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Old 11-19-2013, 05:52 PM   #1
isonychia
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New to planted tank lighting question


Hi, I am attempting to set up a 55 gallon as a planted tank.

So far the substrate is dark flourite.

Tank is established, just getting a makeover. Probaby doesn't matter except for fish.

ph 6.8 - 7

Lighting: Fluval Aqualife and Plant LED Strip Light - 48 in. Suggested to me by a local shop. (not sure if it was the wrong choice) Any info on this light in terms of if it's powerful enough? Is it considered low light or high? It say's it has 3475 lumens. I read somewhere spectrum and lumens is more important than watts.

Based off my info, can anyone give me directions in what I am lacking and how I go about choosing plants that will work well with my set up?

Current plants:
Hornwart
Anacharis
Water Wisteria
amazon sword

I have not figured out if or how to go about handling CO2.
I don't plan on an injector, but did read about Excel. Also don't know yet about fertilizer.

I guess the CO2 depends on the plants I can have as well as the fertilizer.

Thanks for any help,
iso

Last edited by isonychia; 11-19-2013 at 06:36 PM.. Reason: added info
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Old 11-19-2013, 08:52 PM   #2
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Hello iso,

Welcome to planted tanks. I'm sure you'll get a ton of different answers to your question because there are so many philosophies to keeping planted tanks - even within the low-tech category.

Based on the general info you provided, I would say that you have enough to get started, but I'll point out a few details to help keep you on track… In any planted tank, the major things you need to be concerned with are lighting, nutrients, substrate, and water movement.

SUBSTRATE: The fluorite can be used as a substrate, but it in itself does not provide a cache of nutrients for the plants. Fluorite is a fractured clay which provides a very large surface area and is great for colonizing bacteria. Over time, detritus will build up in the fluorite and be metabolized by the bacteria thus creating a cache of nutrients that will be accessible to plant roots. But this takes time. In light of that, you can choose to supplement with Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, and trace minerals. Overall, you want to make sure that your plant nutrients are not limited. Consistent nutrients will provide better success. Your sword plant is a nutrient hog and given that your tank is already set up, you may want to insert some "root tab" fertilizer where the swords will be growing. If you were starting fresh, I would recommend yard soil capped by the fluorite. Something to think about for the future.


CO2: You can definitely choose to not inject CO2. I am personally against excel, but many people use it with apparent success. Without injecting CO2, you will be operating at ambient levels of CO2 in the water column which is low. Thus you will want to make sure that your water is sufficiently circulated throughout the tank. Typically, the outflow from your filtration is not enough to provide the type of tank circulation that I'm referring to. A separate power head, or a side-mounted impeller will definitely be an advantage to getting what CO2 you do have available to all parts of the tank.

LIGHTS: This is probably the trickiest thing for beginners. Well, to be fair, it's tricky for a lot of people, non-beginners alike… The reason is because there are so many kinds of light sources now days and almost all of them can be used to grow aquarium plants, but the biggest question is: how much? I've never personally used the LED strip light that you bought. But with my experience and watching an unboxing of this particular light on youtube, I would say that it is a light you can work with. To answer your question about spectrum and lumens - its relatively meaningless concerning aquarium plants. Especially meaningless is watts! Your LED strip light can be used to grow plants, rest assured… however, despite what the marketing says, the LEDs are NOT full spectrum, and your plants could care less about lumens. If you read any of my other posts, you'll come to understand that there is a definitive and precise way to determine your aquarium lighting, but it is beyond the scope of a beginner - but only in terms of money, not understanding. Really, you can choose most any light source, but you just need to make sure that you have enough of it. Especially without injecting CO2 you'll want to make sure that your light is not limited. But the balancing act here is that you also want to make sure that it's not too bright! My guess, is that you will have moderate lighting with your chosen LED strip light and will be fine for the plants you've chosen.

SPECTRUM: For many years, before the explosion of the number and type of light sources we have available today, people used standard fluorescent tubes to light their tanks. Those, fluorescent tubes were by no means full spectrum, but they grow plants just fine… You just need enough of them. In fact, standard old-school fluorescent tubes have a huge green spike in their spectrum. Manufacturers designed the phosphors this way because green light appears brighter to humans compared to other colors. Thus, they could claim more "lumens". Green light, as it turns out, is the part of the spectrum where the plant is "least efficient" at photosynthesizing. For a long time, I was incorrectly educated to believe that plants only cared about the blue and red part of the spectrum. But the truth is that this is only where they are "most efficient". Diving deeper into the subject, you'll learn that a large number of plants can use light from ALL parts of the visible spectrum to activate photosynthesis. So don't be fooled by spectrum and color temperature such as 5000K, 6500K, 7500K, or 10000K. It, again, is marketing. And what it refers to is how yellow or blue the apparent color of a light source is. Choose a light that makes your tank look good to you and fits into the lighting of your room. If you have "enough" of it, your plants will collect it and use it.

Cheers,

-Jeremy
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Last edited by i4x4nMore; 11-19-2013 at 09:19 PM.. Reason: Additional comments
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Old 11-19-2013, 09:08 PM   #3
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Thank you very much.

How do i determine I have enough light?
My LED, I think, say's it has 3475 lumens. That seems like very little when i did the calculations based on this thread:
http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/sh...d.php?t=300490
My tank is 48x12x20 (approximate)

If it's not based on lumens or watts and surface area etc what is it based on?

You mentioned reading your posts to educate myself. I will do that. I guess I thought there was some formula to abide by.

When I ran my cichlid tank I did the leg work on getting the info and was highly informed before starting.This tank was kind of a fast track process, and I want to make sure i didn't blow $280 on an LED strip light that could be replaced with a much better system at a lower or similar cost. I almost never just go out and buy without being informed, but in this instance I did with the light.

I will look into circulation etc and see how I can use my powerheads to aid in that like you mentioned. One note I have 2 Aquaclear 70 HOB filters on either end of the tank that are cascading quite a bit of water into the tank. Is that enough water movement?

Thanks,
iso

Last edited by isonychia; 11-19-2013 at 09:32 PM.. Reason: added info on lumens
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Old 11-19-2013, 11:46 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by isonychia View Post
How do i determine I have enough light?
My LED, I think, say's it has 3475 lumens. That seems like very little when i did the calculations based on this thread:
http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/sh...d.php?t=300490
My tank is 48x12x20 (approximate)

If it's not based on lumens or watts and surface area etc what is it based on?
Do I think you wasted your money on that light source? No. All light sources that give you adequate light (and that have a nice professional form factor) are going to be expensive. I spent $600 on three 24" TrueLumen Pro LED strips for a 20 gal aquarium. I liked their slim form factor, but it took three of them to give me the light coverage I was looking for. The unit you bought looks to use more and higher wattage LEDs compared to my TrueLumen Pro strips.

Although I think those calculation-style efforts are interesting, in the link you referenced, I think they muddy the waters and still only provide a gross estimate - if that. Ultimately, what you want to know is the PAR: which stand for "Photosynthetically Active Radiation" and describes how much of the available light contributes directly to photosynthesis. There are meters to measure this directly and they are used in greenhouse, commercial, and scientific applications. The meters run about $379 (from Apogee Instruments, MQ-200 Quantum) for the type that would be useful to you.

Many may think that you use the meter once when you get your light source and then put it away in a drawer. But I use it quite actively during the evolution of a tank, especially as the plants grown in and begin to shadow each other, and also as the light source ages. Also, I've found that my LED dimmer doesn't always come back on to the same light level. So, every week during routine maintenance, I use it to validate my target. It's also extremely useful when putting together DIY lighting or building your own hood, etc. Using the meter, you can choose to use ANY light source technology and you don't have to know a thing about it, just measure the PAR. Measuring PAR takes out all the variables such as internal tank reflection, hood design, water absorption, surface reflection, bulb efficiency, and on and on… With a waterproof probe, you measure PAR at the plants in the water or at the substrate… this will be very different than a dry reading.

Back when everyone was using primarily standard linear fluorescent tubes, they implemented the "watts per gallon" rule as a method of targeting your light. That may have worked at the time as a rule of thumb because everyone was using a similar lighting technology and it was fairly predictable. But nowadays, there are at least 6-10 different technologies and they all produce different photosynthetic light (and waste heat) for a given wattage; and reflector design plays a huge role for tube or bulb style light sources. LEDs are relatively new on the mass market scene and they come in so many form factors that's its really difficult to gauge how much PAR they will produce.

Many of these LED fixtures are designed for reef aquariums. And these can be too strong for low-light planted aquariums. But building a dimmer, or raising the light, or filtering it with a neutral density filter will take care of that.

In PAR terms, a good target for your beginner planted tank would be 50-70 PAR measured at the substrate. Will your light source produce this over the entire tank? I don't know… it has to be measured to be sure. If you get lower than 40 PAR however, then in your non-CO2 tank you'd be co-limiting both light and CO2 which is not good. Keep in mind that the PAR levels I'm suggesting are for "thriving" plants, not "surviving" plants. You can keep a plant at it's light compensation point where it only gets enough light to offset the energy it uses to photosynthesize and you'd get zero net growth… This is "surviving". By contrast, a plant that actively grows, produces new leaves, fights off disease, and reproduces is "thriving". As an example, 20-40 PAR might be sufficient for mosses, pelia, ferns and anubias, but not for many other plants. The carpeting plants like HC and glosso require higher levels of light, around 65-70 PAR, to grow compact and horizontal. Plants that turn red, may only do so with even higher levels of PAR, around 90-120 PAR. But again, a general good range for a broad cross-section of plants is 50-70 PAR.

Quote:
Originally Posted by isonychia View Post
I will look into circulation etc and see how I can use my powerheads to aid in that like you mentioned. One note I have 2 Aquaclear 70 HOB filters on either end of the tank that are cascading quite a bit of water into the tank. Is that enough water movement?

It probably would be better to add a cross-tank flow in addition to your HOB filters. The goal is to make sure that you don't have any "dead spots" in your tank. It will be come even more challenging as your plants grown in and hinder the water flow. To that effect, it may be good in a long tank to have a power head at each end of the tank. Side-mounted impellers similar to the Vortech MP series work really well too. Vortech's themselves are very pricey but are worth every penny. I guess the word of caution here is to not create so much flow that it taxes your fish!


Cheers,

-Jeremy
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Last edited by i4x4nMore; 11-20-2013 at 12:29 AM.. Reason: Additional comments
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Old 11-20-2013, 12:08 PM   #5
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Jeremy, thank you.

You explained it very well. I am in total understanding now.
I don't want to spring for the PAR meter right now, so I guess I will just have to see how my plants do with the current system.

I have a regular static Aquaclear powerhead. I mounted it on the side of the tank/middle. I will keep an eye on the dead spots in the tank.

Two other questions.

The 2 amazon swords are pretty big.(should have thought of their height before buying) They are these ( http://www.aquascapeonline.com/ProdI...on_sword_2.jpg) The leaves at the top sometimes pop out of the water. Will they dry out if they are not always submerged? They came with some brown spots on the leaves already. I read about trimming them, but I don't see how I can trim these as they have a long stalk and one big leaf. If I trim the top leaf, I assume the stalk will not just sprout a leaf where I trimmed it. Usually with houseplants you need to trim just above a node.

Also, the hornwarts, do not have roots. They came with the weighted wrap things. How can I anchor these to the bottom without burying the bottoms? I read burying the bottoms will just cause them to rot where they are buried. Again I should have know they were supposed to be floating plants prior to buying them. I wish the shop would have told me.

In the future I will be doing some more research before buying.

Thanks,
iso
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Old 11-20-2013, 03:02 PM   #6
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I have had luck with getting my hornwort to hook onto other plants or ornaments such as through a rock cave or leaves of star grass or pearl weed. The key as you mentioned is it will rot if anything even hugs it so to speak to much. If floating is an option I feel personally the it does best and looks best but can also be a filter intake issue or if it gets to thick can choke light from the plants below it.
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Old 11-20-2013, 03:26 PM   #7
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To trim an Amazon sword you have to cut/break off the stalk at the bottom. Amazons will grow new leaves fairly quick as long as you are feeding the roots. The trick is to get rid of the brown or poor leaves so new ones can grow back.
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Old 11-20-2013, 03:41 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by isonychia View Post
Jeremy, thank you.

You explained it very well. I am in total understanding now.
I don't want to spring for the PAR meter right now, so I guess I will just have to see how my plants do with the current system.

I have a regular static Aquaclear powerhead. I mounted it on the side of the tank/middle. I will keep an eye on the dead spots in the tank.

Two other questions.

The 2 amazon swords are pretty big.(should have thought of their height before buying) They are these ( http://www.aquascapeonline.com/ProdI...on_sword_2.jpg) The leaves at the top sometimes pop out of the water. Will they dry out if they are not always submerged? They came with some brown spots on the leaves already. I read about trimming them, but I don't see how I can trim these as they have a long stalk and one big leaf. If I trim the top leaf, I assume the stalk will not just sprout a leaf where I trimmed it. Usually with houseplants you need to trim just above a node.

Also, the hornwarts, do not have roots. They came with the weighted wrap things. How can I anchor these to the bottom without burying the bottoms? I read burying the bottoms will just cause them to rot where they are buried. Again I should have know they were supposed to be floating plants prior to buying them. I wish the shop would have told me.

In the future I will be doing some more research before buying.

Thanks,
iso
The leaves of the sword in that picture are the emerged form. They will turn yellow,then brown, and melt away as the sword grows new submerged leaves, which will be more sword shaped. When you "trim" the swords, you actually peel the old leaf from the crown like you would pull a stalk of celery from the bunch. If you cut the stalk, it will slowly melt away, but it takes a long time and can be unattractive in my opinion.

Additionally, the sword in the picture is planted too deep. The crown should be above the substrate so you can just barely see the roots. Plant them any deeper and the plant will rot in place. With enough space and light, as well as proper substrate fertilization, your swords will grow out of the top of the tank. The leaves above the water level will dry out,but that will not affect the submerged leaves.
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Old 11-20-2013, 06:14 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by isonychia View Post
You explained it very well. I am in total understanding now.
I don't want to spring for the PAR meter right now, so I guess I will just have to see how my plants do with the current system.

A few other notes… It's better to start your tank with a lot of plants rather than just a few. But you'll have to make sure that you are supplying "consistent" nutrients. You might want to do a search on the "Estimative Index" method of dosing. It's very cost effective to mix your own ferts and add them on a weekly schedule. Two of the nutrients that you need to dose are Nitrate and Phosphate and you can use cheap test kits to validate if you're in the ball park when dosing these.

Floating hornwort is a nutrient sponge. Especially since it receives maximum lighting while floating at the surface. In Diana Walstad's classic book, "The Ecology of the Planted Aquarium" she recommends using floating Hornwort in the beginning stages of a new aquarium setup. Not only will it take the edge of the ammonia/nitrite/nitrate spike you get during the cycling of a new tank, but it also grows fast and you can use it as a metric for your lighting.

You may eventually move away from Hornwort, depending on your aquascaping goals. The only time it looks attractive to me is when fish are actively using it for cover shelter. Other than that, IMO, it's a nuisance and will take over the whole surface if not kept in check.

Quote:
Originally Posted by isonychia View Post
I have a regular static Aquaclear powerhead. I mounted it on the side of the tank/middle. I will keep an eye on the dead spots in the tank.
Keep in mind, the flow is about refreshing the water over the surface of the plant's leaves. My understanding is that during photosynthesis, a thin zone is created around the leaf and in static waters this zone will hinder efficient uptake of CO2, not to mention depleting the "local" supply of available CO2. By keeping the water actively circulating over the surface of the leaf, you minimize this effect. If your HOB filters are actively perturbing the surface of the water, this will also ensure maximum ambient levels of CO2 (and O2) in the water column.

Cheers,

-Jeremy
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Last edited by i4x4nMore; 11-20-2013 at 06:19 PM.. Reason: additional comments
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Old 11-21-2013, 02:15 PM   #10
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Wow, thats a lot of info.

Thanks guys.

One question (for now)

My tank was established for about 4 years and held 2 big cats. We donated the cats to a local shop that they housed in a pond. (the cats were purchased by someone who didn't know the rules of checking the size of fish before buying)

It has been a few days since the tank has been without the fish. We kept the water and filters but replaced the substrate and added plants.

My ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, PH were all perfect.

Without the addition of ammonia into the tank from the food, fish waste etc will I lose my bacteria?

I wasn't going to add fish until I finalized the plant-scaping etc.


Thanks,
iso
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