Zooms Article 4- Fertilizers, Substrates and CO2

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Zoom, Oct 20, 2011.

  1. Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    When I started with keeping fish tanks a few years ago, it was probably a few weeks after starting that I decided I wanted plants in my tank. I had plastic stuff in for the first few days, and after seeing even low-tech tanks, I decided I wanted to have plants. Planted tanks for some reason always seem daunting to people when they look at the shelves of all the nutrients, hear about the different substrates, and then usually get completely blown away when they hear about CO2.

    Even when I started with my first Vallis, Anubias and some unknown plant that died because I bought a "non-aquatic" I know that I wanted to go high tech one day, but it took a few years of playing around and fiddling with stuff until I found my standing.

    Over the years I have fiddled around with all sorts of different techniques and products, and I think it's time someone laid the notion that "planted tanks are for experts" to rest... because even the most novice of aquarist can keep plants in a simple set up.

    I'm going to break this article up into various posts to make it more easy to source information, but to give you a run down, I'll cover:

    * Substrates
    * Fertilizers
    * CO2
    * Other additives
     
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  3. OP
    Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    Before we start:

    Planted tanks can be broken up into 3 basic categories.

    Low Tech: Where plants don't need high nutrients, high light, or even CO2
    Medium Tech: Where plants are more demanding with regards to nutrients, (usually column dosing is sufficient), higher light, and sometimes CO2, but not always necessary if the plants are chosen correctly
    High Tech: Where plants demand a nutrient rich substrate, high output lighting, and CO2.

    In the following posts, I will make reference to the following terms:

    N = Nitrogen.
    P = Phosphorous
    K = Potasium.
    (Often the aboved is referred to at NPK)

    Trace = A mixture of necessary nutrients. (Boron, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Sodium, Zinc etc)

    Substrate / nutrient rich substrate = The layer of sand.

    Capped =
    A covering over the substrate (Usually Pool filter sand or gravel)

    CO2 = Carbon dioxide
     
  4. OP
    Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    Substrates:

    Every tank needs a substrate... this is kind of a given. (Unless you are running a breeding program etc). There is a strong movement among aquarists to move away from the variety of gravel's available from the LPS, to try and make the substrate as natural looking as possible. Now I know there are hundreds of substrates out there, but in the context of this thread, I'd like to keep it (1) relative to plants, and (2) I'm only prepared to share what I have had experience with.

    POOL FILTER SAND (PFS) and RIVER SAND
    Probably one of the most common substrates used today. I've grouped the 2 together because basically they give you a similar appearance, and they are both inert. Meaning they will not change the chemistry of your water, nor provide any nutrients for the plants. Generally, this substrate is good for anchoring plants, whilst still allowing a little bit of movement of water at the roots system.

    GRAVEL
    By "gravel" I am referring to a number of different types of basic gravel available from the LPS. Many LPS are now carrying finer grade gravels, and also in a range of colours. Again, these are inert.

    In my experience, on the low and medium tech tanks, the above substrates are adequate, with the possible addition of "root tabs" for the medium tech. The above substrates are also excellent "capping" substrates. (Please note the the "gravel" would need to be fine particle sized)


    PALM FIBRE PEAT WITH CHEMICULT
    I don't want to cover too much on this, as it has been dealt with rather extensively on the forum already. As the saying goes, you either like it or you don't. For me personally, I have had some great success with it, and I am still using this method in my main display tank. It does however need to be capped, (i.e covered) with some other type of substrate. This prevents the PFP from turning the water brown in your tank, as well as the chemicult from leeching out.


    MICROBELIFT BIOLOGICAL ACTIVE SUBSTRATE
    I recently got a bag of this substrate, so I am still testing it. It claims to be a nutrient rich substrate, and suitable for high tech planting. The product does not need to be capped at all, and actually comes in a very natural dark brown colour. I am unfortunately biased on my black substrate appearance, so I have capped mine with a thin layer of black gravel to give me the black appearance I enjoy.
    What I found so amazing about this product is actually it's weight. When you hold a handful of the stuff in your hand, you almost second guess how much you are holding. A 5kg bag claims to be suitable for a standard 10 gallon (38litre) tank, however when I added the stuff to my Nano (38l tank), I only used 2/3rds of the bag. And I created a lovely slope with it too. (10cm thick at the back, and 5cm in the front!) So it goes a very long way.



    The type of substrate you decide to use needs to be coupled with what your anticipated plan is. Generally speaking a low tech tank doesn't need any nutrient rich substrates, and any inert substrate will suffice. A high tech tank will require a nutrient rich substrate... or in "laymans terms"... a substrate that is going to provide your plants with nutrients through the roots. Medium tech tanks are a bit of a "grey area" because technically you can get away with using an inert substrate, and supplement the roots with some root tabs, however you can never go wrong with a good quality nutrient rich substrate.

    You may notice that I haven't spoken about any other product. Not because I don't like them, but because I have no experience with them. I personally found the PFP to be an extremely cost effective method, which promises to deliver the same as some very expensive products. I am currently experimenting with the Microbelift substrate, and so far, I am pretty impressed with it. When I was running my low tech systems, I discovered that PFS worked extremely well, and by adding a rusy nail here and there, coupled with some fertilizer tablets I got excellent results.

    am aware of other DIY substrates, as well as other commercially available products, however I will rather leave the comment on these products to members who have had experience with them.
     
  5. OP
    Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    Fertilizers

    When I refer to fertilizers here I am referring to liquid fertilizers that you add to the water, also called column dosing. Again, there are many products available, however I will only refer to products I have used, and my experience thereof.

    Plants not only need nutrients through their roots, but also absorb a large portion of their nutritional requirements through their leaves, and possibly their stems. If a correct substrate is chosen for the low tech and medium tech set up, water movement through the substrate will allow the nutrients that are in the water to get to the roots, but if you are going high tech, again you would need a nutrient rich substrate.

    BIO-ELITE
    I used this product for many months on my low-tech set up. I personally found that it worked for a period of time, however after a few months I usually ended up with some severe algae outbreaks which I attribute to this fertilizer. I do not however have proof that it was this, but can only assume based on the fact that the only change I had made was the addition of this fertilizer.

    DIRK'S SECRET DROPS (DSD)
    Locally manufactured for our South African water by @Dirk Bellstedt. Excellent product, and Dirk will assist you in customizing the dosage regime to your water's requirements, as well as your plant's needs. Extremely cost effective, and my 500ml bottle of DSD trace elements (for when I was running medium tech set ups) lasted me well over a year. The only draw-back I found is that the product is not readily available in any LPS, and you have to order directly from Dirk. I can vouch for the fact that every time I needed the product, I always received it within 48 hours of ordering it.
    VERY easy product to use, as it is all premixed for you, and Dirk provides you with a spreadsheet to assist you with dosage instruction. This is a very "KISS" product, (Keep It Simple, Silly), and I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to start with plants.

    SEACHEM
    A lovely range of products. For low tech set ups you can simply use their Trace Element product called Seachem Flourish. As you start to notice deficiencies with regards to N, P, K or Iron, you can purchase these products independently and dose accordingly. The major drawback for me on the Seachem range is the pricing. However this is all relative to your tank size. I found that on my small Nano tank this product is very cost effective, and a bottle of Flourish, and a bottle each of N, P, and K lasts me well over 6 months. Obviously on larger tanks, it will last much less.

    MICROBELIFT BLOOM & GROW
    A new product on the market at the moment. This is also a product I have only recently started using. It works very similar to the Seachem range, with a single bottle containing the trace elements, and then a bottle for each N, P, K and Iron. I recently did some calculations with the 236ml bottles that I purchased, and to give you some really stupid maths, the trace elements will last me over 3 years, and the NPK bottles will last between 2 and 4 years on my 38litre nano. When you correlate that back to price, it is also extremely cost effective on the pocket.
    One strong point that is actually worth mentioning on the product; The packaging teaches you what to look out for, and thus you will know when to increase your dosages. The dosing is laid out very simply as well

    EI DOSING
    When you get onto a high tech tank, it is necessary to dose the trace elements twice to three times a week, and NPK every alternate day. As you can imagine, using a commercially available fish product this way can become extremely heavy on the pocket. As a result, aquarists around the world are resorting to making up their own mixtures of NPK using products available from pharmacies, and then a general trace element mixture available from either a nursery, or even using a normal trace mixture (DSD, SEACHEM etc). In some circles this method of dosing is seen as unprofessional, and frowned upon. I personally use this method on my main display tank, and have had some great success with this method. I have decided to specifically NOT mention the products I use purely because I don't want beginners to fiddle around without doing proper research. If the products are used incorrectly, you can land up with serious algae outbreaks, or worse, poisoned fish. If you are prepared to do some research on this method of dosing, please drop my a PM with your email address and we can communicate that way. What I can tell you is that this method is very cost effective, HOWEVER, a high and strict maintenance regime is required on your part!
     
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  6. OP
    Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    Co2

    The big CO2 question....

    Not only do plants require nutrients, but Carbon, derived from CO2, is the basic building blocks of growth. As you increase nutrients and light, you would need to couple this with the addition of Carbon. Carbon needs to be in a certain "format" to be able to be used, and adding CO2 is one of the ways this is done.

    DIY YEAST
    Ok, I cannot deny that this method does work... especially in smaller tank... HOWEVER, I have personally found the method to be very unstable, not constant, and requires daily maintenance and checking up. I personally experienced awesome growth for the first 6 weeks of using it on a 160 litre tank, however my tank then literally crashed into one algae bloom after another. I fiddled around with this method a few months ago on a small nano tank, and I went straight from a stable to tank to an algae outbreak within a week. I therefore do not recommend people to use this, but if you insist, use it at your own peril, being prewarned.

    PRESSURIZED CO2!
    In my opinion, this is the most beautiful and most awesome set up I ever purchased. And ANYONE who has a pressurized system will tell you the same: "Wish I had got it sooner!" Yes, they are expensive to start off with... but totally worth it. Again, you need to do some serious research and reading into the matter... and be prepared for some testing, trials and errors. Any CO2 system can cause major loss, or major growth. It is up to you to make sure which side of the pendulum you are going to swing to.

    TABLET FORMS
    I'm breaking one of my rules here. I've never tried this method.. however I am mentioning it. And the only thing I want to mention about this system is I believe it works, (Better in smaller tanks), but can be expensive in the long run.

    LIQUID FORMS

    Seachem
    make a product called Excel which basically adds Carbon to the tank in a liquid form that the plants can use. There is a though among some circles that this product is "poison" to your fish because of the active ingredient. (I've heard that it's the same active ingredient used in radiator coolant...?). However I do need to mention that I have had some great success with this product, and have used it for over 2 years on my Nano tank. Again, it is more cost effective on smaller tanks.
    Microbelift Bio-Carbon is pretty much the same concept as the Seachem range, however it does not contain that poisonous ingredient that Excel does. This is also a new product that I have added to my cupboard of plant tricks, and looking forward to seeing the results.


    Low tech, and most medium tech systems do not require CO2. High tech systems will most definitely require CO2, and in my opinion, a liquid form for small tanks, and a pressurized system for larger tanks is the most effective way to do so.
     
  7. OP
    Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    Other

    There's one more product that I would like to make special mention of, purely because it is something that justifies being mentioned:

    MICROBELIFT MICROBIAL ROOT DIP.
    As you can probably guess from my previous posts, yes, this is a new product in my collection. But I'd like to make mention of it purely because of what it does. Many people may have noticed that when planting your plants, or transplanting from another tank, the plants seems to go into a stage of dormancy before growth is visible. This is actually because the roots need to re-establish themselves, anchor the plant correctly, as well as get the roots into a position to start absorbing nutrients. Basically the plant will the spend most of it's reserves and energy on establishing a healthy root structure, and sadly, if the plant was in a poor condition before being planted, the plant may not survive. I am pretty convinced that MANY aquarists have planted aquatic plants only to watch them die a few weeks later. This product claims to do the following:
    * Reduced transplanting shock
    * Aids in disease resitance
    * Contains beneficial photosynthetic microorganisms.
    Basically 5ml of the product is added to 1l of aquarium water, the new plant's roots are dipped into this solution for 5 minutes, and then you plant. Oh, and the solution can then be thrown straight into the tank, obviously benefiting the rest of the plants as it works through the substrate.

    I recently transplanted a lot of my hairgrass and HC, which is 2 plants I always experience "transplanting shock" with. The plants usually die back quite extensively, and regrowth only occurs within 2 months or so. With this product, when I transplanted my hair grass and HC, I have not experienced this transplanting shock.


    ROOT TABS
    You've probably seen me mention these in above posts, but may not be aware of what they are. Basically they are fertilizer tablets that you simply push into the substrate near the roots of the plant. This works very well with low tech and medium tech set ups where you want to just add that little bit extra "oomph". Also very cost effective on smaller tanks, and lasts anything between 2 weeks and 5 months.


    RUSTY NAILS
    Certain plants require Iron in extremely high dosages. An extremely cost effective way to give the plants the Iron is to simply stick a rusty nail near the roots. Please be careful when doing so, and make sure the nail is lying flat. Last thing you need is a falling rock to act like a hammer on that nail and push it through your bottom glass panel.



    Well that's it for now... I will add as necessary.
     
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  8. Firefly

    Firefly Pleco

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    Going to take me a while to read through all that @Zoom. But it will be a good read!
    Thanks for all the articles, it takes a lot of time but is very appreciated.
     
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  9. oscar freak

    oscar freak

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    great read zoom and perfect timing,i'v just taken the plunge and gotten rid of all my oscars i sadly am no longer an oscar freak(for the time being) and will now be focusing on coverting that tank to a planted one hopefully the proper way.
     
  10. Blaasie

    Blaasie

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    wow man well done on this for old noobs like me this is gold.

    I just whish i could get some of the stuff you mention in our LFS .. so for now I stick with my PFP and will look into the tablets as well.

    Time is few at this stage so I am just maintaining my water changes to get a clear and stable tank before I stock up going 4 week now.
     
  11. Skye01

    Skye01

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    @Zoom Thanks for the info, it's an informative & great read. Where do you get the Microbe products from? Rusty Nails? Putting metal into the tank, doesn't that affect the fish at all?
     
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  12. OP
    Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    Microbelift products are available from Petstop and Jungle aquatics

    Rusty nails get buried in the substrate... so no danger to fish.
     
  13. Sean J

    Sean J

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    I, personally am still not convinced by rusty nails as a source of Iron... If you can get your hands on Laterite, use that rather. I still think that the use of nails is just polluting your tank and substrates. Also, there are 2 different types of commercially manufactured nails. The one is harmful and the one is not. So, if you don't know what you are buying, don't put it into your fish tank.
     
  14. oscar freak

    oscar freak

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    ok what is laterite and where can it be found?
     
  15. Sean J

    Sean J

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    Laterite is an Iron Rich stone or sand found in nature. It looks like red clay. It has loads of iron, completely natural, and doesn't rust. Some people have found it at good nurseries.
     
  16. oscar freak

    oscar freak

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    thanks will have a look at the nursery i get my peat moss from
     
  17. Skye01

    Skye01

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    @Zoom, thanks for the info on the Microbelift, I'll see when I can get out to PTA.

    @Sean J, I'm wary of putting any metals into my tank(s) so I will look at getting the Laterite from Flora Farm. I have not seen it at any of my lfs's. Would potter's clay not do the same type of thing?
     
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  18. OP
    Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    *disclaimer

    Zoom has never used laterite in his tanks, so will not comment. This is other member's experience.
    Nails have worked perfectly fine for me. And I have definitely seen a very big difference in the plants that have nails at their roots and others that don't. High Iron demanding plants with a nail at their roots look 10x more healthier.
     
  19. Sean J

    Sean J

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    @Skye01 - I'm not sure about potters clay, but I think it is similar, or it contains some Laterite. Just double check that...
     
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  20. Skye01

    Skye01

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    @Zoom, Thanks for the advice, I'll give it a try on my competition tank and see how it all goes.

    @Sean J Thanks, I will do. This is the same clay that is used in making some of the teracotta pots, & I saw on a link that @mc 1 supplied that the guy breaks up plant pots and puts them into the soil to assist with plant growth.... :dontknow:
     
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  21. Gert Combrink

    Gert Combrink

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    When using nails, please make sure it is the standard roofing 2"/3" etc like panel pins, that is not coated or galvanized...
    One can also use old ones that are rusted, from a wooden pallet etc.
     

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