Where am I going wrong? Constant tank failure... - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-20-2013, 12:38 PM Thread Starter
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Where am I going wrong? Constant tank failure...

Some back history.

My first real try at a "planted tank" was my 33 gallon. The tank had very low light (40 watts of T8's at about 24 inch depth). The tank started off relatively well, I was dosing Flourish and using Osmocote caps. Plants were scraggly at the bottoms from the low light, but still growing. And then all of a sudden I got a ton of algae - I could handle the green dust and the BBA, but then there was cyano... it was vicious and FAST spreading. Within days my entire tank would be coated. I tried adding a powerhead for circulation, dosing KNO3, spot treating with Excel and H2O2, leaving my lights off for longer periods of time, adding DIY CO2.. I even did a full blackout, multiple tank drains, plant dips, etc.. but it came back with a vengeance every single time. I eventually took down and sold the tank because the cyano was so bad it was choking out my plants. My fish got some horrible disease (NTD? TB? Who knows) and the general population was completely wiped out. I considered giving up at this point, but I decided to try high tech, since I was employed at the time.

In its peak... there was some algae (especially on the slow growers like the anubias) but at least things were GROWING.

Then the cyano hit...

Fast forward to today. My tank now is the following

ADA 60-P (17 gallons)
Aqua Soil Amazonia New
Eheim Ecco 2234 canister filter
12 Cree XPG's on a dimmer with the amperage turned way down, like 20" above my tank, 8 hrs a day
Temp's around 76
I dose CSM+B, KNO3, and Seachem Potassium/Iron according to EI light, twice a week (I also have K2SO4 but I am too scared to dose this with my relatively high GH/algae issues)
I do weekly 20% WC's
Tank's fairly lightly planted because NOTHING IS GROWING. Stocked with 4 adult guppies and ??? fry.

I have a CO2 cylinder and regulator but the reg broke on me and I don't know when I can get it fixed. I planned on going high tech with this setup, hence the lights. But I have turned them down... way down. Down enough that they should qualify as happy low light. As far as I know, I'm doing almost everything right with this tank. But I'm still getting CYANO and NOTHING IS GROWING. It's like I'm cursed with this blue green sludge. No matter what I do, it comes back. I have tried everything apart from antibiotics and I would prefer to not go that route unless it absolutely comes to it. I was under the impression that once I got the environment stable (good circulation, decent nitrates, good plant growth etc) that the cyano would resolve itself in time but it's just not. I think it's gone, and then 3 days later I can see it starting to creep over my AS, taunting me. Here's how it looked before I turned the lighting down:

And here's how it looked 7 days later after TWO massive cleanups:

As you can see there's been very little plant growth (especially the rotala) and the HC carpet completely died (I kind of expected it to in a low tech environment). But between that photo and today the cyano has come back once more and is starting to spread over my substrate once again. I even added more plants - some vals, bacopa, and some c. parva.

The cyano, creeping back up on me...

And my 4 fat, happy guppies (and some hard water stains - my tanks evaporate FAST with all the heaters running!)

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way... what should I try next? Why am I cursed with this stuff? Do I just need to boot it with antibiotics and be rid of it? Why did it happen in the first place and why can't I seem to get rid of it without using antibiotics? WHY IS NOTHING IN MY TANK GROWING?

Grrrrrrrr.... I just want to look at this tank and cry. I've invested over a thousand dollars into it, countless hours and research, and even more hours with my hands in there trying to make this right... and I've been nothing but a miserable failure. I can't even figure low tech out. How do you guys do this? How come some people can just stick plants in dirt and have a beautiful tank? I'm cursed.... I swear.

Last edited by Jaguar; 01-20-2013 at 01:02 PM. Reason: Editing
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post #2 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-20-2013, 01:41 PM
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I likely should not post as I can not help, but, had to say that I had pretty much the same results. I have had a fish only tank for about ten years and tried plants four times each time a failure and each successor attempt with changes I thought would improve results. My last attempt ended about 2 months ago when I was faced with growing a tank full of algae and dying plants each three days and spending 3-4 hours cleaning things up.

I added a CO2 system and PPM fert program last time which together with the plants not growing made a wonderful environment for the algae.

I have since learned that I had too much light, I did not take sufficient care in planting my plants, and I had questionable substrate.

I have changed the substrate now. Changed my light now so that I have low/med light at the correct color, and am prepared to plant using more care next time.

I am going to try low tech this time and not use my CO2 or PPM fert program and see what I get. I am letting my tank stabilize after the new substrate and will order plants in another week.
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post #3 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-20-2013, 01:55 PM
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I'll start by saying that you are not cursed! Many of us have had similar experiences in our past.

First time I got BGA, I was a newbie with a single tank. Had just added a new plant from a LFS that apparently carried it. It grew alarmingly fast and the tank soon looked a lot like yours - a disaster zone. I dosed antibiotics, it went away.

Fast forward a few years, and a few more tanks. Got a new plant, BGA shows up in a single tank. Growing slowly this time. Being more advanced, I tried various ways of addressing it short of antibiotics, but they never fully cured it. So I treat with antibiotics, and it goes away - only to reappear a month later. Antibiotics again. A month later it reappears again - but this time I caught on to what was happening. It was reappearing in that one tank each time I swapped plants with my other tanks, despite them not having any visible BGA. I treated EVERY tank simultaneously whether it had visible BGA or not, plus cleaned and sterilized all my equipment and tools the antibiotic might not reach, and then it was gone for good. No wonder folks think antibiotics fail so often, I doubt many realize this possibility.

Today I have BGA on the outflow of some filters. It's been there for a year, maybe more. I don't know exactly when or how I got it. It doesn't spread beyond there in any of my five tanks. No one I give plants to has outbreaks. So I don't worry about eliminating it, I just wipe it off periodically.

So why isn't it spreading now, or transferring to other tanks? Why did it only grow slowly the second time I got it, instead of with the speed of the first time? I don't really know. There is no single factor I can positively identify and can be reproduced in someone else's tank. I only know that my skills in growing plants and maintaining stable conditions have improved overall. That takes time and experience; and any advice I or others, no matter how good, is only a partial substitute.

Try different things and see what does and doesn't work for you. Increased flow, oxygenation, more nitrates, blackouts, H2O2/Excel, manual removal, etc. If one of these works for you, great. If not, or your patience is exhausted, don't be afraid to use antibiotics. No one should deny themselves that option to the point of being as discouraged as you are now. To do so is to risk giving up, and then you have no chance of eventually achieving success.
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post #4 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-20-2013, 06:38 PM
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I'm just thinking out loud here, but could the BGA be coming in from your water supply? If your local water source is an open water supply like a lake, I believe it can travel in your tap water supply. If you're on a well, I'm out of ideas lol
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post #5 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-20-2013, 06:50 PM
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sorry you are having such a tough time.

I would dose the tank with an antibiotic like Erythromycin. You've pretty much tried everything else to get rid of it.

Good luck
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post #6 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-20-2013, 09:40 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by thelub View Post
I'm just thinking out loud here, but could the BGA be coming in from your water supply? If your local water source is an open water supply like a lake, I believe it can travel in your tap water supply. If you're on a well, I'm out of ideas lol
My tap water is sourced from a lake that does have cyano colonies. Now I was under the impression that the chlorination/UV treatment process would remove this... I sure hope I'm not drinking/cooking with cyano-water.

Distinct from influxes of biologically-active pathogens from creeks and other runoff sources,
the lake itself can act as the incubating site for another class of pathogen, a type of phytoplankton
referred to as cyanobacteria or blue green algae. Many types of phytoplankton are found in Okanagan Lake.
Phytoplankton are generally not toxic, and are not a health problem, although they may present aesthetic
issues (L1). Certain species tend to be concentrated in the top 10 20 m of the water column, as revealed
in chlorophyll profiles provided by Ministry of Environment (MOE), and are generally essential for
maintenance of the ecology of the lake. The blue-green algae, referred to also as cyanobacteria, tend to
be more uniformly distributed in the water column (Larratt 2009) and some species have the
potential to be harmful because of their production of lethal cyanotoxins. The concerns with cyanobacteria
and cyanotoxins are that, unlike total coliform and E. coli, they are difficult to remove in a treatment plant,
and some species are very toxic (L2).
The concentration of cyanobacteria in lakes tends to be episodic, with large outburst of growth
known as blooms. The driver for cyanobacteria blooms is typically the occurrence of elevated nutrients.
Generally, phosphorus (P) is the limiting nutrient, rather than nitrogen (N). A previous Okanagan LakeCITY OF KELOWNA DRINKING WATER SOURCE PROTECTION
EBA FILE: V13201297 | MAY 2011 | ISSUED FOR USE
water quality study conducted by Nordin (2005) indicates that the present N:P ratio of about 28:1 is in
reasonable balance and would not encourage the production of cyanobacteria. Over the period of record
between 1979 and 2004, Nordin noted that there is a pattern of a clear phosphorus limitation in
spring and early summer and likely co-limitation by N and P in summer and fall. The record also suggested
that the concentrations of total N and P have not changed significantly over time. The variation in N and P
concentrations that has occurred is the result of inter-annual changes in hydrology. This variation also
alters the N:P ratio with higher ratios found during periods of lower run off (Nordin 2005)


I think I am going to look for some Erythromycin (Maracyn). It is very expensive here but I will check out Petsmart tomorrow. What is the dosage guidelines? Is it really safe to be low dosing antibiotics with my fish in there?
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post #7 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-20-2013, 10:33 PM
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maybe too many ferts. i got green water and loads of other stuff when i first started my tank and then as if a blessing from god everything stoped and i havent had a problem except small stuff. i contribute mine to not fully cycled tank.
i have more light now than i did then. co2 then and now. and i use a litttle less fert but also have a lot more plants.
one more note i have 6 23 watt sprial cfls and still no probs.
if i had to guess i dont think u have that many plants to be using that much fert
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post #8 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-20-2013, 11:58 PM
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What about phosphate levels?
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post #9 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-21-2013, 12:25 AM
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I had similar problems with my most recent hi tech tank, took out the slow growing plants and added fast growing stems, myrio mattogrossense especially. In another low light tank I was getting some algae and just put in some hornwort floating and it's no longer a problem.
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post #10 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-21-2013, 12:31 AM Thread Starter
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I have a bag that contains Ks2So4 (Potassium sulphate?) mixed with MgSo4 (Magnesium sulfate). I don't think I need to be dosing them since I'm using Seachem Potassium and my GH is already a bit high. Should I try dosing a small amount of phosphates? My nitrates are around 20-40 ppm. Should I be aiming for ~2-4 ppm of phosphates or is that too much for how little plants I have?

Last edited by Jaguar; 01-21-2013 at 01:02 AM. Reason: oops
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post #11 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-24-2013, 11:35 PM Thread Starter
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I got a pound of kh2po4 today. I am going to do a massive water change and vac up what visible cyano I can, and then start at maybe 0.5ppm and work up from there! I bought a 500ml bottle of Excel to start using as well (maybe only half dose).
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post #12 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-25-2013, 04:21 AM
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You have a pretty light bioload so test the nitrates and if they are severely lacking, then you should dose the tank with some nitrate. IMO, bga comes from lack of nitrates, low flow, and low O2. For some reason, my mts ate the bga, it might just be mine, but they loved it lol.
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post #13 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-25-2013, 07:11 AM Thread Starter
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If you read up I am dosing KNO3, keeping nitrates around ~20 ppm. It hasn't helped... I am trying upping phosphates now.

I added the rest of the fish to my tank tonight, so now there are 4 guppies, 7 cardinals and 7 harlequin rasboras (one is looking rather bad though).
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post #14 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-25-2013, 07:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Jaguar View Post
I got a pound of kh2po4 today. I am going to do a massive water change and vac up what visible cyano I can, and then start at maybe 0.5ppm and work up from there! I bought a 500ml bottle of Excel to start using as well (maybe only half dose).
I would aim for 1 PPM for Phosphate.
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post #15 of 39 (permalink) Old 01-25-2013, 09:48 AM
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Re: Where am I going wrong? Constant tank failure...

What's your water like? Have you tested it for gh, kh, etc?
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