In Search of Balance... - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old 12-07-2011, 05:39 PM Thread Starter
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In Search of Balance...

I have been running a 32G tank for since 2009 now and regardless of how much research I put into it, I seem to be having a hard time running a planted tank. I know that there are lost of factors that come into play to successfully maintain a planted tank. A lot of entries in forums across the internet talk about the “tank balance”, and it seems that no matter what I try, I always end up with two situations that I dislike:
  • Plants thrive for the first few weeks and start showing signs of browning and dying off;
  • Algae starts to slowly take over the tank;
I should state that my tank has very low light: approximately 1.25 wpg, lit through 2 T8 bulbs at 20w each. Many have remarked on the fact that this isn’t enough light for the tank and while I agree, I have also researched it long enough to find some interesting posts and blogs that state that there is no reason I shouldn’t have a planted tank if I pick plants that require low light. Some posts even go as far as saying that more light will only mean that the plants will grow faster, and require more nutrients and that one should be able to have a low-light planted tank if the right balance is found. I should also state that I have inert substrate: straight gravel, which is plugged with Flourish plant tabs around the echinodorus species.

My latest attempt to keep plants I did just that: purchased plants that require low light, along with a few specimens that require medium light. I name Hygrophila polysperma, cabomba caroliana, java fern, echinodorus bleheri and echinodorus tennellus. I added a DIY CO2 reactor, and I dose a mix or Flourish Iron, Flourish potassium, and Flourish comprehensive (alternatively) every 3 to 4 days. All plants listed above are doing well (the hygrophila is literally taking over the tank after 2 6 weeks) except for the echinodorus tennellus, which has now started to show definite signs of browning leaves and whatever is still green seems almost see-through. This saddens me because this plant made two runners within one week of being added to the tank and has spread across the tank like wildfire: there is now about 12 echinodorus tennellus plantlets in the tank. The large echinodorus bleheri is reaching above the surface and other than a few dark spots it shows no signs of dying.

Back to the two issues:
  • Why is the echinodorus tennellus not doing well? I’ve read in many places (including Hiscock’s encyclopaedia of aquarium plants) that e.tennellus requires low to medium light. In fact, low light should encourage the short leaves that would eventually create a carpet-like appearance on the substrate, while high light makes the plant grow taller leaves. It seems to me that it should have plenty of nutrients based on the amount of fertilizers I provide. So why is this plant all of a sudden so unhappy after having grown like a weed for the first 6 weeks?
  • Why is there still algae in the tank? With the idea that the more plants in the tank, the more nutrients they will take in and the less that will leave for algae, should the fact that the plants are doing mostly well not deter algae from also being present in the tank? The algae is not a huge problem. I see some green spot algae on the glass once in a while (which I scrape off with a razor blade) and some very slight, almost hair-like algae that form on the leaves of the large echinodorus that I can easily remove with my fingers. There is also a green moss-like algae that forms on the tank walls which I remove with a scraper.
Based on this information, what is it that is still missing to get that balance just right? I feel like I’m not far from it but it is ever so elusive. Here are the water parameters: pH = 6.5 and stable since I setup the tank; water is very soft (usually around 5° of general hardness), soft enough to be able to keep blue rams. I do a water change every second week or so, usually around every 10 days.

So why is there still algae?
And why are some plants not doing well?
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post #2 of 3 (permalink) Old 12-07-2011, 05:40 PM Thread Starter
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LOL! Would you look at that! I'm an Algae Grower!
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post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old 12-07-2011, 07:06 PM
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Plants will always grow if they have enough light, and a source of nitrogen, potassium phosphorous, carbon, calcium, magnesium, and several trace elements. That suggests that your plants don't get at least one of those requirements met. I assume you have a 29 gallon tank, because the light you have is only 24 inches long, too short for a typical 30 gallon tank. The standard 29 gallon tank is about 18 inches high. Two T8 bulbs, assuming they are not old bulbs, should be giving you adequate low light, but near the minimum required. Carpet plants grow at the substrate level, where the light intensity is the lowest, and it is those that aren't doing well. So, I suspect you don't have enough light for them. If the bulbs are over 6-8 months old, replacing them might help.

Algae require such minute amounts of nutrients that they cannot ever be starved. If you have light you will have some algae. You should be able to wipe the glass sides weekly and take care of most of it that way. Algae tend to grow best when the plants aren't healthy, so getting them growing well will help a lot with getting rid of algae.

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