200 GALLON JUNGLE STYLE

Paul G

Active member
The video previous is DUSK, taken just after 8:30 PM. I shall endeavor to improve on my cinematography techniques in future efforts.

This was posted through Imgur, which I use for still photos. If I can get Vimeo to work here, I would like to put up larger videos than this. Working on it.
 

Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.7
EC: 1210 uS/cm
KH: 8 deg
GH: 84 ppm (4.5 deg)
Ca: 64 ppm
Mg: 20 ppm
K: 40 ppm
NO3: < 10 ppm
PO4: 2.5 ppm
Fe: 0.51 ppm

From the last test, I have withheld Ca(NO3)2 completely in order to reduce both Ca and NO3. These have come down a little. The K and Mg have been adjusted and now are perfect. Once Ca finally drops to about 40 ppm or so, the GH will be 3.0 - 3.5 degrees, and I expect NO3 will then come in well under 10 ppm. This is the goal.

I have also withheld PO4, and it has dropped. Now I will go on with the regular dosing and let this value rise again. Iron is more than fine at .5 ppm, but it is descending. I am increasing the dose just slightly for both gluconate and trace to arrest this descent.

Major maintenance and pruning and such always generate debris and generally stir things up. When doing an aquascaping alteration this disturbance is inevitably part of the operation. This has been as much a housekeeping chore as an adventure in artistic arrangement. Since I began this project, I have had to change out the intakes weekly. A good deal of detritus was no doubt a result of pulling up all that Sagittaria, but a lot of old leaf litter was also raked out. I suspect I eliminated a source of considerable DOC, to which I attribute, in part, a favorable increase in redox and clarity.
 

Paul G

Active member
On May 21, 2020, 18:30 the CO2PRIMARY emptied. This bottle delivered 110 hours over 44 days.

For the record: On April 19, twelve days after the last bottle change, the BMLs were reduced from 70% to 50%, and the Kessils were reduced from 100% to 70%. The average daily lighting energy high at that time went from 385 watts to 315 watts, an 18% drop. Also, aeration was turned on full-time for 3 days 4/17 thru 4/19, and for 2 days 5/6 thru 5/7, when large heterotrophic inoculations were done.

Sparging will increase O2 but also blows off CO2. Continuous or frequent vigorous aeration is not good practice for planted aquaria. It wastes the CO2 that is being deliberately forced into or conserved in the water column, while it is not difficult to hold onto acceptable O2 levels without much effort, especially in densely planted tanks. Without more data points it will be difficult to quantify more exactly just how much CO2 usage goes to loss from this process. I am perfectly willing to accept that it is significant, as the CO2 concentration is accomplished by attention to good practice, and, in the case of HLHT, no small expense.

Similarly, more data will be needed to translate an 18% energy input reduction into quantifiable CO2 conservation. This should be a real effect and a measurable quantity in a properly devised experiment.
 

Paul G

Active member






Today's numbers

pH: 6.7
EC:1240 uS/cm
KH: 144 ppm (8 deg)
NO3: 5 < 10 ppm
PO4: 2 ppm
K: 40 ppm
Fe: 0.56 ppm
GH: 80 ppm (4.5 deg)
Ca: 56 ppm
Mg: 24 ppm

I am pleased that the Sagittaria is filling in again. It fits the 'scape well, but it must be kept under control. Another plant that I have been keeping for a long time is Hydrocotyle leucocephala (Brazilian pennywort). You can almost watch it grow and it will quickly become a tangled floating mess. But it really adds to the appearance of the tank if it is trimmed routinely and kept in its place. Although they could not be more different, these two weeds work together - slender, tall tape grass curtains and button-bearing vines. They are perfect for large jungles, impossible to kill, and are a good nursery for prolific barbs.

The Hygrophila difformis (water wisteria) remnant is showing some growth now, a sure sign it is "taking", and I am anxious to see it pick up speed. I shoved a small fert tablet into the substrate there to help it on its way. Still too small to see it in the pics. This is another plant that I chose because it is easy and hardy, and I think it's a pretty plant. I used to keep quite a bit of Ceratopterus thalictroides (watersprite), planted in the substrate, whose appearance I really liked. It, too, grows weed-like, and when large, the leaf mass mushrooms at the top. Being a fern it must be controlled by removing fronds at the base, and it became a challenge keeping it looking good. Eventually, the big old plants had to be replaced altogether with smaller off-spring. These were never in short supply of course, but I eventually concluded that keeping watersprite this way was going to be an endless chore requiring continual disturbance of the substrate. It does put out roots in substrate, but, long term, it really works better as a floater. I switched to water wisteria which tolerates being pruned in the conventional sense. The aquascaping objective is to have the tall background consist of a little more Hygro and a little less Sag.





The Microsorum pteropus (Java fern) is looking just like I was hoping it would. It will take a long time, but I want to see a lot of this plant. There is something about the color and shape of the leaves of the common form that appeals to me. I take it as a challenge to grow large, robust, perfect Java fern with no trace of algae.

The established Cryptocoryne wendtii are gradually getting larger and there are a lot of volunteers springing up. I have been slowly pruning the Anubiases, mostly taking old leaves having algae build-up. All these plants are types that actually prefer, or at least tolerate, mid-level intensity lighting. This permits throttling the input energy, the principle objective being to curtail the least opportunity for algae. Slower production overall is a plus so long as what is produced is healthy. I have no issue aesthetically with the reduced brightness. There is plenty of light. Interestingly, the canopy fans and the chiller run-times are down a bit; always good to reduce the heat generation whenever possible. The swords would probably appreciate a higher brightness, but the system is hitting oxygen saturation daily (see graph below). So, I expect that the swords will be healthy long-term, and if their growth is slowed a bit, so much the better. I will be careful not to allow shade to encroach on them, being especially cautious about crowding them with Sag.



Blue plot is diurnal energy cycle; total power to lights 315 watts average high, 324 watts peak. Red plot is oxygen tension; 7 ppm min to 11 ppm max O2. Neptune Systems Apex Classic Aquacontroller, PM3 / OxyGuard Type III probe.
 
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Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.7
EC: 1330 uS/cm
KH: 8 deg
NO3: < 5.0 ppm
PO4: 2.5 ppm
K: 40 ppm
GH: 80 ppm (4.5 deg)
Ca: 60 ppm
Mg: 20 ppm
Fe: 0.52 ppm

Nitrate is down significantly - I estimate around 3 ppm. I have withheld Ca(NO3)2 since the tests of 5/23. While the NO3 is down, the GH is not. Calcium is holding at little to no change (within the error bar). As I can account for no other source of Ca, I will speculate that the plants have sufficient store of Ca and are not taking it up rapidly. Mg is holding, as is K. These have been on their regular dosing schedule, so the plants are evidently using them. The mix and rate for Mg/K appears to be about right. Switching over to Ca(NO3)2 was the right move, but a portion of this vat mix will need to be KNO3. So I have some more experimentation ahead of me. For now I will continue to withhold N/Ca and manually dose KNO3 until I can get a steady 5 ppm nitrate and knock about a degree off the GH.

Since I began dosing buffer at both 07:00 and 18:00 (thereby increasing the overall daily dose), I have finally arrived at a steady 8 degrees KH. It is interesting to me that this system uses the amount of buffer it does. Nitrification produces H+, and a well-fed bio-filter processing a continuous stream of nitrogenous waste is an acid generator. The implementation of a large, robust bio-filter in a planted tank will generally mean that a significant portion of the ammonia output is being consumed in the enzyme reactor (bio-filter) at the expense of the plants, which use least energy (and thus "prefer") assimilating nitrogen from directly available ammonia, but must reduce nitrate to ammonia internally at some cost in metabolic energy if nitrate is their only nitrogen source. Nitrate reduction in plants uses H+ ions (protons) in a reversal of nitrification. Perfect proton homeostasis, i.e. pH balance, would be plants using exactly the same numbers of H+ in nitrate reduction as chemoautotrophic bacteria produce in nitrification. Idealized balance envisions macrophyte protein synthesis that compensates for all ammonification (protein catalysis) occurring in the system. Alas, such homeostases are rare in aquariums; if the plants don't use as many protons as the bacteria produce, there will be acidification. Hence, buffer.

The iron is maintaining at approximately 0.5 ppm and this is where I want it. Iron is dosed in two vats. One mix is to provide a solution of micro-nutrient and trace that includes manganese, molybdenum, boron, and pretty much all else along those lines, in quantities generally regarded as suitable aquarium plant fertilizer. You can't test accurately for all these, except for iron, so there is implicit faith that if you are getting 0.5 ppm iron, you're getting the whole spectrum in sufficient quantities. Here you are trusting SeaChem and others who are marketing these blends. I do have a kit that tests for low-range manganese. It basically just confirms that some small amount of Mn is present. Whenever I use it, it is positive for Mn.
The other vat is iron gluconate which is particularly good at providing foliar uptake of iron and is also a carbon source.
 
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Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.7
EC: 970 uS/cm
KH: 7 deg
NO3: < 10 ppm
PO4: 2 ppm
K: 40 ppm
Fe: 0.25 ppm
GH: 64 ppm (3.6 deg)
Ca: 48 ppm
Mg: 16 ppm

Just completed two successive 10% water changes; EC and KH a little lower than usual. The GH is now closer to ideal. I am increasing the Mg/K doser runtime from 30 to 50 seconds. I am still withholding Ca(NO3)2 completely. While the Ca is finally descending, NO3 has been creeping up. This is due entirely to the fish food. Ten days ago I added twenty new (small) Cardinal Tetras, six Kuhli Loaches, and four Otocinclus. I doubt this represents a significant increase in nitrogenous waste via the fish proper, but I have probably been overfeeding flake. The redox has been down slightly, so I suspect DOC was elevated. I put in some heterotrophs and did the water changes. I also began including fresh frozen cyclops with the brine shrimp. These, of course, are tiny morsels, perfect for the little cardinals. They are in good color, hungry and healthy. I will be adding still more.

Although a couple of leaves have gone brown and had to be removed, the Java fern is doing okay overall. The single sprig of Hygrophila is still slow to grow, but it appears to be just fine judging by its color and general condition. I am expecting it to reach a stage soon where it will finally go into its normal - i.e. rapid - growth rate. I put three more little fert tabs in the gravel next to it, and am assuring that nearby swordplant and Nymphaea leaves aren't cutting off its light.

After two months of running the main lights at 50%, I have increased them to 60% again. Oxygen was still hitting saturation daily, but there was something about the "vibe" of the tank that took some time to perceive. I have been running this system for a very long time. I know it and I feel it. I don't like it at low energy. It works this way, and it looks okay, but it wants to be cranked up. I don't believe the susceptibility to GSA is significantly different. I think the plants do better with higher energy and can deal just as well with algae. I do think the GSA was gradually becoming problematic when the lights were set at 80%. I want to increase the fish count, and I am certain that the jungle can sustain it. But the energy level must go up. Throttling the system did cut down on the growth rate. While there may have been less pruning and pulling, I can't say that the total amount of maintenance work was really noticeably different. I will gradually work back up to 70%, and perhaps a few installments from now I will have yet another speculative musing about it all.

I should be describing these light intensities in PAR values and not just as percentages of capacity of the lighting system. I need to settle on a place for the Apex PAR sensor where it won't be shaded by large leaves, so that the light on it will not fluctuate. It doesn't matter exactly where, just that it be in a constant specified location so that numbers comparisons are meaningful. A practical mounting spot will probably not be ideal for "correct" illumination detection. I can use the Apex for continuous monitoring and data logging. If an absolute value for PAR is wanted for a specific location at a specific time, I can use the Apogee Quantum Flux. I mounted its sensor on the end of a long stick, but I seldom use it; it's not info I need for practical purposes.
 

Paul G

Active member
On Wednesday, 06/24/2020, 14:15, the CO2PRIMARY emptied. This bottle delivered 123 hours over 35 days.

With only five months of data, the sample size is small. Ideally, at a specified control value for pH, the hours per day ON time for the CO2PRIMARY solenoid should be a constant. There are many variables in play, however, and the range just now is 2.3 to 3.5. I don't see a means - or a purpose - for explaining this variability. The important number will be the average from an increasingly larger statistical base. Thus far, average hours/day is 3.0 at pH = 6.7, a number that I believe is credible for a densely planted 210 gallon jungle style HLHT system. I predict that this average will remain constant over time, or will be the floor value. Establishing regulated light intensity and nutrient concentration parameters (energy input), I should expect a possible elevation of this average to occur as a result of an increase in productive bio-mass - i.e. higher CO2 utilization (energy stored).
There will be a limit point, of course, when there just isn't actual physical space for more growth!

Shown here is the quarantine/holding tank, being used just now for a new batch of small tetras. This is a 20 long equipped with two sponge filters with large independent air supplies, an AquaClear 50 packed with SeaChem Matrix, and a Penguin 350 with Siporax Minis and pelletized activated carbon. As is my wont, I have provided a huge safety margin for biofiltration. I re-started this with nitrifier culture, including Marineland Bio-Spira, feeding ammonium chloride. It took three weeks to cycle this system to where I could not induce lasting ammonia spikes. I make sure the biowheels are always spinning - commentary by others that this isn't important is noted and dismissed - rotary contactors are meant to rotate for the maximum wet-dry effect. Floating some Hydrocotyle harvest is a good idea, I think. The light is a Kessil TunaSun.

The quarantine period is generally recommended for 30 days, as a precaution against pretty much any pathogen that could be lurking. My main concern is protozoan ectoparasites (ich, etc), because once detected in the display tank, the whole system must be subject to the treatment for an extended time. This is hugely disruptive and stressful. If quarantined fish show no sign of illness and are eating, I have no qualms about moving them after about two weeks. From here on I will keep a couple of small fish full time in this tank to support the biofilter.

 
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Paul G

Active member
Thanks, Jeff. With a quarantine tank, of course, the sole criterion is consistently creating the highest possible water quality - with respect to fish health only - with a minimum of effort. Absolute simplicity is essential. Hang-on-back power filters work well here, and the Penguin is excellent for this. With the slide-out cage style cartridges, large chemical filtration media capacity can be changed almost instantly. Also, sponge filters make for very good biofiltration and feature no moving parts whatsoever. I am going to have to move the air pump to the basement 'cause it's noisy.

No gravel; have to be able to easily see and siphon debris at a moment's notice. Floating plants give the fish cover and help with the stress, and the green does improve the appearance.

Over the years I have collected a lot of unused equipment. Everything used in this tank came from storage. Now I know I have eschewed any notion of giving in to multiple tank syndrome, but I do have a 29 and also a 37. I would try a system without CO2 injection. I have everything I need to set it up, although a new light would be wanted. It's just possible I could make room......

Does having just two display tanks constitute MTS?
 

Paul G

Active member
This weekend I have changed all the mechanical filter cartridges. There is some evidence, as can be discerned in the photo below, that the execution of this task was long overdue. Although there are eight such filters - four 100 micron and two 25 micron - this is not a difficult job. The original idea was to stagger the filter changes so the loops are done on a schedule which spreads the work out. But it is easy to procrastinate this one, so by the time I'm finally compelled to deal with it, all the filters need attention at the same time and a sizable block is taken out of the day. I have learned that I actually prefer doing this job all in one go. It involves breaking out the buckets for bleach solution soaks and a garden hose set on high pressure jet, and two complete sets of cartridges. I just set aside a whole day for major maintenance chores and see it through to the end. This means that through the winter months when the outdoor water system is shut down, this job does not get done. I can get away with this if I do it last thing before first freeze and first thing after last freeze. The problem in evidence here is that when the weather turned, I did not jump on it right away.


This is an accumulation of mulm, particulate organics, which are meant to be removed by physical transport - i.e. filter change - but will support heterotrophic communities which will decompose it into dissolved organic carbon. In the aquarium filter, it accumulates faster than it decomposes, so when a mechanical filter gets into this state, it has become a DOC generator. To the extent that mulm has a nitrogenous waste component as well, ammonification and nitrification are ongoing. Just like any other aerobic consortium, this filter is a nitrate and phosphate generator too. After a stretch of neglect, the nitrate tests high all the time, the redox goes low and won't recover; black spot, green spot, and black beard algae start popping up, some fish seem prone to skin infections, if otherwise healthy; and the water just can't hold a "polish". The tank loses its razor sharp feel. If there is no full-time chemical filtration that effectively removes DOC, it is important to avoid rising DOC in the first place. Water changes are a good idea, and I think I have been remiss in this. I have noted before that a 10% water change is a wonderful thing, but I am not doing it often enough.

So I have done several water changes back-to-back and set up the Filstar XP-4 with high-grade carbon and BioChemZorb. I mean to run this for several days and have the aeration going full-blast continuously. I have said that I'd like to add fish and that I believe the jungle can absorb the bio-load. If I hope to do this without incorporating carbon and resin filtration into the regimen, I really must be more careful. In my view, the jungle ecosystem I have been describing in this journal is oligotrophic. By definition this requires very low DOC, orthophosphate 2 to 3 ppm, total DIN (dissolved inorganic nitrogen) - in this case almost completely nitrate - less than 10 ppm. Values higher than these represent eutrophication, a condition that characterizes closed systems (aquariums in particular) as a matter, more or less, of course. Activated carbon will remove DOC, but not inorganic solutes. Specialized resin media can do it all, but the point of the jungle tank is to let the microbes and the plants do this and avoid the complications attached to dedicated filter apparatus, exhaustible media, and moving parts. Elegance and efficiency are the code. Healthy, dense vegetation and frequent water changes are the means to avoid eutrophication.



I have decided on a location for the Apex PAR sensor. It is mounted on the sidewall, three inches below the waterline. I can keep it out of the shade here if I am careful about floating vegetation. At this time, the lighting system is in full mid-day mode. I am holding it at 60% of capacity. Total power draw is about 330 watts. PAR is 100 (it fluctuates between 95 and 105).

 

Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH: 6.7
EC: 1080 uS/cm
ORP: 350 mV
KH: 9 degrees
GH: 160 ppm (9 degrees)
Ca: 108 ppm
Mg: 52 ppm
NO3: 5 ppm
PO4: 1 ppm
K: 30 ppm
Fe: 0.38 ppm

Sticking with my new conservatism just now, I think I will continue to hold PO4 at 1 ppm, NO3 at 5 ppm, and Fe at under 0.5 ppm. I will not allow K to go below 30 ppm. I am at a loss to explain the increase in GH. I have made no effort to boost Mg or Ca levels, yet both are way up. Ca has been stubbornly high for some time. I have been withholding calcium nitrate and the only other source of Ca is what is contained in SeaChem Flourish, which is used in the micronutrient/trace dose. This jump up seems to coincide with my setting up the temporary chemical filter which is packed with quite a lot of BioChemZorb and activated carbon. I know of no technical reason why the two should be connected, but I suppose - sheer speculation here - that the zeolite or the proprietary resin that API uses in this medium releases earth-alkali cations, and the increases appear to be excessive because I put a lot of it in. I mean a LOT.

That being said, the water changes - and the filter changes - and the aggressive chem filtration have had a salutary effect. The DOM (dissolved organic matter) must surely have been scrubbed out. Traces of encroaching algae are gone. The redox is recovering and the crispy clarity has returned. I have to say, the fish are doing great despite the newly acquired hardness. The cardinals' skin eruptions disappeared practically overnight. Today I removed the chem media and installed some granulated peat. This should now gently restore a low concentration of humic substances (tannins and other natural polyphenolics), and, along with a regular water change scheme, start to gradually soften the water. I will install a bag of granulated peat in one of the processing filter loops and put away the XP-4.

[ In the interests of accuracy, I will be using DOM for DOC in reference to all carbonaceous-nitrogenous BOD in solution. I will also use POM, particulate organic matter, for "mulm"; and periphyton for "aufwuchs". ]

I don't mind a water change as long as it's not too drastic. Small but frequent seems more "natural" to me, and something that looks more like a constant low-volume flow of a real stream would be ideal. Done at the right pace, such a scheme would transport autochthonous BOD/nutrient loading "downstream", as it were, while simultaneously receiving pristine fresh water from "upstream" (the RO system), thus preventing creeping eutrophication. Dosing rates of supplements would need to be adjusted. As a practical matter, the throughput in the aquarium can be contrived to resemble continuous streaming by doing mini-changes in closely timed batches, throughout the day, or a large part of the day. I have programmed the Apex to open the drain for three minutes. This releases enough water to trigger the ATO (auto-top-off). In this setup, this causes a change of about 1.75 gallons (6.7 liters). This is done five times per day, hourly between 16:00 and 20:00, inclusive. I avoid mornings for this so as not to waste supplements dosed at 07:00. These are not large water changes per se, nor does this regimen represent a large daily change. But this is happening every day, and the size and number of the batch parcels can be altered as data necessitate. It is required only that equilibrium with the bio-load is achieved automatically. Apex can log RO ON time, so I can keep tabs on the fresh water system demands. I expect I will go through pre-filters, membranes, and DI much more rapidly now. This will be a good thing - the payback is better health with less effort.
 
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Paul G

Active member
I should say that I am mystified about the source of large increase in general hardness and that the use of BioChemZorb is a suggestive coincidence only. It is important to realize that zeolite traps earth-alkali ions and its use would typically DEPLETE calcium. The mystery remains.

I also want to clarify that the peat filtration is NOT a step to switching this system over to a dystrophic blackwater environment. Some tannin/lignin content is normal in natural rainforest waters, and has positive effects for both plants and fish. Aggressive chemical filtration strips the water of these substances and they should be replenished. Many of these hydroxylated aromatics efficiently chelate earth-alkalis and will soften the water, but it is important to remember that they are strongly acidic and can drastically alter the system's chemistry. The botanicals method gets you to blackwater if that's your thing, but all bets are off in predicting CO2 concentration from the pH/alkalinity chart if any significant part of the pH is due to organic acids.

Retention of some humic presence is an important reason for eschewing full-time chemical filtration in a planted tank. It can impart a certain subtle look to the water which I think signals a healthy environment and find very pleasing, but I am not going for 'The Tint.'
 

Paul G

Active member
I need to record here for my future reference that 5 July I also did the following things:

All the internal piping was dismantled for a bleach soak and was reinstalled algae-free. I did a side- and back-wall algae scrape and cleaned all the sensors and probes.

I renewed the carbon block on the water supply, and the activated carbon in the RO reservoir recirculator (a Filstar XP-1). I have been testing for chloramine and not getting a trace, but the output carbon block was at least six months old.

Likewise, the DI filter is that old. The resin bed is not showing any color change and the TDS output has not changed. The RO membrane and the DI appear to be hanging in there. Today I decided to test the GH and KH of the ATO discharge, i.e. the product water. This business with the increasing GH in the aquarium made me curious to see if the explanation might lie there. My RO water hardness is testing below detectability with the API kits, so I am ruling out equipment failure.

The Anubias on wood that I crammed in on the left end a few weeks ago was not working out. I trimmed quite a lot of it, especially leaves that were suffering algal onset, and shifted it around a bit, but the look of the tank remained congested. I removed all of these pieces to the quarantine tank and lowered the light on them. They are sprouting new leaves and the algae are abating.

In the vacated spaces I am putting some new Java fern and Hygrophyla difformis. The single Hygro I have been watching these last few weeks is still not speeding up. I think it will do well, but I won't be able to harvest cuttings from it for a while yet; so I ordered some new.

Since starting the daily water-change schedule, I have been doing the full battery of tests every morning just after 07:00. In the last three days, there has been no change except iron is down to 0.33 ppm. This is only 0.05 lower, but I increased doser time ON (beginning tomorrow AM) for both gluconate and micro by 5 seconds just to see the effect over the next few days. There has been a significant change, however, in the GH which today is 136 ppm (7.6 degrees), down 24 ppm over just these three days.

Still withholding nitrate and phosphate supplementation, the nitrate remains at 5 ppm and the phosphate at 1 ppm.
 

Paul G

Active member
On Tuesday, 07/21/2020, 08:30, the CO2PRIMARY emptied. This bottle delivered 145.5 hours over 27 days. Average solenoid ON time was over 5 hours per day. This is significantly higher than the running average.

Today's numbers

pH : 6.7
EC : 670 uS/cm
GH : 75 ppm (4 deg)
Ca/Mg : 50 - 60 ppm / 25 - 15 ppm
KH : 132 ppm (7.4 deg)
NO3 : 0 ppm
PO4 : < 0.5 ppm
K : 20 ppm
Fe : 0.24 ppm

The daily water-change schedule described in the 9 July post has been in effect since 5 July, 17 days thus far. A 10% water change was done last Friday, 17 July, and again on Sunday, 19 July. I have withheld Ca, Mg, PO4, and NO3 throughout this interval. The conductivity dropped by increments daily from 1080 on 9 July to 670 today, the GH going from 9 to 4 degrees. Confidence in the precision and accuracy of the GH test is high, but I have come to accept that there is a range of uncertainty in the calcium test. The numbers I have been getting are good for judging whether it is unnecessarily excessive or approaching deficiency and I am satisfied that the results are at least consistent. Precise numbers for Ca and Mg can be only approximations, and for purposes of tracking trends, this imprecision is acceptable. I think now the hardness and the Ca:Mg ratio are both perfectly okay for this type of habitat. Once these, or similar, approximations and proportions are made stable, we will call it good and stop chasing the numbers. I am going to experiment with the dosing compositions to see if SeaChem Flourish Comprehensive can provide all the Ca and Mg requirements.

I am also making an effort to keep iron below 0.3 ppm. My previous position on this is in error; I think perhaps a higher concentration over indefinite time risks metal toxicity. Probably 0.1 ppm or so is closer to sanity, provided that it can be consistently maintained. It is not necessarily the iron itself that presents the problem, but the other micros that are dosed along with it. Excessive concentrations of some trace elements can inhibit uptake of others, or possibly interfere with enzyme production and metabolic pathways. Since cutting back on the micronutrient dosing, and with the daily water changes, color and growth rate have noticeably improved in all the plants. Whether this is directly a result of lowering the micros or a benefit of another effect of the water change regimen is uncertain, but thus far there is no sign that the lower micro concentrations are deleterious. We will go along with this scheme for now and observe closely.

Note that the nitrate and phosphate have finally zeroed out. The water changes and consumption by the plants has fully depleted these macros. When I stopped dosing them, I was interested to see whether fish food was sourcing them in sufficient quantities to maintain appropriate concentrations. I added fish and fed liberally. Clearly, it will be necessary to dose, but I will be aiming for 5 ppm NO3 maximum and 1 ppm PO4 maximum in an effort to maintain strict oligotrophy. While I am not testing for DOM specifically, it is reasonable to assume that the water change scheme is cutting it as expected.

Peat was installed in one filter canister in the processing loop. After two days I was able to detect 1.0 ppm tannic acid, but now it is undetectable. I will put peat into another canister and see if there is a bump again. The tannic acid and the KH buffer must be reacting with one another, but the exact effects are as yet not noticed.
 

Paul G

Active member
NEW AQUASCAPE FOR 200 GALLON JUNGLE STYLE













The Hygrophila I have been watching so anxiously has finally grown out and up, nearing the surface as the above photo shows. I have just planted some new Hygrophila here and there, so I begin waiting again. As these grow out, the look of the 'scape will start to change once more. The bright green will punctuate the bronze Cryptocoryne, but I will need to keep it well trimmed. The original plan to grow the Hygrophila at the back became unnecessary. The swordplants are dominating the background, and the Sagittaria is filling in effectively. As the sag marches toward the middle and front, it gets pulled before it takes over. Another welcome green is the Java fern. All the ferns are doing very well and I have added several more.

The Anubias that was at the far right end of the tank finally got too big for that location after a couple of years. It was firmly attached to wood and came out intact. I trimmed it severely, taking every leaf of questionable appearance, removing black algae. It is a nice big healthy plant. I returned it to the back left end of the tank where I recently removed a tatty old Anubias.

The swordplants are having a growth spurt and putting out colorful new leaves. While cutting back on supplement dosing to the water column, I set some fertilizer tabs in the substrate around the swords and crypts.

Sagittaria sends out long flower runners that float at the surface. The small, pretty flower, which lasts all of one day, terminates a stalk that turns upward, holding the flower just above the water. Sometimes at a node, the main stalk joins two or more lesser stalks that turn down.





Today's numbers

pH : 6.7
ORP : 354 mV
EC : 540 uS/cm
GH : 60 ppm (3.2 deg)
Ca/Mg : 32 - 52 ppm / 8 - 28 ppm
KH : 6.7 degrees
NO3 : 5 ppm
PO4 : 1 ppm
K : 30 ppm
Fe : 0.28 ppm
 
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Paul G

Active member
Today's numbers

pH : 6.7
ORP : 357 mV
EC : 530 uS/cm
GH : 52 ppm (2.9 deg)
Ca/Mg : 36 ppm / 16 ppm
KH : 6.7 degrees
NO3 : < 5 ppm
PO4 : 1.51 ppm
K : 25 ppm
Fe : 0.23 ppm

This is now a true softwater system with the GH coming in at 3 degrees. The Ca:Mg ratio is ideal, K and Fe are in good supply. The alkalinity is a very stable 6.7 degrees. Buffer is being liberally dosed. This could be tannic acid from the peat charge neutralizing the buffer. If so, tannin will eventually deplete and the KH will gradually rise. In the meantime, I will leave the buffer dose alone and I won't add more peat - yet. Although the water is very soft, the Ca and Mg should be more than sufficient for the plants being kept. Between the calcium and the tannic acid, and also the more conservative iron/trace dosing, metal toxicity is no concern.

I have been daily dosing unamended SeaChem Flourish Comprehensive which contains K, Ca, and Mg, as well as the essential micros including iron, molybdenum, manganese, and boron, and others. The iron in Flourish is ferrous gluconate. I have discontinued NutriTrace CSM+B and extra gluconate. It is looking as though the daily Flourish that supports the Ca and Mg at the desired levels also is bringing in Fe just right. Then, the other micros are okay too, trusting SeaChem's formulation. Every week, once only, I put in 50 mL of SeaChem Flourish Trace. I hope this balancing act holds over time; I'll dose Flourish in any quantity wanted by the plants. If it maintains the desired proportions that would simplify things greatly.

Daily dosing includes SeaChem Flourish Advance, a phytohormone cocktail which contains K also, and Flourish Excel, a supplementary carbon source and algacide. These are set at close to label-direction max daily dose rates, and a 200 gallon system goes through a lot of it.

Just now, other sources of K have been stopped, but I suspect I will need to restart a little daily K2SO4, which I will do if K drops below 20 ppm.

I have not restarted NO3 after all. The last test, which yielded zero, was faulty, and led me to dose back up to nearly 10 ppm before I realized my mistake. A couple of 10% water changes corrected that, and I have not dosed nitrate since. I have been running API and Hagen NO3 tests simultaneously for quite a while and they generally agree. These tests are good approximations and I think pretty much give useful information, like is NO3 around 5 ppm or 10 ppm, or at least absolutely more than 0 but somewhat less than 20. But I prefer more certainty and am considering a photometric tester.

I have been using a photometer for Fe for a couple of years and I really like it. Today's PO4 was measured with a new photometer. I really like it too!

I am still assessing whether the fish food will provide all NO3 and PO4. I have not dosed PO4 since early June and it has not gone below about 1 ppm. Orthophosphate has probably been around 1.5 ppm all this time, and I regard this as perfect. I will continue to withhold NO3 and see where that goes.

The stream-simulation regime is proving out wonderfully so far. The tank is in a state of constant freshness - I don't know how else to convey this - despite the fish load. The auto-feeders dump dry flake twice a day. Most days I feed a large quantity of fresh frozen brine shrimp and blood worms and such-like goodies, and a lot of plant-based bottom feeder stuff goes in frequently as well. It's a lot of nitrogen, carbon, and phosphorus. It's great to see all the activity and still have the orthophosphate and the ORP (redox) hold rock-solid steady. Actually, the ORP is slowly rising; it has been dwelling over 360 mV sometimes of late.

 
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Paul G

Active member
I have been testing every two days and making adjustments. The conductivity (470 uS/cm today) has been steadily decreasing along with the GH, as expected, and the potassium is getting a bit scarce. Yesterday I gave the K2SO4 a 10 second bump which brought it back up to 40 ppm. I have declared before that this is the minimum allowed, and there is no downside to providing for luxury uptake of K. I think perhaps the throughput is a little too fast. I am decreasing the volume of water change from 1.75 gal (6.7 L) to 1.2 gal (4.5 L), i.e. by 33% (3 minutes to 2 minutes DRAIN open), for each of the 5 parcels.

The NO3 has been reported lately at 5 ppm or less than that, as yielded by the Hagen kit. Today I made the first measurement of NO3 using the new photometer. Nitrate is 2.2 ppm (0.5 ppm NO3-N). Orthophosphate is 1.21 ppm. The plants in this tank are thriving in this. Growth is rapid and color is excellent. Oxygen tension continues to achieve saturation daily. This is a super-oligotrophic softwater system, but primary production is NOT limited. No new nuisance algae, but the periphyton (aufwuchs) is sufficient to satisfy the Gara and the Otocinclus. All DIN (dissolved inorganic nitrogen) and all phosphate present in the water continue to be derived exclusively from fish food. The system is heavily populated.

I have no means to precisely quantify the DOM concentration apart from the ORP (redox), which is tending high - now remaining above 360 mV. The jungle is cranking full on and the ecosystem's oxidation power is very good. Reduced organic carbon is being rapidly processed. But ALL dissolved matter is being transported out of the system entirely. If the streaming fresh throughput is showing the obvious rolloff of EC and GH and other measurable stuff, it is certainly reasonable to assume that DOM concentration is being driven down significantly as well. The objective is to fine tune the thing so that the carbonaceous waste that is being continuously evolved is removed, while every nutrient is maintained at a non-limiting and non-toxic level.
 

Paul G

Active member
Friday morning last I stated that we had "no new nuisance algae." That very afternoon when housekeeping got underway, this was proven a bald-faced bit of braggadocio. Closer inspection raised alarm. I started out by disassembling the internal piping for a much needed bleach soak, and a thorough scraping of the back and side walls. There is always algae to be found on these places, especially if the chore has been put off for a while. Typically, I am not concerned unless algae begins to show on the plants themselves, which must be assumed to mean that conditions favoring algae are overwhelming the allelopathic defenses of the macrophytes. I was unhappy to see considerable infestation of the black and green spot algae that turns up on the Anubias leaves coming on very fast, along with BBA growing out on the edges of swordplant and Sagittaria leaves. So, with the water changes and the diminishing nitrate and phosphate, what is the explanation?

Algae can thrive in environments so depleted in NO3 and PO4 that these nutrients are nearly non-limiting in a practical sense. Both are necessary but not sufficient for algae to grow. The idea that NO3 and / or PO4 or some occurrence of these in a particular ratio actually cause algae leads to an attempt to suppress it by finding the concentrations that establish a survivability threshold. But there is more going on here. Now, there is thought given to the role of DOM, certain organics probably having a triggering effect when other conditions are present. I commend attention to

McDowell, Andy: "What Exactly Causes BBA? Bacterial Imbalance?", The Aquatic Gardener, Vol 30 No1 (Jan-Mar 2017)

McDowell discusses research into the causes of Rhodophyta (red algae, of which BBA is a member) and the possibility that heterotrophic bacteria produce organic substances which algae require to metabolize available nutrient, but cannot produce themselves (auxotrophy). The particular organic of interest is cobalamin, vitamin B12. Very likely the picture is much broader, that auxotrophy is common in algae, and that a whole array of organic products that naturally occur in water are auto-inducers. Likely, this broader picture includes other types of algae and other kinds of organics.

And one prominent ingredient of humus is cobalamin.

When I installed peat in a filter loop, I was aware of this. I honestly expected that the small quantity involved would probably have no adverse effect, and that some benefit might derive for both plants and fish. After the initial test which yielded 1 ppm hydroxylated aromatic, that test came in zero or non-testable. I speculated that tannic acid was nonetheless neutralizing buffer. Organic acid was probably skewing the CO2-buffer system; CO2 instabilities portend poor outcomes in alga control.

Friday afternoon I removed the peat and did a 10% water change. Throughout Saturday and Sunday, the ORP began to rise. Sunday night the ORP was 372 mV. Today, as I write this, the ORP is 399 mV! The KH has been dosed normally but has risen to over 8 degrees.

My takeaway here is that humus and the like might be best confined to substrate enhancements and to blackwater biotopes. Peat and botanicals are central to mature eutrophic and dystrophic environments. In the oligotrophic water column, they are pollution.
 

Paul G

Active member
For the record, the ORP rose steadily to 425 mV by 05:30 Tuesday, 11 Aug and has plateaued at 424 - 428. All the reducing organics have been processed out of the system and the redox is stable.

To adjust for Friday's water change, some supplements were dosed and the parameters are a little out of kilter, but now that the phenolics have been purged I can get back on track. I am continuing with the 2 minute open drain event (ODE) stream, but have added three ODEs (14:00, 15:00, 21:00) for a total of eight 4.5 L parcels daily.
 
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Paul G

Active member
Beginning today I am reducing the ODE ON time by 25% so the parcel volume will be 3.375 L. For verisimilitude, obviously it's better to reduce the throughput by effectively throttling the drain over a longer time-frame rather than simply decreasing events. The central feature of the rationale for this protocol is to avoid drastic effects of ordinary "big gulp" water changes; in principle it promotes stability. The way in which the concentrations of dissolved substances changes is very different between the two methods. Control of parameters is inherently more precise, the system uniformity being stretched out in time.

The streaming rate is adjusted to reduce the retention of autochthonous DOM. That is the goal. As DOM continuously evolves it must be removed at the same rate, this by water replacement from a source having zero DOM content. There should be no allochthonous organics in an aquarium (technically, that would be "pollution" defined). Dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and orthophosphate also continuously evolve, but these substances are nutrient for producers. A densely planted aquarium can conceivably assimilate all autochthonous inorganics (ultimately derived from fish-food, normal vegetation necrosis, and other internal processes). Streaming will of course physically remove inorganics as well as organics, and the plants may require supplementation. Thus the rates of streaming and supplementation must be balanced so that the retention of inorganics maintains plant nutrient at non-limiting concentrations - but preferably no more than that.

It is easy, in principle, to control the inorganics by these manipulations, especially as they are amenable to quantitative analysis by relatively simple chemical testing. Dissolved organic matter is more elusive. A direct measure would be by BOD assay, but that is prohibitively complex and time consuming - totally impractical for the aquarist. The indirect means of assessing DOM is by monitoring the system redox potential with an ORP meter. This is subject to skewing factors such as the reducing effects of additives that are not actually autochthonous pollution. For example, I can get a slight ORP down-tick from Excel/Advance and micronutrient dosing, and an especially deep temporary dip from a full heterotroph dose (Dr Tim's WasteAway and EcoBalance). These are not "real" ORP values as they are not actually measuring the system's intrinsic redox potential. The redox eventually rebounds to that resulting from the reducing compound component of the autochthonous DOM. The ORP monitor yields continuous real value but response is slow - redox changes in ways different than pH. Getting useful info requires patience and experience with the monitor. Generally, the trend in redox over days tells you how well the aquarium is shedding DOM. Oligotrophic water will have ORP values between 350 and 400 mV. The experienced aquarist with an instinct for water quality will detect the concomitant signs.

An important index is the occurrence of algae, as mentioned in the recent post above. I maintain that algae results from eutrophication. They are aquatic organisms and natural inhabitants of aquariums. The algal component of periphyton films is desirable, up to a point, and certainly unavoidable so long as there is light shining into the tank. Nitrate does not cause algae. Phosphate does not cause algae. While algae require both nitrogen and phosphorus, NO3 and PO4 are practically non-limiting for them; they require very little. But once a suppressed algal population is triggered by other conditions, excess DIN and orthophosphate will promote explosive growth. This gives the very reasonable impression that they cause algae if they occur in elevated concentrations. As long as there is sufficient light, algae will remain present, if suppressed, supported by mere trace quantities of DIN and orthophosphate. To control algae - the operative term being 'control' rather than 'eliminate' - NO3 and PO4 should be maintained only to the concentrations required by the plants; non-limiting but not excessive, and DOM kept as close to totally non-existent as is possible. The defining characteristics of oligotrophic waters are DIN < 10 ppm and orthophosphate < 2 ppm. Lightly nutrient loaded water should be expected to be relatively free of DOM as well. It should be noted also that high redox reflects the enhanced oxidative power of the system due to proficient photosynthesis and continuously high oxygen tension over time. Some have observed, correctly I think, that superior oxygenation in the aquarium is a hedge against algae, possibly due to rapid oxidation of organic auto-inducers. If not causative, it is certainly correlative; either way it speaks to the total condition. In nature, high oxygen tension is a consistent property of oligotrophic waters.

Algae are caused by trophic status, not any one element of the environment.

Oligotrophic waters are generally regarded as non-enriched in terms of macrophyte nutrient, so in natural settings such environments are characterized by sparse vegetation. One would expect, then, that oligotrophy is not the optimal condition for plants. Aquatic gardeners know, however, that in the aquarium, the NO3 and PO4 concentrations typical of oligotrophic water are not limiting.

Nitrate at 10 ppm to 30 ppm, and PO4 at 2 ppm to 5 ppm define mesotrophy, and are more typical of aquariums that are not deliberately lean, but are nonetheless well managed. Aquariums wherein these concentrations are allowed to increase are, in fact, eutrophying and likely are fairly high in DOM (auto-inducers included) unless continuously scrubbed by activated carbon, etc. Such systems will probably have ORP values well under 350 mV and are probably prone to problem algae. If an effective water change regimen would help in this regard, and it surely would, what about taking this idea so far as to implement a streaming water-change protocol leading to total oligotrophy?

Additionally, I am convinced that allelopathy plays a significant role. Biochemical messaging, defense, and competition are likely far more significant than has been suspected. There is a lot of research needed here, but I believe Walstad is more right than Barr about allelopathy in plants as defense against algae. This is my main reason for not using activated carbon or other DOM removing media. The streaming water-change method does not interfere with the environmental subtleties as would chemical medium scrubbing.

Clearly there is a "not-for-everybody" aspect to this:

1.) It necessarily requires close automation of both the waterline top-off and the supplement dosing techniques in order to be practical. This involves a lot of equipment and depends on many moving parts.

2.) It is consistent with the theory of the protocol that RO/DI must, or at least should, be the source. There should be no allochthonous NO3 or PO4 in the aquarium except for metered supplement dosing. These, however, are not uncommon in municipal tap water supplies and can vary; this impairs predictability and control. Pure water is a blank slate. This requires water treatment equipment and materials.

3.) Due to difficulties in regulating small quantities, it is easier to implement the method with large aquariums. In this 200 gallon setup, many things are measured in milliliters and seconds. As tank volume goes down the quanta are harder to manage properly.

4.) Informational feedback is essential, requiring frequent testing of all testable parameters. You can't know what's working without monitoring your progress. The success of the method is driven by need to know. Test kits worth their price are pricey. Testing for many is a bother.

My experiment is in early days yet, but results thus far are very encouraging.
 
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