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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi everyone -

Hope you're all doing well and that you're enjoying your tanks!

At the risk of sounding like a pompous know-it-all, I thought I would share a couple of lessons I've learned the hard way after 20+ years in the hobby. I hope that they may help those that are new and learning how to maintain beautiful and rewarding aquariums. Internet disclaimer: these are just my opinions and I admit they could be completely wrong in your opinion.
  • Knowing and understanding are both necessary in this hobby. Knowing the results of someone else's experience is not the same as understanding the experience itself.
A forum like Planted Tank and its many good members can only give you the knowing part. For example, what is Hendy8888's dosing formula or why is someone using a flowmeter with their CO2 setup.​
The understanding part comes from knowing why someone does something and how it applies to your personal experience. You need to take the knowing part and apply it to your particular situation. This requires that you change your questions to include the "why". For example, "Hey Hendy8888, why do you run with a .6 KH?" or "Hey Greggz, why do you use a flowmeter?"​
Once you understand why someone else is doing something, you have part of the equation. Now you need to decide if that makes sense to you and your particular aquarium. Many times, that means giving it a try to see what you learn. It is this second part, the experience coupled with the understanding that makes you progress in the hobby. You must do and learn from it yourself.​
For example, I understand that Greggz runs heavier with NO3 because it helps keep the entire plant healthy from top to bottom. I understand why he does it and his experience. I will now apply that to my aquarium to see how my plants react. For me, it may work differently.​

  • Rarely is the best solution found in a bottle. Always look to solve a problem with experience and not (necessarily) dollars. Too many times have I thought the latest and greatest fertilizer, or light, or filter, or CO2 diffuser will finally solve my problem. Or, that bottle of the algae killer or legions of Amanos will solve my algae problem.
More often than not, a simple, inexpensive solution has proven to be the best, long-term option if I only had the patience. It's that second part, the patience, that has proven to be the most difficult. I still struggle with it today.​
Your aquarium is a living ecosystem that is unique. It will behave differently than other aquariums. You need to get to know it and understand how it behaves. This comes from intentional observation, experience and, yes, patience.​
That's it. This captures the two core principals I use for this hobby. I do admit that my tanks have never been as nice as some of those I'm honored to admire online but I am now enjoying this hobby a lot more than I used to because of these two lessons.

All the best,

Art
 

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Thank you for starting this thread and for sharing your hard won experience!

If you don't mind, I have a question about Java Ferns.

I've got a 10g mature "walstad style" tank with both root and water column feeders. Lightly stocked. Something's working because nitrates are always zero. So I'm not sure how often I should be doing water changes?

I don't know much about ferts. So far use Easy Green and occasionally Nicog root tabs (soil is 1.5 yrs old). Sometimes I forget to fertilize for a month or two (I realize a schedule is better).

Some of the Java Fern leaves have been getting holes. It's been going on for a while. Yesterday I noticed a couple of brown leaves as well. Other than these holes, they seem to be doing well. I'm wondering if maybe iron deficiency? Some liquid fertilizer places recommend iron supplement.

Sorry no photo but I can post one tomorrow when it's light out if that helps.

Thank you much in advance



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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Hey - don’t know if I can help much as I’ve never done a dirted Walstad style tank. I can suggest that a zero nitrate reading is not good. You want to read nitrates in the water column. I would suggest going on a water column fertilization routine that is geared for your tank. Your ferns are not getting anything from the substrate if they are not in it.

The pinholes in the leaves would suggest a nutrient deficiency.

Best,
Art
 

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Great post Art.

Agree with everything you said.

Especially patience. Most are looking for a "secret" or "magic bullet". There isn't one. Dialing in a tank takes a willingness to experiment, the ability to observe, and time.

In the end, a planted tank is a combination of light, nutrients, CO2, and maintenance. The most successful people I know spend a lot more time than most dialing in each one. And never underestimate good old fashioned elbow grease. Goes a long way in the is hobby. Most of the best that I know also just flat out work harder at it.

And FYI my NO3 dosing is still less than EI. I don't know of many tanks that need full EI ferts.
 

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Hey - don’t know if I can help much as I’ve never done a dirted Walstad style tank. I can suggest that a zero nitrate reading is not good. You want to read nitrates in the water column. I would suggest going on a water column fertilization routine that is geared for your tank. Your ferns are not getting anything from the substrate if they are not in it.

The pinholes in the leaves would suggest a nutrient deficiency.

Best,
Art
Hey @MiamiArt THANKS so much for your insight! Interesting you should mention the lack of nitrate - I've been wondering about that and even wondered if the API test kit needed replacing (it's over two years old).

What's weird is I didn't vacume for a long time and the two female platys poop a lot. I wasn't going to do a water change till I got a nitrate reading (just topping off) and I've been waiting a long time. Believe it or not I also tried testing after dosing Easy Green and pushing down some root tabs - still no nitrate.

I'm not sure how to interpret that or what to do. Going to have the water tested at LFS tomorrow to see if they get the same reading.

The fish aren't stressed - the Betta acts like a 17 yr old St Bernard bcs...well .... he's old. He's never been sick.

Regarding the Java Ferns, I realize they're not getting what they need from the water column. To that end, I just received a "comprehensive planted aquarium supplement" potassium, iron, magnesium and "trace elements" - an APT product. Let's see what happens. I'm happy experiment with a different fert re: nitrogen.

Again many thanks

Here's some pics of the mess. There's some crypts on the other side that are thriving. I'm jonesing for a bigger tank



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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Congratulations on your tank. It looks green and the plants seem to be growing. Keep reading and asking questions and you will continue to improve your skills.

An itch for a larger tank is something we are struggle with. IMO it's better to master the one you have before upgrading.
 

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Java ferns are potassium hogs so I'm betting the holes are due to insufficient K

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Congratulations on your tank. It looks green and the plants seem to be growing. Keep reading and asking questions and you will continue to improve your skills.

An itch for a larger tank is something we are struggle with. IMO it's better to master the one you have before upgrading.
Thanks Al but guess what? Those photos are six (!) months old. . Boy that went fast.

I believe I haven't upped the ferts to keep up with the growth (duh) and the Aquasoil is depleted.

There's signs everywhere. #1 see that pothos? That thing used to produce a massive root ball that required constant trimming - now, not so much. #2. I'm noticing translucent leaves on the small swords, and #3 the ferns have holes.

I did a major trim but left a few Java leaves to demonstrate the problem. Lemme go grab a photo.

I've been thinking the test kit MUST be wrong because how is it possible to have zero nitrates? How bout the plants are hungry?

According to the Walstad book, mulm should provide what the plants need. Sounded good in theory but not working in this rarely vacuumed tank.

Appreciate the words of wisdom. A 20 L would fit on the peninsula, but yeah, better to master this one. Anyway don't have much room for bigger tanks unless some furniture goes. But hey who really needs a sofa?

Have a wonderful day! Go Dolphins :)


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Funny you should mention that - I just read the same on the Aquarium Co-op site.

They've grown a lot and spread everywhere, and I haven't upped the ferts or stuck to a regular dosing schedule. Gonna make some changes.

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@MiamiArt @easternlethal here's what's changed .

You can see the holes in the Java Fern - I cut out the leaves with bigger holes.
if you zoom in, you can still see translucent leaves in the mini sword (I trimmed most of them). I just noticed you can also see the tip of a dwarf sagittaria also looks translucent. :/
I've been using Nicog root tabs "when I remember". Looks like the plants are saying my memory sucks ( well yeah, for a year everyday seemed like "groundhog day").

And then I discovered an "oops" batch of platy fry and rehoming them took forever. "Yes, I know they're cute but No you can't put 15 fish in your 5 g Betta tank". Then just for yucks I started asking basic questions like "do you have a cycled tank?" Many replies were "what's that?"

That's when it hit me just how much suffering is inflicted on fish in the aquarium trade and wound up in a funk for while.

Sorry for the mini rant -, the point is the plant neglect was multi factoral, and I'm grateful for this community



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@MiamiArt I wrote "Al" I meant "Art" apologies.

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I will chip in what I have learnt over the years.

To me, following someone on a forum has serious drawbacks because people rarely post their entire regime and it can prevent you from fully understanding an issue. It's a bit like trying to figure out how to paint by asking a painter what colours and paintbrushes he uses. If you're lucky it works, but if not it's super easy to be misled by someone else's preferences and closes off other solutions.

I personally learnt the most about ecology from reading books like Walstad and also from academic studies on lakes and rivers. It was hard initially because I'm not a scientist but it's something I've grown to love and still do to this day. I've got articles on co2 diffusion in oceans and the atmosphere, nutrient concentration in different stages of rivers and lakes, how bacteria contributes to cycling in water bodies etc. all applied to my humble tank. An hour or so reading an article is worth more than several months of reading forums imo.

I also have diy guides on how to build tank, sump, lights, and ferts.

And then after that it's just experiment experiment experiment, which must be done freely, honestly and without bias or fear of what other people may think.

There is no substitute.

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Art, I think this hobby drives us all to the bottle at one point or another. ;)
I should have been more specific about what type of bottle. You're right, Phil, and good to hear from you. Hope you're well, my friend.
 

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It's a bit like trying to figure out how to paint by asking a painter what colours and paintbrushes he uses.
I love this analogy. So often you see questions about what fertilizers or what lights to use, when what really matters is how often you trim plants, gravel vac, etc.

Even answering fertilizer questions, the answer is never straightforward. If the plant mass in my tank is particularly high, I might does 30-60% more macros than usual. If I see GDA show up, I know to dial it back next week. The fertilizer recipe matters far less than knowing how to adjust based on the ever-changing conditions of a planted tank.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I'm doing well. The current job and new location are treating me quite well. How're things with you these days? It's good to see you back in the game.
That's great to hear. Things are good. No complaints.

I go quiet from time to time but I've never lost the planted tank bug. :)

I love this analogy. So often you see questions about what fertilizers or what lights to use, when what really matters is how often you trim plants, gravel vac, etc.

Even answering fertilizer questions, the answer is never straightforward. If the plant mass in my tank is particularly high, I might does 30-60% more macros than usual. If I see GDA show up, I know to dial it back next week. The fertilizer recipe matters far less than knowing how to adjust based on the ever-changing conditions of a planted tank.
True.

The way I think about this, and use it, is to ask "what are you doing/using and why?" The why being the most important part for me. That way, I know how to apply the learning to my own current situation.
 

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That's great to hear. Things are good. No complaints.

I go quiet from time to time but I've never lost the planted tank bug. :)
Sounds just like me. It's sometimes challenging to participate in groups or forums given my occupation and employers so I often go quiet to avoid issues, but I can't help myself and always come back. :)
 
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