200 GALLON JUNGLE STYLE

Paul G

Active member
The carbonate is the only buffer ion in this system. Bearing in mind that the SWCR (Streaming Water Change Regimen) is constantly diluting the water column, it is necessary to provide a regular source of buffer in order to maintain the carbonate hardness. Carbonate ion pretty much supplies all the alkalinity needed to hold the preset. I prefer not to use the conventional bicarbonate alkalinity adjusters because they typically involve sodium, or do not state their exact composition at all. Sodium is an essential micronutrient, but, since buffer is dosed routinely I prefer that +Na is not kept at a concentration typical of secondary macronutrient. The great advantage of K2CO3 is that, like NaHCO3, it has very high water solubility, so is ideally suited to auto-dosing.

The usual source for potassium in 'bulk' quantity in most dosing schemes is K2SO4 (KNO3 is the usual source for nitrogen). Potassium concentrations are typically determined by adjustment of the K2SO4 dosing rate. Sulfur is a secondary macro and excess sulfate is biologically inert, not harmful as long as the environment is aerobic. Thus, sulfate can be a good way to dose potassium. But my preference is that +K be kept at concentrations guaranteeing luxury uptake availability, and that runs to 30 to 40 ppm +K. Potassium is completely non-toxic and surplus levels are not environmentally harmful. Also as a matter of personal preference, --SO4, while not uncommon in natural waters, is not high in primary streams - as a rule - and I would rather avoid it. However, established aquariums receiving regular fertilization with K2SO4 can have 100 ppm or more --SO4.

It makes sense, therefore, to dose K2CO3 as a means of providing macronutrient and alkalinity buffer in commensurate quantities, while relegating Na and S to their respective micro and secondary status. I am demonstrating here that the current dosing rate of K2CO3 solution is holding the carbonate hardness and the potassium at the desired levels exactly. This is working within the SWCR protocol as described in this journal. It is understandable that those practicing Estimative Index will have a completely different take on it.

The objective of the SWCR is to remove autochthonous product (waste evolved in the habitat) "downstream" by the ongoing process of replacing loaded water with pristine deionized water from "upstream" (no allochthonous nutrient input). The metric of this is maintenance of an oligotrophic characteristic which is defined as < 10 ppm DIN (dissolved inorganic nitrogen, mostly nitrate in aerobic environment), < 2 ppm orthophosphate, and diminishing DOM (dissolved organic matter, or DOC dissolved organic carbon) as indicated by high redox potential. At this point, feeding the fish and the general autochthonous generation of all product by environmental metabolism in a mature habitat is resulting in superoligotrophic status; < 5 ppm NO3, < 1 ppm PO4, and consistent minimum ORP of 500 mV. The plants consume N and P from these sources both by foliar uptake from the water column where these measurement are made, and in the rhizosphere of a mature substrate, which elude these measurements (but in which they certainly reside in abundance). Thus, I do not routinely dose with supplemental nitrate or phosphate. So there is no +K supplied by those means. I have a dosing vat containing a mixed KNO3 and KH2PO4 solution which is used sparingly on an ad hoc basis to hedge downward drift, but I very seldom do this adjustment because the plants show no malnutrition of any kind regardless of the measurements.

Another source of --CO3 is the hardness reconstitution reactor containing SeaChem Reef Reactor in a processing filter loop designed to support secondary nutrients ++Ca and ++Mg. I am routinely dosing MgSO4 in a small daily quantity to redress a Ca:Mg ratio imbalance and as secondary nutrient S, being the only main --SO4 source now used.

This system is automatically maintaining carbonate hardness at 5 - 7 dKH (exact value not critical but assures minimum 30 ppm CO2 at prevailing pH), and potassium pushing 40 ppm using K2CO3 solution in one doser on one schedule. Sulfate, nitrate, and phosphate salts play no role in this and can be independently controlled. Sodium remains a micro at appropriate concentration.

That is "why the potassium carbonate," but I must emphasize that the utility of this scheme is contextual with the SWCR. It is not advocated as an alternative method of supplementation in a different water management protocol wherein it would make no sense.

Thanks for the question. Always happy to have questions.
 

Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.7*
ORP: 542 mV
NO3: 5 ppm
PO4: 0.21 ppm
Fe: 0.34 ppm
K: 40 ppm
dGH: 2.7
Ca/Mg: 28/20 ppm
dKH: 7.2

*pH number is the average of the total of 7-day running averages of pH-L and pH-R. At the present dKH, which is the high end of the target range, the approximate CO2 concentration is 40 ppm.

Oxygen tension for the last week:


Water is very soft at just under 3 dGH with Ca and Mg secondary macros being stable at satisfactory concentrations. This is the result of the Reef Reactor re-mineralizer filter plus an additional 10 ml of MgSO4 solution (100 gram/liter mix) daily. This is presently keeping a sensible Ca:Mg ratio. As I had hoped, the re-mineralizer filter (hardness reconstitution reactor) is supplying all ++Ca with no need to routinely dose any soluble calcium salts.

Below is the SWCR 24 hour clock. Each of fourteen ODEs exchanges 3.375 liters. There have been few changes to this schedule since August 2020. The dKH and concentration of potassium are maintained by 11.5 ml doses of K2CO3 solution (100 gram/liter mix) three times daily.

 
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SantaMonica

New member
Maybe you could condense this procedure down into a package idea with a name, like they did with the Triton or Balling method, etc.
 

Paul G

Active member
I've been using the abbreviation SWCR (Streaming Water Change Regimen) as a name for this method. Written this works for me, but spoken it's awkward; nor does a suitable acronym derive. There are possibly other names that could be used. Of course, like SWCR, a name should be a compact description of the method, or reflect some essential element of the method. I've thought some about this and nothing suggests itself.

Edward's Perpetual Preservation System has gained acceptance throughout the hobby and is universally referred to as PPS. Its variants are formalized regimens PPS-Pro and PPS-Classic. Edward has been an immense influence, and I recommend PPS unreservedly. Practicing PPS-Pro was what gradually led me to SWCR. Those not familiar with PPS should Google perpetual preservation system; try this link

https://sites.google.com/site/aquaticplantfertilizer/home#h.p_ID_32

Tom Barr's Estimative Index is also a well-known formalized regimen. It's abbreviation, EI, handily lends itself to the acronym "eee-eye." The derivation of the name is not obvious, to me at least. The technique apparently works well for many hobbyists, but I have always thought of it as a "blunt instrument", proven effective in aquariums of a size wherein the water change volumes and fertilizer wastage necessarily involved are acceptable to the aquarist, but generally impractical for larger tanks.

So, what's in a name? Having a name does imply that the thing named has distinguishing features. Does SWCR offer an approach that is distinctive enough to justify a referent? I am hoping that it does, but that is for the hobby to decide. I think if the referents PPS and EI have gained currency, SWCR is what will have to do. I have been describing it here for two years and called it nothing else, so I believe I'm stuck with it!

As far as the actual practice of the SWCR method is concerned, it is an elaboration of previous ideas about continuous water change techniques, so it is not wholly original. I arrived at this particular regimen by contriving automated events on a specified schedule. The ultimate goal is to achieve the desired habitat conditions, to establish a stable ecosystem in miniature, by implementing a rigorously specified set of protocols by means of fully automatic systems. It has been necessary to experiment at length with the available technology, and it has involved a lot of testing. Ideally there is a final determination, and the balances are struck. Then, the testing can be less frequent. Adequate water changing occurs in the background and is seldom a focus of attention, and never a focus of effort. SWCR does have a "fine-tuning" characteristic because the exact protocol is inextricably bound to the spontaneous ecological status of the habitat, i.e. type and number of fish and plants, maturity of the total bio-filter and of the substrate, circulatory and filtration effects, quantity and composition of the light, etc. To a certain extent, the SWCR is a work in progress for an individual habitat, and the regimen of particular automated events will most assuredly, if certainly subtly, alter as the habitat evolves. There is no one SWCR prescription, even for a single tank.

I could easily have made this whole thread about "Planted Aquarium Applications for the Neptune Systems APEX Aquacontroller." While I believe that SWCR can be practically implemented by other means, it must be accepted that it is a method that is by nature and necessity highly automated. APEX is an excellent system for this, as likely would be competing systems, because of the number and types of features offered by reef-keeping apparatus, and the LAN interface capability that brings a dashboard of sensors and controls to a computer terminal is really indispensable.

I have previously discussed why SWCR is not for everyone, and also the inherent dangers of reliance on automation. I would not expect SWCR to gain wide popularity as a management method, but I have demonstrated success with it, and it is categorically distinctive from PPS and EI. So, yes, I think a name is appropriate.
 

Paul G

Active member
This last week I have performed major maintenance and am working on a new aquascape. All the Echinodorus were uprooted and moved further back. These, and the Microsorum pteropus (Javaferns), were divided and trimmed of old leaves. The Javaferns have gotten big again and they too have been moved back amidst the swords. I have left two tall stands of four or five individual Sagittaria in the back, and a few individual ones scattered around the mid-ground, but otherwise pulled all of it out. It will be interesting to see how rapidly the Sag retakes the tank. A couple of small pieces of Hygrophila difformis (Water Wisteria), will be returned to the 'scape. It will be confined to areas in front of the swords where it will always be in plain view. The only way to keep it trimmed to a pleasing aspect is to make it easy to see and access. A few fairly good sized pieces of Anubias barteri var nana were also moved from back wall obscurity to more visible areas in front of the forest. A lot of older leaves had the expected infestation of black dust algae and were trimmed off, but the plants are robust and worthy. I will try to keep them shaded by the overspreading swords and Javaferns.

I have had to dig up a few Cryptocoryne wendtii in the course of these changes, but to the extent possible I have left the bigger mid-ground Crypts undisturbed. Of the individuals removed I aim to replant most. The volunteer Crypts that are overtaking the foreground I have mostly left alone as well, but I am trying to free up quite a lot of foreground and mid-ground real estate to open space. To this end, all of the hardscape has been removed. Before it's done a couple of rocks may go back in, but I'm liking the look of the range of Crypts unobstructed, and it does make observing the fish more enjoyable. The loaches and Corys have established their dens in the background forest and have adapted just fine to the new arrangement. I have a few small pieces of wood soaking in the holding tank to which I will glue some Microsorum and Anubias and try these out in the mid-ground.

Once again, the Nymphaea lotus has gotten large and has sent out runners. A couple of volunteers are coming up right at the front glass. I pulled out the mother bulb and the big floaters, but will leave these new starters for a while. Despite the size, there are things about this plant that I really like. So I will make every effort to accommodate it.

This re-scape is a work in progress and will not be presentable for a few days. There will be pictures.

In the course of all this the substrate has been well tilled and large quantities of mulm and vegetational micro-debris are being released into the water column. This refreshes the gravel and rids the system of a substantial burden of POM (particulate organic matter). The filters remove it within hours. This was not just expected, it was planned. I call it a turnaround. When it's time to do a revolutionary aquascape, it's time for a turnaround. This has now been done three times in the thirteen year history of this tank.

The bio-filters are working at high capacity. A turnaround always means a big jump in DOM due to surge in captured POM and a corresponding uptick in heterotrophic metabolism. This is evidenced by a significant drop in redox (ORP) which I expect to last for a while until things settle down. I am dosing Waste-Away and Eco-Balance to assure good karma. Filter change coming up and a good deal of chemical media will be installed. I expected also a large bump in NO3 from follow-on accelerated autotrophic metabolism, and I got it! Phosphate is higher than usual as well, though I anticipated that it would be higher than present levels, and it may yet go up some more. Throughout, the aeration has been running wide open and the average DO kept at 8.6. The enzyme reactor is feasting!

Today's numbers

pH: 6.77
ORP: last thirty hours, circa 400 mV*
NO3: < 20 ppm
PO4: 0.73 ppm
Fe: 0.35 ppm
K: 35 ppm
dGH: 1.9
Ca/Mg: 14/20 ppm
dKH: 5.8

*Down from normal long-term running average > 500 mV.

The Ca:Mg is "upside down" with Ca lagging. This will correct, but I dosed a small quantity of CaCl2. The plants are getting surplus NO3 for a period of opportunity to store nitrogen and make protein which might be a good thing after transplantation. I fully expect, however, that some "big gulp" water changes will be needed to finally restore system oligotrophy.
 

Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

DO: 10.02 ppm*
pH: 6.75
ORP: 416 mV, rising
NO3: < 5 ppm
PO4: 0.16 ppm
Fe: 0.21 ppm
K: 40 ppm
dGH: 1.8
Ca/Mg: 16/16 ppm
dKH: 5.6

*Running average O2 with constant aeration.

Saturday morning the 2.5 gal canisters in the high-speed loops were cleaned. Redux of this system shown here. Current practice is 100 micron cartridge in all four positions. When intakes are freshly cleared, flow rates are 350 to 400 gph in each loop. Presently the first cartridge in each loop has a maximum load of GAC, followed by a maximum load of SeaChem Renew in the second. This chemical filtration is far more than is normally used. ORP is inclining quickly. These filter changes resulted in about a 10% big gulp water change.
With the major disturbances, the intakes clogged rapidly, necessitating changeouts every couple of days. To help things along, I hung on the AquaClear 110s. Poly-Bio-Marine filter pads were cut to shape for these and two layers installed in each. The AquaClears have done a pretty good job over time of clearing even floating debris. The constant vigorous aeration has kept water well stirred up.
Watching now the rapid growth of the Nymphaea that has volunteered among the Crypts right at the front glass.
I am observing mating behavior in two pairs of dwarf chain loaches, Ambastaia sidthimunki. Also seeing numerous small new cherry barbs.
 
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Paul G

Active member
Christel Kasselmann's very impressive 4th edition of Aquarium Plants now in English translation is available. I purchased my signed copy direct from Christel, but it can also be ordered through Florida Aquatic Nurseries (go to their site to access the order form). It is a large and thoroughgoing treatise, encyclopedic in scope, and worth every cent of the not inconsiderable purchase price; and, of course, there's across the pond shipping on top. It may be out of reach for a lot of folks, but if you're really into this stuff this book is indispensable.

Christel Kasselmann is well travelled, famous (at least amongst the cognoscenti) for her expeditions to many of the world's tropical freshwater habitats. The book features her observations of several biotopes in South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Plant descriptions are extensive and reflect the currently accepted taxonomies. It is a scientific work foremost and gets right to the eco-principles without delay. It is interesting to see the differences between a full-scale real biotope and conditions in a properly managed aquarium; how the latter can emulate the former through an understanding of the ecological fundamentals. The book touches on, but is not an elaboration of, aquascaping. The starter basics for hobbyists is, thankfully, not there; for that you would want Karen Randall's Sunken Gardens: a Step-by-Step Guide to Planting Freshwater Aquariums which I would recommend as a companion volume.

If you're watching this journal for the same reason I'm writing it, you're going to want Kasselman's Aquarium Plants.
 

Paul G

Active member
Today I removed the supplementary filtration apparatus and finished replanting all the uprooted Cryptocoryne wendtii. I set a number of fertilizer tablets around all the Echinodorus where they are newly transplanted. I use both API Root Tabs, which is entirely macronutrient NPK 3:1:1 with 5% Fe, but no other micro noted; and SeaChem Flourish Tabs which is micronutrient with 3% Fe, 23% Ca, 16% S, and numerous trace elements, but very little macro. These fert tabs are entirely different and should be used together. API instructs monthly replenishment; SeaChem suggests 3-4 months. Tomorrow I will finish arranging the hardscape and set fert tabs around the Crypts. The C wendtii and Echinodorus are strong root feeders and it is my intention to comply with these directions. More of my flat cobblestones are being returned than I had anticipated. The Crypts' runners will go right under the stones. I am placing the stones to create clearings between Crypts, but not stacking them as before. The Cories and loaches hide out in the background plants but are not being shy, so I'm seeing more activity.

The Crypts have always done fairly well for me. All of the plants now growing in the foreground are products of runners from plants originally placed in the mid-ground -- runners that had to go considerable distances underneath rock walls. This made a great impression on me! C wendtii is somewhat unusual in the genus, being suitable for continuously submerged cultivation and highly adaptable to different environmental conditions, so it's not so particular about water chemistry parameters and light intensities (see KASSELMANN). I have always provided soft, slightly acid (carbonic) water and light that is always bright enough for the swords, probably too bright for Crypts generally. It is not unlike others in the genus, however, in that it is less tolerant of changes in the environment to which it has adjusted. On such occasions it would shed leaves and temporarily appear droopy, but it never had the dreaded full-on "rot" or "melt", and it always spread, albeit slowly, and created new sprites. I cannot control where the runners will go, nor do I care where the volunteers pop up. I'm glad to see the vigor. The cobbles will keep down the congestion and make streets for the bottom feeders. In due course, the Crypts will fill in the entire foreground. The Sagittaria subulata will interfere. A few of these make a good accent, but I will need to keep it from overtaking the foreground. Its roots get entangled with those of the Crypts, and I must avoid disturbing the Crypts' roots.

The Nymphaea lotus growing at the front glass is highly unusual placement to be sure, and certainly was not deliberate. For that novelty I'm starting to think that it might actually work out. There isn't another large plant that I could hope to do something like this with. But it's early days yet, so we'll see.

As the turnaround has significantly disturbed the substrate, and plants have been completely uprooted, I will inject arbuscular mycorrhizae culture along with the fert tabs. This is done for good measure; mycorrhizae cannot exist unattached to the root, so it is unclear to what extent the vital culture in residence is adversely impacted by transplanting in turned-over substrate. I also inject SeaChem Advance into the substrate to make phytohormones directly available to the roots (it does no harm and makes me happy).
 

Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.72
ORP: 484 mV, rising
NO3: > 0
PO4: 0.16 ppm
Fe: 0.21 ppm
K: 35 ppm
dGH: 2.0
Ca/Mg: 16/20 ppm
dKH: 5.9
 

Paul G

Active member
Pursuant to filter maintenance and some adjustments, the hardness numbers are correcting as expected.

dGH: 2.24
Ca/Mg: 24/16 ppm
dKH: 6.1

I increased the SeaChem Reef Reactor charge as well as adding Brightwell Neo-Mag. These are now about 500 grams and 300 grams, respectively. The remineralizer reactor is in the core of the 25 micron filter in processing loop 1R. Due to the chiller, this is the lowest velocity of the four loops in the system, running at an average of 100 gph. In this loop, the preceding 100 micron filter stays empty, so as not to further impede flow.

The redux of the processing loops diagram is shown here, documenting revisions to the system to date.


Upon unexpected failure of one of the heaters I discovered that one 300 watt heater is sufficient to maintain 25 dC (77 dF) tank temp. This may be undersized just a bit and I will eventually get a replacement.

Throughout the turnaround I have been running the aeration system wide open. A previous experiment along this line showed that the practice did not seriously compromise the ability to maintain CO2 concentration, but did impinge on the economy. The aeration system is a Coralife SL-65 (3.9 PSI, 65 liters/min, 35 watts) driving six 1" airstones. This provides some extra brisk water motion along the back wall and generates a gentle current washing the large-leaf plants. It also keeps the oxygen tension at > 100% saturation constantly, including through the COD spikes during the morning dosing. This is having a decidedly salutary on the fish and on the overall vigor of the habitat. Despite the increasing cost of CO2, I think I'll keep this going, as it looks to be well worth it.

The ORP is now topping 500 mV.
 

Paul G

Active member

Now I must wait for things to settle and get growing. New 'scapes look pretty "rough around the edges" at the start.

The challenge here has always been to get the Microsorum and the Echinodorus to agree about the right light over the long term. I like them together and have had some moderate success with this. The swordplants must have the brighter light and the Javaferns have had to adjust to it. These are growing relatively fast and large with this light, and dark algae is not proving to be a problem so far. I am planning a change in the lighting system across the back using Kessil A80 Tuna Suns which will allow more precise control.

Today's numbers

pH: 6.72
ORP: 545 mV
NO3: 1.3 ppm
PO4: 0.18 ppm
Fe: 0.23 ppm
K: 40 ppm
dGH: 2.0
Ca/Mg: 20/16 ppm
dKH: 6.2

Oxygen tension for the last seven days shown below. The continuous aeration keeps saturation boosted through the entire diurnal cycle with minimals occurring at COD spikes. The big anomalous dip on Wednesday is due to a large heterotrophic culture inoculation. Also shown is the redox for the same period. The ORP has recovered its normal status. The minimals again correspond to the daily COD spikes.





What did not go back in were two Anubias on wood pieces that are too large to find shady places for them. This aquarium is too brightly lit for these specimens and I won't ruin them by allowing black dust algae to infest them, as it most certainly would. The 20 long quarantine/holding tank is perfect for them until they get too big. The Kessil A360WE Tuna Sun is turned to its lowest intensity and longest wavelength which should keep them happy. Filtration is the two air-driven sponges (must get a better air pump for these) and an AquaClear 110 with Bio-Poly-Marine pads. I have retired the Marineland BioWheel filters.
 
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Paul G

Active member

Today's numbers

pH: 6.73*
ORP: 543 mV*
DO: 10.09 ppm*
NO3: 0.9 ppm**
PO4: 0.17 ppm
Fe: 0.09 ppm
K: 40 ppm
dGH: 2.2
Ca/Mg: 22/18 ppm
dKH: 6.7
SO4: << 20 ppm
Cl: 16 ppm

*Current value of continuous running average. The last 7-day traces for ORP and DO plotted together are shown here.


**If API Nitrate test kit shows near 0 ppm, the LaMotte Low Range Nitrate-Nitrogen (NO3-N) kit #3615-01 is used to obtain this number.
Nitrate ppm = NO3-N X 4.43.

Sulfate and chloride are only occasionally checked. When I was using PPS, K2SO4 was the primary source of +K, dosed in quantity daily, and --SO4 commonly tested well above 100 ppm.This is the first time in the history of this tank --SO4 in the water column has tested near 0, but I have been dosing it as MgSO4 only in very small quantities, and then none in the last week or so. Now ++Mg is delivered via the GH reconstitution reactor from MgCO3, so there is presently a highly diminished concentration of --SO4 in the water column. However, sulfur, an important secondary macro (an important mobile metabolite and a constituent of protein), is well-provided. Flourish Tabs are 16.5% sulfur from various sulfates. Flourish Comprehensive and Trace use sulfates for micronutrient cation delivery as well.

While chloride should be regarded as a needed trace element from the standpoint of the plants, it has always tested this high. No NaCl is used in this water which starts out as RO/DI, but it is probably plentiful in the fish food, particularly in the fresh frozen foods of which I feed a lot and never rinse. Its only ongoing deliberate source in the fertilizer supplements is as micronutrient in Flourish and Trace, and I have only occasionally, and not lately, dosed it as CaCl2 for a ++Ca boost. Chloride is used in osmoregulation and plays no role as a metabolite, so the plants don't use it up. Geochemically it is ubiquitous and common in freshwater streams.

Iron is testing low since the turnaround and I have been boosting it manually. The daily dose of Flourish Comprehensive is divided into three events on the idea that this will better maintain availability throughout the light period, as metal complexes are subject to photolysis. Of course, it is also diluted by the water changes. With the insertion of the fertilizer tablets in numerous locations, there is considerable iron in the substrate; so there is likely little need to recalibrate water column supplementation.

Plants are doing very well. All of the crypts that got pulled out and tossed into the holding tank for several days were subjected to about every kind of disruption I could have arranged, including severe pH shock. They have all been replanted, and I fully expected some or all of them to fade away. But, without exception, they re-established immediately and are growing.

I am seeing an acceleration in the periphyton, particularly green algae. The long view here is that turnarounds are revolutionary and are not inconsequential environmental disruptions. The ecosystem needs to equilibrate in ways both obvious and subtle. Apart from this generalization I will not speculate.
 
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Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.73
ORP: 550 mV
NO3: 1.7 ppm
PO4: 0.11 ppm
Fe: 0.10 ppm
K: 40 ppm
dGH: 2.2
Ca/Mg: 24/16 ppm
dKH: 6.7

At 14:30 Friday I started a total blackout and left the lights off until the start of Sunday's day. This week's DO trace illustrates the blackout. The aeration system maintained 100% saturation without the photosynthetic contribution, even covering Saturday morning's COD spike.


I had the lights turned up too high. This aggravated the green algae situation. Adjusted all the lights to 20% of capacity at full day peak, which I somehow thought they were already. I recently experimented with the brightness and had forgotten to check back in. I had them set at nearly 60% of capacity. With the water parameters we have here, if you are seeing more green algae than you can account for, best suspect the lights! The blackout and energy moderation had an immediate effect on the chlorophyte population.

Three of the Echinodorus have resumed sending out robust inflorescences. The Nymphaea has produced a floating leaf on a fast-growing stem. This small crypt was a mere green suggestion Friday morning. It has obligingly volunteered in just the right spot to photo-document its progress.

 

jcurts

Active member
Was your algae problem on the leaves of the plants, "tuffs" on hard scape or were I have problems with algae on the leaves of Anubias. Do you think a blackout would help my problem?
 

Paul G

Active member
Depends on what kind of algae. Algae are bio-indicators, and types (specific taxonomic groups) occur in environmental conditions that favor them.

What I have had - generally the only kind that tends to show up in this tank now - is green Chlorophyta, occurring as a few common species. It is predominantly long, filamentous "pond scum" that trails off of any surface, particularly edges of plant leaves, and especially those closest to the light; and green dust, a uniform film that is a normal population in the periphyton community that coats surfaces and shows up especially on hardscape and the glass and makes the tank take on a yellowish-green look. Chlorophyta are indicators of a healthy well-oxygenated ecosystem; they aren't caused by excessive nitrate or phosphate or a particular chemical trigger. They make themselves noticed when they get lots of light, so they're easy to control by shutting down the overstimulating energy source. A thirty hour blackout, then an adjustment to appropriate light level, readily tames these Chlorophytes. Some green dust and green spot on plant leaves can be fairly tenacious, but on healthy plants that are growing, even slowly, it does not impair the plant and is not especially unsightly. But usually green algae self-abates when you get control of your lights. Thus I do not regard these as "nuisance" algae.

Slow-growing plants that get too much light, particularly where certain chemical triggers and environmental conditions occur, can be infested with black dust algae. Keepers of Anubias and Microsorum and similar are very familiar with this nuisance algae. It seems almost inevitable that older leaves get infested, gradually turn dark with it, and there's nothing to be done but prune it off. I have come to understand that black dust (sometimes splotchy and fuzzy) can be slowed down significantly by maintaining a high redox and low nutrient (i.e. super-oligotrophic) environment over the long term, but it is important to use a minimum of light, spectrally suitable. This is a wholly different management problem than that of Chlorophyta. This isn't just a "wow, turn down those lights" kind of thing, but an entire paradigm for an eco-system build. This is why, now that I have trimmed up my Anubias on wood specimens and got them back in shape, I am confining them to a different tank with dedicated lighting and no fish food.

Black beard alga (BBA) is similar to, or a growth form of, black dust and black spot. These are all red algae (Rhodophyta in some taxonomies). BBA shows up as "tufts" as you observe, distinctly fuzzy with closely clustered short filaments. It is a common nuisance alga much hated for its propensity to grow on and totally ruin damn near anything. It comes up along plant leaf edges of all kinds of plants and it cannot be removed. I've seen advice posts about dealing with this stuff by dousing it in Excel or hydrogen peroxide. Granting the effectiveness of these nostrums, I can't see the practicality of the method for submersed plants. As with black dust, just excising it by pruning is the only thing that's sure to work. It spreads quickly. I only occasionally - very rarely - see some of this starting up on a crypt leaf margin, and out come the shears right away.

I have previously noted in this journal some research done that implicates certain organic compounds in the triggering of these black algae. There is also a well-established link between its occurrence and the prevailing condition of imbalance in the light intensity:CO2 concentration, or more specifically, to instabilities in environmental CO2 levels. I think this actually boils down to excessive intensity and/or inappropriate spectral content of the prevailing light. And I think, again, that the answer to all nuisance algae issues lies in a high redox /low nutrient environment with high efficiency biological filtration and careful attention to the light.

If the infestation on your Anubias is any of these varieties of black algae, it will not yield to a blackout. Tom Barr has described putting infested Anubias in a tank in a semi-darkened room for months and eventually retrieving it algae free. That may have solved his particular problem of salvaging some stock, but I would not find it a convenient or practical course of action.

If you have true green algae, then a blackout, or series of blackouts, can probably manage it, depending on exactly what kind it is.

Bottom line is that algae of various kinds all exist in the aqueous environment, but they thrive within specified limits defined by the energy input and trophic status of the ecosystem.

I'm thinking these aren't encouraging words. Good luck.
 
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jcurts

Active member
Thanks for the info Paul. It looks like I have 2 tanks with Chlorophyta problems and another tank with worse problems.

All of my thanks are low tech, in fact I rarely remember to fertilize. One of my Chlorophyta tanks is in the kitchen so it gets a fair amount of external ambient light. Should I cover the glass during the "blackout" period to block this light or is it too insubstantial.
 

Paul G

Active member
Any curtailment of illumination is a step forward. The algae, whatever the type, wants light above all. Provide as much light blockage as is feasible in the circumstances. A little light leaking in may be unavoidable practically, but make an effort to stop what you can. If the blackout starts at normal lights OFF on evening 'A', continues through day 'B', then ends at normal lights ON on morning 'C', you have effectively starved the algae of light for 30 hours or more, depending on the length of day for which your timer is set. Give the plants two normal day cycles in succession and then do this again. Covering the tank to block ambient light makes the blackout just that much more effective. There will be abatement of algae most susceptible to this light starvation regime, notably the greens and browns (various common Chlorophyta and diatoms). How fast it comes back depends on light intensity and nutrient levels. There will be little or no visible change in any black algae.

Nitrate and phosphate are not limiting to algae in the same way as to higher plants. All algae require nitrogen and phosphorus, of course, but can have persistent populations in water extremely low in these nutrients. My water is super-oligotrophic and I can readily point out some ugly black algae that has been allowed to develop because of excessive light over a period of a couple of weeks. I have put a stop to this, but the only way to be rid of the extant algae will be to prune the plant leaves.

This does not, however, mean that excessive nutrient does not exacerbate the problem. Algae do not require high concentrations to exist in suppressed populations, but growth and reproduction rates will, as with all organisms, increase with chemical energy inputs, i.e. readily available food. Nitrate and phosphate do not cause algae to occur, but the prevailing trophic status will dictate the rate of its growth and the difficulty of its control. I am betting that virtually all freshwater algae that can live in water fit for fish and plants exist in all established aquariums. The concern is what conditions cause algae to proliferate. While the answer of course is light, which algae crave, water nutrient parameters - the trophic state of the ecosystem - play a significant part.

As with other organisms, some growth factors for algae are auxotrophic; that is, the algae cannot manufacture some vital 'enzymatic' constituents, vitamins, etc, themselves but must have external sources of these. When they occur in the habitat water at sufficient concentrations, they trigger a growth response. It is plausibly theorized that in the confines of an aquarium, these growth factors more easily concentrate to threshold level, and thus create a favorable condition for algae. The growth factors are medium-weight organic molecules that commonly occur in natural freshwater, and could be intermediates of bio-filtration processing as well. These are subject to chemical filtration as are all other molecules that comprise DOM (dissolved organic matter) that are naturally produced through environmental metabolism.

Water changes control nutrient concentrations, if the makeup water is superior in this respect. Most aquariums under "ordinary" management are eutrophic. Because nitrate is considered 'non-toxic', at least in comparison with ammonia and nitrite, autochthonous nitrate over 20 ppm is commonly accepted. Orthophosphate and its organic precursors are essentially non-toxic so phosphate is not environmentally critical. But I do not hesitate to declare here and now that eutrophic water in the aquarium is water susceptible to algae, and it is no wonder that algae is the abiding plague that it appears to be. If you have tested your water, I would be interested to know the results.

Long term, reduce the light to a level that actually meets your goals and no higher. That may require dimming the light by some means, and/or shortening the daylight period (probably both). I moderated a green algae recurrence some years back just by raising the light fixture three more inches above the water surface. If the spectral composition of the light is not suitable, you might consider a change (modernization?) of your light. In any case, shift the wavelengths away from blue. The most important element of the algae problem is the light, and this will require some experimentation, and patience.

Three years ago, a cardinal principle of my aquaristics was to eschew chemical filtration. Now that I have proved to myself, through an intensive testing protocol, that chemical filtration does not ostensibly impact the nutrient parameters of interest to gardeners, I have no compunction to utilize aggressive chemical filtration, and will go so far as to say that it is absolutely essential to making a confined aquarium, regardless of size, emulate a natural open habitat. Activated carbon will adsorb DOM and should be used in quantity sufficient to continually remove organics such that redox potentials are driven high. Vigorous aeration helps with this for several reasons. Ferric oxide hydroxide (available as many brands) is highly effective at phosphate and silica reduction. My SWCR controls these nutrients. While I use lots of activated carbon and Renew regularly, I no longer need the phosphate remover. In connection with water changes, this will be your road to oligotrophy. It is an ecosystem build and it will take time.

You do not have to go high tech; the nub of the matter is that the plants' growth rate will necessarily determine carbon fixation rate. If you do not inject CO2, the energy input:carbon availability ratio will skew. This means essentially that the energy throttle is open full tilt and allows algae to benefit. Thus, the light must be reduced correspondingly, resulting in lower growth rate. This balancing act works for high or low tech management techniques. Low tech tanks just are not quite as brilliantly illuminated.

So:
Water changes
Keep tabs on NO3 and PO4
Water changes
Ramp up chem filter and aeration
Reduce PO4 and NO3
Water changes
Get lighting under control
 
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Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.73
ORP: 554 mV
NO3: 1.7 ppm
PO4: 0.12 ppm
Fe: 0*
K: 40 ppm
dGH: 2.4
Ca/Mg: 26/18 ppm
dKH: 6.8

*3 hours after dose 1

I am relying on the root fertilizers to supply plant nutrient, and I have avowed compliance to the schedules: API Root Tabs every month, SeaChem Flourish Tabs every three months. To review, Root Tabs are macro + Fe and Flourish Tabs are micro + Ca + S. This is a new angle for me, as I am relying on a method the results of which I cannot measure directly. However, the advantage of the method is that it is likely delivering nutrient to the plants in a manner best pleasing to them. In the case of NO3 and PO4 the method does represent a new allochthonous source of nutrient, but it is largely confined to the substrate and should not greatly alter the trophic status of the system. It targets the plants and deprives the algae. In the case of K, which is supplemented by direct addition into the water column in large doses, it is readily consumed at the leaf boundary (foliar), and that is probably the preferred means of uptake.

I will continue to dose Flourish Trace and Comprehensive into the water column as before. All iron dosed this way is as ferrous gluconate, which is available through foliar uptake. If not tested for shortly after dosing, it will probably not show up. SeaChem states this fact about the product, and my experience confirms it. I spread the daily Comprehensive ration over the daylight hours. I will not obsess over the iron test results. I know it is going into the system by both pathways. Until I see adverse effects in this approach I am not recalibrating water column iron supplementation just so I can get a number every day. I am at this point inclined to test for iron less frequently, as I am more interested in checking for too much rather than too little; and will hereafter specify the time of the test.

The fertilizer tablets are pushed into the substrate all around the swordplants, which means effectively that the rearmost 1/3 of the tank is covered fairly uniformly. I started breaking off smaller fragments of tabs for use near individual crypts. Because that is awkward, I am now using Aquarium Plant AquaFertz TOTAL and PHOSPHATE. These are small cylindrical pellets that insert into a tubular plunging tool that permits easy, precise injection into the gravel. I have used it occasionally over the years. It really is quite nifty!

I expect that the water column NO3 and PO4 will test as before, since they are autochthonous productions from environmental metabolism, geared mostly to fish food mass; so that won't change. Much of my journey to date has been to validate the idea that feeding the fish can be a complete alternative to liquid fertilizer supplementation of these macronutrients even in a heavily planted system running at high carbon fixation rates. I am satisfied that this is certainly possible. I do not routinely use KNO3 or KH2PO4 solutions. Now I am providing N, P, and K in the rhizosphere as well.

Similarly, I have been attempting to prove the sufficiency of the hardness reconstitution reactor to provide complete and balanced earth-alkali without dosing MgSO4 or CaCl2 solutions. For this I believe proof of concept has been demonstrated; now I am just "tuning the rig."

I keep on hand prepared solutions of all these supplements, and others, for manual ad hoc dosing. Going forward an adjustment may be required, but the goal is definitely to simplify the daily supplementary dosing scheme. I have created a new task instead, as I am committed to inserting substrate ferts, albeit at monthly intervals, and that will be something of a chore for this size tank. But I think the plants are going to reward me for my efforts.
 

Paul G

Active member

Today's numbers

pH: 6.73
ORP: 555 mV
NO3: 2.66 ppm
PO4: 0.10 ppm
Fe: 0.16 ppm
K: 40 ppm
dGH: 2.2
Ca/Mg: 24/16 ppm
dKH: 6.4

Friday, 04/08, did a big gulp water change, about 10%, and a third 30 hour blackout. Since Wednesday one AquaClear 110 with poly filter pads has been running. The poly pads turn from white to brown, and increasingly darken, as they bind DOM. On 03/19 when the high speed filter loop elements were changed, two full loads of GAC and SeaChem Renew were put in, and then another full load of both in loop 1L five days later. Still, the poly pads have darkened pretty quickly. I must admit I am surprised a little by this, but it is in line with the idea that a turnaround will really kick up POM and the DOM that follows. It attests to just how much DOM can be present in the aquarium even when using copious amounts of chemical filtration media. This week I will be changing these filters again; it will have been approaching 4 weeks. Actually that seems about right in the circumstances. The ORP is back to its normal high, so the system is recovering.

I am going to try out BRS's high-grade filter carbon ROX 0.8 CARBON.

SIDENOTES:
The AquaClear 110 power filter is an outstanding piece of equipment. I have one doing regular duty on the Q tank, and two for maintenance work. I am also very much appreciating the Poly-Bio-Marine filtration pads I am using in these. It is spendy, but it works great. Sponge filters: at least as good biofiltration as "rotary contactors" (BioWheels), air-driven but completely passive operation, easy clean. Takes space within the aquarium, but acceptable for a Q tank. The Q tank has never been in better shape.
 
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