Beginner, first Walstad setup - need advice with high Nitrites and other issues - 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 07-26-2020, 08:30 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Beginner, first Walstad setup - need advice with high Nitrites and other issues

HI everyone,

I'm two and a half weeks into my Walstad setup, the first ever tank I decided to do. Since about week and a half ago I've been measuring about 2ppm nitrites. I tried to do a lot of water changes with effectively no positive result. Now diatoms started to spread over the leaves of my plants like crazy and I'm a little bit afraid they will kill my plants. I'm starting to think that the frequent water changes might have been harmful. NH4 is 0, NO3 is between 15-30ppm. I haven't been feeding the tank because i have no idea how much fish flakes am I supposed to add. Actually, I tried once a few days ago and the remains of some of the flakes are still floating on the surface and a few are rotting at the bottom.

The tank is a 16.5 gallon.
My soil is 1:1 mixture of a generic organic potting soil and vermicompost.
Tapwater GH and KH are at 11. PH is 7.2. After a few days in the tank the PH increased to 7.7.
I use a single 24w T5HO with photo-period of 5on - 4off - 5on - 10off.
Water temperature is set to 79F.

Here is my log:

Day -4: Tank set up, added soil, gravel topped off with water.
Day -3: 90% wc (panicking because a lot water bubbles on the surface)
Day -2: added filter with activated carbon for 24hrs
Day -1: Yellow water. Removed filter, 90% wc
Day 0: Added plants, 90% wc
Day 1: Tested water, zeroes across the board
Day 6: a lot of detritus worms appeared in the tank (Can't get rid of them, even after so many water changes, sucking them away with a siphon there are still is so many. I get rid of a huge number with every water change and the next day they are back, as if I didn't do anything)
Day 7: found a white fungus on the suction cup of my thermometer, the worms were feeding off of it. Cleaned it in hot water and put it back in.
Biofilm at the surface.
Measured 15ppm NO3, 0.05-0.1 NH4, and NO2 off the charts, Ph 7.7
Day 8: 50% wc
Day 9: 30ppm NO3 (wtf???), NO2 still off the charts, no NH4
Day 10: 50% wc
Day 11: 15-30ppm NO3, I learned I could test a 1:5 mixture with tap water for NO2 and this way I found there were about 1.5-2ppm, no NH4
Discovered some very small snails - MAD, because I put so much effort into desinfecting the plants.
First signs of diatoms on the front glass.
A few spiderweb-like threads on the hair grass- could only see them because they trapped some of the air bubbles escaping the substrate.
25% wc.
Day 12: 15-30ppm NO3, 2 ppm NO2; 25%wc
Day 13: 25% wc
Day 14: 15ppm NO3, 1.5-2ppm NO2, no NH4
Diatoms spread to plant leaves.
White fungus on suction cup again.
Added fish flakes.
Day 15: No2 no change, NH4 0, over 6ppm SiO2 - I read somewhere that diatoms feed of silicates so I tested the tank water
25% Wc
Added Hornwort, removed most of Najas guadalupensis - they were rotting.
Day 16: Water a bit cloudy.
Day 17:15-30 NO3, NO2 no change, 0 NH4

Some of my plants are growing well (like water sprite, egaria densa and ludwigia), some are growing somewhat (bacopa, water wisteria), some don't do anything (crypts) and some are rotting (Najas, rotala is both growing and rotting).

Also my frogbit is not doing too well. Its new leaves were always white if i remember correctly then turned a bit more green with time. But now they are rotting away. Could it be due to the frequent water changes? I'll add a pic for reference.

The small snails don't seem to care that there is such a high amount of nitrites. The are feeding off of the diatoms but the diatoms are spreading too fast for the snails to control it. And I can't add anything to deal with it because of the nitrites.

Do you have any advice about the nitrites, diatoms, detritus worms or anything else that would help with this situation? Any should do's, or should not do's? Perhaps I could add a Nerite if the small snails are ok with high nitrites?

https://imgur.com/a/c4F4Ob8
https://imgur.com/a/FBowosE
https://imgur.com/a/AsNNzhU
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Old 07-26-2020, 09:45 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Beginner, first Walstad setup - need advice with high Nitrites and other issues

Welcome to APC! I think you may have made the mistake most of us have made - using soil that is much richer than necessary. Potting soil alone can be more rich than necessary, but adding the vermicompost - worm compost - adds still more unnecessary nutrients. It may still work ok, but it is easier if we use less rich soil. (I did this a couple of times before I realized it wasn't a good idea!)

Have you tried using a bent paper clip, or equivalent, to poke into the substrate to let gases accumulating in the substrate escape? It is a good idea to do this often for several weeks.
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Old 07-26-2020, 02:21 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Beginner, first Walstad setup - need advice with high Nitrites and other issues

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Originally Posted by hoppycalif View Post
Welcome to APC! I think you may have made the mistake most of us have made - using soil that is much richer than necessary. Potting soil alone can be more rich than necessary, but adding the vermicompost - worm compost - adds still more unnecessary nutrients. It may still work ok, but it is easier if we use less rich soil. (I did this a couple of times before I realized it wasn't a good idea!)

Have you tried using a bent paper clip, or equivalent, to poke into the substrate to let gases accumulating in the substrate escape? It is a good idea to do this often for several weeks.
I see. The brand Diana recommends in her book is not available here and for some reason I thought a generic potting substrate wouldn't have enough nutrients... Well, I do hope it works out anyway because i invested a lot of work and time into it. Would suck to have to do it from scratch again.

No, I haven't tried to poke the substrate. I was afraid that the soil would leech through if I did. Guess it might be worth a try.

Any other advice on water changes, or anything else would be appreciated. Or perhaps what sort of expectations should I have with this?
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Old 07-26-2020, 03:30 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Beginner, first Walstad setup - need advice with high Nitrites and other issues

You have an extra-rich substrate, so you will have to compensate temporarily. Yes, poke the substrate and do frequent water changes. The substrate should "settle down" in 6-8 weeks and slow down on its release of nutrients into the water (my book, Fig VIII-6, page 131).

That said, your tank looks promising. You have a nice assortment of plants, and you say that some are doing well. Be encouraged....
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Old 07-28-2020, 10:38 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Beginner, first Walstad setup - need advice with high Nitrites and other issues

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You have an extra-rich substrate, so you will have to compensate temporarily. Yes, poke the substrate and do frequent water changes. The substrate should "settle down" in 6-8 weeks and slow down on its release of nutrients into the water (my book, Fig VIII-6, page 131).

That said, your tank looks promising. You have a nice assortment of plants, and you say that some are doing well. Be encouraged....
Thank you. I will do as advised and hopefully it all works out.
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Old 07-30-2020, 11:12 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Beginner, first Walstad setup - need advice with high Nitrites and other issues

The upside to snails is that they will eat the extra food. I let mine go crazy until things settled down, and now I give them away or just smash them for the snails to eat to control them. They're acrobats, too, and will find the food wherever it lands, including floating on the surface or stuck in plants.

What kind of detritis worms do you have? I deliberately put blackworms into my tank and they're doing great and are wonderful for aerating the soil, which Ms. Walstad told me they would do. They're also a treat for the corys whenever they can catch one. But, they're really a great addition to a clean-up crew and they won't eat your plants.
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