Your answers are making some things clearer. Adding a phosphate buffer to stabilize pH will indeed put your phosphate reading through the roof. I'm only puzzled why it remains high if you are making regular water changes and use the buffer only rarely. There may be some reservoir in the tank that is keeping it from being flushed out. Testing after adjusting your practices will help you know.
Phosphate buffer is not a good idea in a planted tank. pH buffering is best done in a planted tank by having a moderate amount of carbonate hardness, kH. My own tank has dkH = dgH = 5 and pH swings seem not to be much of a problem. kH is the one that matters for buffering, and you want to test it in your replacement water after letting the water be well aerated with room air. This is because CO2 injection throws it off, while water drawn fresh from the tap is very often depleted in CO2 versus room air because of common water treatment practices. API, and probably almost all other kH test kits, assume the water is in equilibrium with the CO2 in room air.
Got it, stop using the pH stabilizer. I was trying to keep the pH right around 7 as that is what I was told to do, but I have only had to use the stabilizer a couple of times to do that. My "regular" water changes range from 5 to 10 gallons every few weeks. Not really sure if that is enough of a water change, I am thinking that I need to do more in the way of water changes. It's not a huge deal for me to do. I have a nice hose setup that I run to my RODI system which is permanently installed in the bottom of my tank stand. I run a hose to the RODI system. This hose actually has two 1/4" water lines in it, one for the water to the RODI system and one for the wastewater. I just didn't want to overdue my water changes and frankly trying to figure out the right amount of water changes (both in quantity and timing) has been difficult. There seem to be so many variables. I just needed a starting place.
I do not currently do CO2 but I just ordered a CO2Art system and a reactor. We have a full-blown soda system at our house (7 kids) so I have extra 20# CO2 tanks so this was an easy thing for me to justify.
You will get some variation of pH with lights on versus off and with CO2 injection on versus off. These occur in natural environments and most fish and almost all plants tolerate them well. You start worrying if the swing is more than 1 unit over the course of a day. Some (rich?) aquarists run their CO2 injection off a pH meter that adjusts injection to keep pH within a programmed range. The test of us use a drop bulb and adjust manually to be sure CO2 is keeping pH reasonable.
I have been reading up on the CO2 injection. If I am currently running at a pH of 7, with CO2 I understand that I should be looking for a pH of 6, is that correct?
Your tap water actually looks acceptable for most fish and plants. If you want to add some RODI to bring the hardness down a little, that may be a bit more comfortable for some tropical fish used to softer water. Between 5 and 10 for dGH is reasonable. If you want dKH to be at least 4, for good buffering, then you can mix about 40% RODI with your tap water and it should be about right.
So with my water readings from my tap, I could get by with maybe a 50/50 mix of tap to RODI? That would save on filters for my RODI system, I just didn't want any of the extra crap they typically put in municipal water to end up in my tank. Would it be wise to maybe get a full water test done
on my tap water before using it in my tank or are the tests I just did good enough for my fish and plants?
There are lots of systems for fertilizing and maintaining water quality in a tank, and most can be made to work well. Plants and fish have a certain amount of adaptability to changes in environment, so fine tuning can safely wait until the basics are right. The system I use is to change 50% of the water weekly and dose the replacement water to my target levels. In other words, if I want 2 ppm phosphate and my tap water has none, and testing shows that levels in the old tank water are close to this value (this is actually pretty typical in my tank), then I add 2 ppm to the change water. Same for other stuff. Some nutrients are hard to test: there are no good potassium test kits for freshwater tanks easily available in the U.S., for example (saltwater kits are calibrated for much higher concentrations) and for these nutrients, frequent water changes and dosing to the desired level in the replacement water is about the only way to be confident you're in the ballpark. The drawback are that 50% change per week is a lot of work, it wastes a lot of unused nutrients, and some fish get stressed by the disturbance; though my 'bows, ottos, ram cichlids, and SAE seem fine with it.
This all makes really good sense. I think I am going to start with the PPS-Pro system as a starting point right now. It seems like a good place to start and I got a good dosing pump for $50! I am not sure about 50% a week water changes, but I certainly can do more than I am doing now, and once I get the tank stabilized I think I might try to mix tap and RODI, but at least with RODI I know what is not
in the water!
I'd say I made three mistakes switching to a planted aquarium from long-time general fishkeepping: I used a phosphate buffer until I realized what it was doing to my phosphate; I added too many fertilizers in an effort to fine tune before settling on a good routine; and I quite recently realized I actually had too much light in my tank, and my Java ferns and swords and, well pretty much everything, did a lot better with the second bank of lights removed.
Best of luck.
Well, I hope I don't end up with too much light myself. I have a single LED lightbar now but my fish store was telling me that they think I don't have enough PAR getting to all of the plants so I ordered a second light. So I would guess if it is too much light I just won't use the second light. Once I get everything settled and I understand what I am doing, my wife has agreed to a much larger tank for the living room so the second light won't go to waste.
Thank you so much for all the great information, I feel like in this one thread I have glimmer of actually understanding what I need to do to get things back under control.