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"Organic Gardening" in the aquarium?

Discussion in 'CO2 Enrichment' started by rusticitas, May 10, 2007.

  1. rusticitas

    rusticitas Lifetime Charter Member
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    I am relatively new to aquaria and planted aquaria, having started only three years ago. I have been reading the Barr Report and this site for about a year now, and have learned a lot, even if I have not been able to put all into practice just yet.

    Simultaneously I have been keen on trying my hand at gardening and have been reading up on that as well. There is a LOT of discussion and use of "organic" gardening methods. I am still as yet unclear exactly what that means, other than the idea of a holistic approach to gardening, as a system, using natural products that work as part of a closed cycle or loop. (At least that's what I've taken from what I've read so far.)

    My question here is, is there an equivalent in planted aquaria? Are the potassium nitrate and mono-potassium phosphate that I use considered "organic"? I am assuming not. I am also assuming that use in aquaria does not necessarily have a negative environmental impact as we're: (a) using such small amounts; (b) our plants are using the chemicals such that when we do our water changes we are not introducing much, if anything, into our water systems or environment when dumping the effluent{2}.

    Are there "organic" gardening methods that can be used in planted aquaria, such that if one is keeping such a garden outside (or a pond?), and planted tanks inside, similar techniques and fertilization methods could be used? Specifically I am wondering about worm casings. Out of tremendous curiousity I got myself a worm bin with "red wigglers" to try out vermicomposting on a very small scale.


    -Jason


    {1} It takes awhile for all of that information to "percolate" through my brain and put it into an actual tank.

    {2} Part of the previous assumption is my understanding that environmental issues are probably due to industrial, large scale, farming and the huge runoff during heavy rains to local waterways.A
     
  2. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    I think "organic gardening" became popular as a result of hearing about the massive amounts of pesticides, and lesser amounts of excess fertilizers being introduced into both the land and the water from conventional gardening. I don't see anything equivalent to that with planted tanks. Our little ecosystems just aren't connected in any major way to the outside world. If we fertilize properly most of the ferts are used up by the plants, even though we do weekly water changes that do dump the excess into nature. Those ferts are very basic ones, very dilute, and almost certain to be beneficial to our lawns and flower gardens. So, I don't see a reason to try to do an aquarium minus the fertilizer salts we now use.
     
  3. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Well, in agriculture, "organic" means a lot of different things, it's a load buzz word as far as I can tell. Some are fighting to prevent it from being diluted, while others want it to be diluted and applied more liberally.

    There is no such thing as a closed loop crop cycle BTW. It's does not exist and never has. Crops are farmed, and the only way to get away from that and have it natural is the take from nature what it has to offer, but we farm things and grow them in artificial environments, we remove weeds, we enrich soil, we remove/export the crops and do not return them to the soil.

    None of that is the least bit "natural".
    I've always been mythed by folks claiming to be all about "natural" methods because it's not natural at all, never was.

    The real issue is " Is it better than the the inorganic methods and why?"

    That is quite a different matter.
    Is adding KNO3 worse or better and why? Is using manure better/worse and why?

    For aquariums, manure is worst in most every case at similar levels of N vs KNO3.
    You do not have fish swimming around in the your fields.

    It does not matter too much whether a cattle operation is organic or not to the trout in a stream etc, the NH4 produced is still the same. Perhaps some of the pesticides used are toxic, but many are not and are used in ppb ranges or break down rapidly.

    You can use/sell manure and add it to the soil after the cattle have eaten the grass, but you still export the food and you must make up that difference somewhere.

    Composting is a good idea.

    Yes and no.

    The soil method used could be considered "organic" and a non cO2 method would be = to an organic method more than any other method. The fish waste from the fish food = plant nutrients and you add fish food and export plant trimmings.
    Still a long long way off from anything remotely closed looped.

    But still much closer to that goal than the CO2/inorganic methods as well.
    You do not want to use anything with Organic N at high levels as it can lead to algae and poor fish health, thus not many liquid ferts have much NH4 for rather obvious reasons.


    Correct. Some want to howl and complain about this, which is pure poppycock and pandering. Everything is relative and this is not some absolute thing and that's a pretty weak argument to begin with. Every method has some excesses at some point, some more than others.
    If this is the main goal you have with planted tanks, then you really need to use non CO2 methods exclusively.

    But....many that whine about this issue have CO2 ironically...............where does all that wasted gas go? K+? They waste as well, and their higher electric bills also do more damge as well, they often have high light to boot:rolleyes:

    Then some say they need more light and I say they do not and they argue with me over that(but have not tried low light+ CO2 thus speak from ignorance).

    Yes, worm castings was rather popular a few years back.
    Mainly more DIY folks, "ADA types" would never use something not made specifically for aquariums with some poetry on the side of the box.
    Likewise, many DIY folks would never pay for the high $ for the ADA, Dupla stuff, too cheap.

    So comparatively, many folks lack experiences at either end of this spectrum.
    I'm a curious type however who is less concerned about the cost for one item if I can save a lot in the long run.
    Sometimes the trade offs between ADA vs DIY are good and Ill buy the ADA.

    CMS+B is popular Trace, I do not like it and the trade off for me is worthwhile to buy Tropica's brand. I'm working towards selling a better trace for tanks than Tropica that's dry and cheap.

    To use worm casings(WS), I'd soak them in a shallow pan for 2-3 weeks prior to use or boil them for 10 minute in water.

    From there, use about 1:3 ratio of WS to sand(2mm), add about 3" of this mixture, then cap with about 1" 2-3 mm sand.

    Fill very slowly and plant tank etc.
    You can also use peat and other things such as manures, compost etc etc

    Make sure you boil for 10 min, or soak it for 2-3 weeks and then do a good mix with sand, then cap, do not lay a super solid rich mix at the bottom, that makes a mess later when replanting.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  4. rusticitas

    rusticitas Lifetime Charter Member
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    A lot to digest, then (uh) fertilize. ;-)

    Great answers! Thanks.

    Until I catch up on chemistry (reading some a freshman chemistry textbook from a friend who is professor), what is it about a dry fertilizer such as KNO3 that would not be considered "organic"? This is not a serious question, just one of curiousity. (I also realizt that the word "organic" is bandied about in a rather carefree manner, but am assuming there is some scientific differentiation?)


    You have given me a lot to think about and consider. The first thing that occurs to me is that I have not actually set up a proper experiment -- such as you have often suggested Tom -- with a tank. I have more or less cobbled things together in a big of a haphazard way, not being careful to pay attention to the various parameters. Therefore, I do not think I am really getting a good grip on understanding all of the constituent parts that make up the whole.

    Hm.

    I think I should take all the various things I have been collecting (substrate, plants, co2, etc) and set up a properly defined tank with a specific "mission," define the parameters and stick to them. And pay attention to the results. An experiment, if you will.

    While this reply feels rather off-topic to me, from my original post, writing has cleared up a couple of things in my head that were not settling.


    -Jason
     
  5. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    "Organic" has several meanings. One is, based on carbon containing chemcals. Another is, based on living matter. Another is, grown naturally - which, as Tom pointed out, is bunk. Organic Chemistry is the chemistry of carbon compounds. Organic in art has still another meaning. To me it means, "this stuff is overpriced, but you look so cool buying it."
     
  6. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    To add to what Vaughn said,
    Organic means carbon, there's no carbon in KNO3.
    Take some amino acids with carbon units attached, those are organic Nitrogen forms and can be broken down by bacteria and utilized as a source for reduced carbon (like sugars, fats and carbohydrates that we eat, we also eat reduced carbon etc). As that occurs, the bacteria can use the Nitrogen, or excrete it as waste(like our kidneys/liver and fish gills do). We are not a closed looped system either.

    So applying the chemical definition also works with respect to farming organically.
    The use of pesticides can be good or bad, depends on what pesticide is used and how it is used. Poor management, lack of knowledge and understanding cause plenty of problems as well as myths there also, just like our hobby.

    KNO3, K2SO4, KH2PO4 are natural occurring salts but can also be synthesized.


    Well at least you are honest enough to admit it, many are not and are driven by pride:rolleyes: Honesty will get you far and makes sure you do not have to waste time rembering Bull that you told prior:)

    However, many do not care to test and do all that, they just want to grow plants well and solve their issues. Some enjoy reading about test and seeing what has been done and how it's explained.
    A very few, do really like to test.

    You start off making mistake when you test, as time passes, you get better and better and better.

    As you get better, you know what mistakes you have made at each stage and why you once thought excess PO4 may have caused algae.

    If you have tested like so many claim or merely somehow "know", then you'd not make that conclusion however.

    I know when people are full of crap when they debate me. I know based on their responses if they have done the test or not and why they have come to the same wrong conclusion I once held or considered. Unlike them, I tried to falsify and disprove that and when I did, I could move on to the next stage/question etc.

    They are still stuck on that conclusion and poor test method etc, and I suggest a method to resolve that worked for me and they get all pissed off, defensive, their pride is on the line and what not.

    Petty.

    You are really helping them, being honest as you can, they take it all personally.
    They also do not want to be wrong and think it is bad to admit something was wrong publicly. Crap, I'm wrong a lot. I make mistakes, I go back and deal with and fix them, I never give up.

    That's how I learn and why I know more than many about aquatic plants.
    Not because I'm smarter than anyone.I'm pretty dense about many things.:eek:
    I am human, very much so and know this and am aware of it. Some of these clowns act like they are super human and never make any mistakes and are infallible.

    You can start and test a great many things with our simple little aquatic boxes.
    Many test are possible and you do not need a great set up either.
    Many other folks want to focus much more on scaping.
    You can and should try both and learn and make mistakes in both areas.


    You should sit down and really ask what things you want out of this tank.
    Then write down what trade offs are important to you.

    How much growth do you want?
    You may not know many of the answers to these questions either, few folks do until they try things out some.
    So your goals changes often times.

    Be easy on yourself and ask, look around at the tanks, see what appeals to you.
    Then make a plan.

    I do the same thing with Lakes, restoration ecology, weed control etc.
    It's no different if the ecosystem is a vernal pool, a lake, a river, an aquarium etc.



    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  7. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    BTW, some folks have suggested I make a a certified organic macro mix and a trace mix as well.

    I'm surprised no one has done so.
    You can remove a lot of the organic N and NH4 by naturally mineralizing the Nitrogen into NO3.

    It can be done, but I do not think you will gain much from this.
    The sediment is the best bet for this approach vs a liquid water column fert.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  8. rusticitas

    rusticitas Lifetime Charter Member
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    Whoosh! Right over my head. However, this is saved in my DEVONthink database and when I get some more chemistry under my belt (no pun intended) I will get back to that. :)
     
  9. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Well, if you want to play this organic game, it helps to know the rules, then chem and the processes. It adds another levels of complexity in cycling, not simplicity.

    Some confuse that with "better", more "Natural", perhaps it is, but it's not as simple and all "fuzzy and furry" as terrestrial advocates attempt to suggest.

    I am highly supportive of organic farming and aquarium methods.
    But the issue is that there is little that just not known and even less explored.
    So more testing is needed and more research is needed on specific species, energy and cost budgeting, over all cost, effective management, mixing of both methods for a hybrid method, time frames for the cycling rates and so on.

    You need to know what is going on to really discuss advantages/trade offs.

    Way too many simply don't.
    They get stuck on one idea they think makes sense and go after it irrationally, however, with great passion. The other side suggest that why bother? Plants still grow and it's fairly easy.

    The trade off/s needs to be a win win for everyone there.
    I think there is a lot of room for that.

    But just saying it ain't going to get you far.
    You have to demonstrate it.

    That's where science, research etc come in.
    People's attitudes are perhaps the most resistive trade offs of all.

    But the more they learn, the more likely they are to convert......

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  10. rusticitas

    rusticitas Lifetime Charter Member
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    Tom,

    I would heartily agree with that. I think I will spend the rest of this year focusing closely on learning EI and seeing how I do with growing as many various plants as I can. Then I will review what I've learned and see where I want to go from there.

    (Just to reassert that I am not pushing to do "organic" just was curious as to what the state of such was like in the planted aquaria arena.)

    Perhaps of interest to those here, at a recent Keystone Killy Group (KKG) meeting, one of the members was showing off a new filter design he'd come up with. One of the things that caught my interest is the way he was building a nice "cycle" of nutrients. As part of the end of the process, some of the water would trickle across the lid through sponges with grass seed in them. The grass grew, soaking up the nitrogen and such from the water. When it grew to height, he'd take the sponge over to his vermiculture bin with his red wigglers and give the "grass sponge" a "haircut" into the bin for the worms to eat and produce the worm casings which he used in his gardening.

    Thought that was pretty cool. He also had something growing out the top of the filter on the lava rock bio-filter. I think he said bromeliad or hosta, but don't quote me on that. It must not have been too large.

    Still, thought that to be a very inventive and interesting "loop" of nutrients. Said his killies were doing fantastically as well, better than with his previous system.

    -Jason
     
  11. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    I do not think there is anything wrong with pushing an Organic agenda, those folks are not bad folks one bit.

    The other side is outright scary however...............
    Zealotry that direction is bad............

    Filter designs have always discussed such concepts. I've seen so many of those over the years. Chem, Bio, Mech etc.
    Then snake oils etc.

    But I'd not get too enamoured with them just yet.

    They need cleaned, they need the same flow rate, they need some maintenance etc. I think canister filters are pretty good there.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  12. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Also, take another look at the filtration newsletter article.
    See how plants relate to that and how bacteria and decomposition does as well.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  13. Professor Myers

    Professor Myers Guru Class Expert

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    "Pure Poppycock and Pandering" !

    Too subtle ! Stop beating around the bush !!!:D

    Don't know why I focused on that statement, but I guess it defines the Spirit of your post pretty well.

    I got a little tear on my cheek and I'm starting to get all misty ! :p ROFLASTC's

    The whole concept, and practice of "Organic" Marketing is utterly, and completely Shameless. By the time it is folded into Retail Aquarium marketing they've crossed the line of absurdity into Gross HOGWASH !!! :eek:

    I do dearly want to be a Good Sport about all this, and yet I may ? Just as soon as they stop insulting our intelligence !

    Thankfully the membership here still indicates a reasonable intellect, and discretion. Original Free Thinking still dazzles me. ;) Prof. M
     
  14. rusticitas

    rusticitas Lifetime Charter Member
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    Tom, I'd forgotten about the filtration issue of the Barr Report. I'll pull that out and re-read that.

    As a side note, there was some, unknown plant that was starting to sprout in my worm bin of all places (effectively no light in there!). So I took it out and have it dangling into one of the killie tanks, with the roots dangling into the water just above the sponge filter. It has been growing like mad. I am guessing it is acting somewhat like a hydroponics setup. Just find it interesting. No idea what it is yet, but does not need much light at all. I'd assume it's sucking up the nitrates as well. I never bothered to take readings before and after, so nothing scientific to make any conclusions from.

    Still, as a budding (no pun intended) gardner, having something grow is a blast. :)
     
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