Stratum KH/PH - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-05-2020, 03:03 PM Thread Starter
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Question Stratum KH/PH

Hi, New to the forum and learning. Recently my betta died and I decided to redo the 10 gallon low tech tank. I replaced the substrate to Fluval Stratum but am now going through a KH? PH issue. My KH has dropped to zero and my PH changes daily from 6 to 8. I have melted half of my plants. I can't get another betta until I resolve this. I did put wonder shells in yesterday, but KH still zero. Am I going to have to take the stratum out or is there another solution? Fluval told me to just add crushed coral to the tank. I am looking for consistency, not spikes. Tap water: 7.8 - 8.0 PH KH 4 GH 8. Doing water changes every 2 days stopped plant melting so far, but don't want to do this for the life of the tank.
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post #2 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-05-2020, 03:20 PM
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Strutum is designed to strip the water of KH and lower pH into the mid 6's.

Best used with GH boosted RO water only.

You can continue to do water changes until the buffering capability of the substrate is full, and can no longer strip anymore KH.

Crushed coral would work directly against the substrate, but would speed up the process of overcoming the buffering capability of the substrate.

Test tapwater pH after it has sat out in a glass / bowl exposed to the air for at least 24 hours, that will be the tapwaters true pH reading.
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post #3 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-05-2020, 03:28 PM
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Hi there,

I'm not familiar with Stratum, but I believe that it is a buffering soil substrate, right? It will therefore continually reduce the KH to near-zero until such time that it's capacity is reached (at a guess somewhere in the 3-6 month range with your tap water, if it's anything like ADA Amazonia). If you're adding KH at water changes then you are fighting against the soil, hence the pH swings. Active soil substrates are generally best used with 0KH RO water; the soil takes care of the buffering so you don't need KH and it can be zero (or thereabouts). But the resulting pH will be on the acidic side (pH 5.5 - 6.5 range depending upon the substrate). Adding crushed coral is similarly fighting against the soil and will quickly deplete it's buffering capacity.

If you're looking to deplete the soils buffering capacity and get a more neutral pH in the tank, then it will take a little time. Regular water changes with your 4 KH tap water will do the job, but will probably take a few months. Rather than keep doing water changes, you could just add a buffering (KH+) product to the tank every day or so. Adding little and often will help reduce KH / pH swings to some extent. I wouldn't use crushed coral personally as not so easy to control and predict. A KH+ product like Seachem "Alkaline Buffer" is much more controllable (non-phosphate buffers usually recommended for planted tanks). Either way, it will take a while (month or two minimum) for things to settle down.

The soil is doing what it is supposed to do - reducing KH to zero and buffering the pH down to a slightly acidic level. You need to 'break it' with constant KH until the point that it's buffering capacity is exhausted if you want the KH to stay above zero and the pH to balance around neutral.

Hope this helps....
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post #4 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-05-2020, 03:55 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks, I only switched to this because it was less sharp for my nerites than eco complete. Also wanted to lower my PH/GH of my water. Guess I will have to rethink before getting a betta again.

Bump: Thanks, does that mean it may take a year to balance? It's been in the tank for a bit over two weeks now, I'd hate to start over but may have to. So, I could just go back to the eco complete, but didn't want to have to deal with the higher PH/GH. Is there another substrate which would give some assistance in this dept?
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post #5 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-05-2020, 04:11 PM
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Two weeks is very early days for an active soil substrate! I only have experience with Amazonia and Stratum might be different, but I would suggest the following (very rough and quite tongue-in-cheek) timeline:

- first 2 weeks - don't even bother testing, everything will be everywhere
- 2 to 4 weeks - start to test just to check parameters are in right ballpark for cycling (e.g. pH hasn't crashed too low)
- 4 to 6 weeks - things starting to settle, light at the end of a tunnel, begin thinking about what fish you'll get
- 6 to 8 weeks - probably stable enough for livestock
- 3 to 6 months - buffering capacity could start to be exhausted if using water with significant amounts of KH

When the buffering capacity of the soil is exhausted, it seems to happen almost overnight and out of the blue, so watch for that sudden increase in KH!


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post #6 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-05-2020, 04:24 PM
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Originally Posted by fishie777 View Post
Thanks, I only switched to this because it was less sharp for my nerites than eco complete. Also wanted to lower my PH/GH of my water. Guess I will have to rethink before getting a betta again.

Bump: Thanks, does that mean it may take a year to balance? It's been in the tank for a bit over two weeks now, I'd hate to start over but may have to. So, I could just go back to the eco complete, but didn't want to have to deal with the higher PH/GH. Is there another substrate which would give some assistance in this dept?
What problems have your parameters been causing that makes you want to buffer them down?

Unfortunately, as stated above, active substrates are best used with zero KH water - I'd say realistically 0-1 dKH in tap you should be fine.

You can get away with it if you're only using a little bit in a larger volume of water (for instance I am using a 10L bag of Controsoil in my 75, but I'm using tap 5.5 dKH water without issues as it's not enough soil to drastically change my parameters by but a couple of degrees, and the fish aren't really harmed by the mild fluctuation on water change day).

If you're unsatisfied with Eco Complete and active substrates aren't working out for you, you may consider getting a bag of black sand or pool filter sand.


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post #7 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-05-2020, 04:36 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks. My main issue were the amount of plants which would just melt. Sadly, I have more plants alive in the stratum than I did in a year of the eco complete. I just wanted my PH/GH to come down a little. Is it feasible to leave a thin layer of this at the bottom of the tank and place my other choice (when I find) on top of it? Like I said, just trying to lower the ph/gh a bit. I'm sorry if I'm asking too many questions, just trying to learn more. And yes, I do have a bag of aquarium sand.
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post #8 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-05-2020, 06:08 PM
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Originally Posted by fishie777 View Post
Thanks. My main issue were the amount of plants which would just melt. Sadly, I have more plants alive in the stratum than I did in a year of the eco complete. I just wanted my PH/GH to come down a little. Is it feasible to leave a thin layer of this at the bottom of the tank and place my other choice (when I find) on top of it? Like I said, just trying to lower the ph/gh a bit. I'm sorry if I'm asking too many questions, just trying to learn more. And yes, I do have a bag of aquarium sand.
You can cap it and that will limit or reduce the buffering capacity, but not eliminate it entirely.

I tried stratum before - what I liked about it was the uniform dark coloration and it's able to absorb nutrients very well, as well as buffer. What I didn't like about it was it doesn't come packed with nutrients and it's lighter than other aquasoils so it was more of a pain to plant in.

You can cap it and put a few root tabs in there with it. Only way to know for sure, if it'll work, is to try it.
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post #9 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-05-2020, 07:42 PM
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I might point out here that if you cap it with sand, odds aren't good that the sand will stay on top for very long. Heavier and much small particles work their way down though larger ones, and this is accelerated with each gravel vacuuming. Just something to keep in mind; a deep enough sand layer might work if you vacuum quite shallowly.
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post #10 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-05-2020, 09:57 PM Thread Starter
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Good point. I know this is early in the tank and it would be a lot of work to change the substrate (probably goodbye crypts), but I'm looking long term. May switch back to eco complete, but will research more a bit. Without going Walsted, just want to find some gravel and get the tank stable.

Bump: Good point. I know this is early in the tank and it would be a lot of work to change the substrate (probably goodbye crypts), but I'm looking long term. May switch back to eco complete, but will research more a bit. Without going Walsted, just want to find some gravel and get the tank stable.
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post #11 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-06-2020, 03:01 AM
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Good point. I know this is early in the tank and it would be a lot of work to change the substrate (probably goodbye crypts), but I'm looking long term. May switch back to eco complete, but will research more a bit. Without going Walsted, just want to find some gravel and get the tank stable.

Bump: Good point. I know this is early in the tank and it would be a lot of work to change the substrate (probably goodbye crypts), but I'm looking long term. May switch back to eco complete, but will research more a bit. Without going Walsted, just want to find some gravel and get the tank stable.
Some really successful tanks are ran with inert substrate and nothing but water column dosing. If you go inert, I'd personally still use root tabs, at least in the beginning.

More on aqua soils, I'm not convinced their nutrients are depleted or unavailable when they're no longer buffering the water. My 40 breeder has a mix of BDBS and Controsoil and my root feeders do pretty well, but the water doesn't get buffered anymore. Parameters are same as tap.

Biggest tell for me is I got really demotivated to do maintenance for the plants, and went a couple of months without dosing or injecting co2. Root feeders kept growing and propagating, even crypt flamingo.

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post #12 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-06-2020, 03:02 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks, I'm new to planted tanks so really just been trying everything to keep plants from melting for a year. Yes, new, but nowhere near learned. I think I will keep the stratum in for now until I see where this goes. Would daily water changes be too much? I want to help maintain the KH for the plants in the tank. When speaking with Fluval, they said do not fertilize for a year. Made the mistake of fertilizing before I spoke with them and nitrates went up to 80. They are down to 10 now. In other words, the learning experience goes on.
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post #13 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-06-2020, 06:27 PM Thread Starter
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One last question: en7jos mentioned a timeline which seems realistic. Does that mean that after stratum stops buffering that I could be right back at the tank numbers before I added stratum? If yes, then I'd just as soon take it out and choose something else. Yes I want my KH back to 4, but don't want my PH at 8. I know, I want mastery over my tank water Thanks
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post #14 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-06-2020, 07:03 PM
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One last question: en7jos mentioned a timeline which seems realistic. Does that mean that after stratum stops buffering that I could be right back at the tank numbers before I added stratum? If yes, then I'd just as soon take it out and choose something else. Yes I want my KH back to 4, but don't want my PH at 8. I know, I want mastery over my tank water Thanks
Unfortunately the only way to really control tank water parameters is to use RO/DI water with 0 TDS and remineralize it/buffer it to the exact parameters you need or want.

I will tell you that, so long as your water isn't fouled, you should be able to have success with tap water. My tap is roughly a 5.5 dKH and 8.2 pH and plants grow well for me. Sure, there are certain types that I likely cannot grow, like erio's, but the vast majority are still able to grow well. I have a ton of blyxa japonica which is said to not grow well in water with high pH or dKH...but it's almost out of control in my tank. Unless you're willing to go the RO/DI route, it's recommended to work with your water rather than against it.


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post #15 of 30 (permalink) Old 11-06-2020, 07:16 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks. I am not looking to grow so-called picky plants. I may have jumped into this too quickly by reading a lot of hype about stratum and tearing out my old substrate. I just realized today that in six months i may be right where I was at before I put stratum in. It's good for me to hear that you can grow plants in your water conditions. I'll consider this a learning experience and now see what I can do to put the tank back in balance. I would put my eco complete back in but that defeats the purpose of looking for a smoother substrate.
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