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first-ever success, an ode to Barr Report and the internet for aquatic plant keeping

Discussion in 'Are you new to aquatic plants? Start here' started by brownleaf, Sep 29, 2016.

  1. brownleaf

    brownleaf Subscriber

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    I'm not new to the aquarium hobby, I kept fish for many years in my youth and got the aquarium bug from my grandfather when I was young. But it has been 20 years since my last tank was active and a lot has changed since then. Back in those stone ages I fell in love with photos of planted tanks but despite repeated tries I could never keep any plant alive. Except the indestructible Java Moss. And even that eventually got infested with stringy algae so it was not so pleasant, but at least it was alive. Vals, cabomba, anacharis, java ferns, amazon swords, banana plants, crypts, they all perished in my tank. In those old days we could only read books and the occasional snail mail copy of TFH magazine. All my books had mostly information on fish health and seemed to suggest that plants should just grow and thrive without much special attention, after all the fish make all that poop hich fertilizes them. the secret, it seemed from literature of the day (or maybe it was the manufacturer's magazine ads) must be in the proper lighting. I saved my pennies and splurged on some fancy fluorescent tubes with rare-earth phosphors that promised to better simulate tropical sunlight. I fashioned reflectors from aluminum foil to direct the most light downward. I fashioned DIY auto-start circuits for my hood and controlled the photoperiod (remember those push-button manual start fluorescent hoods where you had to hold down the button while the light flickered on?). Despite all these gyrations, every plant I bought died regardless of whether the books called them "fast growing', "easy", high light or low light. Mostly I grew algae.


    Years later as a student in the early days of the internet, "the krib" chatroom was a new thing and I started reading on there a world of new information. (in those days of dial-up modems, the reading was a bit slow ... ) But I was a student so funds were pretty much non-existent, and even the DIY CO2 systems were a stretch - the yeast engine was no problem but needle valves or any regulation system was the challenge since you had to buy something. Laterite in the substrate seemed intriguing but was out of the budget. I tried sand-covered dirt substrates and got a muddy mess but still mostly grew algae. Eventually graduation, a real job, and other life events caused the tanks to be emptied and sold off.


    fast forward 20 years later and thanks to my 5 year old, an aquarium is back in my life. Its a laughable affair by the standards of pretty much every one who posts here. It contains several goldfish. And blue pet-store gravel. And a sunken-ship ornament, (yes, those are my 5-year old's choices :) ) But it was a major victory that my wife agreed to the tank, in exchange for abandoning the ad-hoc small pond my son had dug in the back yard in which the goldfish formerly resided. So we take what we can get and be happy, right?


    Despite the handicaps inherent in this setup, I still recalled my desire to grow plants from my old aquarium keeping days so I decided to make a new small-scale effort to try again. Without the severe budget constraints of studenthood, maybe it could work this time. I bought a Finnex LED light (wow what a wonderful modern advancement from my old push-button fluorescent hood ... ) and salvaged a few water lettuce and two water lily plants from the pond. I added some Echinodorus and Water Wisteria from the LFS. "Why did you plant so many plants, won't they crowd the tank?" asked my wife. "Most of them will die and maybe one or two might survive, it won't be crowded" was my response. But ever the optimist, I found some Flourish root tabs at the LFS and stuck them in the gravel.


    a few weeks later my predictions were coming true. The lily bulbs were growing well at first and even needed pruning, but after a couple weeks their growth mostly halted. The swords started to turn brown and get spot algae. The wisteria stems sprouted a few new roots at first but then started turning soft. All the same symptoms I had in all my previous attempts so many years ago. Even the water lettuce which was like invasive weeds in the outdoor puddle was losing its roots and looking feeble.


    Well, the internet today is rather a different place than 20 years ago, in some ways wonderful and in some ways worse. Back when internet connectivity was not ubiquitous and connections were very slow, it seemed postings were a bit more thoughtful on average. And popup ads had not yet been invented ... But on the flip side, today there is so much more info out there on plant keeping and fertilization methods and substrates and lighting, the challenge is not finding information but rather sifting through the daunting large volume of it. So I started reading, a whole new world of info beyond Coralife bulbs and laterite. And not before too long through mentions of EI I came across Tom's website here. Tom's explanations behind EI caught my attention as logical and his posts struck me as quite consistently explaining every failure I had in the past. I'm an engineer by trade and by nature (though not a chemist or biologist and I admit chemistry per se not my strong suit), I don't fear a test kit and I like to understand what's going on. So the "no test kits" part of EI weren't my attraction but the logic behind non-limiting nutrients and the wide range between non-limiting and overdose (and Tom's controlled experimental evidence) made good sense and seemed to be able to explain all my past failures. Some basic testing showed me that despite the famously prolific pooping of goldfish and only 25% weekly water changes, my nitrates were pegged at zero. Considering plant symptoms that seemed consistent with N deficiency it looked likely that the culprit may be identified...


    Well, just a very few dollars later (such a tiny investment compared with the prospect of bottled CO2 or bags of the latest popular exotic substrates) with some dry KNO3 and KH2PO4 and Epsom salts in hand and a bottle of regular Flourish for iron/traces, and my own spreadsheet dosing calculator based on the starting point from Tom's often-quoted "non-CO2 methods" sticky post and my 25%/week water change habit, I started dosing the ferts to bring the nitrates and phosphates to non-limiting levels. (I've yet to get appropriate test kits for any meaninful Fe or Mg measurements, so I just dosed Flourish and epsom salts similar to an EI adjusted for less water change and slow non-CO2 uptake).


    an incredible thing happened: the plants started to grow!


    Honestly I'm only about a week into the fert dosing so it could all fall apart later. And this is low-tech so after only a week of proper feeding the plants aren't poking out the top of the tank or anything like that. But they are growing, which is a huge improvement over anything in my past history. I'm so excited! OK, OK, I know nobody else gets excited about being able to grow Echinodorus and wisteria, the rest of you are working on actually difficult plants. For me though this is a major success.


    So I've signed up for a Barr Report subscription. Although a busy job and rearing little kids will prevent me from embarking on any serious aquascape for the near future, I'll enjoy building up some modest skill in aquaculture with this goldfish tank until someday my schedule permits embarking on the 90gal planted discus tank of my dreams. Thanks to Tom for sharing his knowledge and to the many knowledgeable contributors on this forum who have helped point me in the right direction.
     
    3 people like this.
  2. skija

    skija Lifetime Members
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    Good luck , don't start the 90 gallon tank yet , you need more experience with the one you have right now .
     
  3. Julia Adkins

    Julia Adkins aquariumfertilizer.com
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    Welcome back to the hobby. I would recommend the article by Sundeep Mandal, How To Set Up a Planted Tank. You can find it online and in our website, http://www.aquariumfertilizer.com. The article on Water Chemistry is also a good one. Have a great time with your new tank.
     
  4. brownleaf

    brownleaf Subscriber

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    a month later .. and still growing! I've even needed to do a little trimming.


    Now that I have lots of new leaves, I see that the unlabeled Amazon sword from my LFS seems to be Echinodorus Quadricostatus, quite a stroke of luck for my small tank to accidentally stumble onto this compact swordplant. I had originally thought the Echinodorus would either die or overwhelm my tank if it actually grew. This one will do neither and looks great.


    Growth of my Hygrophila Difformis has been accelerating and they reached the water surface.


    Feeling emboldened by my nascent success, I tried adding some Crypt Parva as a foreground accent. In the first week they mostly turned yellow and lost leaves. I thought I had maybe pushed my luck a little too far with this not-as-easy-as-most-crypts experiment, but with some patience, now they are looking green again and getting new growth. Patience is a virtue with crypts ...


    Nerite snails! wow, I never had these before. Such amazing little algae eating machines. I have no algae bloom problems nor any appearance of the filamentous algae that had plagued me in my youth, but the film algae grows enough to encroach on the older leaves and the non-plant surfaces. These little green horned nerite snails though, they get everything licked-plate clean, even for the algae that I can't rub off the plant leaves with my fingers. After a couple weeks, 4 snails have cleaned most of the diatoms and GSA (even off the sunken ship ornament :) and they are working on the back glass now. All the "algae eater" fish I ever had in the past were nowhere near as effective as the nerites, nor was the infestation of unintentional snails that one of my past tanks suffered from.


    I've seen a lot of disparaging remarks regarding the consumer grade test kits, but for this purpose I find my inexpensive API tests to be just fine. Sure its hard to match the color to the printed card, but for the purpose of non-limiting range its accurate enough. For the nitrate test, one with an especially bad rap it seems, I have no trouble. Given the wide range of acceptable nitrate, interpretation is simple: yellow = add KNO3, orange = keep doing what you're doing, dark orange = don't dose this week, red = better do a water change. Despite the difficulty mapping the color to the actual ppm accurately, I actually find the precision of this test kit just fine. that is, the results are very repeatable, and relative color differences are easy to discern (more red or more yellow vs earlier measurement). Maybe some others don't shake the bottle enough or lose count of drops or don't wait long enough for the color to stabilize, or something. Or they just fret about not being able to read with 1ppm accuracy. It would be a challenge to measure uptake rates with this test kit - but Tom has already done that for us and the kit is good enough to confirm a non-limiting nitrate level.


    I guess my 6-year-old overfeeds the fish some weeks, because nitrates have been rising lately. So I cut off the KNO3 dosing. My tap water has phosphates already in it, and apparently there's enough from the overfed fish food that PO4 hasn't dropped below 2ppm or so yet even though I stopped adding any potassium phosphate after the first week. Having run out of potassium sources since I cut out the KNO3, I picked up some potassium sulphate from Julia's store and add a little, ~5ppm K each week as a precaution since I don't have a test kit for that. From what I've read here, its hard to overdose potassium and my 25% weekly water changes should keep a more than adequate limit on potassium.


    now that I can actually grow plants and my dosing routine is settling into a routine, hmm not much to do with the tank. Once the growing-in completes to my satisfaction, I'll surely get a case of mess-with-it-itis and want to up the growth rate. The path to darkness is surely carpeted with Staurogyne Repens....
     
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