Planted Aquariums

Discussion in 'Planted Tank Gallery' started by REDSTEVEO, 21 Apr 2008.

  1. REDSTEVEO

    REDSTEVEO Member

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    (I apologise in advance for the length of the post)

    Hi my name is Steve and I'm new here. While I don't profess to having quite the technical expertise as some of our more esteemed members (you know who you are) here are some words of advice based on my own experiences. If you know all of this already (and you probably do because you are on this site) I apologise. But for those that don't here goes.

    To begin with a bit of background and a few words of warning.

    I have been keeping fish and growing aquatic plants for more years than I care to remember, and believe me when I say I think I have made all the mistakes in the past that just about anyone could make. Also I have lost count and given up trying to work out how much this hobby has cost me over the years. Some of my biggest mistakes were trying to do things on the cheap and taking short cuts. Trust me it is false economy in terms of time effort and money spent on plants etc.

    How did I get started, well I got my inspiration from a Japanese guy called Takashi Amano. He has written several books, for example the best one is called Nature Aquarium World. If you can get hold of this book it will spur you on to try and reproduce what he has done. The information and pictures in this book are truly staggering.

    So what do I think?

    Well I am going to list the things which I think you need to consider as important firstly in no particular order and then I will try explain a bit about each one and prioritise the top three or four.

    1. Water quality and parameters plus the correct testing kits.
    2. The correct supplements for the plants, including CO2.
    3. Lighting.
    4. Water temperature for the plants and the fish.
    5. Quantity of fish and the feeding regimes for just keeping and or breeding.
    6. Time and patience.
    7. Substrate, including undergravel heating and base fertiliser.
    8. Under gravel heating.
    9. Good quality plants right from the start.
    10. Good filtration.
    11. Pre-planning on how you want your tank to look before you even put anything in it.

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    If I was to list my top three priorities when it comes to growing plants and producing a healthy looking show tank I would say that they are,

    1. Water quality after all thats what the plants and the fish are going to live in.
    2. Lighting, this is critical both in terms of what type and how long the lights are on for.
    3. Substrate and supplements. Plus CO2.

    All my water is from my Reverse Osmosis system which is good but you need to add the correct amount of supplements. Every single product I use is from a company called SERA. It is a German product but it is pretty much widely available in this country. (Since I wrote this I have discovered "The Green Machine" in wrexham. £$%&*"£azing.

    I use a 4-5 millimetre light brown quartz gravel with a base mineral fertiliser from SERA which goes under the gravel. A thin 1.5 centimetre layer of gravel goes over the under gravel heating cable. Make sure your heating cable is at least 300 watts. Then on goes the mineral soil fertiliser at a depth of around 1.5 to 2 centimetres and then 2 to 3 centimetres of gravel on top of that. Add any rocks or bogwood etc putting them into the places that you have already planned before hand.

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    Make sure you have got all your water ready and prepared to go in. To be honest the first water I put in during the planting stage is warmed up tap water. The reason for this is because when the tank has finally been planted there is usually a bit of debris and stuff floating around, so this gets siphoned out and I don't want to waste the prepared RO water which I am going to use to fill the tank up with later. Also have your filter in position and ready to switch on as soon as you have finished planting.

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    Make sure you have your plants ready in the order you are going to plant them. Start with the short foreground plants and work gradually up to the bigger plants. There is a reason for this. Draw a rough diagram of where you are going to plant in advance as part of your planning and stick to the plan. Carefully add just enough water to cover the height of the smaller foreground plants.
    Finish planting the foreground plants and then add just enough water to cover the height of the next level of plants you are putting in.

    You can use a fine net to catch any bits that are floating about at this stage. Keep repeating this process until all your plants are in and you are happy. Then you need to get the undergravel heater on and if you are using any other internal heater get that on as well. Set the thermostats for a temperature not higher than 24 degrees. Then get your filter switched on.
    You can use any make you prefer, but I use an Eheim Professional 2 series external canister filter. The good thing about this one is that you can regulate the flow through of water and adjust it so that there is not a lot of turbulence. Too much turbulence will cause the CO2 to disperse from the water and therefore your plants will not get the amount they need even though the CO2 sytem is almost permanently on.

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    The lighting I used on the tank you probably saw in the photographs is a Guisemann Moonlight 260. This had two 30 watt Grolux tubes and two 150 watt, 6000 Kelvin (heat rating) HQI metal halides built into it. I bought the light mail order from a company down south which imports the Guisemann lighting systems from Germany. I had it originally on my marine tank with higher powered lighting in it. But I adapted it with lower rating lights so that I did not bleach or burn the plants with too powerful lights.

    Here comes the shocking bit, the lighting system cost me around £1,300.00 when I bought it. I have to say it was well worth the money, every penny. At night time when all the other lights are off there is a small 5 watt dichroic spotlight that comes on. This small spotlight is set on a timer which coincides with the lunar cycle of the moon, so it gets brighter as the moon reaches full moon and then fades again over the next fifteen days to coincide with the new moon.

    I spent hours watching the fish and plants in the moonlight, it was absolutely amazing. The light is boxed and is in the loft now because I sold my big tank and got a Jewel Trigon 190 instead. It is bow fronted and looks very nice.

    As far as supplements and plant food are concerned, every body has their own views and ideas, but here is what I use and why. Firstly SERA mineral salts to add to the water to put back some of the minerals that are taken out by the RO system. I use these minerals in conjunction with SERA Karbonate Hardness (KH)buffer. I use these together because my CO2 system is triggered by a rise in the PH of the water. If the KH is too low the PH will stay low and therefore the CO2 system does not kick in therefore the plants do not get the right amount of CO2. I set the amount of CO2 using a bubble counter between the C02 cylinder and the feed to the main tank. I set the bubble rate at between 40 and 60 bubbles per minute according to the amount of plants there are in the tank.

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    The only other additive I use with the mineral salts and the KH buffer is liquid Iron again from SERA. If you are using the KH and the Iron you need the right testing kits to make sure you get the balance right. The only other testing kits that I use are for Nitrate and Phosphates. High nitrate and phosphates are your worse nightmare when it comes to keeping and growing plants successfully, and keeping the dreaded algae at bay.

    This is where you need to think very carefully about the type and amount of fish you are going to keep. One mistake I have made in the past is keeping too many fish which led to overfeeding to make sure they all got fed. This causes sky high nitrates and phosphates and loads of algae problems. If you do this the only way to combat it is almost daily massive water changes which is not good because you have to replace all the minerals, iron, KH buffer and so on. It can become a time consuming and costly business, which then takes all the fun out of it.

    Once you have got everything set up don't add any iron, kh buffer or minerals to begin with, keep the CO2 switched off and the lighting on only for a few hours a day. In this first week what you want is for the plants to get settled and start setting their root systems into the gravel and the minerals. You can add a few Dwarf Otocinclus Affinis(small cat fish type) almost straight away. Don't put any flake or tablet food in for the first week. They will spend their time happily grazing on the plants already looking for algae. You can add one or two small slices of raw tomato without the seeds, they love this and it also helps to sweeten the water.

    Do not add any Plecostomus or Flying fox fishes. Also avoid the Clown loaches, they are too busy and can disturb the plants before they have rooted properly. If you want to you can add these later but, personally I would advise against it.
    This is just my opinion, they can get a bit boisterous especially if you are going to be adding discus fish later.

    I said you should keep the water temperature in the early stages at 24 degrees, this is because in the early stages the plants will not handle the high temperatures. Even later when I had the discus in the tank I kept the temperature at between 24 degrees and a maximum of 26 degrees. This is because the discus will adapt to the lower temperatures but the plants will not do well in water that is 29 or 30 degrees. Once the plants are well established the lighting is usually kept on for around nine hours a day.

    Finally I will say that if you are successful you may find yourself a victim of your own success. The plants grow so well you will find yourself cutting and trimming off more plants than you planted originally. I have thrown away literally bags full of plant cuttings just to keep the tank in balance. If you don't it grows wild and becomes like an unkept garden.

    I wish you all the luck in your quest, and most importantly have fun and enjoy what you do.


    PS I am not on commission from SERA.


    Cheers Steve.

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  2. Garuf

    Garuf Member

    Messages:
    4,959
    Location:
    Leeds.
    It looks good though I advise removing the substrate heating and dosing EI and upping co2.

    I missed a few bits back then High phosphate and nitrates are bad? Most if not all of the people on here actually dose them, and as if by magic still have algae free tanks.

    Also, surface agitation is a good thing, yes it drives of co2 but it also adds o2 just up your co2 on the regulator to balance it out.
     
  3. Arana

    Arana Member

    Messages:
    1,054
    Location:
    London
    Err, err...Clive i think your needed :lol:
     
  4. TDI-line

    TDI-line Member

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    1,535
    Location:
    Yaxley, Peterborough
    Nice tank.
     
  5. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Chicago, USA
    Hi REDSTEVEO,
    Welcome to the forum. It's a very nice tank you have there and everything seems to be in tip top condition. While your adherence to a disciplined methodology is to be applauded I believe that most here will agree that the available scientific evidence does not really support some of your hypotheses. In fact I completely disagree with your premise that megabucks is required in order to achieve an excellent planted tank. Money should be spent in certain areas but short cuts in other areas can be successful. The key is in understanding the science of plants. If you understand how and why plants grow you will understand where you can save money and you will understand the ramifications of each decision made. While no one can doubt Amano's success and skill as an artist and plant grower, following his advice to the letter is a good way of ending up in a poor house. A review your list of priorities yields the following arguments:

    1. Water quality and parameters plus the correct testing kits.
    When contemplating the subject of water quality from the perspective of plants it's often useful to take a step back from our typical ideas of "quality" derived originally from fishkeeping, and especially marine fishkeeping. From a plants perspective, water quality means only two things: the availability and steady supply of nutrients and the minimization of organic waste. If your application of of nutrient dosing is steady and consistent there is no need to test for their presence. There are few test kits that can determine the level of organic waste, however regular maintenance of the tank will keep this value low therefore there is no relevance in testing for this either. Test kits have also been implicated in failures of planted tanks simply because hobby grade test kits are inaccurate and inconsistent, which often results in false conclusions and inadequate troubleshooting. Brilliant planted tanks can be kept without ever knowing the measured values of "water parameters".

    Additionally, while it is true that many of the plants we have in our tanks originate in low TDS waterways, there is no need to use RO water unless one's existing tap is high in components toxic to fauna, or if there is a low TDS requirement for a specific species of fauna. The mere fact that you have to remineralize RO water is evidence that this is a less than optimum solution. RO is also wasteful, expensive and complicated so for the hobbyist on a budget I would never suggest this approach. It's simply unnecessary. There are only a handful of plants that absolutely require low TDS water.

    Furthermore, if one does decide to use RO, it can simply be remineralized using a mixture of tap water, or by adding GH booster which is much cheaper and is as effective as any commercial product.

    2. The correct supplements for the plants, including CO2.
    Yes I agree here, however our choice of wording reveals our mind set. Whereas you consider the application of "supplements" I view it as "food and nutrition", essential for living and growth. It seems clear from your discussion that you are of the opinion that nitrates and phosphates are responsible for algal blooms. I'd like to inform you that this belief is totally false and was arrive at via circumstantial evidence and subsequent false correlation. The algae that occurs from overfeeding is as a result of the organic waste which is reduced to ammonia. Your algae was by ammonia production in the presence of your £1,300 of lighting. NPK are essential nutrients for plants, without which they starve. It's little wonder that you struggled so mightily in your attempts. You would do well to review this thread viewtopic.php?f=19&t=905 I'm sure you would gain a much better insight into the causal factors for algae.


    3. Lighting.
    Again, I'm not sure that I would suggest £1300 worth of lighting to an aspiring hobbyist. You certainly don't need to spend that kind of money and you most certainly don't need to buy absurdly expensive designer light bulbs. You can achieve excellent plant growth using nothing but standard office light bulbs. Your problems began when you decided to use high wattage. High energy causes a high demand for CO2 and nutrients.

    4. Water temperature for the plants and the fish.
    Yes this is a consideration. Within reason, and assuming you don't have special high temperature fish, he lower the temperature the better from an algae perspective. 25C is a fairly good target.

    5. Quantity of fish and the feeding regimes for just keeping and or breeding.
    Yes I agree here, but again if your filtration is up to par you can overfeed and overstock without worry. Having 10X your tank volume per hour turnover rating does the trick here.

    6. Time and patience.
    Yes, I agree, but doing it your way requires much more patience than necessary.

    7. Substrate, including undergravel heating and base fertiliser.
    Yes, enriched substrates is a good thing. There is no scientific evidence which demonstrates that substrate heating is required.

    8. Under gravel heating.
    Heating cables do nothing except heat the water. They don't harm the plants and if you need heating in the tank then they are as good as any heater however their use in the industry is a direct result of witchcraft and propaganda.

    9. Good quality plants right from the start.
    I can produce great growth starting from shoddy quality plants. Your methodology and plant husbandry skills determine the ultimate outcome of the plant growth and appearance, not their initial quality, although quality plants from the beginning doesn't hurt, certainly.

    10. Good filtration.
    Yes, I agree here. many tanks are underfiltered, leading to problems.

    11. Pre-planning on how you want your tank to look before you even put anything in it.
    Well, the scaping gurus on this board will disagree, but my tendency is to start with "Plant Husbandry 101". For someone new to planted tanks I advise to forget about scaping and first learn how to grow your plants. For a beginner scaping is tedious and ethereal. Just chuck the plants in the box and learn the science of growth. Later, when your growing skills are adequate you can then confidently sort out the artistic side of things.

    As you say there are more than one ways to skin a cat, but I reckon my way, adopted from Tom Barr's methodology, is the easy way. It does not require testing, does not require RO, does not require obnoxiously priced components, debunks many myths and focuses on one thing only - excellent plant growth and optimum health. Have a look at this article in which you will see the proof of the pudding. viewtopic.php?f=34&t=1211

    Cheers,
     
  6. aaronnorth

    aaronnorth Member

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    3,955
    Location:
    worksop, nottinghamshire
    If you don't know clive, it's ceg4048 (AKA cegipedia) He has just wrote you the monster answer :wideyed:
     
  7. REDSTEVEO

    REDSTEVEO Member

    Messages:
    1,220
    Location:
    Planet Earth
    Hi everyone,

    Thank you to those who have posted their replies. Like I said at the beginning of the post most of you will have a far higher degree of experience than myself,these were just opinions based on experiences from someone who has taken advice from many resources and had some success. One of the best resources I have come across in my time is a chap called Alan who used to own Allisons Aquatics in Caergwle near Wrexham. For anyone that does not know of Alan or has never heard of him, he is the guy who helped Jimmy and Mark set up " The Green Machine" in Wrexham. These guys have set up a truly amazing place for anyone interested in planted aquariums, all based on Alan's ideologies and theories most if not all I whole heartedly agree with.

    Anyone who has been to visit The Green Machine will have seen for themselves the success they are having. So while I truly take on board everything you have written in your reply, and I am very keen to learn more about the EI dosing, (hope to learn more from you if that is okay), I think that everyones contribution is valid and the readers can take or leave the advice accordingly.

    With regard to the subject of phosphates and nitrates I think maybe I should elaborate slightly, and again this is just my opinion. I believe that the presence of excessive nitrate and phosphate in the water with poor plants and excessive / inadequate lighting will lead to an excess of nutrients, thus leading to a competition for them usually won by the dreaded algae. Algae given the right opportunity and favourable circumstances will thrive in these conditions which can be a real "put-off" for anyone just starting out.

    I would agree that the lighting system I spoke about probably was a bit over the top. It was previously on one of my marine tanks so I changed all the bulbs to adapt it to a fresh water planted tank. Incidentally the light was bought quite a few years ago and there are equally as good lighting systems out there now for less than half the price I paid. (Good job my wife does not get to read these posts)

    On the subject of testing kits, my philosophy here is that when you are experieced and you know what you are doing I agree there is very little need for them. I have got testing kits which I now rarely use because from experience I know the levels I need and can tell when something is not right. For the beginner however, I think that they should have something to guide them initially so that they can identify what the problem is when things go wrong and hopefully correct it in time. Once they have got the hang of it the need for testing kits diminishes.

    Based on experiences working with DUPLA over in Germany their policy is that undergravel heating elements although they are not essential, they do assist with the flow or movement of water through the substrate which keeps the water at the roots the same temperature as the rest of the tank. This might sound like witchcraft and propaganda but it also decreases the anaerobic spots in the substrate by delivering oxygenated water rich with fresh nutrients. Anyone who has ever placed their hand into a tank of water at 28 degrees and then sunk their fingers into the gravel will have felt the difference in temperature. Just like having a warm coat on but having cold feet. We don't like it and neither do I think the plants. Like I said not absolutely essential but wort considering and only if the budget is not a problem.

    I must admit I am definitely beginning to get a little confused now on the subject of RO water and adding minerals. Mainly due to speaking to customers at The Green Machine and members of PFK. The idea of filtering water through an RO system is to remove the harmful stuff out of the water. We all know that. It also removes just about everything else so we add minerals etc to give the water back its life. Personally I am confused as to why we would go through the trouble of filtering our water through an RO system (which I agree wastes a lot of water) only then to add tap water back in to mix with the RO water. Surely that is defeating the whole object of filtering the water through the RO system in the first place?

    I agree that anyone who knows what they are doing can revive a poor or weak plant. Anyone who does not know will finish up with a dead plant with leaves and roots turning to mush, thus increasing the pollution in the tank and increasing the risk of an algae bloom. So if you can find somewhere to start off with really good quality plants the risks are less.

    I hope these elaborations go some way to eliminating any confusion and hopefully not caused anymore. My views are merely observational and not meant to contradict anything that the "gurus" on the forum have to say so please do not see them as an attempt to undermine anyone elses professional opinion.

    I look forward to moving into the world of EI dosing if you don't mind sharing the knowledge. I have read the articles on EI dosing but have a number of questions that I need help with if that's okay.

    Look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind regards,

    Steve.
     
  8. Themuleous

    Themuleous Member

    Messages:
    4,126
    Location:
    Aston, Oxfordshire
    Welcome to the forum Steve :) I'm sure you'll find this place interesting. Please feel free to post quests re EI we are all here to learn.

    Like the tank, interesting use of the wood.

    Sam
     
  9. nickyc

    nickyc Member

    Messages:
    208
    Location:
    Nottingham
    Hi Steve and welcome! Hope you enjoy the debate!

    Love the tank - you must be doing something right - tank looks lovely! Love the colours - I'm struggling to get the colours I'm after, but yours looks great!
     
  10. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,952
    Location:
    Chicago, USA
    Steve,
    As Sam mentioned, feel free to ask any questions regarding EI. This is simply a method which works quite well. It does not preclude other methods because the basic physiology of plants work the same regardless of method. It certainly is not our intent to push EI as some sort of religious dogma. Instead we push it because it is a proven, very easy and very flexible method which is ideal for beginners. Understanding the focus of EI as with other methods is the key to it's successful implementation, however. It's also better to learn a bit about the physiology of plants in order to dispel the many myths that abound in our hobby.

    The key to understanding EI though is tenet number one, which states that excessive nutrients can in no way cause algae. This tenet is proven every day in my tank. The key here is to understand the life cycle of algae. Algae blooms can occur in waters which have zero nutrients. Plants in poor condition do invite algae and that is because plants in poor condition eject ammonia into the water column as their systems break down. Certainly, once algae is induced by the trigger mechanisms they will then feed on whatever nutrients are in the water column and of course, if high concentrations of nitrates/phosphates are available they will naturally feed and propogate quickly, as they are opportunists. Circumstantial evidence causes hobbyists to falsely conclude that algae is proliferating as a result of the high nutrient levels. This is an optical illusion which causes many to take inappropriate action. Plants are often in poor condition specifically because of nutrient or CO2 starvation, therefore withholding nutrients causes further starvation and poor condition. This is a vicious cycle that has resulted in nitrates and phosphates being blamed for a great many problems, when in fact it is usually due to a shortage of these nutrients.

    If you combine the mythology of "nutrients causing algae" with test kits readings you will inevitable deepen the spiraling of poor plant health. The results are often devastating and that's why the use of test kits is anathema. They add no value whatsoever to someone who does not understand the fundamentals of plant physiology. This has absolutely nothing to do with your level of experience. It has only to do with belief and acceptance of the basic facts of plant life. Keep the plants healthy by feeding them as much nutrients as they can stomach and they will be healthy. When the plants are healthy they remove ammonia from the water column instead of expelling it, thereby removing the trigger mechanism of algae. The mythology is even more elaborate. I call it "Phase 2 of The Deception". In Phase 2, the explanation is given that plants "compete" with algae for nutrients. This is like saying that elephants compete with mice for peanuts. The nutritional requirement for a mouse is thousands of times less than that of an elephant, and so it is with algae. If anyone thinks they can starve algae of nutrients they are mistaken. The plants will have withered into oblivion by the time the starvation level of algae can be reached. Plants require a phosphate level of about 3 parts per million. Algae blooms can occur with a phosphate level of 3 parts per Billion. Clearly then, PO4 is not a mission priority for algae, however ammonia is. Once we understand and accept this fact we will be liberated. Reduction and limiting of organic waste and ammonia, while supplying an unlimited amount of nutrients and CO2 to the plants, is the combination in a high light planted tank is the most successful policy.

    The only way you will settle the riddle of the cables is to setup multiple tanks and to keep as many variables as possible constant in order to compare growth rates with and without cables. Here is my prediction: You will find that there is no difference and that there are many more factors in a planted tank that contribute to, or affect plant growth than whether the sediment is heated. There are no heating cables in the Okavango, The Congo River Basin, The Amazon Basin, The Everglades, The Mississippi Delta, The Mekon Delta or in The Pantanal, yet these are the most productive wetlands on the planet. There is sufficient flow through the sediment at unheated levels. Nutrient flow at the root site can be facilitated by electrochemical activity in the vicinity of the root hairs.

    Unless you are breeding soft water fish, or unless you have known toxicity levels you would save yourself a lot of trouble by ditching the RO. The question you must ask yourself is: Just exactly what water content is "harmful" to plants? The role of plants in the environment is to convert inorganic toxins and redistribute to the biotope in harmless organic formats. This is one reason that most of the worlds medicines (and drugs) come from plants and their amazing ability to convert toxic substances. Certainly, if your tap water is known to have pesticides, herbicides, Lead or Sodium then sure, RO may be necessary. All one need do though is to check one's water report in order to determine these levels.

    Hope this helps,

    Cheers,
     
  11. REDSTEVEO

    REDSTEVEO Member

    Messages:
    1,220
    Location:
    Planet Earth
    Clive,

    Can you tell me where you buy the dry salts that you use for EI dosing. What exactly do you buy and in what quantites do you buy and how much do they cost?

    Thanks.

    Steve
     
  12. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,952
    Location:
    Chicago, USA
    Hi Steve,
    The concensus has been that the best prices for the NPK is Garden Direct. The KNO3 is here: http://www.gardendirect.co.uk/potassium-nitrate-p-210 and the KH2PO4 is here: http://www.gardendirect.co.uk/potassium-phosphate-p-213
    You can just buy the minimum quantities to start off with and see what your consumption is like. Large tanks consume more of course. Depending on your tap water you may need to use MgSO4 which, although is a good buy at Garden Direct, you can find much cheaper at Boots Pharmacy under the trade name Epsom Salts (you may already have this in your bathroom).

    The trace element mix can be obtained from Aqua Essentials http://www.aquaessentials.co.uk/index.p ... cts_id=546
    You can start with the 100g or the 250g.

    These are good starting points I reckon.

    Cheers,
     
  13. Luketendo

    Luketendo Member

    Messages:
    463
    Location:
    West Sussex, England
    Ebay do Epsom Salts cheaper than Boots.
     

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