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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hi everyone, decided to keep a sort of online journal here, if that's ok! Wanted to share how it's been going, now that it's been...oh dear, a few months now? With my El Natural set up.

How it started:
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I quickly realize there wasn't nearly enough plants, I had to resort to putting in carbon in the filter to help stabalize everything. I haven't had to change it yet, the idea is that as the carbon wears out/gets old, there will be enough plant growth to really put things in check.

So this is how it's going:
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I get some light nitrite readings (below .25 ppm) after I clean any part of my filter, which I have to do every so often because it gets so gunky, the flow starts being too weak.

I have new lights which are probably considered medium intensity because even the red plants in the middle foreground (not sure the name of them!) are starting to perk up and stopped loosing leaves.

At first there was some brown "algae" but that went away a few weeks ago and now with the new lights there's been a growth of hairy/stringy algae. It's not too intense, but I did do a manual clean up and shortened the light schedule by two hours (one in the morning and one at night, continueing with a 4 hour siesta inbetween)

I think things are going along quite well, the fish are doing wonderfully, however they seem skittish around me, I think they are a bit traumatized with my constant hands in the water, always planting new things from the last couple of months but I'm slowly gaining their trust again with every feeding, heh.

Edit.
Wanted to share something interesting, I read that cutting jungle val at the top of the leaves doesn't mean it grows back, but mine have almost with every trim!

Also these two leaves which are particularly dark (excessive nutrients??), I thought were dieing but after cutting them they are already back at the surface.

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It's good that you added plants to this tank. I like the plant you've strung across the surface. Nice touch!

That said, I'm not seeing the amount of plant growth that I would expect after a few months in a tank with soil layer. Of course, I don't know when you added the new light and the new plants. But let's just take the Val that you have growing in the back left corner as an example. It should have spread 2-3 fold by now. Even though it has leaves at surface getting enough light from the small light source, I don't see that the plant has spread much. That makes me think that something is holding all plant growth back.

What is the GH (water hardness) and KH (carbonate hardness)? Have you had any trouble with plants not rooting or floating to the surface? What did you use for the soil layer?

The tank is nice, but I think there's room for improvement.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
Thank you Diana for your feedback! My water hardness (i only found the Gh test at my local petstore) is 3-8 dH, it's soft water. The ph is around 7.3. I haven't had too many problems with plants uprooting actually. The soil I used is what is called "organic worm hummus" here in Brazil, hummus de minhoca. It was a risk because they don't say what is in it at all.

Let me see if I can recall a timeline to get a better picture because this current set up with all the plants has been recent actually.

-April I bought the stand, May I bought the aquarium.

May 16th, with no fishes, testing the water to see if the soil would release scary chemicals, ammonia, or surprise bugs. All went well!
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May 29th, added the pothos

June 12th I added the Swords.

June 13th: I added the new lights except they only have half the led-bulbs that they have now and added new purple-ish (under the leaves) plants to the left corner. They eventually get replanted, distributing it all over the foreground since the little dwarf hairgrass wasn't really going forward (no surprise there, this isn't such a bright light!).

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June 15th I added all the sag subulata which now have a toooon of runners everywhere. I also added water sprite (which has been trimmed and replanted once already.)

July 25th A new strip of LED is added to the light fixture. A couple weeks afterwards hairy algae started showing up, mostly on the jungle val on the surface, which is where I did the clean up last week but after diminishing the lights by two hours last week, I already don't see it growing anymore!

The photo of the cut jungle val is from last week, august 3rd. This is how it is now, the dark stripes seem to have dissipated now that it's longer (the longer leaf dipping into the water is that same one!)

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The Elodea, one of the first plants in the aquarium, has been trimmed about three our four times now, and replanted (the new bunch you see in background of the picture above was from replanting last week).

So now that I hunted down all my pictures and figured out exactly how long this has all taken, I have to admit it's felt liked WAY longer since I first set this up. But it's only been 3 months, holy cow!

I've been dreaming of this tank since at least February, panicking about the fact that my 11 gallon wasn't enough for my 5 rosy barbs and wondering how I was going to pay for a new tank.

In the last three weeks my sword two of these two "runners":
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I'd be curious about the organic content of that substrate brand. Two or three months should be long enough for at least a few pockets of CO2 to have formed by now. What happens when you poke around with a stick?
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Bubbles come up still, most of it doesn't smell but once in a while bubbles come up with a sort faint fart-like smell, for lack of a better description :oops:


The brand was something like this, they don't specify much of anything besides being organic...

 

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Whew! You've gone through quite a bit with this tank. I would increase the GH by adding a source of calcium and magnesium. That could easily be part of the problem and explains why your Val are not doing that well. If you can easily get Wonder Shells, I would use them. They work quickly and do the job at 1/3 recommended dose. Poke the soil a little. Can't hurt.

Tank just needs a little tweaking and time. That said, the fact that your Elodea, Sagittaria and Swordplant are doing so splendidly makes me think tank may not need ANY changes. You could just sit back and enjoy the lovely scene you have created..
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thank you again for the feedback!

While I'm tempted to leave things as they are, I`m also interested in seeing if I can help the jungle val grow a little better. I have rosy barbs, corydoras, a bristlenose pleco, and a TON of snails (i've counted over 10 ramshorns, around 5 or so pond snails which I think my pleco has snacked on because I've found some empty shells around... and 3 or 4 trumpet snails, but there could be a lot more hiding), so I think they are fairly flexible in terms of water hardness - snails for sure won't mind wonder shells!

I managed to catch my biggest trumpet snail on camera, in the corner where I'm pretty sure the ramshorns eggs are because they are constantly springing up from there:

As you said, I have been through quite a lot with this tank!! I didn't mention the day I finally understood the concept and consequence of anaerobic substrate and, in a panic, needed to solve the problem which was my black rocks on top of the substrate. I had to convince my boyfriend to help me dig a hole into the substrate to place them in contact with the glass, so they wouldn't smother bacteria. We managed to create a circular dam, creating a barrier so we could take out the water where the hole needed to be while preventing water from the rest of the tank from flooding it! It was mostly a success; some dirt did get lifted, leaving the water foggy for a couple of days.

I was wondering about the bubbles, so I have to keep poking to let the co2 out every so often?
Is there a moment where I don't have to do that?

Bubbles to come up by themselves sometimes, although much less now though than in the first few weeks. I usually poke around when I see the pockets forming through the glass.


Here`s a picture of that mysterious purple plant (which a snail hanging on), if anyone could help me ID it?

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I looked for something like Wonder Shell around here, found this:

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Cálcio ( calcium ) 21,50%

Sódio (sodium) 1,10%

Vitamínica B1 (vitamin B1) 0,25%



It`s not quite the same, but I wonder if it will do the trick??
 

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Reptocal is not the same as Wonder Shells. I would not put it in my tank. You might as well use seashells or oyster grit. See my book (p. 87) for details on what to use to increase water hardness (i.e., calcium, potassium, magnesium).

In the meantime, a possible helper. I would add some baking soda to this tank. Start with 1/2 tsp (~3 grams) per 10 gal (38 liters). That might help as Val can use bicarbonates as a carbon source. Maybe, the low GH is not the problem.

I would try not running that spillway filter for a few days or at least just run it at night. Those spillway filters can remove all CO2, and plants need CO2 badly. Watch fish for oxygen deficiency.

No, you don't have to keep poking substrate. The bubbling by itself does same thing, introduces oxygen.

The plant looks like an Alternanthera species.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Good morning!

Last night I raised the water level right up to the spout of the filter so it wouldn't splash and create so many bubbles. I`ll have to wait until the weekend to test turning it off during the day so I can keep an eye on the fish (I work from 1pm till 10pm).

Today I woke up and found quite a bit of surface scum (if I remember what I read correctly, it's bacteria/lipids?) I cleaned a little bit of it up and did a water test. Results:
0 ammonia
Somewhere between 0 and 0.25 nitrites (less than the last few readings that were squarely at 0.25 ppm, hurray!)
7.3 or 7.4 ph

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The only dedicated fish store in my area don't have anything like wonder shells, not even crushed seashells, only calcium in liquid form, a supplement for marine aquarium. I'm going to have to do some reading in your book!

Sodium bicarbonate I do have, I`ll try it out, thanks!

I'm currently re-reading the chapter on bacteria, to understand more about the role of doc/poc and humic substances. There's a lot of floating particles around my tank and the last time it was this visible, I mistakenly did a partial water change because there was also lot of algae growth, so I thought there were excessive nutrients in the water, but turns out maybe just shortening the light duration by two hours did the trick.

In doing this, I had over-cleaned by vacuuming the mulm in the corners because the nitrites, which were at 0 (this was a few weeks ago) spiked to 0.50 so I did partial water changes (less than 10% every few days) until it went down to 0.25. This whole week I didn't mess with the water, and the nitrites are finally going down on their own. Just as the mulm and particles in the water are building up again. I assume it's POC I see in the water, but wasn't sure if it was supposed to be this visible.

Now I know mulm is a big source of nutrients so I haven't cleaned it up since. Despite having read the book once before setting all this up, I still have to keep going back and find myself understanding more as I gain hands-on experience!
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
So just an update. Tomorrow I plan on dosing the tank with sodium, haven`t done it yet because I wanted to be around to test the water every couple of hours, make sure the ph doesn`t fluctuate too much too fast.

Now that there isn't much surface agitation, there's been quite an explosion of surface biofilm.
The hair algae/brown algae seems to be creeping back after all. Gonna do a manual cleaning of it and then wait it out. Hopefully withe the sodium bicarbonate helping the plants, it will in turn help the algae.

I admit I am tempted to put more filter floss to try to take care of some of the particles in the water... it seems a bit intense or maybe I'm not used to it? I'm wondering if doing this type of tank means not having clear water (doesn't need to be crystal clear, but a little clearer than this...) or if it`s because I have lots of bottom dwellers, who constantly kick up the mulm around the tank.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Fun comparison photo:

July 15th:
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A photo from August 28th:

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I took the purple plants from the middle and replanted them over the right corner near the branches because the sag is taking over the middle foreground, so many runners!!

The lovely light green plant in the left corner has just recently exploded as well in size, it's so exciting to see everything fill out like this!

I dosed the tank with sodium, the PH did go up a bit, but the fish didn't seem to mind, so I'm not worried. From 7.2 it's around 8 now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I'm wondering if it's a good idea to try to lower the pH back to under 8. I tested it again and it looks to be around 8.6.

These liquid tests color sheets don't seem entirely accurate to me so it's hard to make a reading. I have two ph tests- one only goes up to 7.5 and I can tell the blue is a bit more intense than the 7.5 and the other tests up to 8.6 and it seems to be reading right around that spot.

Anyways, I've been reading about ways to lower the ph but most of the solutions seem to be ways that eliminate the minerals as well, creating soft water, which is obviously not what I want to do.

I'm just worried on the long term effect of my fishe's lifespan with such high pH, considering the fish I have (rosy barbs, corydoras, bristlenose pleco...)

In other news, I started setting up an 11 liter tank in the natural method, for shrimp (there's only snails in there at the moment). So I went and bought a ton of plants and the fishstore gave me a mystery snail, after I stopped to admire them.... so I added him to the this 120 liter tank.

I'm wondering if the bioload might be on the limit....5 rosy barbs, 7 corydoras, 1 bristlenose pleco and who knows how many trumpet snails, ramshorns, and now my mystery snail!

I mean, ammonia and nitrites are 0 as of tonight, and have been this way for weeks, so maybe the plants are handling it all after all, adding one mystery snail probably won't create a problem.
 

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That's good that you are getting some plant growth. The sodium bicarbonate probably helped. Barring major water changes, I would not add anymore.

I've found that messing with pH is a waste of time. Your fish can probably handle it fine.

Now, you need to look for a source of calcium. If you can't find the Wonder Shells, then I would at least put a calcium carbonate source into your filter. This could be oyster grit or crushed coral. Remember that the finer the shell particles, the faster they will dissolve and release calcium into the water.

I would consider turning the filter off during the day. I suspect you would get better plant growth, as that filter is probably removing CO2 during the day when plants need it most. Mechanical timers are $7 at various hardware stores.

In my article 'Potted Plants for Fish Breeding Tanks' I've dispensed with filters altogether. Article can be downloaded from my website.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Today I found a KH test at the fishstore, yay! Where I also bought crushed coral (with aragonite, I hope this isn't an issue? From when I read online briefly, it's not?).

Definitely low on CO2!

5 KH, with 8 pH = 1.47 ppm CO2.

I left the filter off today (but left a tiny pump on inside to create water flow), tonight I'll turn it on and I already placed a little bag of the crushed coral in the filter and tomorrow I'll do a complete water reading to see what`s changed!

Thanks for all the advice! I'm re-reading the chapter on carbon and the different ways plants absorb it, it`s fascinating but I admit being new to this I can get a bit confused!
 

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Today I found a KH test at the fishstore, yay! Where I also bought crushed coral (with aragonite, I hope this isn't an issue? From when I read online briefly, it's not?).

Definitely low on CO2!

5 KH, with 8 pH = 1.47 ppm CO2.

I left the filter off today (but left a tiny pump on inside to create water flow), tonight I'll turn it on and I already placed a little bag of the crushed coral in the filter and tomorrow I'll do a complete water reading to see what`s changed!

Thanks for all the advice! I'm re-reading the chapter on carbon and the different ways plants absorb it, it`s fascinating but I admit being new to this I can get a bit confused!
Good you are measuring CO2. Remember that it will change drastically during the day, so take note of what time of day you measure it. Highest reading will be early in morning before lights go and photosynthesis starts (see Graph XI-2 in my book, p. 179).

Aragonite and crushed coral are both mainly calcium carbonate, so what you got is fine. Your pH is already high and I don't think that it can go much higher despite the added carbonate. It will just take longer to dissolve.

KH is fine.

I think leaving the filter off as much as possible will definitely help increase CO2 levels.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 · (Edited)
I've tested the waters two mornings in a row - KH reading is 6, with the pH 8.2, the CO2 reading is about the same I guess.

I'm honestly considering ditching my HOB filter for an internal sponge filter (I only have a small internal pump) because I think the bacteria source in the filter is doing a lot of the work right now. Since turning it off during the day, my nitrites and ammonia went up, both up to 0.25 which happened once after cleaning my filter, but it went down on it`s own in a week after getting no higher than 0.25 - I'm not sure this will be the case now, either way, today I'll keep the filter off again and see what reading I get tonight.

Crossing my fingers that things will adapt soon and balance out. In the meantime, I'm reading about and trying to fully understand the CO2 reading and how it relates to pH. From what I understand, once there's more CO2 available, the pH will go down a little?
 

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From what I understand, once there's more CO2 available, the pH will go down a little?
That's true if it were distilled water. But with plants in the tank, they will remove the CO2 and drive the pH back up. My tanks all have an alkaline pH. Most fish can handle it.

By removing the filter and preventing degassing CO2, your plants will get the CO2 instead of the air. That's the benefit.

Since you are monitoring things so closely, I think your fish will be able to come through a temporary adjustment.

Have you been able to add a calcium source to this tank?
 
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