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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm a new member but I'm not new to the forum, I have been reading everything I can on this site for a very long time, and the advice given here is invaluable, so thank you.

I am having a problem with algae in my tank. It is a 55 gallon, dirt substrate with a gravel cap, no co2 and no ferts, in fact the only thing that I have been putting in this tank is water to top it off and food. Livestock is 20 neon tetras, 100+ rcs, 6 assassin snails and a seemingly infinite number of pond snails. It has been set up for about six months now. I really want to keep it as low-tech as possible so I just finished reading Dianna Walstad's Ecology of the Planted Aquarium. As far as I know I am doing everything right, but I still can't get rid of the black hair algae. I think I have narrowed it down to either insufficient plant biomass or lighting. The lighting is 4 x 23 watt 6500k cfl about 4 iches above the water for 12 hours a day. Thoughts on that? Would you consider it to be heavily planted? Or is there something else I'm missing? I also read recently that one of the main causes of a BBA outbreak is unstable co2 levels. I am on week 3 without a water change since water changes cause fluctuations in co2 levels. Any advice would be great.
 

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I'm no expert, but a 12 hour photo period seems excessive. Trying cutting down to 8 hours and see how that works.
 

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Three things,

1. your lighting is too strong for too long.
2. you need to do more frequent water changes.
3. whatever you read about not doing water changes as it causes fluctuations in CO2 is a load of crap.

Your plant mass appears to be perfectly fine. And they look great aside from the algae.

Did you notice the algae break out after you stopped doing water changes?
 

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I would agree with the lighting being on too long. When I first started getting my outbreaks of bba, it took me forever to find out what caused It and how to adjust everything. My story was very similar to your except that I do use ferts. I would suggest reducing your time on the lights, I personally went from 12 hours to 7 and noticed a huge change in how my tank responded and I use 2 65 Watt 6700 lights. As far as the initial outbreak, I've found the only thing that works without harming my fish was going black for a few days. Complete blackout with no lights for a couple days will usually help clear up the bba. I also use excel out of a syringe or baster directly to the bba, but I'm not sure how that would affect your shrimp colonies. As far as water changes go, I am of the mind that as long as your levels are good and you top of for evap, that you don't need to do weekly changes. I generally do large water changes every 3-4 weeks. Again this is my personal choice and my tanks are all top less with a lot of evap, so the tanks never suffer from old water syndromes.

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
What would you recommend for lighting? Without buying new fixtures? The algae has been a problem from the start. At first it was brown diatoms covering everything smothering the plants. I had some larger fish in at the time so I removed them and added a couple dozen rcs from my other tank. The shrimp quickly took care of the diatoms, but soon after I started getting green types of algae. The shrimp population is large enough now to keep the green algae in check but that leaves room for the BBA, which they will not touch. It has been a battle, I increased the lighting to help get rid of the diatoms, for a two month period I did 30% water changes twice a week, I tried excel (double the dose seven days a week), which had a very small effect and was not helping the problem, just masking the symptoms. Nothing seems to work, or if it does it just opens the door for another problem. I will definitely cut back on the lighting though.
 

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Your lights themselves are OK, it's just the length of time they are on. Also what could help would be to add a few Amano shrimp. They are one of the few that will actually eat bba. But generally only if there is no other algae available. I know how frustrating it can be, most people battle algae at some point and it does take some time to figure out the balance needed to prevent blooms, just hang in there, eventually your tank will get there and you will eventually know how to handle every change it can throw at you. Also I recommend not to drop your lighting times all at once, slowly reduce their duration a little at a time so that yo don't cause too much shock to your ecosystem.

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If you had an algae issue right away there might be something in your soil that is causing it.

Each tank is different when it comes to water changes. Some people have a very good gauge on their tanks and can space out their water changes to once a month or even longer, it simply comes down to that individuals tank. However, there is nothing more important in aquaria (fresh or salt) than water changes. And given that you are currently waging a war with algae, a few water changes might not be a bad idea.
 

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Too much light too many nutrients. Dirt tanks release a ton of nutrients when their first set up. It takes a few months after set up for the substrate to slow down releasing nutrients. You should do a 50% water change a week until it slows down. Even if you cut back your hours on your lights they might still be too intense. You can get away with a lot less light then you think in a low tech set up. Add some floating plants like large duckweed. Some people find duckweed a nuisance but I like it. It filters light and sucks up nutrients. BBA is a pain to get rid of. Your gonna have to take your wood out and clean it also get rid of any leaves with it. Clean the tank out the best you can. When I set up a dirt tank I do the subtrate and fill it half way with water. I let it sit for a few weeks then drain it before I refill it and add plants and fish.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
So when you say to cut back on lighting gradually what are we talking about? An hour/day or week or month? The soil was taken from my house plants, after I repotted them, so it was a couple of years old, mineralized by watering and drying once every couple of weeks or so. I'm still not sure what to do about the water changes, I might just let it ride for a couple more weeks or so while I play with the lights. I don't want to change too many variables at the same time, if I do one at a time I may have better luck finding the root of the problem.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Too much light too many nutrients. Dirt tanks release a ton of nutrients when their first set up. It takes a few months after set up for the substrate to slow down releasing nutrients. You should do a 50% water change a week until it slows down. Even if you cut back your hours on your lights they might still be too intense. You can get away with a lot less light then you think in a low tech set up. Add some floating plants like large duckweed. Some people find duckweed a nuisance but I like it. It filters light and sucks up nutrients. BBA is a pain to get rid of. Your gonna have to take your wood out and clean it also get rid of any leaves with it. Clean the tank out the best you can. When I set up a dirt tank I do the subtrate and fill it half way with water. I let it sit for a few weeks then drain it before I refill it and add plants and fish.

This tank has been set up for over six months, so the nutrient release should have slowed by now. There is no way I'm taking out that driftwood, it would cause more of a mess than I have now. In the past I have been able to scrub it with a toothbrush while it is in the tank, or hit it with some hydrogen peroxide to kill it, I may try that, but removing it is not an option at this point. I just put in some frog-bit from my other tank.
 

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So when you say to cut back on lighting gradually what are we talking about? An hour/day or week or month? The soil was taken from my house plants, after I repotted them, so it was a couple of years old, mineralized by watering and drying once every couple of weeks or so. I'm still not sure what to do about the water changes, I might just let it ride for a couple more weeks or so while I play with the lights. I don't want to change too many variables at the same time, if I do one at a time I may have better luck finding the root of the problem.
Personally I would drop the time by an hour every two weeks. Again that's just my personal opinion, as any drastic changes can wreak havoc on your system. I also agree that you shouldn't change too much at once, the goal isn't a speedy recovery as much as it is to understand the balance your tank requires. It's a slow process but it sounds like you've got a good start to it. You can't cut ferts when not using any, so just riding it a bit should level things out. If anything, and the light reduction doesnt work fast enough, you could try adding a bit of liquid potassium to help your plants use up some of the other resources in the water column to out compete the bba. It's just something I've done when I got a bloom and it seemed to help my setup.

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