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Dry Start Dilemma

Discussion in 'General Plant Topics' started by Daniel Morris, Aug 30, 2009.

  1. Daniel Morris

    Daniel Morris Lifetime Charter Member
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    Hello all,

    I decided to try the Dry Start Method (DSM) proposed by Tom in this post.

    Very excited about this, so I carefully designed my layout and selected my plants carefully. Here are some facts:

    - Substrate is a mixture of 1 part flourite, 2 parts black gravel (generic brand with no nutrients) and a small area in the front right of the tank that is mostly sand with a little flourite at the bottom.

    - Includes several large rocks I collected from a park near the Potomac river just north of Washington D.C.

    - Slope is fairly steep and descends from the rear of the rock 'ridge' so that plants on the ridge will receive enough moisture for their roots to remain wet in an emersed environment via capillary action (my assumption here is based on Tom's discussion of DSM and specifically, "Generally, through capillary action, water will permeate upward (just like with a 300ft redwood tree’s tip), so even the higher sections should have access to water.")

    - Lights: 2 55 watt 10,000 K bulbs and 2 55 watt 6,500 K bulbs set to run for 11 hours

    - Glass covering the top of the aquarium leaving only 2-3 inches on the back end uncovered

    - Tank was filled once, dosed with NPK and drained so that water barely was above the substrate at the lowest depth in the tank (i.e., the sand bank front right)

    - Installed Hygrometer and Thermometer (calibrated the hygrometer by placing it in the same plastic bag as a mug of 2 parts water and 1 part salt, waiting 3 hours and comparing hygrometer reading to what should be 75% - it was dead on)

    - I filled a bottle with water for spraying. Note that the bottle had previously contained "Niagara" brand non-aerosol spray starch, which I emptied and rinsed several times (5-6 times) before feeling satisfied that the bottle was clean. Don't know what sort of ingredients are in this kind of chemical. This may not be significant but I didn't want to discount this as a possibility.

    - 1 small tupperware container with water was placed in the rear of the tank to help attain a humidity level of 75% - 80% (per advice provided by Jonny_ftm)

    - Its likely there is more I'm forgetting... but these are all the relevant facts I can think of at the moment. See picture of bare tank below.

    [​IMG]


    I ordered the following plants to plant in this tank and grow using the DSM:

    The plants I ordered were:
    Bolbitus heudelottii
    Sagittaria subulata 'narrow leaf dwarf'
    Anubias v. nana
    Anubias v. nana 'petite' (wow these are small!)
    - 15 Hemianthus callitrichoides (potted)

    Day 1:

    I planted the both varieties of Anubias in random little crags among the ridge and tried to cover up the roots as much as possible with gravel or at least so that they could receive the benefit of some moisture carried in the gravel. See planting of Anubias v. Nana petite and Anubias v. Nana.

    I planted the Sag. subulata along the slope that winds down to the sand. I decided to leave the HC in pots as I wanted to do that carefully the next day. I left the HC in pots of rockwool that sat in a shallow pool of water in the sand bank on the front right of the tank.

    [​IMG]

    I sprayed the tank a couple times with the bottle of water mentioned above.


    Day 2:

    I immediately noted that the Anubias had wilted over night and several leaves were drooping over. I also noticed a little melting in the HC pots. Bolbitus looked like death so I chickened out and placed it in a small shrimp tank I have running with very little light. Before the lights turned on the humidity was 70% and the temperature was down to 70 F. I sprayed immediately and turned on the lights for fear that the plants, and the anubias in particular, was ailing as a result of the low humidity and temperature.


    Later in the day I noticed that the temperature had risen to about 90 F, and I began to consider that perhaps the anubias was reacting to the heat. I also noticed further 'melting' in a few of the HC pots. I saw some of the Sag was curling at its tips. I should note that apart from a very few isolated cases of melting the HC was by and large very healthy looking (and still in its rockwool). I decided to see what would happen if I transplanted some of the HC from the rockwool to the sandy area.

    [​IMG]

    That evening day I noted more wilting among the varieties of Anubias as well as the sag. HC looked good, both in the sand, as well as in the rockwool (notwithstanding a little melting). I cut the lighting in half in an attempt to lower the heat, and increased ventilation.


    Day 3:

    Anubias is on its last leg. Sag is curling alot more. HC is still looking good both in the rockwool and out.

    [​IMG]

    Fearing that I'll lose my investment in these plants I place them in a tupperware container with plenty of water that slightly comes above the surface of the gravel in the container. Fingers crossed.


    I've considered a few things that I'd appreciate any input on:


    1. It occurs me that perhaps the Anubias and sag are drying up as they are at considerably higher 'elevation' levels than the HC which is situated so that the root are basically sitting in a very low pool of water and sand yet the the shoots are either on the water surface or slightly above. The Anubias was planted in the crags of the rock ridge and may not have been getting enough water. Perhaps this is the primary reason why the sag and anubias have been ailing. Have I perhaps run afoul of the 'Generally' qualifier in Tom's statement above regarding capillary action? Or simply - an exception to this general rule?

    2. If the theory in 1 is correct, then placing the anubias in a tupperware in the tank with the conditions as is should / may save the plants and allow them to get back to health assuming that conditions stay at 80 F, and 75-80% humidity.

    3. I'm assuming that when a plant is thrust into an emersed environment after having grown for a while in a submerged environment that the shock is greater than the opposite kind of switch (i.e., emersed to submerged). Big assumption. I'm guessing that plants cells have greater demands placed upon them in terms of structural integrity in this scenario and that may explain part of the challenge in adapting to the new environment. If this is the case, then I'm wondering whether the problem with the Sag I ordered is that it was grown in an submerged environment.... Anubias.... well I'm having a harder time making the same argument, because my understanding is that anubias grows very well outside of submerged environments, and is a tougher plant that would withstand a submerged to emerged transfer better than say blyxa or Bolbitus. Is it possible that this is a situation where ethelyne is no longer able to diffuse out of the plant so that the plant may rot and melt a bit yet the new grow will be more robust? ( see para 7 of Tom's discussion of DSM)

    4. Speaking of Bolbitus - do some plants just not grow well in an emersed state? And is Bolbitus one of them?

    5. I haven't put excel in the water in the substrate... is there a need? I thought CO2 in the air precluded that?

    6. Any other possibilities? Residual chemicals in the spray bottle I'm using? Humidity not high/low or stable enough? Temp issues? Lack of dosing an issue? (Keep in mind its only been 3 days and the water was in fact dosed before it was mostly drained)

    I've come to accept that you can't let excessive anticipation and worry of potential failure in this hobby get in the way of rational thought that would otherwise help you arrive at a solution for the particular problem you're addressing.

    The other thing I've learned is that sometimes the problem is right under your nose and alot simpler than your imagination may lead you to believe. (I have lots of experience in that respect!)

    That being said, I would really value any input you folks may have on this issue. Again, it was about $80-100 worth of plants and I sure don't want to have to trash it.

    I think DSM sounds in theory to be a fantastic approach that everyone should consider for future tanks, I've read threads where some have run into difficulty, and I don't have the benefit of knowing what the end result was because the followup wasn't posted (this is a frustrating reality of seeking education through forum research). Certainly one I'd like to make it work... just gotta work out this kink!

    Thanks,
    Daniel
     
  2. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    Well, the plants drying so fast over a night and the photos you posted show clearly a low humidity level. 70% is way too low and as you see, a few hours in those conditions are enough to kill your plants, especially when they just started emersed growth in your aquarium new conditions.

    I see many issues in your setup that could worsen the things:

    - 2 to 3 inches opening is enormous. You'll never be able to maintain adequate humidity if your ambian air is something around 40-50%. I only keep a few millimiters in 2 localized areas, not even the total aquarium length.

    - When lights are on, the humidity will even drop more. If you start with 85% the night, account for 75% in the day, depending on the size of your openings. So humidity should be closely monitored even the day.

    - Anubias can be hard to adapt from what I read. Always try to get plants that just arrived to teh shop to ensure they didn't stay too long submerged. Tropica, dennerle, Stoeffels and other major plant distributers grow them emersed, but under optimal conditions: +90% humidity, ventilation, stable temperature and especially heavily fertilized wool. So, in any case, they will have to adapt to less optimal conditions in your terrarium. You need to adapt them slowly to 70-75% and when you start the plants I won't go below 80% at any time


    Personally, I started the aquarium dry without plants for a week until I stabilized humidity. Experimenting on plants is unforgivable as you noted. So next time, don't put plants until you verify the humidity is stable for a week. Also, on the begining, you should mist the plants many times a day, watching them hourly if needed depending on their leafs reaction to the emrsed state (better done on a weekend). If they show any sign of dehydration, urgent misting is needed + control to optimize humidity. One solution is to keep the lid completely closed, no aeration to avoid any humidity loss. You open it once a day, by night when humidity is 80-85%, to aerate the plants and renew CO2. Do this until you can get better conditions and especially at the beginning to avoid humidity levely below 80%: most plants can probably adapt to 70-75% but they need to adapt slowly

    Finally, you missed one important part: an organic or mineralized soil is necessary in the emersed setup. Your soil (Flourite, gravel and sand) don't have any N or P in it. You'll have to dose them regularely, on each misting or at least on a weekly basis

    Hopefully you'll get it on the next try.

    Good luck
     
  3. Daniel Morris

    Daniel Morris Lifetime Charter Member
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    Jonny - you are right on the money.

    First thing I did this morning was drag myself out of bed to check the tank. The glass walls are completely fogged up. I put saran wrap over the top last night and completely closed it. The humidity is 90-100% and the anubias looks as though it may survive...

    [​IMG]

    However, I'm concerned about how to keep the temperature low if I completely (or almost completely enclose the tank). Any tips?

    Also - you recommend that I include NPK in the spray? To what extent - i.e., 20 ppm Na, 5 PO4, and 10 K? (i'm a little rusty on the right NPK amounts and I'm writing this fast in the morning before I go to work)
     
  4. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    Your anubia looks like it appreciates the higher humidity for sure ;)

    About the temperature, I didn't note that your lights are inclosed in the hood. In my case, the light bulbs are outside the aquarium with a plexi top between light and aquarium. In deed, you'll have heat issues probably.

    I see 2 options

    - Put a plexi cover on the aquarium and elevate the hood with some kind of support on the aquarium sides above the plexi top. This will be the less expensive way

    - Use another light source that you can put above the aquarium now covered with a plexi top or cellophane: new bulbs (very expensive way) or just direct daylight (cheapy effective way)

    About macro sources, yes, your dosing looks ok, just NO3 and not Na
    Maybe a micro source like CSM+B or TPN would add a definite plus because of your poor soil

    I have not those issues since I used plain Flourite Black Sand + EarthWorm casting and I spray with water from my EI cycled tank
     
  5. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    Just put 4 anubia barteri var nana petite on my wood yesterday. Misted them enough, kept lights off the first day to avoid any drying. Covered the roots with some of the wool they came with (unsure on this step and opened a topic on it).
    24h later, they look like when I bought them. They come from Tropica and stayed at the vendor only 5 days, so hopefully they'll adapt easily. Just unsure on the way I planted them, with roots in direct contact with air. Hope they won't dry, that's whay I keep the wool

    More info and photos soon under my nano link, see signature
     
  6. Daniel Morris

    Daniel Morris Lifetime Charter Member
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    Jonny thank you so much for your helpful comments.

    Things may be getting a little better - at least things it doesn't appear to be a life or death situation now. The humidity is up to 80 thank goodness and i've saran wrapped the back of it. I expect air can only permeate the cracks in the plastic material holding the separate pieces of glass cover together. Can't see very well from the outside due to condensation! But I guess thats part of the challenge with the DSM. (note the 'venus fly trap' plant in the front that my roommate has been torturing in the window for weeks in an environment way too dry - now its doing great! just needs some flies... maybe tom was right - some of us may find that we could get into terrariums)

    [​IMG]


    Regarding the temperature maintenance in my setup- I went with the first option. This is seriously ghetto but for the time being this was the best I could do: folded cardboard creating a separation between the glass cover and the lights allowing for air passage and a little cooling (this was an excellent suggestion). It's doing the trick for the moment. Temperature is low 80s which seems to be ok for the time being?


    As for the plants: now that I have moved all the plants from a higher point on the slope to a lower point on the slope where they seem to be enjoying the benefit of more water... things are getting better. The anubias is basically sitting in a plastic tupperware with its roots submerged in water and it seems to be doing a little better with the exception of the nana v petite which is still very unhappy - perhaps this is because it hasn't been able to repair the damage caused by the dry environment i subjected them to?

    [​IMG]

    The sag that I planted on the slope previously has been moved to the sandy beachfront property (as i like to call it :p ) and while the old growth is toast (literally) I can just barely see a few new shoots coming through (maybe not evident from the photographs unless you look closely and see a glimmer of light green near the center of the plant).

    [​IMG]

    Yay!


    Now - here's the problem i see.... I'm concluding that capillary action didn't work out so well in my case and I'm suspecting this is a result of the gravel size in my setup. This is kind of a critical assumption, because if this isn't entirely correct then the following statements may not be appropriate. The primary benefit of the DSM seems to be growing a lawn. I havev to admit I haven't had problems with my HC, so no prb there, but what about if you wish to have sag take root well, or you'd like anubias to grow in a spot that might be difficult to achieve if you started in a submerged environment? These plants just didn't seem to get enough water in my setup! I'm considering transplanting them after 2 weeks or so (after they are healthy enough) back to their original spots but packing a little sand around the roots.

    I'm guessing that they didn't do well because (a) the humidity in the air was too low, but also because (b) the roots were not wet enough and may have dried out.

    What do you think of the 'sand root packing' approach?
     
  7. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    Your setup looks much nicer now, the plants too.

    I see some trouble coming soon. Tom mentioned and insisted on not to let water above sand level like you do. If you don't follow his advices, you'll be getting into nightmares. I see too much water on last photo. In a few days, soon or later, you'll get algae, and worst of all: mold. This can cover your plants/substrate just over one night. Dry start it's named, dry it must be.

    For your trouble on capillarity, just mist the top soil 2-3 times a week to start with and you're done. Probably, later, you could mist less often. In your case, it dried fast and capillarity didn't work because of the heat and dry ambiant you exposed the plants/substrate to

    Covering anubia roots with sand should work if you don't burry the rhizome.

    My Anubia looks happy after 24h, "roots in the air", just topped with the rock wool. I'll soon try to find an alternative to that undegradable wool, if you have an idea...
     
  8. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    My nana petite, 48h later. First 24h ran with no lights. Today, I turned lights on. They still look very healthy as you see

    [​IMG]
     
  9. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    3 weeks later,

    Added some Anubia on the right, Anubia on the wood already sent new leafs

    [​IMG]

    How's your emersed setup going now?
     
  10. Gerryd

    Gerryd Plant Guru Team
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    Looking good!

    I like the look of the growth. Nice and healthy!

    Nice job.
     
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