New low tech dirt tank, need help with several Q's - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-14-2015, 01:49 AM Thread Starter
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Question New low tech dirt tank, need help with several Q's

Five days ago, I started up my first planted tank, a 20gallon long NPT, hoping to eventually have a very low maintenance setup (and right now I'm frustrated and it's looking like the only). Here are my most pressing questions. Experience, information and opinions very much appreciated! [Please let me know if this belongs in the low tech forum instead].

I'll start with the Q's; tank specifics are below.

Q1: Black spots on Ludwigia leaves (please see pic). Doubt any of these have grown roots yet. Looks like decay rather than algae. Why would the leaves decay? Should I remove the entire plant when this happens, or just the leaf? How many leaves can remain on a plant and still keep trying with it?

Q1.5: Tiny black spots on the java fern leaves (which look different than the ludwigia ones; please see pic). Do I need to remove the leaves that look like this? The plant has so few leaves…

Q2: Brown tips on Vallisnaria leaves (please see pic). Just cut off the tip of the leaf? Or do I need to remove the whole leaf from the plant base (again, plants have few leaves)?

Q3: How often do I need to bamboo-skewer poke the soil to avoid the dreaded anaerobic startup pitfall? Daily, or every other day is OK?

Q4: I did 50% WC d 2 and 3, nothing d4, and 25% WC day 5 (today). Is 25% every other day for the first week, then 25% every third day a good schedule? I've heard so many different ones, and 25% is one bucket, so much easier than two buckets.

Q5: As of d3 (before the water change), params were ammonia 0, nitrite 0, nitrate 0. Of course, cycle hasn't started...when should I expect ammonia to show up?

Q6: I've scoured the web and know the copious white stuff on the driftwood is likley normal and not harmful. But should I attempt to remove it with my water changes, or just ignore it and it'll go away?
Equip:20 gallon long with glass lid; Finnex stingray light (starting with low photoperiod; 3h on, 4 h break, 3h on; will build up to 8h on total); Hydro III sponge filter (rated <40 gallons) run by Aquaclear powerhead 20 at low setting (hoping to have betta eventually); Aqueon Pro 100W heater

Substrate: MGOPM soil w sticks/clumps removed ~ 1" (I shot for 1", might be more or less in some places as everything went wrong with the soil/cap/tank filling process), Black Diamond 20/40 sand ~ 1/2" (again, that was my goal, but it's likely more or less in some places)

Water: Hard, pH ~ 8+

Livestock: Added nine Malaysian trumpet snails on day 2. No fish yet; I am waiting until cycled and stable.

Plants: All newly purchased. My plan is “try a variety of different stuff and see what lives, most probably won’t." Nothing is looking good, except for the lily. Working on getting floating plant (that'll be a separate post).
Ludwigia repens; Nymphaes stellata (red lily); Jungle val; Echinodorus tenellus (small chain sword) x 3; Microsorium pteropus (java fern) x 2; Monoselenium tenerum; Lysimachia nummularia aka Golden lloydiella (Gold Creeping Jenny); Staurogyne repens

Thanks so much for slogging through this long post and helping me get started in the planted tank world!
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-14-2015, 05:41 PM Thread Starter
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Anyone? Just about all plants appear to be rotting...and now other plants beyond the java fern have those speckles of black dots. Remove leaves? Remove plants?
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-14-2015, 05:57 PM
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A dirt sub can leach ammonia for a couple of months after you start the tank up.
Untill it's finished doing that I wouldn't put fish in there.
Plants normally become ragged looking when first planted. They usually take the first week or so to grow new roots to gather nutrients/w. The rest of the plant can deteriorate during this time. Then also since you have no water ferts the plants are totally dependant on what leaches into the water from the dirt till they get some roots in
good shape taking up nutrients for them.
Not all of the plants you got may like the conditions in there either so some may not work in there.
The Stingray has low light so you might start/w 7 instead of 6 hrs.
I would think you should leave it alone for the first three weeks or so to see what grows
and what seems to fail.

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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-14-2015, 07:45 PM
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Everything Raymond said. Id slow it down with the water changes, add some ferts to your water column to help out your newly transplanted plants going through transplant shock, and let your beneficial bacteria grow nice and strong and get your ecosystem established.
This is an important first step in getting a healthy aquarium going. Patience will be rewarded........
post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-14-2015, 11:00 PM Thread Starter
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Thx for the input. I'll up the light to 7 hours and do 25% wc every other day. Will look into startup fertilizer. Patience I can do!

Waiting a few weeks (without fish) and seeing what happens is my plan, but my questions are me trying to figure out how to do that, specifically... So do I remove the leaves with brown off stem plants and leave the plant until it has, say, only three leaves left? Can I cut the brown part off the val leaf or do I need to remove the whole leaf?) Thx again.
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-15-2015, 04:40 AM
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A 20L tank is only about 12 inches high, so I suspect that light is providing more than enough light for a non-CO2 tank. It just takes time for the plants to get adapted to your setup, and if they were emersed grown they will have to shift to submersed leaf forms before they can really do much growing. Vals can be pretty slow to get started too, but will do very well in that tank once they get going. You can trim Val leaves, but the trimmed leaf usually dies down as the other leaves grow in.

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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-15-2015, 05:14 AM
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If there is any new growth on the top of a stem just leave it alone.
If more than 50% of any leaf is dead it might not hurt to trim that one.
In this picture, I planted this as you see it. It was somewhere else in a tank with
a bad sub in it. That sub had too much iron in it and it burned the entire bunch of red
plants in the second picture till the one in the first picture was all that was left.
I redid the sub and replanted that stem like you see it. The part on the right grew into
several stems since then. Sorry the second picture is the same plant a month later.
The third picture is the bunch that I bought. The red ones in the middle.
In the second picture it looks shorter because I planted it a tiny bit too deep.
Notice the snail for size.

There is a big variety of different amounts of water that people change.
Some do 25% every other week. Some do less than that. People who keep shrimp
often do less than that each month.
EI ferts REQUIRE a 50% water change per week. So there is a lot of variation.
But unless there is a specific water problem more than once a week is overkill.
Still it's your tank.

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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-15-2015, 07:52 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the info! I thought I had done all my research, but then I'm actually trying this planted thank thing, watching the plants rot and staring at a Ludwigia with only two leaves not yet mostly gone, wondering what to do

The recommendations I've seen for soil-based tank starting up said big wc at least every other day for the first week (since lots of leaching/nutrients but plants not yet established = algae) then twice a week, then tapering off. I'm hoping to eventually get to once a month-ish water changes at most (stocking lightly, no ferts).

But- I'm not seeing any ammonia, so that's why I question whether I should do fewer wc than the usual recommendations.

Update on my questions from info I've gotten here and elsewhere, just in case someone else has similar ones in the future:
1. I'll trim the stem plant leaves that are over largely decayed, but leave the stem unless it's also decayed (thanks, Raymond!).

1.5. I'm going to leave the java fern leaves that are decaying, because I've been told that the leaf might still reproduce, and that java leaves should not be removed until the new plantlets have independently separated.

2. I'll trim the val leaves, but expect them to die off anyhow, while others grow (thanks, Hoppy!)

3. Haven't gotten answers on frequency of poking, think I'll do it every other day and hope the trumpet snails are also working at it

4 &5. wc's, ammonia: I'm planning on testing every other day, and doing a 25% water change if ammonia > 1ppm (again, no fish/inverts are in the tank except a handful of trumpet snails). We'll see when ammonia finally shows up.

6. I plan to try tonight to scrape the white stuff off the driftwood as best as possible, then siphon it up. We'll see if it just returns in full force...

Wish me luck on this learning curve...
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