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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-19-2014, 06:06 PM Thread Starter
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Questions for the Chemists

This is a couple inquiries aimed at the water chemists of the site, both amateur and professional. I am not looking for a dosing regime at this time. I am simply trying to get a better understanding of water chemistry before I purchase or use ferts or other conditioners. I've done searching around the web and these are some issues that I have had difficulty finding answered or have found conflicting (surprise surprise) information.

Background (if it helps): I am running several non-CO2 tanks (10-40 gal) with medium-ish light (?) (Finnex Rays and Ray II) and sponge filters. They are all varying degrees of planted. My eventual goal is to produce healthier growth (not necessarily faster) on the plants and better water conditions for the fauna.

Issue 1: GH

GH is Ca and Mg ions available in the water correct? Then why is K2SO4 included in the formula for GH booster? Should Ca ions be more prevalent than Mg (as suggested by the 3:1 ratio in GH Booster) or will the fauna be indifferent to the ratio of Ca to Mg? Is the K and the high Ca ratio for the benefit of the plants only? Would there be any disadvantages to using only Epsom Salt (MgSO4) to raise GH?

Issue 2: K2SO4

Is this chemical of much use to the non-CO2 planted tank if also dosing KNO3 and KH2PO4? If I had a heavily stocked tank which produced more nitrates than the plants could take up, would it be preferred to use K2SO4 instead of KNO3? (and possibly also instead of KH2PO4 if the fish food and waste produced enough phosphates?) In the alternative would a tank without any fauna benefit more from replacing K2SO4 with an increase in KNO3 (and also possibly a lesser increase in KH2PO4?)

Issue 3: Sulfates

There seems to be a large amount of sulfates which remain behind after we get the elements we want out of the compounds. What happens to the remainder? How does it effect the water chemistry after the plants get what they want?


____________
I have a few other questions too, but as of yet I don't think that I have done enough searching on the topics to justify wasting your time on them nor can a really articulate my confusion on them. Further, I expect that if I had a better understanding of these issues that I would be able to understand the other areas of issue too.

Thanks for taking the time to read (and hopefully answer) my questions. I have found this community to be among the most knowledgeable and helpful in my journey through planted tanks.

-Clayton
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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-19-2014, 06:33 PM
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GH: GH Booster contains K2SO4 because Seachem Equilibrium contains it. Equilibrium is intended to be used to reconstitute RO/DI water, or for very soft water. When hobbyists analyzed Equilibrium to find out what it was, they used that information in making a substitute - and that soon became known as GH Booster. The potassium is needed by the plants. GH Booster needs to contain only calcium and magnesium, but the ratio of the 2 isn't important, only that there be enough of both to meet the needs of the plants.

If, for any reason, you decide to dose little or no KNO3, you still need to supply adequate potassium for the plants, and dosing K2SO4 is a good way to do so.

Plants need sulfates, so the sulfate ions in GH Booster and/or K2SO4 are useful, and not harmful if "overdosed".

In fact, none of the nutrients are harmful if overdosed, as long as the overdose isn't like 10X overdosed, and you also do regular large water changes.

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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-19-2014, 06:53 PM
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Funny you should start this now. As I continue to tweak my tank I too am thinking to cut out KNO3. I follow EI dosing but my Nitrates are always sky high. I have a heavily stocked tank and so I think going forward I will just use K2SO4 for Potassium.

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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-19-2014, 09:15 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hoppy View Post
GH: GH Booster contains K2SO4 because Seachem Equilibrium contains it. Equilibrium is intended to be used to reconstitute RO/DI water, or for very soft water. When hobbyists analyzed Equilibrium to find out what it was, they used that information in making a substitute - and that soon became known as GH Booster. The potassium is needed by the plants. GH Booster needs to contain only calcium and magnesium, but the ratio of the 2 isn't important, only that there be enough of both to meet the needs of the plants.
So provided that my plants weren't suffering from a Ca deficiency because my Micro added enough, I could get the remainder of my GH requirements from dosing Epsom Salts without causing harm?

If I wanted to limit variables as much as possible to just see the effects of raising GH in an experiment, I would be able to only dose Epsom Salts? No Ca or K compounds are needed?


Quote:
If, for any reason, you decide to dose little or no KNO3, you still need to supply adequate potassium for the plants, and dosing K2SO4 is a good way to do so.
So, in an effort to make a Macro fert dosing regime customized for each tank, the ratios of KNO3, K2SO4, and KH2PO4 could be altered for each tank, correct?

And that ratio would, theoretically, have a higher amount of KNO3 and KH2PO4 to K2SO4 in a tank that has a low fauna bioload and that ratio would be reversed, favoring K2SO4, in a tank with a large bioload?

Quote:
Plants need sulfates, so the sulfate ions in GH Booster and/or K2SO4 are useful, and not harmful if "overdosed".

In fact, none of the nutrients are harmful if overdosed, as long as the overdose isn't like 10X overdosed, and you also do regular large water changes.
The large regular water changes are what I am trying to avoid. I have found that the more waterchanges I do the worse my plants do. I suspect that it may be caused by the fact that I am non-CO2 and some sort of plant enzyme. (not sure, but have seen some references to such a cause) All I can safely say is that my plants have definitively done better with less water changes, and my fauna has been no worse for reducing the number of water changes either. Perhaps if my plants were in better condition they would handle regular water changes better; I will have to experiment.

In the meantime, I am trying to get a solid grasp of the niche each compound fills. That way I can create a dosing regime for myself that avoids the "larding it on" approach in favor of a more customized dosing. I believe a bit of over-estimating may be better than under-estimating, but I would at the same time like to have an ecosystem that doesn't require a toxicity flush every week or 2 weeks. Something closer to every 4-6 weeks would be ideal for me. If I find that my tanks with the higher bioload (requiring more waterchanges) have plants that are doing as well as the tanks with almost no waterchanges, then I would happily reapproach the water change issue.

Hoppy, please don't take this reply (and specifically the waterchange bit) as me disregarding your advice. I have a great respect for your input on the matter, as I learned in the years of my lurking that you are very knowledgeable on all things fishy and still regularly reference posts you have made. But along the way I have also discovered that what works for one person doesn't always work for another and that I am better off learning and experimenting myself rather than relying blindly on the advice of another -- even if I would regard them as an expert.
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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-19-2014, 11:27 PM
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Originally Posted by cjipping View Post
So provided that my plants weren't suffering from a Ca deficiency because my Micro added enough, I could get the remainder of my GH requirements from dosing Epsom Salts without causing harm?
I don't know for sure that this wouldn't cause any harm. GH is almost always made up of more Ca than Mg, so there isn't a vast body of evidence that I'm aware of.
Quote:

If I wanted to limit variables as much as possible to just see the effects of raising GH in an experiment, I would be able to only dose Epsom Salts? No Ca or K compounds are needed?
Same answer as above.
Quote:




So, in an effort to make a Macro fert dosing regime customized for each tank, the ratios of KNO3, K2SO4, and KH2PO4 could be altered for each tank, correct?
Yes, you can alter the proportions of the different nutrients quite a lot without causing problems, as long as you aren't stunting the plant growth as a result of one of the nutrients being short.
Quote:

And that ratio would, theoretically, have a higher amount of KNO3 and KH2PO4 to K2SO4 in a tank that has a low fauna bioload and that ratio would be reversed, favoring K2SO4, in a tank with a large bioload?
Maybe, but not necessarily. It isn't a given that the bioload ever provides enough nitrate for all situations. I doubt that it does.
Quote:



The large regular water changes are what I am trying to avoid. I have found that the more water changes I do the worse my plants do. I suspect that it may be caused by the fact that I am non-CO2 and some sort of plant enzyme. (not sure, but have seen some references to such a cause) All I can safely say is that my plants have definitively done better with less water changes, and my fauna has been no worse for reducing the number of water changes either. Perhaps if my plants were in better condition they would handle regular water changes better; I will have to experiment.
It might be a better approach to find a way to make water changes much easier on both you and on your tank occupants. Most of us find that water changes are beneficial for both plants and fish.
Quote:

In the meantime, I am trying to get a solid grasp of the niche each compound fills. That way I can create a dosing regime for myself that avoids the "larding it on" approach in favor of a more customized dosing. I believe a bit of over-estimating may be better than under-estimating, but I would at the same time like to have an ecosystem that doesn't require a toxicity flush every week or 2 weeks. Something closer to every 4-6 weeks would be ideal for me. If I find that my tanks with the higher bioload (requiring more water changes) have plants that are doing as well as the tanks with almost no water changes, then I would happily reapproach the water change issue.

Hoppy, please don't take this reply (and specifically the waterchange bit) as me disregarding your advice. I have a great respect for your input on the matter, as I learned in the years of my lurking that you are very knowledgeable on all things fishy and still regularly reference posts you have made. But along the way I have also discovered that what works for one person doesn't always work for another and that I am better off learning and experimenting myself rather than relying blindly on the advice of another -- even if I would regard them as an expert.
I don't consider myself an expert on growing aquatic plants. I know a lot, but the application of the knowledge is the hardest part, and the hardest to do well, in my experience. In any case, I spend most of my time here trying to learn more, and people's disagreements are the best way for me to learn it.

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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-20-2014, 05:07 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hoppy View Post
I don't know for sure that this wouldn't cause any harm. GH is almost always made up of more Ca than Mg, so there isn't a vast body of evidence that I'm aware of. Same answer as above.
Thank you for clearing up most of my questions.

Perhaps another could answer for me if there be any disadvantages to using only Epsom Salt (MgSO4) to raise GH?

Quote:
It might be a better approach to find a way to make water changes much easier on both you and on your tank occupants. Most of us find that water changes are beneficial for both plants and fish.
I don't consider myself an expert on growing aquatic plants. I know a lot, but the application of the knowledge is the hardest part, and the hardest to do well, in my experience. In any case, I spend most of my time here trying to learn more, and people's disagreements are the best way for me to learn it.
The waterchanges are plenty easy for me. Got sick of the bucket brigade when I had just 4 tanks so I designed a DIY waterchanger/watertank. Still in the "renter" phase of life so I aimed for something that wouldn't need to be plumbed. Came up with this monster.



Holds 60 gallons in food-safe plastic tanks for aging the water and has a waterpump on it to move the water around. Also got fittings to hook it up to a inline Whirlpool house water-filter to just filter the water w/o a waterchange for use after a rescape or to combat tannins via purigen. Can do a 50% on all 8 tanks in approx 30 mins.



I recently changed water sources from Michigan well to North Carolina city and I am now experiencing my plants showing significant nutrient deficiencies (largely K and N) for the first time. Prior, my plants rarely showed issues and a random bit of commercial ferts would oftentimes fix the problem. I think that the presumably nutrient-rich well waters were likely the source of me being able to delay my waterchanges so much. Alternatively, they may have also been the reason I found regular (read: weekly or biweekly) to "stunt" my growth. I don't know. I do know that the water source had problems with Phosphates from farm runoff, that the water was far harder than what I have here, and that there was detectable (but not crazy) nitrates from the tap.

Bottomline, what was working before isn't working anymore. I'm happy to change my methods. Most notably, I know I need to start dosing ferts, as the plants are clear in expressing their needs. Upon your advice I will also be playing around with altering my waterchange cycle to see if it impacts the growth, positive or negative.

That's why I'm here asking these questions, so I can understand what I'm doing and the effect it has on the tank. Preferably before I commit a blunder that has me on the forum with you trying to help me troubleshoot why following "X" dosing regime killed everything in my tank or caused an algae bloom that would put Lake Erie to shame.
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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-20-2014, 05:55 PM
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Just throwing this out there........
Quote:
Epsom salts can help with bloat. Especially if you catch it early and do daily water changes. I would treat at 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons. You want the fish to poop a lot helping to clear its stomach. If you see no improvement in a few days then I would medicate. Epsom salts is magnesium sulphate not sodium chloride. Dont confuse salts. there are a lot of different types of salts.
If your water is very soft adding Epsom salts will help bring the GH up. I use it with all my water changes regularly with baking soda. My tap water is soft and comes out at 7.0.
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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-21-2014, 03:02 AM
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GH is a combined test of Ca and Mg.

Plants and fish both use the Ca from the water.
I know plants use the Mg. I am not sure if fish get their MG from water or food, but knowing they can benefit from Epsom salts (as noted above) I would not be surprised that they can use the Mg when they are healthy, too.

When you are trying to fine tune the nutrient dosing, do the GH this way:
Test existing Ca. (fresh water Ca test).
Look for the formula that tells you from the GH test and the Ca test what the Mg is. The formula is a bit more complex than simply GH-Ca=Mg.

Then add what you need (Ca or Mg) until you have a ratio that is more or less 4 parts Ca to 1 part Mg. The exact ratio is not important, but 'more Ca than Mg' is the direction to go.

Do not JUST dose Mg (Epsom salt) until your test turns the right color. You are not looking for the test to turn the right color. You are trying to dose the right minerals in something close to the right ratios that plants and livestock will use.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fish food generally supplies most of the nutrients plants need in a low tech tank. It is mostly lacking K, Ca and Fe.

There are a few that the tap water supplies. If the GH is over 3 degrees, then you can assume the Ca and Mg are there. But to be sure do the tests above if you have any question about the balance.

In a low tech tank I started dosing K, Fe and C (as Excel).

As the tanks got a bit closer to medium light I went to the full EI method.
However, at that time I had a lot of fish in the tanks, so was adding a lot of fish food.
The NO3 went up. The fish food was still supplying almost enough. I needed only a very small dose of NO3 in the blend.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The full EI recipe contains enough K from KNO3. (The K from KH2PO4 is not enough to really count, it is dosed in such small amounts)
When I reduced the KNO3, I added more K from K2SO4. (While not exact, a 1:1 swap is close enough unless you have some other source of K.)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

You can find substitutes for some of the ingredients.

Example:
If you need to raise the carbonates, baking soda is a common additive.
But it contains sodium.
Potassium bicarbonate is a good substitute. It contains the carbonates without the sodium, and the potassium is plant fertilizer.

You will have to do the research and figure out other more acceptable substitutes for the way you want to run your tanks.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Here is how I fine tuned my dosing:
Low tech or slightly better, big bio-load.
Carbon: Use Excel according to label directions. Add DIY yeast/sugar.
N: Fish food supplied a lot of it. Dose only a tiny amount, and only after a test.
P: Assume fish food supplies enough. If fish food does not, then I need to dose KNO3, so dose KH2PO4.
K: Assume it is lacking and dose. Yes, some tanks were getting a lot from GH booster. Still, dose. Plants are a good test here. Holes in leaves? Bad. Dose K. No holes in leaves? Good. Maintain dosing.
Ca and Mg: Tap water GH = 4-5 degrees, and water report shows a reasonable balance between Ca and Mg. For hard water tanks use GH booster.
Fe: Assume it is lacking and dose.
all other traces: Assume fish food is not perfect, and dose, but low level.

Now that I have a lot fewer fish (and so am adding significantly less fish food) I am getting closer to the full EI dosing ratio, but a much smaller dose to minimize water changes.
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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-21-2014, 03:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Rush3737 View Post
Funny you should start this now. As I continue to tweak my tank I too am thinking to cut out KNO3. I follow EI dosing but my Nitrates are always sky high. I have a heavily stocked tank and so I think going forward I will just use K2SO4 for Potassium.
I cut out KNO3 and upped K2SO4 about a month ago since my tanks are heavily stocked. I made other changes at the same time so I can't pinpoint the cause but my plants are doing much better and my nitrates are staying under control.

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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-23-2014, 02:44 AM Thread Starter
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I would really like to thank everybody for their helping me understand these things. The replies, in conjunction to re-reading other posts I previously was confused on, I feel like I have a much better understanding of the world of water supplements.

___________________

If anybody has time to give my initial dosing plan a quick once over for any glaring issues, I would appreciate it. Dosing is planned once per week, with a water change every 2 weeks. Traces and Macros will not be dosed on the same day.

For Traces, I am going to use 1/4 tsp of Miller Micro and 1/8 tsp of Iron Chelate 10% DTPA mixed into 90 ml of water, and dose 5 ml per 10 gallons into each tank. This should result in: B .01 ppm ; Co .0007 ppm; Cu .02 ppm; Fe .13 ppm; Mg .07 ppm; Mn .05 ppm; Mo .0014 ppm; Zn .02 ppm

For N & P, I am going to be dosing 1 tsp of KNO3 and 1/8 tsp KH2PO4 into 90 ml of water. Again dosing 5 ml per 10 gallons into each tank. Yield should be K 3.25 ppm; PO4 .72 ppm; NO3 4.68.

Potassium will be dose as 1/8 tsp per 10 gal, dry dosed into the tank, giving me K of 9.48 ppm, bringing the total to around 13 ppm K.

For Calcium, I will also be dosing 1/4 tsp per 10 gal, dry dosed into tank. Giving me a 4.75 ppm boost in Ca and another .67 dGh.

_____________________

My thoughts behind the dosing regime are based partly on my water report (Clicky), which I'm not entirely sure I understand.

But it seems, my Mg levels are already pretty decent, but in a bad ratio to the Calcium which I hope to amend a bit via the extra Ca. But not enough to really impact dGh, as I keep Apistos and I don't want to stress them. However, I have noticed the snail shells are a bit thinner than they were in MI. My shrimp are not showing any issue molting. I figure the small boost to Ca wouldn't hurt anybody and would bring it more in line with natural ratios.

Additionally, I added a small seashell under each sponge filter to slowly dissolve, buffer my water slightly, and to work as a "salt lick" for the snails to get some CaCO3 to help their shells. I had my first serious pH crash when I set up one of my tanks and the tannins turned the tank black. It was off the charts low. Don't know if it will make much of a difference, but given that its not crushed up, nor large, I'm not worried it will hurt anything from disolving too fast or taking me too far off my tap params. Honestly, I think I'm kinding myself that it will change anything at all, but it still something I will monitor in the name of SCIENCE!!!!.

Moving forward, if I start getting any algae, my first move is going to be to pull the KH2PO4 out of the mix entirely. Looking at the water report, I appear to have a decent amount of phosphates out of the tap, so I am concerned this may cause a bloom. Haven't seen much algae to date though, and I think that its more out of balance now that it will be after the ferts, so I'll play that one by ear.

If pulling the phosphates doesn't solve the algae issues, then I will be getting some Glut. Might not be a terrible idea anyways. We will see how that goes in the coming weeks. My goal is healthy growth, not fast growth, so if I can avoid it and get what I want, then I prolly will keep it out. If I wanted fast growth, I would go CO2.

Additionally, slightly concerned about the .02 ppm of Copper going into the tanks per week with my shrimp. Depending on the uptake by the plants it could start to get near .04 ppm before the first water change and, if the plants are really slow on the draw, get into the .075-.1 ppm range after a few months, which could be a problem for them. Something to watch for.

Will also be watching the Nitrates in my tanks with higher bioloads. May pull the KNO3/KH2PO4 mix entirely on them to be replaced with a double dose of K2SO4.

Well if anybody got through all that, and has something to add or can think of something I may have overlooked, I am all ears. Again, I appreciate everybody's assistance on helping me understand all this. I really feel like I've got a fair idea of what I'm getting myself into.
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