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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This tank just entered its 3rd month. It was born of disappointment, as the first 'scape' in this tank (September - December 2020) was not all that I wanted it to be. That first version (more on it later) really suffered from not having a solid plan going in. This second version, on the other hand, is the first time where my original concept and final execution of a tank have stayed pretty well aligned. Usually my plans don't survive intact the fog of war that is planting day.

The concept was to create a central island where hygrophila pinnatifida could more or less take over and form a nice bush. I've had this plant in two other tanks, including the first version of this one. I really liked it, but it wants to take over the tank, and that has led us to not always get along in the past. This version of the tank was envisioned as a space where it could take over.

Now, I've had this plant planted in aquasoil and attached directly to wood - it does well in either circumstance. But, when planted in soil, it seems to be much less compact. Longer ribbon-y leaves and taller stems. That's where the wabi kusa balls come in. I wanted the benefits of the aquasoil but didn't want to try to keep it unconfined in a tank based on sand and rocks. The solution was to fill the hardscaped island with double-lined pantyhose balls of aquasoil, each with 4 or 5 stems of hygo sticking out.

like this:
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That was on December 5, 2020. In the intervening 3+ months, there have been many trials and tribulations, and much has been learned. While I'm not done fiddling with this tank, it's now in a healthy, balanced state, and it's a good time to sit down and start to chronicle the twists and turns encountered along the way. I'm going to tackle those in subsequent posts, but here's the tank today:

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I don't think I can ever get tired of seeing hygrophila pinnatifida in an aquascape. Nice work! Don't think I would be mad coming home to seeing that everyday.
Thanks! It's such an interesting plant. It just needed its own space to spread out into. I've also got some hygrophila araguaia in there an love it as well. It's turning into a ground cover around the base of the island pretty much on its own.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
That is a really beautiful tank ... the pinnatifida “shrub” >love<
Thank you kindly!

This is my first truly successful planted tank. It's... amazing! I finally achieved the balance that has eluded me so far and it's a wonderful feeling!

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Beautiful! You have every right to be proud,

Question. I was going to add some hygrophila pinnatifida to my tank to replace a "Little Shop of Horrors" giant sword plant but was concerned about its tendency to spread too quickly and thus need a lot of trimming.

How much trimming are you needing to do?
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Beauty! Love the choice of substrate and keeping the focus on the pinnatifida. Looks straight out of it's natural habitat in India.
thank you. the substrate has been a bit of a struggle... started with sand, but it got too junky looking. settling into a mix of sand and gravel. getting closer!
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Beautiful! You have every right to be proud,

Question. I was going to add some hygrophila pinnatifida to my tank to replace a "Little Shop of Horrors" giant sword plant but was concerned about its tendency to spread too quickly and thus need a lot of trimming.

How much trimming are you needing to do?
thank you!

in this tank i'm not having to trim too much, but that's mostly because i'm intentionally letting it take over. if you want to have it in one spot, you'll have to trim some runners, but i don't think that would be unmanageable.

one thing i've noticed about this plant though is that it really seems to prioritize new growth, and older leaves can get a bit ratty looking. in this tank, most of the trimming that i do is to remove the lower, older leaves to open up space for new growth from young shoots. you'll probably need to replant healthy tops periodically, which could be a bit messy since it's an aggressive rooter.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
One of the biggest issues with the first version of this tank was the hardscape. I used driftwood but didn't figure out how best to secure it in place until after the substrate was already in the tank. If you've ever tried to place big pieces of stone-mounted driftwood in a tank already full of wet soil, I'm sure you can imagine how such an approach could lead to sub-standard results. It always felt improvised and just not quite right.

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With the new version, first and foremost I wanted totally secure hardscape that went (and stayed) exactly where I wanted it. That hardscape was some really hard driftwood secured to slate.

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That was combined with some locally-sourced river rock.

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But first, the old tank had to be broken down. This was a family affair.

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Since the new version of the tank was going to be based on the hygrophila from old scape, breakdown and set up had to happen back to back. Thy hygro stems were kept in a holding bin while the tank was cleaned out.

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Once the tank was cleaned, we made the wabi kusa balls with reclaimed aquasoil and hygro tops.

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Next up, the hardscape and wabi kusa balls (we called them 'hygro bombs') were placed into the freshly-cleaned tank.

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I was really happy with how it turned out at the time, but looking back now I realize I put way too much sand in there.

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At the end of planting day, we were totally spent and really satisfied with how it came out. Things went downhill quickly...
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Planting day was December 5th. Within days, much of the hygro began to melt, and a diatom outbreak began to explode.

I honestly wasn't expecting such a massive melt given that the plants were going back into the same soil/water and were only in the holding bin for a few hours. Nevertheless, melt they did, and the tank quickly became a horror-scape of heartbreak and woe.

The problem - as I saw it - was that after much of the plant mass had melted away, I was critically underplanted, and I was lighting a lot of open sand. I figured what I needed was a way to bulk up my plant mass temporarily and get my light to fall on photosynthetic surfaces instead of open sand until the hygro could recover and bulk up.

Solution: frogbit.

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I love frogbit, and always keep some going somewhere in the house. But, I have found that it doesn't usually transition very well from one tank to another. The best frogbit you'll get in a tank is frogbit grown in that tank. So, while I started with several hands full from my daughter's betta tank, I knew it would take a couple weeks to grow out a nice, healthy patch that would really help this new tank get through its struggle period.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
As the frogbit grew out and the tank continued to struggle, I motored on with regular water changes and excel doses. Thankfully, the diatoms respond well to excel, so I used the full initial dose post-water change once the established leaves started to get pretty caked. This was probably once every five days or so? With a water change about every other day. Something like that. I didn't keep any notes :\

Meanwhile, December ground on, and we started to remodel the room the tank was in.

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This room used to be our dining room, but it turns out we're just not really dining room people. Instead, we're turning it into a sitting room. The plan was to paint an accent wall, replace the light fixture, and put in a new couch, rug, and coffee table. The furniture would take 3 months to come in (it should arrive any day now!), so we figured that's how long we had to turn this tank around. No pressure.

Here's the room before we started, for reference.

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Around this time I also replaced the twinstar with a pair of Kessils and a new light mount.

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The tank continued to look terrible as 2020 became 2021.

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
On January 23rd, we added 30 Amano shrimp. We were mostly just ready to see some life in this tank and thought that the shrimp at least had a shot at helping us out with the algae and worst case probably wouldn't make it much worse.

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By the last week of January, we were really starting to see some new growth, and the shrimp had completely rid us of diatoms... which quickly gave way to the dreaded green filamentous algae that plagued the planted tank in my living room.

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Having had much experience with this algae, this development was depressing. This stuff simply does not respond to excel, even at overdose levels. It does respond to the 1-2 punch treatment, however. So, while I wasn't ready for that yet, at this point I knew that's where this was headed. But, before going big on the algae treatment, I wanted to be sure that I'd addressed all the underlying issues. As it stood at that point, I was concerned about three things:
  1. CO2 consistency (I feared I had none with my cheap needle valve and bubble counter)
  2. Fertilizers (I was using PPS-Pro with EDTA chelated micros)
  3. Flow (I was using a lily pipe for the return on the left side of the tank, and I was seeing by far the best growth on the far right while plants weren't doing nearly as well in other areas of the tank)
In the first weeks of February I set out to address these points.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
On February 3rd, I installed a flow meter with a good valve and began monitoring my pH to find the right flow rate.

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The flow meter was a total game changer - counting bubbles is for suckers! But, after monitoring the pH drop, one issue became clear: I didn't have great gas exchange. My pH continued to decrease throughout the day, getting into dangerously low territory before the lights went out. I programmed some off periods in the afternoon for the CO2 timer, but this reinforced my concerns about flow.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
On February 10th, I installed a spraybar and continued to monitor pH for several days.

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The spraybar made a huge difference in gas exchange, and the flow in the tank was clearly much better. I needed a significantly higher co2 rate to hit a 1.3 drop, but the pH curve was much better. With the spraybar and a higher co2 rate, I hit my target drop and stayed there throughout the day without needing programmed blackouts in the afternoon.

At this point, I felt like I had a much better handle on co2 consistency and water flow through the aquarium.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Regarding fertilizers... unfortunately, I didn't take any notes, so I'm not exactly sure when this happened. But, sometime near the middle of February, I switched from PPS-Pro to 18, 4.5, and 21 ppm/wk NO3, PO4, and K, respectively, and an EDTA+DTPA micro blend benchmarked at .6 ppm/wk Fe.

Around this time I also did the 1-2 punch (2.5 Tbsp/10g). As expected, this knocked the filaments out almost entirely, and... they miraculously have stayed gone. I still have a few here and there on the highest leaves, but it isn't spreading, and you really have to go out of your way to try and spot them.

After I got the algae under control, I moved some fish from the tank in my living room which is getting its own make-over. So, it now has 17 dwarf neon rainbow fish, one pearl gourami, 8 otocinclus catfish, and those OG amano shrimp.

As of today, the tank seems very healthy. I'm changing the water once a week (~60%), the plants are growing nicely and algae isn't. I'm still fiddling with the substrate (today I took out some of the gravel) and equipment (yesterday I changed out the reactor), but this is as close to autopilot as I've ever gotten in this hobby. I think getting a handle on the co2 was a big contributor, but I credit most of the turnaround to the spraybar. FLOW. FLOW. FLOW.
 
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