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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
3 weeks ago, I redid my aquarium and turned it into a dirted tank using Organic Miracle Grow Potting Soil, and I used Eco-Complete to cap it. My plants have not been doing well at all, and really have been quite disappointing. I have the following plants;

-Anubia (covered in staghorn algae)
-Amazon swords (stopped growing in old tank, and is now completely stunted)
- Hydrophila (?)
- Water sprite
- Java fern
- Rotala
- Pennywort
- Crypts
- Dwarf hairgrass and regular hair grass
- Spiral Val (forgot the official name)

So I know I've got a mix of high-light plants and low light plants. They were mainly in there as an experiment since I had nothing else to do with them. The only plants that are doing remotely well are the crypts, which are making a come back after completely melting off. The pennywort is growing somewhat decently, but not as well as it should. The hydrophila has developed holes, which is possibly from lack of potassium, or my idiot amano shrimps who I caught nibbling at the leaves. I'm not sure which is the cause. The amazon swords have root tabs right under them, yet they're doing absolutely nothing. I pulled them from my old tank because they were dying off and stunted, so I hoped to revive them in this tank. That's obviously not happening. Dwarf hairgrass and regular hair grass aren't doing anything, though I'm not surprised.

The lighting I've got is a total of 52W 6500K CFL bulbs (it's DIY clip on lights) over a 20 gallon long, and I'm currently only dosing nitrogen twice since my nitrates were showing 0 ppm. I read that dirted tanks (mostly following the Diana Wastlad method) don't need ferts or CO2 because they get that from the organic material from the dirt and fish waste. I did add my filter though to help keep my fish safe, as well as circulate the water so it's not a "true" Walstad tank. My main goal was to make this a low tech, hands free tank that didn't need CO2 or ferts, but now I'm completely opposite of my goal. I stopped my water change for 1 week in hopes of building the nitrates, but that seems to have made it worse. Maybe there's TOO many nutrients in the water, with the fish waste and soil organics combined, that the algae is out competing the plants, hence the poor growth? Ugh. I had such high hopes, but all of this is making me believe dirted tanks weren't as miraculous as I'd thought. :(

I really need help. This is the 3rd time I've torn down my main tank due to not being happy with it, and it's making me want to tear it down permanently. What am I doing wrong? Why can't I get even the easy plants like pennywort and amazon swords to grow? Heck, even the java ferns aren't doing good. I'm at a lose.
 

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You are not providing enough information. We need to know more about your source water. Are you using softened water through all house filter? Hard water with high TDS or sodium levels. High Ph?

What kind of filters are you running? What is your cap material for the dirt? Did you remineralize your soil? I did & never picked up an ammonia spike. I had to add ammonia. I also added small amounts of Ca, Mg, K, & 4 cups of pure powdered red clay mixed with the remineralized soil. I did not add fish for over a month even though I spiked the filter. The tank is just too unstable.

Regarding too much ferts, well you probably do not have enough. You could try adding Fe, & PO4 as well but I thought you mentioned PO4 was high. PO4 should be at least 1 -2 ppms at least. NO3 should be at least 5 in the early stages but can be bumped up even higher as plants get established. Plants need trace as well. I dose EI but at a much lower rate since my dirt tank is a low light low tech tank. I run Finnex LED lighting which I have been very , very happy with. My plants are growing like weeds with this light. I can not comment on the CFL's though since I have little experience with them but I do not like them. The spread is poor & the reflectors look bad IMO.

From what I can see about most planted tanks especially dirt tanks is that the filters need to be cleaned more often IMO & good flow & circulation is important as well. I still need better filtration & movement in my tank . I am running a Ehiem 2215 & a Aquaclear 50 in my 55 & I still do not have enough movement. Most plants should show a little movement. I also dose seachem Ecel for an additional liquid carbon source. Some surface agitation is good in these tanks but do not over do it.

I am also using Remineralized R/O water which is very tricky. I wish my source water was better but it is not. For me adding the proper amount of trace for the fish & plants is the trickiest part. I also add back in my Gh & Kh but for you your water may be perfect but without posting your Gh Kh, Ph, NO3, PO4 , Na levels its hard to say. Thats where you need to start , is the quality of your source water then look into the ferts , lighting , filtration, & substrate. I like Flourite better than Eco complete because eco complete lowers your ph. Always check anything regarding ph changes before putting anything in your tank.

In closing , we all make mistakes in this hobby. But that being said I am falling in love with dirt tanks fast. In just 3 months I have the best tank I ever set up. My pressurized tanks do not even look as good. Be patient, if it turns out you made too many mistakes on this tank , learn from them & take your time time on the reset . Dirt tanks conserve energy & water. Will grow most plants better for at least the first year. They require less water changes & less labor especially without CO2. Combined with LED lighting they are hard to beat.

If you have any other questions message me. I am still learning as well but know more than a newbie. I feel pretty confident that dirt tanks are the way to go in any format but excel especially in larger tanks compared to the energy & water hungry pressurized formats. They even cost less to set up & run.
 

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Two things jump out at me. First you said three weeks. With normalhealthy plants this is barely enough to see much growth get started. But with damaged plants...
Then you said 52W of CFL = 4 x 13W bulbs ? Or 2x 26W ?
Either way it's 2x the normal amount used in a 20L. In ordr to spread it along the whole tank two 13W are normally used.
You still will have some algae with this setup but using only 7 hrs and putting a break
of one hr in the middle of it will help that on the light.
Algae just grows faster than plants. Untill the plants get a good amount of growth on them cutting the light is the least costly/most effective thing for the algae.
And a plant(depending on which kind) can take 2 months to get good growth after
being stunted.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
You are not providing enough information. We need to know more about your source water. Are you using softened water through all house filter? Hard water with high TDS or sodium levels. High Ph?
I'm using water straight from the tap that has a PH of 7.6+ (it doesn't come out clearly on the API test kit). The tank itself has a little lower PH, close to 7.4 because of the tannins. I remember calling the pool store and they told me the water was generally pretty soft, but I can't remember the number they gave me. It was either in the 200's or 300's.

What kind of filters are you running? What is your cap material for the dirt? Did you remineralize your soil? I did & never picked up an ammonia spike. I had to add ammonia. I also added small amounts of Ca, Mg, K, & 4 cups of pure powdered red clay mixed with the remineralized soil. I did not add fish for over a month even though I spiked the filter. The tank is just too unstable.
I'm running an HOB filter with a 2nd media stuffed in the outlet to slow down water flow just a bit, but it's enough to where I see slight movement in the plants on the farside of the tank. Cap is Eco-Complete, and no, I didn't remineralize the soil. Surprisingly, I haven't gotten any testings of ammonia or nitrites, but I also haven't gotten nitrates. I began overfeeding the tank slightly + dosing nitrogen after seeing some of my plants begin getting nitrogen deficiency. But with that came the staghorn outbreak as well, so I'm not sure why I'm not getting any readings. I'm use API test kits, and they work fine with all my other tanks...

Regarding too much ferts, well you probably do not have enough. You could try adding Fe, & PO4 as well but I thought you mentioned PO4 was high. PO4 should be at least 1 -2 ppms at least. NO3 should be at least 5 in the early stages but can be bumped up even higher as plants get established. Plants need trace as well. I dose EI but at a much lower rate since my dirt tank is a low light low tech tank. I run Finnex LED lighting which I have been very , very happy with. My plants are growing like weeds with this light. I can not comment on the CFL's though since I have little experience with them but I do not like them. The spread is poor & the reflectors look bad IMO.
I'm not sure what the PO4 level is actually. The only fert I've dosed was nitrogen because I'm afraid to add more nutrients in, especially now that BBA and staghorn have popped up on every single plant. My last tank set up suffered the same thing, and so it's like a plague I'm trying to avoid. I agree that the lighting isn't the best choice, but my old T5 system broke and I couldn't afford another one for a brand new set up. They actually put out a bunch of light and look rather nice. Plus I saw a video of a guys tank that was using the exact same bulbs and light fixture with beautiful plant growth, and thought I'd give it a shot.

From what I can see about most planted tanks especially dirt tanks is that the filters need to be cleaned more often IMO & good flow & circulation is important as well. I still need better filtration & movement in my tank . I am running a Ehiem 2215 & a Aquaclear 50 in my 55 & I still do not have enough movement. Most plants should show a little movement. I also dose seachem Ecel for an additional liquid carbon source. Some surface agitation is good in these tanks but do not over do it.
Circulation is pretty decent I think. My filter is actually made for a 30 gallon, so the flow is very high. I've had to reduce it slightly, but luckily it's not giving out a lot of surface agitation. I do need to clean it though...

I am also using Remineralized R/O water which is very tricky. I wish my source water was better but it is not. For me adding the proper amount of trace for the fish & plants is the trickiest part. I also add back in my Gh & Kh but for you your water may be perfect but without posting your Gh Kh, Ph, NO3, PO4 , Na levels its hard to say. Thats where you need to start , is the quality of your source water then look into the ferts , lighting , filtration, & substrate. I like Flourite better than Eco complete because eco complete lowers your ph. Always check anything regarding ph changes before putting anything in your tank.
I will get this information ASAP. I've got a pool testing kit that just may come in handy.





Two things jump out at me. First you said three weeks. With normalhealthy plants this is barely enough to see much growth get started. But with damaged plants...
Then you said 52W of CFL = 4 x 13W bulbs ? Or 2x 26W ?
Either way it's 2x the normal amount used in a 20L. In ordr to spread it along the whole tank two 13W are normally used.
You still will have some algae with this setup but using only 7 hrs and putting a break
of one hr in the middle of it will help that on the light.
Algae just grows faster than plants. Untill the plants get a good amount of growth on them cutting the light is the least costly/most effective thing for the algae.
And a plant(depending on which kind) can take 2 months to get good growth after
being stunted.
My lighting is basically 4. 13W 6500k CFL's spread across the tank from above. I wasn't sure if 52W over a 20 gallon long would be considered high light, but I think I may have too much light over this tank hence staghorn and bba. I had my lights on for 10 hours/day, but my amazon swords were looking miserable and I read that they needed 12 hours a day. So I upped it to 12 hours for 2 days, but that helped the staghorn go crazy so I went back to 10. I've read that dirted tanks need at least 10 hours everyday, but now I'm not so sure. It seems to be doing more harm than good. Starting tomorrow, I'll try 7 hours w/ an hour break in between and see if this helps stop the staghorn.


I'll clean the filter out tomorrow and reduce the lighting, but do you guys recommend doing a large water change? Would that help with anything, or make it worse? And I'll get those stats on the water as soon as I can.
 

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One of the things would be to have lets say 2x13W tubes only on the tank and start with 8 hours/day photo period. See how that goes. Dont add ferts in the beginning. After 8-10 days or so see if you feel the need to add ferts. If yes, dose only a small amount and gradually take it up to the recommended dosage. Thats what I do.

If some plants have really gone way downhill there may not be much hope for them, might as well toss them out, well at least cut off the dying leaves are they are only causing harm.

HTH
 

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I agree with large and often water changes, I tore down my fry tank to use it as a grow out tank for my plants, and I had lots of water changes in the beginning until everything settled.

After that everything went exactly as you were hoping, no ferts no nothing except the usual water changes, its been up a year and still doing great.

Sent from my Galaxy S3
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Beautiful tank @Mojo! I hope to have my tank looking like that one day. :)

I performed a 20% water change and will do another one either tomorrow or the next day. I just have to be careful not to keep the water "too clean" because I have 2 german rams and read that they need to be in established water and lower PH levels. I don't want to cause too big of a PH change. :)

I also turned off the light for an hour halfway through the 8 hour light period, and will continue doing that. Is there anything else I can do to help kill off the staghorn and BBA, or should water changes + light period change help balance everything naturally?
And I plan on taking some water samples to the pool place to have everything tested since they said I could! I just need to test GH, potassium, phosphate... what else? I've already got PH and nitrates.
 

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Beautiful tank @Mojo! I hope to have my tank looking like that one day. :)

I performed a 20% water change and will do another one either tomorrow or the next day. I just have to be careful not to keep the water "too clean" because I have 2 german rams and read that they need to be in established water and lower PH levels. I don't want to cause too big of a PH change. :)

I also turned off the light for an hour halfway through the 8 hour light period, and will continue doing that. Is there anything else I can do to help kill off the staghorn and BBA, or should water changes + light period change help balance everything naturally?
And I plan on taking some water samples to the pool place to have everything tested since they said I could! I just need to test GH, potassium, phosphate... what else? I've already got PH and nitrates.
Thanks but I wouldn't say beautiful but it does what I intended it to, and yeah I did 50% water changes every day for a month.

You're on the right track, I did a black out and dosed excel to kill some green hair algae on another tank, but I never had BBA or staghorn though.

Sent from my Galaxy S3
 

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You know I just remembered that my plants didn't really grow much at the beginning either, and it drove me crazy (mostly because i'm inpatient) so I bought a Satellite LED+ and then the plants exploded.

Sent from my Galaxy S3
 

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Inhibiting algae

I have a number of filterless planted bowls, with gravel capped soil substrates. I have noticed that for the first month or so, nutrients leach from the soil into the water, and feed an algae bloom. After about 6 weeks of weekly water changes, the algae disappears, and the water is crystal clear because the majority of nutrient leaching is done. I have one bowl that has been crystal clear for months and I have not changed the water in all that time. The amount of light that these bowls get has remained constant for that whole time. My advice for a newly dirted tank would be to reduce the photoperiod for the first 6 weeks, and do frequent water changes. Eventually the nutrient leaching will diminish and the water will remain clear. One more thing. I have a 2.5g unfiltered planted bowl with ghost shrimp in it. I have noticed that if I overfeed them even slightly, the water goes cloudy. Why? Because I am adding nutrients that end up in the water column instead of the soil. A good biological power filter can help remove nutrients from the water, but that is not an option for a low tech filterless bowl.
 

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Plant's unless they came from another tank where they have been completely submerged will take a few week's to adapt to being submerged.
Patience + maybe 6 hour photo period for a few week's .(can always increase gradually).
Good macro-micro nutrient fertilizing routine from the outset.(weekly in low tech)
Nutrient's don't cause algae but if plant's are hungry for nutrient's then they could do poorly .
Algae which need's much less of everything,will thrive while plant's struggle.
 

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I have a 10g with MGOCPM and 2x aluminum clip-on dome brooder with 10W CFLs, raised about 6" above the tank edge. So I agree with the people who are saying that there is too much light.

Here's a blog on getting rid of algae: http://www.aquariumalgae.blogspot.com/

Also, people have said that an algae bloom can be caused by plants being out-performed by algae.
 

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So I'm just a newbie, but have obsessively been reading Walstad's book and scouring lots of forums. One suggestion might be to get some more floating plants. I noticed you have watersprite on your plant list, but maybe you could add duckweed or frogbit too? Walstad talks about reducing light and floating plants as her method to rid the tank of algea. Hope this helps and let us know your progress!
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
So I took the last couple of weeks trying to fix things, but unforunately things got worse. My water sprite (which is planted in this tank) was thriving but suddenly crashed and is 90% melted. My hygrophila stems began rotting from the bottom and are dying now as well, so I have one last stem last only with 2 small leaves. My pennywort continues to get holes in it, and isn't growing really at all, despite it being one of the "fastest growing plants". My amazon sword has done nothing and continues to slowly rot away. The only plants that are growing are the crypts, nothing else.

I have duckweed already, but not enough to block out the light or anything. It was just a small amount I added to help control the nutrients. I also got some of the levels in my water tested at the pool place, so I hope this helps. I'm not sure what the numbers means exactly...

Iron- 0
Phospates- 1000
Calcium- 300
Ph- 7.6


That's all I was able to get tested. The 0 iron level worries me, and could explain why the swords aren't doing well, even though I gave them root tabs. What should my next step be? The algae is getting worse despite giving an hour break time between the photo period.

I really am so worn out with this tank. I just can't seem to grow plants at all, and it's so frustrating. :(
 
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