I could use some advice on how to clean up my algae farm - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-08-2018, 10:15 PM Thread Starter
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I could use some advice on how to clean up my algae farm

I have had a planted tank for about 20 years, but I wouldn't say I have 20 years of experience in the hobby... It feels like I have 1 year of experience 20 times. I had a few brief years of a nice-looking tank when I had the LFS starter-grade fluorescent hood that put out about one candlepower. Then, I "upgraded" my light and added CO2 and everything went to hell. I keep stepping down light output and photoperiod over the years. Nothing has cured the issue but lowering light has helped a bit.

I am sure that despite my best efforts I am making some fundamental errors, because I'm just overrun with BBA and even cyano sometimes. The only time I see clean leaves on my Java fern and bolbitis is when I prune the BBA-covered ones and reveal leaves that weren't in direct light.

I'm hoping some kind readers can give me some advice on where I should focus my efforts because I am clearly doing something terribly wrong. Sincerely, thanks for any advice you can offer.

Here's the setup I have today. I won't go into all the lighting variations I have had over the years, but I have more light available if it will help. (It didn't before!)

Hardware
  • 90 gal fresh water tank (24" light to substrate)
  • Substrate is Turface Pro (an inert fired clay product which allegedly has a high CEC)
  • Filtration is an API cannister
  • Lighting is 2x 55W 2G11 folded tubes (the tubes are very old)
  • Photoperiod 8 hours, but the tank gets a few hours of diffuse sulight from nearby windows

Water & supplements
  • Seattle-area tap water (SUPER soft, total hardness & alkalinity both approx 1 degree)
  • NO ferts in use
  • CO2 injected into filter during lighted time (drop checker shows green, a couple of powerheads move the water around, too)
  • Tank pH mid-day is 5.3 (tap pH is 7.9 but it has no buffering, and tank provides no buffering)
  • Water changes, glass scraping, some pruning every 3-4 weeks

My goals
Have a low-algae tank with any kind of happy beginner plants. I have given up on having a carpet of baby tears; one Java Fern that is more fern than BBA is all I want.

What I am willing to do
Buy almost any kind of equipment, dose ferts, do math, do labor, ritual sacrifice

What I am not willing to do
Replace substrate (disruptive to fish), switch to RO, anything that risks the health of the fish any more than I already do by using CO2. In other words, I don't want to walk a tightrope, and I don't want to make every water change a giant project like a saltwater tank, because I know I won't do it often enough. Like Dirty Harry said, "a man's got to know his limitations."

If you are still tuned in, thanks again. Really.
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post #2 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-09-2018, 06:29 AM
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I definitely think you need to dose fertilisers. Unhealthy plants can't outcompete algae. I think this is the source of your problem.

If you are interested, many people on this forum dose using the EI method. It is very cost effective and you can customise the dosing however you want. Otherwise you could use a commercial solution but it will be quite expensive in a 90gal.

I think you may also need to add some alkalinity and hardness. Plants need magnesium and calcium as well as other macros.

Hope this helps


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post #3 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-09-2018, 07:44 AM
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I would certaintly start with ritual sacrifice. It is 100% fish safe and was shown to be effective for something 97.8% of the time.

But seriously. @oscarlloydjohn pretty much summed it up. Some pictures of the tank and plants would not hurt either.

Step 1: bring your kH and gH to 3 - 5 ppm. Do it over a week or 2. The products to look into are Seachem Equilibrium, GH booster. Pick one.

Step 2: get a water testing kit, if you don't have it.. API Master Freshwater is ~ $25 + gH/kH is another $10. You want to test kH, gH, NO3, and maybe phosphates. The goal here is to find out if your plants have enough nutrients to grow (my bet is they dont). Based on the results, start feeding your plants. The easiest way is to use a pre-mixed fertilizer like Thrive, the cheapest is to get dry fertilizers and mix your own. All available at Aquarium Fertilizer | NilocG Aquatics

The core principle of a planted tank: grow healthy plants. Everything else will follow.

If, for whatever reasons, you can not get enough / appropriate plants, send me a PM.
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post #4 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-09-2018, 07:52 AM
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There is a member on the forum, I believe his forum name is SeattleAquarist. I would recommend you contact him. He lives in seatttle and strongly recommends a GH booster for tanks with soft water like yours. Boosting your tanks general hardness (GH) by 2 degrees with Sachem equilibrium by would be a good start.

I would also start adding a fertilizer. Many people believe algae issues are caused by excessive nutrients in the water. The reality is that most algae issues are caused by not having enough nutrients in the water. You might want to go to nilocg.com and purchase a fertilizer. They sell a good all in one fertilizer called thrive that will work very well with Equilibrium. They also sell Estimative index fertilizer kits if you are interested in trying that.
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post #5 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-09-2018, 05:33 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks guys. It's encouraging to see a unified message here.

I do have test kits of various sorts. I used a quickie cheapo test strip yesterday and my NO3 is roughly 20 PPM. I haven't tested hardness but I suspect it is near my tap water's 1 degree since my substrate should be neutral. I'll find out for sure though and work on increasing hardness.

I actually have most of the chemicals on hand for a couple of fert regimes. I have done EI dosing and even Poor Mans Dupla Drops, if you remember that! I've sucked at this for a LONG time. But everything is old and maybe not even labeled... maybe I still have some good macros on hand. Anyway, I will get whatever I have to get because I am on a mission now!

@Surf I know the member you speak of, he is part of my local aquarium club. Roy is very generous and knowledgeable. Sadly I can't make it to the meetings any more, but I still hang out on that mailing list. I'll ask him for some advice on raising hardness.

@OVT I appreciate the offer of plants, but I can get by with what I have for now, and if I need new victims my LFS is well stocked. I'll hit you up if that changes.

I'll post a current photo when the tank lights come on this afternoon.

Thanks again, everyone. I'm feeling more optimistic.
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post #6 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-10-2018, 02:47 AM
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Hi Everyone,

@Cyano pm'd me and asked for help; I'm going to respond in his thread so others can chime in and or possibly use the suggestions I offer to deal with similar issues. @Surf is correct, I deal with soft water issues on a regular basis. I too have a tall tank, a 45 gallon tall (24") so I am well familiar with the issues tall tanks can present.

I've had aquariums for decades but just started planted tanks about 10 years ago. I did a lot of reading (thekrib.com) as well as the relatively new (at that time) aquaticplantcentral and theplantedtank forum and many of the articles by Amano. What I learned kind of boiled down to this......it's all about balance. Plants are pretty basic, they need light and nutrients to thrive but the trick is how much light and how much and what nutrients? When I increase one item I need to increase other items and if I decrease one item I need to decrease other items.

@Cyano stated his tank was fine with the 'standard' light fixture (likely T12 maybe T8) over his deep tank but then he upgraded to power compact (2X55 watt) and things went downhill....why? With low light the plants didn't need much in the way of nutrients, likely the fish waste combined with the minimal nutrients in our very soft NW water allowed things to grow fine although slowly. Now we add the power compact light, likely 2-3 times the light output of the original lights. More light means more nutrients are required but fish only poop so fast. Also the minimal mineral nutrients in our soft water were likely no longer adequate. The result, the tank was no longer in balance. Adding CO2 is fine if the limiting factor for growth is a lack of available carbon molecules but if other factors are limiting growth adding CO2 helps very little. Sometimes I explain it this way, with the low light is it sort of like riding a tricycle...very forgiving if I make a mistake but when I add high light and/or CO2 to a tank it is more like riding a Kawasaki Ninja ZX motorcycle where if I make a wrong move at high speed I eat asphalt.

First, let's deal with the light. Power compact lights are fine for growing plants, I use a 96 watt power compact light with an MIRO 4 reflector over my 24" tall tank and can achieve [email protected] at the substrate level. However, power compact lamps loose light intensity quickly, that same lamp only provides [email protected] at the substrate level after 12 months of use. My first recommendation is to replace the two 55 watt lamps. I usually mark the date I install a lamp on the socket end with a magic marker so I know when it is time to replace them....I never go over a year. Secondly 8 hours of light plus additional diffused sunlight is a lot of light. I suggest (#2) until the tank is balanced and growing properly reducing the light from the fixture to no more than four (4) hours - maybe in the evening when you can enjoy your tanks. I run the 96 watt on my 24" tall tank for a total of 4.5 hours and it is in a lower level of the house with minimal ambient light.

Turface Pro League is a fine calcined Montmorillonite clay substrate, although it may 'break down' over time (I find that mine is good for about 3-4 years). It has a high CEC (approx. [email protected]) so it 'absorbs' nutrients from the water column and makes them available to plants in the root zone. Do you know what model API canister filter you have? I run two 350 gph canister filters on my 75 gallon and sometimes I think I should add a powerhead as well. Your two powerheads are probably helping a lot in your tank. All I typically put in my canister filters are bio-balls and sponges, no charcoal. If I have issues with high nitrates and I suspect it is due to high bio-load (lots of fish) I also use Seachem Purigen in the canister to remove organics from the water.

+1 to the previous posts to get some water test kits. I use the API Freshwater Master Test Kit and API KH/GH Hardness Test Kit monthly and I would suggest starting with those. After you get those in and have taken your pH, dKH, and dGH readings along with ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate we can discuss specifics concerning your tank however the following is what I do for my tanks here in Seattle.

When Tom Barr visited our local aquarium club (Greater Seattle Aquarium Society / GSAS) in 2010 during the Q&A after his presentation I asked him about our soft water (typically <1.0 dKH; 1.0 - 2.0 dGH). He lives in the Sacramento area and has similar water. He said it doesn't worry too much about dKH as long as there is sufficient to avoid pH crash when using CO2 and he tries to target 4.0 dGH hardness in his tanks. He also said that even if the water is over 4.0 dGH naturally he would increase the hardness by 2.0 dGH just to insure there is sufficient calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and potassium (K) available to the plants. At first I used Seachem Equilibrium to harden my water. It is a very good product and contains Ca, Mg, K, Mn, and Fe but when doing regular water changes with larger tanks it can become expensive. There are 'generic' GH Boosters offered by aquariumfertilizer.com, greenleafaquariums.com, and nilocg.com that are all based upon Tom Barr's original formula which is:

Quote:
By Volume:
1 Part K2SO4 (Potassium Sulfate)
2 Parts CaSO4 (Calcium Sulfate)
1 Part MgSO4 (Magnesium Sufate)
Regrettable they do not contain any manganese (Mn) and they tend to overdose potassium (K) (as does Equilbrium) which can effect the uptake of iron, manganese, and magnesium. Lately I have gone to mixing my own GH Booster and have been happy with the results.

For nutrients this is what I suggest you purchase:

1 lb potassium nitrate (KNO3) (online)
1 lb potassium sulfate (K2SO4) (online)
1/2 lb (mono) potassium phosphate (KH2PO4) (online)
1 jar Seachem Equilibrium (online or Aquarium Co-Op)
1 bottle Seachem Flourish Comprehensive ( (online or Aquarium Co-Op)

While waiting for your test kits and nutrients to arrive please do two (2) 50% water changes about a week apart to 're-set' your tank (siphon from the bottom to remove 'mulm'), pick up your new 55 watt lamps, clean your filter, clean your glass, and remove as much algae infested plant material as possible. Questions? Just ask! -Roy
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post #7 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-10-2018, 03:28 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks Roy! I am sure I will have some more questions, need to take some time to digest all the great replies so far.

With regard to the lights, I do have more options than just replacing the 2x55W lamps.

I also have a Catalina 48" T5-HO fixture, which I think is 4x 54W lamps. Those lamps are also ancient, though, and surely need to be replaced. (Ancient... maybe 7-8 years? Yeah, no kidding.) This fixture has 2 pairs of individually switched lamps, so it's easy to run 2 or even just 1 lamp if needed.

I'm also willing to upgrade to LED, if there's something decent for less than say $200. The tank is a long-term commitment so I don't mind spending something up front to get off the bulb replacement treadmill. In fact, I find the idea appealing, if LED fixtures in that price range are any good. I haven't done any research on that front yet.

Here are a couple of swamp photos. This is the tank's typical state, but it does look nice after cleaning and pruning.



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post #8 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-16-2018, 09:26 PM
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Hi @Cyano,

Sorry, with the issues the website was having I lost track of this thread. In answer to your question about lights I am a strong fan of Fluval currently. The good PAR rating (light intensity), fully sealed with a waterproof rated per IP67, and strong three (3) year warranty are the main reasons I prefer this brand. The adjustable light spectrum (Fluval Plant Spectrum (aka 3.0) along with bluetooth app to control the spectrum (instead of a separate control unit) are also strong advantages.

I would start with one (1) of the Fluval Plant Spectrum Bluetooth LED 48" - 60" units (item #14523) to start, which should give you approximately the same PAR as the 2X55 watt unit you are using currently (maybe better since the bulbs are old). Cory at Aquarium Co-op, which is near you, sells them locally or you can find them online as well. Ken's Fish is where I got mine; they still have them on sale (as of 7/16) for $158.09 after using discount code fluval with free shipping. Hope this helps! -Roy
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post #9 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-16-2018, 09:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seattle_Aquarist View Post
Lately I have gone to mixing my own GH Booster and have been happy with the results.
Roy, can I ask what is your recipe?
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post #10 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-16-2018, 09:41 PM Thread Starter
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No worries @Seattle_Aquarist, this is an ongoing issue and it won't be fixed in a few posts.

Thanks for the hardware recommendation, that looks like a very nice unit. I am inclined to upgrade and never handle a tube again!

I'll follow up on this thread when I have some progress to report, or maybe more likely, a ferts question. But I think I have enough to go on for bit.
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post #11 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-17-2018, 12:14 AM
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Hi @Cyano,

Glad to help! It is true that LED's use much less electricity than T5HO, PowerCompact, or other lighting (about 40% less) but the real savings is in not replacing the lamps/bulbs. I did a math for my 30 gallon long (36") that used 2X39 watt powercompact lamps and the payback on not having to purchase lamps every 12 months was about 2.5 years.....thereafter the savings just continued to pile up. Since you have CO2 and a deep (24") tank you may need a second fixture in the future but I have found that balancing out a tank with regards to nutrients is easier if I start at about 'medium' PAR (about 50-70 PAR) and adjust the nutrients and photoperiod before adding additional light.

BTW, GSAS has an Apogee MQ-510 PAR meter that members can check out for a week at no charge. When you think you are ready you may want to join the club and see what PAR you are actually working with....it does take out a lot of the guesswork.

Bump: Hi @Jeff5614

I am currently on my fourth (4th) version after starting 3 years ago. It gives me the Ca and Mg I need for my soft water but doesn't overdo the potassium (K) like most GH Boosters do.

Quote:
Roy’s GH Booster Ver. 4.0

Dose: 1 teaspoon / 8 gallons

Result of Dose

Ca (as CaSO4) 14.3 ppm / +2.0 dGH
Mg (as MgSO4) 3.32 ppm / +0.77 dGH
K (as K2SO4) 18.97 ppm / +0.0 dGH


Based upon (mixed by volume not by weight):

3 parts CaS04 * 2H2O (Calcium Sulfate Dihydrate - Gypsum - Fine Powder)
1 part MgSO4 * 7H2O
1 part K2SO4 (Sulfate of Potash - Potassium Sulfate)
I source the CaSO4 and K2SO4 from Alpha Chemicals on Ebay. The MgSO4 (Epsom Salt) I pick up at the local drug store.

Hope this helps! -Roy
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Last edited by Seattle_Aquarist; 07-17-2018 at 12:25 AM. Reason: ..
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post #12 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-17-2018, 12:32 AM Thread Starter
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@Seattle_Aquarist, I've found that the cheapest Epsom salts around are actually at Costco. They have the "Dr. Teal's" brand unscented, food grade stuff, and it is much cheaper per pound than anywhere else I have found. We go through a lot of it when making bath bombs, so I did the legwork to find the best deal. I was surprised!

That PAR meter looks nice, wow.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Seattle_Aquarist View Post
For nutrients this is what I suggest you purchase:

1 lb potassium nitrate (KNO3) (online)
1 lb potassium sulfate (K2SO4) (online)
1/2 lb (mono) potassium phosphate (KH2PO4) (online)
1 jar Seachem Equilibrium (online or Aquarium Co-Op)
1 bottle Seachem Flourish Comprehensive ( (online or Aquarium Co-Op)
I pulled out my old box of ferts and I think I have all the macros I need. The box also had Plantex CSM + B, and an old bottle labeled "Fish Trace." I remember buying the "Fish Trace" from a hydroponics store in Seattle way back in the day @Seattle_Aquarist, pretty sure someone in GSAS turned me on to it. I am pretty sure it was the micro nutrients in PMDD. But I don't know exactly what is in it, so it's probably not useful today.

Not pictured is a pound of gypsum that I have for brewing.

Assuming I add the right macros...
  • Can I use homemade GH booster instead of Equilibrium?
  • Can I use the CSM+B in place of Flourish?

I do not mind buying the bottled stuff in the short term but would much prefer to mix ferts myself, that's half the fun.

I do have the Fluval LED fixture on the way, so I'll be doing the water changes etc. Then I thought I would start with GH booster alone for a little while, see how my pH changes, then start macros/micros.

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Last edited by Darkblade48; 08-23-2018 at 01:11 AM. Reason: Please use the edit function for back to back posts to keep threads cleaner
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post #13 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-17-2018, 08:08 PM
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Suggest using some Metricide14 or seachem excel (weaker, so need to correct dose) to drop the BBA load regardless of ferts at this point..
https://www.amazon.com/Seachem-67104...70_&dpSrc=srch

Keep CO2 steady.. don't go futzing w/ it.. will always make matters worse in my mind..

Clean gravel.

There are numerous opinions on dosing and which "things" can't take gluteradehyde..

15ml every other day for a few days...(Met 14).
Excel is weaker by ROUGHLY half, so double it.. OR x 1.73..26mL
The difference is mostly academic really..
If you do some research you will see "my" dose is lower than many..
Quote:
I've found that plants and fish can take quite a large amount of glut with no ill effects.

Been dosing 28 ml per day of undiluted Metricide 14 in my 50gal tank for a number of months now. Tank is 9 months old and heavily planted with about 42 small fish, mainly neons and rasboras. It gets dosed twice a day just before the start of my two split photo periods. Along with daily EI dosing everything appears to be doing great.

The workable tank volume is only about 38 gal, so it works out to about 1.2ml of Excel strength glut per gallon of tank water. Occasionally I get a couple new fish or plants and they have had no problems with acclimating.
EXCEPTIONS (possibly): Vals, shrimp and Discus.
https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/1...cide-14-a.html

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post #14 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-17-2018, 08:12 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks. I do have some Metricide on hand already, been using it for a long time for occasional BBA battles. I've seen no ill effects using about 80 mL in a 90 gal tank periodically but I am happy to rethink everything at this point.
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post #15 of 99 (permalink) Old 07-17-2018, 09:28 PM
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Hi @Cyano,

Great, even if those nutrients are several years old they are still good unless they have gotten wet. We will use all of them with the possible exception of the one on the bottom left (sorry I can't read it). Seachem Equilibrium does have a few other nutrients than DIY GH Booster but if you want to mix your own booster the formula above works well for me with our soft water. I dose CSM+B but also Seachem Comprehensive...why? Because CSM+B only contains six micro-nutrients while Seachem Comprehensive contains twelve (12) micro-nutrients. I think you will really like your new light fixture. My oldest one (a Fluval 2.0) is a little over 2 years old and I have had absolutely no issues with it.

We will discuss dosing when the new light has arrived and we have tank water test results for dKH and dGH. I suggest bringing the hardness up fairly quickly, two doses spread a few days apart targeting 4.0-5.0 dGH. The rest of the ferts we will start dosing at about 50% of recommended and see how the plants respond. I suggest getting some Seachem Comprehensive and if you don't have one an API Nitrate Test kit. -Roy

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