Re-baselining a tank after a few years... - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-27-2016, 05:31 PM Thread Starter
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Re-baselining a tank after a few years...

Been a while since I've logged in here! Probably measures two-three kids' worth...

The 125 is still running, fish are doing well (the usual random fish deaths, 2-3 every ~6months ) but the plants have been pretty lackluster for the last ~3-4 months. I would like to re-evaluate the tank health - it's been almost 3 years since it was first built up.
(after I wrote this post, looking at the pictures the plant decline is pretty dramatic)

Here is what I think needs to happen...
  • Get a new water test kit, do the basic tests.
  • Do several large water changes (last water change was ~2 years ago, just 5gallon sump top-offs once a month)
  • Try to vacuum gravel? (don't want to disturb mineralizedTopSoil below...) Is it possible the roots are starved for fresh/new water or something?

Other stuff that might help?
  • Get some new/different plants?
  • Root tabs? (never done any dosing/tabs/anything ever in this tank)
  • Time for a full gut and refresh?
  • Time for a CO2 system?
  • I dimmed the lighting (BML 72" 10k, XL super duper whatever model) to 25% a while back to slow down algae (greeney-yellow stuff on glass, not really anywhere else) growth. This worked - algae on the glass significantly slower to grow now. Maybe too dim?

What do I mean by lackluster?
  • The jungle vals were almost taking over the tank ~6 months ago, kinda moving around. That has slowed down dramatically. I gave them a large prune to try and stimulate growth, hasn't seemed to do much.
  • The crypts have never been wild growers in this tank (probably too deep? water params?), but lately they have been losing leaves (turn yellow, fall off).
  • Anubias nana (petite?) pretty much stopped growing deeper in the tank, the one right up under the lights on the overflow grate is doing ok, but nothing spectacular.

After typing all this out seems like the lighting being dimmed was the root cause (har har) of why plant growth has been lackluster.

Still, seems like there is stuff I can do to help the plants...
  1. Start doing monthly or so large water changes
  2. Turn the lights up a bit and just be more vigilant to clean algae off the glass
  3. Add another variety of plant?
  4. Start saving for a CO2 system?

A walk through time...
Here's the full history of this tank. A few of the shots are from the back side...so it looks flipped.

October 2013 - Start date


January 2014


January 2015


January 2016


July 2016


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post #2 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-27-2016, 07:21 PM
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Imagine a fish only tank where you fed the fish the first week, then never fed them again?

Plants need nutrients to live and your mineralized top soil was prolly depleted long ago and there's just not enough organics to sustain the plants.

No partial water changes? Madness I tell you, madness! SLAP <lol>

Just the usual fish loses of 2 or 3 every ~6 months?!?! SLAP

Are you sure you wanna have this hobby?

You need to do sufficient water changes to get the water FRESH again.
Rooted plants will need root tabs.
You will need to dose the water (at least minimally) to augment the organic nutrients.
Once your water is fresh, you scrub all the algae you can and the plants begin growing again, algae should be less of a problem.

Alternatively you could drain the tank and start over, or give the fish to a friend, drain the tank and put it on Craigs list! <lol>
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post #3 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-27-2016, 07:36 PM Thread Starter
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That is certainly one school of thought, haha - I will address...

The tank was set up on the premise that many planted tanks survive for years without water changes (many examples of this in the MTS community). I will acknowledge that around the time I set it up folk like Tom Barr were saying that plants grow better with water changes (and really...that makes sense).

Having never done the aquarium thing before, I just assumed that the fish I bought were super inbred and prone to dying, and this was normal. For whatever reason I have the original 6 black skirt tetras (3-4 years) and one of the original cardinal tetras. The platies just don't seem to like this environment, but black skirts must be super hardy or something. Another point on this...there is a strong current in this tank end-to-end (peninsula overflow), so it could just be that I'm getting the wrong fish (i.e. natural habitat is a swamp, and the extra activity and increased metabolism causes them to live shorter lives).

If you look at the pictures, it's really in the last 6 months that things have turned for the plants. That's not too bad! They were all purchased almost 4 years ago now, and were transplanted from the original 50G tank. During that time I've been able to enjoy a great aquarium with absolutely minimal maintenance - so I call this a success. Also during that time we've had 3 children...haha...

I am curious if there is a way to test for the theory that the soil is nutrient-depleted, or if it's simply a need for carbon (i.e. carbon in the MTS is gone).


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post #4 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-27-2016, 08:15 PM
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Well if you have rooted plants they obtain their nutrients for health and growth mostly through the roots. Eventually, without root tabs and/or ferts in the water column, they will use up the available nutrients. (Ever heard of a farmer that never fertilizes his fields?...and he typically has 6-8" of nutrient rich top soil, not 2" or so covered with an inch or so of sand). Mineralized topsoil has had the organics 'burnt out', leaving just the trace minerals. But even the avg dirt tank will have water soluble nutrients washed away...eventually, in time, they all become relatively inert.
Now you may not need a lot because you have fish food, and fish/plant waste that will supply nutrient rich organic fertilizer. Depending on the bio-load, in some low tech tanks this may be enough to sustain the plants. However, without supplements and/or water changes to replenish minerals, fish and plants could suffer.

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post #5 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-27-2016, 08:21 PM Thread Starter
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That's fair enough. Rather curious though, because at the time there were many tanks doing the same thing (photo doc showing yearly progression).

I think the cheapest way to test the theory is to do a number of large water changes, then start a monthly large water change. In theory, the plants should respond to that in some way.

Also suspect that perhaps my soil bed was not deep enough (ranges from 3/4" to 1"), whereas the examples I was seeing had more (and thus lasted longer).


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post #6 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-28-2016, 12:09 AM
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Well after a few 'larger' partial water changes, the best approach is more modest, routine water changes....like 20-25% every week or every other week. Just as it is somewhat better to micro dose ferts throughout a week rather than mega dose one day a week. This method provides a more continuous stable environment. It's all about the balance of light, ferts (incl organics) and plant mass. This is not unlike the feeding of fish....more fish require more food and it's better to feed smaller amounts periodically rather than large amounts once per day. (Many fert directions indicate a given amount relative to tank size once or twice per week....without regard to the type and number of plants). I think continuous nutrients in modest amounts is better than feast or famine.

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post #7 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-28-2016, 12:18 AM Thread Starter
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Interesting, a lot of the discussion around mineralized topsoil was the whole ability to stop dosing entirely. Annnd kinda why I did it. More work up front to eliminate continuous work in the future.

So, is there a way to do this with data? Like, can we test for what is actually deficient?


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post #8 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-28-2016, 01:17 AM
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As AD said, that tank is pretty much burned up.
I would start over. Platy's are quite resilient against diseases but not bad water quality.
My dad was also of the don't change the water school, and he would time and again hit old tank syndrome.

Today would have been his birthday.

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Last edited by Nordic; 07-28-2016 at 06:22 AM. Reason: .
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post #9 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-28-2016, 01:27 AM Thread Starter
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Still wondering if there's a way to measure nutrient levels (suspect the answer is 'yes, with expensive lab equipment' )...

Curious to see what others think/suggest, but two for two is starting to get convincing.

And a rebuild isn't impossible. I knew I kept that Filstar XP1 and 20G tank for a reason....


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post #10 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-28-2016, 01:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crazymittens View Post
Still wondering if there's a way to measure nutrient levels (suspect the answer is 'yes, with expensive lab equipment' )...

Curious to see what others think/suggest, but two for two is starting to get convincing.

And a rebuild isn't impossible. I knew I kept that Filstar XP1 and 20G tank for a reason....
You can certainly test for things, but as Tom Barr says "Algae doesn't lie, test kits might." I read that the other day and love it as it's so true. I digress.

If you want test for things like calcium, phosphates, nitrates, ect... there are plenty of test kits to choose from unless a person believes what is in the soil stays in the soil in a tank environment. I don't reside in that camp, but some do.

Soil substrates do not keep nutrient levels forever. Even expensive substrates like ADA aqua soil run out of some nutrients eventually.
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post #11 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-28-2016, 01:52 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crazymittens View Post
Interesting, a lot of the discussion around mineralized topsoil was the whole ability to stop dosing entirely. Annnd kinda why I did it. More work up front to eliminate continuous work in the future.

So, is there a way to do this with data? Like, can we test for what is actually deficient?
I believe it may be possible that with sufficient plantings, the right light, bio-load, filtration and routine maintenance that an eco-system can be maintained with minimum chemical additives. BUT, there needs to be a very good combination of the key elements.

But you're not gonna get something for nothing no matter what mystical magical stuff you heard about MTS.

As mentioned, there are all sorts or tests for the water, but few for the nutrient content of the substrate (unless you want to send it to a lab). But do we really need sophisticated tests when all we really need to do is to look (or 'listen') to your plants? .... yours are screaming "FEED ME!"

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post #12 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-28-2016, 01:55 AM Thread Starter
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Very well, I will blame you for the impending build thread.

What's the stance on CO2 these days?


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post #13 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-28-2016, 02:01 AM
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Well Crazy farmer, I wouldn't bulldoze the field and haul in new topsoil, I'd just freshen the water and fertilize the crops. <g>

Tank On, Mike-
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post #14 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-28-2016, 06:54 AM
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I have places in my yard where the clover grows giant leaves, so I thought I'd use some of it.... instead my plants leaves ended up being tiny miniature versions of their old selves.

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post #15 of 21 (permalink) Old 07-28-2016, 09:25 AM
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I have been running dirt based tank's for a few year's now and believe the underlying issue is that the soil has been exhausted of nutrient's.
Can reset the tank with a mixture of plain topsoil,peat,and clay (I use plain unscented cat litter) and maybe get two year's from this mixture as opposed to a year with soil alone depending of course on plant mass.(Peat an clay help hold nutrient's longer)
Can also dose the water column with dry fertz (aquariumfertilizer.com) and or root tab's, and get even a little more mileage from soil based tank's IMHO.
With a 125 gal tank ,good CO2 distribution /delivery will be tougher than in smaller tank So I might research CO2 injection quite a bit and equipment, before I decided to inject the gas.
CO2 and it's delivery/consistency is said to hardest thing to get right/keep right.
I change 50% of the water in my tanks (low tech) with plant's, about every two week's and clean filter material once a month.
In tanks with young fishes, I change water weekly due to more food's offered to the fry so they will grow faster, and I can trade them off for store credit .
I mix my soil based tanks with 60% soil,40% peat,10% clay or cat litter.
Lighting is low to moderate, and plant's selected accordingly.
I also dose a little of the dry fertilzer's once a week or every other week.
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