200 GALLON JUNGLE STYLE

Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.86
ORP: 521 mV
NO3: 0.4 ppm
PO4: 0.62 ppm
Fe: 0.22 ppm

PO4 in the system is totally autochthonous, and while PO4 concentration is variable, it does persist despite the water changes and thriving plants. NO3 does not persist, and it is evident that it is being cleared from the water column by the plants. So, KNO3 supplementation should be reviewed once again. I am restarting KNO3 solution at 15 seconds (2.5 ml) daily.
 

Paul G

Active member
Proof of life. Loricaria hasn't been seen for a while. Not the best photo presentation but I take what I can get. This fish is in excellent condition, so I'm satisfied it's getting everything it needs.



Today's numbers

pH: 6.86
ORP: 525 mV
EC: 1160 uS/cm
NO3: 11.2 ppm*
PO4: 0.28 ppm
Fe: 0.22 ppm
K: 40 ppm
GH: 60 ppm (3.37 deg)
Ca/Mg: 40 ppm / 20 ppm
KH: 6.7 deg

*KNO3 doser is currently set for 15 seconds, 2.5 ml. This AM just before testing, 25 ml was manually dosed. The goal is to establish a consistent level circa 1 ppm.



Java fern is really moving in. Time to re-scape maybe.
 

Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.84
ORP: 524 mV
EC: 1130 uS/cm
NO3: 0
PO4: 1.16 ppm
Fe: 0.27 ppm
K: 40 ppm
GH: 64 ppm (3.6 deg)
Ca/Mg: 44 ppm / 20 ppm
KH: 6.57 deg

Manually dosed another 25 ml KNO3 solution. Increased daily dose to 10 ml.
 

Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.82
ORP: 520 mV
NO3: 0
PO4: 0.91 ppm
Fe: 0.25 ppm
K: 45 ppm
dGH: 3.5
Ca/Mg: 40 ppm / 22 ppm
dKH: 6

I am checking NO3 test result against another test to assure that the zero is not bogus. I am setting the daily dose to 90 seconds, 15 ml KNO3 solution.
 
This certainly rivals any reef tank as far as aesthetics and also effort/equipment/etc. Very impressive. If you ever want some exotic tetras to go in, let me know. I'd love to see of my youngsters in a set up like this!
 

Paul G

Active member
These past few days I have been making changes and doing major maintenance.

1) Trimmed out all tatty and quite a few "over-large" swordplant leaves. Previous pruning operations have left behind numerous stumps which I pared off at the crowns. The swordplant at the right end of the tank seems not to do as well as the others. I am shoving some fert tabs into the substrate in this area.
2) Pulled up a lot of Sagittaria leaving a large patch at the left end and all along the back. It will quickly creep back.
3) Removed the Nymphaea bulb. For all the benefits of keeping this plant, it was big and prolific. If I miss having it after a time, I can plant another.
4) Cleaned up the Java ferns and am in the process of repositioning them. They are getting big and the tank was congested.
5) Dismantled and bleached all the internal piping and switched out the intakes.
6) Cleaned and calibrated the instrumentation probes.
7) Changed and cleaned all the filters. I have increased the amount of carbon and will continue with this experiment.
8) A couple of 10 gallon water changes go with filter maintenance. I have done some manual dosing to readjust the parameters.
9) Set up the surface skimmers and cleared the tank of debris. For now there is no duckweed to be found.

Today's numbers

pH: 6.84
ORP: 425 mV
NO3: 5.2 ppm
PO4: 0.34 ppm
Fe: 0.12 ppm
K: 50 ppm
dGH: 4.5
Ca/Mg: 52 ppm / 28 ppm
dKH: 8.3
 
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Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers:

pH: 6.85
ORP: 491 mV
NO3: < 5 ppm
PO4: 1.32 ppm
Fe: 0.17 ppm
K: 45 ppm
dGH: 4.3
Ca/Mg: 50 ppm / 26 ppm
dKH: 7.8

Parameters returning to normal after extensive maintenance procedures and three successive 10% "big gulp" water changes. Pulling up the large amount of Sagittaria disturbed the substrate and resident mulm significantly. The cloudiness mostly settled within an hour, but the redox dropped rapidly by about 160 mV after the weeding was done. Likely, measurable reduced organics were liberated into the water column from the agitated rhizosphere. I installed half a liter of Continuum PowerCleanse catalytic activated carbon and 300 grams (500 ml) of SeaChem Purigen in pump loop #1R which routinely runs at 130 gph. I also dosed WasteAway heterotrophs. Organics scavenging went into overdrive. The redox recovered to 400 mV in about 48 hours and is still rising. Thinning out the overgrowth has improved the light penetration considerably, boosting opportunity for algae. I would prefer not to reduce the energy input as I like the illumination intensity, and oxygenation is increased also. Control of DOM is critical to maintaining super-oligotrophy and avoidance of algae.

This AM I dosed about 20 ml KH2PO4 solution manually just to compensate for the artificial loss due to the big gulp water changes. The system has no difficulty with maintaining adequate available phosphorus from environmental metabolizing of all autochthonous sources. I do not expect to resort to supplementing PO4 routinely.

I am adjusting - yet again - the KNO3 daily dose to 10 ml (60 sec run time). I was starting to wonder if nitrogen sourcing was becoming a problem due to prolonged insufficient autochthonous DIN. Manual dosing, more or less arbitrarily as an experiment, was done with the objective of getting NO3 just on the high side of oligotrophic maximum (5 ppm) and determining the dose rate required to eventually attain and hold the concentration to a consistently non-zero level; anything circa 3 ppm would be acceptable. I am pretty much resigned to not being able to rely on fish food alone to supply persistent NO3 (no matter how generous the feeding, it would seem), although I am fairly certain that the contribution from this source is a significant portion of the nitrogen requirement of the plants. If I can't eliminate necessary allochthonous primary nutrient I hope at least to minimize it.

Following are work in progress. There is much to be done.











 
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Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.85
ORP: 508 mV
NO3: 7.3 ppm
PO4: 1.26 ppm
Fe: 0.36 ppm
K: 40 ppm
dGH: 5.6
Ca / Mg: 52 ppm / 48 ppm
dKH: 8.2

 

Paul G

Active member
Some posts went into the ether-void with last week's interruption, so I would like to repeat my appreciation to Freshwaterfishfan, Mbkemp, and jcurts for their recent complimentary remarks, and to all who are following this thread. I suppose that one reason for publishing a topical journal, which might otherwise not be seen by a wider audience, is to organize one's thoughts openly in an effort to make oneself useful to others who share one's interests. In short, it's gratifying to discuss the things that we find interesting - the whole reason for the forum. I welcome questions and comments.

It is probably obvious that I am trained in science. This is the furthest I am willing - or need - to go in the area of personal remarks. Suffice it to say I am all about the rational-empirical effort, and I try to avoid pretense. There are as many ways to go about this hobby as there are hobbyists going about them, with varying degrees of success to be sure. In the end, I leave it to the reader to decide where my endeavors lie on this spectrum.

I myself describe this aquarium, and the entire management philosophy in it, as a high light / high technology (HLHT) tank as it has come to be so called in the hobby. A formal definition for HLHT typically always refers to the use of controlled pressurized CO2 in a system under high illumination. More broadly, what this means is an ecosystem in accelerated carbon-fixation mode. This is the principle feature of HLHT that differentiates it from the "natural" method espoused by Diana Walstad. That method is a valid means to an end and has a devoted following, and justifiably so. Walstad emphasizes, as do I, that the aquarium must be understood to be a dynamic ecosystem in which all pathways of environmental metabolism are inter-related and all organisms are intimately linked. The art of successful aquarium management is informed by natural science. The point of the exercise is to arrange a set of conditions that imitate a natural habitat, giving all else that follows the best possible chance of thriving into perpetuity. The basic underlying principles are the same, regardless of how the specifics of the management techniques may appear to differ.

Walstad, Diana L. 1999/2003. Ecology of the Planted Aquarium: A Practical Manual and Scientific Treatise for the Home Aquarist. Echinodorus Publishing (Chapel Hill, NC)

This book is beyond doubt a must-have resource for the serious aquatic gardener whatever the technique employed, from "natural" to HLHT. I have read it numerous times. It has sent me to other places in my library - limnology, microbiology, environmental engineering - so I return to it with newly educated eyes each time and am impressed all over again. Few books so slender are packed with so much knowledge.

A feature of HLHT is the array of automated contrivances that characterize, but do not necessarily define, these installations. My particular methodology involves 14 open drain events daily at regular intervals with a dosing system calibrated to maintain the water chemistry. This would not be possible by any practical measure without timers, solenoid valves, and peristaltic pumps. The lights are on staggered timers, temperature is controlled by electronic thermostats, any possible useful automatic application is utilized because I have the equipment that will perform these functions. These things are not essentially material to the simple act of growing aquatic plants; they just make that easier. The easier it is, the greater the likelihood that nothing is neglected, with certainty that events happen on time or respond to stimuli as required. Much of what is thought of as HLHT is just labor-saving devices that can be implemented on any tank regardless of the actual type of management technique in use.

There is an obligation to acknowledge that automation has two edges. The whole point is to rely on it; it's AUTOMATIC for a reason. However, if the automated system itself fails, EVERYTHING is neglected. Or, at the very least, if some part of the system fails, SOMETHING is neglected. This is a matter of industrial maintenance, not aquarium management per se. I don't think it is meaningful to say that it is possible to rely on automation "too much". Ultimately, you either rely on a system or you don't. Nothing relieves you of the duty to vigilance in any case.
 

Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.85
ORP: 508 mV
NO3: 0.6 ppm
PO4: 0.37 ppm
Fe: 0.12 ppm
dGH: 5.5
Ca / Mg: 56 ppm / 42 ppm
dKH: 8.7
 

Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.85
ORP: 540 mV
NO3: 8.2 ppm
PO4: 0.20 ppm
Fe: 0.09 ppm
K: 30 ppm
dGH: 5.4
Ca / Mg: 50 ppm / 46 ppm
dKH: 8.8

It may be noticed that I am no longer reporting EC. I am testing for values of all important parameters, and EC alone is not especially useful information. The conductivity numbers I have been reporting were suspiciously high, and I still cannot get two probes to agree closely enough to trust the accuracy of either. I would trust the Apex apparatus used for this measurement to accurately monitor salinity in a marine system, but using it to monitor conductivity in a soft-water system is perhaps not as reliable an application. So I will be discontinuing attempts to monitor EC.

The ORP reported above is the value at 11:00. Redox is recovering from last week's drop. The current 7-day running average is 531 mV. All supplements are dosed daily at 07:00 - 07:15, when the lights come up and photosynthesis begins. The ORP curve dips sharply at this time, approximately 55 mV, and occurs top to bottom over about 45 minutes, then gradually rises to a normal maximum by about sunset. This plateau then persists overnight. The dip is accompanied by a small coincidental drop in O2. I offset this by having a minimum DO threshold below which the aeration kicks in. This is currently programmed at 5.5 ppm O2, and it completely erases the notch in the saturation curve. Clearly, supplement dosing introduces reducing agents and a fast peak in O2 utilization. It is difficult to parse the individual effect of every substance on the ORP value as the chemistry is probably a bit complicated. I do know that organic molecules in general have a far greater impact than inorganic salts. SeaChem Excel, Advance, Flourish, and Flourish Trace each demonstrate some redox depression. Together they are a veritable cocktail of reducing agents. As long as the running average ORP is above 400 mV I am okay with the 55 mV dip every morning.

The very high ORP we have been experiencing for quite a long while now is owing in part to the use of good grade pelleted activated carbon in conjunction with the streaming water change regimen. After the redox fall-off from the recent maintenance procedures, I boosted the redox recovery with a large charge of SeaChem Purigen and premium performance granulated carbon. All along I have been doing my usual frequent testing of all parameters. I am prepared now to state that this chemical filtration has had no real quantitative effect on the concentrations of any of the testable nutrients, and there have been no deleterious effects in plant health. Quite the opposite. If I suspected that chemical filtration might too quickly remove gluconate, and thus the ferrous iron attached to it, I was mistaken. The plants are getting it before the filter does. I don't know how fast the chemical filtration media remove Excel, Advance, or the other organics in the cocktail. The rate of ORP incline as the photoperiod progresses suggests to me that these substances remain available to the plants before being fully stripped out by adsorption, diluted overmuch by the water changes, or broken down from normal photolysis or microbial decomp. Until given a reason to further revise, I will continue using activated carbon routinely.

Another instrument I have little use for is the PAR monitor. PAR (photosynthetic active radiation) is an important parameter in a planted tank to be sure, and it is good to be able to measure it. To get meaningful information from a PAR meter, you want to be able to move the probe around inside the tank; the numbers you get are unique to the moment and place of the measurement. You may have a real need for these measurements from time to time. I have not had a need to know the PAR anywhere in my tank since I started running out of room for all my plants! In any event, I certainly don't need to continuously monitor it, as might a well equipped reefer. I have the Apex probe mounted in one arbitrarily determined location and all it's telling me is when a swordplant leaf is starting to throw shade at it 😃. I will remove it when I remove the EC probes.

It is time to change out the intakes.
 

Paul G

Active member
Today I tested with a new La Motte Potassium test tube, and noticed right away that the inner slide tube calibration markings were different from the older one I have been using. I checked the reagents and the instructions and they are not different than those in the previous kit. So it seems that La Motte has simply revised the test tube calibrations, and the older test tube has been giving false results. Today's K at 30 ppm will now likely be the ballpark in future tests. I have no reason to intuitively disbelieve this number, and it is certainly an acceptable concentration. This test is based on the degree to which induced turbidity obscures a dark target and does not have a high resolution. But it is an easy test to perform and yields a positive recognizable result. The resolution is perfectly acceptable for the purpose of ascertaining a parameter which is intended to be kept at luxury uptake levels anyway.

For the record, I have been practicing improved lab techniques in the performance of the GH and Ca tests. I have previously remarked upon being frustrated by uncertainty in the results of these tests. I think La Motte could have been more detailed in the instructions concerning time required to make reliable subjective color assessments in the titrations. For anyone using La Motte's Hardness test kit who are interested I would be happy to provide specifics.
 

Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.85
ORP: 538 mV
NO3: 4.1 ppm
PO4: 0.12 ppm
Fe: 0.15 ppm
K: 30 ppm
dGH: 5.6
Ca: 64 ppm / Mg: 36 ppm
dKH: 9.3
 

Paul G

Active member
After a week of data-logging stable cycles, the following graphs illustrate the points outlined in 8 March post.




The first O2 saturation cycle from the first week of February shows the pronounced dip in the oxygen tension starting at 07:00 each day. The second O2 saturation cycle shows the dips removed with only a small sharp notch remaining. This is the DO at 5.5 ppm, as low as the oxygen tension is ever allowed to be in this aquarium. The following O2 saturation cycle is today's readout with the air-pump ON events superimposed.




The aeration is controlled by the oxygen sensor. The air pump is programmed to turn ON at < 6.0 ppm O2. Aeration is active over a period of approximately 3 hours, commencing at the time of dosing, which is 07:00 (first light at dawn), and stops when photosynthesis takes over. [The program lines involving pH are safeties.] At 21:00, total lights OFF, the saturation curve has descended from peak, the last moment of full light, but remains supersaturated ( > 9 ppm) until around midnight.

The ORP cycle for the same week, below, shows the sharp dip in redox at dosing, with rapid recovery by about noon, peaking at midnight. The AM dips in oxygen tension and redox are due entirely to dosing. As noted earlier, I have found that SeaChem Flourish Excel, Flourish Advance, Flourish Comprehensive, and, to a smaller degree, Flourish Trace all contribute to the effect. Aeration clips the O2 dip, an anomaly due to dumping of reduced/reducing substances at one time; this 3 hour period is typically the only time the air-pump ever runs.





This effect does not necessarily represent a dangerous condition, since O2 tension above 4 ppm is perfectly adequate for the most aerophilic of species and will support efficient biofilter metabolism. But in terms of habitat imitation, this effect certainly does not represent a natural condition either. It is fitting and proper to provide a corrective if the technological means are at hand to do so. It accords with my philosophy that attention to detail, assuring peak performance and consistency day after day, is a key to success in keeping a sharp and healthy planted tank. Since I am able to easily hold O2 tension above 6 ppm, I will imagine that it must be done.

The graphs below show the pH cycle. The pH-R electrode is the CO2 solenoid controller. The first graph is a two day expansion with solenoid ON events superimposed. The CO2 system is maintaining strict control of pH, so the solenoid is fairly active even at night. As expected, ON events are more closely spaced in the day when the plants are consuming carbon. There is also a dense cluster for about an hour daily beginning around 07:15. This is a result of the aeration blowing off CO2.





The second graph, below, is the pH plot for the last week, showing the left and right electrodes. I calibrate these probes monthly. The left end of the tank always has a slightly lower average pH. The pH reported in Today's Numbers is the average of the two. The pH controller is programmed to hit the 6.84-6.85 target; the actual solenoid ON event is set at 6.89, determined by observation.



Today's numbers

pH: 6.85
ORP: 541 mV
NO3: 0
PO4: 0.66 ppm
Fe: 0.09 ppm
K: 35 ppm
dGH: 5.4
Ca/Mg: 50/46 ppm
dKH: 9.0

The K2CO3 dosing should be slowed down some; dKH is inclining gradually.
 
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Paul G

Active member
This AM, before testing, I topped up the quarantine/holding tank, which typically means about a 4 gallon water change in the main tank.

Today's numbers

NO3: 4.9 ppm
PO4: 0.04 ppm
Fe: 0.08 ppm
dKH: 8.4

Nitrate being stubbornly low, I am still tinkering with KNO3 to get somewhere over zero. Yesterday I added 80 ml of SeaChem Nitrate (which also contains urea), which got the tank to today's 4.9 ppm. I am increasing the daily KNO3 dose rate; 50 seconds = 8.3 ml.

Phosphate, as usual, has been somewhat variable - always non-zero, seldom over 1 ppm. It continues to derive from autochthonous sources solely. I have not added KH2PO4 except for 20 ml to compensate for big gulp water changes, such as when I do the filters.

I am increasing Flourish Comprehensive from 30 seconds (5 ml) to 40 seconds (6.7 ml) to gradually bump up Fe.
 

Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

NO3: 0
PO4: 0.32 ppm
Fe: 0.08 ppm
K: 40 ppm
dGH: 4.0
Ca/Mg: 36/36 ppm
dKH: 7.6



Yesterday I removed these and several others in the weekly trimming. These swordplant leaves are 15" long (2 liter bottle for scale). Not done yet, I need to clip a few more as the tank is too shady. I always try to take old leaves that are torn, have holes or necrosis, etc, but it is necessary to take healthy ones such as these from time to time. As I do this, I speculate - more like fantasize - about a really large tank with a school of wild angels and festivums, and Echinodorus running rampant.

Anyway, NO3 is disappearing into this system. Given the production rate, I see no reason yet for concern that we are on the edge of nitrogen deficiency. I will, once again, bump up the KNO3 dose rate just a bit to assure good karma. Micros too.
 

Paul G

Active member


Early Thursday AM the pH began to rise due to CO2 depletion. At 04:22 pH hit 6.92 at which point the CO2BACKUP came on. This morning at 08:15 I installed a new CO2PRIMARY.

Thursday, 25 March, at 01:15 the CO2PRIMARY bottle emptied. This bottle delivered 106 hours over a period of 73 days for an average of 1 hour and 27 minutes per day. Utilization rate compared to previous periods reflects the recent increase in pH. This period exceeds that of the last bottle by 12 days. The aquarium is as densely planted as possible and is in high production mode. Lighting is satisfactory; no change contemplated for intensity or period. Trimming regularly removes about the same biomass each time. I think it is reasonable to assert that the carbon throughput is fairly constant. If I keep the operating parameters pH = 6.85, dKH = 7 to 8, I expect to limit annual CO2 consumption to around five 20 pound bottles.

The pH-R probe is the solenoid controller, and the average pH at this end of the tank has been slowly trending high. I have reduced the programmed threshold just slightly.

SeaChem Flourish Excel is a carbon source and probably does factor into this, as I dose 20 ml daily, the label recommended maximum for 200 gallons. I'm guessing most HLHT systems don't use the stuff, but I do. In theory, it supplies a portion of the macrophyte carbon requirement since it is the base molecule for metabolic intermediates and, evidently according to SeaChem, the plants do use it. I wonder if this significantly offsets the CO2 uptake. While I think probably the plants are accustomed to getting it, would withholding it, or altering the dose, cause an observable affect, either in plant growth or CO2 utilization?
 
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Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.83
ORP: 537 mV
NO3: 0.1 ppm
PO4: 0.66 ppm
Fe: 0.23 ppm
K: 30 ppm
dGH: 3.8
Ca/Mg: 32/36 ppm
dKH: 6.5

In contrast with 16 March observation, both dKH and +K are now declining. I have cut back too much! I am adjusting K2CO3 dose to 1 m 15 s (12.5 ml). This is given three times a day. I will also regain some buffer capacity by reinstalling NeoMag in the upcoming filter change.

I increased Flourish Comprehensive to 12.5 ml, and ++Fe is now where I need it to be. I reprogramed the doser to deliver this in three 25 second events at 06:30, 06:45, and 07:02. I also reprogramed Excel to dose 10 ml at 7:05 and 10 ml at 07:15. This spread out the sudden impact of COD (chemical oxygen demand) and mitigated the severity of the sharp drop in redox as discussed in the 16 March entry above. The DO threshold is set at 5.5 ppm. In the period between circa 07:00 to 08:30 aeration turns ON a few times; this is the only period in the entire diurnal cycle when the air pump runs. With the current saturation cycle values, this is providing a nicely compensated O2 floor. It's not a critical health issue. This is a tweak, a refinement implemented because it is possible to do so. Sudden redox fluctuations would not be normal in a stable natural habitat, so I think remediating that is important. Besides, making the curve look natural satisfies in me a deep internal yearning for elegant symmetry.:giggle:

Since removing the NeoMag/aragonite reactor media in last month's filter change, I have adjusted the MgSO4 dosing to support ++Mg. With a decline in ++Ca the overall dGH is falling off, and I have been experimenting with CaCl2 to redress the balance. The reactor media approach to holding GH worked well. In fact, it's easy to get a run-away effect. I used quite a lot of the stuff (over one liter) in a high velocity loop and it took about two weeks to see elevations of ++Ca, ++Mg, and a significant contribution to --CO3 KH as well. It took another two weeks to realize that the water changes were not adequately controlling the hardening. I removed the reactor media bag and did some "big gulp" water changes to normalize the system. Clearly, the nub of the issue is figuring out the quantity of media to use and whether it would be better to put it in a processing loop where the flow is much slower. The method itself is sound and only needs fine tuning. I will return 1/2 liter of NeoMag to a processing loop and continue this experiment.

The dose rates of all supplements change in response to an intensive testing protocol. The ultimate cause of a given dose rate of any supplement is the demand of the plant community for that nutrient. The testing is a means of determining the utilization rate. To a certain extent, the constant tinkering is due to just plain uncertainty; it's a discovery process not yet complete. But that process is complicated by moving targets. Automation helps. The system assures the time and quantity of dose without attention. Yet I have found the need for more or less constant intervention, reprograming a dose rate first one way and then another. As much as I'd like to idealize the whole scheme as a "set and forget" proposition, the aquarium simply does not behave in a manner wholly amenable to that.

I still have much to learn about how to make that happen, but I believe that the aquarium is fundamentally environmentally stable so I have an advantage. The ability to easily reprogram a doser in response to changing conditions is a feature of the methodology. Provision of this ability is an acknowledgement that conditions can and do, in fact, change, albeit usually slowly or incrementally, and it supplies rapid correction. Nutrients and buffer capacity are, to varying degrees, squishy soft parameters. Surely there are tolerances - ranges of acceptable variation - to be observed. If the aquarium's ecology is stable we need only guard against parameters shifting too far out of tolerance, as ultimately they are wont to do. Hitting exact numbers is pointless. Preventing unidirectional creep is critical. A good management system is one that makes it easy to do that.
 
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Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.82
ORP: 541 mV
NO3: < 5 ppm
PO4: 0.60 ppm
Fe: 0.34 ppm
K: 30 ppm
dGH: 3.1
Ca/Mg: 26/30 ppm
dKH: 6.6
 
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