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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all. I tried posting this on 5/24 but it was never approved, so I'm trying again now that more time has passed. Here is an introduction to my first tank.

Set-Up Details
• Tank: 9.6 gallon (Lifegard brand)
• Heater: 50W Eheim Jager heater, set to 72°F
• Lighting: 18-24" Hygger LED light, with a photoperiod of 5 hours on at 100%, 2 hours off, 6 hours on at 80%. Receives dappled natural sunlight during late morning.
• Substrate: 1" layer of Bonnie's Harvest Raised Bed soil (sifted) mixed with ~1/4 cup crushed oyster shell, capped with 1.5" layer of 2-4mm gravel

Plants
• Floaters: Dwarf water lettuce, Red root floaters, Amazon frogbit, Salvinia minima
• Stems (left to right): Ludwigia repens x arcuata (emersed), Rotala spp., Limnophila belem, Ludwigia brevipes, Bacopa caroliniana (variegated and normal), Pearl weed
• Other: Nymphoides hydrophylla (Taiwan lily), Eleocharis belem

Day 1 (5/21/22, morning after planting)
Plant Water Vertebrate Natural environment Botany


Day 9 (5/29/22)
Plant Vertebrate Light Nature Rectangle

I have been monitoring the water parameters and will include a chart for reference. There are no GH and KH values until 5/26 because I realized that I had been performing the test incorrectly (silly me, giving myself headaches for no reason).

Font Material property Rectangle Pattern Circle

The nitrogen cycle has been suspiciously smooth. The soil I chose had a low nitrogen content (0.12%), so maybe this has helped reduce fluctuation. Or maybe fluctuation is yet to come.

From my tap water's GH and KH values of 3, I was able to raise these to around 9 each through the use of Wonder shells, baking soda, and crushed oyster shell (though I feel that the oyster shell has probably contributed less than the others).

The plants appear to be thriving. The Limnophila is the most visually obvious success case; despite some leaf melt, it has grown several inches and is now about an inch shy of reaching the surface. The lily lost two leaves in the transition, but has already put out three more. The water lettuce roots are growing long, and the plants are putting out babies. The red root floaters are flowering beautifully (which I can't take full credit for, they looked lovely when I bought them). Much to my surprise and delight, the pearl weed and the E. belem have been pearling considerably throughout the photoperiod. This sight in particular made me incredibly happy...

E. belem root, 22 hours apart
Plant Organism Terrestrial plant Grass Tree

The root went from just visible to touching the soil in less than a full day, growing about an inch in length.

As anticipated, not all of the plants are so successful. The Bacopa is suffering from significant leaf melt, but has healthy leaves and is growing more. I suspect it needs more time. The Amazon frogbit was very unhappy. Its roots regressed, and its leaves yellowed and developed brown and white spots. I have removed it after several days of decline and replaced it with more water lettuce. Perhaps it was diseased, or some complicated allelopathy has hindered it. I'm not distressed; the other floaters are thriving well enough.

There has been a potentially ugly recent development. I was worried that the hitchhiker snail did not have enough to eat because he became more mobile around the tank, so I sprinkled pieces of half an algae wafer around. I know that Diana recommends feeding the tank with fish food, but I may have added too much too soon. Just a day after doing that, I noticed small white worms on the tank glass, and their population has boomed since then. I have also noticed a web of filamentous white algae forming around the E. belem, which is the area of the tank that receives the most light. There are also hair-like organisms on the glass, and I'm not sure if they are hydra or more algae. They don't move much, so I think they're algae, but it's still concerning. I will include a few photos of these interlopers for identification.

First worm found (5/26/22)
Water Plant Cloud Sky Astronomical object


Fuzzy glass (5/29/22)
Water Vertebrate Liquid Organism Vegetation


Algae (5/29/22)
Water Plant Terrestrial plant Wood Grass

Besides the addition of fish food, I'm not sure what other reasons could account for the explosion of these two populations. Insight into possible causes and management would be appreciated. The tank is new, so this could just be part of the settling in process, but I'd like to address any potentially catastrophic problems sooner rather than later.

To close off this long post (I never claimed to be brief), I am thoroughly enjoying watching this tank's progress. It has been going much better than expected. I attribute its current success to the wealth of information in Diana Walstad's book, and forcing myself to take a few weeks to plan despite my excitement to get started.

Thanks for reading. Here are some flowery red roots for your enjoyment.

Water Plant Liquid Flower Botany
 

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I just replied to your earlier post and see that my tardy advice is now somewhat irrelevant, but hopefully there's a message for others.
Tank looks very nice and promising.
Your floating and blossoming red plants are beautiful. What a treat to see them this morning!
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I just replied to your earlier post and see that my tardy advice is now somewhat irrelevant, but hopefully there's a message for others.
Tank looks very nice and promising.
Your floating and blossoming red plants are beautiful. What a treat to see them this morning!
Thank you! I get great joy out of them. Their flowers are so little and delicate.

To your reply to my last post: Less of a testing anomaly, more of a tester anomaly. I promise I can read instructions. 🤦‍♀️ At least the GH/KH are fine now.

Because the nitrogen cycle has been so stable and there is an excess of nutrients based on the appearance of algae, I decided to add a group of shrimp yesterday (5/30/22) to help out the snail with clean up. I now have two small amanos and five ghost shrimp and they have been settling in nicely.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Two week update...
Plant Light Rectangle Nature Leaf

Day 15 (6/4/22)
Check out the plant growth! The lily is absolutely taking off. It grows nearly an inch taller every day and puts out new leaves every other. The water lettuce roots are fanning out and the RRF continue to bloom. The E. belem is putting out tons of runners and new blades. The bacopa is finally starting to improve, growing new leaves and side shoots where the others rotted. New growth on the emersed ludwigia is starting to look more aquatic. The pearl weed and E. belem pearl all day long. I will attach some more tank pictures below if you'd like to see.

And oh my, the invertebrates. I enjoy them immensely. I now have 2 amano shrimp and 2 nerites as permanent residents. I have 5 ghost shrimp as well, but I plan to give them to a friend's tank and replace them with some wild-type neos in the near future. Little baby ramshorns are showing up as well. They are just so small and cute, I melt.
Plant Terrestrial plant Grass Wood Ingredient

I think the invertebrates and the incredible plant growth are helping to keep algae at bay. There are still good amounts of fuzz and green spots on the glass though. The ramshorns and shrimp don't really feed on the glass, only the nerites do. Should I bother cleaning it off, or will it take care of itself in time? I will attach some pictures of the algae as well.

I've also noticed that the new growth on the salvinia, rotala, and limnophila are very light green to white in color. Is this concerning? The water parameters have not changed. The plants are growing so fast that I can't imagine it's a nutrient deficiency, but maybe. The color is honestly quite attractive, but if it's indicative of an issue, I want to fix it. Here's what they look like:
Flower Plant Petal Botany Terrestrial plant

Plant Leaf Terrestrial plant Window Vegetation

I spend so much time sitting in front of this tank every day that it's giving me back pain. I should probably get out more lol. But it's just too much fun!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Dirt tanks are good for rooted plants, but not so much for floating plants.
I would add a little nitrate & chelated iron. Seachem flourish should work.
Doesn't Flourish have relatively low NPK? I think it's a nitrogen deficiency based on the symptoms and my low nitrate (<5.0ppm), so I don't think that Flourish would be the best way to address it. If nitrogen is what they need and Flourish contains mostly micronutrients, I would risk overdosing on those and causing other problems.

In chapter 5 of her book, Walstad writes, "Planted tanks without adequate fishfood additions would probably become rapidly depleted of major nutrients nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus." I haven't added anything since that algae wafer last week. The rooted plants like the grass and the lily are doing fine, but the water column feeding stems and floaters are showing the deficiency. Will fish food help feed the water column?
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
yeah, fish food will help. I just noticed you don't have livestock! Fish poop would help add nutrients into the water column.
I only have 7 shrimp, 2 nerites, and a slowly growing horde of baby ramshorns. I do see them poop, but they definitely don't have as high a bioload as fish.

I think I will try fish food since I already have it. I'm a little worried that adding it will cause an algae spike though. I'm also considering buying KNO3 in some form instead, which would give me a more direct answer as to what is limiting the plants. Both options probably risk algae. I'll have to be careful not to add too much.
 

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Doesn't Flourish have relatively low NPK?
Yes, very low.

If you don't mind deviating from the purist natural approach, NilocG Thrive C (for low-tech) is a more comprehensive fertilizer. In my experience, it can be a good complement to soil as it also contains an excel-like non-gluteraldehyde based carbon supplement. However, you might want to experiment with doses smaller than what's recommended on the bottle at first, until you get a sense of how algae responds.

I feel there are situations, even with soil-based tanks, where it's valid to think of your substrate as a nutrient source for "grazing" while you "feed" sparingly with a comprehensive fertilizer. It can take a lot of the guesswork/experimentation out as long as you don't feel it's cheating.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
So this might be a dumb idea... but my nitrate levels are disappearing and I'm trying to come up with ways to quickly feed the water column as cheaply and naturally as possible. I have this spare tank with about two inches of water containing plant scraps that I've just been letting sit, just to see if the scraps do anything with no intervention on my part. I tested the water in there and the ammonia is high (~4.0ppm) because of the decomposing plant material.

From what I've gathered, the fish food fertilizer option seems to be intended for replenishing the substrate nutrients. I could be wrong. I don't know how well it addresses water column deficiencies.

Would the scrap tank's water be able to act as an extremely diluted nitrogen fertilizer? Since it's so dilute, I don't think the inhabitants would be harmed like they would be if I were to add a concentrated ammonia fertilizer. 4.0 ppm is only 0.0004% ammonia after all. Using this calculator, I would need to add over 2000 mL of the scrap tank's water to increase the ammonia concentration of the main tank from 0.25 to 0.5 ppm. So it might not be enough to have any effect at all, either by improving plant nutrition or negatively impacting inhabitant health.

This was a random idea I had. Any thoughts are appreciated.

Aside from that, I'm still not certain it's a nitrogen problem at all. New growth is white. On the Limnophila, the old growth appears to be yellowing/spotty. It's hard to tell for the rotala. The salvinia old leaves are green, but some are dying off. So I can't tell if this is a mobile or immobile nutrient deficiency.

Oh, and an additional observation: the RRF are still growing in very red. Does this indicate that it isn't an iron problem?

Either way, for now I'm going to feed fish food until I get more insight. I appreciate any help from you more experienced aquarists.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Well I knew floaters were nutrient hogs, but it's a different thing to watch it happen.

Rather than adding the scrap tank water to the main tank, I decided to try "feeding" the floaters directly by moving them to that tank yesterday afternoon. I left them there overnight and tested the water again this morning. And, wow! The ammonia readings reduced from 4.0ppm to 0.5ppm.

That was a shocking difference, but the Ecology of the Planted Aquarium chapter VII supports the possibility. Figure VII-1 shows that Elodea nuttallii, a water column feeding plant, reduced ammonium concentration from 2mg/l to 0.5mg/l in 16 hours. The floaters were in that tank for 17 hours. Walstad also discusses the potential for plants to take in nutrients in quantities above the critical concentration (almost 2.5x more for N in her tank), and the preference for ammonia over nitrates both in speed of and energy required for uptake.

I considered the possibility that the floaters introduced nitrifying bacteria that may account for the reduction. I did not take NO2 and NO3 measurements yesterday, but today they were 0 and >5.0ppm respectively. But I don't think bacteria are fully responsible for the reduction for two reasons:
A) NH4 -> NO3 occurs in a 1 to 1 ratio throughout the two step reaction, in that 1 NH4 results in 1 NO3 by the end. The NO3 test was closer in color to 0 than 5.0. While not precise, this indicates to me that the plants were responsible for at least some uptake of nitrogen. Not all NH4 was converted to NO3.
B) The scrap tank has very little surface area on which bacteria could colonize. The tank has no substrate, so besides living and dead plant matter, there is only glass.

Very cool to see hungry floaters in action. I think I'll leave them in there another day to see how they affect the NO3 reading. An image of the floaters in the scrap tank is attached. Could be a trick of the light, but the salvinia looks a little greener.

Yesterday in the main tank, I added about 1/6th of a bottom feeder tablet dissolved in water in little drops around the plants that were suffering the most. Mostly around the left back corner on the rotala and limnophila. This morning, there was a web of white algae around those plants. It was not dense, and the algae was mushy so I just brushed it off with tweezers. I will monitor the algae growth throughout today and won't feed the tank until tomorrow if I notice more.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Now you need to feed the nutrient monsters everyday :)
If they can just utterly clean out the water column of nitrogen to this extreme, no wonder my tank became deficient while I wasn't feeding it. The poor suffering stem plants, overrun by these voracious floating monsters.

Yes, this seems to be the most convincing reason that the floaters, not bacteria, are responsible for the observed ammonia reduction.

Now to figure out how I'm ever going to be able to keep these things fed. Goodie.
 

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If they can just utterly clean out the water column of nitrogen to this extreme, no wonder my tank became deficient while I wasn't feeding it. The poor suffering stem plants, overrun by these voracious floating monsters.
Yes, this seems to be the most convincing reason that the floaters, not bacteria, are responsible for the observed ammonia reduction.
Now to figure out how I'm ever going to be able to keep these things fed. Goodie.
Most people have fish in the tank and are constantly adding fishfood. My guppies get more than they need, so they are fat and plants get plenty of nutrients. Attached is 10 gal tank with 6 male and 6 female guppies, plus shrimp and snails.
For NPK, I would add fishfood or your magic potion. For the floater, I would add chelated iron (FeEDTa) or a micro-nutrient fertilizer.
Based on your posts, I think you pretty much know what to do and what's going on and enjoy tweaking and tinkering. ;) Terrific!
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
For NPK, I would add fishfood or your magic potion. For the floater, I would add chelated iron (FeEDTa) or a micro-nutrient fertilizer.
You called it. Water lettuce are showing chlorosis, and their roots are growing desperately out of control. The other floaters, salvinia and RRF, don't seem to be chlorotic but it's hard to tell because the RRF are so red and the salvinia is still very light green from the nitrogen issues.

The "magic potion" seems to be helping the submerged plants. They are greener overall and continue to grow rapidly. None are chlorotic either, I'm guessing because they have access to the soil iron.

I am a little frustrated about these deficiencies. Going into this, I expected to have the opposite problem! I understand how I drained the tank of NPK by not feeding it, but the lack of iron is confusing me. The book suggests that the soil should contain plenty of iron, and within the first few months, freshly submerged soil chaos should release enough of it into the water column.

My pH is ~7.4, so maybe that is reducing available iron in the water column? Or maybe the lack of water movement without a filter is keeping the plants from being able to get the nutrients they need due to the formation of a "depletion zone" around the exchange surfaces?

I was really hoping to go fertilizer-free, but at this point it looks like I have to choose between keeping the water lettuce or following the purist approach. I like the water lettuce too much to watch them starve, so I guess I'm trying chelated iron. Sigh.
 

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