really confused about water quality-tank doing bad (now with plant pics!) - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-11-2012, 04:15 PM Thread Starter
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really confused about water quality-tank doing bad (now with plant pics!)

This is my first planted tank in over ten years. I used to keep planted tanks with just city water, maybe a little DIY CO2, and fluorescent tubes, and had pretty decent success.

Then I had SPS reef tanks for about a decade. They did really well and I am pretty stubbornly set in the mindset of "start with RO/DI, add what you need, and test for everything that you add, and for goodness gracious, do NOT add anything that you cannot test".

It does not seem that the way I kept sps tanks is the way people keep planted tanks, because I am not having any luck finding guidance on what specific parameters I need to keep my water at. It's driving me crazy!

I see a lot of recommendations to just use tap water and that a wide range of parameters is OK, but my rural well water is off the charts hard and high pH and Alkaline. I would like to keep tetras and other soft water fish, and this just does not seem like a good idea to me to use that well water.

I could use the water from my house water softener, it reads more neutral in most respects, but I really worry about the salt from the water softener being bad for the plants. (Is this much of a worry?)

So what I am left with is RO. I have been using RO water from my small unit for making drinking water, and adding a very small amount of my unsoftened well water to add back in a little bit of minerals.

This gives me tank water with GH and KH of about 4, pH about 7.2. Tank water reads Nitrates about 20-30 ppm. I don't recall the other values off the top of my head (I am at work now).

I have read about EI dosing, and right now I am resistant to it because I make up the water with my small RO unit, and while I can occasionally do a 50% change, coming up with 50% of my tanks volume every week is going to be a pain in the butt logistically. Although I suppose I could just pick some up at the fish store.

There is something wrong with my tank. The leaves on my sword plants are thin and seem to develop holes. Most of the plants grow slow. Also, the fish are not thriving. My cory cats slowly developed eroded barbels over several months, and then died. My black neons seemed so robust for a while, and then just started to look bad and one by one, almost seemed to get sick and die.

I believe there is a water quality issue, but I am not sure where to start in diagnosing it. And, I am not sure if the fish not doing well is related to the plants not doing well, or what.

What I would really like to know, is what are the water perimeters I need to monitor to keep healthy fish and plants (including fertilizers) and what are the optimum values for them.

Unless there is another way I need to be going with this? After reading my rambling tale, does anyone have any thoughts on this? I am really stupefied as to what is wrong so am open to any guidance.

Additional details: Tank is 40 gallon, lit by a single 150 W MH/HQI bulb which is on for 9 hours, and I run DIY CO2. Been running for a little over 6 months. I use root tabs but that is the only Fert. Since all my tetras and corydoras died, the only fish I have are a single pearl grouami and a pleco. I am scared to add more fish since I don't know why the others failed to thrive.

Last edited by greenmulberry; 06-13-2012 at 01:56 PM.
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post #2 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-11-2012, 04:44 PM
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What do you use for filtration,and what is your distance from MH to substrate?
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post #3 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-11-2012, 05:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by greenmulberry View Post
The leaves on my sword plants are thin and seem to develop holes. Most of the plants grow slow.
This sounds like a nutrient deficiency.

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My cory cats slowly developed eroded barbels over several months, and then died.
Eroded barbels is often caused by substrate being too sharp and literally damaging the barbels. The cories may have had difficulty eating as a result which may have contributed to their death.

What substrate are you using?

Quote:
My black neons seemed so robust for a while, and then just started to look bad and one by one, almost seemed to get sick and die.
Hard to say what caused this.

It can be difficult to get into the mindset of planted tanks. When I first started, it was difficult for me to get used to not over cleaning. I kept wanting to plunge the gravel vac into the substrate no matter how much I knew it was not recommended. I wanted to clean out all the detritus in the tank! I eventually got over it.

Since you referred to your experience with saltwater tanks as part of the reason why you're having difficulty switching to the lesser controlled environment of a planted tank, it might be easier if you associated your planted tank with something else. For example, I think it's a lot like regular gardening. While I have a general sense of the acidity/alkalinity of my soil, I don't run regular tests on it all the time. I don't test the water from the sprinkler systems. But I do look at what's in the fertilizers I put on the plants and consider the plants' needs when determining where to place them (sun, shade) and how to care for them (these need ferts, these need acidic ferts, these others don't, etc.). If you were going to make a pond like a farmer, you'd dig a hole, fill it with water, and add fish. Not every aspect of these things needs to be micromanaged to be successful. So maybe thinking of things like that will help you switch to a viewpoint that's able to better tolerate the things that aren't normally controlling in planted tanks.

With that in mind, I think you may also be surprised to find that fish are often more tolerant of water conditions, such as pH ranges, than the lists claim. For example, I have a many different tetras in my 8.0 pH water, including over 50 healthy cardinal tetras.

So how about starting off by seeing if you can use your well water since you've indicated that doing 50% water changes with RO water would be burdensome. If it turns out you can't use your well water, then you'll know what parameter is not suitable and be able to figure out how to work around it (maybe part well water and part RO water?). While your nitrates are high for tap water, planted tanks can handle 20-30ppm nitrates without a problem. You'd just have to adjust your fertilizer dosing since nitrates are usually added to planted tanks.

Run all the tests you have on hand on your well water and see what they look like. Also post all your equipment information, including substrate, desired plants, etc. Posting a picture of your tank can help, as well. Then we can help you get your tank going the way you want it.

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post #4 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-11-2012, 06:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Complexity View Post
Eroded barbels is often caused by substrate being too sharp and literally damaging the barbels. The cories may have had difficulty eating as a result which may have contributed to their death.

What substrate are you using?
Usually a water quality issue, not sharp substrate.


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post #5 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-11-2012, 06:24 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by dafil View Post
What do you use for filtration,and what is your distance from MH to substrate?
I have a hang on back filter, Marineland brand, the kind with the biowheel and a filter cartridge. I want to say it was rated for 60 gallons? I bought one that was rated slightly larger than my tanks size.

The MH light is about 8 inches from the water. I do wonder if I should change the bulb, it is a leftover 10000K bulb from my last reef, but I was thinking even if the intensity has lessened or the color shifted some it should still be ok for plants??? It is on my agenda to get a new bulb though.
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post #6 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-11-2012, 06:34 PM Thread Starter
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What substrate are you using?
I am using black sand, it is pretty fine and soft, with a small amount of a fine grained gravel mixed in. I had read that some people think substrate causes the eroding barbels, but I have used this exact substrate for a long time before. It was given to my parents when I took my last fresh tanks down, they used it for a while, then washed and stored it for me. They are great fishkeepers so I know it never had any chemicals or anything on it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Complexity View Post
With that in mind, I think you may also be surprised to find that fish are often more tolerant of water conditions, such as pH ranges, than the lists claim. For example, I have a many different tetras in my 8.0 pH water, including over 50 healthy cardinal tetras.
Oh that would be so nice. Seriously, all I wanted going into this was a nice school of cardinals and some green plants. That's all I am asking for!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Complexity View Post
So how about starting off by seeing if you can use your well water since you've indicated that doing 50% water changes with RO water would be burdensome. If it turns out you can't use your well water, then you'll know what parameter is not suitable and be able to figure out how to work around it (maybe part well water and part RO water?). While your nitrates are high for tap water, planted tanks can handle 20-30ppm nitrates without a problem. You'd just have to adjust your fertilizer dosing since nitrates are usually added to planted tanks.

Run all the tests you have on hand on your well water and see what they look like. Also post all your equipment information, including substrate, desired plants, etc. Posting a picture of your tank can help, as well. Then we can help you get your tank going the way you want it.
I wasn't clear in my above post. The tanks seems to run about 20 to 30 ppm nitrates, but out of the tap they are 0.

I am feeling a bit better with the notion of thinking of it as a garden. I have a really nice vegetable garden and perennial shade beds, and heck, I don't even know what the pH of the soil is.

I will post the parameters of my well water (both plain and softened) and get you guys some picks. thanks for the help. I have been feeling rather defeated.
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post #7 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-11-2012, 07:08 PM
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I will post the parameters of my well water (both plain and softened) and get you guys some picks. thanks for the help. I have been feeling rather defeated.
If softened is a salt regen resin bed type ion exchange system that was a real problem here until I stopped using it.


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post #8 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-11-2012, 11:53 PM
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Usually a water quality issue, not sharp substrate.
You may be right. Looking into this further, sources disagree on which cause they put first so it's hard to say which one is usually the cause. However, I'm still finding references that sharp substrate can damage the barbels on cories. I think both possibilities should be considered.

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Originally Posted by greenmulberry View Post
I am using black sand, it is pretty fine and soft, with a small amount of a fine grained gravel mixed in.
It may not be because of your sand, but I still think it should be double checked. Not all sand is the same. Black Beauty is commonly used as a black aquarium sand. It's a good choice for most applications, but not recommended for fish that are in constant contact with the substrate like cories. This page offers some info on the different types of sand: http://www.cichlid-forum.com/articles/sand.php

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I wasn't clear in my above post. The tanks seems to run about 20 to 30 ppm nitrates, but out of the tap they are 0.
Oh, then that's great!

Quote:
I am feeling a bit better with the notion of thinking of it as a garden. I have a really nice vegetable garden and perennial shade beds, and heck, I don't even know what the pH of the soil is.
There you go! And I bet your garden is doing great. If you do run into problems, then you use the symptoms to identify the possible causes and that's when you might test further. Otherwise, there's no point. While each plant profile will tell you the plant's preferred or native water conditions, most plants are adaptable to a wider range of water conditions. This also holds true for most fish, as well.

Quote:
I will post the parameters of my well water (both plain and softened) and get you guys some picks. thanks for the help. I have been feeling rather defeated.
Feeling defeated comes from running out of ideas. That's easily rectified by doing what you're doing now. It can be challenging in the beginning, but as you figure out what works for your situation, things will get much easier. You can most definitely have the planted tank you're wanting if you keep at it.

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post #9 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-12-2012, 01:37 AM
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I will double-down on many things which are written about the hobby not being correct.

While we read many places that the PH is critical to keeping fish, there are also a good number of people who keep fish fine and find that keeping the PH stable by having good buffering qualities is far more important. Fish are amazing and able to adapt to lots of less than normal conditions if things stay steady.
I feel PH which bounces is somewhat like us running in and out without a coat when it is 20 degrees. We can manage but over the long term, it will give us trouble. The fish are not able to put on a coat when things change quickly.
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post #10 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-12-2012, 01:55 AM
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While we read many places that the PH is critical to keeping fish, there are also a good number of people who keep fish fine and find that keeping the PH stable by having good buffering qualities is far more important. Fish are amazing and able to adapt to lots of less than normal conditions if things stay steady.
I feel PH which bounces is somewhat like us running in and out without a coat when it is 20 degrees. We can manage but over the long term, it will give us trouble. The fish are not able to put on a coat when things change quickly.
Well said.

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post #11 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-12-2012, 06:46 AM
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If your tank is 16` ,then 22` from 150W MH to substrate is too close.You cant handle with DIY CO2 I think.Rise the light.What type of CO2 diffusing do you use?With the HOB?
It will be pretty hard!
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post #12 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-12-2012, 03:00 PM Thread Starter
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OK, did some water tests this morning.

For my unsoftened well water, I got:

0 Nitrates/Nitrites
GH 250 ppm
KH 300 + ppm (I think I wrote + on my notes because it was darker than 300 but hard to make a judgement call on how much more.)
pH 8 (or maybe 8.2, the color was iffy)

I use a dipstick test kit which is sometimes hard to make judgement calls on. But I did view them in natural light with a white background. Since I had a toddler on my hip the whole time I eventually had to just make a judgement call and write the number down.

What I have in my tank tested this morning as:

20 nitrates
0 nitrites
75 ppm GH
80 ppm KH
7.2 pH

I didn't end up running the tests on my softened well water because I ran out of time before work and I am worried about the salt content anyway.

This morning, after testing the tank water, I added about a gallon and a half of straight well water, to get some nutrients to the plants. I was also thinking one of the reasons I am having fish problems is pH swings from using such soft water with little buffering capacity. I think I am going to start using my well water cut with some RO and then I can do 50% water changes weekly and use the EI dosing method. After talking with you all I feel a lot better about just using mostly well water, and hey, it's worth a shot! My well water is very high iron, at least, it leaves orange marks on white clothing if you get wet with it, so I think that would be great for perking up my sick plants.

I realize I am in the fertilizer forum, but does anyone know of a good thread guide for dosing dry fertilizer, or have a recommended product?

With regard to the DIY CO2, I do have plans to go to pressurized set up eventually. I am looking into it. Currently I diffuse it with the HOB filter.

Also, with regard to the sand causing the barbel erosion, I suppose it could be the case, but since my tetras also were suffering and becoming ill, it makes me lean more towards a water issue since the tetras don't come in contact with the sand. Or, it could be multi faceted, if I am having pH swings, this is stressing the fish, which makes the corys more prone to infection if they have barbel damage, ect ect.

I really appreciate this conversation. I will try and get a tank pic soon.

Last edited by greenmulberry; 06-12-2012 at 03:02 PM. Reason: left out something
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post #13 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-13-2012, 01:54 PM Thread Starter
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OK, here is a pic of what my swords are doing. This has been getting worse and worse every day. Any suggestions for what I should dose to address this??

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post #14 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-13-2012, 01:56 PM Thread Starter
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Also, my anubis are putting out new leaves, but they come out fairly pale. If you look int he background, you will see some crypts that are rather yellow too. (The detail this picture doesn't show is the crypts are yellow with green veins, which I THINK is a magnesium deficiency???)


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post #15 of 23 (permalink) Old 06-13-2012, 02:45 PM Thread Starter
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I think, after doing some reading here (there is so much information, makes my head spin), that I am going to order this:

http://greenleafaquariums.com/aquari...rtilizers.html



I was looking for a package and I think, this is a good place to start.
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