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Soil/Soilmaster, Low CO2 Tank

Discussion in 'Articles' started by VaughnH, Jul 30, 2007.

  1. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    I have completed my new stand for my 45 gallon tank, so, in order to move the tank to the stand I have to completely tear it down, empty it and re-build it. I see this as an opportunity to try something new (for me). My plan is to use a mix of dirt and Soilmaster as a substrate, operate it with low, but steady CO2 concentration, with no night time shutoff of the CO2, less than EI fertilizer dosing, and my existing 1.6 watts per gallon AHS lights.

    Today I walked across the American River levee, which is just behind my condo, and dug some river bank silt to use. It is a sandy silt, fine grained, with a brown color when wet. I got enough for about a one inch layer of silt in the tank. Since I want to set this up in a few days, I am soaking the silt in boiling water to mineralize the ammonia in it. Today was the first soak. I figure another day or two, with more boiling water should do it. I'm reluctant to actually put the soil in a pot and boil it on the stove - that is a very heavy load, about 2 gallons of soil.

    For CO2, I plan to use 2 dKH distilled water in my drop checker, which will give me 15 ppm roughly when it is green. Then, with that little CO2 I shouldn't have to worry about letting it run full time, so I will leave the solenoid open full time. (Will that harm the solenoid?)

    Fertilizing will be daily, with a pre-mix, and I will be dosing about half of the EI recommended weekly quantities.

    More to follow.
     
  2. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    For fertilizing, I have an empty Tropica Plant nutrition liquid bottle - 500 ml, and an empty mouthwash bottle, 16 ounces. So, I plan to mix 8 tsp of KNO3 and 2 1/2 tsp of KH2PO4 in 500 ml of distilled water in the Tropica bottle, and dose 5 ml a day, every day. In the mouthwash bottle I plan to mix 1/2 tsp CSM+B+ extra iron in 16 ounces of distilled water, and dose 1.5 oz per day, every day. I figure this is a low enough dosage that I can dose both the same day without worrying about the iron/phosphate reaction. The 1.5 oz dose is based on the bottle having a plastic cup bottle cap that is marked for a 1.5 oz measurement. This, according to my figures gives me about half of the EI recommended weekly dosages. Did I make any mistakes?

    My continuous water change system will replace about 5 gallons of water per day, so the buildup of ferts, even with no plant usage of them, should never be high enough to be a concern.
     
  3. aquabillpers

    aquabillpers Lifetime Charter Member
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    That sounds like it will be a neat set-up. I hope you'll post a picture every now and then.

    One question: Why did you decide to mix Soilmaster and dirt as opposed to using one or the other?

    Bill
     
  4. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    Tom posted about soil/inert sand mixes a few weeks ago. That got me to wondering what would be the advantages or disadvantages of trying such a mix using SM instead of sand. At the same time I was debating with myself about whether I wanted to go with the Walstad type set-up. And, I was thinking about something Tom said a few weeks ago - that steady CO2 concentration is essential, more so than having high CO2 concentration. I like using CO2. But, I am looking for slower plant growth, and my existing 1.6 watt per gallon, high CO2, EI tank doesn't give me slow growth.

    So, I decided to go to more root feeding, from soil based substrate, less water column fertilizer, less, but very steady CO2 concentration. I like the appearance of SM, and I have plenty of it, so I figure if I mix it with soil it will hold slopes better, allowing me to be more creative with aquascaping. All of that came to a climax when I noticed that I had only a limited time before my particle board stand decides to collapse.

    I also tend to get bored doing the same thing all of the time, and this will be a chance to try something entirely different - for me.
     
  5. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    The tank is now set up, but no light yet. It was a much bigger job making the switch over than I remembered. So, I ran out of energy after 6 hours. My silt/soilmaster substrate was a royal pain to set up too. The silt stinks! My three days of boiling water treatment didn't eliminate the swampy smell.

    I added about a half inch of silt, mixed in about the same amount of soilmaster, all in a uniform layer. Then I mixed up about another half inch of silt and enough soilmaster to equall about 2 inches of mix. This time I contoured it a bit, with a valley running diagonally from left front to right rear. On top of that is about two inches of SM. To jump start the bacteria colony I used the soilmaster from my previous set up, without washing it at all, and dumped in a couple of cups of very brown mulm too. After adding just enough more water to get about a half inch depth in the "valley" I planted it. Then trickled in the full tank of water, dumping in the removed fish in original tank water about half way along. Of course I used Prime before adding any fish.

    Now, I have what looks like a dense fog! But, it is clearing up with the filter running and the continuous water change adding about ten times the normal flow to skim the top surface for a few hours.

    Tomorrow I will add the light, and take some photos. I'm dreading getting up in the morning to green water, but I have my fingers crossed. Every time I do this I have bad dreams the next night where I find the tank shattered and water everywhere! So, I will try to video tape the dreams too! What camera is needed for that???
     
  6. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    Eleven days after setting this tank up, and it looks great. No algae (knock on wood) except for a few spots of BBA that were on the transplanted plants, and which I am spot dosing with Excel. All of the plants are growing very well, and they appear to be growing at least as fast as when I used just SM as a substrate, with full EI fertilizing and 30 ppm of CO2. Now, it gets about half dosing of EI, but divided up and dosed daily as premixed solutions. And, the CO2 level is at about 15 ppm. Things can still turn bad quickly, but for now I couldn't be more happy with this setup.

    [​IMG]
     
  7. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    [​IMG]

    It has now been 16 days since I started this setup. Growth of the plants has been faster than I expected, and it looks very healthy. Yesterday I pulled up and replanted a Lobelia Cardinalis, small form, and all it did was generate a very small cloud of silt, which settled almost immediately. No green water! In fact no algae of any kind. A few of the older leaves of my Anubia Nana petite have a little dark green algae spots that remain, but the slight amount of BBA on a couple of leaves has vanished. No GDA yet! I am very pleased with this!
     
  8. aquabillpers

    aquabillpers Lifetime Charter Member
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    That's a good looking aquarium! I like the look of the substrate, too.

    I wonder what it will look like in, say, three months. Please keep the pictures coming.

    Bill
     
  9. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    Three to six months is probably when I will feel comfortable saying this is the way for others to try. So, yes, I do intend to update this periodically. I just bought an Anubias nana Coffeefolia and tied it to a rock to go in the front left area. That's one of my favorite plants, but I have been trying others just to see if I like them. The rock is one that fizzes with acid on it, so it is likely to be a carbonate rock, even though it is almost black. My rate of changing water in the tank will prevent any excessive KH buildup.
     
  10. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    So aren't you glad you tried a lower light/lower CO2 method?

    Like the old days...........but reinventing the wheel is a common theme in the hobby.
    If you stay in the hobby/on the web long enough, you too shall see it many times.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  11. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    Yes, I am delighted with the lower light, lower CO2, and with the river silt mixed with SM, too. The amazing thing to me is that the plants have such great color. Why bother with pushing CO2 to 30 ppm and having to shut it down at night, when half of that amount gives such good results, but doesn't need to be shut off at all? It seems to me that the benefit of keeping a rock steady ppm of CO2 outweighs the higher concentration.
     
  12. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    But the key to that is having lower light, which still produces nice growth and colors.
    Europeans have been doing this method for many decades.
    Many in the USA seem to assume that you can do this and have the same management with high light and maintain low CO2/lower nutrients.

    That does not address the light, which is part of the balance.
    I've been telling folks for well over a decade, you do not need high light to have the nice successful healthly, fully planted tank.

    But tbhere are those that insist on telling others that you need "high light"(3 or more watts, 4 w/gal is good etc) for Gloss, Hair grass, various stem plants.

    Which is complete and utter rubbish.
    I've grown these at 1.5-2w/gal, so have many in the local SFBAAPS club before PC lighting was popular.

    When I started adding 30ppm to account for the high light using MH lighting, several others had done so, even up to 40ppm namely a few people in Germany according to Karen Randall.
    They had no issues with fish like me.

    So high CO2 is not bad either.
    But less CO2 is fine alos if you have less light.

    BTW, shutting CO2 off at night whether you have 15ppm or 30ppm is stilol better for fish, but there's less issue.

    So you have more management options like leaving it run 24/7, but that's namely for simplicity, not because 15 ppm chronic is better than periodic 30ppm with lights.

    That has not been proven nor shown by anyone and would be rather difficult for an aquarist to show.

    So we should, and do...........see both cases working pretty well.
    More of an issue of current and flow, O2 etc there with respect to fish health.
    Things aquarist arguing in favor of lower CO2 do not curiously, bother to measure:cool:

    You can force any method or combo you chose, but what works well over time, is another matter.

    Some are just going to mess up higher CO2 no matter what you do for them or advice you give them via the web. Help enough folks over the years, you'll find some just will not get it. Aquarist are no different.
    Sometimes years later they figure it out.

    But that does not solve their immediate problem and as to "why" they have issues.

    So they go with whatever works.
    Still many do figure it out and it works well for them.
    Seeing where the others go wrong is a good place to look. I've learned a lot by other folk's mistakes, as well as my own :idea:

    I think it was Robert Hudson's personal tanks when he lived in San Jose that I realized why he had troubles with higher CO2 and BBA (current and low O2).
    We were friends back then, so it was awhile ago:p

    BTW slower lower light growth allows the plants to fully develop due to reduced growth rates. you should get nicer development in leaves, and coloration.

    I think my main points here is that at lower light, reduced CO2 and nutrients are much easier and easier to manage. But, having higher NO3/PO4/Traces/GH/KH/CO2 are and should be fine as well, same as a higher light tank.

    If those work fine in a higher light tank, the same should apply to lower light tanks and give even a larger range of wiggle room. With less lighting, the richer levels should not induce algae obviously.........that's fairly straight forward........and with richer nutrients/CO2 and no issues in higher light tanks, fish should also be fine.

    I'm not saying that's better/worse for fish, just that it works for many years and is fine also. The evidence is pretty clear there.
    But the ability for folks to do well and have less management issues no matter what is determined by using less light, that's where it all starts, limit light 1st if your goal is reduced growth rates/less pruning/water changes/hassles/algae etc until(or if you want to) you master the higher light routines and achieve those goals.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  13. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    [​IMG]

    It has been three weeks now, and the tank still looks great. But, last night I noticed I had some GSA and very thin GDA on the glass. I scraped it all off, added some more phosphate, and today went back to full EI dosing. I also noticed a little bit of BBA starting on a few plant leaves, so I will do the 1.5X dosing of Excel this afternoon. Now I am thinking about whether or not to increase the CO2 to 20-30 ppm - about 3 dKH in the drop checker. If I do that I will have to shut it off at night, and then I am back to the problem of getting the CO2 level up before lights on time each morning.
     
  14. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    I'm at 5 weeks with this tank now, and still no problems to speak of. It continues to be the best setup I have ever had, and I'm ready to pronounce my substrate combination a great one!
    [​IMG]
     
  15. mujacko2002

    mujacko2002 Prolific Poster

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    wow, great looking tank. i hope that one day i'll be able to achieve that kind of beauty. :p do you otos/sae in there?
     
  16. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    There are 3 otos and 3 Yoyo Loaches in it, plus one cory cat. The rest are guppies, a few Endlers, and about 6 "lambchop" rasboras. I added the Endlers when I shut down a nano tank, knowing they would cross breed with the guppies, but I wasn't intending to ever allow one of them to leave my possession, so I didn't care.
     
  17. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    Here is the tank after 9 weeks, and it is now a standard EI dosed tank with 30 ppm of CO2 plus Excel. The lower fertilizing and lower CO2 didn't work as well, since I was getting too much algae growing with that. I'm still using Excel to eliiminate what's left of my BBA, trimming away infected leaves as I find them. Right now the tank looks as good as any I have ever had.
    [​IMG]
     
  18. FacePlanted

    FacePlanted Guru Class Expert

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    Looks great.
    How many hours before lights on does your co2 come on, in order to get co2 up to 30ppm?
    Mine comes on 2 hrs before and I still dont think it is early enough. Maybe that's just the way it is with my tank.
    What method do you use to inject the co2? Diffuser, reactor, venturi?

    -Mike B-
     
  19. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    I use an external reactor for CO2, and the CO2 comes on 4 hours early. That is most likely too early, but I don't see any fish distress so I settled on that. My goal was to try to get 30 ppm before the lights came on and also reduce CO2 consumption to half of what it would be if run for 24 hours.
     
  20. aquabillpers

    aquabillpers Lifetime Charter Member
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    That's a great looking tank and it gets better and better looking as it matures.

    What is your lighting scheme now?

    Bill
     
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