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Old 01-26-2012, 04:43 PM   #1
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32G Planted - Tank Redo (Dirt)


This tank has been setup for over two years years now and has gone through some major changes during that time. So... why stop now?

I recently started a new tank with an under-layer of MGOCPM and immediately liked the results. So of course the thought to redo the main tank with same under-layer of soil was now a must. And here we go...

This is what the tank looked like last week:


Then I decided to perform a major trimming operation because the Hygrophila was simply overtaking everything:


... and then I didn't like the way it looked anymore!
Time to go back to the drawing board and plan this baby properly.

The plan was to remove everything from the tank, add a layer of soil, and rebuild. I figured I could get that done within 3-4 hours max. I had the afternoon off yesterday so I went ahead with the plan, and removed all plants, fish, substrate, and equipment. The plants I carefully removed all leaves that were showing signs of unhealthiness, and discarded most of the Hygrophila, keeping only the healthiest looking stems. I housed the fish in a bucked to which I attached the heater from the tank. I had to bag a couple because i was worried about bad behavior in such close quarters, namely the Gourami and the Kribensis who are constantly at each other's throats (or fins... whatever).





I left quite a bit of mulm from the fish waste at the bottom of the tank and then added the dirt. I cannot sift through the dirt for larger pieces of debris outside this time of year living in Canada and all, and there really isn't any place inside the house I can comfortably do it in so I used the tank itself as a working table. I dropped the soil in the tank and spent the next 10 minutes going through it for larger pieces of wood and removed them.



I had about half a bag of Flourite leftover from the other tank setup that I sprinkled over the dirt, and then started laying out some rocks for a bit of aquascaping. Now aquascaping is something interesting: some people are great at it and others are simply not. I'm one of the latter. After wasting time trying to figure things out, I gave up and just started adding the substrate back in.

Apologies but I don't have pictures of the aquascaping attempts or "filling" the tank. I got so immersed in what I was doing that I simply forgot to snap pics.

I filled the tank halfway with tap water, put in the plants where I wanted them, and added dechlorinator. I then added the fish back in (with the old tank water) and voila!



And the results are... I don't like it!

It definitely needs more plants. I'm planning on picking up some crypts for the foreground today if I can find some. The Hygrophila was so overgrown that it made it look that there were a lot more plants in there than there actually was. I know that the plants will grow in but I guess I got used to the jungle so much that now I look at the tank and think:

"man... this is way too clean looking!" I may add some driftwood as well or something! There is just something about it that I just don't like and I can't seem to be able to put my finger on it.

But whatever it may be in the end, at least the plants now have a substrate they can live in, hopefully happily.
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Old 01-27-2012, 02:03 PM   #2
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Default Adding Plants

Cloudiness

A full 24 hours after the breakdown and rebuild, the water is still cloudy. Now I honestly don't remember how long it took for the tank water to clear up when I first setup this tank over to years ago so I don't really have a point of reference, but the 10G I recently setup cleared up within 24 hours easy so I'm guessing that it's somewhat related to water volume.



Ammonia and Nitrites Reading

I took a reading of the ammonia and nitrites in the tank and both were a big fat zero. I was wondering if a redo was going to cause any kind of spike but so far so good... but it's still early. Realistically, with having reused dirty gravel, filter, and with the plants in the tank seemingly growing, there should be no reason for either ammonia or nitrites to spike... but I'd rather be paranoid than sorry.

New Plants

I was unhappy with the look of the tank yesterday, mostly due to the lack of plants in it. So I got lucky that the LFS had just received a new shipment and I got more.

I wanted two crypts for the foreground so I picked up one bunch that looked healthy. I wasn't sure what kind of crypt it was (and to be honest I'm still not sure) but in the end the bunch had three separate plants so this was good. They look like they could be c.beckettii but this is so far only an educated guess...





The other plant was an impulse buy: I knew I wanted to add something to the back right corner of the tank where I built a hill of gravel and saw a good looking plant that I was fairly sure wouldn't make it in my low-light environment. I picked it up anyway because it was the perfect size for that corner.





As it turns out, and after some research, I am now almost certain that this is Hygrophila corymbosa, which is supposedly a hardy, fast growing, easy to care for plant that doesn't require high-light or CO2 to be able to grow well. Again, an educated guess... but if it is h.corymbosa then this is good news for me!

Are assassin snails damaging to plants? Thinking of getting a couple but I know next to nothing about them...
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Old 01-27-2012, 08:49 PM   #3
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The tank has cleared up nicely. Water volume seems to be the case.

When should I start fertilizing this tank? I mean the soil is still new and hasn't had time to decompose yet... should I start right away or should I give it more time?
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Old 01-27-2012, 09:03 PM   #4
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looks nice. i think you should ditch the background though
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Old 01-27-2012, 09:31 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nonconductive View Post
looks nice. i think you should ditch the background though
You know... I'm all for that. But I wouldn't know what to put back there.

I originally had an all black background but the wife didn't like it, so I changed it. I'm not crazy about the DIY, in-tank backgrounds because they take up real-estate I think should belong to the fish. So... any thoughts?
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Old 01-27-2012, 09:46 PM   #6
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Here's a pic of the cleared up tank. I added some java fern behind the crypt (center-left) and I can't seem to bring myself to put more plants in there: I want to give the ones that are in a chance to grow...

On a side note, the Gourami is gone. After much observation and pondering, I saw that the bully in the tank (which was always believed to be the Kribensis) was in fact the Gourami. Both cichlids in the tank (Kribensis and Ram) were terrified of the Gourami and kept hiding from him. I removed him temporarily as a test and, both cichlids were out in the open, swimming along happily foraging. He was removed and brought back to the LFS.

This is now a much happier tank...

Current Inmates
1 female kribensis
1 male german blue ram
7 cardinal tetras

...there's definitely room for more *peaceful* inmates in there... last thing I want is a riot!
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Old 01-30-2012, 07:16 PM   #7
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Default Plant Catastrophe & Phosphates

I added Excel to the 32G about 3 days ago, right after I finished rebuilding it, having read that it was recommended by Seachem to do an initial dose after first planting a tank, or something along those lines. The dosage was to be one capful for every 10G of water so I put in 3 capfuls. The Egeria densa that was in the tank died within 3 days... melted away. The vallisneria is not doing much better and will either have to be cut down drastically so that I don’t end up with dead plant matter all over the place or it will die just like the Egeria. The Echinodorus is showing huge signs of yellowing and will likely lose quite a few leaves: I hope it survives. The plants with thicker leaves seem to be doing a little better but I am monitoring those carefully as one of the newly added cryptocoryne has a leaf that has turned yellow.

This is a catastrophe! This may have been a terrible mistake to begin with. The idea with dosing Excel was to try to eradicate the hair algae but it never occurred to me that a product designed to help plants would/could also kill them. At this point all I can do is wait to see which plants survive and which ones don’t so I can work on a restocking plan.

Adding insult to injury I took a phosphate reading for the first time since getting a test kit and the reading was off the chart! I did a 50% WC and will take another reading tonight to see if another WC is required. Serves me right for trying to tackle two tanks at once... both are now in some type of turmoil!
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Old 01-30-2012, 07:37 PM   #8
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your wife didnt like the black background? it makes the colors pop so much more. thought about a different solid color?
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Old 01-31-2012, 04:12 PM   #9
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Default The Phosphates Issue

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon an article that opened my eyes to an issue I didn’t know existed in any of my tanks: a high concentration of phosphates. I promptly invested in a phosphates test kit.

The article linked above mentioned phosphates in the aquarium, which is a problem that some aquarists have and don’t know anything about. As the results of the first phosphates test showed, this was definitely my situation.

Testing for Phosphates

It took a few days for me to test the water for phosphates in the tank: I had just completed the tank redo and believed that the water was now as good as it had ever been in that tank. I was floored when I tested for phosphates in both my tanks, and found results that couldn’t have been more opposites. The reading in the 10G showed that the level of phosphates was well within normal, but the reading in the 32G was absolutely off the chart! I then decided to test the tap water just to have an idea of where the high phosphate level was coming from and the result was conclusive: the tap water reading was the same as the reading of the 10G: very little phosphates. There were no doubts that the problem was with the 32G.

The Root of the Issue

Some facts about the 32G that could explain the high level of phosphates are:
  1. The tank has been setup for over two years, with the same substrate, which undoubtedly now has a high content in fish/food waste and mulm;
  2. There is no denying that there were many times that I overfed the fish in that tank;
  3. There is also no denying that this tank has been over fertilized in the last few months as well;

What I couldn’t really grasp was that this tank had just been emptied completely, gravel “washed” as best I could using only tank water, and rebuilt using an under-layer of soil. Shouldn't it be rather free of waste?


There are two things I now believe are at the root of the issue in the 32G:
  1. The gravel I replaced in that tank after introducing the under-layer of soil still contained high levels of protein and/or waste that it now releases in the water column;
  2. The fact that the soil was not given time to break down before introducing it to the tank may also be a factor in why there are such high levels of phosphates in that tank: the soil likely is decomposing now and releasing proteins and other things in the water column, creating a high phosphate concentration;

The last point is cause for head scratching. Both the 32G (the tank with the issue) and the 10G (the tank without the issue) were setup with a soil layer at approximately the same time and only the 32G is showing a high concentration of phosphates. So what are the differences between the two tanks that would cause one to have a problem and not the other?

One difference is the gravel from the 32G (as mentioned above) whereas the substrate in the 10G was completely new (uncontaminated). The only other difference I can think of is that the 32G’s substrate is an under-layer of soil, mid-layer of Flourite, capped by the gravel, while the 10G’s substrate is an under-layer of soil, mid-layer of Flourite, capped by play sand. I think it is entirely possible that the sand, not being as porous as the gravel, is keeping the decomposition of the soil contained to the substrate level while the gravel (being more porous) is probably allowing whatever is happening with the decomposition of the soil to penetrate the water column more easily.

Fixing the Issue

There are a few ways I can try to fix the problem. The first is to keep doing water changes until the phosphates level drop to a reasonable level: I did 50% water changes daily since I found out about the problem (2 days), and intend to keep that up until levels drop. The second is to get more plants: while plants will not fix the problem all by themselves, they will help in taking up some of the phosphates in the water. The third is to get a phosphate remover product, which I am a little reluctant to do simply because I’d rather do this thing without adding chemicals to the water.

The bottom line here is:
  1. I get to buy more plants today!
  2. I get to do another water change today;
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Old 01-31-2012, 04:33 PM   #10
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'off the chart' is??? what?
Do the fish appear stressed? If the fish appear good and no water tests show ammonia or nitrite then doing a couple changes a week would be fine but I wouldn't panic into daily changes based on phosphate levels alone. Long term it would cause issues (possibly) but the plants will take time to reestablish and filter the water better.
I'm also thinking the sand layer in the 10g without any doubt slows the exchange of nutrients into the water column.

I wouldn't try to chemically reduce phosphate levels right away.
Any chance of getting some floating plants in the tank?

(another great thread by the way)
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Old 01-31-2012, 10:57 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wkndracer View Post
'off the chart' is??? what?
Do the fish appear stressed? If the fish appear good and no water tests show ammonia or nitrite then doing a couple changes a week would be fine but I wouldn't panic into daily changes based on phosphate levels alone. Long term it would cause issues (possibly) but the plants will take time to reestablish and filter the water better.
I'm also thinking the sand layer in the 10g without any doubt slows the exchange of nutrients into the water column.

I wouldn't try to chemically reduce phosphate levels right away.
Any chance of getting some floating plants in the tank?

(another great thread by the way)
Off the chart is... Well... The max color the chart shows. The fish are not stressed in the least and there is no sign of ammonia or nitrites so far.

I hadn't thought about the time the plants would need to establish so thanks for that reminder. I'll monitor and chill.

I added a few more crypts today because petsmart had a few nice specimens in pots so hopefully I am giving the plants a better chance to win the battle.

Note: the last thing I want to do is use chemicals. I am on a mission to figure out "balance" in both my tanks and I don't believe that will be done with chemicals... But that balance is so elusive...
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Old 01-31-2012, 11:47 PM   #12
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There is one thing that is puzzling me... When should I start fertilizing this tank? I'm a little reluctant to do it with the phosphates being so high...
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Old 02-01-2012, 05:11 PM   #13
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Default Thoughts and opinions always vary

Test kits.
I'm always suspecting my test results to be off when things appear to be radically off the mark. Chemical titration tests need to be calibrated and zero verified to trust them. Using the API brand here for GH, KH and macros. The sticky for making NO3 and PO4 solutions here along with a gallon of distilled water to verify zero is cheap enough. I made up PO4 solutions of 0.25 and 1.0ppm, NO3 in 10 and 20ppm using 250ml glass jars years ago and still have plenty left. Helps to make sure the test kits range close matching the color cards opening new kits. The other kit I wanted standards for was KH value and made those too for use with my injected tanks. If I get an odd ball reading on a tank I'll check against the standards before reacting. At minimum all kits are zero verified with distilled.
http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/fe...-chemists.html

Tank balance.
No matter what you put in a tank be it too much or too little without light energy plants don't grow. Extremely high nutrient levels won't cause algae to grow. But intense light without all nutrients at good levels will. Even non injected at medium/low light energy lacking a macro or micro algae will grow and higher plants fail. Following threads here algae in a planted aquarium is caused by imbalance. All planted aquariums are limited by one factor or another and always out of balance one way or another so it's a tricky answer to find. Light (imo) is easiest to control. Floaters filter the water column removing excess NPK and can greatly help controlling light rather than changing photo period as another option. Good growth both in rooted plants and emerged without dosing the water column for 3 years is my greatest success to date. Water column dosing of trace/Fe with a soil substrate seems to benefit my tanks the most.

Low and medium light with a potting mix base like we are using PO4 and NO3 on weekly parameter checks will be zero or a static value most of the time without additions. Recorded periods of over 2 months without change on tanks following the Walstad outlined method. TDS showed a gradual increase but other readings remained static. Even with no PO4 or NO3 tested in the water column plant growth was good and little or no algae in the tanks.

Reading the opinions I find them all across the extremes. Lacking phosphate causes GSA. Shortage of nitrate or CO2 swings are blamed for BBA outbreaks. High organic content (DOC) is blamed by many yet the Walstad outlined method can be followed and adjusted to great success. Growth of plants always has a limiting factor based on what I've read. What I have seen succeed here is what I'll post. If it works here I'll repeat it in a post once I've tried it seeing results.

All my new tank starts now include floaters. Added starting out many are cleared completely after a few months.
With my belief that light energy is easiest to understand and adjust without changing the tank in any major way. Great at filtering the water too goes almost without saying. Ricca, Frogbit, Moss, Subwassertang, Salvinia cheap easy plants with great value (imo).

Low tech having a number of soil based tanks all containing a high percentage of organics adding macro nutrients (NPK) to the water is only done at start up and water changes. Trace is more liberally applied.

Higher lighting levels and CO2 injected I'll hold a parameter range in the water tests. Opposite of what you're experiencing PO4 is what bottoms out on my tanks when things shift almost every time.

Flourite, Eco Complete and gravel mixes release to the water more during the first few months. Using sand or a mixture of sand and frag my water parameter always test a lower nutrient content. This is my guess at the difference between you're two soil tanks.

hope my thoughts make some sense.
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Old 02-01-2012, 08:16 PM   #14
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Thanks wkndracer! There's a lot of good info in that post and it will take me some time to process it and relate it to my tanks. At any rate, thanks for taking the time to write it up!
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Old 02-01-2012, 08:37 PM   #15
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Default New Plants

I tested for phosphates again last night but decided against the water change even if the reading was again at its highest. I thought the water seemed a little greenish but it is difficult to say for sure with greenish background to begin with.

The Egeria densa died first, a few days ago. Yesterday I removed the vallisneria completely, or whatever was left of it. This has not been a good week for the plants. I'll sure think twice before using Excel again.

The good news is that I also added more plants to the tank: one cryptocoryne undulata and one cryptocoryne spiralis. They are both relatively slow growing but they should do fine in that setup. I also bought some moneywort (bacopa monnieri) which i will be adding possibly today, or as soon as i have enough cuttings from it from the 10G. I may do a water change today depending on what I see when I get home. And all I can think about is: I should have capped it with sand! ) Doesn't help that I happen to have so much sand leftover in buckets from doing my son's sandbox last year...

Pics of the new plants (some leaves have seen better days on the undulata but I'm hoping it comes back once established):
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