High NO3 and PO4 using EI: lesson learned - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 01:30 AM Thread Starter
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High NO3 and PO4 using EI: lesson learned

Hi all,

Background: Appearancewise, I have had good success over the past few months using the EI method. I am having trouble maintaining a consistent CO2 level >25 ppm, so my Mayaca and L. glandulosa have suffered. Everything else doing well.

Regimen: 2mL/ 1mL/ 1mL Fleet
1/2 tsp/ 1/4 tsp/ 1/4 tsp KNO3
10mL/ 10mL/ 10mL/ traces

As you all know, some of us may become a little slack in the testing department once things are going well. I was doing the same, "watch the fish and the plants". Well a few weekends ago, I tested my NO3 and PO4 after a 50% WC for the first time in about a month. They were both very high. NO3 probably above 30 (hard to read); PO4 above 2.

So I don't dose either for a week. I watch and wait.
Next weekend, 50% WC. Again, both tests show rather high results. Confusion mode on. Plants growing actively.

So now again today, 50% WC. PO4 tests about 1; NO3 is hard to tell but probably above 15. And I haven't added any NO3 or PO4 in 2 weeks.

So, I am quite puzzled. Especially since some of the plants (rotundifolia) look better now than they have in months. The fish are all fine and look very healthy. I'd like to think I have enough fish keeping experience such that I am not overfeeding. I feed a lot of frozen brine shrimp. PO4 and NO3 in tap water are barely detectable (I recently retested the tap water to make sure my tests weren't reading falsely high).

So the point is:
1) What gives with these crazy results? My tank is quite heavily planted. I can't figure out why the Hygro poly, L. repens, leucocephalia, etc haven't chewed up the extra nutrients in a more rapid fashion.
2) As we know, some fish may be quite tolerant to high levels of ferts.
3) Let this be a lesson to those who have become slack in their testing.
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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 01:41 AM
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testkit unreliability is most likely the root of the cause.

I only dosed 1/4 the recommended dosage of PO4 for months after months because testkits showed my PO4 @ 10ppm+. Had an awful sprout of GSA during this time period as well. I finally started dosing PO4 (KH2PO4) at full recommendation and haven't seen GSA in weeks, and the water clarity is better than ever. My corkscrew Val is finally growing now too. Had almost all died off in the past couple months before upping my PO4 dosage.

PO4 testkits have been known to be unreliable anyway. Maybe certain brands are better than others though.

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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 01:51 AM
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I agree with the testkit suggestion... maybe time for a new one.

What nutrient levels does your tap water provide? Over here, I get about 10 ppm NO3 FREE!

BUT, cutting down a little on nutrients while monitoring plants and algae isn't a bad thing!


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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 01:54 AM Thread Starter
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I am using the RedSea phosphate kit. I appreciate your input. But after testing my tank water, I tested the tap water, which tested almost undetectable. Would that not validate my test somewhat?

If my test kit is off and my phosphate is really low, I can't think of why the plants are still doing as well as they are.

I should add, though, Spar, that when trimming today i noticed some black brush algae on my Alternathera. I will take your advice and replace my kit. It is close to a year old anyway.

Regards.
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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 01:56 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wasserpest
What nutrient levels does your tap water provide? Over here, I get about 10 ppm NO3 FREE!
Tap water NO3 is barely detectable. Good thought though.
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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 02:17 AM
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Welcome to my tank. Been there....still haven't really solved it ! I did eventually find that my Mg was low, even though my GH~15. So perhaps that was part of it.

Haven't made the time to do the regular measurements now that I've started adding Epsom salts. I guess I just eventually decided that even the high doses weren't really unhealthy for the tank inhabitants, and with the 50% weekly WC, it can only get so high, so I just went with it. FWIW.

Please do tell if you figure out the puzzle. I'd love to test any theory you come up with here as well.
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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 02:32 AM Thread Starter
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Yeah I remember a while ago BSS that you had stated that this was occuring in your tank. I guess we can both agree that the fish don't seem to mind the high levels. What I might be more concerned with is the ratio of N and P that might get out of kilter after a while. Would this not lead to algae?

For the record, what are you dosing right now BSS?
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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 04:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jart
I am using the RedSea phosphate kit. I appreciate your input. But after testing my tank water, I tested the tap water, which tested almost undetectable. Would that not validate my test somewhat?

If my test kit is off and my phosphate is really low, I can't think of why the plants are still doing as well as they are.

I should add, though, Spar, that when trimming today i noticed some black brush algae on my Alternathera. I will take your advice and replace my kit. It is close to a year old anyway.

Regards.
My PO4 testkit (which I have deemed inaccurate for anything > 0ppm) shows as 0ppm on my tap water, which is accurate from what my local water supply says it should be.

That is actually the reason it took me so long to be convinced by others that my testkit was faulty Same boat you are in I think.

I would personally save my money that would have gone to a testkit and just buy some KH2PO4 (or does Fleet already have PO4??) and dose the EI recommended dosage 3x per week. Since I do 75% water changes weekly and have a semi-low fish load, I only test pH these days. Occasionally KH just to verify that I am still on track on my co2 calc.

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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 04:22 AM
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If you have an accurate scale and RO water, you can mix up a solution and see how the test kit measures it. Use a fertilator to mix up a few solutions with different levels.

If you do not have a scale, you can try it with tsp's, however this is very inaccurate and just may make things more hazy.

jB
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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 07:53 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spar
(or does Fleet already have PO4??)
Yes Fleet is sodium phosphates solution. As such I could somewhat accurately add some to tap water and semi- quantitatively (in)validate the test kit, as JB suggested.
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post #11 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 11:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jart
Yes Fleet is sodium phosphates solution. As such I could somewhat accurately add some to tap water and semi- quantitatively (in)validate the test kit, as JB suggested.
yes, that is a good idea. just make sure you do several levels of PO4. i.e. 1,3,5,7, and 9 ppm just to make sure the results don't get flakey after I certain level.

I question whether or not it is actually something present in tank water that may throw off the results as well. So if you can get a good reading on your tank water (by that I merely mean a readable reading... <5ppm), then I would also try to add a known amount to a sample of tank water (in a gallon water piture), and see if the results increase by that known amount as well.

I still say the best idea to ditch the testkit and just dose the EI recommended amount. With large weekly water changes you can't overdose, and I bet you only see improvements in the tank. Save some headache on the measuring.

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post #12 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 11:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jart
For the record, what are you dosing right now BSS?
I'm currently dosing 1/3 tsp KNO3, 1/3 tsp K2SO4, 5/3 tsp Espom salts (upped recently from 3/3) and 0.9 ppm PO4 via pre-mix on macro days. On micro days, I've recently switched from a premix to a "Pinch" of CSM+B. I have yet to test to see what exactly the 'Pinch' measures out to, but it's the middle sized spoon in the smallish three spoon set.
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post #13 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-07-2005, 11:51 PM
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Same thing to my jart on the 55- the last 2 weeks I have had more then usual amount of "dust" alage on the glass and some fuzz on the plants, So I tested the water after not testing for about 2 months and NO3 and PO4 were very high
This is after 50% and a few 70% water changes- Still dosed EI after these changes. So after this weeks water change no dosing at all- tested still high- tested again today and the levels are staring to come down and algae is very little already. This is really got me thinking about going off EI my tank was in better shape before it. I am still dosing it on my 29 so we will see


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post #14 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-08-2005, 02:13 AM
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note: i just reread this post and realized that only parts of it go to jart's original point, and hope that no one takes this post as I'm telling you something you don't know... just a bit of personal experience, as I messed up almost all of these things myself when I switched to EI, and would have loved to have seen these suggestions myself on day one of my lighting change instead of piecing it together over the last couple of months.

i also tested unusually high for nitrates and phosphates after a few months with weekly 50-75% water changes. I only tested again at the suggestion of others in a thread here about my plants doing poorly despite an upgrade in lighting, upped co2, and upped ferts. I've since discovered a few things...

#1 typical aquarium test kit = wildly inaccurate, specifically nitrate in my experience and in reading posts over the last couple of years

#2 although your macro nutrients might be perfect, plants will still underperform in lacking co2 or even lacking micro concentrations. I actually found that my plants perked right up and algae started backing off once i started adding some calcium, magnesium, and extra traces to my tank. I still dose my nitrate, phosphate, and potassium as before, but it seems by adding the other nutrients, the plants have perked up and been more hungry for the accumulated macros. check your hardness, and if possible, find out what the ratio of calcium to magnesium is in your tapwater. sometimes upping gh makes plants happier than you'd expect. oh, and my water is also much clearer than it's been in months.

#3 crank the co2. I've read it over and over again, but never really took it to heart until my almost 4 wpg tank had ludwigia and hygro polysperma melting for no apparent reason. those plants do fine without co2 injection in lower light situations, but if you crank up the light and ferts, you MUST crank the CO2, or algae will eat up the ferts, and the plants will just beg for some carbon until they die. Think about ferts like the food pyramid put out by the government. The base of the pyramid for plants is carbon. Plants NEED carbon desperately to thrive. Immediately above that, or really on the same level is light, and macros on the second level. Micros like Ca, Mg, Fe, and S make up the next level, and at the very top are things like Boron, Manganese, Copper, Chlorine, Molybdenum, etc. (I know I'm leaving a few out...) Make sure you cover the base of the pyramid without a doubt before you start sweating the micros, or even the macros.

#4 EI is easy, but not foolproof. Many take the idea of EI and run with it to the point that they stop testing, stop thinking about balancing nutrients, and stop paying attention to the clues their plants or tank in general are giving them. If your plants melt, algae takes over, water gets cloudy or smelly, it's time to reasses every step of the process, even if EI is supposed to mean you don't have to. Test your macros, check your CO2 level (time for a new CO2 tank? reactor clogged with debris?), check your light levels (time for new bulbs?), assess your substrate (compaction, dark spots?), evaluate your water change schedule (missing too many weekly water changes?), check your filters (too much buildup in the filter media adding to N or P concentrations, preventing adequate circulation?) and look for specific symptoms in your plants that denote deficiencies associated with them (pinholes? yellow tips? darkening? curling?) When things are running smoothly, EI is fantastic, but until you hit your sweet spot with your setup, or after getting a bit off target, it can be a real bear. But the bottom line is, it's not hard at all, and definitely beats daily or weekly testing, and shuffling around ferts and calculators and dosing things a few drops here and a few drops there, as long as you're willing to do the legwork when things get a bit off.

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post #15 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-08-2005, 04:37 AM
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jart, if you're starting to get BBA could that mean that your plants are becoming CO2 limited and that's why the uptake of the nutrients isn't what you thought it would be? Perhaps once you get the CO2 problems resolved, this will become a non-issue.
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