My plumbing issue is that I don't have the correct tubing to hook up the inline diffuser, however the correct parts are on the way. Just inconvenient it takes like a week and a half for anything to arrive. And I've been reading the Seachem bottle recommendations are pretty minimum to be able to apply broadly to everyone, and it still seems like things are dying quicker than they should even with no CO2. And thanks for the CO2 info, had no idea they weren't quite the same with the drop checker!
I do have surface agitation, but my balance likely is quite off. 12 hours light from Finnex 24/7. I have no idea what the water is. I'm in a new community and first time doing a planted tank, could anything harmful be in the water? Would I be better off using the RO unit and just added ferts?
I start with the basic idea that plants grow in almost all the world's water, from the soft acidic to the hard alkaline, there are almost always plants in the water. So that leaves us two ways to go and lots of varied combos in between. We can go with trying to get the water to match some given set of parameters that we might read in books or we can go with using the plants which grow best in the water we have.
The first has to assume that we have the same water and same plants as the experts who write the book and if we are lucky, our water matches the "ideal" as stated. But if our water is not what the info suggests, some would have us go into changing our water to match but that can be a very long hard struggle as we may need to actually stop using our tap water and buy RO equipment or the water itself and mix to the right levels as well as search out which plants actually like the water we build. Many do this and I certainly do not intend to start any disagreements with those who do like doing it this way. I just do not want to do it that way!
I far prefer doing it the low labor,low expense way and find what my water has as a guide to what plants I can use best with the least effort. In my case, I have extremely hard alkaline water as it runs in limestone most of it's life. That means I can do best with the plants which live in the water that matches mine and there are certainly lots of those. The local springs are full of plants, so I go for those.
All successful gardeners do adapt what they grow to the local conditions in their gardens but for some reason, it seems to change when we start a tank in the house and we try to change the conditions to meet the plants rather than the other way around. Perhaps we have some sort of self-destructive gene?
I would suggest that the lighting is an easy one to change and 12 hours would seem to be way too much as I find 6 is more often where I wind up. If you want the lights on at times that you are there, like before and after work, consider putting siesta/ break in the middle when you are not there. Too much light or too long is often blamed for too much algae.