

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25 Jan 2009
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Hi Ed,
Thanks for the reply. Unfortunatley yes I am - Northern Ireland. It is illegal here to sell or buy KNO3 - or any other nitrate compound. We have an unfortunate history.

I will stick with the non-CO2 approach and give it a go. Any thoughts on my substrate dilemma or a fert suggestion. Miracle Grow was a bad example - too much ammonia. I can get potassium phosphate and the other individual chemicals. Was looking at Seachem nitro but this again could work out expensive. Thanks again.
PK
 

Ed Seeley

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Well if it were me I'd probably look at Tropica Plant Nutrition plus as it's an all-in-one fertiliser with nitrate and phosphate. Still a much more expensive option than EI though but seems you'll have no choice.

I love Aquasoil and would always recommend it, but I use it with good CO2 and ferts. It will release ammonia initially and you want to do some larger water changes and high CO2 so the plants grow well and use that up.

Two lower tech tanks I have at school have sand with Laterite in and sand with soil underneath but I'm not really happy with the growth and performance of either so wouldn't recommend them.
 

ceg4048

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PK81 said:
Hi All,
I am converting my 180L to a low CO2 low tech system. I have been reading extensively and am in the process of getting together the 'ingredients'. I do need a bit of advice though and hopefully some of you can help:

1. Substrate: My interest to be honest is the fish and I want a tank to show off their colours etc. I plan to use fluorite black sand but I am recommended ADA Aquasoil by the LFS. My concern about using the latter is longevity. I don't want to be changing substrate after 3 years, moving fish out to cope with new ammonia spikes etc. Any thoughts on how long the ADA will last?

2. Ferts: I cannot get KNO3; it is not allowed to be sold. Anybody used an alternative to the expensive specialist products? What about Miralce Grow or something like that? If I have to go down the specialist route which to choose and how much to dose in a low CO2 set-up. My lighting by the way will be 2x35W T5s.

3. Excel / Easy-Carb: Should I go for a halfway house and use these produsts? How should I change my fert dosing?

I do hope someone can help. Many thanks.
Hi,
There are some inconsistencies in these points that ought to be clarified:

1. In the first place it's not really clear what you mean by "...a low CO2 low tech system..." Planted tank systems are either "low tech" meaning that no supplemental CO2 is added, or, as "high tech" which means that supplemental CO2 is added either
a) via carbon based liquids such as Excel
b) via organic CO2 production such as yeast systems
c) via conventional high pressure gas injection.

So it doesn't matter what level of CO2 or by what method CO2 is being added. It is still a high tech system because CO2 addition by any method accelerates plant growth by a factor of 5X or more when compared to non-CO2 supplemented tanks. Therefore, high or low tech is determined by the regime of plant growth as modulated by available CO2, not necessarily by the advanced nature of the peripheral systems. Having said that the technological methods shown in items a) through c) above are listed in order of the magnitude of their effectiveness. Regardless, use of any of those three immediately places the tank in the high tech regime. If by "...low CO2..." you mean "ambient CO2" then to avoid confusion it's better to use the conventional expression "Non-CO2" which refers to the fact that no additional CO2 is added.

1A - Substrate. It is the folly of human beings that we tend to pull the cart before the horse. In natural systems (or any system) infrastructure must be built first. Top models by Chanel prancing down the fashion runway need to have that runway built first before they can prance. A prerequisite of showing off the fish is an environment conducive to fish health. The substrate in a low tech tank must be nutritionally optimized so that the plants can be healthy, so that they can clean pollutants from the water, so that the fish can be healthy, so that those same same fish will then show best colors because they're healthy. AS is the best available substrate for this purpose. It can be capped with a gravel of larger grain size that you fell more attractive if necessary. The ammonia leached by new AS does not affect fish and is only a nuisance because it contributes to algae when exposed to high lighting. If the lighting is kept low enough (which is certainly a requirement of a low tech tank) then the leached ammonia becomes completely irrelevant. AS is made of baked clay so while not as sturdy as hard gravel should be OK. I've not yet heard reports of disintegration after 3 years but this could be possible.

2. - Ferts. AS is high in Nitrogen, that's why it leaches ammonia which is mostly composed of Nitrogen. This means that in a low tech (non-CO2) tank, wherein the plants exhibit a low speed nitrogen uptake and are in the low speed growth regime, it is much less important to dose massive quantities of nitrates, especially if the tap water has nitrates and if the fish urinate and defecate - which they do. One can use supplemental Nitrogen products once a week, such as Seachem, Kent or as previously noted TPN+ which is ideal in this case since it is an all in one product.

3. - Excel.

Well, it should be no mystery by now that either the tank is either non-CO2 which;
a) generates slow growth,
b) requires minimal nutrient dosing,
c) requires low maintenance, and
d) does not require water changes

- or

has CO2 added and is therefore pushed into the high speed high tech growth regime where:
e) high growth demands are generated,
f) requires frequent and consistent dosing,
g) requires high maintenance, and
h) requires frequent water changes

There is no halfway house. Either you are running a low tech non-CO2 tank or a high tech tank. if you decide to start off using Excel to get the plants going after initial submersion you can then later slowly reduce the levels to zero and at that point cease the water changes.

Cheers,
 

PK81

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25 Jan 2009
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Many thanks for the replies. I will take a good look at the links suggested.

Obviously there are different definitions of the word 'technology'. To me, as someone new to the planted tank literature, high tech is buying compressed gas, attaching solenoids, altering bubble rates etc rather than measuring out 5 mls of solution and tipping it into a tank. By this measure then dosing with ferts (or even feeding) could be considered high tech. I take your point though that I am dosing CO2 but by another name. I suppose I was looking advice to see if I should go down the Excel / Easy-carbo route. I had hoped this would give me good growth, but not the Ferrari growth of CO2 gas dosing, and then dosing more fert than the non-CO2 guideline but less fert than the CO2 gas quantities - now I am getting confused. I was looking for the middle ground but your experience tells me this does not exist.

I am pleased to hear about your experience with the ADA substrate. I have never seen it 'in the flesh' as we cannot get it here and need to order it so I need all the advice I can get - you have reassured me. I am not sure of your ammonia point though. Ammonia is highly toxic to fish above about 2ppm (this changes with pH the higher the pH the lower this value becomes) by collapsing the central nervous system I have read reports of the ammonia spike after ADA addition reaching above this level. Of course there are many other parameters at play here like how much substrate you add and the volume of water.

Thanks again for the advice I am now much clearer as to what I am doing. Please feel free to give me any further pointers

By the way I am thinking of adding an external filter if anyone has any suggestions. I am considering the Eheim 2028.
 

ceg4048

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Well, the creation of Excel involved a much greater level of technology (20th century polymerization chemistry) than simple pressurized gas and relay solenoids which are Victorian era achievements. A high tech tank can use T8 bulbs powered by old magnetic ballasts while a low tech tank can use high tech T5 lighting which uses electronic ballasts, so one could argue the relative merits of the definition of the word "technology" all day. But this is not important. What is important is the effect we are attempting to achieve with the particular technology we are using. Therefore it's best to think about "high growth rate" versus "low growth rate". Any other concept is an exercise in semantics and misses the point entirely, particularly since these two regimes have a profound effect on how you manage the tank. If you like, you can think of adding CO2 as being in a Ferrari, however with Excel's CO2 you are only driving at 1/3rd throttle, with yeast's CO2 it's 2/3rd throttle and with pressurized CO2 you are driving at full throttle.

As explained, Excel alone can cause a 5X increase in plant growth rates whereas a fully pressurized system can increase the growth rate by 10X or more. So your middle ground is in the amount of CO2 you add. But there is a huge difference between [adding CO2 + doing water changes + heavy pruning] versus [non-CO2 + no water changes + virtually no pruning.] Can you see the difference? Low tech tanks are managed in a radically different way to high tech tanks. Obsessing over the nuances and definition of the word "technology' will only lead you astray. Free your mind, forget about these marketing phrases and concentrate on your objectives, i.e. "do I want high risk, high reward, high maintenance?"=>If response="yes" then add CO2 by whatever method user finds most chic. If response="no" then user deletes CO2.


As regards the AS ammonia leaching, it's necessary to determine from the reports you've read whether the reported 2ppm was in a newly setup tank, or whether the AS was merely a replacement for the substrate that was already in an established tank. ANY and ALL newly setup tanks, regardless of substrate will yield an ammonia peak of or exceeding 2ppm. this is just normal cycling. One cannot attribute the level of ammonia peak to the substrate alone without understanding the nitrification cycle.

Filter recommendations are like ice cream recommendations. Everyone has a favorite flavor. Any popular brand will do the trick but you should ensure that the combined filter rating approximates 10X the tank volume per hour if you are using high growth rate. In a low growth rate tank the filter turnover is not nearly as critical - yet another fundamental tank management difference.

Cheers,
 
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