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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hi all,

I've been lurking here for about a year; I set up a planted tank 10 months ago. I've found many helpful answers to my questions, but think it's time to ask some directly!

My tank: 10 gallon, Aqueon power filter 10, Aqueon heater set to 78 degrees, 1" topsoil, about 1/4" (? see question below) gravel cap, 1.5 WPG fluorescent strip light plus lots of sunlight (right next to a window).
Fauna: 3 dwarf puffer fish, 1 neon tetra (see question below)
Flora: 5 different swords, 4 anubias, java fern; floating hornwort and anarchis (lots, grows very quickly)
Water levels are good, and I had them tested at the store recently to confirm. I do a 40% water change almost every week.

Problem:
The puffer fish have eliminated my formerly overwhelming population of nuisance snails, and I'm now seeing hair algae, algae on the glass, and black algae (i think? looks kind of burnt, only on the java fern and a little bit on an amazon sword).

Questions:

- Gravel: A lot of the gravel has mixed into the soil, and there are many patches of soil exposed to the water. I've read this can contribute to algae growth. The actual top layer of gravel looks very thin, but I can see that the gravel goes down at least an inch into the soil. Can/should I add another 3/4" layer of gravel to really cover the bald patches? Is that okay if there is so much gravel in the soil already?

- Bioload: My neon should be in a school. I wanted to see how he got along with the puffers first, and they ignore each other. However, I also want to get shrimp and snails (starting with a mystery snail to see if the puffers leave it alone) to help combat the algae. I'm worried about the bioload for a 10 gallon; aqadvisor has that combo (3 puffers, 5 neons, 3 shrimp, 1 snail) at 116%, but I'm not sure if that's accurate for planted tanks or not.

- Filter: I have never changed the cartridge, just rinsed it off in purified water every so often. Since my water levels are ok it must be doing something right, but I've read that it contains carbon and that that might not be ideal. Should I switch to something else? Can I modify the one I've got, or do I need a new one? If I need a new one, a specific recommendation would be great. I was looking into the Fluval C2 but it looks like that contains carbon too so I'm confused.

Thanks for any help you can provide. Also this is my first foray into forum posting, so if I'm making any etiquette breeches, please let me know!
 

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Am no expert, but here's my opinions...

Gravel: You should have plenty of room to add more gravel without it getting too deep, if you'd like. However, I think it's pretty common for what you had happen and many people just let the dirt show without covering it up... I think your algae is mostly from the sunlight (depending on what you mean by "lots").

Bioload: Both shrimp and snails will definitely be in danger with the puffers, but if you'd like to try, that doesn't seem like too much bioload for a planted tank, especially if you're doing water changes like that.

Filter: At this point, I'm pretty sure the carbon is used up so it doesn't matter that it's there. You could keep using that cartridge, or retrofit some sort of sponge to fit in your filter for more surface area. Most filters come with the carbon, but can be customized with different media (usually sponges/floss) to suit a planted tank better.

Thanks for any help you can provide. Also this is my first foray into forum posting, so if I'm making any etiquette breeches, please let me know!
Generic terms don't usually help on forums. Especially when asking advice, it's always best if you can give exact or close numbers. "Water levels are good" - what are you testing for? How much ppm? "lots of sunlight" - how many hours? south facing?

And forum readers LOVE pictures! People are always more willing to reply to threads that have a picture of the tank you're talking about.

Hope this all helps.
 

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Welcome to APC!

I generally agree with all of qwe's advice. Re bioload, planted tanks usually can support larger fish populations than unplanted ones, especially in your case because of your filtration and water changes.

Except for special circumstances, carbon or other chemical filtration is unnecessary for planted tanks. In my own Walstad tanks, I fill the filters with biomedia (small lava rock) and put a mesh or sponge pre-filter on the intake. When the sponge gets dirty and reduces flow, I clean it. I rarely clean the biomedia, and when I do I just rinse it in dechlorinated water.

As long as algae growth is not excessive, just remove it. Java ferns almost always develop black spots on old leaves--cut them off. There are no fish or snails that will eat all algae, but a really good algae eater is the bristle nose pleco. These are tough fish that should be safe from your puffers. For a 10 gallon, you only want one.

Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for the welcome and your insights, Michael and qwe123! I'll try to be more precise in the future, thanks for that feedback. At home I test for ammonia and pH; I just ran the levels and got 0 ppm ammonia and pH of 7.6 (or higher, that's as high as the kit goes). Before I got the puffers the fish store tested a bunch of parameters and gave their blessing, but I'm not sure what exactly they tested or what the numbers were.

After reading your advice I'm going to experiment with cutting back on the amount of light, both natural and electric. I'll keep an eye out for a bristle nose pleco, and add more gravel cap. At the very least this will make it easier to vacuum out detritus (right now it disturbs the soil significantly when I vacuum).

The black algae doesn't scrape off, so cutting off the leaves does seem to be the only way to get rid of it. Unfortunately it fills in very quickly--I put a java fern in and one side was completely covered within 2 weeks. Another java fern went into a separate 1 gal snail tank at the same time and hasn't grown any algae. I've removed the java fern from my 10 gal and am keeping it in a dark closet for a few days to see what effect this has on the algae.

Pictures! Here's the tank after a big pruning to remove the most algae-covered leaves:



And here's the best shot I could get of the black algae, it looks darker in person and covers most of the leaf but isn't bushy. You can see the difference between the two leaves in the bottom left corner as well, one has algae and one doesn't:



Ultimately I'd like to do smaller/less frequent water changes, but that's a long-term goal as the tank gets more mature.

Thanks again for the help!
 
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