HELP with Struggling 40B - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-01-2019, 04:42 PM Thread Starter
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HELP with Struggling 40B

Apologize in advance for the long post, but want some help solving the issues in my 40B which has been set up since October.

Have had a bit of BBA for several months, which has gotten much worse in the last few weeks after missing one water change. It is now covering java moss, vallisneria, and hardscape and even dosing 10-15 mL Excel daily is having little effect. I know the best way to combat BBA is to use CO2, but I don't have the money for that at the moment.
Most plants are showing deficiency signs or generally poor growth, every stem plant I put in the tank seems to slowly die back, sword plants are showing little to no growth even with Osmocote root tabs and also have BBA.

Some info about the tank:
-Substrate: pea gravel/ Eco-complete
-Lighting: 36" Beamswork DA FSpec (putting me in medium light category I believe)
-Dosing: Aquarium Co-op "Easy Green" x2 per week for micros and 1/4 Tsp KNO3+1/16th Tsp KH2PO4 for macros (also dosing extra MgSO4 as I thought at one time I may have a Mg deficiency). I just purchased EI based dry ferts and am planning on switching over to those
-Livestock: assorted medium tetras (14 total), one blue gourami, and a couple of snails
-Water changes: ~40% 1x per week

My water is pretty hard and current water parameters (before weekly water change) are:
pH = 8.2
dGH = 14
dKH = 7
Ammonia = 0.25 ppm
Nitrite = 0 ppm
Nitrate = ~30 ppm

Photos: FTS, algae on moss, anubias nana showing some kind of deficiency, and vals showing some kind of deficiency
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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-02-2019, 02:52 PM
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Solve your ammonia and nitrate issues.
What filter are you using?
There is a timer and a dimmer for that light on amazon.
For low tech, that light may be to much .
Remove bba and dose with exel but there could be other issues besides your filter.
Photo period and water movement?

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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-02-2019, 03:09 PM
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For those plants easy green should be enough but with that light your having a carbon problem . You really shouldn't have ammonia at all with that size tank and your bioload. Raise or dimmer for the lights is your best approach.
I have a fluval 3 on a 40b and it's turned down 1/2 and I'm growing pogostemon and star grass .
It's best to go low on your light and as the plants grow you can up light and nutes.

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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-02-2019, 03:15 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the response!

For ammonia: it was a bit difficult to tell whether the reading yesterday was 0.25 ppm or 0 ppm (using API test kit, color looked like it was between the two values on the chart) and the color has not changed after a 40% water change yesterday.

For nitrates: I was under the impression that I was supposed to have a decent amount in a planted tank so I wasn't worried about that reading. I have been dosing KNO3 twice weekly. Should I reduce that if my plants aren't using the available nitrate?

I am using a Marineland HOB filter rated for up to 50 gallons, which I know is probably a bit under-rated but this tank was built on a low budget. I replaced the standard carbon filter cartridges with a thick sponge. I also recently added a 130 GPH pump to the back wall of the tank to try to get a more circular flow pattern going. Hoping that the combination of those gives me enough circulation. I will say that the BBA and other algae seems to be worst in high-flow areas.

Lights are on for 7hrs/day (on a timer). I will look at the dimmer on Amazon. I have also been thinking that the light may be causing some of my algae issues.
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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-03-2019, 03:00 AM
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One big one I see here is gravel size, most it is so large you should have never tried using Osmocote with it, all the nutrients Osmocote has is released right back into water column by circulation. You might as well have just dumped Osmocote right in the tank. You need to get some gravel 1mm-BB sized and work it in to pea gravel so that 50% is that size. And also that size gravel and tiny bit of eco you mixed with it has almost zero CEC potential so no need for heavy water column dosing in a non co2 tank.

Most of what I see I would be more inclined to to blame nutrient toxicity than deficiencies. Many times the symptoms of both can look exactly the same.

Agree with @Aku sukana , to high light, excess of nutrients and no reliable co2/Carbon is the problem. You basically have read yourself into a corner trying to follow the high light/high dosing that many with co2 do here, thatís not your tanks needs and will never be the way it currently stands. The easy green should be only fert you need and you should have probably started with it on low side of dosing in beginning at 1/3-1/2 strength and then as plant growth increased and you started to build up some mulm gradually increased dosage, probably adding some almond leaf litter to tank as a organic carbon source would have helped a lot and also brought your PH down.

Is your tap water GH naturally that hard or is it pea gravel leeching it into water column? Running a small bag of peat/leaves in your filter might be one of best things you could do right now.
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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-03-2019, 03:59 AM Thread Starter
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You're probably right about reading myself into a corner. Engineering PhD student here; I basically read research for a living....

I'll elaborate on why I started using dry ferts. I originally was dosing with only Easy Green once per week (as the bottle says). Plants were not growing/dying, and I was getting GSA so started adding a bit of KH2PO4 which seemed to solve that particular issue. After still not seeing much growth I started adding KNO3 as well. So I didn't just start with the routine I have now, I've built it up to this after struggling for months with plant growth. Stem plants melt from the bottom leaves up with no new growth and holes in bottom leaves, anubias is discolored, java ferns aren't growing, etc. Everything has looked like a deficiency from the beginning to me, but could be overdosing as you said.

For substrate: I thought pea gravel was OK for a low tech set-up with mostly stem plants? I was debating between sand and pea gravel when I set this up but ultimately went with the gravel because I couldn't find anything but play sand locally. There is one bag of Eco-complete in the tank, mostly in the back where my heavy root feeders are with a gravel cap. I have the gel-capsule Osmocote tabs that I thought were supposed to release nutrients over time (also mostly in the back/Eco-Complete). Is this not the case?

Our tap water is hard here (underground basin, basalt I believe). I am going to degas some tap overnight and measure pH/GH/KH after 24 to compare readings but I'm guessing it will be comparable to what is in the tank.

I have ordered a dimmer for the light which should be here in a couple of days. Planning on cutting lighting to maybe 50-60% (?) and reducing all ferts for a while to try to stop some of the algae growth.

I'm almost out of Easy Green and just got new dry ferts. Any suggestions on what I can dose in this tank without causing issues? Low light, once weekly EI or something of the sort?
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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-03-2019, 09:09 AM
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Excel is known to kill Vals and possibly mosses depending on who you listen to.

Osmocote doesn't release over time when used in a tank environment. That isn't what is was created for, so they dissolve much quicker than they would if used for terrestrial plants.

If you want to dose lean EI, that's fine, but you'll need to keep you eye on your root feeders as they may or may not need some kind of root tab once a month to keep them happy. There are those around here that claim that only feeding the water column is necessary when it comes to root feeders; watch your plants. They will tell you if you if they need more food or not.

As for nitrates, the best way to get a feel for what your plants need and use is to test your tank for a few weeks. If you were to dose your tank at 30 ppm and nitrate levels are increasing before your weekly water change, clearly there is no need to continue dosing at 30 ppm as it isn't being used.

I don't dose the water column for nitrates in my 40 breeder. Between the bioload of my fish and what little nitrates are in the root tabs I use for my Vals, Giant Hairgrass, crypt and remaining small Amazon Sword, my nitrate levels stay between 10-20 ppm. 20 ppm is the high end which is at the end of the week when my tank is due for a water change. I'm currently using these https://www.aquariumcoop.com/collect...easy-root-tabs and only 4 at a time. When the plants need more, I'll add them, but for now, plants are growing and happy with what they are being given.

Last edited by Smooch; 06-03-2019 at 09:16 AM. Reason: Clarity...
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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-03-2019, 02:39 PM Thread Starter
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I've been pretty careful about the Excel and my vals since they are one of the only things growing somewhat nicely for me. I started with like a 1/3 daily dose and have worked up to the current dose over several months. Vals seem to be OK with it. Some of the moss isn't too happy, but I think that's because I've been spot dosing it. I plan to decrease Excel down to about 5 mL/day once the algae is under control.

Thanks for the advice on the root tabs! I will order what you suggested and start using those instead of Osmocote. I have noticed that my swords and vals (before this BBA deal started) were definitely doing better when given some form of root tab.

I will start testing nitrates a few times a week to get a better handle on what the plants are actually consuming. Should I somewhat base my other macro dosing off of the nitrate level (i.e., if the plants aren't using nitrate they probably aren't using much P or K either), or should I just skip dosing N for awhile and continue dosing P/K regularly if the nitrate levels aren't decreasing?
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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-03-2019, 03:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by olivia.r View Post

I will start testing nitrates a few times a week to get a better handle on what the plants are actually consuming. Should I somewhat base my other macro dosing off of the nitrate level (i.e., if the plants aren't using nitrate they probably aren't using much P or K either), or should I just skip dosing N for awhile and continue dosing P/K regularly if the nitrate levels aren't decreasing?
The root tabs I linked to have dry ferts in them for nitrogen. It isn't much, but it is in there.

You don't want your nitrogen levels to bottom out to zero as that will harm your plants. Lean dose for everything and see what happens. If you find that your nitrates are still too high while doing weekly water changes and weekly tank maintenance ( surface gravel vac, trimming dead leaves, ect..) over the next couple of weeks, it can be adjusted lower if need be. Overfeeding fish can also cause problems in terms of nitrate levels. If you are one of those that are heavy-handed with fish food, try to reign that in. It helps not only with nitrate levels, but also makes tank upkeep easier as there is less mess to deal with.

As your plants grow and or you add more plants, you can add more to accommodate new growth / new plant additions. At the moment as it has already been said, you have too much in the water column with what you've been doing. There is no exact formula to getting it right. It takes time to figure out what your tank needs; this is where regular water testing comes in handy. You don't have to do it forever, although I test my tank weekly. I use RO water, so I have to keep a eye on things like KH and GH.
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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-03-2019, 11:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by olivia.r View Post
You're probably right about reading myself into a corner. Engineering PhD student here; I basically read research for a living....

I'll elaborate on why I started using dry ferts. I originally was dosing with only Easy Green once per week (as the bottle says). Plants were not growing/dying, and I was getting GSA so started adding a bit of KH2PO4 which seemed to solve that particular issue. After still not seeing much growth I started adding KNO3 as well. So I didn't just start with the routine I have now, I've built it up to this after struggling for months with plant growth. Stem plants melt from the bottom leaves up with no new growth and holes in bottom leaves, anubias is discolored, java ferns aren't growing, etc. Everything has looked like a deficiency from the beginning to me, but could be overdosing as you said.

For substrate: I thought pea gravel was OK for a low tech set-up with mostly stem plants? I was debating between sand and pea gravel when I set this up but ultimately went with the gravel because I couldn't find anything but play sand locally. There is one bag of Eco-complete in the tank, mostly in the back where my heavy root feeders are with a gravel cap. I have the gel-capsule Osmocote tabs that I thought were supposed to release nutrients over time (also mostly in the back/Eco-Complete). Is this not the case?

Our tap water is hard here (underground basin, basalt I believe). I am going to degas some tap overnight and measure pH/GH/KH after 24 to compare readings but I'm guessing it will be comparable to what is in the tank.

I have ordered a dimmer for the light which should be here in a couple of days. Planning on cutting lighting to maybe 50-60% (?) and reducing all ferts for a while to try to stop some of the algae growth.

I'm almost out of Easy Green and just got new dry ferts. Any suggestions on what I can dose in this tank without causing issues? Low light, once weekly EI or something of the sort?
The precapped osmo is just osmo in a convenient delivery system. As smooch said itís not designed for aquatic application, itís designed to interface with terrestrial soil which has a huge CEC. In aquatic use you only need about 6-8 pellets per plant but you also need to replace them every 3-4mo because they leech out faster. Iíve used it myself and built my own caps, 6-8pellets, fill rest of the giant cap with ground up coco peat/peat as CEC medium to hold nutrients there for the roots. Plants do not pull nutrients from the pellets, it pulls nutrients from the soil surrounding the pellets that they leech into and bind to.

Also being a student theorize why your Val is one of plants that seems to do better? What is the one thing itís doing and is actually naturally designed to do that none of your other plants are?

All your plants are easy to grow in a non co2 tank. There are people who have tanks full of big huge Val, swords, Ludwigia etc with modest lighting, no co2 and plain blast sand. If their fish load is low enough they barely even change water, maybe 20% bi-weekly.
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post #11 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-04-2019, 12:06 AM Thread Starter
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Also being a student theorize why your Val is one of plants that seems to do better? What is the one thing itís doing and is actually naturally designed to do that none of your other plants are?

All your plants are easy to grow in a non co2 tank. There are people who have tanks full of big huge Val, swords, Ludwigia etc with modest lighting, no co2 and plain blast sand. If their fish load is low enough they barely even change water, maybe 20% bi-weekly.
I know that vals can use bicarbonates as a carbon source while most other plants need actual CO2 which is my guess as to why they are doing better is the tank given the high KH/GH of my water. They are growing, but started to get that weird crinkly appearance when I hadn't added any form of root tab to the back of the tank for a couple of months which is why I'm continuing to add the root tabs (whether the nutrients are being held in the substrate layer or not, they are definitely helping with growth).

I chose easy-to-grow plants on purpose because I wanted this tank to be as low-maintenance as possible. I agree with you that many people do have extremely successful low tech tanks. That is the reason why I am here asking for help; this is my first planted tank and I've obviously made several mistakes with it. At this point I'm just trying to make my current set-up work without major, tank-disrupting changes (substrate, etc.)

Measured the water parameters of my tap today:
pH = 8.2
GH = 12
KH = 10

GH and pH in the tank are also 12 and 8.2, so I don't think the gravel is contributing to the high values.
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post #12 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-05-2019, 09:05 PM
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Valís when they reach surface can pull all the real co2 they want from atmosphere. Their leaves are like superhighways, passing gases down the leaves to the roots where they do cation exchange to gather nutrients and pass the nutrients back up to leaves.

And I wasnít telling you to completely swap out your gravel, simply get some finer plain gravel and lightly top and work it into your existing gravel and let it fill in the space in between to tighten it up a bit. This will also help keep large debris from gathering in those spaces in between gravel and keep it up on top layer where circulation and filters will pick it up. Will also cut your vacuuming down next to nothing, youíll just have to lightly skim surface to pick up the debris.

Your rippling in Val leaves is from inconsistent nutrients both in substrate and water column. Take your total weekly dose, dilute it in 1gal of water. On water change night add 2cups of that to your change water. The other 6cups add 1 cup to your tank everyday for the other 6 days. This will stop the nutrient rollercoaster that is stalling your sword and deforming your Val. In a low tech setup day by day consistency is what works best. Nutrients never spiked to high nor to low.

Next time you use the Osmocote dump out 60% of pellets and replace that with some coco peat. Within about 2wks as that organic media starts to break down you will note a nice change in both your sword and Val. The decomposing peat will actually hold nutrients in root zone for your plant roots to pickup.
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post #13 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-06-2019, 02:27 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the suggestions! I will start portioning out my ferts for the week as you suggested. Should I do this with macros only or make up a batch for micros (CSM+B) as well? I've heard EDTA chelated iron and other micros can break down pretty quickly in high pH water so would it be better to dose very small amounts straight into the tank daily?

Your input has made me start considering switching out my substrate to keep the rooting plants happier. I'd like to eventually add some smaller foreground plants like dwarf sag or crypt parva but I know they typically don't do well in large gravel. Thinking about switching over to BDBS. We'll see how the tank is doing after lowering lighting and dosing and I'll go from there.

Got my dimmer in the mail yesterday. Lights are currently on 50% of max, 7 hr/day. Looks really dim to me but it sounds like it is better to go pretty low light for now to get control of the algae and let the plants bounce back a bit.

Thanks for the input everyone, this has been very helpful!
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post #14 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-06-2019, 06:27 PM
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Hmm I see jungle vals, anubias, java moss.... None of these need ferts or intense lighting. Just a good LED light should be fine.
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post #15 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-06-2019, 09:55 PM
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Yes, keep all dosing smooth and consistent in low tech tank. Aim for low side maybe 1/3 strength to start with.

My ramp dimmer is set for 4hrs 45%>4hrs 85%>4hrs 45%. Youíll probably end up with about 75-85% in end.

I like color of your gravel and last thing I would want to do at this point is start over cycling a new gravel bed. Iíd buy some caribsea peace river 25lb. Then would use bigger pea as a design feature.

Take current pea and push it up in berms, specifically throwing bigger pieces on top. Push it up and around those rock/wood on right end, even lifting up wood etc a bit if needed. Make another small berm in front moss in center and another around nana on right. Then make another big berm of stones back between legs of that wood back left, running out slightly towards front to left of sword. Youíll end up with hills and valleys.

Now start filling in valleys with finer gravel, pulling up on/jiggling plants slightly if needed to get gravel to settle in. Scatter around a few pea on top sandy areas to blend it in. Scatter bit of sand on top berm and let it settle in but donít cover them, keep that slightly higher area of bigger stones as design feature.

In end youíll end up with sandy areas and patches of bigger stones popping up. It will look like thousands of years of flooding and weathering have pushed bigger stones/wood in piles and washed finer sands into lower areas.

You wonít lose any of bacteria you do have established in gravel but you will have just increased surface area in gravel many time over (3-4x) for bacteria to colonize onto, win/win. It will look nice and be a minimal of effort to achieve, something a busy student Iím sure can get behind. You can even do it in stages/areas of tank as you find time to do it.
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