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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
While I'm not new to aquariums, I'm far from an expert and, I am new to planted tanks. This is my first go at it. I have a 40-gallon breeder with an inch of Miracle grow performance organics (in-ground) soil and a half-inch cap of black diamond blasting sand. I planted and filled the tank a little over a week ago. By day three I started noticing the bubble coming out of the soil when I poked were hydrogen sulfide. I figured if I could stay on top of the tank and poke it regularly it would sort itself out once the roots started growing.

I had to leave town over the weekend and didn’t get back until today. When I returned the tank was dark brown and the ammonia levels were at 10ppm. They were probably higher, but the test kit only goes so high. I know the brown coloring is from tannins in the water and, I expected the ammonia levels to be high. As I prepared to do the foreseen water change, I noticed there had been several eruptions from the substrate while I was gone. There is now a coating of soil over everything. This is worrying to me, but not so much as the gas building in the substrate. After poking the substrate to release what gasses hadn’t escaped and, in the process, knocked loose a couple of my amazon swords. The gas is definitely hydrogen sulfide and the roots of the few swords I knocked loose are blackened. I know this is a bad thing, and left alone, will lead to losing all the plants. I haven’t checked any of the other plants, so I don’t know if their affected or not. Do I need to scrap everything and start over to save the plants?

I would really prefer a method that doesn’t have me buying plants twice. Right now, only about 40%-50% of the tank is planted. The plan was to plant in stages since my budget wouldn’t allow me to do it all at once, patience isn't my strongest attribute. My original plan was to purchase some Dwarf Hairgrass or Dwarf Sagittaria this weekend and finish off the tank, but now I don’t know if I should wait or not.

Current plants:
Vallisneria asiatica
Ludwigia Rubin
Ludwigia super red
Cryptocorne Undulatus
Echinodorus Bleheri
Anubias Barteri
Java Fern

As a side note, I am seeing new growth on the ludwigia (both types) and the swords and crypts don't appear to be melting or dying at all.
 

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I'm no expert either, but everything I've read so far indicates that you are doing the right things. Keep poking. It's going to be up to your faster growing rooted plants (your ludwigia, for example) to get in there and help keep the soil aerated.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks for the reply. This whole process makes me incredibly nervous. In hindsight, the title is overly dramatic and not proportional to my question. I just found the blackened roots on those swords and panicked. For that I apologize.

While poking the substrate this morning the same thing happened, but in the light of day I noticed new root growth, so this was possibly an over-reaction.
 

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Addressing a problem as soon as possible is always good. It sounds like you've now got a grip on the situation. Hopefully, plant growth will continue.

Water changes and poking are good. Lowering the water level temporarily will help with any necessary water changes. A photo of tank would help.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Here is the Tank:
Water Plant Underwater Aquatic plant Terrestrial plant


It's super cloudy right now, but I think this is more from my tap water than a tank issue. I think it has to do with the fact that the tap water in my area is basically liquid limestone. I had the same problem with a different tank, I solved it by mixing the tap water with RO water. I'm not sure if I should do that in this case. There's also a layer of dirt over everything because of the eruptions over the weekend. Any advice on cleaning that up would be great. The driftwood I'm planning on taking out and giving it and the attached plants a good rinse when I do the next water change.

There are also a couple of places where the sand needs a thin coat to re-cover the soil in a few spots. This weekend I'll be getting some wisteria for the far right corner and Dwarf Hairgrass for the foreground. I'm having trouble finding floaters locally and, since I live in the desert, I'm hesitant to order online. I know most retailers insulate live products but there's only so much you can do against 110 degrees. I'm only a week in and I can already tell this experience is going to be a serious lesson in figuring out where the line between monitoring and micromanaging is.
 

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Definitely do a 90% water change with a dusting. In looking at photo, I think you could easily reduce the water level by half temporarily. Just move the heater down or remove it if your house has temperature above 70F.

Cloudiness could be from both a one-time soil eruption, bacterial growth, chemical reactions in the water, or possibly aquatic worms (burrowers that come out at night). I would not blame it on the hardwater just yet. Poke the soil to release gas. If you still get eruptions, it may be aquatic worms, which fish added later will be happy to take care of.

You've got some nice rooted plants there and hardwater, so this tank has great potential. All your hard setup work will pay off once the plants take off. I have a feeling that they will. Echinodorus in hardwater and with a soil-containing substrate? That is a hard-to-beat combination!

You've got such strong growers that I'm not sure you need any floating plants.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thank you. I really appreciate your reply.

I did another big water change this morning and just filled the tank until everything was submerged, about 2/3. I did half first, but the exposed sword leaves started wilting, and I figured they were stressed enough. When I poked the substrate this afternoon, I noticed the sulfur smell wasn't as bad as the day before, though it's still present. I'm hoping that means I'm getting less hydrogen sulfide and more carbon dioxide. While the water was low I used a spray bottle to wash as much of the dirt off the leaves as I could.

Thanks again for the response.

Edited for spelling.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
So, apparently, my panic attack over this tank was completely unnecessary and it can be saved. Three days ago the ammonia dropped to under .25ppm, and the nitrites started spiking. Two days ago I did a big water change to try to bring them down to readable levels by doing a 75% water change and filling the tank completely. It worked, for a short time. The following morning the nitrite levels were off the chart again. Nitrates are slowly rising as well, but staying steadily between 20ppm and 40ppm regardless of water changes. I got the same results yesterday and this morning. So, my conclusion is the cycle is off and running as it should be. I'm amazed at the speed at which this is happening. When I set up my 29-gallon, It took me a solid month to get to this point.

More importantly, I'm seeing growth in almost everything. There's no apparent growth with the hairgrass, but that's not surprising (that was planted less than a week ago). The Vallisneria is just slowly melting away. The ludwigia ruben is showing explosive growth and some nice red coloring. The super red isn't growing as fast, but it's chugging right along. Even the crypts are showing new growth. I do still have some hydrogen sulfide in the soil, but it seems to be limited to areas where I have few if any plants. One spot is right at the front, and I can't figure out what I want to put there. The other spot is behind the driftwood. I'm planning on putting some stargrass back there in the next day or two. Yesterday, the copepods arrived in large enough numbers for me to catch them swimming around. Other than that I have a few colonies of what looks like slime mold on the substrate. The largest spots are around the driftwood, but there are some random spots around the tank. Unless it becomes a major problem, I'm just going to ride it out and see what happens. As soon as the Nitrites come down I'll be adding some snails and shrimp, I'm sure they'll enjoy the feast.

Full tank shot:
Water Plant Organism Aquatic plant Grass

White Spots:
Plant Leaf Natural environment Road surface Grass


Edited for grammer
 

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If things don't improve, I would consider removing the driftwood. That slime mold and water cloudiness is probably due to the continuous release of organic compounds by the driftwood. Despite assurances that a driftwood piece has been cured or soaked, misbehaving driftwood is a common problem, especially in tanks containing soil substrates.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I really hope it clears up after introducing some shrimp and snails. If I have to pull it out, I'll have a giant bald spot there, as there's little to no soil under there. I suppose I could just put some more stem plants there.
 

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I would replace the driftwood with a small attractive rock and some plants. Or just plants. You have enough soil/gravel in the tank that the plants will do well if you just shift the substrate around a little. Do it gently before a water change to control cloudiness. Any cloudiness will go away faster than what you've got going on now.

The cloudy water suggests bacterial growth in the water. The bacteria are feeding on DOC (dissolved organic carbon) released by both the soil and the driftwood. All that bacterial growth deprives water of oxygen. It's sort of okay now, but when you add animals to the tank that need oxygen, they'll have trouble for sure.

Folks, if you want to follow my method, please use rocks or ceramic castles--not natural driftwood. Rocks and ceramic are inert. They don't leach junk (e.g., DOC) into the water. Driftwood may work sometimes, but from all the postings here and what I've seen over the years, they cause lots of problems. For every lucky, experienced aquascaper with relatively inert driftwood, there are 10 beginners with driftwood problems.

When I first set up my planted tanks (~1990), I used a minimalist approach and a focus on plants. Thus, I never put driftwood in any tanks. Sheer luck!
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
The cloudiness is something I’ve wondered about since I set up my 29-gallon aquarium. This whole process started with my daughter and I killing a betta by being an “average” fish keeper. To make a long story short, our cleaning method kept that poor fish’s 1-gallon tank in a constant state of cycling. This led me down a rabbit hole of research and we replaced my daughter’s betta and placed in in a well-cycled 5-gallon tank. Once that tank was up and running smoothly, I decided I wanted a display tank in an alcove above my fireplace. Enter the 29-gallon.

I set it up with an UGF let it cycle with nothing in the tank. I used a UGF because most of what I read online told me they were the pure evil. I wanted to know if this was true. I kept a testing log while it cycled (which I still keep up to date). When I poured water in it, the water was cloudy. Straight from the tap. Here is a picture of what it looked like 34 days into the cycle (the whole cycle took 42):
Atmosphere Automotive lighting Street light Sunlight Tree


Once the cycle was complete, I added some slate and some plants. And the water was still cloudy. Everything I read said it should go away after a few days. It had been there from the beginning and never went away. So, I switched to water collected from the local water bottle refill kiosk A month after that picture was taken (2 weeks after doing water changes with RODI water) the tank still had some cloudiness to it:
Water Plant Natural environment Organism Terrestrial plant


Finally, after 2 months of dealing with cloudy water, I broke down and bought a hob filter and added some filter floss to try and “polish” the water. The next day the water was crystal clear. I removed the hob to see if it the cloudiness returned, it didn’t, even after a water change using tap water. The water in that tank has been crystal clear ever since.

When I decided to set up the 40-gallon, I got the same cloudy water as with the 29-gallon. Knowing softened water was less optimal with a NPT and armed with just enough knowledge to be dangerous, I did some research on my area’s water quality. I live in Las Vegas. According to our 2021 water quality report we have a total hardness of 269ppm/16gpg and a TDS of 546ppm. Both of those numbers seem high to me. My plan was to get everything up and running, move the livestock from the 29 to the 40, and use the hop to polish the water as necessary. I don’t want to put it on permanently because there really is no room for it. I chose the 40-gallon breeder because it fits nicely in the spot I wanted the tank in.
Plant Rectangle Lighting Wood Grass


I’m not trying to make a case for keeping the driftwood. It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. I like the aesthetic, but as mistergreen said, there are plenty of ceramic options that look just as nice. I’m more interested in setting up a working, thriving ecosystem. What I am trying to do is use this community as a resource to figure out if my cloudy water is indeed bacterial as Ms. Walstad suggested or if I just live in an area with super-hard water that's just super-hard to clear up. In recently talking with the folks at my lfs, I was told they had the same issue after moving when they first filled the tanks. I wasn’t joking when I said our water is basically liquid limestone. Without a water softener, it takes about a month for lime and calcium to build up to a noticeable level on the water fixtures and it is hell on glass.
 

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Quite a puzzle and you've opened up an interesting subject. I think you have two sources of water cloudiness. Initial cloudiness due to just adding tapwater to the tank. The key words here from what you've been told are the cloudiness appeared "when first filled the tanks." When you first fill a tank with tapwater, chemicals in the water react, possibly due to the sudden presence of oxygen and the precipitation of oxides (e.g., iron oxide). These precipitates should settle out within a day or two. It's very interesting that the HOB cleared this up in your 29 gal. The HOB would increase oxygenation inviting all kinds of changes--enhanced bacterial activity, enhanced precipitation of oxides on the filter medium, etc. My guess is that water movement and the associated oxygenation enhances the precipitation of CaCO3 on surfaces, particularly wherever there is an air-water interface (e.g., in an HOB filter).

Second source of water cloudiness. Initially, you wrote about slime mold growing on the substrate surface. I believe this cloudiness could be due to excess nutrients coming from the driftwood and the soil.

I would not blame cloudiness that lasts more than two days on hardwater. There are plenty of examples of hardwater lakes and watering holes that are crystal clear filled with lush aquatic plant growth.

Why not remove the driftwood and add the HOB temporarily?

I'm not sure about all this, so it's up to you. It sounds like you have a very good grip on what's going on. I'd love to see you resolve this issue.

Thanks for a stimulating post! :)
 

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I've lived in two different New York City counties, Queens and Brooklyn, each with completely different water hardness quality. As a boy growing up in Queens I remember my mom complaining how difficult it was to make suds with our new water supply. And, I still have old tanks from that era that will never rid themselves of the hard water stains left from the evaporated contents. But, without really knowing why, I could grow aquatic plants like crazy: Vals, sag, cobomba grew like weeds and with nothing more than gravel substrate. I don't recall cloudy water being a big problem.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
@dwalstad:

I don’t know if adding the hob filter actually solved the problem or if it was coincidental. After all, correlation is not causation. But based on previous experience I’m not too worried about the cloudiness. The water seems to clear with each water change, which leads me to believe the problem is most likely bacterial as you suggested. My big worry is the slime mold appearing on the sand. If it gets out of control, I will have to nuke the tank, at which point water clarity will be low on the priority list.

I did close to 5 hours of research and reading yesterday and found that there is a plethora of information on terrestrial white slime mold, but white slime mold in aquaria is rare. Also, when it does happen, no one knows what to do about it. Based on the information I gathered yesterday, it is harmless to aquatic fauna, and the biggest danger to the flora is it blocks light. From what I understand, it feeds on bacteria and decaying plant matter. My fear here is that the mold will start eating the beneficial bacteria in the tank (though I honestly don’t know if that’s the type of bacteria they eat).

I see this as an opportunity to observe it and see if I can find some solution to a problem, even if it only comes up rarely. One issue I see is, even if I find a solution, I won’t be able to replicate the results without more mold. So, solving the problem means eradicating any methods I have for verifying the method works. If shrimp and snails do eat it, I may try to save a sample and grow it in a jar.

My first course of action is to see if anything eats it. I’m hesitant to add any of my existing fish or invertebrates to the tank that is clearly in the middle of cycling. Today I went and bought 6 ghost shrimp (3 of which are pregnant) from petco. My lfs also had some “pest” snails that I took off their hands. My hope is that, if they survive the current nitrite spike, one of the two will find it a tasty snack. During the water change today I tried to suck some of it up with the vacuum, but I was getting too much dirt and it just clung to the sand. If this doesn’t work, once the tank is cycled, I may try some oto’s or a pleco. If neither of them will eat it, then I’ll try chemical methods. But from what I understand, terrestrial white slime mold is resistant to chemicals and anything I use to kill it will likely kill my plants.


@johnwesley0:
I grew up in Phoenix, AZ. They have super hard water down there as well. I never had this problem when I was a kid keeping tanks. I remember just filling them up and topping them off. My dad, who still lives in Phoenix, has had several tanks over the years and his tanks were all clear. I’m half wondering if there are some bacteria in our tap water here or, perhaps, living in my water pipes. My daughter’s betta lives in a five-gallon tank that never had a cloudy water problem past the first day, but that tank was filled with RO water. Even when I do water changes, I use RO water in that tank. So, I can definitely say it is the water straight from the tap that’s the issue.

Once I get the current occupants of the 29-gallon moved over, I may clean the old tank and run some experiments. Once is an outlier, twice is a coincidence, thrice is a pattern.
 

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I wouldn't worry about the slime mold. Once you get the DOC under control and the plants growing, it should retreat or eventually fade. The goal is to slowly starve it.

And it will not hurt the tank ecosystem by eating beneficial bacteria.

I have never heard of animals (snails, fish, shrimp, etc) eating slime mold, but I could be wrong. No experience with it. As for chemicals, you're correct to be leery of going that route. Killing it with chemicals could cause serious problems.
 

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My slim mold disappeared as the tank started settling in and plants growing.

I too am growing Vallisneria asiatica in my tank. For me it took a while to really get going (over a month, but definitely started sending runners closer to 2 months). But it may be different for you. Wanted to offer my recent experience with it.

Is that dwarf hair grass in the foreground? I have great luck with DHG in my El Natural tanks, but they definitely need bright light. My light bar is probably 12 inches from the hair grass and it is spreading like crazy. In your set up the light seems fairly high up and you may not get as much growth for the grass.— just some food for thought.

I’ve attached a recent pic of the root system spreading for my DHG. It’s pretty cool to see how the runners are deep in the substrate.
(The roots you see aren’t the dwarf sag, but the DHW. I’m sure of this only because I cut out the sag from this area and it was much different).

Plant Terrestrial plant Grass Aquatic plant Flowering plant
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
@dwalstad
I'm glad to hear it's not going to crash my cycle by devouring the bacteria in my tank. I really don't know what else I can do except wait and see what happens.

I took the hob off my 29-gallon and placed it on the 40 with some filter floss. I'll give it a day and see what happens. Worst case scenario, the BB in it seed my new tank and it cycles a bit faster. After my comment to johnwesly0, I think I am going to use the 29 for a few experiments on my water. I set up a 1-gallon pickle jar with some topsoil, gravel and, trimmings as a test and the water cleared after about an hour. I didn't even rinse the gravel I covered it with and there is 0 water movement. The only thing I can think of is that maybe it has to do with the volume of water or perhaps it's the movement. I'm going to try cycling the 29 with a bare bottom and see if I run into the same problems.

@ronnie
I'm glad to hear the slime mold went away on its own. Honestly, your comment is the most information I've been able to find about it in an aquarium. I'm still going to watch it, after everything I've learned about it, it's an interesting creature.

Yes that is DHG. I've been waffling over the idea of lowering the lights a bit. Right now the light bar sits about 24 inches from the substrate. I've thought about lowering it, I don't want to set it on the tank since I'm going with an open-top, but I could probably squeeze another 3 to 4 inches out of it.
 

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I have an LED bar, and it’s something like 2” away from the water. I keep an open top too. There is a covering over the lights that faces the water. (I’ve attached a recent image of mine. I’m not saying you have to copy, but it is what has worked for me).

Any early mold or algae issues really resolved naturally when the plants began growing and spreading.

Not to get into a driftwood debate, but what kind is it? It seems “fuzzy” looking (instead of just raw wood). I’m not sure what it is, but that is probably feeding the mold.
I have spider wood in my tank (without issues), but it’s never had the appearance of yours. Did you scrub it and clean it beforehand?

Water Plant Vertebrate Green Pet supply
 
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