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Oh and one more note. Your tank is very new. Some take a while to establish and balance.

In my 12g, it started looking great, then out of no where it seemed to regress in terms of water quality. I did a water change, added a few more plants, and then week or so after that is stabilized and has been great ever since.

I have a long thread going about my tank. On the first page of the thread you’ll see notes about ammonia and nitrates/trites fluctuating and recovering.

Ronnie 12g journey
 

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Discussion Starter · #22 ·
I'm actually not sure what kind of wood it is. But before I put it in my tank, it was pressure washed, boiled and, soaked in dechlorinated water for a month. It sat in my 29-gallon for a few months before I decided to upsize everything.

The "fuzzy" stuff is soil covered biofilm. I thought the snails and shrimp in my other tank had eaten it all.. when I filled the new tank,, the biofilm grew back on the base. It looked normal before I had to leave town the weekend before last. I wasn't around to poke at the soil and had a few gaseous eruptions. Now there's dirt everywhere. I absolutely panicked and started this discussion.

I have a trip scheduled for the weekend of the 4th, so I'm waiting until I get back to re-cap the exposed areas. Next time I try this, I might choose a different soil. This stuff is explosive, but the plants seem to love it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #23 ·
So here a question regarding the cloudiness of my tank. I added the hob filter last night and let it run. When I looked at the tank this morning, the water was clearer, but not crystal clear. As an aside, this tells me adding the hob to the 29g and having it clear the next day was most likely coincidental. Anyway, I poked at the substrate and, as the bubbles released, the water clouded right back up to where it was before I put the filter on.

So, my question is; could the previous gaseous eruptions that caused the soil to break the cap be the cause of, or at a minimum a contributing factor of, the cloudy water?

Every time a bubble breaks the surface of the soil, it kicks up a little dirt into the water column. This is evident in the filter floss' constant brown coloring. there are areas of the tank where you can't even see the sand anymore. I'm going to keep the hob on through the rest of the day and night. I'm going to remove it and the driftwood with my water change tomorrow morning to see if the driftwood is the culprit. it will also give me a chance to get some of the dirt off that wood.

I've been experimenting with various containers and the cloudiness disappears within an hour of filling them up. However, there is no water movement in them, so I'm half wondering if my powerhead is exacerbating the issue. Perhaps turning off the powerhead and heater for a day or two will help. I'm at a loss here and almost thinking it might be easier to pull the plants, drain the tank, dry out the soil a bit, salvage as much sand as I can and, start over.
 

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So here a question regarding the cloudiness of my tank. I added the hob filter last night and let it run. When I looked at the tank this morning, the water was clearer, but not crystal clear. As an aside, this tells me adding the hob to the 29g and having it clear the next day was most likely coincidental. Anyway, I poked at the substrate and, as the bubbles released, the water clouded right back up to where it was before I put the filter on.

So, my question is; could the previous gaseous eruptions that caused the soil to break the cap be the cause of, or at a minimum a contributing factor of, the cloudy water?

Every time a bubble breaks the surface of the soil, it kicks up a little dirt into the water column. This is evident in the filter floss' constant brown coloring. there are areas of the tank where you can't even see the sand anymore. I'm going to keep the hob on through the rest of the day and night. I'm going to remove it and the driftwood with my water change tomorrow morning to see if the driftwood is the culprit. it will also give me a chance to get some of the dirt off that wood.

I've been experimenting with various containers and the cloudiness disappears within an hour of filling them up. However, there is no water movement in them, so I'm half wondering if my powerhead is exacerbating the issue. Perhaps turning off the powerhead and heater for a day or two will help. I'm at a loss here and almost thinking it might be easier to pull the plants, drain the tank, dry out the soil a bit, salvage as much sand as I can and, start over.
Take a deep breath. Your words: "the plants seem to love it." I think we have this concept in our minds that once you cap the soil with gravel that it acts like a hermetic seal. It doesn't. Dirt is gonna act dirty. Welcome to the world of dirt (never thought I'd find myself saying that to someone!)
 

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I get the frustration. Maybe the power head is causing some of it? Just experiment and let the tank keep going for a while. Also when in doubt, add another plant or two, haha! Resorting to that helped with some of my issues.

And yes, if the plants are loving it, they’ll get the job done once they are settled and growing. I too had that moment where I wondered if I had to break my tank down. Keep fighting the good fight. Floaters may help with excess initial nutrient uptake.
 

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Discussion Starter · #27 ·
I turned the heater and powerhead off yesterday to see if a lack of current would help clear the cloudiness. The two major observations I made this morning were – the cloudiness was worse, there was a small ammonia spike and, the white mold on the substrate grew overnight to cover about 80% of the substrate. But, on the upside, my copepod population exploded.

When I looked at the white stuff on the substrate, it looked familiar (I didn’t take any pictures, though I probably should have). I have seen this type of fungus on the soil of my houseplants in the past. A little research brought the term Saprophytic Fungus. The pictures of this mold growing on potting soil is similar to what I have on my substrate. Primarily in the areas where the soil has broken through the sand cap.

My first response to this was to turn the heater and powerhead back on. The white stuff disappeared in the span of about 30-45 minutes. If I adjust the powerhead, I can see where the dead spots (no current) in my aquarium are. What research I’ve done says, terrestrially at least, this is a relatively benign fungus and is a sign of overwatering. Reducing the amount of water you give the plant will cause this fungus to retreat deeper into the soil where it happily continues eating organic matter.

When I searched “Saprophytic Fungus in my aquarium,” I learned my fish are going to die and my water is nasty and I’m a horrible person for allowing these conditions to exist in the first place. All jokes aside, I’m really starting to hate searching for answers to problems on the interwebs, it’s too much like looking your symptoms up on webmd.

I don’t know if this is what I have but some other opinions would be nice. Is this something I need to worry about? If this is Saprophytic Fungus, the solution is to stop watering your plants so much, but since I can’t decrease the amount of water in my artificial, indoor, micro-pond I’m at a loss.
 

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I turned the heater and powerhead off yesterday to see if a lack of current would help clear the cloudiness. The two major observations I made this morning were – the cloudiness was worse, there was a small ammonia spike and, the white mold on the substrate grew overnight to cover about 80% of the substrate. But, on the upside, my copepod population exploded.

When I looked at the white stuff on the substrate, it looked familiar (I didn’t take any pictures, though I probably should have). I have seen this type of fungus on the soil of my houseplants in the past. A little research brought the term Saprophytic Fungus. The pictures of this mold growing on potting soil is similar to what I have on my substrate. Primarily in the areas where the soil has broken through the sand cap.

My first response to this was to turn the heater and powerhead back on. The white stuff disappeared in the span of about 30-45 minutes. If I adjust the powerhead, I can see where the dead spots (no current) in my aquarium are. What research I’ve done says, terrestrially at least, this is a relatively benign fungus and is a sign of overwatering. Reducing the amount of water you give the plant will cause this fungus to retreat deeper into the soil where it happily continues eating organic matter.

When I searched “Saprophytic Fungus in my aquarium,” I learned my fish are going to die and my water is nasty and I’m a horrible person for allowing these conditions to exist in the first place. All jokes aside, I’m really starting to hate searching for answers to problems on the interwebs, it’s too much like looking your symptoms up on webmd.

I don’t know if this is what I have but some other opinions would be nice. Is this something I need to worry about? If this is Saprophytic Fungus, the solution is to stop watering your plants so much, but since I can’t decrease the amount of water in my artificial, indoor, micro-pond I’m at a loss.
The powerhead effect suggests that this is something that is in the water column that settles down onto the gravel once the current is turned off. My best guess is this is the same precipitate we have been talking about as "cloudiness", but in its more collective form.
 

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Discussion Starter · #29 ·
That's what I'm thinking as well. Mechanical filtration doesn't seem to make it any better. Dwalstad has suggested the driftwood might be the issue, i've been hesitant to remove it. Primarily because I like the aesthetic. But, it's hollowed out and the Amano's and Cories loved hiding in it. I honestly don't believe that the driftwood is the issue, It sat in the 29-gallon for a couple of months, it didn't affect that tank at all. Tomorrow I'm going to pull it out for a couple of days and see what happens.
 

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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!

Interesting happenstances. I happened to set up my second bookshelf tank, a 10 gallon. And this time around I did add a nice piece of driftwood to the scape. And it had to be now that I would be made aware of these issues. Well, lets see and wait if I get lucky.
 

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Any update? And could we see your tank again? Hopefully showing the plants.

I'm curious and interested in your progress.

Also, have you considered floating plants? I have this feeling they could be part of the missing link.
 

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Discussion Starter · #32 ·
I was going to give it another couple of days before I actually updated the progress, but now works as well. I haven't added any floaters as of yet, mainly because I'm having trouble finding them locally and with the heat wave, I'm leary of having anything shipped. The temperatures here were in the 115*F - 118*F range, it's cooled down a bit, but the summer has just started. If I can't find anything locally, I might order some in September. I did lower the light from about 9.5 inches from the water line to about 4 inches above the water line and both strains of ludwigia thanked me with some bright red-ish foliage. Some of the hairgrass is melting, but there are already some bright green strands popping up to replace them. I ended up moving one of the Crypts to the front left side of the tank, so far, it doesn't look any worse for the movement.

The tank is still cloudy, though not as bad, it actually cleared a bit when I did a water change today. I did remove the driftwood for 2 days and saw no difference in cloudiness. When I put it back is when I moved the crypt. Before I put it back I had to do a massive water change. My nitrItes had spiked so high, two 50% water changes still showed it being over 5ppm. I took out probably 90-95% of the water and moved the crypt and some of the Vallisneria. The crypt I moved because I had a bald spot and couldn't figure out what else to put there. The Val I moved because I wanted to make room for some wisteria. After replacing the driftwood I did a slight recap of the sand to cover some of the dirt. I'm still getting a lot of bubbles, but they seem to be escaping by themselves without any major eruptions. I still poke the soil, but I've reduced it to once a day (usually in the morning).

The day after returning the driftwood to the tank, Tuesday I think, I added a dose of flocculant (to be certain my cloudiness is bacterial) and returned the hob filter packed with some floss. It didn't touch the cloudiness. With the Nitrites as high as they are, I decided I'm just going to wait it out. If it doesn't clear up within a week of the completed cycle, I'll start to worry. As I said before, I went through the same thing with my 29-gallon when I set it up.

The bladder snails and ghost shrimp don't seem to mind the nitrites, their crawling/swimming their little hearts out and enjoying the buffet I have set them upon. This morning the Nitrites were at about 1ppm, so I think I may be close to the end. I'm still showing trace amounts of ammonia, but with as hot as this soil is, I'm actually surprised it's not higher. Once the nitrites reach 0, I'm planning on moving the Amano's, mystery snail and, nerite snail from the 29g to the new tank. I was hoping to have that done by this coming Wednesday since I'm going out of town. However, if it doesn't happen by Sunday, I'll wait until I get back.

Here are some pics. The first is day 15, the second is day 24(today). It's amazing how much growth I've gotten in 9 days.
Day 15.jpg

Day 24.jpg
 

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Discussion Starter · #34 ·
So I figured I would give another update after leaving the tank unattended for 4 days.

Before I left, I trimmed a few of the ludwigia stems and replanted the tops. When I returned from my trip on the fourth, I found all the livestock, more or less, alive and well. I say more or less because I seem to be down 3 ghost shrimp, or they are only making an appearance 2 at a time. The Amano's have taken over the driftwood and are doing their level best to clear it of the little algae growing on it. The harlequins have all started coloring up and the two cory's I have, were sifting through the sand looking for easy meals. I did a test and at some point, the tank finished cycling. The only thing I'm concerned about is my mystery snail has become nocturnal since the move. I occasionally see her (could be a him, but the entire family refers to it as her/she) in the mornings, so I know she's still alive. The bladder snails have quadrupled in size and are far more efficient at removing diatoms and algae than the mystery snail and Amano's combined. The growth in the stem plants has slowed a bit, as in I don't notice a ton of growth day by day, but I can tell they're still growing. The swords are still chugging away, slowly but surely and there are two new leaves unfurling on my anubias and java ferns. Though, in the fern's you have to get close to see it. The hairgrass started melting about a week ago, but while I was gone, stopped and a few of the tufts have started to send out runners. In addition to all that, I'm showing 0 ammonia, 0 Nitrites and, only 5ppm Nitrates.

There's very little algae in the tank, primarily I see it on the driftwood and glass. However, diatoms are starting to take over my tank. I think there may have been an eruption or two while I was gone since there's a fine layer of soil over many of the plants. But it's hard to tell where the diatoms end and the soil layer begins. I also found several bunches of bladder snail eggs on the glass and on a few of the sword leaves. I decided to leave them and hope they take care of some of the diatoms.

On the fifth, I did a 50% water change and added two pearl gourami and a false julii cory. I'm trying to bring the school back up to 6, but the lfs only had one, I'm going to check back with them on Friday to see if they get more in. After that, I don't plan on stocking the tank any further.

Today almost every single batch of snail eggs hatched. There were baby snails everywhere on the right side of the tank, quite literally. I use the past tense because the gourami's found them on the glass and had themselves a seriously big meal. I'm fairly certain they didn't get them all, but I'm also fairly certain the survivors ran for their lives. Only to run into the gauntlet that is the cory's. All three cory's are patrolling the sand in that area of the tank almost exclusively. I'm sure a few will survive, but it's good to know there is some predation happening. Based on what I'm seeing in such a short amount of time, I can see how these little beasties can quickly become an issue. I've decided to wait until the tank has matured to take any drastic measures in controlling them.

The cloudiness in the tank is persistent but seems to clear a little with every water change. When I go to the lfs, I'm going to pick up an actual sponge filter to replace the makeshift one I have on the powerhead now. I'm hoping that makes a little difference, but based on how this evolved in the 29-gallon, I don't think it will make a lot of difference. If it doesn't clear it, I may go ahead and do weekly water changes until the water completely clears, even though they may be, otherwise, unnecessary.

Here's a picture of the tank now:
Day35.jpg
 

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You're having quite a capped soil aquarium adventure. I've enjoyed reading this. You have an engaging manner of writing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #37 ·
First and foremost, I really want to thank everyone who helped me with this tank. Going in I had done a ton of research before starting and thought I was prepared for anything. If not for the fine folks here, I probably would have scrapped the tank and started over again thinking I did something horribly wrong. I'm glad this community is here and I just want you all to know you're appreciated. Now, on to the update.

Friday was day 60. Here is a picture of what I've got going on:
Day 60.jpg

As a side note, I took this picture after the lights went out. I turned them on long enough to get this picture with no glare on the glass. I find it interesting that the Ludwigia Ruben folds its leaves up at night. I've seen this with terrestrial plants, I have several Mexican bird of paradise trees in my yard that do this. I didn't know aquatic plants did it as well.

Not much has happened other than a ton of growth, not that I'm complaining. The water has cleared almost completely. There is still a little haze to it, but every day it gets a little better. The 29 gallon tank I had before this one took 90 days to completely clear up. I'm expecting the same with this tank, though it looks like it might happen sooner in this tank. I still keep track of ammonia, nitrites and, nitrates. Today was actually the first day I showed no ammonia at all. Usually, there is a slight green tint to the test showing traces of ammonia but not enough to concern me. I think the soil finally stopped leaching ammonia, or the plants are big enough to handle the entire load. After the nitrites went to 0, the nitrate spiked to 20ppm then steadily dropped to 5ppm. Despite my heavy-handed feeding methods, it has held steady at 5ppm for the last 30 days.

The Vallisneria still won't grow, it's not dying but, it's not thriving like everything else. To give some context, the crypts have all doubled in size. The val looks the same as the day I planted it. that big black blank space in the right side is supposed to be filled with val. Supposed'ta. Soon there will be some Ruben and Wisteria back there. the Ruben is growing so fast I'm running out of places to replant it and I'm going to have to start throwing cuttings away. This is the second tank I've tried to grow val in, the first was just gravel and root tabs. I'm planning a 20 gallon for my daughter's betta, so I may pull the val and try it in that tank. The last tank I tried to grow val in contained only the val and some ludwigia. The ludwigia did well, the val died. So I'm wondering; will the two will grow well together or, do I just have bad luck with val? I'll find out in a month or two, the new tank is only going to have swords, val and, hairgrass. There is some staghorn algae growing on the sword leaves. It hasn't become a major issue and I've mostly left it alone because the bladder snails seem to like it and keep it somewhat in check.

Speaking of bladder snails, I started with 5. I am now the owner of about 5 billion bladder snails. I'm going to give them another month or two, then introduce some assassins to keep them in check. Also, the ghost shrimp I threw in have reproduced. I thought all but one had died because I rarely saw them around. there were two berried shrimp in the batch I threw in, but I didn't think the larva would survive the insanely high nitrite levels I experienced. However, this morning I counted 7 juveniles. The rest of the livestock appears healthy and happy. The only issue I'm having there is finding more False Julii Corydoras. Right now the tank has 3, I want to fill the school out with 4 or 5 more. The problem is that for the last month no one has any and it's too hot where I live for me to feel safe ordering anything that breathes through the mail. I've also noticed my mystery snail has become nocturnal lately. She's getting old, over a year, so I don't expect her to live too much longer.
 

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Picture shows the kind of result that keeps me coming back. Your tank is beautiful! Thanks for posting.
 
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