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old version from 1996-1997 of list of levels and parameters

Discussion in 'Estimative Index' started by Tom Barr, Nov 16, 2006.

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  1. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    A List of Recommended Levels and Parameters for Planted Tanks (1996)
    Steve Dixon and SFBAAPS conferred to write this article.

    This is a test kit version of a method to grow aquatic plants.
    This was the first method that suggested and focused on PO4 dosing and the first method to acknowledge that PO4 excess did not cause algae blooms in planted aquariums. It is also the first method that seriously questioned the accuracy of Test kits and suggested using higher accuracy brands and calibrations.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++==


    Many folks often wish to know what level should their CO2 be in a planted tank or pH or lighting etc. Many times they get very conflicting information. They get told four different things from four different people. They get frustrated and say “Forget the planted tanks, they are too hard and I always get algae!” Plants basically need three things: light, CO2 and nutrients. This is the “food” for the plants, not just the trace elements in the bottle. Many fish keepers often feel that adding more plant food (often just the trace elements) will help their plants grow faster. Nothing could be further from the truth unless you add more light and CO2 also. These things should be balanced with one another. Some folks can get away with lower light or more CO2 or less nutrients than someone else doing a different balance. If we have no O2 we also could not use the food we eat. The vitamins and trace nutrients would do us no good also if we did not have the protein, carbohydrates and fats along with the O2. It may help to think of the plant's N-P-K nutrients as those three food groups for you and fish. The O2 and the CO2 have a similar analogy comparing plants to humans and fish.
    There is not one specific target but a range of parameters that allow plants to do their best. A careful eye on the plants is one of the best things you can do. The focus should always be on the plants, not the algae. A healthy growing plant is the single best way to retard alga growth. ***What to do*** if there's a problem is why I wrote this list of nutrient ranges and how to achieve them.

    Lighting is not really an issue unless you just don't have enough but the color temps don't mean hay. I've gone through from 3050K with the QTL's (Quartz Track Lighting) to 6700K to 8800K MV (Mercury Vapor) bulbs and power compact fluorescent bulbs. They all work well but the 6700 to 5000k seem about the best, but many plants grow great at lower (redder) color temperatures. Some blue does help but to a lesser degree than red. Good lighting types are Metal halide, T-12 or T-8 standard Fluorescent, Power Compact Fluorescent and VHO lighting systems. Many folks add very high light since the advent of power compacts and the cost have dropped. This leads to more frequent need for dosing than lower light tanks. You can dose the same amount at lower lighting but just less frequently. The light drives the entire photosynthetic process and is the tank's "throttle". Lower light tanks are very suitable for CO2 and greatly benefit from it. While not such a critical requirement on lower lighting tanks, they do grow exceedingly well and have less algae than the higher maintenance (trimming, 1-2 more dosings a week, more glass algae) tanks with high light values. But once you settle on the lighting it will not be a large issue as you will not need to do any (or very limited) maintenance to it.

    Sooooo all that is left is? CO2 and Trace/Macro elements right? If you have good lighting then the next item to master is CO2, which involves KH and pH. At a KH of 4 which is about the best range (mine's 5-5.5) all you need to do is dial the pH in with CO2 gas additions to about 6.6-6.8 and try to keep it in this "range" throughout the entire day. If it goes over or under somewhat it's OK. Add Baking soda to get the KH up to 3 at least (if you have very soft tap water). My tap water has a good range where I live. If my pH it starts at 6.4 or 6.5 in the morning and hits 7.0 later right before the light go off, that's fine. This might be a typical rise during a day depending on your tank's lighting and other factors. Folks should realize that in most shallow lakes and ponds with vegetation growing the pH can rise from 6 in the early morning to over 10 in the evening in some cases. A more normal range is about 1 to 2 units of pH. But plants are doing well in both locations. A rise of .2 to .4 is what you would like to hit on a daily basis. Of course if the plants are growing and looking fine don't mess with it. Do not ever use chemicals to lower your pH! Use CO2 gas only! Plants want the CO2, not the buffers. Give them what they need to grow. I do not add CO2 at night although you can with no ill effects. I see no need since it is only for the plants and they only use it during the day. The moderate rise in pH at night does no harm.

    There is a nice table and a more in depth discussion on the web on www@krib.com maintained by Erik Olson. By testing your KH and pH and adjusting each or both of them you adjust your CO2 levels in your tank. So a KH of 4 will give you a CO2 reading of 30 mg/l if you have a pH of 6.6. And if you raise the pH up to 6.8 you'll now have 19mg/l and if you take it up to 6.9 you'll have a CO2 content of 15mg/l all of which would do nicely for your tank. So just add something for KH and get it to 4KH and dial the pH in with CO2 till you have between 6.6 and 6.9 pH. This is all you need to do for CO2. Got harder water? Adjust based on the KH/pH table. It's cheaper/easier to add more CO2 than to soften your water or add RO water etc. Many folks assume they need RO soft water to grow plants. This is a myth. Both non-CO2 enriched and CO2 enriched tank do well (these non-CO2 tanks soften the water over time on their own) in hard waters. I have had extremely hard water at a KH 15 and GH of 24 and my plants all did great when I used CO2. Tap water rich in PO4 or NO3 is fine also since then you do not need to dose these to the aquarium after a water change.
    I would move on to NO3 from here although Ca and Mg are very important components of GH. Many fertilizers add this or at least Mg. Several companies offer pre- made buffers that have GH and KH for this to get it up to about 4-5GH. It adds both Ca and Mg. You can also add Calcium carbonate to get equal amounts of GH and KH but this lacks Mg. Epsom salt, MgSO4~7H2O can be used for Mg.

    Continued:
     
  2. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    NO3 seems best at 5-10ppm but this is a bit more flexible "range". You may only want to add weekly or perhaps everyday a little bit each time. Some may have 20ppm at the beginning of the week after adding some to come to about 2 PPM at the end of the week. Some may want to keep a narrow day to day level of 10ppm(+ or - 2ppm) by adding and testing. I've had higher levels than this but the plants I doubt need the higher levels unless you are using 5watts+ per gallon or more etc. I've had some tanks in the 50-75ppm range before with little to any algae but also had lots of light and CO2 etc. I also did 50% water changes so things didn't keep building up but were removed after a week or so with no harm done. How much each tank "eats" should be tested first then a program can be implemented with less testing and a good idea of the tank's needs. I have found that dosing 3x a week with KNO3 and performing 50% weekly water changes allows great NO3 level control and is a very easy routine. One dose after a water change and then once or twice more before the next water 50% change. The large weekly water changes prevent any build up and re set the nutrient levels in the tank allowing the plants to grow at their optimum levels.
    Lately, I have been going back to the old methods and just overfeeding my fish to add more Nitrogen instead of adding KNO3. Plants do prefer some NH4+ ion to that of the NO3 but NH4+ is quite toxic to fish. NH4+ is also a great way to induce many forms of algae. I have done a number of experiments dosing NH4+ and adding small fish till I start exceeding the amount of NH4+ the plants can take in. Algae are the result 100% of the time. Performing the same experiment with NO3 does not produce the same result. Adding a larger filter reduces the impact of NH4+ also. Since plants cannot exist with much NH4+ present without algae and/or dead or sick fish they can use the NO3. I have had about 5ppm of NO3 removed from the water column with a well-run plant tank. If plants are stunted and receive not enough nitrogen (either NO3 or NH4+) they will have greatly reduce nutrient uptake of PO4, K+ and most other nutrients but this also includes slowed NH4+ uptake if the plants have been NH4+ starved. Adding NO3 will help the plants use and assimilate the NH4+ faster also.
    Fe (iron) can be used from a few different sources. Iron filings in the substrate, fractured clay gravel, laterite, etc can be added in. The water column can have about 0.2-0.5 PPM, although some other aquarist’s water and my own, have been higher than this without issues. Mine was 2.0 PPM at the SFBAAPS (San Francisco Bay Area Aquatic Plant Society) Nov open house for instance. I keep some tanks lower on purpose (0.2ppm or less to zero for no more than two days at a time at moderate to high light) but these have substrate based iron sources so the plants can still have an iron source. These tend to be lower lighting tanks also that get less attention. These tanks are less dependent on a steady supply in the water column and more forgiving. Plants can do fine for up to three weeks without iron in the column so it can be used as an alga control/limiting nutrient (only with a few species of algae) as can N and other elements. But it always gets back to how you balance your tank. Iron test kits have not proven very reliable in measuring actual bio available iron in the water column. But there is a very useful "trick" to figure out the optimum trace dosage for your tank and getting to this point really an ideal path to growing plants well.
    By getting all the other nutrients (NPK and GH/KH, CO2) and lighting correct, simply add increasing increments of trace elements and maintain each increment for 2-3 weeks to assess the plant growth. When adding more trace elements has no effect on plant growth/health, that is your target amount. My range at very high lighting is about 5mls per 80 liters of tank dosed 3x a week with either Flourish/Flourish iron (4:1 ratio) or TMG. Sera also had good results. It is unlikely that anyone would need more than this. Dosages of 2 to 3x the recommended amounts are common in a well-planted CO2 enriched tank.

    The general trace element fertilizers that are sold have the other elements in there also but iron is the big one to measure. Basing the others off of this reading of iron seems to work fine for the other elements in the mixture for most all tanks. If you are having algae problems back off the Trace element fertilizers and do a water change and add the GH and KH and the KNO3. I think adding more trace element fertilizer if you have a handle on your algae problem is a wise move, even doubling to tripling the recommended amounts in a **well** running tank. This kind of tank would have high light and more CO2 added. Remember: balance is key. If you add more lighting, expect that you will need more CO2 and nutrients as well.
    In Marin County, California there's a high level of PO4 in our tap water. 1.1ppm or so and I do large water changes typically, around 50 to 70% weekly. I really don't need to add it in my water. My PO4 levels fall quite fast later in the week. We tested about .5-. 6 PPM after 3 days afterwards a 50% water change with good feedings and OK growth rates. I repeated this test several times afterwards for some conformation. Some folks add it by feeding with fish food (which contains some) but this is converted to NH4, which is the real culprit for causing algae blooms.
    I add PO4 by using KH2PO4 since my present tap water is very low in PO4. Other sources such as enemas and H3PO4 (30%) have sodium phosphate and are suitable for adding PO4.The small amount being dosed relative to the PO4 needed have no effect from the acid or the sodium. I have gone up to 2.0ppm of PO4 and never had any signs of algal presence. Having enough present for the plant's needs is all one needs to do. It can be 0.5ppm or it can be 1.0ppm. for your target. Some folks only add enough to raise it 0.2ppm and let it drop to zero or so for a day or two before adding more. These folks are timid and have been told that PO4 causes algae. This is true in lakes where there are no plants. In warmer lake where the plant mass is 30-50% only the plants flourish when PO4 is added to a limited system. Aquatic Plants also need more PO4 relative to N than algae. When plants are limited by PO4 they slow their NO#/NH4 uptake down by 50 to 90 % depending on the severity of PO4 limitation. Adding a small amount of PO4 3x a week will increase the NO3 uptake from 0.5ppm to 1.0ppm a day up to 3-5ppm a day of NO3 uptake. Visually you can see the effects of adding PO4 to a PO4 limited tank in about 40 minutes. If you add some in the middle of the day or at the beginning, observing your tank a few minutes before the lights go off will tell you if the plants are happy and growing well. This effect is quite dramatic and perhaps unlike any other single nutrient.
    Potassium (K+) is a wonderfully easy nutrient to dose that helps a planted tank use up the NO3/NH4 and the PO4. Adding it is easy and the target range is quite large. There have never been any reports of over dosing that I am aware of using K2SO4, although some have had some issues with KCl and certain fish and shrimps but this is due to the Cl anion perhaps. I add 1/4 teaspoon per 80 liters after a water change only. I also am adding K from the KNO3 which I add 1/4 teaspoon 3x a week. This will give you the range of about 20-30ppm or so of K. Any build up is removed by the weekly water changes.




    Recommended Doses:
    Dose Target: Note:
    pH 6.5 to 7.0 Lower with CO2 gas only.

    KH 3-6 degrees Add Baking soda or premade Alkaline buffer to raise.

    Nitrate (NO3) Add KNO3 (Potassium nitrate) a.k.a. stump remover. Fish load and feedings.
    GH 2-8 degrees Add pre-made buffers to raise. Or CaCO3 for both KH and GH.
    CaCl2 and MgSO4 also.
    Iron (Fe) 0.2ppm to 0.7ppm+
    Add a good trace element fertilizer*

    Phosphate (PO4) 0.2ppm to 0.5ppm Add K2PO4 or fish food or sometimes in the tap water already.
    Potassium(K+) 20-30ppm Add K2SO4,KCl and/or KNO3 to boost if you also need NO3. Also in pre-made fertilizers.


    If any thing is over these recommend levels do a water change to lower it.

    Recommended Levels:
    Temperature: 20-30C and a target of 25 C
    Water flow: 3 to 5 times per hour (little to no surface movement) or less
    Fish load: Light to moderate/algae eaters should be added. Snails are good for this (pond(Physa), Malaysian Trumpet snails(MTS’s or needle points-Melanoides tuberculatus), Ramshorn(Phalnobarius corneus), Amano shrimps(C. japonica), Otto cats(otocinculus sp) etc
    Lighting: FL, MH or PC's. Powercompacts, Fluorescent, Metal halide. (Unless your tank is extremely deep or shallow.)

    If something is causing you problems in your tank and you test -or not- you can always do a water change then build up these levels to the proper ranges and you should not have problems as long as you keep up on things. Testing helps you from shooting in the dark. It's worth the money and time to test. You'll pay for it if you don't, lord knows I have. So have many others. It's good to learn from experience as long as it's not your own!

    Continued:
     
  3. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Suggested test kits for:
    *pH pH monitor (much better) –Common colormetric low range cheaper but quite good also.

    *KH Most all test kits are decent.
    *NO3 Narrow range lab grade (>1.0,2.0, 4.0, 6.0 etc (tablet -much better)- and spoon (cheaper but not as accurate and easy to use)
    It is worth the extra cost for this kit.
    *GH Same as KH
    *Fe Lab grade (much better) –Common aquarium company kits (cheaper)
    *PO4 Lab grade (much better) –Common aquarium test kits (cheaper)
    *K+ Two companies offer a kit to test

    If these parameters are in a good range you should only minor issues ...if that. You only need ---light---CO2---nutrients and a balance of these factors and of course a little patience and an eye/desire for the planted tank! Most of your other issues are ones of gardening and pruning management.
    My tanks have the following ranges:
    * pH: 6.5-7.0
    * KH: 4-8
    * GH: 4-8
    * PO4: 1.0ppm average
    * Temp: 25C
    * Fe: .1ppm to 2ppm depending on the tank all right if it goes to
    • NO3: 4ppm to 30ppm but try to keep it in a range of 5-10ppm
    • K+: 20-30ppm
    • Light to low fish load. This is also very important to the balance issue. Lots of cleaner animals.
    * Hey no algae! Good plant growth with some two hundred plant species mixed and matched. Something must be right.

    Tom Barr tcbiii@earthlink.net
    Some of his tanks can be viewed at Welcome the sfbaaps under gallery and also in the pages of TFH.

    Copyright 1997
     
  4. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    The above article pre dates EI.
    I was finding most folks where not doing their testing and with the water change re sets, we did not need them.

    As we became more comfy with this method, we later started exploring the upper ranges rather than looking at near limitation levels.
    Much higher lighting intensities became more common also about that time.
    Since then I've extended the ranges and uptake rates and taken out the test kit altogether.

    You'll note I suggest testing and referencing with high quality test kits, not cheap junky test kits.

    Some have criticized me for changing my mind over the years........
    Well, I keep learning and improving as I hope everyone does as they go through life.
    As I get tired of doing extra work and apply this in a practical way, then EI starts to make much more sense.
    See PMDD for daily dosing routines with or without test kits. ADA also suggest adding daily nutrients etc and did so back in the 1990's as well.
    Sediment fertilization is also a viable method and can add long terms ferts to sediments. this can reduce and remove dosing for the water column , however using both together seesm the bets method allow plenty of play with water column dosing and little to no build up. Some subtle difference can occur when folks pay more attention to a tank, regardless of the method, when they dose more frequently and do not skip dosing. EI is different because it throws away the test kit and used habits already in place in the hobby. This re set method allows better confidence, less $ for test kits, equipment and less technical know how not to mention much easier trouble shooting.

    So when folks see my past history, this will help them to understand why I suggest EI over the older version of the a List of Levels and Parameters and the issues surrounding Test kits. I do take a bit offense when someone suggest they have come with something "new" and that the EI is bad, old, sledge hammer method, blindly throwing ferts at toxic levels and other hyperbole and outright lying. The toxic part has no basis and has never been shown, nor that it induces algae, waste? Unique tank's demand for nutrients?

    Why use a test kit when you can start at a non limiting nutrient level and slowly reduce that down using volume over time till you see a negative plant response, then bump back up to the next higher level of dosing?
    This way the plant is the test kit, and it answers what you want to know, how much of the fert to add. you do this for each fert and this tells you how much to add for each nutrient, EI is just a starting point that you modify from there for your tank. Now, you can keep adding rhe higher levels, say 30ppm when your tank might only need say 15ppm added a week and another 6 ppm comes from fish waste say..........this will do no harm and might cost you 0.21 $ per year in extra KNO3 fertilizer........most will not care, but if you do........there's a way to do that simply and without a test kit.

    I started suggesting EI over this older method here above with good reason: it works better, it's easier to help others with issues, makes things easier for folks and their habits.

    Asking someone to buy all these test kits and chase after the ppm's?
    Make all these solutions? Dose and maintain these ranges?

    You need not be a scientist to see the simplicity in EI.

    Can you do leaner versions of EI?

    Certainly.
    Many do.
    Erik Leung did some leaner EI style methods as did Jeff in out local club. Some dosed it daily, some 2-3x a week.

    Plants can and will grow in leaner more frequently dosed tanks as well as richer dosing as well, neither tank if you follow a method correctly will grow plants very well.

    If you fail at one method, it does not imply the method was at fault, perhaps your habits did not fit well, there are many reasons for failure, but we know that PPS, ADA, Dupla, EI, The List of Levels and parameters, PMDD...they all work well and can be done to high level.
    Thus one can only conclude that the method does not fail, we do.

    How to do a method easily is really a trade off. What areas should be considered and will be problematic? Most hate water changes and most hate testing.
    So should we all go non CO2 methods which require neither for good long term success?
    Well, plants grow a lot slower, some ask for that, so yes, the arguments for that method are also very strong indeed.

    Still, I know that each method is successful and can be done well, having mastered each of them.
    If you have not mastered them fully, then you may be led to assume that a method is bad or worst than another.

    Such thinking is rubbish. These issues are about trade offs, and the human factors/habits. Many place a lot, if not too much importance on dosing nutrients, but the other larger factors, light and CO2 are often glanced over.
    These two cause more issues and variations than dosing does. More Light = more CO2 demand = more nutrient demand. Basic plant growth theory. So if using less is a goal, then start with less light, then you have less CO2 demand and much less nutrient demand as well, so you can get by with less and not waste light and provide plenty of light for algae(algae are neither nutrient nor CO2 limited, plants can be however, so focus there).
     

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  5. JoeBanks

    JoeBanks Prolific Poster

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    I just wanted to say that if not for EI, I would be out of this hobby by now. I was trying to balance my tank for a year and a half using expensive Lamotte test kits, but I always had algae problems. Since I started using EI, the algae disappeared and never returned. My plants are growing well, with the exception of rotala macrandra and HC. Form my internet research, it seems to be a Boron deficiency, so I am going to up my Mastergrow dosing and see how it goes.

    My Lamotte kits are collecting dust, and I'm saving countless hours of testing time.

    Long live EI!
     
  6. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Well, you can always sell those test kits to PPS folks:D


    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  7. Fishgovno

    Fishgovno Junior Poster

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    LMAO @ Tom Barr
     
  8. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    I sold my old heating cables to those that still believed in them:)
    So they do have a purpose, at least for me:)

    But I still use test kits for other purposes, but they make the Lamotte look like cheap 3$ test kits by comparison.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  9. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    If you are really hard core about testing, stop by sometime, you'll be cured after a few hours of bench testing. Generally after the 100th or more sample, the test start to get really like factory work.

    My goal is gardening.
    Not glorified factory work.

    Sometimes you have to do some work to figure a question out, but you should not have to keep monitoring forever.

    I do not know any good scaper that does.............
    They spend their time on more important things, the scape.
    But we all have different goals I suppose.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
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