Thought I would share the latest in the journey. Since changing over to active soil, I have still been dosing just a small amount K2CO3 to raise KH to just over 1.0. Why? Don’t know, just what I have been doing for a long time. The soil starts soaking up that little bit of KH, and I end up at pretty close to zero by the end of the week.
Then I starting thinking…..why fight the soil? If KH is getting near zero anyway, why not just go pure RO and just stay at zero KH? So for the past few weeks, I have slowly been lowering it. This week was the first large water change with all incoming water being at zero KH.
Now some would find this controversial. If you search the web for aquariums and low KH, you will get pages and pages of warnings saying how dangerous low KH is. And horror stores of pH crashes and all kinds of maladies. But funny thing is that I follow lots of the best planted tanks from around the world. Most have something in common. Very, very low or zero KH. And not once has any one of them reported anything remotely similar to a pH crash.
I’ve read about it, but don’t know anyone who has experienced it. And if you dig deeper, the ones you read about generally have lots of other problems, mostly to do with very poor maintenance routines.
The other tricky part I have read about is how difficult it is to get an accurate reading of pH. Something about pure RO water and the results can be all over the place. So like usual I like to see for myself. I left a cup of water out to degas, then left my probe in it overnight for four nights in row. I wanted to see if the pH reading stayed constant, or drifted all over the place like I have heard people talk about.
Now like usual, this is just my own little experiment with no controls or any other blah, blah, blah. Just me taking readings overnight four nights in a row. Well, I wasn’t really surprised that the pH readings were 6.25, 6.26, 6.25, and 6.25. Turns out at least for this test the ph didn’t drift at all.
I am going with pure RO no KH added and am going to see where it goes. I really don’t expect any big changes, but again why add KH if the soil is just fighting it? I actually sent Dennis Wong a PM to get his thoughts on it. He said he never tried it but was curious about what the results would be. So I guess I will be the Guinea pig.
I’ve also been paying much closer attention to TDS than ever before. Have been speaking to some people I respect and have heard several say plants prefer low TDS, which makes sense as I have always worked diligently to remove and avoid accumulating dissolved organics in the system. All goes back to creating uber clean conditions, which in my mind is probably the biggest key to avoiding algae and having a healthy tank.
I’ve also been adjusting ferts, and am as low as I have ever been. As I’ve mentioned, part of my theory is that plants like stability. That is keeping parameters as constant as possible. Some plants simply do not like change and parameter swings.
I’ve been working on this for a while, and did a little test today. I took a TDS reading right before and right after a large water change. Again I was not surprised that the readings were very close, as that is exactly what I have been trying to dial in.
Left is before water change, right is immediately after.
Also tested NO3 and PO4, and again both almost exactly the same right before and after the water change. I am still front loading macros and dosing micros daily. For what it’s worth, here are my latest numbers. But always keep in mind those numbers are what seem to be working best in my tank, with a pretty good fish load and active soil. When I had sand I could never have got by at these levels.
Bump: And next we are on to weekly maintenance. Started at 9:00am today. Here is the tank right before I get going. As you can see, some plants were a bit out of control. Some weeks trimming is pretty minor, but today is one of the those full on beat everything back days.
The tools of the trade……………….
Today I pulled out pretty much every fast growing stem. When they come of the tank, you get a better idea of their size and mass. Here is the lower portion of the Pogostemon Kimberley. The stems of the older plants get really thick, like the size of a pool cue. Notice the root system. That is one of the things I really notice from going from sand to soil. The root systems can get huge. With Pogo K, it will self propagate, and never replant the stumps. Sometimes I’ll toss one of the entire old thick stems, and let some of the new thinner ones get established.
How’s this for a bunch of Ludwigia inclinata Verticillata ‘Cuba’? It seems pretty massive once you get it out of the tank. Cuba throws so much new growth, you simply can’t keep it all. It’s a weed and grows pretty wild, but makes a very attractive bunch…..you just have to keep it tamed a bit or it could get out of control.
Here’s another really good grower, Rotala Macrandra Caterpillar. I’ll peel off about a quarter of these stems to reduce the mass. Like most plants, a good beating back promotes good healthy new growth.
Here’s the pile of plants that really need some attention. While they are out of the tank, it’s a good opportunity to give those areas a good thorough gravel vac. When a group is left untouched for a while, there can be a lot of detritus that builds up by the stems. Best to remove that from time to time which really helps keep dissolved organics down.
Bump: Once the gravel is vacuumed, then it’s time to start the trimming and thinning of mass. I haven’t pulled the patch of Blyxa Aubertii in a while. I take the time to remove a decent portion of the oldest growth. Just kind of peel off the outer leaves from each plant. Once again, a good thinning promotes healthy new growth. When you pull them, you will notice that some have become more than one plant. You can see how this is actually two plants now. I use a razor blade to slice between the plants. This helps each plant keep a good amount of roots, which gets them back on track quickly.
For plants like Myriophyllum Roraima, I’ve started just laying them across the surface of the water. I arrange the tops so that I will have a progression from shorter to taller stems. Once I get them sorted out I cut them all at the same spot. Then it’s back into the tank one by one from tallest to shortest. This is the tedious part of the maintenance that no one sees but goes on all the time.
And the so on and so on until every bunch has been sorted, trimmed, and replanted. It gets a little messy, as there is plant matter being cut and tossed for an hour or so. Think Edward Scissorhands. It can get a bit messy, as I don’t hit the bucket every time!
Here’s the bucket….a pretty decent mass of plant matter in there.
Then it’s time to drain the tank. Flip a switch and 70 gallons go down piping in the wall to a basement drain. While the tank is draining, I spray all of the hardware with H2O2. Call it preventative medicine. Help keeps all the hardware algae free and nice and clean looking. In this pic, I’ve just flipped the other switch and you can see the RO water being pumped up into the tank from the basement.
Bump: Started at 9:00am, and finished with everything cleaned up and put away at 11:15am. Not every Saturday takes this much time, but every so often you just have to get in there, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. I’ve always noticed the tank just seems healthier and plants seem happier after a good trimming. Plants enjoy a little extra elbow room, and when you get rid of old growth it promotes new growth.
Here’s the before and after. Next week should be a good bit easier, but truth is it never ends. Plants grow. And managing that growth is one of the keys to success. I’ve said this before, but you need to enjoy the process, as good old fashioned elbow grease and effort is one of the “secrets” to keeping a high light high tech tank full of stems.