Questions regarding soft water areas and 'Walstad Method'.

Discussion in 'General Planted Tank Discussions' started by MrHammonds, 12 Feb 2018.

  1. MrHammonds

    MrHammonds Newly Registered

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    Morning all, my first post on this forum as I'm struggling to get a clear answer whilst doing my 'google' research!

    I've been running a couple of planted, 'low/ medium' tanks so far, a 46l and a 125l tropical. They have both seen good planting results with a seachem fluorite base on one and a sand base on the larger with liquid ferts and liquid co2, fish have also been healthy and my water is pretty decent with minimal water changes and no algae in either tanks, both these have been active for a year and I'm chuffed !

    Anyway... I've just splashed out (pardon the pun) on a new 180l tank. I want to try the Walstad Method and I'm concerned by my local water. I live in West Cumbria and it is a soft water area (although it is now a blend from boreholes now). On the water website it says the following;

    Typical water hardness: Soft
    Hardness clarke: 2.94
    Date of update: 09/02/2018
    Water supply zone: Ennerdale North
    Water supply zone ref: Z031
    The water supply to this area can vary in hardness from soft to moderately soft.

    Now... I'm going to be buying John Innes No.3 soil for my 1 inch base and capping with 1-3mm gravel.
    Will I need to mix in a source of CC (lime, coral etc) to keep my plants AND fish happy or am I going overboard? I'm assuming after initial cycling and water changes any chemical alteration I might see from the soil should reduce? Do I really need to start mucking about with the water chemistry or can I get away with it?

    The tank will be quite heavily planted with the following;

    3 x Limnophila hippuridoides
    1 x Micranthemum 'monte carlo'
    3 x Ludwigia palustris
    2 x Eleocharis sp
    2 x Cryptocoryne wendtii 'Tropica'
    2 x Microsorum pteropus 'Trident'
    1 x Anubias barteri var. nana
    3 x Rotala bonsai
    2 x Echinodorus tenellus
    2 x Eleocharis acicularis 'mini'

    I will initially be dosing liquid co2 until I will probably switch to pressurised. I will also be EI dosing (if and when it is needed as the tank matures.)

    Can I just crack on or do I need to think about a CC source? I don't want to get the tank set up and have to drain it because I've mucked up at the first hurdle...

    Sorry for the lengthy post, hope you can help!

    Cheers,

    MrHammonds
     
  2. Tim Harrison

    Tim Harrison Global Moderator Staff Member

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  3. dw1305

    dw1305 Expert

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    Hi all,
    You are fine, but you may need to <"change a bit more water"> to counter-act acidification due to the nitrification reactions.

    I think some of the problems Diana Walstad had <"with fish health"> etc. were to do with her not changing any water. There are quite a few threads on the forum, but <"Water changes for a ...."> summarizes it.

    If you want a cheap source of calcium carbonate you can add a small amount of <"oyster (or cockle) shell chick grit"> or you can visit your local beach and get some sand, beaches on the west coast of the UK have a high component of <"maerl"> and sea-shell (as well as quartz) in the sand.
    If you use JI No. 3 you don't need <"very much"> because it has a lot of fertiliser in it (and some lime).

    Have a look at @Tim Harrison's tutorial on <"soil based tanks">.

    cheers Darrel
     
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  4. MrHammonds

    MrHammonds Newly Registered

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    Thanks for the reply,

    Yeh, I like the concept but I want to do more of a hybrid version that allows for good fish health and conditions, so you're right, basically a soil substrate tank haha!

    I'll take a look at the tutorial now thanks!
     
  5. MrHammonds

    MrHammonds Newly Registered

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    Thanks for the quick reply.

    Would you suggest a different soil then, if heavy metals are an issue? (Taking that I have soft water in to account.)
     
  6. dw1305

    dw1305 Expert

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    Hi all,
    I wouldn't be too worried about heavy metals, but if you've got a clay soil in your garden? that would be perfect.

    You can always add a little bit of osmocote (or similar controlled release fertilizer) to it. I have added a bit of leaf-mould as well in the past, Beech leaf mould is ideal. I only went for about 10% by volume clay and leaf mould, the rest was just sand, but it really depends how quickly you want your plants to grow.

    Personally I just want to keep them in active growth, after that the slower the better for me, if I wanted a lot more initial growth I would up the amount of soil.

    Looking at your plant list I think you really need a floating plant as well, Diana Walstad talks a lot about the <"aerial advantage"> in <"her book">. Have a look at <"Questions about new tank">.

    I like <"Amazon Frogbit">, but there are other options.

    cheers Darrel
     
  7. dw1305

    dw1305 Expert

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    Hi all,
    Another thought was that @AverageWhiteBloke may live relatively near to you, I know Cumbria is a big county but I think he resides somewhere in the Whitehaven area.

    cheers Darrel
     
  8. MrHammonds

    MrHammonds Newly Registered

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    I agree in regards to the plant growth, I'm totally happy with slower growth... as long as it's continuous. I'm starting to think that maybe an aquarium substrate (specific one) might be the best idea if I'm going to be dosing co2 and EI ferts anyway.

    Am I over complicating things by wanting to do soil base?

    Could I just put something like Tropica Plant Growth Substrate, then cap with a 1-3mm gravel to holds plants? I'd still see decent results there wouldn't I? I'm just worried about killing my plants and wasting my money?!?!?

    I enjoy the maintenance of a planted tank anyway, so maybe I don't need a soil base????

    Yeh I'll get some floating plants to deal with initial nutrient excess.
     
  9. AverageWhiteBloke

    AverageWhiteBloke Member

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    I'm guessing @MrHammonds is from round my neck of the woods. Big county full of small towns where everyone knows your business :D Round these here parts the bore hole water is a big deal. I wish I'd had the fore sight and bought in water purifiers in bulk for the paranoids round here. Strangely I seem to know Mr Hammonds face from somewhere. I didn't go down the route of soil, I didn't know enough about it and needed something set up quick with minimum fuss and problems so opted for cat litter and Osmocote with my <current low tech project>

    Just seen OP has posted. I haven't updated my journal for a while as nothing much was happening but will be this week and carbonates was one of the issues I was going to raise on there. Our water is still extremely soft, it was even softer before with virtually no hardness you can measure other than with a TDS pen. On all my previous tanks I've always had Seiryu stone in which raised hardness enough to provide a buffer but with this tank it has became an issue.

    If I was going down a soil route I would definitely be adding something to raise the hardness of the water. The hardness that comes out the tap (generally <1kh) quickly depletes, I would imagine in a soil substrate would deplete even quicker. I'm countering this at the minute with a small amount of coral gravel sprinkled in the tank out of eye shot. I also found a bag of "something" I had sitting around, I say something because I threw the box away when it got wet :confused: from what I can remember it was equilibrium salts and this week I added a small pinch which seems to have stabilised the ph just enough. Currently changing about a third water weekly which also helps replenish some buffer but my intention is to change water less in the long term.

    For hassle free you could use normal plant soil. Tropica, the soil doesn't need capped. If you are going down the route of co2 injection seems to me dirtying the tank would be just an exercise. My understanding of it is people do all that to avoid co2 injection and all the problems that come with it. Either way, KH is something you need to keep an eye on. The majority of specialised plant soils tend to either be inert or soften and acidify water none of which is any use to us. I don't inject co2 at the moment and the tapwater 7.3ph drops to 6.0 during the week. I'd imagine if you inject co2 into it you won't be far of a problem pretty quick.

    If you need any of the floaters @dw1305 mentioned just give me a shout. I have them in abundance. Other plants not so right now, non co2 tanks are slow going. I haven't trimmed anything in my tank other than ropey leaves since I started it 2 months ago. Pity you weren't around then when I binned a full tanks worth.
     
  10. AverageWhiteBloke

    AverageWhiteBloke Member

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    BTW, my understanding of the bore hole situation is that united utilities have met concerns by only drawing from it when neccesary as opposed to blending all the time so it will be up or down. Even when it's up its still extremely soft water. I reckon with the amount of snow that's been sat on the fells for the last week or so which still needs to come down they won't be drawing of it for a while. No doubt localised flooding will be next soon as the rain comes back.
     
  11. MrHammonds

    MrHammonds Newly Registered

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    I actually didn't realise how soft the water was... a few of the 'locals' that I know (who keep fish) keep telling me it doesn't make much of a difference to my fish (with weekly changes.) Starting to think differently.

    So I really need some sort of a buffer then, crushed coral in my filter or something? Just odd because my other tanks have run pretty well. Or would I just need a buffer substance if I ran a 'dirt' tank?

    Do you have any experience with keeping soft water fish then? Seems like I might as well take advantage of our local water?!?!

    I might have to take you up on the floaters!
     
  12. AverageWhiteBloke

    AverageWhiteBloke Member

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    Hello Pal, I would say the majority of fish in the hobby could be classed as soft water species if you were to track them back to their origin. A lot have been farmed for the hobby or bred over years to accept harder water. Obviously that doesn't include lake tangs and malawis, but most you find for sale will prefer water on the soft side.

    We are very lucky round here with water, people pay to have water like ours then have to put the minerals back. I've no doubt your other tanks are doing fine, KH isn't something I generally worry about and never did if I'm honest but in my current tank I add tannins using oak and alder cones which normally would be OK but in this case I was borderline crashing the system.

    Now in your case, if you change water weekly and low fish load that little bit of KH that's in the tap water should get you through the week. It's difficult to say whether the people who say it's fine may have stones, gravel or use some kind of buffer in their tank which raises KH without even knowing it.

    You mentioned earlier a Walsted tank which was more the worry. I would read up more on the links provided earlier as "dirty" tanks aren't my thing. From what I understand though of this method soil is used to provide nutrition and the breaking down of organics makes the water acidic and creates co2 and water changes are kept to a minimum (if at all) so the balance in the tank doesn't get disturbed. Effectively you are creating a water body if you like, using all the natural processes that occur to make the system balance itself. Lighting is usually kept quite low The fish, plants and lighting in equilibrium. During this process the KH buffer gets used up and it's a long time before you replenish it with a change. In hard water areas that's not a worry but with our water it is. Anyone feel free to correct that who has more knowledge of dirt.

    To add to that you were contemplating putting co2 in there as well. So no buffer and plenty of things turning the water acidic=recipe for disaster. I just caught mine in time I think if you search for biogenic decalcification. I have been caught before with this and wiped out a full tank of ref cherry shrimp!

    On top of that, tanks with little or no co2 plants will try and get their carbon from the carbonates reducing them further making the water softer and what you end up with is a runaway ph train.

    If you want to go down the route of dirt then something in the dirt is essential I would say to raise the KH. Cumbria Aquatics at Workington sell loose bags of coral gravel for about 80p You could put some in a pair of tights and stick some in an external canister filter, mix some in the soil, put stones in the tank that raise KH or simply buy some commercial KH buffer or salt. There's plenty of options that way. I do my "proper" scapes with Seiryu stone. You can tell in the shop, its the grey stuff with white bits in also sold at the above or most stores. I found out early that water had no KH and this becomes problematic when doing ph profiles for testing co2. At very low KH ph doesn't mean much as it takes very little acid to drop ph a long way. Seiryu stone raises KH so having plenty in you can forget about your KH.

    Co2 injection is a different game altogether. We don't allow the tank do things the natural (Walsted) way. We provide the ferts in large quants, pump co2 in and churn the whole lot over with big filtration and leave nothing to chance. Nothing to say you couldn't mix the systems but in this scenario the soil is less important because what the soil would do we take care of manually.

    Not sure if that's cleared anything up or made it more confusing haha but feel free to ask any questions. This is the most helpful planted tank forum you'll ever find. As for floaters just let me know and I'll drop some off np. I'm sort of in between tanks at the minute hence my low tech setup. Thoroughly enjoying it because it's minimum effort max reward but plants don't grow too fast. It's a holding pen for plants and fish right now until my next gas filled project so as such don't have much along the lines of plant cuttings but soon as I do you're welcome to any of them.

    I've set up a Facebook group just for planted tanks round our parish to swap cuttings ( not much action) if you're interested let me know and I'll invite you, people keep popping up so at some point we could have a specimen of every plant under the sun at some point we can swap out without post. I think there's currently about 5 members of this board from round our way at the minute. Some active some not so.

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  13. alto

    alto Member

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    I'm not anywhere near you but have very soft tap - KH 0-1, GH 1-2, pH ~ 6.4 (tanks run 6.0 - 6.4), minimal elements of any sort (it's really just rain water & snow melt)

    I've tried adding Carib Sea reef sands (used the Arag-alive series as readily available at reasonable price) ...

    I've not observed measureable GH,KH increase despite having a 20% sand area in one tank - eventually removed as I did measure pH >8 & intended tank for chocolate gourami species

    No significant GH,KH increase when various sands were used as a base layer under Aquatic Soils - again pH rose to ~ 8 (though I could avoid this with frequent 50% water changes - as in daily or alternate day)
    Plants didn't seem to notice - root or leaf development

    Last attempt was rather less reef sand mixed with Tropica Growth Substrate, then Tropica Aquarium Soil - this time no signifcant pH effect (60-70% weekly water changes), obviously no measured GH,KH effect, nothing significant observed in plant growth Next rescape, just went with Tropica Soil - though if you're going to set up a long term scape, I'd still include a layer of Growth Substrate type material

    Note

    GH/KH test kits are relatively insentive (if GH/KH rose less than 1 "unit", kit shows no quantitative response)

    I use Tropica Powder Soil - larger grain aquarium soil may act differently as it's definitely more "spaced"

    As water is extremely soft, very little increase in ions is required for pH increase, I was surprised at that first pH>8 measurement (highest measured during that tank iteration was pH 9) as few fish (corydoras & harlequins) & shrimp in tank went about business as usual
    I decided to remove sand as chocolate gourami speceis are extremely difficult to obtain, they're also considered to be "very sensitive" (certainly they are when stressed, settled healthy S osphromenoides appear fairly robust - except when they decide to annihilate each other :shifty: )

    I've seen loads of local tanks done dirt only, dirt under gravel - none particularly impressed
    I've seen some extraordinary online dirted tanks - but also saw online presentations of a tank I'd seen several times irl :rolleyes: ;)
     
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  14. AverageWhiteBloke

    AverageWhiteBloke Member

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    Yeah, from what I understand Alto KH tests, although considered somewhere near reliable relative to others tending to measure higher than actual are no good with our water. I've done a 10ml test so effectively working to half a degree and it changes on the first drop.

    Like you we live in an area where we get rainwater off the fells and snow melt and the rocks round here are granite and peat/bracken slopes so the water here is amazon out the tap. Can't remember TDS, I think it's around 80 now and was in the 40's before the bore hole came into play.

    It's also strange PH as the water company buffer it up to 7.3, quite high in phosphates which is possibly what they buffer it up with? It seems to give the water a false reserve alkinity that quickly gets used up.

    The coral gravel I put in plus a little touch of the equilibrium salt seems to have levelled out the PH at around 6.4. Previous to that I was getting 6.0 and down. Doesn't seem to have raised the KH though yet. I prefer this method rather than dumping powder in so there's no quick jump as the coral only dissolves in when ph is acidic so is more gradual.

    Luckily the fish I keep are all softwater acidic and coming from a co2 injected tank they are no strangers to low ph. It was actually the plants that warned me. I had Australis which appeared to have whitening of leaves, nymphea which was going a strange washed out green colour and balansae which had curled up leaves. I tried a few tests just out of curiosity and realised the low ph readings and low KH. Since adding some carbonates all the plants have perked up again. Not sure if this was calcium deficiency of some kind or me adding carbonate to humic acidic water has generated a little co2 but adding carbonates has improved the situation so I'll roll with that.

    Just thinking there, I'll probably find mr Hammond lives next door. One of the members in here I came across last time I actually worked with him.





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    Last edited: 12 Feb 2018
  15. MrHammonds

    MrHammonds Newly Registered

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    Hi!

    Yeh I think that since we have soft water, I'd prefer to make this new 180l tank I'm getting tomorrow a 'softer water' species tank, but try keep the fish from one region (not a specific river because it becomes too restrictive.)

    I think I've talked myself out of the Walstad method, but I'll still put a layer of tropical aquatic substrate down and probably cap it with a 1-3mm gravel to hold plants down.

    The 2 other tanks I run are both quite well planted for the size and seem to manage any Nitrate as I always seem to have a 0 reading after a week and only a 15% water change.

    I think what I know now is I'm ditching the Walstad route.

    Yeh I'd happily join that group and offer up any cuttings anyone might need, especially once this bigger tank is set up and hopefully thriving!

    Thanks again for you lengthy and quick responses!
     
  16. MrHammonds

    MrHammonds Newly Registered

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    What's the usual life of coral? If I put it in to this external filter, how long can I expect it to have a 'buffer' effect?

    Well I do live Whitehaven way!
     
  17. AverageWhiteBloke

    AverageWhiteBloke Member

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    It will always have a buffer effect and last a very long time. It just dissolves in the water but the water would have to be acidic. Once the water neutralises to ph7 it stops dissolving.

    I'm finding that the PH can drop quicker than the coral can deal with it. I'm building up a background level so there is some KH in the water. A far easier way to deal with it would probably be to add baking soda, supposedly half a teaspoon will raise kh by 1 degree in 100 ltrs of water. It will also push up the PH hence me just putting a pinch in to help the coral out. Didn't want any quick swings. Keeping the coral in the tank and adding a little pinch at water change time I'm hoping to get about 2 degrees in the tank eventually and hold it there.



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  18. sciencefiction

    sciencefiction Member

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    Crushed coral and other similar calcium carbonate sources are poor buffers. They don't dissolve fast enough to counteract the constantly used up KH, especially in tanks high in organic mulm and stock(soil is not a good choice in soft water tanks)

    I think one needs to use both soda bi-carbonate as buffer and some calcium carbonate source and/or other enhancing additives inlcusive of magnesium sulfate as source of minerals. Aragonite in the form of oolitic sand has larger surface area and will dissolve faster, so is perhaps a better choice than crushed coral. All of these will have a tendency to push the pH up towards 8.2 if too much has been added, though I don't see a problem with that considering there won't be much change in either hardness or conductivity. The water will still be soft...unlesss one manages to dissolve entire rocks :) The pH jumps up because, as already mentioned, small changes in water chemistry in soft water will have huge Ph jumps but the fish should not care when it's going upwards. They'll manage just fine in a pH up to 8.2 but very few survive very acidic crashing pH.

    Alternatively, if nothing is added to very soft water, presuming the tap water does have some minimal buffering, the only way is large very frequent water changes, low stocking levels, clean filters and substrate, etc...As long as one keeps the tank as clean and as water changed the Amazon river, the tank will be stable :eek::joyful:
     
  19. AverageWhiteBloke

    AverageWhiteBloke Member

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    Yeah I'm discovering that mate. I have a lot of leaf litter in my tank and is quite heavily stocked, the tank ended up being a home for some fish until I sort something else out but they may end up staying there indefinitely, can't see any point disturbing them now.

    I'm finding that with the crushed coral in just scattered on the gravel that the ph still drops just not as fast and adding the KH buffer has also helped. The salt I put in was some kind of aqualibrium salt "with ph buffers" that I've had sitting around here probably for years. Can't remember exactly but I think it was the one in the image, Looks familiar anyway. Iost the box and just kept the bag in a jar. I'm assuming it will contain some kind of carbonates. Also dosing Epsom salts as well for magnesium.

    For me and the op would probably be worth while getting hold of some potassium carbonate maybe? My tank is only a couple of months old and has just finished cycling so been getting 2 or 3 small changes per week. That would be the ideal but for me my tank is in my office and I work away a bit do ideally once per week is what it will be getting more realistically once every two weeks.[​IMG]

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  20. MrHammonds

    MrHammonds Newly Registered

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    So... Let me round this up for my own benefit.

    1) I'm going to avoid soil, I don't want it further messing with my already soft water.

    2) I'll pick an 'inert' aquatic substrate that doesn't effect pH, like the Seachem fluorite (but still has nutrients for plants) I have in my other tank, and if I want for aesthetic reasons, cap with gravel etc.

    3) Careful with co2 dosing as it can cause water to 'swing' more acidic.

    4) Slightly understock with fish, keep to softer water species that prefer a slightly acidic pH - SE Asian and South America being good areas to look at?

    5) Keep on top of water changes every week to dilute the acidity and introduce some hardness back in to the aquarium.

    That sound about right?
     
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