Tuning the system - what should a novice do next?

Discussion in 'General Planted Tank Discussions' started by joeinlondon, 19 Sep 2008.

  1. joeinlondon

    joeinlondon Member

    Messages:
    31
    Hi All

    I am a semi-novice at the planted tank game and need some advice, please! (Here we go again you're probably thinking.)

    I have set up a 60x38x30 (LxHxW) using (from the bottom up) laterite mixed with 2-4mm gravel, Colombo Fe and general plant substrate capsules, another layer of gravel, pure RO water, some bogwood, an approx 500lph internal filter, Colombo areosol CO2 injector, Powerglo T5 25w with reflector and on one side an 18w Aquidistri hang on lamp, cannibalised from my previous set-up.

    I have planted with E. tenellus, E.rosea, C.balansae, C.becketti, and underneath the Aquidistri light a large area of N (or is it Hygrophilia?) stricta.

    Fertilization is via Colombo Floragro every 14 days, Easycarbo at 1ml per day, and the aerosol CO2. I am not dosing with nitrate and phosphate - yet - and know that nitrate is okay for the moment (see below).

    But I'm having a few problems and after browsing the net and this forum wondered if I might ask for some clarification...

    First question:
    I was shocked to find on day one that I had high levels of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate (the latter 50ppm). Did all of this come from the laterite? Or could it have somehow leached out of a lot of up-rooted and re-planted plants (although there's hardly been any Crypt melt) and the old bogwood? I tested the RO before it went in and it was pure.

    Second question:
    I now have what I believe to be 'hair', or 'silk algae', at problematic levels. The amano and even the Ottocinclus (don't worry no ammonia or nitrite now, and nitrate down to 20ppm) are getting stuck in and only last night re-took the E.tennellus from the enemy! Heh heh I love those little fellas. Anyway - there seem to be different theories on why this type of algae thrives, but I have noticed my N. stricta are looking a little yellow on the new leaves - should I give them more liquid plant food?

    Third question:
    Is it normal for E.rosea to throw up a reddish leaf and then gradually fill it in with green, or is this a sign of deficiencies somewhere?

    Fourth question:
    I currently have the 25w powerglo on for 12hours, and the 18w Aquidistri on for 10. Do I need to tune this?

    I feel that the tank is doing semi-okay (plant growth is happening, although not amazing) as there are a myriad of tiny bubbles coming up from the leaves, which is 'pearling', right? And that's good innit? Any help offered would be most appreciated.

    Thanks

    Yours

    Joe
     
  2. Themuleous

    Themuleous Member

    Messages:
    4,126
    Location:
    Aston, Oxfordshire
    Hi there welcome on board :)

    I doubt very much it is your substrate. It could be the plants dieing bank after being moved but if you've got a cycled filter running it shouldn't cause any problems. BTW unless you have fish that require pure RO water, it isn't necessarily the best for plants. You're better off using tap or if its very hard water cutting it say 50/50 with RO and tap, as the plants need all the nice things that you get in water to grow.

    I tend to find amano's eat most types of green thread algae. Perhaps you need more or to stop feeding the fish for a few days to encourage them to eat it. You could also add some nerite snails which I find will eat everything but BBA and staghorn.

    Cant answer thing one sorry. Red in plants can sometimes be induced by cutting back on the iron levels, but its risky as you dont want to starve the other plants of iron in the process.

    If it were me I'd running the 25w for 8 hours and the 18w for the middle 6 hours.

    BTW do you know what your CO2 levels are like? I've not heard of that CO2 kit before, do you have a link to it?

    Hope that helps.

    Sam
     
  3. joeinlondon

    joeinlondon Member

    Messages:
    31
    Hi Sam

    Thanks for replying - I was beginning to get lonely!

    Do you know what? I've just ordered Diana Walstead's book from the USA (at some expense) because I'm getting depressed with this Hi-tech stuff! I've got surface scum, green hair algae, staghorn algae, and even some blue-green that I removed the other day. I'm having a wonderful time! :wideyed:

    I did put a mature filter in the tank from start-up, but I think I killed it accidentally along the line, hence the high levels recorded. I'm using RO because I'm trying to find a technique for future use for keeping soft-water fish, and I thought things would be easier with a blank slate...

    I think my problem is I've gone in a bit half-cocked - the CO2 unit I'm using is very similar to the Tetra Optimat system:

    http://www.aquaessentials.co.uk/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=194_247&products_id=484

    and I definitely don't want to dose with phosphate and nitrate. You know what? The more I think about it, the more I think I am a low-tech person. All this dosing doesn't feel right!
     
  4. Themuleous

    Themuleous Member

    Messages:
    4,126
    Location:
    Aston, Oxfordshire
    Haha right, well if you definitely don't want to be dosing then it really is only low tech. But dont be put off by dosing its really not as difficult as it might seem.

    Your issues with algae are probably due to a lack of nutrients which starves the plants.

    Sam
     
  5. GreenNeedle

    GreenNeedle Member

    Messages:
    2,706
    Location:
    Lincoln UK
    I would say that the issues are all CO2 and nutrient related due to:

    1 - too much light - Cut back as Sam suggests and add 2ml EasyCarbo.
    2 - Circulation - You only have an internal and this is probably why you are seeing so much surface scum. It will also be adding to the CO2/nutrient problem in that it is not distributing them around the tank properly.

    If it were me on a small tank like that I would run the 25W for 8 hours and not use the 18W apart from photographs (if it makes the colour better.)
    Then I would ditch the aerosol CO2 and just dose the 2ml EasyCarbo.
    Finally I would upgrade to an external or add a small powerhead at the otherside of the tank to get your lph up to 10x th tank volume. What filter are you currently using?

    Not heard of Columbo before so can't really comment on if it is any good or not. Sounds like you have plenty of nutrient in the substrate though so it should give you 'room for error' on dosing once you've sorted out the above issues.

    I think the high ammonia levels are undoubtedly a filter issue (as you say, maybe you did kill the bacteria). a reading of nitrate of 50ppm is not high in my eyes. Some old schools of though would say it is but I would suggest that it has built up due to plant defficiency rather than nitrite conversion.

    Unless you have fish that require RO I would go with Sam and use tap water. water in Lincolnshire is pretty hard and it is an old theory that plants like soft water. Just look at the tanks on here from regions with hard water for the proof.

    The algae is undoubtedly linked to the high ammonia reading as well as CO2 problems.

    The 'pearling' is more likely to be oxygen leeching from plants that are deteriorating.

    AC
     
  6. joeinlondon

    joeinlondon Member

    Messages:
    31
    Hi AC - thanks for your response.

    I am seriously considering going low-tech at this point but your advice (and summary of Sam's advice) is tempting me to stay my hand.

    The filter I have on the tank is a Tetratec - the second one up from bottom in the range I think rated at about 500lph. There appears to be current all round the tank though: every plant wafts about a bit and I think the overall mixing flow is okay.

    On the light side I am not a fan of the Powerglo - far too pink/purple.

    On the water side I eventually want to keep wild discus, wild dwarf cichlids so I want to make it work with soft water...

    Lastly - I'm not sure my fish are enjoying the easycarbo too much - or is it the reams of algae blowing in their faces, I don't know!

    Essentially I'm trying to strike a balance between a bit of tech and a more natural system - is this possible or do you think I need to go all one way or the other?

    Much obliged for your responses by the way.

    Joe
     
  7. Ed Seeley

    Ed Seeley Member

    Messages:
    3,262
    Location:
    Nottingham
    RO is fine to grow plants in; I use it for all my tanks. Just add some minerals back in to get about 3-4dGH.

    I think you definitely need to sort your CO2 out and get a good pressurised system supplying 30ppm during the daylight hours. I'd get one with a solenoid so that during the dark (or in the event of a powercut) the CO2 is turned off so your fish are fine. Your circulation sounds ok for a near 60l tank but internals simply aren't as good as decent external as they can't compete with the amount of media. Ideally I'd put a decent external on the shopping list too.

    You don't say how many shrimp or Otos you have, but I'd get a group of each if you haven't got that many. Probably 4 Otos and 6 or so shrimp. They'll soon help munch the last bits of algae.

    I trust you aren't planning to keep the wild discus in this tank!!! A two footer won't even be big enough for a mated pair!! It will be great for a pair or trio of Apistogrammas and they'll love the natural soft water conditions!
     
  8. joeinlondon

    joeinlondon Member

    Messages:
    31
    Hi Ed, thanks for your response.

    Don't worry - no wild anything going anywhere near this tank! I'm using it as a trial run - trying to get the feel of things before committing on something larger.

    At the moment I have cut the lighting to just the 25w powerglo, 8 hours a day. I have also increased the easycarbo to 2ml/day (with a worried eye on my fish), and added some more plants: unidentified crypts and something else that was suviving and spreading in my local shop's undergravel filtered tank(!). I have considered getting a proper injection system, but I worry that if I do that everything will snowball - I'll be upgrading the lighting, getting phosphate and CO2 testkits/droppers, an external filter etc and then it'll be £300 later, and I'll also be committed to the high-tech, high-dosing, unnatural style of tank that I am beginning to feel is not for me. And a good aquarist should be able to make things work with what they have, n'est pas? So I would like to succeed with this setup - for the moment.

    I have a good 'algae army' in there: 6 shrimp and 3 Ottocinclus, and they do a good job, except that the shrimp keep a very low profile now that the resident Bolivian Ram has been returned (although he ignores them). Thankfully the blue-green has not reappeared, so I just have two fronts - staghorn and hair - to combat.

    So for the moment I'm going to keep everything 'low-energy', and see if the tank can right itself. Now all I have to do is wait for the Walstead book to arrive...

    (PS - how do you upload pictures into your message? Am I being very dense?)
     
  9. beeky

    beeky Member

    Messages:
    879
    Location:
    Chippenham, Wiltshire
    Arghhh! Don't let ceg hear you say that. He'll come round and burn all your test kits!

    I have to admit to having the book, but I haven't read it yet. I've only had it a year or two though....
    It's all about how to setup a tank completely naturally (or so I've been told :oops: )

    Put your picture up on photobucket, flickr or the like and get the URL (the link) to the picture. When you post a message, click on the "Img" button at the top of the form and insert your URL in the middle. When you post the picture should be shown.
     
  10. GreenNeedle

    GreenNeedle Member

    Messages:
    2,706
    Location:
    Lincoln UK
    I wouldn't worry about 2ml a day in that tank. the proper dosing would be 1.5ml and you say you have a decent amount of plants so its hardly an overdose. the plants should consume it. Don't look at the fish. If you were overdosing too much the shrimp would be dead (or very lethargic) after day 1!!!

    You may actually see faster growth now if that makes sense. What I mean is that as the light is lower and not pushing the plants to grow so fast then they are less likely to become defficient and deteriorate (1 step forward 2 steps back) . In simple terms they wanted to grow faster before but couldn't and then got sick. Now they want to grow slower and can so they don't deteriorate (½ step forward and none back). lol

    As for the phosphate thing, after a while you will get sick of paying a shop for your Columbo and make up one of the recipes on here from tap water and powders which will be 1/100th or less of the cost per year of using the Columbo!!!!

    If the plants do struggle to recover then I would next look at the fertiliser. maybe it doesn't add enough nutrient!!!! Give it 2-3 weeks and report back what changes (if any) there are. Patience is key with problems like algae.

    AC
     
  11. Ed Seeley

    Ed Seeley Member

    Messages:
    3,262
    Location:
    Nottingham
    I can understand your reluctance but stable CO2 levels IME are the biggest thing to a succesful planted tank. I run 3 tanks with pressurised CO2. Only 1 gets regular EI fertiliser doses, the others are run on very low nutrients but CO2 at 30ppm and run great. The lighting is lower and I don't have any major problems that a few Ancistrus and Otos can't deal with. The only times I have problems with them is when I cut back water changes when the fish are breeding or something.
     
  12. joeinlondon

    joeinlondon Member

    Messages:
    31
    Ed, beeky and AC - thanks for your responses. It's great having some help on this.

    At the moment the tank is not doing too badly - if I had time to join photobucket right now I'd stick a pic up but I'll try and do that later. I have slashed the lighthing back to 8 hours and the algae has calmed down, the fish seem okay with the easycarbo, and the plants are looking good too. AC I think you're right - they seem to be growing in a more stable, stronger fashion now. I still give them a 2 hour midday burn with the 18w as well though!

    One thing though - the E.tenellus is growing strongly and sending out little plantlets, but growing 'red'. What does this mean? Is it something to do with iron? There's laterite in the gravel so I would have thought it would be quite rich in that...
     
  13. joeinlondon

    joeinlondon Member

    Messages:
    31
    As promised here are a couple of pics (I hope. New to photobucket world.).

    This was day one of setup:
    12Sep.jpg

    And here's how it was looking yesterday:
    23Sep.jpg

    Any comments welcome...
     
  14. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,953
    Location:
    Chicago, USA
    Hi,
    Assuming the color balance of both photos are identical it appears most of the plants have leaves which appear to be suffering chlorosis. If this is the case and is not a photographic issue then it clearly indicates nutrient starvation, typically Nitrogen, although it could easily be exacerbated by other trace element shortages such as Fe, S or even B. It also appears that there is Green Spot Algae (GSA) accumulation on the left pane, although this could be a reflection. If that is the case then this indicates Phosphate starvation. The angle of view of the photo is too wide to see specifics. Higher magnification is required to determine if there are other algal forms present. Based on the available evidence I would suggest you massively increase the level of NPK and trace element dosing immediately and that you lower the light intensity if possible.

    Cheers,
     
  15. joeinlondon

    joeinlondon Member

    Messages:
    31
    Hi Clive (it is Clive, isn't it?)

    Thanks for your response. You are correct - and sharp eyed - I have green spot algae (GSA) issues, but seeing as I've so far had BGA, hair, staghorn and surface scum green spot is a welcome change! For the moment at least.

    You may wish to kill me for saying this but I don't want to dose with nitrate and phosphate, as it does not fit in with my long-term aims! I have increased my trace element addition to every day, rather than one big lump post-water change, so I'm waiting to see if that will make a difference. How did people achieve lush plant growth before the idea of NPK dosing? I wish to emulate that method, and have Walstead's books coming from America...

    I have already cut the lighthing back to 25w powerglo 8 hours a day, and 2 hours of the 18w Aquidistri (which is on the left side of the tank, where you spotted the GSA). Things have really calmed down algae wise and I am enjoying the tank, so right now I am loathe to change anything and thus rock the boat - and those yellow leaves are getting greener every day.

    Perhaps I am adding too much easycarbo (2ml a day) for the available nutrients?
     
  16. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,953
    Location:
    Chicago, USA
    Hi Joe,
    Well, NPK dosing goes back to the day when someone saw greener grass growing from a cow pie in the field. Everyone has their goals so it would be unfair for me to be critical for aspiring to the low tech approach. Lush low tech tanks are achieved over much longer periods of time and are typically very stable with much lower maintenance due to low growth rates. It can be achieved with a rich substrate and lower lighting, however, adding Excel to a low tech tank changes it from low tech to high tech tank. The extra CO2 generated increases the uptake demand for nutrients and more importantly, increases the plants' metabolism such that they produce a higher rate of organic waste. This does more damage and induces more algae, especially if the lighting is even just marginally higher than it should be. If your intent is to run a low tech tank then then it's worthwhile considering weaning the tank off Excel and keeping the lighting low. If you keep the Excel addition then it's a bit more difficult to maintain top health without some level of water column NPK.

    Again, I don't know what motivates others to be reticent of dosing NPK, and I do accept the low tech, low maintenance philosophy, but what I am always critical of is the concept of a "Natural" tank. In nature there are no systems that are in any way similar to our electric glass box. Natural processes occur within a tank, certainly, but the tank system itself is unique and can in no way be natural. I've lived in tropical countries and have seen what submerged aquatic plants look like in their native environment. Many more times than not, they look complete rubbish, undoubtedly due to some nutrient limitation. In fact, usually, when a submerged aquatic plants appear to be in decent health it's because of higher than typical available nutrient levels. A casual glance at most aquatic systems worldwide will reveal that the highest levels of biodiversity and biomass always occurs when there are high NPK levels in the water column. The fact that plants evolved to feed directly from the water column in the first place clearly indicates that feeding them via this method can't be any less natural than feeding them via the sediment, therefore I have no qualms about NPK dosing. The biggest and tastiest fruits and vegetables always comes from an NPK dosed farmers field, not often from a wild one, so I feel we do ourselves an injustice if we shun nutrients due to a notion that somehow we are being truer to the cause by withholding water dosing, or that "natural" is somehow better than "unnatural". I also don't see why dosing the water column with Fe/traces is considered OK yet dosing NPK isn't.

    Submerged aquatic macrophytes have been bestowed the ability to feed from both sediment and water column, therefore in my opinion, the so-called natural methods merely focus on the root uptake mode of plant growth while eschewing the equally relevant other half of the plants capability - the leaf. ;)

    Cheers,
     
  17. Egmel

    Egmel Member

    Messages:
    724
    Location:
    Guildford, Surrey, UK
    I would debate tastiest! :lol: Biggest, yes, shiniest, probably but tastiest tends to be when the plant is trying to put more energy into a smaller fruit which indicates that there's a deficiency somewhere that's limiting the size of the fruit. Herbs especially are much more tasty if not given everything they want :twisted:

    Anyway, I'm just dragging this off topic. :rolleyes: Sorry, I'll let you get back to aquatic plants again!
     
  18. joeinlondon

    joeinlondon Member

    Messages:
    31
    Hi Clive

    Okay okay okay okay! Heh heh.

    I do get it - the philosophy behind the hi-tech approach, and I think I understand what you're saying. I suppose my reluctance is from a fish viewpoint - perfection for them would be zeros across the board for any sort of nutrient, and I just find it difficult (especially from keeping marines back in the day), to get away from feeling uneasy with nitrates and phosphates floating about. Have you been able to keep delicate fish in a hi-tech planted tank? If so then I am one step closer to dosing.

    In fact I am thinking of getting Tropica +, or whatever it's called - the one with the nitrate and the phosphate (booooo! boooooo! [from the crowd]), but am still stalling at 50% water change per week, as that means a trip to the LFS every week for water, (to keep my soft-water cichlids happy). Could I get away with a 30% change, and a bit of Tropica + (booooooooo!), what do you think?

    I feel a traitor to the water column already :(

    Joe
     
  19. Egmel

    Egmel Member

    Messages:
    724
    Location:
    Guildford, Surrey, UK
    You can 'get away' with all sorts and it would definitely be better than just dosing the trace elements and doing a weekly water change.

    So long as everything is balanced (co2/carbon additive, ferts, lights) then you should find that there isn't much build up of anything in the tank and the water change is just for removing algae spores and organic waste.

    I've no experience with keeping delicate fish but I know people on here have had all sorts of fish breeding in their tanks whilst dosing so I'd say it doesn't affect the fish anywhere near as much as you'd expect. :D

    If you're looking at the TPN+ route then you might want to check out JamesC's all in one solution which is cheaper and basically the same thing.
     
  20. joeinlondon

    joeinlondon Member

    Messages:
    31
    Thanks Egmel - I've saved that page and will have a look at it later :) . Although if my wife knows that I'm making concoctions to put in the fish tank she will cuss me out of the game. It was bad enough when she caught me with the test kits!

    As you said, it is all about balance, isn't it? I'm beginning to understand this. Like a car - engine, chassis, tyres - the whole lot has to be balanced and in proportion otherwise you're going to have problems.
     

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