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Sandbased 70l Tank - A Fresh Old New Start

Discussion in 'Journals' started by LoneWolverine, Jul 12, 2018.

  1. LoneWolverine

    LoneWolverine New Member

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    I would have thought that aqua-scapers by definition would like to have more control over their tank. They are the artists, they controlled the layouts, they controlled the material used, they put much thought in filtering and the supply of CO2, they pick the light, they pick the plants, they pick the livestock etc. They also pick the substrate, but does it mean that they understand how to control it.

    This is not a journal/ article on discussing the pros/cons of using aqua soil as substrate, i am definitely not attempting to encourage people with various level of experience to pick sand over soil in all circumstances. This is just an attempt of me to share the experience of using the common substrate found in the aquascaping world before the introduction and commercialisation of composite aqua soils - sand. This time is a "fresh" start because I am picking inert sand as substrate instead of soil; it is an "old" start because the use of sand is nothing new recently, people have been using it in the past with various degree of success/ failures; it is a "new" start because with a new mindset in nutrition management, I hope that I am not treading the difficult path that I found myself in for the past years.

    Without holding myself to the hostage of over generalisation, I will say that at least in Japan and Hong Kong, most aqua-scapers had adopted composite soil as their default substrate for any newly planted tanks. The same observation may very well apply to different parts of the world, just look at the substrates used in most aquascaping contests around the world.

    I myself, for over at least the past 5 years, am no exception. I cannot count the number of photos of eriocaulons bigger than my palm grown in ADA aqua soil that I have taken in the past.
    eriocaulon-australia-2.gif
    eriocaulon-singapore.gif
    eriocaulon-nonsale2.gif

    You just stick them into the aqua soil, religiously follow the instructions of applying pre-mixed nutrients corresponding to the soil that you are using (I used ADA fertilisers together with ADA soil) and BOOM, they grew and thrive. It was all easy, at least for the first 4-6 months of you setting up the tank with new aqua soil.

    All easy, until 6 months later.

    Soon I discovered that my plants are growing slower, rotala showing shunted growth tips, some leaves of the eriocaulons turned yellow and melted away etc. I started to panic: increased the amount of CO2 (with a few incidents of stressing out the livestocks), changed the light tubes, increase the amount of fertilisers, starting to add liquid carbon sources etc.

    All futile, to my disappointment I was barely slowing down the decline.

    Around a year time, I would give up and replace the whole substrate with new aqua soil. Problems solved, I enjoyed a few months of growth boom, until the headache shunted growth cycle stuck me again. The joy, the disappointment and the replacement nearly became a yearly routine, like a festival.

    It took me quite some time to understand that the problem came from the soil itself -

    i) Soil are stocked with huge amount of nutrients inside, as time passes they are being used up.

    ii) There is a "mix-and-match" between ADA soil and their line of fertilisers (which I had been using). This suspicion is confirmed in the two articles in this site on the analysis of ADA liquid fertilisers and the Soil. The very lean concentration of N in liquid fertilisers was used in conjunction with the soil containing very high concentration of NO3/ NH4+. Initially this level of N source in the soil helped with the growth of plants, but as time passes plants used up the nitrogen in soil the very lean concentration of N in liquid fertilisers cannot compensate this, resulting in a N-deficiency.
    [If you are interested in this soil-fertiliser relationship look up the two articles at tab "ARTICLES" for more detailed analysis, very good research for folks like me who doesn't have the capacity to conduct accurate measurement of nutrient levels in soil and in liquids.]

    iii) I myself will point out that the report on ADA soil compared the nutrient levels in soil after 18 months of usage with the EI Dosing method being used throughout the period. I myself stick to the ADA line of fertilisers which compared to the EI Dosing method provided very lean levels of potassium (except the brighty K, which I didn't use). It is very likely that with the passage of time the concentration of K in soil in my tank would decrease significantly as compared to the one using the EI Dosing method. It is very likely that in addition to a N-deficiency I also encountered a sever K-deficiency in the past.

    I am not denying the vast benefits of using soil as the substrate (and their good marketing), it really provides a very convenient start to most plants and ensured a much greater chance of success for hobbyists by providing much needed nutrients in the substrate. Depending on where you come from, soil could also be used to counter the high GH and PH value in tap water.

    I have decided to use only sand (not soil or the ADA power sand) in the present 70L setup for the following reasons:

    I) Tap water from my area usually have a PH around 7-8 with very low KH (1-2), I can easily lower the PH to a certain acidity with the supply of CO2 without the aid of soil

    II) Although now that I am aided by test reports on the Soil and the fertilisers, there is no way of me ensuring the consistency even in the same line of products as they came from different batches.

    III) There is still a difficulty in knowing how far had the soil "aged". The rate of plants using up nutrients in the soil depend on too many factors like light, CO2, water column nutrient levels, density of plant mass and the type of plants in tank. Nutrient level in soil "aged" for one year in a low light Bucephalandra tank can be very different from a strong light strong CO2 setup primarily occupied by Eriocaulons with very strong root systems. There are simply too much factors to isolate in order to properly adjust the level of nutrients supplies. When should I start to increase the supply of NO3 and how much to increase when I don't know how much is left in the soil over the next 3,4 or 8 months? There will be so many trial and errors

    IV) I cannot afford constant change in water parameters by way of trial and errors for certain types of plants. For slow growers like Bucephalandra and Cryptocoryne, it may well take a long time for the plant to respond to the change in nutrient levels as new leaves take time to form. I had far too many occasions of adjusting the supply of NO3/ K where the plants couldn't give me signals fast enough that they simply melted/ shredded the leaves. Those with experiences growing cryptocorynes will know how sensitive they are in relation to the change of water parameters especially to the level of NO3 in water.

    V) I am horrible at pruning. I like to uproot the plant so that the substrate won't get "bricked up" by the extensive root systems of my plants and this usually create a huge mess with a soil tank as time passes they break down into small dusts.

    Enough talking. A little outline of this 70L setup:
    Tank: 75cm x 30cm x 40cm (water level at around 30cm)
    Light: AQUAEL Leddy Slim (Plant) 32 W
    CO2 supply: 24 hours non-stop (PPM to be added)
    Filtration: Glass inlet --> Aquael ASAP 750E (Coarse physical/ biological filter at bottom, followed by two more layers of medium fine and fine bio-media) --> external AQUAEL UNI 700 pump (700L/h, low voltage) --> external canister (filled with bio-media only) --> CO2 diffuser --> water outlet
    Substrate: A mix of non-calcified Quartz and silica sand (I forgot the two brands used in the mixture)
    Water parameters: PH (to be tested) , GH 5, KH 5, 28-30C water temperature (yes Hong Kong is boiling hot and I refused to use an aquarium chiller, people "advised" me that my plants "cannot survive" at the 30C point but my eriocaulon thrived at even higher water temperature in the past for some lengthy period of time)

    Thanks for reading, will update soon!

    Dated this 12 July 2018
     
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  2. LoneWolverine

    LoneWolverine New Member

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    Some hardscapes (sorry about the iPhone photos and I am a bad photographer):
    set up work over three days: 1-3 June 2018

    hard_scape_16_June_2018_(2).jpg hard_scape_16_June_2018_(3).jpg hard_scape_16_June_2018_(4).jpg hard_scape_16_June_2018_(5).jpg hard_scape_16_June_2018_(6).jpg hard_scape_16_June_2018_(7).jpg hard_scape_16_June_2018_(8).jpg hard_scape_16_June_2018_(9).jpg

    hard_scape_16_June_2018_(11).jpg
     
    #2 LoneWolverine, Jul 12, 2018
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
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  3. LoneWolverine

    LoneWolverine New Member

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    This setup finished a no-light fishless cycle for two weeks because all the woods used are all unrinsed and there were some considerable release of pigments and tanning acid. In the meantime I added some urea into the system as I have retained 1/6th of the bio-medias in the old setup. 50% water change ever two days to remove the pigment and tanning acid.

    I added some baby Clithon sp.zebra hone snail (around 0.5 - 1cm large) at week 3, substantially reduced the addition of urea as there are now livestock in the tank and I don't want to stress them. Still no-light cycle

    Around week four I added a few cherry shrimps and I stopped the addition of urea completely. Still no-light cycle. No water test conducted as I am lazy. 50% water change every 4-5 days.

    This quickly bring us to the end of June. I decided to go for a little experiment to test how much aqua soil supported the initial set up of the tank by providing huge amounts of nutrients which cannot be substituted with the addition of more ADA liquid fertilisers as what I did in the past.

    For future developments, please look at the next post, a photo time-line as to how this set up develops.
     
    #3 LoneWolverine, Jul 12, 2018
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
  4. LoneWolverine

    LoneWolverine New Member

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    My little experiment on ADA fertilisers: end of June to 10 July 2018

    Those reading this journal from the start will know that I have been using a very specific combo in the past few years: ADA Amazonia soil (With power sand) + ADA Fertilisers (Brighty Light, Step 1,2,3 ).

    From the past experience as to the declines that I experienced after the soil aged with the passage of time, I put up the hypothesis that the Soil (and power sand) and the ADA Fertilisers are supplementing each others to provide a complete profile of nutrients to the plants. As the nutrients in soil being used up over time, the ADA fertilisers cannot properly provide the full spectrum of nutrients needed by the plants, resulting in at least N and K-deficiencies in my past set up. I gained some confidence in this hypothesis by reading the related articles on ADA soil and Fertilisers posted on this website.

    The test is this: With the use of sand over soil (hence no nutrients in the sand), I now can isolate the effect of ADA Fertilisers on plants. I decided to follow the dosage as suggested by ADA as what I did in the past, what would be the difference this time without the support of ADA Aqua soils?

    It was my original intention to run this test for 3-4 weeks, I cut it short within 2 weeks on 10 July 2018. You can already tell how horrible the result is …

    Basic parameter:
    Light: 8- 10 hours a day
    PH: 6.7
    GH: 5
    KH: 5
    CO2: 30 ppm, non stop even lights off
    Water change: 50% 4-5 days
    Substrate: Silica and quartz sand mix, no bottom fertiliser, no power sand, just nothing
    Nutrition: Ada Light 3 pushes per day, Ada Step 1 3 pushes each other day. No root fertiliser at all.


    This is rotala in less than two weeks:

    Dead growth tips and melting leaves
    rotala - dead growth tips.JPG
    Stunted growth, reduction in size, whitening of new leaves
    rotala - Shunted growth.JPG

    This is the ugliest bucephalandra sp. copper leaf I have ever seen in my life … holes, melting leaves, stunted growth tips, decolorized leaves, curly leaves in just two weeks time …
    Holes …
    B sp copper leaf holes.JPG
    Decolorised leaves
    B sp decolorised leaf.JPG
    Curly leaves

    B sp copper leaf curly leaves.JPG
    Interestingly, my Cryptocoryne flamingo showed no signs of melting, but also no signed of growth. I thought it would be the first one dying off as it is super sensitive to change in water parameters. I transplanted it from a low fertilised aquarium with ADA soil aged for 2 years and probably it is getting used to the very lean nutrition level already.
    cryptocoryne flamingo.JPG


    All my Syngonanthus sp. died/melted within 2 weeks with the recommended dosage of ADA Fertiliser. I still remember there are people telling me that "If you use ADA Fertilisers it is a lot easier to grow Syngonanthus and eriocaulons", Bullshit. Luckily I did not put any eriocaulons in for this experiment …

    I cut short of the experiment on 10 July 2018. It ran for 2 weeks and produced some very interesting results. my preliminary findings are:

    i) It appears that the nutrients in ADA soil had a huge impact on providing a complete spectrum of nutrients when used together with ADA fertilisers. I had never encountered such a horrible meltdown/ deficiencies when I used ADA soil + their line of fertilisers in the past. Purely using ADA fertilisers gets you nowhere.

    ii) For those who decides to switch from soil --> sand or vice versa, there is a need to substantially change the fertilisation regime taken into account the amount of nutrients supplied by the substrate.

    iii) Although there is no control set up for this little experiment, I suspect this melt down was caused by the high water temperature or the supply of co2 I have been running set ups with these parameters in the past few years without much problems (at least when the soil is still new).

    I have completely switched the fertilisation regime on 10 July 2018 and I will update it in the next post.
    All photo time-line from now on will be updated in the post below.
     
    #4 LoneWolverine, Jul 12, 2018
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
  5. LoneWolverine

    LoneWolverine New Member

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    This space is intentionally left for future updates (plants updates)
     
  6. burr740

    burr740 ~~ Lover of Micros ~~
    Staff Member Moderator

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    Nice post and the hardscape layout looks really good.

    It is interesting to read about your experiences, especially for me because Ive used sand exclusively in several different tanks for the past few years (currently have 5), all med-high light, stem heavy with co2 and high ferts. If find that most plants grow just fine in inert sub provided that other parameters favorable. I like being in full control of whats in the water. The gradual decline of Aquasoil plus the unknown factor of what's there or what's missing has always given me pause.

    But...It just so happens Im in the process of swapping one tank over to aquasoil. It''l be my first experience using it.

    I look forward to seeing how you progress with sand.

    P.S. Instead of reserving post spots for future updates you should make new postsm when the time comes instead. That way the thread gets bumped to the top and everyone can see something new has been added. Otherwise no one will know to re-visit the thread. Of course its fine if you want to do it that way, just pointing out.
     
  7. LoneWolverine

    LoneWolverine New Member

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    Thanks for the reply and the kind reminder in relation to updating the post.

    I intend to use the left over space at front to construct a time line, photo based timeline for those folks who don't want to read much

    I will do most of the talking in new posts so people can know when something new is coming out. Again thanks for your suggestions on updating the post!

    I will use the following format UPDATE: 12/7/2018 to indicate new developments for easy reference in the future. This journal is now a little bit backlogged as the set up started a month ago and there is a lot interesting developments that I will update you guys on. Organising my photos now.

    Cheers!
     
  8. LoneWolverine

    LoneWolverine New Member

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    Dear all, I have updated my little experiment (see above) of only using ADA fertilisers which I now stopped (thankfully). I will be doing most of the talking in new posts from now on.

    "The test is this: With the use of sand over soil (hence no nutrients in the sand), I now can isolate the effect of ADA Fertilisers on plants. I decided to follow the dosage as suggested by ADA as what I did in the past, what would be the difference this time without the support of ADA Aqua soils?"

    The test stopped on 10 July 2018, I have now already switched to a completely new fertilisation regime which I will update after a week or so.

    Thanks for viewing.
     
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  9. LoneWolverine

    LoneWolverine New Member

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    Finally got the time for some update.
    Some interesting results upon the change of fertilisation regime.

    Here are some of the data:
    Marco 3x per week
    No3: 4.72 ppm (7.5ppm X 80% EI x 80% heavy stock)

    PO4: 1ppm (80% EI)

    K: 6ppm (80% high end EI)

    Micro 3x per week
    Seachem flourish iron: 0.347ppm (Iron gluconate)
    Seachem flourish trace: 2.4 times (12ml for around 20 gallon) of the recommended dosage
    Untitled.png

    I am using seachem for the micro because I) I happened to have them and I want to use them all; II) chemicals for self-blend micro not yet arrived ….

    I note that for seachem iron, it is not EDTA-Fe/ DTPA-Fe. There may be problems of keeping the iron in the water column for a longer period of time when using gluconate, but so far the result is not that bad for me as the previous iron deficiencies seemed to have improved a lot.

    I also note that this dosage of micro is very low compared to what most are doing in the custom micro thread.

    Here are some photos of using the new fertilisation regime for 2 weeks. Taken on 22 July 2018:

    10 July 2018 to 22 July 2018.png

    I believe the difference is easy to spot.
    i) Stunted growth with dead growth tips vs normal growing tips
    ii) Decolorised white leaves vs normal greenish yellow leaves
    iii) Dwarf/curly leaves vs fully expanded leaves
    iv) I think I somehow lost the pink color, owell



    On the other hand, the syngonanthus looked horrible.
    This is syngonanthus sp. madeira:
    03e2ac078f2e2ea2-photo.JPG

    ea865fa353534a0f-photo.JPG

    This whitish/ pale green color suggested problems with micro? Lets hope they can survive until I can get my own custom blend micro.

    Another observation is that there is a little boom of GSA (pretty sure it is not GDA), considering to increase the level of PO4 while maintain the dosage of NO3 and K

    I also introduce some of the new plants:

    This is cryptocoryne keei N. Jacobsen, really beautiful. Lets hope that it is not going to melt within a week. My past record is it lasted for two weeks before the whole plant melting away...
    0cbdbf993ebda31d-photo.JPG

    Eriocaulon Australia Red. I don't think it can survive, just look at those horrible syngonanthus...
    875b4e9a494a9c3e-photo.JPG

    Eriocaulon sp. ''san francisco typeⅡ(TACO II). Again, I don't think it can survive, just look at those horrible syngonanthus…

    a492b0e0fdf72bda-photo.JPG


    Will update soon. Probably after I have my own custom micro mix and phase out the seachem products.
     
  10. LoneWolverine

    LoneWolverine New Member

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    It has been a disastrous two weeks for me recently.
    It is yet another example of how many products in the market are as unreliable as their "claims".

    Those following this post will know that I have been switching from brand name fertilisers to custom made Marcos & Micros
    So far the results are very promising, until ….

    I) My improving rotala took a steep down hill without me changing any parts of the lighting, co2 and fertilisation regime. They turned white, shrunk and growth tips died.
    II) My crypts (both flamingo and keei) are melting like crazy, so far they had been doing great and pulling new leaves and even new runners. The sudden melting of established crypts (much worse than the melting when they first come to my tank) is an alarming bell evidencing sudden changes in water parameters
    III) My Bucephalandras started shredding leaves, many are new growths after I switched fertilisation regime so it is not the type of shredding/melting caused by a sudden change in fertilisation/ ion concentration in water column as I used to observe.
    IV) All my plants are not bubbling, previously bubbles all over them 4 hours into the light cycle, now I cant see any bubbles even when the light cycle ended
    V) I have a very severe GSA boom, together with hair algae
    VI) The previously bad enough syngonanthus started to turn brown and die

    Originally I thought that's a problem with my custom made trace mix, I switched back to seachem trace (which showed great results on my rotala previously) without any success.

    I discovered the problem with some luck. Since I have been setting up my Sulawesi shrimp tank, I had been closely checking the TDS, GH and KH of the shrimp tank. I am not used to checking these water parameters for a planted tank.

    My Sulawesi shrimp tank is at GH6, KH4 and TDS 140, one day I was bored and dip the TDS meter into the planted tank, thinking that the problem could be caused by the very soft water (GH3, KH1) in Hong Kong.

    I got a TDS reading of 250 in the planted tank… even much higher than my Sulawesi shrimp tank

    Couldn't believe my eyes, I checked the GH and KH. GH 11, KH 9, I "thought" I kept them around my tap water parameters without adding GH/KH boosters at all in the planted tank. I keep the habit of conducting 50% water change per week, it means that the water jumped from GH 3 to GH11, KH jumped from 1 to 9 within 7 days.

    I first turn to my custom made micro mix, which was the latest change I did to my tank. GH and KH both 0
    I turned to tap water, GH 2 KH1
    This couldn't explain the mysterious source of Ca and carbonates which impacted the GH and KH in such a short period of time.

    Then I look at the substrate - sand.

    To cut the drama and raging/ swearing part short, here are the conclusions:
    I) The fact that they printed Japanese on the bag of sand doesn't mean that they are Japanese producers, turns out that the producer is in China.
    II) The fact that they printed aquatic plants on the bag and put in words like "stable", "freshwater plants" doesn't mean that such substrate is suitable for freshwater planted aquariums
    III) The fact that it is called "silica sand" doesn't mean that calcium carbonate isn't present in the sand
    IV) The fact that you can't see seashell fragments in the sand doesn't mean that the sand is low on calcium carbonate

    I tested the sand with hydrochloric acid, needless to say I ended up having a small smoke generator with all those sand giving out bubbles when the carbonates inside was reacting with the acid. I am "amazed" by this huge quantity of carbonates in the "inert", "stable", "silica" sand which the manufacturer claimed.

    It took me two days to replace the substrate, I have to tear down most of the hardscapes and rescape them as they crumbled with the loss of support from the substrate. I also have to replace the substrates part by part as I don't have another space to house my hundreds cherry shrimps and fish and they needed to remain in the tank. I couldn't keep track of the casualties but I could tell I lost many baby shrimps.

    This time I picked the basalt sand from Aquael, I think that's a Polish company ?(NOT the Chinese again). It says the substrate is "inert" and won't affect water parameters. This time, I of course tested it with acid, no bubbles at all.

    Running with the new substrate for 5 days, TDS dropped from 100 to around 95 in 5 days, could be measurement error and I am super happy that the GH and KH are not skyrocketing anymore.

    Will post new photos when I get back home. The new scape is feeling somewhat different now because of the reshuffling and the black substrate.
     
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