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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hi everyone. I'm starting a journal to document my learnings and experiences in maintaining my planted Waterbox. The tank's been running for just over a year now. It was unfortunately neglected for a few months after setup due to a stay in hospital, but I've been working hard on it since. I'm not particularly bothered about the ins and outs of creating a beautiful aquascape for now, instead preferring to focus on growing a tank full of healthy plants.

I'm still very much in the learning phase and have a habit of changing too much too quickly and not allowing things to settle in. I've had lot of help from a couple of people on Facebook which has been enormously helpful, but I'm having persistent issues with poor health and algae of lower leaves across the board, but particularly on my ammania senegalensis and all ludwigias. I'm not sure why, but my rotala macrandra has recently gone crazy and is growing the best it ever has. I recently killed an an erio blood vomit and king crimson which I'm pretty bummed about and I'm pretty sure my pitiful ludwigia white is soon to follow.

I've been considering dissolved organics as an issue due to my previous lack of substrate maintenance and have spent the last month vacuuming it heavily with every water change. I've pulled up some pretty gross stuff out of it. I've also done a massive trim, removing everything I could that looked unhealthy so things look a little bare at the moment. If that's the cause for the poor health and algae affecting the lower leaves of most of my plants, I'm yet to see any positive effect from my maintenance, except perhaps the rotala macrandra. It'll be interesting to see what the effect is over the next month or so. If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to drop them below.

I'm getting a little GSA and GDA on my glass and wood and just recently a bit of BGA on the tips of a few stems. I'm monitoring that for now. I left the algae present in the photo below, no point hiding it.

In spite of some of the issues, I'm loving learning and working on it. It's a fantastic indoor hobby and a really nice thing to have in the living room, even if it's far from perfect.

Below is a breakdown of the current setup. Some of this is copied from my journal at the Barr Report which I've decided to let go in favour of this. Thanks for reading!

Tank: Waterbox 135.4 (4x2x2ish) with Red Sea mesh lid (due to a few fish deaths)

Water: Tapwater, Canberra, Australia. Soft. KH 2, pH 7.4, Mg 2ppm, Ca 10ppm

Lighting: 2x AI Hydra 26s. Recently upped to 100PAR at substrate. Lights on at midday.

Temperature: 25°C

Substrate: Fluval Stratum

CO2: Pressurised. CO2Art inline diffuser feeding a DIY cerges reactor (20" filter housing). I tried feeding the CO2 into the reactor but couldn't dissolve enough CO2. I tried running the inline diffuser without the reactor, but found a massive increase in microbubbles in the tank, and this seems to be a good middle ground. About 16BPS through my CO2Art bubble counter. On at 10am.

pH Drop: Unknown. In need of a good pH meter. Drop checker in the sump is slightly yellow.

Flow: Nyos Viper 3.0 return pump (2800LPH) with 1 x Tunze 6015 for additional flow

Filtration: Sump. 150 micron filter socks changed every couple of days at present. Maxspect Bio-blocks, Bio-balls and bakki rods with additional sponge filter for use in quarantine tanks etc as needed. Sponge filter also adds a little extra surface agitation in sump.

Macros: 12 - 4 - 12 nitrate-phosphate-potassium weekly. Half dosed after water change, the other half spread out in daily doses throughout the week. Using Kamoer F4 dosing pump.

Micros: Unchelated traces based upon Burr's latest work. Dosed daily. Unfortunately buying his stuff directly isn't so easy here in Australia, as much as I'd love to. Using Kamoer F4 dosing pump. Don't tell my wife that I paid an eyewatering $130 for 100g of NiSO4...

GH: Adding 5ppm Ca and 4ppm Mg to water added during waterchanges.

KH: 1-2 depending on tap water on the day. Seems to vary just a little. Was higher previously as i was using tap water for evaporation top off (about 4-5L per day). Since switched to RO water using an auto top off and this has kept KH low.

Water change: 60% on Friday afternoons. Rigged up a DIY PVC "hook" that drains to garden out the front. I've also made a gravel vac attachment with some fly screen over the top so I can do a really good clean of my substrate as needed. I was previously doing very little cleaning of the substrate which I think has contributed to some issues.

Livestock: 13x Green fire tetras, 2x harlequin rasboras, 2x ember tetras, 2x GBRs, 3x SAE, 10x peppered cory, 1x bristlenose catfish

Plants: Rotala rotundifolia, rotala macrandra, rotala bonsai, rotala wallichii, ludwigia super red mini, ludwigia white, ludwigia arcuata, ludwigia glandulosa, ludwigia senegalensis, crypt wendtii, crypt flamingo, crypt rosen maiden, ammania senegalensis, alternanthera reineckii, limnophilia aromatica, hygrophilia polysperma, erio vietnam (unsure), s repens, pogostemon helferi, random anubias, eleocharis belem, hemianthus micranthemoides, scattered java moss.



 

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Discussion Starter #2
Just a bit of an update. Things have been going generally well since I started my unchelated traces. That was done just before my first post. Growth has been pretty solid and some of the plants that I'd been struggling with previously have started to pick up. All's not perfect though as I've still got some algae on old leaves, but even that's better than it was a month ago. Still, looking back at the photos from my first post makes me pretty happy with the progress.

I've treated a couple of times since last post with Chemiclean for some cyanobacteria. It was starting to coat older leaves and the tips of some of my stems. Two treatments seems to have cleared it right up for now.

I also added some emersed stems which have converted well. Proserpinaca palustris, Rotala colorata, Rotala butterfly, Rotala Vietnam, Ludwigia inclinata and Ludwigia Cuba all went in a couple of weeks ago. I also picked up some Hygrophilia pinnatifida from a friend but that only went in yesterday. I'd like to pick up some Ludwigia white again if things continue to go well and I believe it's a mutation of Cuba, so that should be a good test. Correct me if I'm wrong please.

I also embarked on another little chemistry project and made myself some 4dKH solution for my drop checker. It took me ages to figure out why you need twice as much NaHCO3 as you do CaCO3 to produce the same dKH in a solution. From what I've read, it's because CO2 gets involved with CaCO3 creating the following reaction and doubling the amount of HCO3 produced. CaCO3 + CO2 + H2O = Ca(HCO3)2. The solution seems to be working well though. As much as people seem to hate on drop checkers, I like mine. It sits in my sump so is unaffected by CO2 bubbles in the water column and gives me a reference from day to day as needed.

Here's some photos.



Rotala Macrandra


S repens with some algae on older leaves


My drop checker solution working okay
 

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Discussion Starter #3
It's been a couple of weeks since the last update so I thought I'd chime back in.

I replaced my return pump last night, going from a Nyos Viper 3.0 at 2800lph to a Maxspect Jump 8k at 8000lph. There's a noticable increase in flow but probably not 3x faster as you would expect from the stats. I'm hoping that the change will improve circulation in some of the more tucked away areas of the tank. The Maxspect is a DC pump so it's much more controllable and a little quieter, although does emit a little whining noise rather than the buzz you get from an AC pump.

I did a water change and a trim today. I've started to get a change in new growth to progressively smaller and smaller leaves. My ludwigia in senegalensis in particular has started to get small, really dense tips that don't look correct to me. It was growing better previously so I wonder whether the increase in biomass has affected available nutrient or CO2 levels. I've also noticed the same in my Ludwigia inclinata and Rotala vietnam. The old leaves have started to deteriorate and become covered in algae. So things got a trim and I bagged up a massive chunk of pearl grass to give to another local hobbyist.

I've also noticed that a lot of my stems are sending off side shoots. My Ludwigia inclinata and arcuata, Rotala colorata, macrandra, wallichii and butterfly all appear to be be doing it. I wouldn't mind except that they all appear to show the small growth mentioned above. I don't know if the side shoots are a good sign or a bad one. Feel free to chip in with opinions.

I'm continuing to work really hard on cleaning up my previously neglected substrate giving it a really good vacuum during each weekly water change. I suspect it's a major contributor to my persistent issues with old leaves. I seem to get 2-3 internodes of healthy growth at the tip of most plants with anything below that appearing to be in poor health - you'll see as much in the photos below. My current theory is that the substrate may be leaching dissolved organics. I've considered just canning it and starting over with new substrate and a proper base layer of pumice which my current setup lacks, but I used up a large portion of my brownie points in buying the new return pump so and actually want to see if I can improve the substrate with time and effort. We're replacing the carpet in the living room with floor boards and will need to move the tank over the next month, so I may or may not end up doing the substrate then.

Ludwigia senegalensis



Ludwigia inclinata


Rotala Vietnam


Ludwigia arcuata


My Proserpinaca palustris is being a little odd. I picked up three emersed stems recently. One of them seems to have decent growth at the tip but another appears really deformed. The deformed growth appeared as side shoots from a previously topped stem. I trimmed them and planted today to see what would happen. I can't explain the difference but perhaps someone else could help there.

Proserpinaca palustris




It isn't all bad news though. My rotala rotundifolia grows like a weed and seems to suffer less with older leaves, my Limnophila aromatica likes it's place in the back right hand corner and my Ludwigia inclinata var. verticillata 'Cuba' is starting to show nice growth. I've also got 8 Crypt 'Rosen Maiden' that are growing well. From 8-10pm at night I run the lights red with a tiny hint of red with a touch of green and blue. It's actually one of my favourite times to site there and watch the tank.

Limnophila aromatica


Ludwigia inclinata var. verticillata 'Cuba'


Full tank shot


"Night Mode" - the photo doesn't really do it justice, it's not quite so red in person.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Yeah, part of the reason for changing the return pump was to increase flow through my reactor. The drop checker colour in the photo is about the most CO2 I could add without a massive bubble forming at the top of the reactor. I should be able to add more now that the flow is higher. It’s on today’s list of things to do.

PAR measurement is done through a Seneye reef. It’s finicky and I can’t comment on its accuracy as I’ve got nothing to compare against.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
It's been a long time since I've updated this, but I've got an evening free so figured this would be one of my things to do. It'll be a long post.

A lot has changed. In early December we decided to replace the flooring through the lounge room which meant the tank needed to be moved. It was a good opportunity for a rescape as it needed to be emptied anyway.

The first step was to replace my substrate. I started with a bag of Oliver Knott Aqualat and spread that across the bottom of the tank. Next went some 40x40cm media bags filled with pumice.Then on top of that I poured 5 bags of ADA Amazonia. I performed the obligatory water changes initially then planted once things started to settle. Unfortunately the planting was WAY lighter than I would have liked as I ended up losing lots of plants whilst waiting for the flooring to be done.

Base Layer


Initial Planting


I also took the opportunity to fiddle with my Cerges reactor a little. It now runs of it's own pump which picks water up form the main chamber of my sump and dumps it right next to the intake of the return pump. My previous CO2Art inline diffuser feeds the reactor but isn't show in photos. This gives a few bubbles in the tank (I've heard that bubbles may be beneficial) but leaves them fairly unobtrusive. So far, it seems to be giving higher CO2 levels in the tank with lower usage.

Reactor



As of now, the tank isn't looking to bad. Growth has been quicker and the tops of most plants are looking good. I'm still having my persistent issues with lower leaves looking rubbish. That's persisted across many changes I've made, I wonder if that's poor tank maintenance on my behalf, a lighting issue, or perhaps a nutrient issue. I'm currently front loading macros at 6/6/16 per week with unchelated micros dosed daily with levels similar to Burr/Greggz. There's a little GSA on my anubias but I've upped phosphates from 4 to 6 per week to try to combat that. The brown leaf edges on the anubias are interesting though. Anyone have any suggestions? Thanks for reading!

Current Display


Issues though




 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
Quick update. I received a plant order yesterday which I was pretty excited about. There were a few emersed Ludwigia white stems, along with some submersed Ludwigia inclinata, Ludwigia senegalensis, Rotala macrandra red, and Rotala macrandra variegated. I'm looking forward to seeing how they go, expecially the Ludwigia white which I've tried and failed with before.

The Erio ratnagiricum and Crypt flamingo I got off a friend are struggling a little. The older leaves have been taken over by a browny/green algae. I'm not really sure whether it's just adjusting, or whether there's something more going on. I hope it's just finding it's way under different parameters. The blood vomit is doing the same. I've also included a photo of some random anubias I've got tucked in the front right corner. It's probably the dimmest spot int he tank, but as you can see, the edges of the leaves are darkening and starting to deteriorate. Also note the GSA on the leaf to the left. I've upped phosphates to 6ppm/week to try to resolve that but phosphates still measured 0ppm when I tested before today's water change. The anubias is representative of the tank generally, with old leaves in poor health.

Erio rat 05.02.2021 (probably looks a little worse in person)


Crypt flamingo 05.02.2021


Erio rat + crypt flamingo 28.01.2021


Anubias


Full tank shot
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Time for another update. Things have grown in a lot since my last post, and this thread is useful to me as it really highlights the differences over time. I think you tend to forget some of these thing when you see a tank every day.

All of the plants I received in my last order are still alive. The Ludwigia inclinata seems to be doing well. It’s throwing out new growth at almost all internodes which I’m told is a good thing. It’s lost the real pink colour it had when new and is growing more orange now. The Rotala macrandra variegated is also doing well and I’m a little surprised just how pretty it is. It’s probably my new favourite. Unfortunately it looks much more green in the photo below than it does in person. The Ludwigia white is alive but has my usual algae issues.

I picked up a tricolour lotus from a local guy here for $12 which I’m told is a bit of a bargain here. It’s currently sitting way off to the left, but I’ll eventually move it centrally to act as a focal point. Just waiting on my Ludwigia white to grow a bit more so that I can switch it and the lotus.

I also added some Rotala wallichii. Not much to say about that at the moment though. It’s alive.

I fiddled with the placement of my biological media a few days ago. It was previously sitting across the bottom of my sump, but there wasn’t really much active flow through it. Someone commented that the issues with my anubias looked like ammonia burn, so I wonder whether the bio media has been doing a poor job dealing with waste in general. In any case, I’ve now taken steps to force water through the media and I’ll see what this does with time.

I’ve been doing two 50% water changes per week and frontloading macros each time including 8ppm phosphates. But my phosphates drop to 0ppm within a few days. I suspect it’s being taken up by my Amazonia and pumice and leaving the water column devoid of it. So I’ve decided to stop front loading and dose daily via my dosing pump. At least this way the plants will have access to it on a daily basis.

Also ordered a new light and a PH pen, and a whole bunch of Australian native rainbowfish but I’ll do another post when they arrive. My wife tells me that I need some larger fish so who am I to refuse. Hopefully in the next few days.





 

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Discussion Starter #9
My pH and TDS pens arrived yesterday and the rainbows today so time for another post.

I had a bit of a play with the pens yesterday and got some pleasing results. My pH is 6.95 degassed and drops to about 5.75 after two hours giving a 1.2 drop. I'm happy with that considering I was judging things off a drop checker in my sump previously. An hour after the CO2 turns on the pH has dropped into the high 5s, so already a 1 point drop. The constant surface disruption from the overflow and weirs in the sump gasses off so much CO2 that I have to inject it at what I've always considered an absurdly high rate, but at least it drops quickly. I could probably turn it on an hour and a half before lights on and be fine.

The TDS out of my tap is mid 60s and the tank measured 165. I've got no real reference point for the tank so can't give any thoughts on whether 165 is reasonable. I'll probably just use it to monitor for change more than an absolute number.

The rainbows that I ordered were all Australian natives from a guy called Dave Wilson at Aquagreen. I ordered a pair each of
Melanotaenia australis - Western Rainbowfish - Upper Katherine River
Melanotaenia australis - Western Rainbowfish
Melanotaenia nigrans - Black Banded Rainbowfish
Melanotaenia pygmaea - Pygmy Rainbowfish
Melanotaenia sp. Running River Rainbowfish
Melanotaenia splendida inornata - Mary River Chequered Rainbowfish
Melanotaenia trifasciata - Cato River Banded Rainbowfish
Melanotaenia wilsoni - The Little Rainbowfish

I expected 16 fish, but he threw in an extra, which I suspect is either of the two Western RF, not sure which one and I'm far too inexperienced to figure it out definitively when they're young (There's a Rathbun's Bloodfin/Green Fire Tetra in one of the photos for scale). They're all alive and active, but some look like they've had a slightly hard time in transport with a little fin and mouth damage. But it's only minor and they'll hopefully sort themselves out without much intervention from me. They all seemed interested in a bit of food tonight.






 

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Discussion Starter #10
The new light arrived last week. It's a MakeMyLED Flora Sun Pro8 120cm. It's got 192 3w LEDs with 90 degree lenses. MakeMyLED is a local Australian manufacturer and about the only place I could source a light with the desired 3w LEDs and 90 degree lenses.

I originally ordered it with brackets so that I could sit it on the rim of the tank, but that made it super hard to get my mesh lid off and didn't give great spread from front to back. So I went and ordered a hanging kit which arrived yesterday. Today was spent in the roof cavity adding an extra batten to suspend it from. An absolute pain as it was a super tight squeeze up there, but considering I've got $1000 and 6kg of light hanging over the tank, it's probably worth it.

I've currently got it running at about 40% which is giving 115PAR at the substrate when mounted 30cm from the surface of the water and the spread is much better. There's almost no variation in PAR from front to back. The photos don't show the colour particularly well, but I'll try to get some proper white balanced shots with my DSLR later this week.

Anyway, not much else to add. All the plants are still alive and doing similarly to before. The newly added rainbows are all doing nicely and are showing just a little more colour than before.





 

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For some reason.. i am not able to view any photos which you have posted.

FYI - I am setting up my tank.. i am yet to add fish. and i am looking for some takeaways (learnings)..
eager to see the next update
 

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For some reason.. i am not able to view any photos which you have posted.
That's odd. They show up fine for me on my laptop, phone and desktop. Anyone else have issues?

Not sure there's a lot to take away from this yet, other than perhaps to keep trying even if things aren't going brilliantly haha.
 

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Krangdo, really nice looking tank and great seeing the progress and transformation! Pics look fine to me. Not sure if you should be burying the rhizome on that Anubis though. I think the roots are good being buried but believe the rhizome will rot if buried.
 

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Not sure if you should be burying the rhizome on that Anubis though
That's certainly the common suggestion, but someone fairly experienced feels that burying the rhizome is absolutely fine. I thought I'd give it a go. They've been like that a few months ago and keep spitting out new leaves. Time will tell of course.
 

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Another quick update.

My nitrates bottomed out unexpectedly last weekend. I've been dosing 6ppm per week, relying on the substrate to give me most of what the plants needed. I'd been monitoring it for a couple of months and it seemed to he holding steady at about 10-20 ppm. But I started to see some small new growth on a few species recently so did a test and it came out pretty well on 0ppm. I added an extra 5ppm just after each water change since, taking the total to 11ppm between water changes. Last time I checked (a few days ago), it was sitting at about 5-10ppm. The species that were suffering seem to be doing much better with larger tips and much faster growth.

But my Rotala macrandra "red" and variegated have super curled leaf edges. I have vague recollections of reading an explanation for this some time ago, but can't find it again and cant remember the specifics. Anyone aware of what's going on?



 

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Discussion Starter #16
I've talked to a couple of people about the macrandra from last post and the suggestions have been low levels of Ca/Mg or low phosphates. Both could be possible. I've been adding a little Mg at each water change, but my tap has 13ppm Ca, so I've not been adding extra Ca. I've now started. I've also been battling to keep my phosphates up for a while now. In spite of dosing 6-8ppm per week over the last few months, it still regularly reads 0. I've got heaps of pumice under the Amazonia as well as a few large bags in my sump and I've read that it's got a resonably high CEC. So perhaps it's being taken up by the Amazonia and the pumice.

I've been wondering for a while if low water column phosphates are contributing to algae affected old growth. A couple of posts ago I switched from front loading macros to daily dosing in an attempt to keep levels at a low but more consistent level. Unfortunately it's still bottoming out so I've decided to test each morning and add a little (2ppm) if it reads low. It's been suggested that doing so may be an issue in itself due to the constantly fluctuating levels. Poor stability essentially. But I'll give it a go and change if things don't improve or get worse. The backup plan is frequent small water changes with a little extra PO4 front loaded at water changes. This would theoretically give more stable levels.

I've also been considering the possibility that my sump hasn't been breaking down organics effectively. My reactor picks up water from the main chamber of my sump and dumps it in the return chamber, but in doing so, it bypasses a large chunk of my bio media. I picked up some additional PVC fittings today and plan on modifying the outlet of the reactor so that the water dumps back into the main chamber. I imagine this will lead to a little re-circulation but will mean all of the water passes through all of the media. I'll post a photo of the modifications when they're done.

The rainbows are colouring up a little and my green fire tetras have been looking particularly colourful. They're probably my favourite of all tetras.

My Erio ratnagiricum is all but dead...

Anyway, some photos.





 

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Discussion Starter #17
Well I had a bit of a disaster last night.

I’ve had an RO system for a while now and have used it to fill the ATO reservoir as needed. But given that I had it there, I made the decision to switch to full RO water changes.

The system worked well and at the end I had about 200L of 2-3TDS water. I remineralised it to 5dgH at 3:1 and front loaded macros.

When I started pumping it in I noticed a single fish swimming at the surface. Nothing else seemed odd. The water change had been one with a lot of trimming and I wondered if the oxygen levels have dropped a little so set the incoming water up so that it would splash, creating a little surface agitation.

But as the fill continued I started to see more issues and by the time I turned my return pump back on, more fish were starting to struggle. Minutes later I saw one of my SAE swimming erratically, and up side down at times. Others quickly followed.

I quickly dumped some Prime in and tried to save what I could. I lost all of my green fire tetras, all of my SAE as well as an ember tetra and a harlequin rasbora that were transplants from other tanks that got torn down.

The Prime seemed to halt proceedings. Both my rams survived, all my ottos and corys are fine, as is my large bristlenose and all of the new rainbows. It’s really odd how it knocked out certain species.

My leading theory is chlorine. I honestly thought it would be taken out by the carbon block that sits before the RO membrane, and the reading done beforehand suggested that should be the case, but perhaps not. I used a different gypsum this time, so that could be a source of contamination, but I’d called the manufacturer and checked the MSDS prior to using it and didn’t have any alarm bells ring. I may order some lab grade stuff.

Anyway, I’m sad because I loved those green fire tetras especially and I hate killing things through my mistakes, but lesson learnt I guess. Otherwise the tank had a trim and things appear to be responding well to the daily measuring and dosing of PO4. My Rotala wallichii and Vietnam are finally growing!
 
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