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New Guy Questions

Discussion in 'General Plant Topics' started by walterd, Feb 19, 2007.

  1. walterd

    walterd Junior Poster

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    I just joined the site based on the recommendation I got from a guy at the Raleigh Aquarium Society annual workshop this past weekend. I'm looking for some navigation help here in a couple areas after purusing around here for a while.

    1) Lots of acronyms and abbreviations are being used here that I don't know. Any chance there is a glossary somewhere here (or elsewhere) - I've been able to figure some out by searching this site and others, but the learning curve would be lessened with a central source.

    2) I'm really looking for the "Planted Tanks for Dummies" summary report. The detailed chemistry is great, its more than I have time/interest to handle. I've been reading/researching online off and on literally for a couple years, but came here because I was advised that Tom took a different approach to managing planted tanks, and that the issues I have could be readily addressed. If there is not such a thing (was hoping it would be in one of the newsletters / articles but I didn't see it) can anyone point me at the core 3-5 things I do need to focus on? My main issue is ... algae (no surprise). The guy I was talking to this weekend gave me a couple good insights, but really wasn't completely knowledgable either ... thus his recommendation to come here. He thought I had K deficiencies but past supplements haven't helped.

    I am sensitive to asking questions that have been asked/answered 1000 times before. If anyone can point to the right buckets-o-info here I'd appreciate it!

    Derek

    Tank details:
    • 180 gallon freshwater
    • Eco-Complete substrate installed ~6 months ago
    • CO2 added via DIY reactor - not sure how effectively
    • 4 x 96W CF bulbs generally on ~12 hrs/day (AH Supply)
    • Bioload is ~20 4" fish of various varieties (angels, clown loaches, rainbows) plus a few tetras and plecos.
    • Water chemistry ... unknown. Ran out of most test kits a while back and got lazy. But nitrates are low (~10ppm or less); PH is high (7.4+).
    • Tank contains a couple pieces of driftwood and a good number of plants. Most of the latter do well, despite an ongoing cycle of various types of algae that have made their appearance. Latest is some kind of black slime that likes to coat everything (though the plecos keep it down) plus a couple others. In the past I've not had to work this hard at keeping the tank stable and had much better results. Current issues started 18 months ago after a move.
     
  2. Frolicsome_Flora

    Frolicsome_Flora Guru Class Expert

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    Welcome to the forums :) its a great resource and somewhere to bat about ideas.

    Firstly, Id read up on Estimative Index, its a little to take in, but itll make your life far simpler in the long run.

    Secondly, Id invest in a drop checker and read up on Vaughn's threads about using them properly.

    Using those 2 priceless theories, youll have a much better chance of getting things sorted and growing nicely.

    Most of your algae problems are probably due to unstable/inadequate CO2, but if your not dosing nutrients across the range, thats going to contribute as well. Learning EI will give you far less things to think about when things go pear shaped.

    Good luck with it all, and ask as many questions as you like, there are some seriously clever people here :)
     
  3. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    One main thing you want to focus on is rather simple, what type of tank do you want?

    You have plenty of light.
    You have CO2, but it's not being used correctly(not enough CO2 in your tank)
    If the 4x96 w lights are A&H supply, you can bend the reflectors out so you can get a better lighting spread that's more even.

    I know some folks in this society you belong to, you can ask them about your tap water there. I recall it's fairly soft, low in both KH and GH, but water utilities can vary some also.

    Still, even with liquid rock (Very high KH), the pH is way too high if you are using CO2.

    You will want to determine what the KH is in the tap.
    This will help you to get a better handle on the CO2.

    Take a look at this chart.
    Measure your KH, then scroll down the chart to find that KH.
    Follow that line over till you see 30ppm or close, now you look up and see what pH you need to have that CO2 level.

    Note, you need to add more CO2 to drive the pH, do not use anything other than CO2 gas to do this!! Your goal is adding more CO2, not reducing pH. The pH + KH is just a method to measure the CO2 in ppm.

    Put another way, if you want more CO2 in the water, add more CO2 gas!
    Seems simple and it is, but many get side tracked about pH.

    The KH ref drop checker is simple to use and gives continuous CO2 ppms, you no longer need to measure the tank's KH if you use this method.

    A drop checker runs about 10-20$, the KH ref solution is sold here from Bill, I think 500mls is like 5.99$ plus shipping. Add some Bromo blue(3 drops of the Bromo blue pH indicator + 6mls of the KH ref solution) to that and the KH solution and then place in the tank.

    It no longer matters what the KH is in the tank now to determine the CO2.
    Just the pH which you just look at inside the glass drop checker.

    So you really do not test at all, KH or pH.
    They are pre done for you.

    You will add more CO2 via the needle valve if the pH solution inside the checker becomes blue and less if it becomes yellow, the solution is green when you have enough CO2.

    **Note correction edit**

    You might need more current and flow through the DIY CO2 reactor.
    This is a big tank, 2 reactors might be more wise. and then some good current blasting the CO2 enriched outflow all over the tank will help as well.

    Gravel, lights, tap water, etc are all fine.

    So you address the CO2 and then do EI(see articles index) and you will not need to test no more.

    I'd do about 2/3 the suggested volumes for full EI.
    There is an EI "light" version as well.
    The concept is very simple, but folks still wrestle with it a few times.

    I try to cover most of bases, so the reading is dense, most of what I write is that way:rolleyes:

    From there, you will want to look at the monthly Barr Reports going back at the beginning and read up on them and discuss them here.

    This will take time....as in months to read through a lot of it.
    But you can pick and chose which topics apply and use it as a resource.
    Some parts those reports will go over 95% of the readership's heads.
    That's fine, folks can stretch their minds and learn more if they chose, it's not particularly important to rush and try and understanding everything as fast as you can.

    What is important is that you discuss and think about what it is you want, and how to deal with the more immediate issues like the algae.

    I address algae as a plant growth problem, not a pest/disease.
    When the plants are growing well, the algae does not.

    So focusing on the plant's health is the best course of action, it makes the most obvious sense(that was what and why most got into the hobby to do -grow plants) and then you no longer chase algae species after species.

    Many of the folks here are very helpful and knowledgable.Many are newer folks also, but there are some very seasoned folks as well.



    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  4. Pierre

    Pierre Lifetime Charter Member
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  5. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    That is backwards: yellow means low pH or too much CO2 in the water, and blue means high pH or too little CO2 in the water. So, if the drop checker fluid is blue, add more CO2 by adjusting the needle valve. If it is yellow, reduce the CO2 by adjusting the needle valve. A bubble counter is very good when doing this, because you can see how much effect adjusting the needle valve is having.
     
  6. walterd

    walterd Junior Poster

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    Outstanding ... just what I was looking for! It may be obvious to those here, but I would add "EI".

    Drop checker ordered and I'll be looking into buying reference liquid as well. It looks pretty idiot-proof (once set up correctly) assuming 'GREEN' indicates the tank really is where it needs to be. BTW - going eBay price is currently $23-$30 + a very reasonable $5 shipping.

    Good memory Tom - "fairly soft" water in Raleigh-Durham is an understatement. Though some water chemistry varies from town to town, water hardness pretty much everywhere here is measured in single digits consistently (meaning below 10; often not measurable).

    Based on feedback my CO2 reactor must not be doing the job I'd hoped. Next step will be to replace it with one of the DIY models here.

    A follow-up question - Tom indicated that most of my tank setup was good and I just need to focus on CO2. Given that I have Eco-Complete as the substrate, will this eliminate or minimize the need for additional fertilization? According to their packaging it has everything plants need, can cure cancer, and is the first step towards world peace. But you know those marketing guys. I have to presume at some point some of the trace minerals get depleted (?). Is Eco-Complete REALLY complete?

    Many thanks!
    Derek
     
  7. Frolicsome_Flora

    Frolicsome_Flora Guru Class Expert

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    Bear in mind that it might be a combo of the reactor not doing well and not enough CO2 being produced in the first place, youd be suprised just how much it takes, and with a big tank like yours, even more so.

    If you find reactors are an issue, its possible to pick up some very good glass blown 'mist' producing ones, for about $40. Well worth the investment if you cant get the DIY ones to work. Its worth trying the DIY ones first, Im all for paying for as little as possible, but i realised the amount Id spent on DIY stuff, woulda payed for alot of the equipment for pressurised anyway. If your aim is to, in the end, have a very hassle free tank, with minimum maintenence, Id urge you to look at pressurised CO2, once your setup, the actual CO2 is dead cheap.
     
  8. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Thanks for correcting my dyslexia:eek:

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  9. walterd

    walterd Junior Poster

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    The DIY model is assembled and in place. Hopefully I'll start to see results in a week or two(?).

    The CO2 rate is considerably higher than I had it before. I had to crank it up just to get a good flow into the reactor (which is in the tank above instead of the sump below where the old one was) so hopefully I've hit both points. Looking at the CO2 bubble counter its running north of 10 bubbles per second ... essentially to fast to count. Need to verify that I don't have a leak somewhere too! At this rate I'll burn through the 10lb tank in probably a month or two. Seems fast even for a large tank.

    The DIY version is less than esthetically pleasing, but after a couple hours isn't accumulating gas which I take as sign that the tank water is sucking up the gas. This will have to be a temporary solution as I'd much rather have it in the sump, and it looks like the glass models may work in 3-5" of water(?) - so I'll look into them as well.

    If this simple steps solves my algae problems I'm going to buy somebody a couple beers!

    Derek
     
  10. Frolicsome_Flora

    Frolicsome_Flora Guru Class Expert

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    hehe :) sounds like you got tood CO2 being produced at least. Seriously though, you will cure it with EI and solid CO2, it took between 2-4 weeks to clear mine out as well.. just takes perseverance and patience, the later I struggle with.

    You could also get an algae eating army too to help you out, some Oto's, shrimps, snails etc.. I did that and it helped no end, Oto's being the best soldiers to the cause. Amazing fish.
     
  11. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    Back when I was still working we usually had a few co-workers who scurried around, walked rapidly, talked on the phone a lot, produced paperwork occasionally, and generally accomplished very little. I have been reading that otos are somewhat like that. Mine certainly scurry around, swim fast, etc. but I don't know if they are actually affecting the algae at all.
     
  12. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Neil Frank use to correspond often with me about many things. He's from that area. So I have a clue as to the water, a bit like SF water.

    You should focus on adding GH booster, see Greg Watson's site for that.
    You can add a little baking soda, but it's not required, plants want CO2, not KH really(unless they run out of CO2, then they will go after KH).

    Eco Complete;s folks are from some other planet or something regarding no need for adding anything else, they apparently think they have a silver bullet and all your growth issues are solved with their product. Flourite could make similar claims, but they are wiser and less full of beans, good folks there.

    It(no substrate) replaces all fertilization. CO2, K+, Ca, Mg etc, generally all should come from the water column. K+ does not bind to organic materials.
    Do not listen to that advice. Ignore the marketing hype. Traces are not really depleted but they are obviously not the sole supply for optimal plant growth(which should be any new person's goal that wants to be a gardener)

    Focus on using EI, adding the GH booster and then CO2 CO2 and CO2.

    If you follow EI, the rest is just CO2.
    If you do the KH referenced drop checker method, then, you tweak the CO2 into the proper range, do EI and never test.

    That's a very effective and simple method.
    You sort of test using the pH color change in the drop checker, but you add the KH 6mls and 3 drops of pH indicator once every 2 weeks or so and then just glance at it and to make sure there's enough CO2, you do not break out test kits ever again.

    You do not need them to grow plants very effectively.
    Some might insist you do, but some common sense and water changes make things simpler and rules out test kit errors and other things that test kits cannot test for.

    Who wants to test 12 different nutrients?
    Or assume one as proxy for all the others?
    That's a big assumption.

    What about the non available forms, like the organic fractions of nutrients?
    The cost of doing testing correctly is a lot and time consuming.

    Rather than that, simplification with a basic maintenance tool, the water change is far more effective.

    I think it's better for most folks in the hobby to have a very simple, effective, damn cheap, available all over the globe method to grow plants.

    EI is certainly a huge step that direction. The drop checker and it's rich very accurate cousin, the pH meter + KH ref solution, take care of the rest.

    I and others have essentially reduce the testing down to one single visual pH change.

    Now that's much simpler than any other competing method.
    You have to go to non CO2 methods to make things even easier.

    You'll see me suggest that method(non CO2) as well here or marine plants and other methods. I also just feed folks the EI routine in a basic simple model, you can tweak further easily to better suit your individual taste and needs as you gain more experience;)

    Make water changes as easy for yourself as you can.
    That will help you a great deal over time.

    I hard plumb the drain and fill permanently into client's tanks and my home.
    I turn a knob to drain, turn another to fill.
    Cost some $$ and trouble to do so, but the reduced labor even if I paid myself 5$ an hour makes it rapidly worth that initial expense. It also removed the lack of motivation factor and mess involved.

    I drain the tank and clean while it drains and then I trim as the tank refills.
    Even massive tanks take 2-3 hours a week.
    I've taken care of a 350 gallon tank for several years and spend at most 2 hours a week on it and it's packed with maybe 1000 fish. It gets slightly heavy standard EI and good CO2.

    I personally do not require nor need CO2 measuring devices to run tanks, the plants are my cue, rather than drop checkers etc.

    That takes a few years to develop, but many can pick up on it with some species quickly, Riccia is good and pearls very well when you have good CO2, and not much when you do not.

    Development is more what I look at and algae type etc

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  13. walterd

    walterd Junior Poster

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    Taking the natural preditor approach was round 3 of my war on algae in this tank. I started with Otto's but they weren't up to the task. Part of that was just the scale (big tank); part was that it has an overflow and most of the Otto's weren't smart enough to stay away from it. I think I still have somewhere between 1 and 3 in there. Last time I saw them they were really fat (which probably saved them from the overflow!). Snails don't last long because the clown loaches like them for snacks ... same would be true for shrimp.

    About two months ago I started adding plecos. I now have 4 bristlenose plecos there, and they have done an outstanding job of keeping the algae down, but by no means have been able to eliminate it. They scoured the driftwood, were pretty good about the rock background (except crevices where they couldn't reach), but just so-so on the plants (swords, java fern, and various Vals hit particularly hard).

    As an interesting contrast, I also have a 30 gallon tank that houses invertebrates (snails, shrimp) that is heavily planted (java moss, java ferns, small anubias, and a few other things). It sits in a window and I do almost nothing to maintain it. I've periodically rotated smaller plants through that tank ... between the 'algae wash' provided by the hungry critters and whatever the water chemistry is in that tank, plants are sparkling clean usually with in couple days. The shrimp seem to literally attack a new plant but I'm not sure they are doing all the work. It seems like the algae just dissolves off. PH/Hardness are both high in that tank (Argonite added for the shrimp's shells); minimal algae growth, no CO2 added, 10-20% water changes every 2-4 weeks (shrimp highly sensitive on these), but otherwise I don't know what the water chemistry is there. I try not to mess with success :).
     
  14. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Bristle nose plecos are pretty underrated IMO.
    They have a rather dramatic long fin type that's interesting and very hardy.
    Otto's are good for diatoms and that's about it.

    Rosy barbs are effective against anything furry, moss included.
    flagfish and others work well to varying degrees as well.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  15. Frolicsome_Flora

    Frolicsome_Flora Guru Class Expert

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    I love Plecos, but I find they dig up everything.. maybe that was just the type I had at the time though. Not sure.

    My Oto's are really good at cleaning up the leaves and hard scaping, I do wonder though if the algae would have disappeared anyway now I have my CO2/light balance right, quite possibly. I still love them though :):)
     
  16. walterd

    walterd Junior Poster

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    I chose the bristlenose specifically because:

    • They were reputed to be very good consumers of algae (very true)
    • They don't get very big (~5")
    • They have a face only a mother could love, and thus are somewhat distinctive
    • They are plant friendly and don't dig up or hurt most plants - apparently they can be a little hard on swords and similar plants, but I've not had that experience.
    • They breed relatively easily, and so can make more of themselves over time.
    Derek
     
  17. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    I keep quite a few plecos and pleco like critters in that family.
    There are many suitable species, some that might seem unlikely.

    Some can uproot and cause a few smaller issues, some gnaw plants, but most do not.

    Mango, Sunshine, Vampire, Satan, gold nuggets, gold spot, P leopardus and spinosus, any in the Otto group or rubber lip, Parancistrus, Sturisoma, Peckoltia, Ancistrus, etc all do well.

    Many aquascapes are better suited for different layouts that will handle the larger species and rougher fish.

    Some scapes? They get messed up by even very small fish.
    Some of the tanks I do have to address that and I change the scpe some and add different plants that will make it in various locations.

    So some trial and error is needed to get the balance between fish species and the plant species/scaping.

    You can play it safe and all, but I like my fish also so I'm willing to work on this a bit more.

    Malawian cichlids are generally not considered suitable either, but many have nice examples and similar cases.



    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  18. walterd

    walterd Junior Poster

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    Test results are in:

    Just got the test kits delivered and tested the water in the tank, understanding that these are not particularly accurate (but better than guessing). After running the CO2 reactor for nearly 3 days now the water chemistry has changed some. The PH has come down (it was at the top range of my old kit, so very well may have been higher than I thought earlier).

    PH: 7.2
    KH: 71ppm
    GH: through the roof ... off the chart of the test kit. Their scale stops at 12 drops; I stopped at 15 with no color change
    Nitrates: 10-20ppm
    Nitrites: safe
    Total Hardness: Very Hard
    ... also KH at the tap is
     
  19. Frolicsome_Flora

    Frolicsome_Flora Guru Class Expert

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    increasing the hardness of the water wont help your low co2.. the only thing that will give you some more co2, is to add more co2. :)
     
  20. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Yes, you need to add more CO2, not enough is getting dissolved into the tank.

    Consider a larger reactor, a diffuser etc and blast the outflow into the plant beds, filter outflow so that it gets well mixed in the tank.

    Tap water sounds great.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
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