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Using zeolite on a new setup

Discussion in 'General Plant Topics' started by Carissa, Aug 11, 2007.

  1. Carissa

    Carissa Guru Class Expert

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    Hi,
    I am following the suggestion to use zeolite in my new 32g uncycled planted tank to avoid algae outbreaks by removing NH4. But I'm wondering, after the month is up and the media is exhausted, will I suddenly start seeing ammonia readings? Does the zeolite prevent the cycling bacteria from forming at all? My tank currently has 4 mollies, a medium size pleco, and a neon in it, and after three days I'm still at 0 ammonia so it's good so far!
     
  2. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Lifetime Charter Member
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    I believe that a 0 reading on your test kit simply means that the concentration is such that the kit is unable to detect the ammonia level. It doesn't mean there is zero ammonia. The bacteria colonies will still develop even though they are competing with the plants and zeolite. I suppose it could be argued whether the speed of the colonies' development is affected by the presence of these competitors.

    Cheers,
     
  3. Professor Myers

    Professor Myers Guru Class Expert

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    A bacterial colony Will establish on the media itself. So if and when the media is exhausted you will have likely achieved your cycling as well. In your case I'm sure it wouldn't hurt any to periodically refresh 1/3 to 1/2 of the Zeolite. HTH. Prof M
     
  4. Carissa

    Carissa Guru Class Expert

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    Thanks. After doing some research it appears that zeolite also will trap calcium ions if available and even prefers calcium to ammonium. Will this affect my plants? I don't actually add calcium to my water but I have natural sand as a substrate which undoubtedly adds a small amount of calcium due to broken seashells etc. (the sand has increased my KH from 60 to 100). If the plants need it, and the zeolite is absorbing it, perhaps I should be adding it? How badly do plants need calcium?

    Also, after only four days of having fish in the tank, I'm already getting a nitrite reading even though I have had no detectable ammonia yet. Evidently the bacterial colonies are already getting established somewhere!
     
  5. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Lifetime Charter Member
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    Hi Carissa,
    Have a read of the Newsletters that cover each of the nutrients. Assuming you are a subscriber, the Calcium Newsletter can be found at:
    http://www.barrreport.com/barr-report-newsletter/1282-barr-report-newsletter-november-2005-calcium.html

    A review of paragraph 1 reveals that:

    "...Calcium activates enzymes, is a structural component of cell walls, influences water movement in cells and is necessary for cell growth and division. It is highly important in cell and plant signaling, acting as a
    type of “nervous system” for the macrophyte. Some macrophytes
    must have calcium to take up nitrogen and other minerals (Ca²+ and a NO3- are used at ion balance in the vacuoles)..."

    It think it's unlikely though, that the zeolite will remove all of the calcium. There haven't been any reports of calcium deficiency from people using zeolite so I think you ought to be OK.

    Bacteria will colonize not only the water, but any surface that the water stays in contact with; filter media, tubing, tank walls, gravel, wood, rocks, ornaments as well as the plants' surfaces I believe. That's why if you read the advertising claims of filter media vendors you'll see that they normally give an estimate of the total surface area of a given quantity of the media. The more surface area, the higher the possible bacterial population, enabling the processing of more ammonia and theoretically raising the efficiency of the filter.

    Cheers,
     
  6. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    BTW you can recharge the Zeolite via strong brine solution of NaCl, good old salt.

    This will replace the Ca and NH4.

    But the goal here is to remove the NH4 in the start up phase.
    If.......Bacteria, water changes, Zeolite have all done their job for the first 1-2 months, then you should be home free.

    The levels and measure of NH4 is tough at low levels like these and must be done every few hours to see the production rates.

    Even my lab grade spectrophotometer has trouble reading low NH4. I'm still considering other methods to achieve even lower readings. NH4 probes are available for samples(not in tank measures) and I can take the samples from the tank, freeze them, then test using the calibrated probe several hundred at a time.

    Then plot that over the time series.

    I'd like to do this for about 4 days for:

    NH4 dosed planted tank(established/stable)
    Urea dosed planted tank (established/stable)

    and

    3 weeks for New tank set up
    3 weeks for a progressively (shrimp) Overloaded tank

    I need to be able to measure to about 5 ppb or 0.005 ppm.
    Quite low and as NH4, not NH3.

    That's pretty low.

    I think I can gain a lot of good information that will support the theories and observations with good data this way. I need better testing than the pilot studies I've done thus far to answer the NH4 questions I have.

    I think stability of the other parameters that modulate NH4 play a huge role.
    So stable CO2=> stable NH4 uptake or stable NO3/PO4 = stable NH4 uptake etc, or large water change after pulling up lots of plants/trimming etc=> reduced NH4 after removing all the plants that had been prior taking up all the NH4 and are now gone.

    The large water changes allow the tank about a 1-3 days before the NH4 build back up and that gives the bacteria time to recolonize to a larger load for NH4 while the plants grow back.

    Obviously, 2-3x the plant biomass will be far more effective at NH4 removal.
    So a big hack/prune can cause issues if you do not do a decent water changes afterwards, higher light exacerbates algae and issues with NH4 also.

    So CO2/light are large players in the role of NH4 also.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  7. Carissa

    Carissa Guru Class Expert

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    I'm not sure I follow why higher light will exacerbate NH4 issues. Wouldn't higher light theoretically increase the plant or algae's ability to use NH4 (assuming other parameters are ideal)?

    Unless you mean that higher light without enough plants/nutrients available to take up the NH4 (as in after a large pruning) will lead to algae growing in and taking up the slack so to speak.
     
  8. Carissa

    Carissa Guru Class Expert

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    The reason I was concerned was that I was reading about how zeolite has caused huge problems in saltwater tanks, due to taking in the calcium rather than ammonium, and thereby killing the corals. Evidently now they have produced zeolites that are more selective in which ions they prefer for the purpose of using them in saltwater tanks, but I don't really have any way of finding out exactly which type of zeolite I am using, since it is not made specifically for saltwater I am assuming that it is not that type. The article I was reading said that in freshwater tanks the zeolite's preference of Ca+ to NH4 wouldn't make much difference, but even though it wouldn't necessarily affect the fish to remove the calcium, I would think that it would affect the plants, unless you had a calcium producing substrate.

    I should be dosing calcium too anyway irregardless of if the zeolite is affecting it. I have heard that you can get something at pool supply stores for this but I can't remember what it was exactly, does anyone know about this?
     
  9. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Lifetime Charter Member
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    I really don't think we need to worry too much about zeolite stripping the water column of all calcium. Depending on your tap water's hardness you may already have adequate amounts of calcium in the form of calcium carbonate and other calcium compounds (if you get crusty deposits on your faucets it's probably a calcium compound). If you are using RO water, or DI water or rainwater and wish to reconstitute the water, or if you want to make sure, there is no need to buy from a pool shop. You can order online here:

    Greg Watson's Aquarium Fertilizer: Aquatic Plant Food

    Barr's GH booster contains Potassium Sulfate, Calcium Sulfate and
    Magnesium Sulfate. You are spoiled for choice because you can just get Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Sulfate, Calcium Nitrate or Calcium Chloride, each for less than $3/LB plus shipping if you live in America. When Greg Watson was running the shop he would ship international but I'm not sure if the current proprietors (The Kaufmanns) do. If you live in Europe there are online shops where you can find these products as well.

    Cheers,
     
  10. Professor Myers

    Professor Myers Guru Class Expert

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    This is not an issue in FW aquaria, Irregardless of substrates used. The chemistry is vastly different between FW and SW. If you are predisposed to worrying then I would focus on your tap water. ;) HTH, Prof M
     
  11. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Lifetime Charter Member
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    Yes, light is the principal driver for uptake of all nutrients. More light, more uptake. The response was addressing NH4's role in algae inducement, not toxicity or bacteria buildup. Using higher light however, to drive NH4 uptake in order to reduce NH4 concentration would never be a good strategy since one would trade lower toxicity for higher infestation.

    If we go back to the beginning, the reason we see an NH4 spike during a tank setup is because the nitrifying bacteria are unable to populate at the same pace with which organic decay produces NH4. I think the idea of using zeolite and similar products is that it should help to absorb excess NH4 (the plants will absorb their share as well) thus reducing toxicity as well as mitigating algae inducement. High light during this process may accelerate NH4 uptake at the cost of accelerating algal blooms.

    Hope this helps to clarify.

    Cheers,
     
  12. Carissa

    Carissa Guru Class Expert

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    My tapwater has no KH or GH, that's why I'm concerned about calcium since I probably have none in the first place.

    It will probably cost me about $15 US to get calcium chloride from Greg Watson when I calculate shipping for my area...maybe I'll see if I can get it around here first. Or should I even worry? :) Plants are doing fine so far without it...
     
  13. Carissa

    Carissa Guru Class Expert

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    Yep, makes sense.
     
  14. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Lifetime Charter Member
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    Hi, kH=0 and GH=0? Wow, OK, sorry I must have missed that. So essentially you have RO-like water, which in my opinion would be best served by adding Barr's GH Booster to get GH up and Bicarbonate to get kH up. Remember that the GH Booster contains K, Ca and Mg all of which is needed. If you only add CaCl you'll only be addressing the calcium shortage. If you still want to go the individual route sourced locally then you could add Epsom Salt to get magnesium. Still, unless you have access to agricultural type quantity pricing you'd be hard pressed to find a better deal than GH booster. Rough estimate for a 30 US gallon tank gives a 1 LB supply lasting 5 months or so depending on dosing scheme.

    You say the plants are doing fine so one can't argue with success, but how long have they been in the tank and what are you actually dosing? If the plants are new they could be simply using up whatever energy reserves they have stored and could decline after a while. I'm only speculating though. It depends on light, dosing, CO2, substrate etc. etc. etc

    Cheers,
     
  15. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    From what I have seen, read, and experienced, KH is not that important. Lots of people run tanks with zero or near zero KH. GH is more important because plants do need both calcium and magnesium. If I were concerned about GH I too would use GH booster or Seachem Equilibrium to correct for low GH.
     
  16. Carissa

    Carissa Guru Class Expert

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    I'm already dosing both epsom salts and baking soda to increase the KH and GH (KH around 100 and GH around 60), but this still leaves out the calcium component. The substrate is rocks but with about 1/2 inch of natural sand underneath which raised my KH straight off from 60 to 100 so I'm assuming that the crushed shells in the sand might be releasing calcium carbonate. I am also dosing KNO3, KH2PO4, K2SO4, and Plantex CSM+B. (plus aquarium salt 1tbsp/5 gals just for fish) My water changes involve many bottles and powders and measuring spoons all over the table as you can imagine. I'm still trying to get my co2 stabilized but it's at about 25ppm right now. I have only two 20watt lights. What else do I need to dose? The tank has had plants for a month but fish for only 6 days. The plants are pearling now that I have co2 going. I also had brown algae at first till I got my pleco who is keeping it nice and clean now. Maybe I should get GH booster instead of epsom salts. But if I were to let my KH get back to 0, with the co2 added we're talking super acidic water.

    (without co2: pH is 8.2 with added baking soda, 6.6 without. With co2 pH is 6.8, that's with the baking soda)
     
  17. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Lifetime Charter Member
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    Well, I suppose if you enjoy all the spoons and bottles then that's one thing, but from my perspective it would become tedious after a while so I would try to consolidate as much as I could.

    As we've discussed before, if you use the GH booster you could immediately eliminate a) Epsom Salt, b) K2SO4 and c) calcium chloride.

    I guess I don't know what "aquarium salt" is (is the chemical composition listed on the package?) and I can't imagine what freshwater fish would actually require it in an aquarium but I would be willing to bet that it's probably got Mg, K, maybe Ca, maybe Chlorides and Sulfates. It undoubtedly cost more than GH booster. The plants are certainly using it but these would all be duplicated with the GH booster. So I think you can probably eliminate "aquarium salt" as well.

    If you say that the kH rises due to the substrate then there is really no need to add Bicarbonate, and as Hoppy points out, it's no big deal if the kH is low. So the pH drops, so what? The fish will get over it, I mean, especially if they are Central/South American species where the waters are acidic, right? So I'd vote for eliminating Bicarbonate as well.

    So to summarize, adding the GH booster and leaving the substrate to buffer the kH by itself allows you to to forget about 5 different products. Obviously NO3, PO4 and CSM+B stay. That should make water changes less complicated by an order of magnitude I would've thought.

    One more thought; When you measure the tap water pH are you measuring it immediately as you draw it from the tap? Tap typically has some dissolved CO2 which would drive the reading low. What is the tap pH after you let it sit for an hour?

    Cheers,
     
  18. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Vaughn, I now live in Sac and the KH is 1.3 here.
    Nice to have the AR tap water:)

    I've never had issues with pure RO nor low KH's like this.
    But adding GH booster is a key thing that's got to be done to help plants.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  19. Carissa

    Carissa Guru Class Expert

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    Sounds like GH booster is the way to go. Sorry I should have been more clear about the aquarium salt. It's just sodium chloride, so no help to the plants in any way. I keep mollies which I am told do better with salt in the water.

    The tap water reading after it sits is 6.8. I don't think my substrate would add a lot of KH, after several water changes I would probably be back close to 0. It did raise it to 100 (from 60) initially, but it has not continued to raise it so I'm thinking now it was probably just an initial start up leaching. If I allow my KH to go back to 0 my pH will have to be around 6.0 to have decent co2 readings, which is pretty low for mollies which like it around the 7.5 area. So I'll probably keep the bicarbonate at least until I get some other substrate that keeps it substantially higher. I don't mind all the messing around too much, I think what I might do after I get a handle on this is premix the fertilizer powders together in the proper ratio so that I simply add x number of teaspoons, especially for midweek dosing when I'm not really in the mood to bust out all the containers and measuring equipment.

    Oh the other thing I forgot to mention is that with close to 0 KH, the pH in the tank will slowly drop over time. With the weekly 50% water changes it may keep it at bay for a while, but with absolutely 0 buffer in the past my tanks have dropped to about 6.4 or less without me even realizing it (and that was pre-co2). That was initially why I started using baking soda, it had nothing to do with my plants. I would notice my fish behavior change (I had tetras back then and they used to start chasing each other a lot) and I would know that something happened to my pH and then I would test it and sure enough, it would be way too low.
     
  20. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Lifetime Charter Member
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    Hi,
    OK, well that's just table salt. If you're on a budget as you said you can save $$ by just going to the kitchen cupboard and using that. I supposed it would have to be the non-iodized version. I can't believe some company has the gall to re-label table salt as "aquarium salt" without adding any other value. I'll bet it's 5 times the price as well.

    I believe the native habitats of the Molly are alkaline, brackish waterways at the margins of the coasts and streams in Central and northern South America. I think they can also do OK in marine tanks and they seem to be able to adapt to freshwater tanks. I find that amazing, really but I'm a plant anorak and the thought of adding NaCl in sufficient quantities to make a Molly comfortable seems like bad "juju" to me. It's just a point of view of course, but I think, assuming one wishes to maximize growth, most would prefer to optimize the environment for the plants and to force the denizens of the tank to adapt to the resulting conditions. Mollies are reportedly prone to ich and velvet in freshwater tanks and I suppose the salt addition helps them to combat these parasitic attacks. Perhaps an alternative to salt would be to add a UV sterilizer, but that's just a guess.

    In any case there's a conflict of interest between the higher pH, brackish water loving Molly and the freshwater loving plants (and other inhabitants). There is no way the tank can be all things to all inhabitants and you can wind up juggling chainsaws to try to find a balance. It seems to be working for you so far though, but if things do go wrong it's much more difficult to troubleshoot and to resolve.

    By the way, Tetras typically live in soft, acidic waters and most spawn when the pH drops further (ph 5 to 6.5 depending on species) due to tannic acids leaching into the water after rainfall from plant debris on the forest floor. If you observed tetras chasing each other after a pH drop, that might actually have been a good sign. http://www.barrreport.com/images/smilies/wink.gif
    ;)

    Cheers,
     
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