GH Additives for RO with Livebearers - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-16-2014, 11:33 AM Thread Starter
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GH Additives for RO with Livebearers

I have a number of, 25 or so, low tech fairly heavily planted tanks, no CO2, t5's and LED's, moderate light and am trying to figure out a simple way to boost GH without either killing off floating plants or overfertilizing the water column. Most of these tanks are well stocked and food and waste are almost enough for good plant growth. I use root tabs on swords and other heavy feeders, the plants are doing well, lots of red stem plants, I can grow most anything that's realistic. Substrates are FloraMax, Eco, Flourite, AquaDurt or mixes. All the tanks use RO, my tap is dGH/KH 20 or so, pH 8.3 and it's easier to modify RO with additives than custom blend it into tap for my soft water and medium hardness fish and leave as is for the hard water guys.

With the number of tanks we have, easy is important!

I used Equilibrium as a GH additive with Alkaline Buffer for KH for a long time, but if Equilibrium is used to drive GH to higher levels, algae and maintenance become a big problem, the water column is far too rich and without constant water changes to keep fish waste from making it even richer, the plants overload and sometimes rot, even without root tabs. I realize going to dGH 10 or 20 with Equilibrium is an awful lot. Using a lot of filter carbon helps for a while, but doesn't fix the problem.

Recently, I tried switching back to Replenish, used long ago before I had plants and the difference was amazing, algae almost completely went away, maintenance was more than cut in half and plant growth got much better. After two months or so, I've noticed the roots of water sprite, frogbit, etc turning rusty red and dying, with the foliage following, yellowing at first, then sections dying off. All else seems fine, rooted plants are doing very well so far, but I'm concerned they may not be far behind the floaters.

Weekly or almost, pwc's are done, and the fish are all looking great.

I understand the differences in composition and balance between Equilibrium and Replenish and all I really want is a GH booster the fish and plants will like, column fertilization isn't a concern, really. Seems like the sodium in Replenish may be harming floaters and higher calcium helping the other plants while the large amount of potassium in Equilibrium is overfeeding the water column, but I may be off, not sure.

Would a mix of calcium and magnesium sulfates avoid the overfert issue? Calcium and magnesium chlorides? An off the shelf GH Booster that is balanced more for GH than as a fert? I'm sure others have run into this; except for product label quotes, I can't seem to find any clear recommendations for plants and hard water fish, but many for either fish or plants.

The Replenish switch seems to say I'm almost on the right track, but not quite, any ideas on where to go from here?
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post #2 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-16-2014, 11:56 AM
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I have heard of using the sulfates and the chlorides of Ca and Mg, so yes, that is a way to boost the GH without the K that is in most GH boosters.
Probably check the other things you are adding. I am not sure if sulfates or chlorides can be overdosed.

The only warning I have heard of in this area is Diana Walstad's comments that the anaerobic organisms that produce hydrogen sulfide (smelly stuff) obviously use the sulfur to do this, so maybe you want to minimize the sulfur you use. Probably more research is needed.

I also know that Epsom salt is a reasonable source of Mg, commonly available at a reasonable price.
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post #3 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-16-2014, 12:33 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks!
Hydrogen sulfide, at least I think that's what it was, it stunk, generated in the substrate of a tank I missed maintenance on is what got me thinking that I was really just adding tons of ferts with Equilibrium. I remembered Diana's warning on sulfur and a big "Ah hah!" moment followed. I had to scour that tank, almost all the plant roots rotted, repeated deep vacuumings were needed, a huge mess, all that was left was a stand of hygro kompacta. No fish loss fortunately.
The same tank now with Replenish is beautiful, with AR, crypt florida sunset, a huge kleiner bar, except for the strange floater issue. AB and a GH additive is all I use, plus the root tabs, which strangely seem to be much less necessary now.
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post #4 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-16-2014, 12:40 PM
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Each tank is different. When you try to figure out where all the many elements that plants need are coming from you may not be able to figure out everything, which is why you will probably end up trying different solutions (pun intended!) until you find the right balance of each fertilizer that works for your tank.
Sometimes you can then work backwards and figure out what the problem was.
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post #5 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-16-2014, 04:53 PM
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If you need to raise both GH and KH, why not just use a source of calcium carbonate and/or magnesium carbonate? You could use them in powder form, or slow-dissolving solids (Crushed coral, Oyster shells, Dolomite, etc).

This would get you both hardness (GH) and alkalinity (KH), with no sulfates, chlorides or sodium. On the downside, doing these in solid form (ie: crushed coral) takes a while to dissolve and ends up less "measured" and more "trial and error" to get where you want them.
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post #6 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-16-2014, 08:44 PM Thread Starter
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The problem with coral, etc, anything slow, is the number of tanks. It's very easy to blend a powder mixture and drop a teaspoon in a 3 gal bucket or whatever testing says to do. If I were to do pwc's on a coral tank, unless I replace water with chemical composition that's at least close to the remainder, the tank changes, so I may as well just use the same mix each time. Currently, I hardly ever test anything, the parameters are set when the mix is developed and when curiosity testing is done, nothing is awry, the additives are very stable.

Scaling up has presented some issues that don't seem to be easily solvable using the same methods one would use with a smaller number of tanks; I'm open to any practical and quick possibilities.
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post #7 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-16-2014, 09:20 PM Thread Starter
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matt, powdered calcium and magnesium carbonates are an interesting idea and may get what I need without taking pH too high. I'm not sure the plants will do too well if pH is way up, definitely worth looking at.
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post #8 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-16-2014, 11:29 PM
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I would only use them until either the KH or GH gets to where you want. Raising the KH will raise the pH, but that happens no matter how you raise the KH.

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post #9 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-17-2014, 01:11 AM Thread Starter
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Sure, the fish understand GH and pH and KH sets pH.

I tested Alkaline Buffer for GH and it's green on the first drop (~0dGH), so I'm thinking it may just be sodium bicarbonate and the additional NaCl in Replenish is too much, just a guess. The Replenish tanks are oddly clean, wood especially, only a few strands of thread algae here and there and watersprite is getting worse, yellow green and red roots that pull off easily.
Fish are zippy and seem fine, our Blue Gularis female jumped into my hand while feeding tonight; all the killlis were hitting their food hard. Silly!

Earlier, I changed half the water in 5 tanks and used enough Equilibrium to get GH to 50 ppm in the 3 gal change water bucket and the remainder, Replenish, to a total of 140 ppm or so ( 1/2 tsp of each), which should roughly drop the tank replenish amount by about 25% or so ( don't hold me on the math, the point is I know how much I put in ). The floaters don't look any worse now, let's see tomorrow. The fish in those tanks were at 180 ppm GH, so this is a small drop (to 160) and they are quite hardy.

Hopefully this will get settled, mixing powders and liquids and fiddling isn't where I want to be, but if it reduces the floater problem until a good solution is found, it's OK for now.
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post #10 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-17-2014, 03:17 AM
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Yes, alkaline buffer is Sodium Bicarbonate based...

You can even check their FAQ:

http://www.seachem.com/support/FAQs/AlkalineBuffer.html

However, it does have some other things going on, but they contribute very little to GH. Seachem isn't telling much on the exact mix.

Apparently the label will tell you it is ""carbonates and bicarbonates of sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium". But given it affects GH very little, there's not much of the last 3.
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post #11 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-17-2014, 01:12 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the link, I haven't been there in a while.
It's interesting that some of their labels contain less and less as time goes on, the two generations of AB I have only say no P. I wish they provided more info, they have some of the best products available.
From the MSDS, AB's decomposition temp is 270C, SG is 2.16, both identical to NaHCO3, tastes the same, too.

I kept an ancient tub of Equilibrium that has composition listed (doesn't now):
Ca 8.1%
K 23%
Mg 2.4%
trace Fe and Mn, too.

Replenish, from the label:
Ca 13%
K .12%
Mg 1.1%
Na .6%

Don't think my Na idea flies, the amount in AB ( I use 1/8 tsp in 3 gal of RO) seems to be about 10x the amount in Replenish, if I did the molar stuff right, been a while.

K is minute in Replenish, I started the transition with pwc's from Equilibrium a month or so ago, although I can't find any definitive K deficiency pics of water sprite roots, it sort of makes sense that K has been gradually being used up.

Looking at Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, pg 87, and doing a rough estimate of what is recommended, it seems Equilibrium is high on K for the GH's I was setting (all the extra maintenance beforehand) and I may have hit a general sweet spot during the transition a few weeks ago when suddenly everything looked amazingly good, since the root problem seemed to become visible recently.

I'm going to try to replicate Diana W.'s recommendations and then can fine tune as suggested by our Diana a few posts ago.

Meanwhile, adding back some Equilibrium seems to have improved the floater issue already, so that will continue. I just don't want them dying off before the right stuff can be made up, took too long to get going and they do a heck of a lot for the tanks!

Sorry for the long post and numbers, thanks for spurring thought.
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post #12 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-18-2014, 02:48 AM
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In the case of the replenish, I don't think it is the Na that is going to be harmful to plants, but the chloride it contains combining with the Na that the alkaline buffer contains (not to mention that Replenish does contain some straight-up NaCl.)

Replenish contains calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, sodium chloride, and potassium chloride.


If you add a bunch of non-sodium chlorides and sodium bicarbonate , you may as well be adding NaCl, because you're going to end up with both Na and Cl ions in solution.

That said, I think a little bit of NaCl isn't going to hurt much, even with plants involved a few 10's of ppm of salt isn't going to hurt anything. But if you're adding a whole lot of the two products, it could add up to enough salt to affect the more sensitive plants.

This is why I suggested using calcium/magnesium carbonate. Why add carbonate coupled with sodium, and calcium coupled with chloride when you can add both at the same time with calcium carbonate.

Once you hit your desired GH or KH (whichever comes first), raise the other one the rest of the way with alkaline buffer or replenish. This will reduce the amount of total NaCl you are adding.
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post #13 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-18-2014, 01:57 PM Thread Starter
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matt,

For now, to repair the floater damage, I've done pwc's on most of the tanks using half as much Replenish and 2/3 as much Equilibrium as before and the same amount of AB. That amounts to 1/2 tsp R and 1 tsp E in 3 gal of RO, with 1/8 tsp of AB. This adds some amount of K, depends on the amount replaced in pwc's, about 30% or so was typical, I have about 50 gal of RO in the reservoir.

The damage is reversing, new foliage that was turning yellow seems to be staying green and new roots are forming, so it's working for now, although not precise at all. Seems to indicate that K was way too high with E then dropped to nil over a few weeks with R since the amount added back isn't a lot.

I like the calcium and magnesium carbonate idea as the GH basis, very simple. Not ignoring that at all. There is the fix what I have right now portion of this and the best way to go after that portion.

I can try that, both are easy to find, the only thing I can think of is pH outrunning GH.

Walstad's suggesting about 5/1 or 2 Ca to Mg ratio from CaCl2 and MgSO4.
Then NaHCO3 for KH and 10ppm K from KCl.
That would allow pH to be set separately from GH. pH is more important to me than KH, because the RO starts at pH 6.5 and KH is never a concern, it comes along for the ride when pH is raised.

What do you think?
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post #14 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-18-2014, 02:53 PM
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Me thinks this whole thread has more to do with fear of fertilizing the water column for plants and possibly too much light and not enough CO2 for lighting being used.
Should be easy to add a bit of macro and micro nutrients for plants and just as easy to remineralize R/O.
With weekly water changes the fertilizer left that plants don't use,would be reduced by whatever % of water is removed.
It ain't the fertz that drives algae growth, and with largish fish load and generous feeding's you would not need much in the way of fertilizers.
I do not believe the GH or lack thereof is having nearly the effect on poor plant growth as is the lack of ALL nutrients needed that may or may not be in ample supply.
If your not using CO2 then it is what it is in all tanks.
Add a little of ALL macro and micro nutrients and you know they are there for the plants.
That leaves only the lighting to fiddle with which is way easier to reduce or increase than all the mucking about with the water chemistry.
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post #15 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-18-2014, 04:39 PM Thread Starter
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No CO2.

Remineralizing RO is really easy, but what is the right combination for the fish? That's my primary question, it has seemed a little odd that the info isn't readily available.

I've been using OTS products and Equilibrium was apparently not right. To get hardness for the fish, K seems to have been way too high based on the Replenish excursion and return to some Equilibrium.

Root tabs are still in some of the tanks from a month or so ago, others have none, all have good plant growth, all were tried with Replenish and all have the floater issue to a degree.

I think long term and for simplicity, making up a GH additive for the fish and addressing the plants separately makes sense. Except maybe for swords and some others, I don't think ferts will be necessary down the road, none of the rooted plants have really changed during these chemistry changes.
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