In praise of the true blackwater tank - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 11 (permalink) Old 03-26-2017, 09:28 PM Thread Starter
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In praise of the true blackwater tank

Hello all! I am currently setting up a 10 gallon blackwater tank - defined herein as a tannin stained tank with PH 6 or less and with TDS, KH, and GH as close to zero as possible. The issues with such tanks have been repeatedly mentioned elsewhere, but I wanted to go on a different track and extol their virtues. Here we go!
The fish - This is why these tanks exist! Some fish cannot survive in captivity without these kinds of tanks; many others (neon tetras come to mind) will not breed without them. This, by itself, is a big plus...BUT there are many more
No New Tank Syndrome - As many of you know, ammonia exists in two forms in the aquarium - NH3 (the dangerous form we all worry about) and NH4 (ammonium, which is essentially harmless). The relative amounts of these forms depends on PH...and, at a PH of 6, you would need over 5 ppm total ammonia (both forms of ammonia combined) to produce the needed .03 ppm NH3 needed to begin damaging fry. You have even more margin for error as the PH drops! Needless to say...you are NOT likely to kill fish in a blackwater tank with traditional new tank syndrome! (This compensates for the fact that the denitrifying bacteria often struggle to get established in very acidic tanks)
Ample CO2 - In hard water tanks, much of the CO2 that enters the water gets converted to carbonates that plants have to waste energy to extract the CO2 out of. In blackwater tanks, that CO2 remains as either CO2 or carbonic acid, both of which are far easier for plants to use.
Plants - Not all plants adjust to the nutrient-deprived, highly acidic blackwater tank; however, those that do fare quite well (and MANY plants adjust just fine...I've found dwarf water lilies, java moss, water lettuce, cabomba, sunset hygro, java fern, creeping jenny, and others adjust fine and often grow much faster than in normal tanks. The water lettuce even outcompetes duckweed in my ph 4.4 licorice gourami tank!)
Little/No Algae! - Real blackwater tanks have a shortage of light AND nutrients, and have copious carbon dioxide...needless to say, unless you are giving it far too much light, algae is seldom a problem in these tanks. As a person who struggles with algae in most other tank, this is a big deal!

Well...that's me singing the praises of blackwater for now. Thankx and enjoy

Last edited by Grah the great; 03-26-2017 at 11:26 PM. Reason: Sentence goof!
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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 03-26-2017, 09:53 PM
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Funny I just setup a Blackwater tank yesterday. Not sure if it would meet your criteria for "true blackwater"

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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 03-26-2017, 10:52 PM Thread Starter
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Looks like one! What's the water parameters? Tannins in general work against algae, but they won't compensate for significant KH and GH values that many softwater fish don't appreciate. For comparison...my 5 gallon licorice gourami tank has a TDS in the teens to low 20's ppm, PH in the low to mid 4's (4.4 last water change), and KH and GH both zero. Blackwater tanks are more stable if the PH and KH are deliberately made as low as possible (otherwise either the PH will be too high for most blackwater fish or it will be prone to spectacularly crashing at the fish's expense)
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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 03-26-2017, 11:02 PM
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There are a few of us members who have had blackwater tanks for some time. Have you checked our journals?


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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 03-26-2017, 11:13 PM Thread Starter
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There are a few of us members who have had blackwater tanks for some time. Have you checked our journals?
I will have to do that! Thankx What do you like about blackwater tanks?
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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 03-26-2017, 11:19 PM
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I will have to do that! Thankx What do you like about blackwater tanks?
Short answer, they're real. Like the difference between taking a walk through the woods, vs a botanical garden, the blackwater tank vs the manicured planted tank is a much more accurate depiction of nature.

Long answer, read my journal, you'll see why.


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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 03-27-2017, 01:53 PM
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Looks like one! What's the water parameters? Tannins in general work against algae, but they won't compensate for significant KH and GH values that many softwater fish don't appreciate. For comparison...my 5 gallon licorice gourami tank has a TDS in the teens to low 20's ppm, PH in the low to mid 4's (4.4 last water change), and KH and GH both zero. Blackwater tanks are more stable if the PH and KH are deliberately made as low as possible (otherwise either the PH will be too high for most blackwater fish or it will be prone to spectacularly crashing at the fish's expense)
Im only using tap so id guess 7.4 on PH. Its literally only on its 3rd day so I havent tested parameters yet. Im not really going to be agressive with dropping the PH. Im sure over time that monster DW will slowly drop it, but I guess I'll see.

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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 03-27-2017, 04:06 PM Thread Starter
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Oh...almost forgot a BIG plus!
No pest snails - At a PH of about 6 pest snails have a way of persisting even if there is virtually no calcium in the water, but when it drops into the 4's (probably earlier) pest snail populations die within days. I'm not a hugely anti-snail person, but it's worth noting
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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 03-27-2017, 06:39 PM
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Oh...almost forgot a BIG plus!
No a pest snails - At a PH of about 6 pest snails have a way of persisting even if there is virtually no calcium in the water, but when it drops into the 4's (probably earlier) pest snail populations die within days. I'm not a hugely anti-snail person, but it's worth noting
I disagree. My snails' populations significantly increased from my planted tank, which had conditions much more favorable than my current blackwater tank.


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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 03-27-2017, 06:49 PM
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Actually no algae isn't always true, our water from our well is close to being temperate rainforest blackwater, but it will grow diatoms like crazy with the least amount of additional ferts and light.

Google map image of a nearby lake bordering the Oregon Dunes Park, yeah, that's blackwater.
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post #11 of 11 (permalink) Old 04-01-2017, 01:36 PM Thread Starter
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Perhaps I should clarify some of the above...
'No snails' - Snails will persist into the high 5's PH (which is where my tank was before I started using sodium bisulfate). Dipping the PH in the 4's and keeping it there will kill the snails within a week at most.
'Little/no algae' - Strictly speaking, there's nothing preventing algae from growing in a blackwater tank. However, the low light levels, lack of nutrients, and copious CO2 (for the true plants present in the tank) means that, in my experience, algae doesn't thrive in blackwater tanks (I've never seen any except for a early tank that had a PH of 6 and was half tap, half rainwater...that tank had a mild case of greenspot algae. I haven't seen algae in my blackwater tanks since), and algae is not common in most blackwater habitats unless they're in direct sun
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