What is the goal? Easy planted aquarium method!

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Laure, Aug 2, 2011.

  1. Laure

    Laure Cyano Terminator

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    There seem to be quite a lot of interest in plants lately, and also in pressurized CO2 aquariums. I have personally gone through many of the aquarium types from low tech to high tech. I want to share some ideas from my current 5ft aquarium setup. Initially I want to start the discussion, and then later I will post some pictures of my setup.

    It's been 3 months now since I rebuilt this aquarium. I am pretty happy with the results and progress. At this point, all the plants are growing nicely, the fish are happy and healthy and I have no maintenance / algae issues. This is a non-CO2 aquarium.


    I started some research into the Nature Style aquariums of Amano. I always preferred this style to the Dutch Style or Jungle Style. Based on information I picked up in interviews with Amano, some other aquascapers from the ADA company, and ADA's own best practices literature, I want to highlight a few key areas:
    1. Use a nutritious substrate. This means Aquasoil, Contro Soil, or something similar with N, P, K and Traces that are available to the plant roots.
    2. All the aquariums use CO2; regardless of the plant choice, but only during the photo period. At night, aeration is increased by adding air stones, etc.
    3. No large fish which contribute to excessive feeding and spoiling of the water quality; no overstocking
    4. Over sized filtration, with an emphasis on the biological filtration and water circulation in the aquarium
    5. 20% water changes every second day for the first month; thereafter, 30% water changes every week. In my opinion this may have something to do with the known issue of ADA Aquasoil leaching NH4 during the first month.
    6. Glass wiped with every water change
    7. No liquid ferts for the first 6 weeks, unless you see an issue with the plants. This means you have to watch the plants daily and know what to look for. The exception is Brighty K, which is ADA's potassium product. This is to be added right from the start, but nothing else for 6 weeks.
    8. Lights on for 6 hours daily for the first few weeks, and slowly increase the photo period after this up to a maximum of 10 hours per day. Some stems plants close up when they no longer photosynthesize, and this is a good indication that you should switch off the lights at this point in time.
    9. As an option, but recommended, ADA propose that you dose ADA Phyton Git, which is an algicide, manufactured from naturally extracted phytoncide. Phytoncides are antimicrobial allelochemic volatile organic compounds derived from plants. Phytoncides work by preventing the growth of the attacking organism. According to ADA, it is extremely useful in the fight against algae. Interesting point this. Many hobbyists are totally against adding anti-algae "chemicals" to their aquariums, and would rather look for a natural or practical way to control algae, by changing CO2, lights, ferts, etc in order to find the elusive "balance". Here we have ADA proposing you add this natural chemical to aid in algae prevention, right from the start. So many people complain about algae issues which they can't solve by changing environmental parameters, and eventually give up and start over, or leave the hobby.


    I must point out that this does not imply that I propose you use any ADA products. They are hugely over priced, and when trying to find out what's inside, you are faced with terms like "harmonically balanced", etc; nothing scientific. But the Japanese are very meticulous folk and mostly prescribe to natural remedies and age-old traditions. There may very well be some value to some of these teachings.

    I was always interested in allelopathic relationships within an aquarium, it being such a closed eco system. I noticed many ADA aquariums have large meadows of carpet plants, grasses, and very often quite a few ferns. It appears that plants from Asia and Africa are known to consume lots of phosphates, while plants from South America are priority consumers of nitrates. There is a very old theory regarding limiting phosphates to inhibit algae growth. This was proved false by Tom Barr and others, but I have a feeling that certain elements of this theory still caries some value. Sure, you can add plenty of P and not get algae (Tom Barr's argument), but if the CO2 is very high and the lights are very strong, you would see an increase in demand for P and then this offsets the added P. If you have a few large fishes in your aquarium, and feed them well, there would in any case be plenty of P going around. But this is another discussion. My point here is that ferns like Microsorum pteropus appear to feature frequently in the Nature Style aquariums. Besides the fact that I think the needle leaf variety is a beautiful plant, it likely also provides a specific function in these aquariums (use up most of the dissolved phosphates). But this is just speculation; part of a theory I have, because I see this plant in just about every Nature Style aquarium. It may be only aesthetic; or it may serve a purpose, as indicted above.

    Another interesting point I picked up recently was that Tom Barr said in his forum he never had Green Dust Algae issues in aquariums with lots of carpets and grasses, but mostly in aquariums with lots of stem plants (if I read between the lines, those would be aquariums where you would dose a lot of N and P in the water and have fairly strong light). He also admitted to getting all different kinds of algae in his aquariums which always look algae free on the pictures he posts. How did he solve it? More CO2 and a variety of dwarf plecos. Not adjusting any dosing...

    I decided to try a modified version of the above approach. Modified, as this was going to be a non-CO2 aquarium. I also don't have a commercial nutritious substrate, so I had to make my own. I was going to use PFP with Chemicult, capped with silica sand. There was a lot of discussion recently and many people complain about difficulties with PFP, but I am yet to experience those problems. But we can continue discussing these on the PFP thread; not here. What I required was N, P and K in the substrate.

    Right now I think we can have a few discussions, and then I will continue with the rest of the method I followed, and also post some pictures.
     
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  3. wsteene

    wsteene Active Member

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    Thanks for the valuable information and the research that you have done. Great article/post. Think we can all learn from it!!! Well done @Laure!!!
     
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  4. Nirv

    Nirv P. fasciatum

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    Excellent post, thank you. Looking forward to photos; I'm especially interested in your non-CO2 approach.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2011
  5. Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    Interesting thread you have going here @Laure. Will be following closely.

    I personally think that the biggest downfall we have in SA is not the CO2, fertz or the lights. I'm starting to believe that the biggest shortfall we are experiencing is the poor choice we have with regards to the substrate. This leaves us buying hugely expensive substitutes, but still having to supplement it with root tablets! I've tried the Sera floradepot. It actually gave me very good growth for a few months, and then seemed to die off. Obviously the nutrients were finished. I do not believe flourite to be an "all encompassing" substrate... and aquasoil... well, is just not available!

    So whilst you don't want to make this into a PFP thread... I think your fundemental issue you are going to face is what substrate to use! I see a lot of people playing around with potting soil, topping soil and really dangerous stuff like rose shrub mix. Firstly, I would never use any of these as you just don't know what's going in them. The soils are DESIGNED to break down further (in the pot or on your lawn) and this breaking down will occur in your tank. This will release a constant amount of NH4, and at times, this may even spike without you knowing.

    So again we back to what substrate to use. I am going to be honest here and say that I detest PFP, and think it is one of the worst things I ever did in my tank. BUT, it is also one of the best. I say it's the worst because you cannot easily to a rescape without messing up the tank good and proper. I say it's one of the best because it actually works. I don't care what the "experts" say, (you guys know who you are), it WORKS. And yes, whilst I say I hate it, I actually do have it in my tank... and I have personally not experienced any of the leeching that everyone else is experiencing. (I still strongly believe the leeching is 9 out of 10 times the fault of the person who put it in, and not the PFP)

    I'm actually very interested to look into the Microbelift's new product that they are bringing in soon.

    Again... these "commercially" available products, whilst working great, all need to be replaced within 8-12 months.... and for me, that expense does not justify it's lifespan.

    So before you even start with the column fertz and all the other stuff, I still maintain that you need to ensure you get a good and solid foundation to work from.. and the substrate in this instance is the foundation.
     
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  6. OP
    Laure

    Laure Cyano Terminator

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    Hi Ashley

    While we agree one can get good growth with inert substrate and water column dosing, it is precisely this method that is to be avoided unless you want to deal with algae issues. Now I am opening up a can of worms here! But honestly, who here has not had algae problems while dosing the water? I only have a theory, but my theory's key elements are based on limiting ferts in the water and constant maintenenance - wipe the glass weekly and trim any dying plant leaves or those with signs of algae on them. This method I am proposing is both a plant growing method and an algae limiting method. It is not my own; just a modified approach based on some things that make sense to me.

    So the method really consists of two elements:
    1 - provide the plants with a medium to grow in (substrate for root feeding, fish for additional N and P)
    2 - perform some tasks to limit algae (glass wiping, natural anti-algae products, good filtration, balanced light intensity, very little excess ferts in the water)

    The EI folk will come down on me for suggesting excess ferts cause algae. I am quite prepared to enter into a debate. Theories are a dime a dozen...but I am more interested in what works in practice/real life.
     
  7. jedigenie

    jedigenie Active Member

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    This is just what I needed seeing as I am going towards a planned planted aquarium. Thanks Laure I am looking forward to seeing where this goes. What is your opnion on the tetra branded substrate? I know its quite rich in iron and therefore great for crypts and swords but I've read reports that it tends to go anaerobic. In your opinion what is the value of adding root tabs to the substrate?

    Oh, last question (for now) did you add any iron and/or lacerite to your pfp?
     
  8. OP
    Laure

    Laure Cyano Terminator

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    @jedigenie

    I think there is a fair amount of Fe in Chemicult, but I did add some iron nails to the PFP. I have never used the Tetra substrate, nor any root tabs.
     
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  9. Newby

    Newby Active Member

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    Most interesting discussing developing here.:cheesy:

    Keeping a very close eye on it. Also planning a planted tank (My first) and will absorb all info like a sponge :idea:
     
  10. ryanj252

    ryanj252 DIY Guy

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    I was surprised to have been following many of these AMANO rules without even knowing them. Would be interesting to know the outcomes of this tank.
     
  11. OP
    Laure

    Laure Cyano Terminator

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    OK, let's continue. Here is what I did:

    1. I tried to plant heavily right from the start, and I decided to go with ferns, grasses and crypts. No stems. I had quite a lot of Aromatica and decided to use them as floating plants during the initial few months. I think that was a pretty good idea; there seems to be some value to using floating plants to minimise excess nutrients. This plant always grew well for me; I consider it a fast grower and it was well suited to this goal, since I already had so much of it.
    2. I have 2 x 54W T5's on this aquarium, and initially I set the timer to 3 hours on, 2 hours off and again 3 hours on. The timer is now set to 4 hours on, 2 hours off and 4 hours on. I am not sure if the "siesta" period makes any difference, but it certainly does not appear to cause any harm.
    3. I dose almost nothing, except potassium (DSD K+). Occasionally I would dose micros (DSD Plant Feeding Mix), perhaps bi-weekly.
    4. I started off dosing Flourish Excel at 2/3 strength every day, and this would be backed down to nothing as soon as all the plants are growing really well. This seems like a contradiction, as there would be more demand for a carbon source, but the idea was to get the plants off to a good start and also make use of Excel as an algicide. It was never a goal to use Excel long term.
    5. A 30% water change was done every 3 days during the first month. During the second month I did WC's every 4 to 5 days, and during the 3rd month once a week. I wipe the glass thoroughly, front and back before each water change, whether I see algae on the glass or not. So far I have no GDA or GSA on the glass, and I have in the past continually battled with these two types of algae. I do try and vacuum any dead plant material and some excess fish waste during every water change. I only had a tiny bit of BGA against the glass down on the substrate. I think the BGA might be related to excess DOC, and I am now using activated carbon in my sump, which I replace every 2 weeks. I think I may switch to Seachem Purigen soon, as it is more cost effective in the long run.
    7. I increased my bio filtration by adding a sump to my external cannister. There is a lot of bio filtration now. I aerate the water in the sump very well, and also the surface of the aquarium, without breaking the surface to cause any splashing or air bubbles.
    8. I haven't yet cleaned the sump filter, other than replacing the fine filter pads and floss when I see that those are dirty. I cleaned the cannister filter after 10 weeks.
    9. With the addition of the sump I now also have pretty good flow inside the aquarium, although at times I feel I can still try to increase the flow inside the aquarium.
    10. I have a ton of snails; ramshorn and pond snails. They do a damn fine job cleaning up. The water is pretty acidic, so unfortunately they don't grow too big and last long, but they breed well and the numbers stay right up there. I think I may add some sea shells to the sump at a later stage to combat the ph drop.
    11. I bought Happy-Life Algin Regular from Prof Dirk. This is another natural algicide with salicylic acid as the active ingredient. I dosed this right from the start, weekly as per instructions, but at 80% strength as a preventative measure, instead of the proposed 50% strength as a preventative measure. You are obviously meant to dose this at 100% strength when you have an algae problem. Salicylic acid is widely used in organic synthesis and functions as a plant hormone. Some links:
    http://oas.uco.edu/01/papers/lfimple01.htm
    http://oas.uco.edu/04/paper/Bfimple.htm

    There are many people following EI and many are successful. There are also those who battle with EI. I decided to give another method a fair go, and so far I am pretty happy. I have plenty of African and Asian ferns and plenty of grasses. The crypts are growing extremely well. I have never been able to grow crypts this well. Within a month of planting the crypts, all of them have trippled in size with many new leaves. I admit I am not growing any so-called difficult plants in this aquarium, but I do like what I have going right now. New species for me are Bolbitus Heudelottii and Narrow Leaf Java Fern, so I am still learning their growth habbits. So far so good...TBC
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2011
  12. Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    Could this not be the reason as to why you have not had any algae problems?
     
  13. Rudi

    Rudi Active Member

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    @Laure,what would the definition be of a algae problem?
    If I clean the front glass and sides with every water change,does that mean I have a algae problem?And for those who wonder,I will never show a picture of any tank with dirty glass,so if you think I don't get GSA or GDA,I do but I wipe it off.I call it MAINTENANCE.

    I don't want to start a debate or argument regarding fert regimes but I use the EI method and I'm still to experience a algae problem to the degree other,non-EI,people are experiencing or have experienced.And I don't even quarantine new plants,I just plant them.That means I have plants from different aquariums and shops which probably have had every algae known to us and for some reason those algae,staghorn,clado,string....,just don't grow in any of my tanks.Why?

    @Zoom,
    The problem with soil based substrates is....,everybody has been doing it wrong.If the soil is prepared correctly it will last for several years and longer if liquid ferts is added occasionally.And with no ammonia leeching.Why do you think nobody has tried or done a topsoil-tank?It's the same with the lighting prejudices we have on TASA,"10 000 k light tubes causes algae",just more speculation fuelled by individuals.
     
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  14. Vis

    Vis Gerhard

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    Is this mainly aimed at getting and keeping a tank algae free?

    Isn't it just the EI guys that are saying dose almost as much as you want because if you have your lights and Co2 correct the amount of fertz you dose will not cause algae?

    My quick suggestion for an "easy" planted tank and I stick mainly to low tech plants(No CO2 and fertz as I see fit) is to start off with a good amount off pants.

    If cared for they will simply out compete the algae. Even in tanks were I started with a small amount of plants and then some algae trouble it would ago away once the tank is nicely grown out.

    Please understand that I am not saying this is a fail safe method and your plants do not need CO2 or a good supply of NPK.

    Why do they wipe the glass all the time? Algae or the fact that this has a huge impact on the light that reaches the substrate?

    Gerhard
     
  15. Rudi

    Rudi Active Member

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    Don't you clean your tank's glass?And all the time?Is once a week "all the time"?

    Let's discuss the topic further,"What is the goal".So what is the goal in a planted tank or the way we set it up or the way we fertilise?Is it to have a beautiful,"natural"aquarium?Or something more like a garden,with plants planted in a "un natural" order?Do we fertilise to combat algae or to grow plants?

    I have just received(on Friday) my first Takashi Amano book.A whole new world has been opened.Scaping,the set up,the "why" and the "how",all explained and with stunning photos.
    So here's the revelation,at least as I understand it.Everything about the Nature Aquarium style is designed around low and above all,long term maintenance.Lots of moss,plants are grown on wood,plants that grow in shadows caused by the wood,even the carpet plants are easy maintenance plants.Virtually no stem plants are used and when they are,the stems are placed very carefully.The lower parts are never in view,always hidden.The substrate is designed to last for a couple of years before needing replacing,but liquid ferts are always used.Even the fish and inverts are there for a reason,not just a random choice.

    I think there has to go allot more thought into a planted tank than just getting plants from the LPS and just go wild.Or seeing a nice tank and wanting the same.Are you really prepared to do the work involved?Nothing worth while is ever easy,this is not just a cliché.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2011
  16. Vis

    Vis Gerhard

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    Agree on one point and that is the scaping. Having great plants and they just grow randomly does not do it for me. I wonder if Amano catches the moss after a good trim or if he has a lacky for that :) So in essence, keep it simple,keep it easy and plan ahead. The who's glass I clean more than any other tank is the one with the least amount of plants in it. My moss tank maybe once a month if that much.
     
  17. Rudi

    Rudi Active Member

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    What do you think?The man is a multi millionaire.In the gallery his staff does all the work.
     
  18. Rudi

    Rudi Active Member

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    Not what I meant.In a Dutch or modern European tank,the plants are planted in a very specific order,but it is not natural.We will never find such a design in nature.This ordered design makes it more difficult and requires more work.The other downside is the design cannot be maintained longterm.
     
  19. Vis

    Vis Gerhard

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    Actually not quite how I wanted to say it either. Can't find the right way to explain it now but will come back to you about what I mean. Yes a well ordered scape is much harder to take care of.
     
  20. OP
    Laure

    Laure Cyano Terminator

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    A visible algae bloom. A tiny bit of BBA on a slow growing Anubias is not an algae problem. You trim the affected leaf and that should be that.

    That is my point. Some people claim you can "balance" your tank and then you should be algae free. I disagree. My method is what I call a safe an easy way to grow plants, supported by ADA (and it could be a CO2 or non-CO2 method, once again, depending on the goal - fast growth, more demanding plants, etc). My method also involves maintenance, but more preventative maintenance than reactive maintenance.

    And there is nothing wrong with EI, I was not knocking it. But for some people it doesn't work. I think the key to success in this hobby is to select one method and stick with it and learn it well. If, after a while, it does not work for you, then try something else. EI is great if it works, but becomes a horrible problem if it doesn't. I've been following some threads on Barr Report and APC where people tried to adjust the fert balance, the CO2 and the lights to solve GDA problems, etc, and from what I can see there is no success. But then, some other people have no such issues. I think allelopathy plays a big role.

    It is just about impossible to prove anything in this hobby, as there are just too many variables. You need a set of constants to provide a control reference and adjust a single parameter in order to prove a theory. If this was possible, don't you think some of the many clever scientists in the world would have been able to publish comprehensive works regarding algae? Yet to this day people are still fighting these issues in natural lakes, municipal waters, ponds, etc.

    There is no proof that plant grow bulbs perform better than full spectrum bulbs. The theory is sound, but the following list of people all prefer full spectrum bulbs: Tom Barr, Takashi Amano, Oliver Knott, George Farmer...recognize any of these guys? Why? Not because they dispute the scientific argument or the theory, but because in practice they have seen that full spectrum bulbs work equally well, and then coupled with their much cheaper price tag and ease of availability, why not use them? Nature style aquariums use 6500K to 10000K tubes, while European style aquariums use 3000K to 5000K tubes. Huge amount of success stories in each style.

    I am using full spectrum 6500K tubes and I have no algae, despite the strong peak in the 550nm range...
     
  21. OP
    Laure

    Laure Cyano Terminator

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    It certainly plays a big role. I am convinced. Easy-Life is another company that manufacture a similar product. ADA propose you use their version of natural algicide. So why not? It's not expensive and certainly beats dealing with the frustration...
     

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