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Looking for thoughts regarding my algae/plant problems

Discussion in 'Are you new to aquatic plants? Start here' started by Eric Shultz, Apr 11, 2016.

  1. Eric Shultz

    Eric Shultz Junior Poster

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    Hello, I'm new here but I've been following Tom Barr for a long time. I don't know if you read these Tom but I like the way you approach this hobby with both science and common sense. Thanks for everything you do for us.


    ...


    I decided to make an account because I've been having trouble with my newly upgraded 40 breeder Axolotl tank. Namely, I have high light, high CO2 and I'm dosing EI ferts, yet still plants are dying/not thriving, and algae is eating them alive. It's generally leaving the walls of the tank alone, for the most part.


    Yes, this is my first planted tank, although I've had it going in some way shape or form for a couple years.


    I'm going to copy/paste a lot of this from my reddit post regarding these issues, it can be found here.


    This is going to be a long post, because I want to talk about how this tank got to where it is now.


    I originally had a lot more pictures showing various issues and the setup, but I have a 5 pic limit, so maybe I'll post those in a follow up post.


    To save you some time, I think the problem is too much light - I get natural light in the morning and my tank lights up, even through the black background. In addition, some have told me that a Planted+ in addition to 80W of T5 HO light is way too much light for a 40B, although I find a lot of conflicting information on the Planted+ PAR data. Some say it is considered "low"-"med" light, which is what I assumed, others say that it's actually closer to "high" lighting due to the 660nm reds not being sensed by PAR meters; whatever, it's all way over my head. Finnex doesn't have PAR data out there so that tells me I need to see for myself.


    Here is what I'm doing about these problems right now - cutting down the light period back to 8 hours, and totally removing the T5's from the equation for now - so running just a 36" Planted+ for 8 hrs a day. I'm also going to try to block out the natural light that creeps in in the morning using blinds or cardboard, for now. I will continue to dose EI ferts and maintain CO2 at what my drop checker tells me is about 30ppm. After discussing this elsewhere, if nutrients are good and CO2 is good, then light has to be the issue, so if I reduce the light, then CO2 becomes the limiting factor, right??? And if CO2 is steady 30ppm, I should see healthy plants again and slowly work the light back up to what my tank can fully utilize.


    ...


    This tank started about 2 years ago - I did the dry start method with dwarf hairgrass, Anubias nana, and a few other plants. I used potting soil capped with white sand, and after a few weeks, filled the tank and added some RCS. Those bred for a while and the plants continued to grow, and finally I introduced the axolotls, who promptly munched all the shrimp. I don't have any pictures from back then - the DHG did ok, the Anubias survived, everything else pretty much died. This was before I was even thinking about ferts or CO2. The DHG spread throughout the tank, though it was pretty far from a carpet.


    That was fine and stable for a long time, had typical issues with algae, and after a year started to get really bad. I ignored it for a long time, the tank had a green-yellow tinge, algae everywhere. My axolotls were happy though and that was fine with me. Look back and knowing what I know now, I had WAY too much light on it with no CO2 and no supplemented nutrients.


    A while ago I decided to do something about the gross tank, and started researching how to properly grow plants. I put my lights on a timer, I got some CO2 running, and eventually started fertilizing the tank. After seeing some improvement (nothing drastic), I decided it was time to add a whole bunch of new plants.


    Here are some pics I took a week after adding CO2, before ferts and before planting new plants. As you can see, the fact that the algae on walls and ornaments was dying was cause for celebration, for me at least. Although some of these pics look very yellow, that's the fault of the camera on my phone. The water color and clarity was getting better, too, though I was still battling algae on the plants.





    So I decided to plant more (and remove the large plant with the worst algae) and start dosing ferts, and I also added a powerhead to help circulate the CO2. This (planting) caused a problem when I kicked up so much dirt that my lights were essentially useless, and flooded the water column with tons of nutrients.





    A few days later, I had the worst green water infestation I've ever seen.





    I had read enough about EI to know that nutrients themselves don't cause algae, so I continued dosing. I also installed a UV power filter in the opposite corner as the CO2 diffuser/powerhead, to improve the circulation some more, and cleaned out my HOB filter. After a week, the green water began to clear up, and my tank looked amazing, compared to where it was a few weeks earlier. This was taken a few days after the green water went away - I made a new hide for the axolotls out of river stones, and threw away the algae covered clay pots. I might add another clay pot in the future, but this is how my tank is set up at the moment:





    Yes, it's very cloudy. I believe I crashed my cycle during the green water outbreak, due to completely washing out the HOB filter and sterilizing the water column, as well as removing the existing ornaments. Hindsight is 20/20, that was a dumb mistake. However, the DHG is doing incredibly well, as are the Glosso and Anubias. The Telanthera had been uprooted during the green water, and I couldn't see into the tank to replant, so they floated for about a week. They are not recovering well at all. Here is the sorry state of my aquarium now:





    Here is the Ludwigia, it's bushy, growing, and sending out runners, and some of it is really beautiful near the top, but most new growth is ugly and stunted or crinkled, and lower leaves are covered in algae and dying. The plants under the LED seem to be doing a little better and brighter than those under the T5's.


    Telanthera - it's growing and dying at the same time. New growth is spindly, leaves are tiny and practically covered in algae on day 1. Continues to send out runners. If you compare to the pic right after I planted, it looks like the Telanthera has taken up a hunger strike, while the Ludwigia has doubled in size, even though it's not very healthy either.


    I thought my Baby Tears were doing very well, but they are also starting to turn dull. No plant death that I've seen yet, as it grows I get more and more floating around the top of my tank. Also have Riccia sprouting up from the mat of Baby Tears, surprise!


    I also have Glosso that's doing quite well, no complaints there. It's growing up and out more than carpeting, but I'll take it for now.


    My CO2 setup: it's a DIY kit (citric acid + baking soda reaction, not yeast + sugar; much stronger reaction) I got from Amazon but it works very well. I have it going into a ceramic diffuser into a powerhead, and then around the tank via the UV power filter (with UV turned off now) towards the HOB filter. The drop checker is in a place where theoretically the least CO2 concentration should be, since the water will have traveled all the way around the tank to get there. Drop checker stays around 25-30 ppm right now, I've toyed with more and less CO2 but nothing helps. Weak CO2 isn't a concern, pressure stays around 15-30 psi between refills.


    Here are my tank's parameters, keeping in mind my pH test is probably not very accurate:


    40G breeder tank, open top


    1 Planted+ LED fixture added 1.5 months ago, replaced the below lamps (had 2 of each lamp now running 1 of each + the LED)


    1 39W 650nm roseate T5 HO, brand new bulb <----- turned this off for the next few days to see if it's part of the problem


    1 10000K white T5 HO, brand new bulb <----- turned this off for the next few days to see if it's part of the problem


    Photoperiod was 12pm-9pm but I just changed it to 8am - 8pm (I'll talk about that below) <---- probably going to change this to end at 4pm starting tomorrow


    DIY CO2 at about 25-30ppm, comes on 1.5 hours before the lights and off an hour before the lights - this was added about 1.5 months ago


    EI Dosing using these ferts: http://nilocg.com/diy-ei-liquid-fertilizer/ since about 1 month ago


    I didn't use RO water to mix in, I just used tap water. I don't know if that's a huge problem or not.


    Using the recommended 5ml/20G, I dose 2 teaspoons (~10ml) a day, alternating days and 50% WC on rest day. (as per the EI recommendation)


    The contents are listed as follows, I haven't checked to make sure but I'm certain everything is adequate:


    Macro:


    N- 7.5ppm P- 1.3ppm K- 4.27ppm


    Micro:


    B- 0.09ppm Cu 0.01ppm Fe 0.50 ppm Mg 0.11 ppm Mn 0.14 ppm Mo 0.0038 ppm Zn 0.03 ppm dGH 0.02


    I am not using GH booster because my water is extremely hard out of the tap.


    Tank parameters:


    Ammonia: .5ppm Nitrite: 0ppm Nitrate: ~40ppm


    Phosphate: 5ppm


    GH: 8 KH: 11 Ph: 7.5 down to 6.5 with CO2 and lights on - my test is not very accurate though.


    Temperature: 64-68 deg. F. (fans come on with lights to keep the water cool for the axolotls, considering buying a temp controller for the fans to stay closer to 72F)
     
  2. Planterson

    Planterson Junior Poster

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    There is a ton of info here, and I must admit I didn't read as thoroughly as I possibly could have, and I'm not a pro by any means. I'll see your long post and raise you mine :) You've probably heard most of this before. I will state a few things (just my 2 cents):


    Light:


    The idea is to be light limited, not Co2 limited. You were almost right, if Co2 and ferts are in check, the limiting factor is LIGHT. This is the easiest to control. It may seem counter-intuitive, but lower light levels can be highly beneficial to plants in the aquarium conditions. You are on the right track tweaking your light levels, I don't think anything you have requires ridiculous lighting. I have carpeting HC running my Radion LED at ~60% (38 total watts).


    12 hour photoperiod is way too long, I'd venture to say even 8 may be too much at this stage. You can probably start with 6 hours to be honest, and go up from there. I run 6 hours without major issues. START LOW and throttle the light up. You are looking for the point of light where you don't see "leggy" growth, but also don't see algae infestations. Do this by either raising the light up, or dimming the fixtures (if they support this feature). You'll be surprised by how low you can actually take it and have healthy, manageable growth.


    Co2:


    You won't want to hear this, and I could be wrong (someone can chime in here), but to do a "true" high light setup, that DIY Co2 probably isn't going to cut it (or will be a huge PITA). You'll need finely controlled pressurized Co2 to throttle up to meet the demands of the lighting. Consistent, stable, Co2 is CRUCIAL. Low-medium light might be fine, and you'll be amazed at what you can grow in low-medium (almost anything with the right Co2).


    If you can turn it up, do so, but do it on a day you can watch your fish. Obviously there is a waste issue, but you can go much higher than you'd think even with livestock, assuming good flow and good surface agitation. The Co2 has to meet/exceed the light demand (if that demand can't be met, you need to bring the light down), shoot for just below fish stress levels.


    Do not trust drop checkers, they are finicky, inaccurate, and delayed. Your 1 PH drop from Co2 is a good starting point and is generally neighborhood of ~30ppm. If you are not RELIABLY getting this level of PH reduction, you don't need to tamper with "true" high light systems. My PH drop is around 1.4, gets as low as 5.6-5.7. I monitor this with a probe, but I do not use a controller. I'm sure others have vastly different opinions on this, but you need a way to reliably monitor this while getting started.


    You need to make sure the Co2 is thoroughly saturating the tank. How is your water flow? Is there mild current in ALL areas of the aquarium?


    Other stuff:


    You need to eradicate the ammonia completely. Even .5pmm is going to give you some issues in high light, is the cycle completed, or is something in the substrate leeching? What are you using as filtration (might have missed this)? Are you properly using bio media during the set-up and cycle? Change water and change again, look at your media and clean your filters. You might not have a sufficient bacteria load.


    Are those Macro ferts all mixed into one bag? Or do you have individual KNO3, KH2PO4, etc?


    You could also stand to pack more plants in there.


    All-in-all, if it were my tank:


    Do a massive water change to "reset."


    I would drop to a 6 hour photo cycle to start (or lower intensity by 50%), observe for at least two weeks, and throttle up as needed (in either intensity or duration). Probably start with just the Planted+ and then turn on the T5s one at a time, maybe for only part of the photoperiod. Example: 6-7 hours of Planted+ for a couple weeks, if all is well, turn on one T5 for two hours mid-cycle, throttle this up as needed.


    Add more plants.


    Adjust water flow until all areas of the tank are receiving flow (I pour a bit of an Equillibrium mixture into different areas of the aquarium and observe the flow patterns). You'll want to be absolutely sure of your water flow patterns, don't assume based on GPH etc.


    Ensure that your Co2 is injected in a way that it's caught by current and evenly transported around the tank.


    I'd recommend a newbie to get some spoons and dry dose until you have a better understanding of the tanks needs. Solutions are fine, I use them, just think it might be easier to control and understand that way.


    K2SO4 + MgSO4 once weekly might be a better option for you than GH booster, but I'd start that for the K dosage.


    IMO, a true high light setup requires very specific plants and combinations of plants. Also pressurized Co2. But, after getting a good low-medium light tank running, you may find that you don't even want to make the jump. They can support tons of plants and are much more forgiving. I'd leave the foray into high light until you are experienced and are positive you have that much time to invest in your aquarium. High light = high workload, trimming, monitoring, etc. And when something goes wrong, it goes wrong fast.


    Hang in there. These types of tanks are an exercise in patience. You'll get there, just make adjustments little by little.
     
    #2 Planterson, Apr 12, 2016
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  3. Eric Shultz

    Eric Shultz Junior Poster

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    Hey, thanks for the reply!

    Exactly - I figure if my CO2 is good enough, and my ferts are good, then the problem must be that I have too much light for the amount of CO2 I'm using. I'm seeing terrible plant health, so my only option right now is to reduce the lighting to bring down the required amount of CO2 and hopefully strike a good balance. Other folks have said basically the same thing. I can't increase my CO2 too much right now because I'm actually leaving on a business trip today, but I can decrease my lighting. The natural light hitting the tank in the early morning is also a big problem that I'm trying to fix before I leave. In fact I think it might be the main problem spurring all of this. I have a black background on the tank, and shades on the window, but it just gets absolutely blasted between 7-8am. There's also background light, not as intense, throughout the rest of the day. So I'm going to throw some heavier curtains up and see if that helps.

    I agree, with my setup I get a stable 15-30psi for several days at a time, on the last day it gets weaker, but then I just replace the reactants and all is well again. It's not the yeast reactor most are familiar with, it's a citric+baking soda reactor. The 15-30psi goes through a finely adjustable valve (though not as fine as I'd like), so I can keep the rate pretty consistent by checking and adjusting if needed once per day. No it's not as stable as a real bottle and regulator, but it's not wildly unstable. I think if I get a bubble counter that actually works and doesn't just leak and pop the seal, I'll have a better idea of the consistency. For now, this is what I'm working with, and it keeps my tank around 25-30ppm decently well. I might actually go with the real deal pretty soon - the DIY kit works excellently but I have to refill once or twice a week. This kit would probably last a month or more on a nano tank. I'll probably reuse it once I start my 2.5 gallon.


    I will be able to play with the CO2 over the weekend, probably will add a bubble counter and try to increase to 40ppm or more. Flow is very good, the only spot that's troublesome is within the bush of Ludwigia. I may move the CO2 injection point over there this weekend.

    Yep. It's buried somewhere in my initial post, but I mentioned that my cycle crashed after the green water explosion. I cleaned the hell out of my filter, which normally isn't a problem, except I also replaced the algae covered clay pots which were the only ornaments in the tank, and also had a UV filter running... the bacteria didn't stand much of a chance :(


    All I can really do is wait it out at this point. Water clarity is returning slowly but I'm still not seeing a drop in ammonia or any spike in nitrite. Obviously with all the plants and ferts, nitrate levels aren't telling me anything about my cycle. I think the slowly dying leaves are also contributing to ammonia levels.


    Regarding ferts, macros are all-in-one NPK and micros are all-in-one as well. Both are liquid ferts, the ratio is specifically for EI dosing. I dose right in front of the powerhead.
     
  4. Planterson

    Planterson Junior Poster

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    It sounds like you are on the right track. IMO, this is all related to light and Co2. 9 times out of 10, it's these basic elements that tend to escape people. Just as a reference, it took me about 3 months to get these two in check, and my light still needs some fine-tuning. This was after running a low-light setup for over a year. Ferts are easy, as long as you have non-limiting ppms, you should be fine.


    That type of dosing is fine honestly, but you may learn more and figure out greater control methods if you dose individually via powder. It's helpful to tweak your dosing based on tap parameters, fish load, and other factors, and you can do this with individual ferts. Just a suggestion. Do NOT skimp on the weekly water changes.


    For the ammonia, stay on top of your organic matter (dead leaves, filter junk). You probably already know that. Some extra bio media won't hurt. DIY Co2, try to catch it before the pressure drops so you have a STABLE flow.


    Final thoughts are:


    Light can go much lower than you think and still be more than enough.


    Co2 can go much higher than you think without killing everything (the higher you go, focus more efforts on oxygenation through methods like surface agitation).


    Good luck to you!
     
    #4 Planterson, Apr 12, 2016
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  5. Eric Shultz

    Eric Shultz Junior Poster

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  6. Pikez

    Pikez Rotala Killer!
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    Want to help. But there is an intimidating amount of text to read before I can offer useful advice. :(


    Will revisit when I have more time.
     
  7. skija

    skija Lifetime Members
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    Hi , i understand your tank is 40 gallons and i see your problems, but what filter are you using ? Only the HOB filter ? I believe you have ammonia because of poor filtration , in all thread i read co2 , plants , ferts , light...etc but i don't read anything about external filter or sump or something similar to good filtration .
     
  8. Eric Shultz

    Eric Shultz Junior Poster

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    Hi skija, I'm using a Penguin 200 with just blue and white filter floss and Purigen. I need to get a new Bio-Wheel for it as well.


    This has been way more than adequate even when I didn't have many plants. I haven't used a canister filter in over a year, I found they were a pain to clean and maintain. It may be time to start using one again; I'm looking into making a reactor and if I do that I might as well use a canister filter rather than powerhead.


    If I don't get a canister filter, I'm going to get another Penguin 200 to aid filtration and flow.
     
  9. skija

    skija Lifetime Members
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    Well , all i can say that your filtration is almost zero (my opinion) , I had lots of trouble with filtration when i started this hobby 3 years ago .


    You need a filter equal to Eheim 2426 (Experience 350), this has 5 liter volume for filter media . Also hoses are 16/22 mm size and you need to clean the tubes maybe once in 3-4 months


    I started this hobby with a tank of 126 liters which is around 33 gallons and i was using one Eheim Experience 150 and i thought it would be enough . Well i had a lots of trouble with everything , fish , cloudy water , algae ....etc . I bought another Eheim Experience 150 so i had around 4.5 liters of filter media and guess what , all those problems i had before disappeared . I use only biological material in external filters , i throw away all the sponges and replace them with good filter media .


    After this i learned a lesson , filtration is number one for any aquarium , after that CO2 , light .....and so on


    So i would buy a very good external filter and i would reduce light to max 7 hours .
     
  10. Eric Shultz

    Eric Shultz Junior Poster

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    Thanks for the input, and sorry I don't check this forum as often as I should. I've since reduced the photoperiod to 6 hours, completely blacked out the source of natural light in the morning, and ran just the Planted+ by itself for 5 days. Unfortunately, I started getting green water again, and my fucking axolotls decided to spawn in the middle of all of this (probably due to the very short photoperiod now, they usually spawn every few years in December/January) so there's all the gunk from that all over the tank now.


    I turned the UV back on, kept the photoperiod at 6 hours but turned on the T5's again, and bumped up the CO2 so we're at 30+ppm all day now. I'm not sure where the green water is coming from, but I'll chalk it up to the tank still cycling.


    In fact I know the cycle is making progress because today I detected nitrite for the first time since the crash. Yay. Brown Diatom "algae" too. Double yay.


    I am also thinking the filter is insufficient because this is taking an extremely long time to cycle, especially given that there should still have been bacteria in the water column after the crash.


    I used to use a canister filter but found it to be a huge pain, but I'm thinking about getting one again, both for the added filtration power, and so that I can create a CO2 reactor and have a more efficient reaction. I think the old one got so nasty that I just tossed it. I was kinda super lax about maintaining the aquarium back then.


    Another issue though, I've noticed that either I'm generating a ton of ferts just by having the axolotls in there (definitely a contributing factor if not 100% the reason), or my plants aren't consuming any (which is impossible given the amount of CO2 and light they have available) - probably some combination of the two factors. Anyways, I've skipped the past 2 "macro days" because my nitrates are still >40ppm and Phosphates are still 5-10ppm. I don't have a test for K but I'm assuming there's some available.


    Is this a problem? Should I test for K before making that assumption?


    Definitely going to be shopping for a canister filter soon.


    Thanks!
     
  11. gsjmia

    gsjmia Lifetime Members
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    In addition to what was written above by others: Many years ago I read that any direct sunlight can cause bad algae, I have always avoided it.
     
    2 people like this.
  12. Pikez

    Pikez Rotala Killer!
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    Finally read the original post. Lots of easy-to-spot issues here.


    Here is a 5-step plan. You may struggle with 2 and 3.

    1. Reduce light intensity to half or more of what it was. This is the easiest of all corrective steps.
    2. Toss the DIY/diffuser/drop checker if you are interested in a true high-tech plant tank. Get a pressurized tank with a good regulator, an oversized reactor, and a pH probe. The estimated psi, ppm, etc of the current system are nowhere near to reality and is giving you a false sense of CO2 stability and adequacy.
    3. You may wish to run your reactor (above) with a large canister filter, which will correct the under-filtration part. Tanks needs a lot more filtration.
    4. Until then, go with PPS-Pro or EI Light. Full EI with current system's limitations feeds the imbalance.
    5. Lots and lots of big water changes.
     
  13. Eric Shultz

    Eric Shultz Junior Poster

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    Thanks Pikez!


    1. Done - just using the 78W of T5HO until this is squared away.


    2. Planning on it. Just gotta convince my fiance that I'm not insane for spending all this money on an aquarium. Will reuse the DIY setup for my 2.5gal tank thats been sitting around.


    3. If I get a can, I'm building a reactor. It'd be silly not to. From what I've seen you can make one with some PVC pipe and fittings from the hardware store for a few bucks.


    4/5. I'm doing 50% WC every few days as I'm still seeing uncomfortably high ammonia. Plants don't seem too hungry lately so I'm only dosing once or twice a week as needed (by looking at phosphate and nitrate).
     
  14. rajkm

    rajkm Article Editor
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    I think you need to add K and stop the UV. UV is not good when cycling the tank.


    If you can detect Ammonia don't dose NO3. Let plants use the Ammonia until you cannot detect Ammonia and Nitrite. Add PO4 and K.


    Use Excel on top of your DIY until you get a new rig for pressurized CO2.
     
  15. Eric Shultz

    Eric Shultz Junior Poster

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    Right now I'm adding macros as needed as determined by nitrate and phosphate level, and changing water every few days. Canister filter is on its way. Adjusting CO2 daily and been dosing excel all week, a capful per day. I don't want to add more K unless I determine I have a deficiency, mainly because I only have comprehensive macros right now so adding K means adding more NP as well.


    Edit - I dose micros only when I dose macros, an hour or so apart.


    Additionally I have axolotl eggs everywhere so I don't want to disturb them too much with excess toxins. I plan on keeping 1-2 of the spawn. Most of the eggs are on my ludwigia which is starting to emerge from the surface, so I'll trim the egged plants and replant in a 20L in a week or two so the axolotls have a hatchery so to speak.
     
  16. skija

    skija Lifetime Members
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    What canister filter did you order ?
     
  17. Eric Shultz

    Eric Shultz Junior Poster

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    I just installed it actually, a fluval 206. I'm going to look at replacing the hoses next. I did some reading about co2 reactors last night and it looks like I'll probably be attempting an external, cerges-type reactor as it sounds like that's the best option for efficiency. I also went ahead and ordered a complete CO2 kit from co2art UK, along with a 24 oz paintball tank and an adapter so that I can upgrade to a real co2 tank eventually. This should solve any problems with fluctuating co2 levels I should think!
     
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