Fluval Stratum Buffering - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-06-2020, 06:32 PM Thread Starter
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Fluval Stratum Buffering

I’ve recently set up a tank, the details of which can be found in “50 Gallon Zoomed Lowboy”. Essentially, it’s stratum with RO and salty shrimp GH+. But, the stratum seems to be buffering far more than my research led me to conclude it would. I’m waiting on a pH pen in the mail but so far my API kit shows pH below 6. I’ve got some cholla in the tank as well. Is this just a matter of patience for the water to cycle and settle in the mid 6 range? Or perhaps the cholla is affecting the pH because of the low KH? I want to eventually keep Taiwan bees, which I know a lot of people do with stratum, but I’m concerned about how acidic the water has become. Does anyone have any insight or tips that can help me here?

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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-06-2020, 06:43 PM
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Nope, you're good.

Low kH + Stratum + Wood will = low pH.

high 5's is fine, eventually it might stable out around low 6's, just monitor TDS and pH with some amazon pens and you should be good.

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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-07-2020, 12:40 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks Quagulator!

I checked my GH and KH, they were 0 and 5, respectively.

More alarming, I've now noticed that my mini red buce and my golden anubias nana are melting.

Ugh. This tank was cycled before I put the stratum in it. I have no idea what's happening here. I've heard of crypts melting when they adjust to a new environment, but not anubias, and I've never had buce before.
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-08-2020, 07:00 AM
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How is your GH zero when you are using GH+ unless you weren't using it before you tested your water. If GH went to zero after you added the stratum it absolutely has something in it that has a high CEC. CEC is found in broken down organic matter and clays. CEC is pH dependent. The higher the pH the higher the greater the CEC and a higher CEC means more cations such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, ammonium, hydrogen, and sodium can be bound up in a given amount of organic matter or clay. I think that stratum is a volcanic ash, clay, and peat pellet or sediment. Not the end of the world both volcanic ash and clay are full of minerals and the net negative charge of clay and peat can bind to any negatively charged mineral or cations that are dosed in fertilizers.

If you want to exhaust the NH4 that is probably tied up in the substrate dose nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria and you should be good in a month to rock and roll.

I looked up Stratums product description and I found this on the fluval site:

"Collected from the mineral-rich foothills of Mount Aso Volcano in Japan, Fluval Stratum makes an ideal alternative substrate for planted aquariums."

Any planted aquarium substrate worth its salt is going to have a respectable Cation Exchange Capacity. This is what enables the substrate to bind nutrients in the fertilizers dosed commonly in planted tanks and make them available over a period of time. Fertilization is necessary with all of the planted tank substrates I have heard of. I seen of nothing even close to being able to support healthy plants that are growing without the help of dosing fertilizers. In fact most are designed to have CEC for the storage of nutrients whether they are released in to water column or in the root zone it doesn't matter because if it is not used by the plants it will soon be bound up again and again until it is used by plants.

I also found this:

"Mineral & nutrient-rich volcanic substrate that stimulates the growth of freshwater aquatic plants. Helps to maintain a neutral to slightly acidic pH that is ideal for most plant species, as well as the fish and shrimp typically kept in planted aquaria."

If it was only a mineral rich volcanic substrate it could not buffer the water pH down to slightly acidic pH. Mineral rich volcanic ash is not acidic either. If anything it wold be alkaline because of its mineral content. What I believe stratum is made of is volcanic deposits or ash, clay, and peat pressed and baked so that is looks like sediment.

I have heard that this substate can leach ammonium in the beginning but I am not sure. If it does that's probably why you could be having issues with plants not doing well. The CEC of the clay and peat is binding NH4 when the pH is slightly alkaline and as happens in high CEC substrates cations are exchanging spots with each other releasing other cations like calcium and magnesium. If stratum is part mineral rich volcanic ash, part clay with a high CEC, and part Peat with a high CEC that was soaked in NH4. What is going on in your tank makes perfect sense. Eventually the amount of ammonium held within the substrate will decrease as it is used by plants or bacteria. I believe that substrate was designed to supply ammonium over a period of time so that it was there to cycle a new tank without endangering fish. Remember it would be impossible to have ammonium go up in the aquarium after you added to the tank if stratum was only volcanic ash or sediment of some kind. No nitrogen compounds in volcanic ash or sediment. It would also not leach anything. It might be dissolved slightly is acidic water but it wouldn't release ammonium into the water.

Bump: Oh yea I would take the wood out of the equation until your kh and GH are stable and NH4 is gone. I wouldn't buy anymore plants either with NH4 potentially leaching form the substrate. Use bacteria to solve this problem. Its boring but it will work if I am correct about what is happening.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-08-2020, 01:46 PM Thread Starter
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Wow. Thorough and helpful. Thank you!
My mistake with listing the GH and KH. I reversed the values. To be clear, GH is 5 and KH is 0.
As for the stratum, I’d read conflicting reports about the ammonia leaching. But I did not do as much research as you just did to answer my questions.

To remedy my issues, I squeezed a filter sponge from a well established tank into the water column by the filter intake. I’m hoping this jump starts bacteria growth.
I also bought a pH pen. I calibrated it, and it reads that my pH sits somewhere right around 6.1. I will give the tank a few more days and check my other levels again.

I really just hope the anubias and the buce can recover. The crypts and moss in the tank seem to be doing ok.

One other question...would I reap any benefit from adding CO2 and more light at this stage to help augment plant growth? Perhaps increased plant growth would help to decrease the nitrates, etc.
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-08-2020, 07:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Sub-Mariner View Post
Wow. Thorough and helpful. Thank you!
My mistake with listing the GH and KH. I reversed the values. To be clear, GH is 5 and KH is 0.
As for the stratum, I’d read conflicting reports about the ammonia leaching. But I did not do as much research as you just did to answer my questions.

To remedy my issues, I squeezed a filter sponge from a well established tank into the water column by the filter intake. I’m hoping this jump starts bacteria growth.
I also bought a pH pen. I calibrated it, and it reads that my pH sits somewhere right around 6.1. I will give the tank a few more days and check my other levels again.

I really just hope the anubias and the buce can recover. The crypts and moss in the tank seem to be doing ok.

One other question...would I reap any benefit from adding CO2 and more light at this stage to help augment plant growth? Perhaps increased plant growth would help to decrease the nitrates, etc.
That should help introduce some bacteria to the system. However, it doesn't mean you have enough of NH4 and NO3 reducing bacteria to have a fully cycled environment. Most commonly NH4 consuming bacteria are present in the aquarium but not NO3 bacteria. They will only be present in anoxic zones one parts of your filter media or deep in fine substrates. These anoxic areas are usually deep inside larger sized bio media at least 1/2" in diameter. There is nitrification or the reduction of NH4 to NO3. NO3 is less toxic but still toxic at elevated levels. Then you have denitrification which is the reduction of NO3 to NO2 gass that will leave the aquarium through glass exchange on the surface of the water.

I don't know what brand of bulbs you are lighting with, spectrum, and overall light over the tank. Let me know what you are running and for how long. Then I can give you my opinion.

CO2 is jumping the gun IMO and not the step I would take especially in a new tank. You have no baseline for what your substrate+fertilization+lighting can produce. When you can keep plants alive without CO2 in your tank after it has cycled then you might want to try some fertilizer. Then just wait and see if you are happy with your growth after a few months. CO2 is for the advanced aquarist. I have had aquariums 30 years and I don't feel CO2 injection is necessary nor do I want to deal with all of the implications and common problems people have with CO2. I have a dirt bottom low tech tank man for life. I have never had to use CO2 for growth or to manage algae, the two most common reasons inject CO2. I have been very tempted to try one of those new stainless steel DIY CO2 rigs available on Amazon. I don't think the juice is worth the squeeze. If you decide to use CO2 remember that to do it right you are looking at, at least, $300 to get started. That's buying a quality regulator used, a tank used, and cheap diffusor.

The reason so many new hobbyists have problems with planted tanks is because they don't have enough knowledge to make informed decisions before they start. They see a tank that wows them and they lose sight of how much time that person spent learning before they start anything. They inevitably rush things or outright cut corners and its a snowball of issues that lead them to think a new gadget can solve the problem their lack of preparation created.

Bump: Oh yea KH at zero is because something in the substrate is leaching acids into the water column. Acids consume carbonates and bicarbonates that are measured when testing for KH. I am hoping you didn't start with zero KH. Get your KH up and your pH will be more stable until whatever is leaching acids stops leaching them into the water.
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-08-2020, 09:20 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Andy H View Post
That should help introduce some bacteria to the system. However, it doesn't mean you have enough of NH4 and NO3 reducing bacteria to have a fully cycled environment. Most commonly NH4 consuming bacteria are present in the aquarium but not NO3 bacteria. They will only be present in anoxic zones one parts of your filter media or deep in fine substrates. These anoxic areas are usually deep inside larger sized bio media at least 1/2" in diameter. There is nitrification or the reduction of NH4 to NO3. NO3 is less toxic but still toxic at elevated levels. Then you have denitrification which is the reduction of NO3 to NO2 gass that will leave the aquarium through glass exchange on the surface of the water.

I don't know what brand of bulbs you are lighting with, spectrum, and overall light over the tank. Let me know what you are running and for how long. Then I can give you my opinion.

CO2 is jumping the gun IMO and not the step I would take especially in a new tank. You have no baseline for what your substrate+fertilization+lighting can produce. When you can keep plants alive without CO2 in your tank after it has cycled then you might want to try some fertilizer. Then just wait and see if you are happy with your growth after a few months. CO2 is for the advanced aquarist. I have had aquariums 30 years and I don't feel CO2 injection is necessary nor do I want to deal with all of the implications and common problems people have with CO2. I have a dirt bottom low tech tank man for life. I have never had to use CO2 for growth or to manage algae, the two most common reasons inject CO2. I have been very tempted to try one of those new stainless steel DIY CO2 rigs available on Amazon. I don't think the juice is worth the squeeze. If you decide to use CO2 remember that to do it right you are looking at, at least, $300 to get started. That's buying a quality regulator used, a tank used, and cheap diffusor.

The reason so many new hobbyists have problems with planted tanks is because they don't have enough knowledge to make informed decisions before they start. They see a tank that wows them and they lose sight of how much time that person spent learning before they start anything. They inevitably rush things or outright cut corners and its a snowball of issues that lead them to think a new gadget can solve the problem their lack of preparation created.

Bump: Oh yea KH at zero is because something in the substrate is leaching acids into the water column. Acids consume carbonates and bicarbonates that are measured when testing for KH. I am hoping you didn't start with zero KH. Get your KH up and your pH will be more stable until whatever is leaching acids stops leaching them into the water.

I appreciate all of the information you've provided me. Definitely several things in there I didn't know.

My light for this is a Current USA Freshwater Plus LED, and I'm not totally sure of the PAR value at this point, but its on the lower end. I kept it at the settings I had programmed for a similar tank prior to this- java fern and crypts, mostly. Didn't expect to have any issues.

This whole thing has just been a bit strange to me. I've kept tanks for about a decade now, and while I'm not on the same level as you clearly are, I felt I had an adequate understanding of how the nitrogen cycle, etc. works. I've got a 150g running CO2 through an inline reactor with pendant lighting that I've had minimal issues with. I rarely have to deal with much algae and my plants are doing great with the GLA ferts I use. I haven't had a fish death in there in over a year.

I set this 50g up months ago. I used a sponge from the tank I just mentioned to jump start the process. I tested it periodically, and it was set. I was even using it as a bare bottom tank for a while to keep feeder shrimp in. Then, I finally added the stratum with RO water, remineralized it with salty shrimp GH+, and waited another couple of weeks before I planted it. All of this according to research I did mostly on this forum to set up for Caridina shrimp.

I don't know if I'll ever be certain of what set everything back. Perhaps the buffering from the Stratum harmed my bacteria population. Maybe something about abruptly being swapped from tap to RO (the tap water here has 350 TDS and somewhere between 12-15 GH, and 10-12 KH...it sucks). In either case, I didn't know how my tank suddenly went from being cycled to not, and I didn't really grasp why my plants were having issues with it- I've also planted other tanks before the cycle was complete and never noticed a problem. So, lesson learned, and now I know a little more about the hobby.
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-09-2020, 12:54 AM
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I appreciate all of the information you've provided me. Definitely several things in there I didn't know.

My light for this is a Current USA Freshwater Plus LED, and I'm not totally sure of the PAR value at this point, but its on the lower end. I kept it at the settings I had programmed for a similar tank prior to this- java fern and crypts, mostly. Didn't expect to have any issues.

This whole thing has just been a bit strange to me. I've kept tanks for about a decade now, and while I'm not on the same level as you clearly are, I felt I had an adequate understanding of how the nitrogen cycle, etc. works. I've got a 150g running CO2 through an inline reactor with pendant lighting that I've had minimal issues with. I rarely have to deal with much algae and my plants are doing great with the GLA ferts I use. I haven't had a fish death in there in over a year.

I set this 50g up months ago. I used a sponge from the tank I just mentioned to jump start the process. I tested it periodically, and it was set. I was even using it as a bare bottom tank for a while to keep feeder shrimp in. Then, I finally added the stratum with RO water, remineralized it with salty shrimp GH+, and waited another couple of weeks before I planted it. All of this according to research I did mostly on this forum to set up for Caridina shrimp.

I don't know if I'll ever be certain of what set everything back. Perhaps the buffering from the Stratum harmed my bacteria population. Maybe something about abruptly being swapped from tap to RO (the tap water here has 350 TDS and somewhere between 12-15 GH, and 10-12 KH...it sucks). In either case, I didn't know how my tank suddenly went from being cycled to not, and I didn't really grasp why my plants were having issues with it- I've also planted other tanks before the cycle was complete and never noticed a problem. So, lesson learned, and now I know a little more about the hobby.
Ideal pH for nitrifying bacteria is 8.0 and is limited below 6.0. So that is a possibility. It is also possible your water quality out of the tap has changed but not likely to be the culprit because there are federal standards set on how much nitrogen is allowed in tap water and ammonia is not going to be at dangerous levels either. I am not exactly clear on what you mean when you say your tank went from cycled to not cycled. It's impossible to have an empty tank (no fish) with enough bacteria to say that it is cycled. It was only that you had nothing to produce NH4 in the aquarium, so it appeared to be cycled when you tested it. If it was cycled and had a health population of bacteria. The nitrogen or nitrite and ammonia added by that water would be easily removed by the bacteria. Think about this, when bio-load increases greatly in an aquarium there will be what is sometimes called a "mini cycle". A cycled tank (able to handle the NH4 produced by 5 fish) and then 15 fish are added, now the bacterial population isn't large enough to handle the increase in NH4 the new fish are producing. It will take time for the bacteria to grow and be able to handle the new NH4 production from the increase bio-load and will undergo a new cycle.

I'm a fluorescent or metal halide man myself but many are doing well with the right LEDs. One option would be to increase the light output a little bit. I looked at the specs on that light and it does not appear you can do that. It might not be enough for high light plants as some reviews said. Another thing to consider is what you have in aquarium for bacteria to populate. Also if you don't have a deep fine substrate or large pieces of bio-media in a filter you will never have a tank that is completely cycled. It is the anoxic areas in your substrate and filter media that are home to the denitrifying bacteria. Remember NH4 is oxidized by bacteria and converted to nitrate or NO3 and nitrate is converted to N2 nitrogen gas and leave the aquarium. This is a full nitrogen cycle.
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