55 gallon converting to planted - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 25 (permalink) Old 02-19-2019, 01:47 AM Thread Starter
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55 gallon converting to planted

I've kept fish for many years, but about three months ago I decided to get serious about a planted tank. My display tank is a 55 gallon Oceanic tank, initially equipped with a heating element, a double-barrelled biowheel filter, and AquaticLife 48" T5 HO fluorescent lighting.

Inhabitants when I started this were five Boesmani rainbowfish, a couple of clown loaches, an indeterminate number of Malaysian trumpet snails, some dwarf anubias that was badly algae encrusted, and some hornwort floating loose in the tank.

I started by adding Nicrew 48" LED lighting plus two DIY citric acid/soda carbon dioxide generators feeding a bubble ladder and a pollen ceramic diffuser. I added some drifwood, Amazon swords, dwarf cryptocoryne, water wisteria, bacopa, and alternanthera. I also added eight otocinclus, three Siamese flying foxes, two turquoise rainbowfish, two Bolivian rams, and a couple of nerite snails.

Then I got hit with ich, probably from one of the new fish. I had acquired a quarantine tank but it hadn't cycled yet and I didn't quarantine the fish. Batting the ich took three weeks, elevated temperature, malachite green and formaldehyde, and cost me a clown loach, one of the otocinclus, and two of the flying foxes.

So this weekend I began round two with a shopping trip to Albuquerque, the closest thing to a big city in New Mexico. It's an hour and a half drive.

I start with the Clark's Pet Emporium on Menaul. My tank is rather bare, so I pick out a big piece of driftwood (actually a grape vine that boasts of being sandblasted and heat treated and chemical-free, as if that was possible); they also have the vallisneria I am looking for. Crep, there are guppies in the tank. They looked healthy, happy, and fecund, but there’s always a risk of parasites in a plant tank that also has fish. The store did not have Siamese algae eaters, but the clerk phoned the Lomas store and ascertained that they did.

I stop by the Petsmart on Wyoming on my way. I've been there before and it seems better run than most. Alas, they have no Siamese algae eaters either, but I get some frozen bloodworms as a treat for the fish and pick up some spare filters for the new quarantine tank (which has now cycled, due to a steady diet of ammonium alum.) Then off to the Lomas store; the algae eaters are stiff at $8 a fish, but they look healthy. Also, they look more like flying foxes than algae eaters, but the two are very similar and I’m not going to find the exact species anywhere else in New Mexico. Crep, the bag with the fish feels cold; did the clerk actually fill it from the tap? No, I saw him fill it from the tank. Must just be a colder tank than I’m used to; mine has been cranked up to fight ich. I make my purchase, pop the fish in the thermos box, and head home.

I pop the Siamese algae eater bag into the quarantine tank, to equalize temperature. Then online and look up the latest advice on acclimatizing fish for a new tank: The bottom line seems to be that “drop and plop” seems to work just as well as elaborate slow acclimation. I decide to take my walking exercise and “plop and drop” when I get back. The fish scramble for the bottom and race around the (rather small) quarantine tank; crep, hope they’ll not stress out and die.

Next is to disinfect the vallisneria, since they came from a tank with fish in it. The advice I find online is to dip for five minutes in 3% hydrogen peroxide. Crep, that’s straight out of the bottle! Well, the plants aren't terribly expensive, so here goes nothing. The plants fizz merrily in the peroxide bath, I time five minutes, then rinse thoroughly and plant them in my display tank.

Now for the big project: I have a rather empty looking tank,



which I wish to decorate with a large piece of “driftwood”:



With a new tank, I’d silicone it securely in place. But this is a running tank. My solution:



Yeah, we're low-tech here. I’ve had this sitting around for fifteen years, from a project my wife talked me out of, and I finally have a use for it. I’ll let the stump end of the driftwood sit on the tank bottom, and suspend the other end of the driftwood from the center support of my tank using the nylon line.

Except for one unanticipated problem.




The driftwood is dry enough that it does not sink. Well, crep. I consider. It’s barely above the surface; it won’t have to soak much before it’s heavier than water. I leave it.

And I remove most of the hornwort. Hornwort has its place, and I decide that that place is in the quarantine tank, where it will provide some cover for nervous fish.

The next day, I come home to find the driftwood sunk to the bottom. I start looking at how to string it up, then consider. The invisible line is going to be a hazard to a fast-moving fish, and, y’know the driftwood actually looks kind of good where it settled on the bottom. Just a few adjustments needed and it’s great. I decide to go with that.

The new fish are still alive, but nervous They seem uninterested in food and scurry to the back of the tank whenever I approach. Crep. On the other hand, the fish in the display tank are ecstatic when I give them their first cube of frozen bloodworm.

The day after, I come home and find that my driftwood has grown a fur coat.



It’s actually kind of cool looking. It looks exactly like fog drifting along the surface of the driftwood. It’s probably some kind of harmless bacterial bloom; the fish and plants seem quite untroubled by it, so I’m letting it be. It will probably disappear on its own in a few days.

Meanwhile, the vallisneria did not like the peroxide. The leaves are pretty much melted down, though there are some signs of green left in the crowns. I'll leave them for now and see if they recover; in the meanwhile, ix-nay on straight peroxide disinfection. The instructions may have left out a step where you dilute the 3% peroxide? Next time, if I have to replace the vals, I'll just let them sit in a bucket for three days, then rinse thoroughly; that should starve out any ich.

The algae eaters in the quarantine tank seem to have settled down, and show some interest in an algae wafer. But they still head for cover when I approach. Mad at me, I suppose.
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post #2 of 25 (permalink) Old 02-19-2019, 01:12 PM Thread Starter
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The vals are pretty much completely melted down this morning. The quarantined fish seem to be calmly exploring their tank, but still scurry for cover when I approach.

The crypts and telanthera are doing great. The swords are showing some slow, steady growth. The bacopa is also showing some growth, though slower than I recall from years back when I had them in a discus tank. The water wisteria have failed completely. The dwarf anubias continue showing new growth, albeit a bit lighter in color than I'd like in spite of good nitrogen in the tank and iron fertilization. I suppose the pattern of growth offers clues of what could be improved in my tank condition, but I'm new enough at this that I can't read them. Good cryptocoryne growth suggests low nitrate levels, perhaps, but my test says 10-20 ppm nitrate.
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post #3 of 25 (permalink) Old 02-23-2019, 12:21 AM Thread Starter
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So, having completed their week of quarantine, four new Siamese algae eaters went into the tank this evening.

I was amused to see the one SAE who survived my ich bout join up with them. When he started nibbling on some algae, the new boys all gathered around and started nibbling, too. I'm counting on him to let them know the flake food is pretty good, too.

Meanwhile, I'm seeing signs of chlorosis in new plant growth. I suspect this is from overdosing iron when my iron test was failing to register any in the tank. (This was covered in the Seachem iron test thread.) I've ordered some balanced micronutrient fertilizer and will make an extra big water change tomorrow without supplementing iron. I may add a bit of magnesium as well, and see how that does.
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post #4 of 25 (permalink) Old 02-23-2019, 02:56 PM Thread Starter
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The new SAEs are doing well this morning. They tend to school apart from the older SAE, but are showing some interest in nibbling at algae, and one took a bite of flake food from the morning feeding. Good signs.

Water parameters this morning: Temperature 79F, carbon dioxide a bit low by drop bulb but pH at my target of 7.0, nitrate 5 ppm (need to raise that a bit), phosphate at 2 ppm (definitely need to lower that with a big water change today and perhaps another mid-week), dKH 5.5, dGH 6. Not bothering with iron testing since the Seachem test kit apparently won't register DTPA-chelated iron at all well.

Plan for the day: 50% water change, add iron/potassium to a theoretical iron of 0.25 ppm in the change water, add magnesium sulfate to a theoretical level of 15 ppm in the tank, add nitrate equivalent to 10 ppm in the tank. Don't know that I'm short on magnesium, but it's a fair candidate for the signs of chlorosis in spite of iron fertilization. (Though the phosphate may be sequestering the iron.)

Plan for next weekend: More vallisneria and other plants. Will not destroy with peroxide this time! A rinse in 1:20 bleach and three days quarantine in the quarantine tank instead; the quarantine alone should starve out any ich. Meanwhile, the old vallisneria is *maybe* showing signs of coming back from the crowns; hard to be sure yet.
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post #5 of 25 (permalink) Old 02-23-2019, 04:33 PM
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Originally Posted by kgbudge View Post
The new SAEs are doing well this morning. They tend to school apart from the older SAE, but are showing some interest in nibbling at algae, and one took a bite of flake food from the morning feeding. Good signs.

Water parameters this morning: Temperature 79F, carbon dioxide a bit low by drop bulb but pH at my target of 7.0, nitrate 5 ppm (need to raise that a bit), phosphate at 2 ppm (definitely need to lower that with a big water change today and perhaps another mid-week), dKH 5.5, dGH 6. Not bothering with iron testing since the Seachem test kit apparently won't register DTPA-chelated iron at all well.

Plan for the day: 50% water change, add iron/potassium to a theoretical iron of 0.25 ppm in the change water, add magnesium sulfate to a theoretical level of 15 ppm in the tank, add nitrate equivalent to 10 ppm in the tank. Don't know that I'm short on magnesium, but it's a fair candidate for the signs of chlorosis in spite of iron fertilization. (Though the phosphate may be sequestering the iron.)

Plan for next weekend: More vallisneria and other plants. Will not destroy with peroxide this time! A rinse in 1:20 bleach and three days quarantine in the quarantine tank instead; the quarantine alone should starve out any ich. Meanwhile, the old vallisneria is *maybe* showing signs of coming back from the crowns; hard to be sure yet.
Sounds like you have been busy getting the tank all worked out.
Ill keep peeking in see how its going.
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post #6 of 25 (permalink) Old 02-23-2019, 06:26 PM
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You've got a nice disaster going on there. Patience, it'll all work out. I wouldn't bother with the CO2. Even though it looks bad and you're thinking fix before introducing more plants, the actual solution is probably more plants. Stems, crypts, and more wood, put some moss on the wood. Next time with the wood, that's mopani, soak it in a bucket for a month first. Yeah, that long. Change the water every couple days. Unless you want a brown water tank, then don't pre-soak the mopani.
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post #7 of 25 (permalink) Old 02-23-2019, 06:35 PM Thread Starter
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"Disaster" is a bit strong. The fish seem very happy, and I'm getting some growth out of the plants; just not as much or as healthy as I would like at the moment. I know I need more plants and I have plans to add them in the next couple of weeks. The crypts are actually doing quite well, as are the telanthera. The swords are doing okay. It's mostly the bacopa and new growth on the anubias that worries me.
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post #8 of 25 (permalink) Old 02-23-2019, 06:44 PM
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I wasn't insulting, i was comiserating. Looking at picture 4, the very black and green tank shot that isn't black and green because of plants, that's what i reacted to. it sorts itself out eventually usually. and the anubias won't do much, ignore them for now, some day figure out an algae eater to clean them up.
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post #9 of 25 (permalink) Old 02-23-2019, 06:52 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by smackpixi View Post
I wasn't insulting, i was comiserating. Looking at picture 4, the very black and green tank shot that isn't black and green because of plants, that's what i reacted to. it sorts itself out eventually usually. and the anubias won't do much, ignore them for now, some day figure out an algae eater to clean them up.
I did a lot of algae cleanup today. And I've now got two zebra nerite snails, seven otocinclus, an ancistrus, and five Siamese algae eaters (or flying foxes; hard to tell but they're eating algae) in there feasting. It was a lot worse when I started all this, and Excel Flourish helped clean up some brush algae, though I've dropped that now as the plants seemed to do a little better without it.
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post #10 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-01-2019, 04:56 AM Thread Starter
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I lost an otocinclus this morning. The fish all looked good yesterday morning, but last night I noticed one otocinclus hanging near the surface, then saw that his tail looked bloodshot. Closer examination revealed what looked like a gaping wound at the base of the tail. Did not survive the night. That leaves me with six in my 55-gallon tank; if I lost another, it will be time to get another batch. All the other fish seem fine.

The bag of CSM+B micronutrient arrived. I spent part of this evening mixing up fertilizer solutions: calcium nitrate, monosodium phosphate (I have a big bottle left over from my discus days), potassium chloride, magnesium sulfate, calcium chloride, and the CSM+B for micronutrients. I calculated the mix so that a mililiter per gallon gives 10 ppm on everything but the trace elements and phosphate; for phosphate it's 1 ppm and for the trace elements it's 0.5 ppm.

I also found a very detailed report on the chemistry of a nearby well; it's not actually my supply well, but it taps the same aquifer a couple miles upflow:

pH: 7.9
Nitrate: < 1 ppm
Phosphate: < 0.1 ppm
Potassium: 2.1 ppm
Calcium: 9 ppm as Ca
Magnesium: 2.8 ppm
B: 0.017 ppm
Cu: 0.14 ppm
Cl: 1.9 ppm
Na: 9.7 ppm
SO4: 1.8 ppm
Hardness: 34 ppm CaCO3 equivalent, 5.6 ppm alkalinity
Total dissolved solids 210 ppm
Fe 0.8 ppm
Mo 0.005 ppm
Zn 0.019 ppm

A fair amount of sodium; the other parameters consistent with what I measured out of my tap. I'm surprised iron is that high at that pH; I doubt much of it is available to plants but I could be surprised.

Speaking of which, the bacopa and anubias are showing rather yellowed and glassy young growth, though I've dosing regularly with DTPA iron. This showed up about the time I finished the ich treatment, and aside from lowering tank temperature, three things happened about that time: I put a rather large dose of DTPA iron and potassium into the tank, I added a big chunk of driftwood, and I switched to a split 8 hour photoperiod. (I was previously running 13 hours straight.) Not sure why any of those things would do that, unless the driftwood is either leaching something or is taking up something. If it's leaching, it's something that doesn't bother the fish. I tried adding some magnesium this week but it didn't help, or at least not a lot.

Tomorrow I'm off to Albuquerque for a plant-shopping trip (among other things) and might possibly bring back some more otocinclus, if there's a sale or something. The quarantine tank is ready except for not being algae-encrusted; I hope they'll like zuccini and algae wafers. I plan to change 50% of the tank water Saturday and dose the replacement water with the fertilizers I've made up. Hope it gets the plants greening up again. The new ones aren't getting the peroxide wash this time; I may briefly rinse them in 20 to 1 bleach, but protozoan cysts tend to be resistant so I doubt anything I can do that will kill ich cysts won't kill the plants as well. So I'm going to quarantine the plants for a minimum of three days to starve out any ich.
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post #11 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-02-2019, 05:54 PM Thread Starter
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Had a nice trip to Albuquerque yesterday, except that I found I was badly outside the cycle for Clark's Pet Emporium: Both stores are expecting their bimonthly plan shipment Wednesday, and they were pretty much cleaned out on plants. There were some cryptocorynes, not on my list; some marsilia but in very bad shape (nix even though it was) on my list; completely out of vals and cabomba and Java ferns and pretty much everything else I wanted. They did have some nyphoides and I considered it, but I'm not sure I want those in my tank; also a fairly healthy-looking lace aponogeton for not a ridiculous amount ($14) but I'm not sure I'm ready for that and I'm not sure my tank will be big enough even when I am.

So I headed on to the Wyoming PetSmart. I know, but this is the best-run Petsmart I've ever seen. Several of the folks who work the aquarium department keep their own tanks and like to talk about them. They had Java ferns and bacopa and water wisteria and Staurogyne, so I pretty much filled out everything on my list except vals and Java moss. I may try mail-ordering those, though it's not really the best time of year for plant shipments. On the other hand, the first crocus was blooming in my yard today, so I may be fine.

I tried tying the Java ferns onto the driftwood; quickly decided that I'd have to pull it out of the tank to do so, and that wasn't actually hard at all. The other plants went into place after I dug a little laterite (left over from years ago) into the substrate. It's a tan gravel substrate so you can't even the laterite is there. Got done; golly, those new plants look the same yellowish color as the new growth I've been worrying about on the existing plants ...

The water is slightly yellow, probably leach from the new driftwood. I should have known. My plants probably aren't chlorotic after all.

Stupid has decided she likes the tank very much.




The little table is new, a hand-me-down from my daughter. It's convenient for storing tank supplies. Stormy, a.k.a. Bear, a.k.a. Stupid (my daughter's name for her) has decided it's the perfect spot to sit and enjoy the fish.

The second photo was after my Albuquerque trip and shows the new plants.

Tank parameters today: pH 7, nitrate 20 ppm, phosphate 0.5 ppm, dKH 6, dGH 6, temperature 79F. I did a 50% change and dosed the change water with 10 ppm potassium and magnesium, 20 ppm calcium, 1 ppm phosphate, no nitrate this week, and 0.1 ppm Fe plus trace elements. I plan to dose the Fe plus trace elements daily at this rate and see how that goes.

The plants were all cultured and in agar. In the case of the Staurogyne, this mean no roots. I've had to repeatedly replant the blasted things; keeping them in the substrate without roots means I keep having to try burying them deeper and deeper. Well, that eventually worked with the Alteranthera (which are now doing fine.)
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post #12 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-09-2019, 10:31 PM Thread Starter
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Water parameters this week: pH 7.0, dKH 5, dGH 7, nitrate down to 5 ppm, phosphate 1 ppm. I also tried testing iron again, in spite of the known difficulties with my Seachem kit, but using the regular range instructions. 45 minutes and no sign of iron.

The fish seem happy, though I'm slightly concerned that one SAE seems to have a white spot on its chin. I also have a turquoise rainbowfish with such a spot, but it's remained unchanged for two weeks. Both fish are behaving and feeding just fine. Doubt it's saprolegnia but still slightly concerned.

The Staurogyne seem to be rooting in and are looking good. The bacopa aren't doing much, but they aren't doing much bad, either. They seem to also be taking root. The water wysteria is shedding bits of leaves and looks almost as if it's wilted; but there are many signs of new growth. I'm more worried that the clown loach seems to be nibbling on them, which I didn't think clown loaches did.

The vallisneria are recovering, very slowly, from my attempt at disinfection. The alternanthera seem to be doing really well, with lots of bright red growth. The crypts are doing well. The amazon swords aren't doing much; I'm a bit concerned.

The Java ferns both came loose from their moorings, which, in retrospect, is unsurprising; I was hasty with it. I tied them down really good this week and they seem to be staying in place now. I was distressed when replacing one of them to realize how little rhizome the nursery sold me; we'll see how long it takes them to root to my driftwood.

Dosing today: nitrate to 10 ppm, phosphate to 1 ppm, potassium to 10 ppm, calcium to 10 ppm, magnesium to 5 ppm, trace elements to 0.1 ppm Fe. I plan to make similar doses on alternate days for the major and minor elements, along the lines of EI. The trace will go in every day.

It does look like the plants are depleting the nitrate pretty good, which is remarkable given the fish load and how recently everything was planted. I suppose it's encouraging.

The cheap little valves on the DIY CO2 kit are getting leaky; I can scrinch them all the way down and still have more CO2 going in the tank than I want. They appear to be identical with the valves used in oxygen lines in hospitals, and in fact one has an arrow and "O2" next to it showing the correct flow direction. I've sent off for some better needle valves, but it's another incentive to get a proper pressurized CO2 system someday. My biggest concern with that, as I mentioned above, is finding a place within a reasonable distance that can recharge a CO2 cylinder.
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post #13 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-16-2019, 10:08 PM Thread Starter
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Water parameters this week: pH 6.8, dKH 4, dGH 11, NO3 30 ppm, PO4 3 ppm. Looks like I'm adding too much, especially calcium/magnesium. Dosing this week: 5 ppm NO3 in the 50% change water, which should bring the NO3 to 20 ppm, where I want it. No Ca/Mg dosing at all. Other nutrients in proportion. During the week I'll drop from 2 ppm every other day for NO3 to 1 ppm, and reduce others proportionately.

Iron test won't register fully for some hours, but it's possible I'm overdoing that as well. Will do 0.5 ppm in the change water, see what the test says tomorrow, and decide what the dosing during the week will be.

Since I'm using some leftover phosphate buffer for my phosphate source, and I'm not sure it's pure socium acid phosphate, I tested it at a suitable dilution with the phosphate kit. Looks like it's about half of what I formulated it for, suggesting half of it is acidifier -- not surprising. Will adjust accordingly.

The fish seem fine this week. The alternanthera are look stunning, with a nice deep red color. The The crypts look fine. The bacopa shows some signs of growth, though one big clump keeps coming loose from the substrate; it's putting out roots but not that quickly. The wisteria is hard to say; it's putting out some roots at the internodes but there's not a lot of new leaf growth yet. The Java fern and the swords aren't showing any obvious signs of growth. The staurogyne seem to be getting established nicely.

The last of the new plants (for this round, anyway) arrived early this week: more Vallisneria and some Java moss. I attached the Java moss to my driftwood and put the Vallisneria in place. It seems to be doing okay, except that there is some reddish coloration in the new growth at th base of the leaves. May just indicate my tank is well-lit.

Hmm. The clown loach seems to be going after the crown of one of the swords, I've also caught it apparently chewing on the new growth on the water wisteria. I didn't think clown loaches every went vegetarian.
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post #14 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-23-2019, 06:25 PM Thread Starter
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This week: Fe 0.2-0.4 mg/l, NO3 40 mg/l, PO4 2 mg/l, pH 7.2, dKH 4, dGH 8.

The nitrate is high. With the tank well stocked with fish and the plants just getting going, I probably will not need to add nitrogen for a while. The others are spot on. Dosing this week in the 50% water change: 0.5 mg/l Fe (which includes other trace elements), no NO3, 2 mg/l PO4, 20 mg/l Ca, 5 mg/l Mg, 10 mg/l K.

The plants seem to have done really well this week. The water wisteria is definitly budding out some new growth, the vallisneria seem to be recovering from the nutrient overdose the week before, the bacopa are definitely growing, and the crypts, staurogyne, and alternanthera are looking fine. The anubias still show somewhat unleathy new growth, slightly chlorotic and somewhat deformed; I almost suspect one of the algae eaters of feeding on them. The swords aren't doing much. The Java fern *may* be slowly growing new roots but not obvious. The Java moss is showing something close to an explosion of growth.

Fish all seem to be doing fine. One SAE was scratching his snout against tank fixtures, but there's no obvious lesion and he's eating fine.
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post #15 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-29-2019, 10:30 PM Thread Starter
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Water parameters this week: dGH 9, pH 6.6, NO3 30 ppm, PO4 2 ppm, iron 0.1-0.2 ppm.

Dosing for change water this week: nitrate to 5 ppm, phosphate to 2 ppm, potassium to 10 ppm, calcium to 5 ppm, magnesium to 2.5 ppm, trace mixture to 0.5 ppm iron.

The wisterias seem to be budding out okay. One vallisneria has recovered; the others are taking long time for any new growth. Anubias is apparently being chewed on by something, and I caught a Boesmanni rainbow -- of all things -- chewing on the Anubias. Not much from the swords or Java fern. Everything else doing good.

Fish look good.

My tap water has started coming out of the hot tap looking cloudy with fine bubbles; the cold is okay. The water tests with normal paramers. Water heater going bad? I hope not. Could be a seasonal thing with the local water service rejiggering their water storage and sources?
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