Questions on freshwater planted aquariums.

By: ahill3780
July 31st, 2006
5:53 pm

Questions on freshwater planted aquariums.

I put a sticky tag on this thread because it gets into a lot of important issues concerning planted tanks. It is long, sometimes technical, but is a good informative read about planted tank "stuff". It will get you started on asking the right questions as you start out.

Jay



I suppose that this thread would mostly be targeted toward Jay, but anyone should feel free to chip in here.

Jay,

I know what nutrients, and what levels to target when setting up a reef aquarium since finding information online regarding that topic is not hard at all. However, learning the proper way to set up and maintain a freshwater tank is less widely available.

My brother has a 75 gallon freshwater planted system and he has recently tapped my shoulder for advice and help in making it more stable and healthy. Being more of an expert in saltwater systems I am not sure where to start. I did some research and learned a little of the basics that I passed along to him as a start, but I fear that he is more lost in this than I am. So I was wondering if you could help me out a little here.

I'll start off with telling you what I know so far. I know that plants grow best under 6500K lighting and we have made use of the Aqualife DayMax 6500K bulbs on that system. I know that plants need CO2 uptake in order to breathe and my brother has made use of the TurboCO2 Canister system that can be found at most supply stores. I, however, question this systems ability to provide sufficient levels of CO2. I have read somewhere about the use of homemade "yeast fermentation" systems in order to produce CO2 but I have not attempted to learn more and try this on my own. And with the large costs involved with CO2 injection systems, we have not considered this as a viable option at this time. I am also aware that CO2 can play havoc on the systems pH level when improperly used, or when too much has been added.

My question to you on this subject is: First, what is the system that you use in your tank to achieve the desired production of CO2? and Second, what process should be used to determine how much CO2 is needed, and how much is present within the aquarium?

Next, I am aware of the need for Iron in the planted aquarium and it was suggested early on that we make use of Flourite as our substrate in order to provide a plentiful source of this. I passed this information on to my brother as well and he accepted the suggestion. However, he only purchased a single bag of flourite and mixed it in to his sand substrate. The iron levels are completely undetectable in the system so I know that we do not have the sufficient amount of Flourite.

Is there a better way to introduce iron into the system?

We use RO/DI water for all of our tanks, and have since we began keeping the 75 gallon. We treated the fresh RO water with Kent Marine RO Right until we ran out and we simply haven't obtained more yet. I mention this mainly to let you know that all water going into the system currently during water changes contains no minerals such as iron, or phosphates, etc.

When we set the system up we used all live sand (and the Flourite) and the system has been stable ever since - we never see any registered levels of Ammonia or Nitrites, and the Nitrate levels stay relatively low (below 10 ppm typically). We have several plants in the system (I could not name them all right off the top of my head, but I know they include Dwarf Grass, and Micro Sword) but we are constantly plagued with a greyish dirty algae that attaches itself to the plants and kills them off. I know that this is due to nutrient difficiency, but I have no idea what nutrients are needed, and therefore have no idea where to start in the recovery process.

What I need from you is to complete this list of necessary nutrients, as well as the desired levels for each, so that I can begin analysing our current strategy and adjust it accordingly.

Plants need:
CO2 -
Iron -
Chelated Iron -
Phosphate -

Here are the current levels - so far as I can recall them off the top of my head:

pH = 6.8
Alk = 2.9
Ammonia = 0
Nitrite = 0
Nitrate = 10
Iron = 0
Chel. Iron = 0
CO2 = (no way of detecting - 2 TurboCO2 systems (rated for 40 gallons each) that run 24/7, replacement of cannister contents is done every month)
Temperature = 78 F (has been constant at this level since the tank was est.)
PO4 = 0

Our lights are on a timer that runs on a 12 hour on / 12 hour off cycle. (from 11am - 11pm)

For filtration we rely primarily on good maintenance habits and water changes, which are performed at the rate of 10-20% each week - no more than every 2 weeks, but we have 2 Eheim Cannister filters rated for 100 gallon systems each which we use primarily for moving water around, but we occasionally use activated carbon if someone accidently overdoses the tank with nutrient supplements.

The tank is supplemented with Seachem Flourish Excel, and Seachem Flourish Essential Elements (I think thats what it is - I will confirm that later if needed). Other than that, no other supplements are added, although we keep a few onhand just in case.

For test kits we rely on the Aquarium Pharm. Master Test Kit for Freshwater (Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, and pH), and the Hagen Iron test kit. No other test kits are used at this time.

I think thats about all the relavent information I can provide, if you can think of anything else that might be helpful please let me know and I will provide it as I can. But with this knoweldge of our operation what suggestions or tips can you offer to make our endeavor more successful?

Thank you up front for all your help!

Join the Discussion!

11 comments on "Questions on freshwater planted aquariums."

  • Jay
    July 31, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    Hey Ah..just checked in

    Originally Posted by
    However, learning the proper way to set up and maintain a freshwater tank is less widely available.
    I hear that!!

    Wow! that is a lot of information, and opportunity for discussion and debate...I will organize my thoughts and post tomorrow. From reading your post I think there is some misinformation we need to deal with, fertilization and water chemistry need tweaking, no real problems. We can have his tank solid in two to three weeks.

    Be prepared to rethink the CO2 thing (Large costs, compared to live rock and coral. I don't think so) Also Iron, be prepared to dump some iconic thinking about nutrients, along with the PO4 levels you saltwater guys worry about.

    Sounds like great fun Look forward to it, perhaps others will benefit.

    Regards,

    Jay

  • ahill3780
    August 1, 2006 at 9:52 am

    Originally Posted by Jay
    Wow! that is a lot of information, and opportunity for discussion and debate... From reading your post I think there is some misinformation we need to deal with...
    I was thinking along the same lines! A good old informational debate!

    Originally Posted by Jay
    Be prepared to rethink the CO2 thing (Large costs, compared to live rock and coral. I don't think so) Also Iron, be prepared to dump some iconic thinking about nutrients, along with the PO4 levels you saltwater guys worry about.
    Thanks again Jay, I'm looking forward to your post! And believe me, I am ready to accept the truth and correct my thinking on this one! I am well aware that the truth for a saltwater tank can be the opposite when applied to a freshwater, and I am prepared to learn!

    Originally Posted by Jay
    Sounds like great fun Look forward to it, perhaps others will benefit.
    Everyone can benefit from constructive criticism and the pursuit of truth!

  • Jay
    August 1, 2006 at 12:23 pm

    I am going to outline some fundamentals, in no particular order, and we can go from there with more in depth info or referral resources as needed. These comments are for a Well Planted tank, not a tank with a few plants.

    Light: The Kelvin temp of the light is not a major factor for plant growth or health. Kelvin temp is an esthetic decision made by the hobbyist (his preference for the color of the light). I like and use 10,000k on my tank 6500k just does not please me.

    It is the intensity and duration of the photoperiod that is most important. Two watts per gallon is considered to be the minimum needed. 75 gallon tank = 150 watts of light evenly distributed across the tank from fluorescent or compact fluorescent tubes, or whatever source you decide. Eight to 10 hours, I use eight.

    Unless your local tap water has some wacky chemistry, it is the way to go for plants. Ro water can be used for top ups, but plants really respond well to tap water changes.

    If you are going to move up to a Well Planted tank, "pack" it full of plants from the start. Buy cheap stems etc. but packing it is a key to start up or change over success. When the tank is right and working, you can begin to replace the fast growing stems with specimen plants and work on the scaping. NOTE: this is an important algae avoidance strategy.

    Aquarium Pharmaceutical Test kits are what I use, although I rarely test anymore. Keep in mind that any hobby test kit can be very inaccurate unless you carefully calibrate it.

    Get a report from your local water co., you may have to call and talk nicely to them to get a complete useful breakdown of the water chemistry.

    Here is my nutrient dosing schedule for the 75, I am sure you will have questions. The values below are based on the local tap water report, then adding enough of the nutrient to reach my target level.

    KNO3 Potassium Nitrate for (Nitrate) to a target level of 25 ppm.
    KH2PO4 Potassium Mono Phosphate for (Phosphate) to a target level of 3 ppm.
    MgSO4 Magnesium Sulfate for (Magnesium) to a target level of 10 ppm.
    CaSO4 Calcium Sulfate for (Calcium) to a target of 50 ppm.
    K2SO4 Potassium Sulfate for (Potassium) to target 20 ppm.
    CO2 @ 40 ppm for the duration of the photoperiod.

    Seachem Flourish 45 ml a week
    Seachem Excel @ 20 ml a day. (We will need to talk about this one)

    I do not dose extra iron, my fluorite substrate; trace amounts in the tap water, and Flourish seem to work just fine for me. There is also a lot of anecdotal reporting that supplemental iron encourages some soft algae.

    Weekly 60% water change. I use Seachem Prime to detoxify the tap water.

    I have some really excellent dosing calculators on spreadsheets that I will send you if you want.

    All of the information above is based on a high light (over 3 watts per gallon) and the use of CO2. You can have a moderate to low light tank with no CO2 and be just fine. CO2 promotes lush, rapid, spectacular growth in the planted tank, I like the action, and the constantly changing scenarios presented. Plus I am willing to prune and garden once a week. A non CO2 tank is much much slower to evolve and change, and obviously needs less nutrient dosing. The other advantage of CO2 is that it contributes to the decline of many nuisance algae.

    I use a 10# CO2 tank with regulator and needle valve in conjunction with a homemade injection system. The whole system can be done for under $200. Refills cost me about $7 per month.

    My work schedule is beating me up right now, and I have crammed a whole lot of stuff into this outline. Chew on it and we can talk further.

    Jay

  • ahill3780
    August 1, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks again Jay, a very informative read. I find it very intriguing that the use of plain tap water is to be desired over that of RO in a planted aquarium, but I admit that it makes sense.

    I will have to take a little bit and digest everything before I reply again. In the next post I will comment in counterpoint with each statement you made so that I can make sure we are at a full understanding.

    Thanks again, and I'll post again soon!

  • ahill3780
    August 1, 2006 at 4:44 pm

    Originally Posted by
    Light: The Kelvin temp of the light is not a major factor for plant growth or health. Kelvin temp is an esthetic decision made by the hobbyist (his preference for the color of the light). I like and use 10,000k on my tank 6500k just does not please me.
    Interesting. I had heard that through scientific testing it was shown that plants grown under 6500 Kelvin grew better (I don't know exactly what they meant by 'better', faster or healthier) than those under 5000K, 10,000K, or 20,000K lamps of equal intensity. Maybe it's worth a little more investigating in order to get behind the truth of this statement.

    We keep our tank illuminated with 4x 40W Daymax bulbs giving us a total of 160W so I think we meet your established intensity. Until now we have kept a photoperiod of 12 hours which I will correct down to 10 to begin with and gradually step it down from there to see if we notice any improvement. I am glad you pointed this out because duration was one of my concerns.

    Unfortunately due to budget concerns we cannot start off with packing in everything at once, (well that and my brothers indecision on what plants he wants) so we are having to add in as decisions are made and funds become available. I am not sure I understand what you mean by 'stems', do you mean that we should strip any new aquisitions of all leaves before placing them in and let them develope new growth after being placed in the aquarium? Please explain a little more here.

    On test kits I fully agree with you, most are difficult at best - especially concerning pH kits - due to the influence of other ionic properties getting in the way and effecting the outcome. While we still do tests, we usually take the results with a grain of salt and do so more to get an idea of stability than for accurate detection.

    Originally Posted by
    Get a report from your local water co., you may have to call and talk nicely to them to get a complete useful breakdown of the water chemistry.
    Fortunately our water system is fairly good. Many people I have talked to across the nation who produce RO water and keep an eye on TDS (Total Dissolved Solids - for those of you who are not familiar) report very high levels of around 100-300 ppm TDS in their water supply! Our water here only registers around 30 ppm TDS. It fluctuates, but the ranges I have observed are between 26 - 33. I think we should be OK with switching over to tap.

    So basically what you are suggesting is that I should aim for the following:

    Nitrate ~ 25 ppm
    Phosphate ~ 3 ppm
    Magnesium ~ 10 ppm
    Calcium ~ 50 ppm
    Potassium ~ 20 ppm
    CO2 ~ 40 ppm to be injected while the lights are on at a duration of between 8-10 hours

    And to acheive these levels you suggest (depending on the base compesition of the water source) supplimenting 45 ml per week of Seachem Flourish, and a daily dose of 20 ml Seachem Excel?

    I understand your concern about not dosing more iron than is necessary as some will be introduced in the tap water with more being added by the Flourish, but what specific level (in ppm) would you recommend we target here?

    Originally Posted by
    Weekly 60% water change. I use Seachem Prime to detoxify the tap water.
    Is such a high volume necessary so often? I would think that such a rate of exchange would cause costs to soar in not only water consumption, but in the cost of constantly having to add nutrients to replenish what has been removed. Not to mention the stress that may be placed on the inhabitants. Am I wrong to think so?

    Originally Posted by
    I have some really excellent dosing calculators on spreadsheets that I will send you if you want.
    Please do! I think that others may also benefit from such. I myself have created personal tank log spreadsheets with built-in calculators for determining tank volume, weight, lighting, water change %, etc. and I am fascinated with learning more. Maybe if we combined our knowledge we could come up with something that we can make available to everyone here.

    I prefer the use of CO2 in the planted aquarium. I am aware that plants can be kept without, but I prefer to provide for the needs of everything we keep in our tanks. I am interested in learning more about setting up a homemade CO2 injection system, perhaps we can concentrate this information into a seperate thread, what do you think?

    I think that that covers most of my concerns at the moment. Take some time to toss it around and let me know what you come up with when you have more time - no rush on this.

    Thanks again Jay, I really appreciate the time and attention on this.

  • Jay
    August 1, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    Originally Posted by
    Unfortunately due to budget concerns we cannot start off with packing in everything at once, (well that and my brothers indecision on what plants he wants) so we are having to add in as decisions are made and funds become available. I am not sure I understand what you mean by 'stems', do you mean that we should strip any new acquisitions of all leaves before placing them in and let them develop new growth after being placed in the aquarium? Please explain a little more here.
    He needs to let go of the indecision and focus on the transition to a real planted tank. Cheap weeds from Pets Mart or online for $30 bucks worth or from me when I do a serious pruning every two weeks or so for free.

    Originally Posted by
    Our water here only registers around 30 ppm TDS. It fluctuates, but the ranges I have observed are between 26 - 33. I think we should be OK with switching over to tap.
    Love that

    Originally Posted by
    So basically what you are suggesting is that I should aim for the following:

    Nitrate ~ 25 ppm
    Phosphate ~ 3 ppm
    Magnesium ~ 10 ppm
    Calcium ~ 50 ppm
    Potassium ~ 20 ppm
    CO2 ~ 40 ppm to be injected while the lights are on at a duration of between 8-10 hours
    Yes for high light and CO2 injection.

    Originally Posted by
    I understand your concern about not dosing more iron than is necessary as some will be introduced in the tap water with more being added by the Flourish, but what specific level (in ppm) would you recommend we target here?
    .2 - .3 ppm. Hobby test kits are very unreliable for iron. I use water co. numbers and add from there.

    Originally Posted by
    Is such a high volume necessary so often? I would think that such a rate of exchange would cause costs to soar in not only water consumption, but in the cost of constantly having to add nutrients to replenish what has been removed. Not to mention the stress that may be placed on the inhabitants. Am I wrong to think so?
    Yes the volume of water change is critical. We can get more into this later. I just bought my next years worth of nutrients for under $30 including shipping. No Stress on inhabitants…we are resetting the nutrient levels within reason (TDS) at each water change.


    Originally Posted by
    I prefer the use of CO2 in the planted aquarium. I am aware that plants can be kept without, but I prefer to provide for the needs of everything we keep in our tanks. I am interested in learning more about setting up a homemade CO2 injection system, perhaps we can concentrate this information into a separate thread, what do you think?
    Yes me too. CO2 injection definitely deserves a separate thread, as there is way too much misinformation out there.

    Jay

  • Jay
    August 1, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Originally Posted by
    Interesting. I had heard that through scientific testing it was shown that plants grown under 6500 Kelvin grew better (I don't know exactly what they meant by 'better', faster or healthier) than those under 5000K, 10,000K, or 20,000K lamps of equal intensity. Maybe it's worth a little more investigating in order to get behind the truth of this statement.
    Plants adapt quickly!

    Unsolicited comment from my wife, who really could care less about my hobby.

    Originally Posted by
    I have never seen plants grow like that, how do you do that?
    Jay

  • ahill3780
    August 1, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    No argueing with that!

  • Jay
    August 2, 2006 at 11:13 am

    I was re-reading the posts so far and felt I was not very clear on the water change issue.

    Clearly I am dosing a lot of nutrients far more than the plants need or will use in a weeks time. Two reasons here. One, I do not want to bottom out on a neutrient say P04 or CO2 and leave my tank vulnerable to an algae bloom.
    (I'm sure we will get cards and letters on that one). Two, a water change of 50-60% keeps resetting the level of TDS, and or DOC. In other words, to prevent a continual buildup of say NO3 to levels above 30 ppm. Does that make sense

    Like I said, using generic ferts is very inexpensive.

    Jay

  • wl_keller
    April 2, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    Are you suggesting changing 60% water all at once, or 60% during the period of a week? Such as 20% every other day?



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