Tap water and nutrients - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-13-2010, 06:07 PM Thread Starter
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Tap water and nutrients

Newbie here...and don't have a green thumb

So what should I be looking for as far as tap water levels/minerals/etc. when deciding on how to dose and take care of plants in my tank?
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post #2 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-14-2010, 01:37 AM
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Tap water varies.
Test your tap water with all the tests you have.

Ammonia may show up if your water company adds chloramine. Mine shows 1 ppm. (Contra Costa Water District) Dechlorinator will (should) lock up this ammonia. It is still available to nitrifying bacteria, and they will turn it into a small amount of nitrate, which the plants can also use.

Nitrite might be there. I hope not, it is a toxin to mammals as well as fish.

Nitrate may be in tap water. A friend's well in an agricultural area (Brentwood) tests 10 ppm NO3. This is enough to keep the aquatic plants fed for a day or two! My friends do not drink this water!

GH is a measurement that includes calcium and magnesium. Most average tap water, coming from the ground somewhere along its path will have some of each. Your tap water may be weird, or if you are using reverse osmosis or distilled or rain water the GH will be too low. GH of about 3 degrees is a minimum for most average aquarium plants, and some prefer harder water. Most soft water fish thrive in water with a GH between 3-9 degrees, some prefer it not higher than 5 degrees. If your tap water is much harder, GH from about 9 degrees on up certain fish prefer it, and would be a better choice, but most plants do not care. It is OK for them.

KH is carbonates. This is more interesting as a buffer that stabilizes pH, but some plants can also use it as a source of carbon. If you are adding carbon from pressurized CO2 then it is better to have a little more KH in the tank to stablize the pH. 3-5 degrees is good. For hard water fish and plants the level can be much higher, and this usually raises the pH higher.

These two measures of hardness vary with the origin of the water. Hetch Hetchy system starts in rock that is a lot of granite, which does not dissolve in the water. (San Francisco water is very soft)
The water that flows down from melting snow in the Sierras picks up some of the minerals from the mountains, and may pick up some agricultural chemicals from the valley. East Bay MUD seems to have somewhat softer water than Contra Costa Water District, but the water in some parts of San Jose is much harder.

pH does not mean much as far as fertilizers go. At extremes of pH some fertilizers may be bound up with other elements and not available to the plants. (But we do not usually keep aquariums at these extreme pH levels) Fish do not usually have a problem with changes in pH such as from adding CO2, as long as the full range of that change is within their tolerance for pH. Many water companies will add something alkaline to the water to change the pH. Acidic water can be very hard on the pipes.
Contra Costa water, for example has a pH varying from the upper 7s to the upper 8s. (Sodium hydroxide- I asked them) A friend measured the pH at 9 last summer, but the KH was only 4 or 5 degrees. (One of the water companies that starts with Contra Costa Water.)

Iron, Phosphate and other tests can also show levels of other plant nutrients that may be found in tap water. A pretty easy test for iron is to look at the bathroom fixtures. If they have red or rusty colors when they should be white there is iron in the water. Some relatives in Gold Run could not use their well water even for washing because of the high iron. All the white towels turned pink!

Overall, tap water may have some nutrients, but not much. Sometimes it is high in one thing or another, even to having toxic levels of something. (A client in Clayton had toxic levels of Boron in their well water. Landscape plants were dying)
One water change a week, with 'not much' means that tap water is not usually a really good source of most fertilizers. If you are running a low tech system with a month or more between water changes, forget it. Water is not a good source of fertilizers. If you are running a flow through system, or more frequent water changes, then 'not much' may really mean there is a nice level of something to help the plants, and it is being replaced fast enough that the plants are not deficient.

However, tap water is different, well water varies... the only way to know what your water is like is to test it.
Water companies print annual reports and these are available on line. Look up the report for the water company that supplies your water. If you are on a well it can be tested professionally, but simply using all the aquarium tests is a good place to start.
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post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-14-2010, 05:08 AM Thread Starter
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very good overview, thanks for that. yes, my tap also has ammonia (looks like we're not all that far from one another) about 1ppm. no nitrates or nitrites. i often wonder if i have an excess of something that is to the detriment of my plants because, well, as i mentioned i don't have a green thumb per se. i guess adding complete well balanced fertilizers should do the trick to help with any imbalances and hopefully algae won't totally overrun my tank in the process.

so if there is a higher KH in the water then there is less need for adding carbon? what do you mean that "some" plants can use carbonates as their carbon source? does that mean that only some plants can use carbon sources such as flourish excel as well?

my gh is about 9 degrees, kh is about 4, and ph is 7.4-7.8 depending on the tank. with such a high gh is it possible that adding fertilizers with "all" of the minerals will overdose the plants with calcium or magnesium?

i guess slowly but surely i'll understand how all of these parameters are related. i've been trying to "get" it but i just don't...may just have to rely on the plants to do their thing without my obsessive intervention : ) and yes, my tanks would be (very) low tech.
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post #4 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-14-2010, 04:27 PM
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If your tanks are "very low tech" you will have low light intensity. And, you may also be using either Diana Walstad's method, with ordinary topsoil in the substrate, or mineralized topsoil, both of which can provide all of the nutrients the plants need when they are subjected to low light intensity. Assuming all of that is true for your tanks, you could dose just a trace element mix, like Flourish, and possibly a potassium source, like Leaf Zone, dosing both once a week. Don't even worry about the tap water. Just use a dechlorinator like Prime when you change water, and you should be in good shape.

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post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-14-2010, 05:46 PM Thread Starter
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okay. i'm not using Walstad's method but i have very low light (around 1-2 wpg depending on the tank). i started out with 3 wpg and loved the rapid plant growth but over time some of the plants just burned or stopped growing. i'm using flourish, and what would be the "symptoms" of needing to dose a potassium source?
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post #6 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-14-2010, 08:21 PM
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Watts per gallon is irrelevant unless you also specify what type of lighting it is - T5HO, T8, HQI, etc.

The symptom of inadequate fertilizing is poor plant growth, or only a few plants growing well.

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post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-14-2010, 10:03 PM
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you can google your local waterworks. They will list all of the nutrient factors in a report.

Most of the nutrients will come from the fish and fish food as well. If you're going this route, it's best to keep low lights and plants that can survive this environment.


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post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-15-2010, 12:37 AM
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My GH and KH are around 4-5 degrees. I do not add GH boosters or anything to raise the KH in most tanks. Low tech, and the fish food seems to add enough Ca and Mg that the GH stays stable.

Roughly half the aquarium plants we commonly use are capable of utilizing KH as a source of carbon. They prefer CO2 and will switch to carbonate only when the CO2 is just about gone. This has no bearing on whether they can or cannot use Excel. Different chemical.

At about 1 wpg (mostly T-12, some T-8, most bulbs were 'daylight') I found the plants needed potassium (holes in the leaves) and iron (not really sure, but 'off' color). I used a liquid called Leaf Zone, and added Excel at the very lowest dose.

I increased the lights to something more like 2 wpg, including some 'plant' bulbs, but still mostly T-12 and T-8, and found I was better with EI sort of dosing. But I did not like 50% water changes, so I started backing off.
KNO3: According to test, keep it at 5-20 ppm
KH2PO4: Small amount. Tests (cheap) seem to show it is at about 2 ppm. Whether this is from fish food. dosing, or both I do not know.
K2SO4: I dose more of this than anything else. Test: No holes in the leaves.

CSM+B: I dose this, and the plants are fine. The few times I have has shrimp, they have lived until the fish eat them.
Chelated Iron: I dose this. Iron tests gives really weird results, so I do not test, except to see that the plants look fine.

GH booster: Only in hard water tanks, and only at water change time. With your harder water you probably will not even need to do this.
KH: In my Rift Lake tanks I add baking soda to raise the KH. This also raises the pH. In tanks with Soil Master Select or Turface I will use this to maintain the KH at something above 0 degrees.

I have DIY CO2 and Excel, but I should be more regular about changing the bottles. I think this is why I have some of all sorts of algae.

Last edited by Diana; 02-15-2010 at 05:15 PM.
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post #9 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-15-2010, 04:58 AM Thread Starter
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@Diana--whoa you just went way over my head. I gotta read through this more carefully. I've thought about EI dosing since I tend to do weekly 50% wc anyway, but I don't want to overdo the nutrients will my limited light.

i have T-8's over one tank (comes out about 1wpg) and cfl's over my other (2wpg)
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post #10 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-15-2010, 05:16 PM
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Better to provide a luxury amount of nutrients. Do not skimp. This includes carbon. (CO2, DIY, Excel...)
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post #11 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-15-2010, 09:28 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Diana View Post
Better to provide a luxury amount of nutrients. Do not skimp. This includes carbon. (CO2, DIY, Excel...)
Isn't this, then, the same as adding comprehensive fertilizers with all the traces of everything? It's standard dosing ratios for EI dosing, right? I don't want to overdose though because of my shrimps and copper (?).
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post #12 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-16-2010, 04:11 AM
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I suspect that both of your tanks are low light tanks and the 1 watt per gallon T8 lighted tank probably has too little light to grow any plants, except perhaps mosses.

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post #13 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-17-2010, 02:57 AM
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CSM+B as suggested by the highest dosing rate in the EI formulas is safe for all the shrimp kept by the aquarium keepers in the club I belong to. Most have several species of shrimp, many use the EI method.

If the tanks are low light, then use the lower dosing rate of the EI method. This will still be plenty for the plants.
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