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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all,

3 months in on a waterbox 20 gallon cube
AI Prime Planted on top about 7 hours a day slowly ramping up and down the whole time to a max of about 60% of the max output)
Eheim 2215
Inline CO2 injector (co2 running at about 2 BPS) for 11 hours a day
Inline heater
UNS controsoil extra fine black 10L bag
Dosing GLA's PPS-Pro kit, PPS-Pro Aquarium Fertilizer Package (Jars) (4ml a day macros, 2ml a day micros)
Been using R/O for two weeks now. Did a 90% water change with R/O when I switched over and a 50% WC last week

Current Parameters
0 Amm
0 Nitrite
20 Nitrate
0 Phosphate
13 GH
I don't test KH but could
Ph with CO2 during the day: ~6.3
Night with CO2 off: 6.8

I'm a bit lost about what's going on at this point, I'm 3 months in and nothing will grow except for Red leaf ludwigia and brown algae (diatoms), and the red leaf is growing about an inch a day. I had BBA at one point, and green spot at another but it was before I got the CO2 dialed in how I wanted it, it all seems to have disappeared now. My GH is climbing in the course of 6 days from a GH of 5 to a GH of 13 my Nitrates are climbing from around ~5 after 50% WC to about 20 after that same 6 day period dosing per day, even running R/O only at this point. The brown algae covers the glass pipes inside, completely blacks out the tubing between the filter and the glass pipes at the tank side with a week after cleaning, and now I even have brown algae on the glass and the controsoil gravel. I'm using purely R/O at this point and I'm not sure what could be causing the rapid GH increase and the algae growth at this point. I do have some Seiryu rocks in the bottom of the tank, basically a pile of small ones around 5lbs worth of rock in total. The rest of my plants include some amazon swords and some bacopa. The bacopa has all but melted away at this point over the past month. The swords seem to pearl, but there doesn't seem to be much growth these days. In the first month of the tank things were booming.

I'm debating tearing it down and starting again. I feel like a buffering substrate was a mistake. I've never ran one before this tank and seem to be regretting it 3 months in. Any thoughts? Ideas?
 

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Please don't give up!

Buffering substrates are the best thing that happened to me and I won't start up a tank without using them. Not that that helps you in your situation, though. :) or is that :-(

Does the brown come off easy? Diatoms?

My first take, reduce duration of your lights. I know you said you are at 7 total but an AI prime is massive for a 20 gallon tank. I'd bump it down to 2-3 at highest intensity with maybe 6 total then work my way back up.

And I will tell you that I too started out with PPS pro method but soon switched over to a modified EI. The fact that you have contrasoil means you really don't need nitrates. But you do need a lot of K and from your test results it looks like you need a little more P as well. I'm not sure PPS pro method allows for that?

I don't have experience with seiryu stone but it is going to add calcium not so much magnesium. So if you are using 100% RO then you might be lacking Mg by now? My bacopa wasted away when my magnesium was way low when I first started with active substrates. And your smallish tank size (how much actual water?) means things are going to buildup (and deplete) faster.

If you keep the stone then maybe add some epsom salt to your RO water. The amount from your Ferts looks to be minimal.

A pic of the tank would help a lot as well.

Hopefully others will chime in.

Sent from my Pixel 3 XL using Tapatalk
 

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You have a good light and, eventually, may be able/willing to use it’s full capacity. Your ferts should be fine between your dosing and the Controsoil, although I don’t understand how your PO4 could be zero with all of that going on. Are you sure that your test kit is working correctly and not expired? If it truly is zero, you have to increase the PO4 to, at least, 10% of your NO3 level. Make sure that you fix that.

I would focus upon your CO2. You may not be getting the CO2 you think you are getting. Two bps seems awfully few given your tank size and it is not good to use bps as a guide. The Controsoil is going to fight to lower your pH, via KH (yes: you should test KH) reduction from the peat(?) in the Controsoil. So, you will have to conduct the one-point pH drop test carefully, but not until you are able to measure KH.

Take a pH and KH reading from your tank about two hours after your CO2 comes on (fully gassed water). Then, take a sample of your water and let it sit out for a day or two to fully degas. Once degassed, measure the sample water pH and KH. The KH should be the same, but the pH should be at least one full point higher if CO2 is optimal. Raise your CO2 level until you achieve this one-point difference in pH, but slowly to allow your fish to adapt. If your KH is different between the two, report back and we can help you compensate.

The GH reading (if it is 13 degrees GH) seems odd given the controsoil. I would remove any rocks and other decorations you have in your tank and test them for leaching of Ca or Mg. Put each one in it’s own separate container of RO water, add enough lemon juice to lower pH below 6.0 and then monitor dGH for changes over a day or two. I don't see any Ca in that dosing regimen. Could it be that all of that GH is Mg??!! I doubt it, but it may be worth finding out what the GH make-up is.
 
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I know BPS isn't the best method for CO2, going to test KH in the morning to see how it does. My plants are covered in CO2 bubbles by the time the lights come on. I have a feeling my CO2 is landing where it should be. Just did a 60% WC tonight, GH still at a 10 degrees now with nothing but R/O added during that WC. Tested the R/O before adding to the tank, GH test turned green on first drop. Also tested phosphate again tonight, still showing 0 in the tank. tested test the kit with a few specs of KH2PO4 in the test tube before adding water and it registered as it should.

Going to give it a day or two before I pull the rocks. I feel like my dosing kit is under dosing the KH2PO4 and I need more being dosed. 2.9g in a 500ml bottle seems low in comparison with the other ferts.
 

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Also keep in mind that 3 months is still a fairly "young" tank. Depending whether you used old filter media or adding products like Seachem stability, your tank may still be building up its beneficial bacteria colony to meet needs of the tank, hence the diatoms. Before you decide to completely restart, I would try shortening your photo period to just 4-5 hours and cut back on the ferts a little temporary. Also try spitting up your water changes to twice a week only doing about 30%. A lot of times trying to do too much has adverse effects and you end up making the situation worse. Stability/balance is the key here and huge water changes, excess ferts will really stress out your plants and livestock. Whenever I start a new tank I don't even introduce plants for at least a month unless I'm reusing an older mature filter or its media.

To Deanna's point:
Without knowing your entire plant list and total mass, I also suspect your co2 levels are sub-par. Instead of using a BPS counter and drop checker, I would use the ph/kh chart found here in the forums to monitor your co2 levels (all you need is a ph test kit); this method I have found is more accurate and repeatable. Not as quick and easy as a BPS counter, but once you dial in your co2 levels to hit a targeted ppm (most say 30ppm is optimal) you'll be surprised at how many bubbles you actually need and again it adds overall stability.

I hope my experience helps a little. GL
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Giving an update here, daytime pH dropped from 6.8 before CO2 start today to now 6.3 - KH is currently a 10. So assuming that, the chart says my PPM is 150. Which clearly doesn't make any sense. Haven't removed the rocks yet, but contemplating that today. My two mystery snails have seemed very sluggish since the CO2 was dialed in, they basically retreat into their shells about an hour after the co2 kicks on. I presume they aren't doing well due to this. Besides that, algae has calmed down. Still a bit of diatom algae it seems but the pipes and the tank generally are better. Glass still has a bit on it.
 

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Giving an update here, daytime pH dropped from 6.8 before CO2 start today to now 6.3 - KH is currently a 10. So assuming that, the chart says my PPM is 150. Which clearly doesn't make any sense. Haven't removed the rocks yet, but contemplating that today. My two mystery snails have seemed very sluggish since the CO2 was dialed in, they basically retreat into their shells about an hour after the co2 kicks on. I presume they aren't doing well due to this. Besides that, algae has calmed down. Still a bit of diatom algae it seems but the pipes and the tank generally are better. Glass still has a bit on it.
CO2 is not what many of us would consider ideal, if your pH readings are relatively accurate. A minimum ph difference, between fully degassed and full gassed, would be one point and many of us go higher. So, if your fully de-gassed pH reading is 6.8 (by the technique I mentioned, above), many of us would prefer to see a fully gassed reading of 5.8, or lower. Do you use a calibrated pH pen or reagent-type kit to measure pH (pens are better)?

Additionally, it is hard to see how your degassed reading of 6.8 is possible if your dKH reading is actually 10. If the dKH is 10, I would expect to see a pH reading closer to 7.8. Unless I'm missing something, either your pH or dKH readings (maybe both) are wrong.

Seems that your increased PO4 dosing has helped with the GSA. I think that increasing the CO2 will close the rest of the gap.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Fully degassed was tested and about a 7.8 pH so you were right there. KH on that same sample of water tested at a 10 after 24 hours out still as well. The sample was tested with API liquid tests and I have a pH controller on the tank that doesn't control anything just displays pH for me and that's what I've been tracking pH with. Seems to match with my test kits every time.

Tank was stretched to drop to a 6.1 pH during CO2. Two fish and a snail have passed in the past 72 hours. Seems to be stress related to CO2 as they were hanging at the surface so I've dialed to CO2 back. So effectively a 1/2 point pH drop is the farthest I can go without stressing and killing fish.

Something isn't right with the controsoil and these Seiryu stones so I'm tossing both of them and going back to a non-buffering substrate this week. Definitely wouldn't try one of these again. I feel like this was a massive mistake as I had healthy planted tanks previously running for years with no issues. I feel like once this is done, I'll probably be in much better shape without GH swings. I also have brown algae like crazy still even with standard PPS dosing and a 50% RO water only change once a week. Considering the brown algae has been taking a liking to the controsoil and turning the individual granules brown, it has to some how be the source of what nutrient the brown algae is continuing to use.
 

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I'm looking into seiryu stones and this is what I'm seeing a lot of. It would seem as though they are very counteractive to stabilizing substrates with CO2. I've seen the same complaints about ph/ gh and tds swings in a lot of posts. It would seem seiryu stones are reactive and leech minerals. I have no personal experience with them and don't think I ever will.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I know they leak minerals, but I have about of 3# of rock here. Shocking to see this much change in parameters. Either-way should be pulling the rock this evening. Will be watching closely afterwards and will determine if I'm changing the substrate by the end of the week.
 

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Your corrected degassed pH reading of 7.8 now supports the CO2 being good when fully gassed pH readings are in the 6.3-6.8 range and 10 dKH. At 10 dKH, pushing CO2 much lower than 6.3 is going to likely be too much for certain fish.

Although I'm not a fan of active substrates, they shouldn't cause problems that successful adaptations can't be easily made. Hardscape, such as the stones, can cause bigger problems. If you haven't already, I'd hold off on ripping the substrate out until you investigate all of your hardscape, as indicated above, comparing KH and GH to your tap water readings. If you find bad actors, removing them may be all that is needed.

Once you do remove anything, remember that the Ca, Mg and carbonates will still be in your tank water until you reduce them with water changes.
 
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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
rocks gone, stable at a 7 GH for 7 days. Running R/O only with a tiny bit of GH booster to prop it at at 7. ph is a 6.1 with CO2 running, absolutely refuses to go any lower. Plants are pearling like crazy. Fish still seem to be struggling with the CO2 and pH drop during the day so I'm probably going to dial back at bit again. Full point pH drop seems to be impossible at this point so I'm not sure where to go from here. Tank has 4 cardinals in it, 4 furcata rainbows, 2 baby corys, 2 otos. These are all stock that's been in here for at least 6 weeks at this point. Want to try and cap off the tank with a single GBR, but I've never had one make it more than 2 weeks.
 

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Gbr tend to be very sensitive and often will only take live foods at first. Maintaining high water quality (read 0 ammo and nitrite) and giving them live blackworms/ daphnia/ bbs can help keep them alive. I'm looking into a pair myself, though I may settle on bolivians, all things depending.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Hey all, waking this thread back up. Here's my current specs and current issue,

pH: 6.9 night. 5.9 day.
GH: is a constant 8. Tank only receives R/O water and this is controlled with GH booster
KH: 5
Amm: 0
Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: ~5-10
Phosphate: 0.25

Green algae covering the glass. Mostly dust, a little bit of green spot. Tank covers after about 5 days after a 50% weekly water change. Light has been raised recently, but I've pulled it back. I'm at about 35W for about 6 hours with an hour ramp up/down. I'm using a AI Prime planted. Something still isn't happy. I can't remember but is there specific light spectrum that triggers green algae growth. My params have been stable and the tank was great for the past month. It's only in the past 2 weeks that this started up.CO2 seems well but the algae also seem to be blooming and using the CO2 as there is definitely bubbles stuck to the glass in the worst spots. Where to begin now? I've never had a tank this dang difficult.
 

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Try this: Add enough PO4 to maintain a 2ppm level. Then scrape the GDA off just before your water change. Watch for two weeks.

It is possible that you may see increased plant growth, if this works. So, check the PO4 level every couple of days to make sure that you are maintaining the 2ppm. Also, if the growth appears and PO4 drops, you may want to also keep and eye on NO3 to make sure that doesn't become limiting. Other ferts, which you can't measure may also need to be increased. You will have to judge based upon the instructions for the ferts. Again, this assumes that the additional PO4 does cause a growth surge.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Ok I'm adding some PO4 soon. But I'm also now seeing an issue with my pH, it's stuck at 6.2 at night. No longer is it rising to 6.9 but it still is dropping to 5.9 during the day. KH is down to a 3 dKH, pearling has stopped completely. This has come after my last WC on Monday. Tank seems to have a lot more CO2 bubbles swirling on the surface now. GH still holding at a 5-6 dGH. Did my buffering substrate just call it quits?
 

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I think that was has happened is that your Contrasoil is now running at full speed. Although I’m not experienced with it, it seems to be designed to buffer KH in the low single digits and this will directly affect pH. So, pH in the mid-6’s seems reasonable for this black-version of the Contrasoil.

Given the change in KH from your earlier posts, you should check your CO2 levels again, using the pH drop method. To review: Take a pH and KH reading from the tank about 2-3 hours after the CO2 comes on (fully gassed water). Then, take a sample of tank water and let it sit out for a day or two to fully degas (overnight if an aerator is used). Once degassed, measure the sample water pH and KH. The KH should be the same, but the pH should be higher. In order to achieve what is considered to be an optimal level of 30ppm CO2, the pH in the sample should be, at least, one full point higher than the pH reading of the tank water reading initially recorded.

If you don’t have the 1-point drop, try to slowly (a little every day) raise the CO2 level until the tank pH is one-point lower than the degassed sample. You tried before and backed-off. Try again over several weeks.

Active substrates generally leach a lot of ammonia early on. This N boost, may initially cause unusually active plant growth. However, it stabilizes over time (notice that your NO3 is now less than half the earlier readings). Perhaps that is among the reasons that you initially saw a lot of pearling and that is not a cause for concern. The absence of pearling does not necessarily mean that your plants are not healthy (a lot has to do with O2 saturation). Watch your plants for signs of deterioration and then address a problem if it develops.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
24 hours later, water sample at a 7.2ish PH. KH still at a 3. Right now pH in tank down to a 6.1 and has been since last night when it was down to a 6.0 during CO2 run period. Am I right to assume maybe the tank isn't gassing off enough at night currently?
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Hi all, back again. Phosphate has been kept within 1.5-2.0 for the past 3 weeks. CO2 seems to be dialed in as well. Drops to a 5.9 during the day, creeps up to a 6.4 or so at night. My tank ran empty last week for a day, and I saw the tank creep up to a 6.9 and stayed there. Growing nothing but green dust algae these days and a little bit of broad left ludwigia which is coming in bright red near the surface. The tank is a hazy grey cloudy a day after WC. Most of my plants have started to die off. Ambulia and my Amazon swords are showing stress and black spotted algae on the older leaves, greenish/brown fuzz on the edge of many leaves as well. Green spot algae seems to be gone though and the Fish seem to be happy.

I feel like the primary driver of the algae currently has to be the AI prime light. I just can't seem to dial in the color in a way where we don't grow algae. I've shortened the photo period to 6 hours at about 32watts of mostly blue, red and cool white. Hasn't seemed to help if anything, it might be worse.

I think this is going to be the last ask before I tear it down and give a new substrate and light a go. I've never had a planted tank be this uncooperative. 6 months in and it just looks disgustingly terrible.

Any ideas?

Amm: 0
Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: 5
Phos: ~2
gH: 6
KH: 3
pH day: 5.9
pH night: 6.4
 
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