200 GALLON JUNGLE STYLE

Paul G

Member
There is a "rule of limits" that states that if all conditions and nutrients are sufficient at one time for growth (or health, etc) of a plant, growth will stop, or the welfare of the plant may be impaired, if any one of these parameters becomes insufficient. All other things being equal, growth is limited by the parameter of least sufficiency.

The primary nutritional requirement is carbon. Carbon is the foundation of everything, structurally and metabolically. The plant acquires it from CO2 through the agency of light energy. We know that the lighting levels in our aquariums and the CO2 availability to the little ecosystems we create within are linked. Higher light intensity means faster growth, if there is an adequate supply of carbon, and lower light means slower growth with a greater certainty that the CO2 will be in good supply due to reduced demand. High light / high-tech systems are pretty much defined by the use of CO2 injection which is contrived to increase CO2 concentration. A major factor in the occurrence of nuisance algae is the imbalance of too much light for the quantity of carbon available. Algae want the light more than anything and are not limited severely by other factors. But I digress.

Plants need other stuff. In the process of fixing carbon the plant uses nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and a list of trace elements. Any one of these in short supply will adversely impact the plant, pretty much sooner than later in the case of the macronutrients. The whole idea behind getting plants to thrive is to assure they have all this stuff they need - obviously.

In the case of the high light / high-tech system, the carbon is elevated such that it cannot be a limiting factor, all the other nutritional requirements are dosed to concentrations such that none of them become limiting factors, and the light intensity is the throttle controlling the growth rate of the plants and the rate of oxygen production that results.

If I test for nitrate and get zero, I have two possible explanations. Either there is no nitrate being supplied, or nitrate is being supplied in such small quantities that the plants consume it all just before the moment I conduct the test. It might be just enough but there is no way to tell. But if I know that I am deliberately supplying nitrate, the zero result probably means I am running a deficit. If I supply enough nitrate that I get a non-zero result every time I test, I know for a fact that the plants are getting the nitrate and I am not running a deficit. The point of dosing nitrate is to bring about this state of certainty. There is no absolute numerical goal here. A repeatable test result showing 5 to 10 ppm simply proves sufficiency of concentration.

In an aquarium housing numerous or large hungry fish, the nitrogenous waste is elevated and nitrate will rapidly concentrate. Two most effective ways to alleviate this overage are organisms that eat it (plants and algae), or water changes (ugh!) that dilute it. So, if aquarium plants are your thing, here you have a ready-made nitrate generator. There may be no need to dose nitrate solution at all. If your nitrate keeps going up, just as you would expect in a fish only tank for instance, it means you haven't got enough plants in there!

That goes for phosphate as well.

I cannot stress enough the importance of dense planting. Lots and lots of hardy, competitive plants is the way to a healthy ecosystem. A high light system with CO2 laid on, while not obligatory, is the express route.
 
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Mbkemp

New member
What do you use to remineralize your Ro water?

I think SAE are unrated fish. Love the Cardinals as well. What other fauna?
 

Paul G

Member
You will note in a previous post that I have a doser labelled GH BOOST (for General Hardness) which contains solutions of calcium, magnesium, and potassium sulfate. Ferric iron and manganese are also dosed in the MICRO/TRACE. These are the essential ingredients that characterize natural, biologically friendly water. Strictly speaking, calcium and magnesium are the earth-alkali ions that account for 'hardness' as it is understood by chemists, and the presence of these is what a GH test kit checks for. Calcium and magnesium are also what plant biologists call 'secondary macronutrients' and are taken in and used by the plants, so they are essential parts of the fertilizer program. I believe the correct ratio of Ca to Mg is between 2:1 and 3:1, with the calcium concentration in the aquarium water being as high as 30 ppm and the magnesium as high as 15 ppm. Tropical rainforest streams from which my fish come are typically soft water, so I aim to keep my GH as low as possible (4 to 5 degrees) while maintaining these values for Ca and Mg for the plants.

Also in this mix is potassium which is a macronutrient. I dose potassium (K) as potassium nitrate and as monopotassium phosphate in the N : 0 : K and 0 : P : K dosers, but also as potassium sulfate in the GH BOOST. Plants really eat up the K and there is nothing wrong with keeping it as high as 50 ppm.

These sulfate salts make up SeaChem's Equilibrium, which I would recommend if you aren't getting them in bulk and making your own dosing solutions. As a plant food it is not ideal but that is not its intended purpose. If you are dosing fertilizers as I am here, you would not need to use a remineralizer too. Avoid chlorides. Chloride is best regarded as a trace element requirement for plants. Calcium chloride may sometimes appear in a remineralizer product because its solubility exceeds that of calcium sulfate. Avoid sodium, also an important trace element, but not desirable in significant amounts. Equilibrium contains no sodium or chloride, nor should any respectable remineralizer - not if you're putting it into a softwater planted aquarium. One thing about Equilibrium - it cakes and sets up stone hard in the jar. Every time you want to use some, you have to go at it hammer and tongs, but that's just in its nature.

But, again, if you are getting into a serious fertilizing protocol for aquarium plants, you will NOT require a remineralizer prep for your RO water. I suggest you go to aquariumfertilizer.com and check out all the good info there. Also note how inexpensive this stuff is.

As for alkalinity, or carbonate hardness (KH), RO water has no buffering capacity, so that should be part of remineralization. SeaChem Alkaline Buffer is dosed in my KH BOOST. This is intended to keep the alkalinity at 7 to 8 degrees KH because I am using pressurized CO2; so when I push the pH down to 6.6 to 6.7, I know the CO2 in the water is between 30 to 40 ppm or thereabouts and that is the goal with the light I am using. A small amount of buffer is dosed daily to offset the acidification from nitrification. SeaChem Alkaline Buffer is a proprietary mix of salts. It works just fine.

Sulfur is a secondary macronutrient also, and it is supplied as sulfate in massive quantities. With all the sulfate that regularly goes into the water, it tests at over 200 ppm. There will never be a sulfur shortage; the excess is harmless.

A well-rounded micronutrient mix containing bioavailable iron will also have the important trace elements manganese, molybdenum, cobalt, zinc, copper, and boron. Nutritrace CSM+B is a popular mix and I use it. Aquariumfertilizer.com has it.
 
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Paul G

Member
I keep the small South American tetras: Cardinal, Black Neon, Glowlight.
Corydoras, of which I have ten of various kinds.
I am a loach enthusiast, but I keep only species that do not get large. Just now I have nine of various kinds, two of which are seldom seen kuhliis.
Also present are some very shy Otocinclus, one reclusive whiptail loracariid, and a few glass catfishes.
I have just one Garra but will be getting a couple more soon. This fish is a very effective alga-eater.
There are ten (?) Cherry Barbs. We occasionally see little ones of these. Most of the adults in this tank were hatched and raised there.
The SAEs are an interesting contrast size-wise. The reputation of this fish as an alga-eater is controversial. They do pick along the leaves a bit, but there isn't much algae to begin with. I dispute the assertion that these fish will eradicate nuisance algae. They are just as fond of staple flake, brine shrimp, and blood worms as the other fish, and these items are the bulk of their diet.
 

Paul G

Member
From hereon, I will use HLHT for high light / high-tech.

Today's numbers

NO3: 5 ppm
PO4: 3 ppm
K: 50 ppm
GH: 80 ppm (4.5 deg)
Ca: 60 ppm
Mg: 20 ppm
Ca:Mg = 3:1
KH: 108 ppm (6 deg)
pH: 6.65
CO2: 38 ppm
Fe: 0.18 ppm
EC: 720 uS/cm
ORP: 336 mV
O2: 9.7 ppm

The pH is the average of pH-R over the last 6 days. ORP and O2 values are average of the daily maximums for the last 6 days.
CO2 is usually stated on these statistics lists as a readout from the KH : pH chart, with middle values being interpolated. Today I performed a titration for CO2 and confirmed the number as spot on.

I will be trying to get the KH to trend up a bit to boost the CO2. I am happy with the pH being no lower than 6.6 and don't want to depress it further. I have concerns about the efficiency of nitrification below pH 6.8, that value already lying on the low end of the curve for autotrophic function (the main reason why I advocate large biofiltration capacity in HLHT systems). I am trying to get the light intensity up. A few days ago I upped the BMLs to 70% and I would like to go higher, but I'll need to make sure the CO2 is consistently coming in at 40 to 45 ppm. That means getting the KH well above 7 degrees. The higher light will crank up the oxygenation/oxidation processes which will in turn fortify the autotrophs. Everything is connected.

So, KH BOOST gets a bump up and the jungle goes into higher gear. I am expecting that, as a result of this, I'll have to bump up the NO3 again too.

The GH can go lower. At 4 degrees the earth-alkalis would be 72 ppm. If the Ca:Mg ratio is adjusted to 2:1, Ca would be 48 ppm and Mg would be 24 ppm. A close approximation to these numbers is my goal. I will add MgSO4 to the vat and reduce the dose from 20 to 15 seconds.

I am temporarily keeping the UV sterilizers turned off.
 
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Paul G

Member
On Tuesday I again did some extensive pruning, including removal of most of the Ludwigia. I will be cleaning up large cuttings of this and replanting it. I also changed 22.5 gallons of the tank water. Regularly scheduled water changes are not part of the normal regimen. I think perhaps I do this on average about once every two months. It is a means of pushing the reset button and rebuilding parameters, which takes a few days. There is a definite "freshening" effect from a water change. I set up the surface skimmers for 24 hours and collected all the floating debris.




All the in-tank intake and return piping was disassembled and removed to a 2-hour strong bleach bath. These 1 inch pipes and fittings are the place where algae eventually show up, though not typically elsewhere in the tank. When I decide to take a day for major maintenance, the appearance of this piping factors heavily into that decision. I really should do this more often.

It has been 13 days since the screened intakes were swapped. So it seems I have to swap the intakes every 2 weeks, not every 3 weeks as previously stated.

Not especially happy that pH-L is consistently, and significantly, higher than pH-R, I have decided to install a CO2 diffusor in the left processing loop. This will be placed between the 40 watt sterilizer and the heaters. I will not increase the light until this is fixed.

 

Paul G

Member
Today's numbers

NO3: 5 ppm
PO4: 3 ppm
K: 50 ppm
Fe: 0.27 ppm
GH: 76 ppm (4 deg)
Ca: 52 ppm
Mg: 24 ppm
KH: >8 degrees
pH: 6.7
ORP: 345 mV
EC: 950 uS/cm

Since the water change it was easy to bring the nutrient parameters back to normal. I am withholding GH BOOST just now and I will be interested to see how long it takes for GH to go to 3 degrees. At 3 degrees and Ca:Mg = 2:1, calcium will be 36 ppm and magnesium will be 18 ppm. When I hit these numbers, which I regard as ideal, I will completely reassess the dosing rate for GH BOOST. This is going to remain a softwater environment with non-limiting secondary macronutrient, so I will be watching the GH closely.

The buffering has been more difficult, and I am still in the process of adjusting it. Greater than 8 degrees gets to the CO2 dissolution goal.

Early this AM I installed the new CO2 diffusor. The pH-L meter is now giving appropriate responses. I will turn the BMLs up to 80%.

The UV sterilizers have remained OFF, and the iron values (and presumably other micro complexes) have been stable on an ongoing basis. I am now amending my philosophy regarding UV. It is a good thing to have the capability in the system in case it might be needed, but it does no harm to simply just leave it turned off. It is obvious to me that UV interferes with micronutrient/trace element provision to the plants, so to leave it turned on for no compelling reason can do a great deal of harm, or at least create uncertainty, in a planted aquarium. I dose the entire plant food/supplement protocol in the water column, so it all passes through the sterilizer vessels. It is counterproductive to deliberately decompose it. But, if I should ever need to implement UV sterilization all I need do is flip a switch.

I tested RO/DI output for chloramine. OK.
 

Slownas1

New member
Hey Paul, been reading through your posts, great info. Thanks for sharing. Was wondering what your preferred method for testing for chloramine was?
 

Paul G

Member
This is a very simple "dunk-for-2-seconds-read-immediately" type test strip for both chlorine and chloramine in freshwater by LaMotte. I have not researched all the places this is available. I get mine on-line from Bulk Reef Supply, 25 tests for $15.00. LaMotte also produces a test strip for just chlorine alone that is cheaper - not the right kit, so beware. I also get my chloramine removal filters from BRS. These are 1 micron universal carbon blocks in the standard 10" form factor. I use two in series. When number one is discarded number two is moved to the number one position and the new one is put into the number two position. Thus the partially used filter maximizes the life of the newer filter.

I also recirculate the RO/DI water in the reservoir with a small canister filter filled with premium-grade activated carbon, which I change every six months.
 

Slownas1

New member
I do the same. Was just curious to see what you did as well. Thanks for the reply. I also save my waste water and use it in other tanks that I don’t need RO/DI water on. BRS is a great resource and has great prices for their material. The switch you do with your carbon blocks I do the same with my two stage DI resin as well.

Have you ever tested your RO/DI water for ammonia?
 

Paul G

Member
I did the full battery of tests today and there has been no significant change since 12/13, except that the KH has come down to 140 ppm (7.8 degrees). I will bump KH BOOST just enough to keep it about there. The pH average is 6.6, so CO2 is around 45 - 50 ppm. I have been withholding GH BOOST, but probably a week is not enough time to detect a decline (I confess I am a little surprised).

Since turning off the UV the EC (conductivity) has been steadily rising. Today it is 1020 uS/cm. I have also withheld ferrous gluconate for the last week and dosed only ferric EDTA so I can get an idea of where the normal redox stabilizes. ORP is settling in at 367 mV. This is perfectly satisfactory, but I wouldn't mind if it were higher. Iron has consistently been at 0.27 - 0.30 ppm throughout the day all week. I will resume gluconate dosing.

I have turned the BMLs back down to 70%. The daily oxygen dissolution cycle is not different at 80%, although saturation comes about an hour later in the day at 70%. Nor do my eyes see any appreciable brightness difference; pruning big leaves gives more improvement in that regard. So I have no good reason to encourage algae unnecessarily. Plants are happy, aquarist is happy.

I did get around to the filter changes last Saturday and achieved the expected improvements in the flow rates.
 

Paul G

Member
Thanks to all for tuning in and the kind remarks.

Today's numbers

NO3: 5 ppm
PO4: 3 ppm
K: 50 ppm
Fe: 0.27 ppm
GH: 64 ppm (3.6 deg)
Ca: 48 ppm
Mg: 16 ppm
KH: 136 ppm (7.6 deg)
pH: 6.7
ORP: 342 mV
EC: 920 uS/cm

Today I start a round of maintenance chores and plan to do some 'scape alterations. The Sagittaria is spreading rapidly. It needs restraining and I will have to remove some of it, but it is a delight to see it doing so well.

I have three baby Corydorus panda (that I have spotted so far). Another sign that things are going well in the garden. Lots of little pond snails; okay by me.

I'll put up a picture or two when I am done tidying.
 
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Paul G

Member


















The Sagittaria that was growing in the front was all pulled out. It is forming a dense curtain from the middle to the back, and spreading from left to right. In another few months, I expect it will have pretty much taken over the entire tank. When I first planted this, four or five small plants a couple of years ago, it was very slow to get a start. But once it established it went nuts. It gets tall and the distal ends float, so it can be a light blocker. It tolerates being clipped; it looks best cut just below the waterline so it doesn't present with a "mowed" appearance.

I have removed most of the Ludwigia. Every time I prune it, I save the best pieces with the idea of replanting it, but I have run out of room in this tank growing low maintenance plants that don't constantly shed their leaves. I do like this plant, but I don't miss all the debris.

Hygrophila difformis is a weed but it is a pretty plant that is hardy and easy to keep. You can cut it anywhere and stick it into the gravel and it'll just take root and grow. The Hydrocotyle is a fast growing vine that is also very easy and must be cut back almost constantly. It will float and throw shade and can become a tangled mess. Both these plants make really interesting contrast with swords and crypts and the Sagittaria.

The lotus has flowered again. This photo shows it wide open, pollen grains on offer. This plant is producing a lot of big leaves very quickly. It is a pond plant, but has taken to its confinement fairly well. I remove leaves almost daily. Part of nature's carbon cycle - from the CO2 bottle to the compost barrel via my aquarium.

The Anubias on the right end of the 'scape is getting large and always has at least two flowers going. This one was out front and wanted its picture taken.

The Cryptocorynes are slow growers but they are spreading. I needed to build up the clear areas through the middle of the 'scape before the crypt took over all the open spaces completely. I had some flat rocks I was anxious to get into the tank. I stack rock work so as to have openings to provide the loaches and catfishes with cover and lift the terrain a bit above the plants growing in front.

I took the Java fern on the drift wood out. It was not doing well so I removed it to the holding tank. Java fern can be slow to adjust and I am willing to be patient with it, but it was becoming a distraction. I am hoping it will grow robust in the holding tank and I can eventually return it to the 'scape.
 

Paul G

Member
Today CO2 PRIMARY bottle was changed; 121 hours on the previous bottle. It has been 53 days since the last change.

Today's numbers

pH: 6.7
ORP: 351 mV
EC: 910 uS/cm
KH: 132 ppm (7.4 deg)
GH: 60 ppm (3.5 deg)
Ca: 44 ppm
Mg: 16 ppm
Fe: 0.5 ppm
NO3: 5 ppm
PO4: 3 ppm
K: 50 ppm

pH, ORP, and EC values are averages over the last 7 days.

Ca : Mg ratio is 2.75 to 1.

DO (oxygen) cycles from 5.6 ppm overnight low (about 7:00 AM just before lights ON) to daily high of 10.3 ppm (about 6:00 PM).

The current dosing rates and light intensity are maintaining a highly stable set of parameters. Plant growth is robust and there is no nuisance algae. All fishes are voracious - a hungry fish is a healthy fish. I am much pleased by the state of things.

Performing all the usual housekeeping. The pond snails are prolific. These are a pulmonate species, originally introduced as hitchhikers on plants from Florida I'm sure. I've had them for years, but just in the last couple of months their population has exploded. They are okay with the soft acid water, and are helping with recycling chores.

I have been keeping Nerite snails for a few years. Though attractive, they are native to estuarial ecosystems and are short-lived in a rain-forest setup. They lay eggs (white nodules) everywhere, but the eggs are only viable in brackish water, and their shells are prone to rapid (and I think a rather gruesome) erosion in soft acid water. While desirable (?) from a population control standpoint, I regard them as unsuitable for this type of water. They are attractive but not a natural fit, so I will not be buying them in future. The pond snails are happy and healthy - and cheap too!

Here are recent photos of the tank in dawn/dusk light. This light is dominated by blue and red wavelengths at low intensity.



 
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Paul G

Member
Today the Rineloracaria sp gave proof of its existence by coming out in the daylight to snack on the aufwuchs. Being very reclusive, a densely planted tank suits it. It is decidedly larger than I remember from our last encounter, and its fins are in perfect condition, so it must be doing okay. I feed sinking food, much of it veggie and algae based, for the general benefit of the catfish and loaches. Clearly, this strange character is getting its share.


 
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