Two and a half year old NPT Misadventure - El Natural - Aquatic Plant Central

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El Natural Diana Walstad's low-maintenance, soil-based 'El Natural' method for keeping plants and fish.

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Old 07-23-2020, 02:25 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Two and a half year old NPT Misadventure

Just wanted to share the trials and tribulations I experienced with my 2 and a half year old Walstad tank. It is going to be long, and frankly, maybe a bit boring, but people have been spending a lot more time at home these days; I know I have. First, some basic info:

Tank: 20g high
Substrate: 1Ē of Miracle Groís Natureís Care Organic Soil and 1Ē of gravel
Light: BeamsWork EA Full Spectrum LED, rated at 1,200 lumen. 4 hours on, 8 hours off, 4 hours on
Filter: Hang on back
Livestock: a school of cardinal tetras, a few gobies, two honey gourami, two sparkling gouramis, and undetermined number of kuhli loaches
Driftwood: One piece of sand-blasted Ghostwood

I read Ms. Walstadís book before starting this tank. Prior to starting this tank, I had one of those EcoQube that held about 1.5 gallon of water. I had some crypts, java ferns, and floating plants which all grew fine. Java moss did not make it for some reason. I had two guppies and some shrimps in it, all did fine. The 1.5 gallon was essentially an NPT without dirt, just gravel, and later, lots of fish mulm.

When I started my 20 gallon tank, I soaked the soil and rinsed it out for about a week because I had to transfer my fish and shrimp immediately into the tank, so I could not afford an ammonia spike. I did not have issues with ammonia. I feed my fish pretty heavily as Ms. Walstad suggested, and I also started with a good number of plants.

However, perhaps I rinsed the soil too well, none of the stem plants in the tank thrived. In fact, all the stem plants I have ever purchased for this tank slowly rotted away, aside from the rotala, which hung on meekly even now, two and a half years later. They are pitifully spindly, with the smallest of leaves, for this entire time.

In fact, aside from the floating plants, none of the plants that primarily survive on nutrients from the water column did well. Java ferns slowly withered away, and new leaves become so small that you can hardly see them. Java moss would disintegrate over a month or so. Anubias did surprisingly well, but the new leaves grow in smaller and smaller, even as it expands in size overall. Buce performs similarly as the anubias, growing in mass, but with ever smaller leaves. Susswassertang did fine, didnít seem to grow, or die.

I tested the water and N deficiency was not the issue. I thought perhaps my light is just not strong enough, but the rooted plant was doing much better (but only by comparison, see below.) I still suspect the light, but increasing the hours of light only led to diatom.
Rooted plant fares slightly better, but not by much. A sword plant would grow small leaves, but never outpacing dying leaves; I pulled it out after 6 months. Vallisneria initially grew well, but began to die back after a few months. Crypts that were doing well in the old tiny tank fared poorly in the new tank.

Many of the plant leaves have tiny holes in them. I suspected that it is some sort of nutrient deficiency (K?), especially because I have soft NYC water. I began dosing a bit of Seachem Equilibrium, to raise GH, and some crushed coral for KH. The rooted plants started to look much better after I began dosing Equilibrium. One interesting tidbit is that I never dosed in the old 1.5 gallon tank, and the plants did not show any deficiency, even though that tank did not even have dirt.

The only thing that did really well was the salvinia. That wouldnít last either, but more on that later.

I got a Madagascar lace plant, which did really well at first. One day, I saw a leave falling off the bulb, when I went to retrieve the leave, I touched the bulb by accident and all the leaves fell off at once. I fished out the bulb and it smelled bad, even though it was not rotten. I had a few piece of rock next to the bulb, and I think the soil underneath must have turned anaerobic. I moved the rock a bit and a lot of sulfur bubbles came out. A similar thing happened to a crinum plant, which is nowhere near rocks and has an extensive root system when it died, which I thought would have oxygenated the soil. The crinum was growing really well, with two foot-long leaves. But one day, it looks like it was leaning a bit. I reached into the water to straightened it out, and it turns out the bulb was rotten in the middle and is collapsing onto itself, hence the leaning. And it smelled. This sulfur/anaerobic issue does not seem to affect other plants for some reason.

About 18 months after I started the tank, the salvinia too, began to grow smaller and smaller, eventually disappearing. I understand from Ms. Walstadís posting that this happens to floating plants in an NPT tank so I wasnít too concern. But then everything else in the tank began to die. First they turn a pale green, then leaves got even smaller (I didnít think that the tiny leaves could get enough tinier.) Eventually the plants turned to mush. I tried to add iron by pushing clay balls into the substrate. That did not work. I tried root tabs, also did not work. Finally, after 3 months of slow death, I caved and got Seachem Iron, and that seemed to have done the trick for rooted plants. Now the crypts and Val are as good as theyíve ever been (which is just sort of mediocre), but I canít complain. Well, I can, actually, because the column feeders are still not doing well. In fact, the java fern have finally died. The buce followed shortly after. Rotala, as spindly and small-leaved as ever. Seachem has finally met its match.

To top it off, I have also begun to get some green thread type algae, which I think began just before I added the Iron, but have proliferated more after that. It is not a huge issue except itís slightly unsightly, but itís mostly on substrate/rock/slow growing plants (so pretty much all non-rooted ones).

I am reluctant to add any more fertilizer type things into the tank; after all, this is supposed to be an NPT. Iím already adding small amount of Iron and Equilibrium weekly, anymore and I might as well get a tank of CO2 and a lily pipe.

One more thing, I cannot keep shrimp in this tank for some reason. Iíve had shrimp in a previous tank without issue, but with this tank, they always die/disappear after 2 weeks or so. I donít think anything ate/attacked them, as I sometimes find whole uneaten dead shrimps, without obvious signs of trauma. I have found shrimp molds before so water hardness should not be an issue.

Iíve had a great time learning on my own and through postings on this site. However, if you have any suggestion that can take the mis out of my misadventure with this tank. Please do. Thanks for reading this monstrosity.
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Old 07-23-2020, 05:58 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Two and a half year old NPT Misadventure

You may have too rich a "soil". That product is intended for use mixed into the natural soil in a garden, not as the only soil involved. It also has fertilizers in it, and possibly some unnatural water storage materials, not meant to be under water all of the time. That is just my guess, and the results you are having don't seem to be what I would expect with too rich a soil.

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Old 07-23-2020, 07:23 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Two and a half year old NPT Misadventure

I'm a complete newbie at this, but my first thought was the HOB filter might be releasing CO2. It's my understanding that it's best to have water movement that doesn't include bubbles or splashing on the surface, because that releases CO2 that the plants need.

Also, I wondered if you'd tried the siesta light timing method.

Thank you so much for sharing your story. It really helps people like me learn. I really feel for you. All those expensive plants!

My first go-around with shrimp ended up with 9 out of 10 dead when I first started my tank. One is still alive and very well. So, was it a disease? I don't know. But, I just put another 13 in the tank from another source (local hobbyist) and they're all doing fine. So, it may be where you're buying the shrimp?

Oh, and do you have snails? I have watched my ramshorn snails eating my red root floaters. The result is little holes. The plants survive, and I just think of them now as snail bait to keep them off my other plants. I don't mind if they don't look perfect.

I'm blessed with hard tap water, which plants prefer. Ms. Walstad has a recipe to make your soft water hard. Maybe you could try that, too?

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Old 07-24-2020, 02:15 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Two and a half year old NPT Misadventure

It is very unfortunate that your aquarium hasn't stabilized the way everyone would like to. But after all the processes were all natural and every single one have a reason.

Do you know what is water hardness in your tank? As I could figure out after reading this forum, the crushed corals aren't that effective in raising KH and you might need different solution.

Also, it's often noted here that rocks and driftwoods can cause too anaerobic substrate, so maybe you can try to remove them and see what happens.

I am also worried about that sulfur bubbles came out from the gravel. I hope some experienced members of the forum could give you an advice on that.
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Old 07-24-2020, 10:33 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Two and a half year old NPT Misadventure

Hoppy: I don't think the soil being too rich was the issue neither. The plants seemed to be experiencing either nutrient deficiency or not enough light from the beginning. I'm actually still not sure if the light I currently have is sufficient since the tank is 17" tall. It probably didn't help that there were lots of floating plants for the first 2ish years.

Karen: I'm currently doing 4 hours on in the morning, 8 hours off, then 4 hours on again. The long siesta period is due to my somewhat long hours at work during the day, having 8 hours off allows me to see the tank when I'm home at night. I've tried to extend the hours to 10 or so, but that just resulted in algae.

I've tried different species of shrimp from different places with the same result. The only invertebrate that thrives in the tank are nerite and pest snails, but I don't think they're the cause of my plants issues. Also, the fact that pest snail thrives also makes me think that water hardness is not really too much of an issue.

My water is actually quite hard now due to the Equilibrium. I do not change water very often, maybe once a month or so, as a result I think the GH builds up quite a bit, now it's at about 13dKH.

LeTort: The KH is about 4dKH at the moment.

I really think that the biggest issue with my tank is either not good enough light, or a lack of certain nutrient, since the additions of iron and Equilibrium cause the plants to react positively. I believe the lack of nutrient issue is more acute in the water column, as plants that mostly acquire their nutrient from the water column that suffers the most. I'm just not sure what exactly the tank is missing.
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Old 07-24-2020, 10:57 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Two and a half year old NPT Misadventure

CO2 (carbon) is the most often too little. Next is probably nitrogen (nitrates) or potassium. You could concentrate on those first. The substrate in a good El Natural tank will usually produce enough CO2 for the plants, unless you have way too much light. Nitrates can come from fish food and fish waste, or the organic materials in the "dirt". Potassium is what Amano believed was most likely short, so he recommended dosing a potassium rich liquid fertilizer. A reasonable excess of potassium isn't likely to cause any problem, so "Green Brighty" could be used to see if that is the problem. Or, potassium nitrate, a cheap dry chemical can be used to get more of both potassium and nitrates.

You can dose one of those and watch for improved plants. If you don't see a big benefit in 2 weeks the problem is very likely something else.
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Old 07-25-2020, 06:03 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: Two and a half year old NPT Misadventure

In my experience, Salvinia is very "temperamental" indoors. Sometimes it grows like a weed, few weeks later it barely survives. So far I haven't been able to pinpoint the reason why, I keep my feeding/fertilizing/water changes schedules very strictly.

I would try introducing another type of floating plant. These are never limited by available CO2 and also rarely by light intensity, so are wonderful bioindicator of nutrients levels in the water. Once you figure out what's missing in the water column, you can remove them completely or keep just few plants to not to outcompete submerged growth.

Again, from my experience:
Pistia shows very quickly lack of Iron - new leaves are very pale and veins remain green. It also seem to show Potassium and/or Phosphorus deficiency (I am yet to learn to differentiate them) - old leaves die quickly, plant grows very small and slowly if one or both of these nutrients are missing.

Phyllanthus fluitans doesn't seem to be bothered by lack of nutrients to such extent as Pistia or Limnobium, but reacts very nicely to the light intensity/duration. In low light it's green and grows smaller and slower. Under strong light it gets very nice red/brown/purple shades, bigger leaves and is fast growing.

Limnobium laevigatum is similar to Pistia, but snails love to eat its mushy leaves, so whole plant can "disintegrate" even in otherwise ideal conditions.

Btw. I would probably modify the light schedule, 4-8-4 sound like a bit too long break.
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Old 07-25-2020, 07:05 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Two and a half year old NPT Misadventure

Quote:
Originally Posted by teoso View Post
I moved the rock a bit and a lot of sulfur bubbles came out. A similar thing happened to a crinum plant, Rotala, as spindly and small-leaved as ever.

One more thing, I cannot keep shrimp in this tank for some reason. Iíve had shrimp in a previous tank without issue, but with this tank, they always die/disappear after 2 weeks or so.
Sorry to hear about this tank's degeneration, but I think I know what the problems is. It's the dosing of Equilibrium which is absolutely loaded with sulfates. (Folks, I have warned against the excessive amount of sulfates in this product and why I have my own recipe for adding calcium, magnesium and potassium, the key hardwater nutrients.)

To the OP: Every time, you add Equilibrium you're dosing in more sulfates. Over time, the sulfates built up. At first, H2S- oxidizing bacteria could handle the sulfates, that is, convert them back to sulfates. Also, plants need the S (major nutrient) in sulfates for their nutrition, but the high levels of H2S/sulfates has now overwhelmed the tank's ecosystem.

The generation of H2S depends on three things: severely anaerobic conditions, organic matter, and high levels of sulfates.

Here is recent thread with more discussion about this.

My advice: Poke substrate to release some of the deadly H2S, do water change, and don't add Equilibrium. I would use my recipe or something similar to increase water hardness. The main thing is not to add sulfate salts to your tank.

For any future queries, a picture of your tank would help.
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Old 07-25-2020, 04:24 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: Two and a half year old NPT Misadventure

The primary cause of your problem could be insufficient light.

Tall, relatively narrow tanks present lighting problems. There is limited room for a fixture, the light generated loses energy as it approaches the substrate, and here, the use of floating plants further limits the light.

Try getting rid of the floaters. If that doesn't help, consider getting a stronger light.

Good luck!

Bill
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Old 07-27-2020, 10:07 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: Two and a half year old NPT Misadventure

Hi all, thank you for all your responses. Attached is a picture of the tank.

Hoppy: I think N is probably not an issue due to fish mulm, and the API test kits always come back with 20ppm or more. I've been dosing Equilibrium, which I think has a significant amount of K. P may be an issue, but I don't know of a reliable/affordable test kit. But yes, CO2 could very well be an issue.

Mysiak: I've tried both salvinia and pistia at different times, they both grow smaller and smaller, in increasing lighter shades of green, until disappearing altogether. Would a lighting schedule of 4-6-4 be better for the plants?

Ma. Walstad: I'll stop the Equilibrium and try some of the water-hardening ingredients you described. The sulfur bubbles issue is perplexing because it doesn't always happen, but crop up in certain places once in a while. For instance, I haven't had the sulfur issue in about 3-4 months, and poking the substrate now does not produce any gas bubbles.

Bill: I don't have any floaters right now as they all perished awhile back. I've always suspected light to be an issue, but adding a light strip to my existing light seems to just bring out algae (likely because of nutrient unbalance issue.) I am able to grow crypt parva on the substrate, about 18 inches or so from the light, but they are very very small, and grow very very very slow.

Thanks all for your advice, it's much appreciated!
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