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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So after a hectic couple of years with a new job, new family, and all the stuff that goes along with it...I'm finally getting back into trying to grow a planted aquarium. I'm starting over small, so I have a 35 gallon tank (23H x 30W x 12L). I keep the water level a couple inches from the top so it has a bit over 31 gallons currently in it.

The tank is lightly stocked and lightly planted. I have a few tiger barbs, couple of minnows, a pleco, and a small goldfish. I have two rooted plants, some anachris, and string algae that I'm keeping in check through weekly pruning (going to get some mollies this weekend and they love eating string algae too).

For lighting I used a 24" Fluval LED light strip and two clamp lights with GE LED9BR30W grow bulbs.

Over the course of a few months I noticed that out of all the plants I had, only the algae was really growing. The plants had unhealthy looking leaves that were gradually being eaten and there was no new growth at all. Fertilizing the tank with API Leaf Zone and liquid carbon didn't help. Eventually I decided to try new lights.

A couple weeks ago I upgraded the clamp lights with two GE LED32P38W grow bulbs. These things are beasts. Almost 4x the light output of the old bulbs, focusing lenses to project most of the light into the tank instead of leakage out the sides, and a more natural looking daylight spectrum instead of the pinkish ones of the old bulbs. I took a pic after replacing just one of the bulbs and it was almost literally night and day comparing the two sides of the tank.

So I've been keeping an eye on the whole setup but so far I haven't noticed any changes. Not getting any worse, but not any better. Am I just being too impatient? Is it going to take more than a couple weeks to see new growth, especially given how long the plants have been light deprived?

Thanks!
 

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You almost certainly don't have too little light for your plants, but it does depend on what plants you have. For sure Anacharis plants don't need a lot of light to grow like an obnoxious weed. What substrate do you have? Do you dose anything other than LeafZone and "liquid carbon"? Do you have a heater to keep the water in the 70-80F range? A photo of the tank would help a lot.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
You almost certainly don't have too little light for your plants, but it does depend on what plants you have. For sure Anacharis plants don't need a lot of light to grow like an obnoxious weed. What substrate do you have? Do you dose anything other than LeafZone and "liquid carbon"? Do you have a heater to keep the water in the 70-80F range? A photo of the tank would help a lot.
HI! The substrate is CaribSea Eco Complete planted tank gravel. I haven't tried anything else for fertilizer but I used to use Flourish years ago so I could switch to that if you think it'll work better. The tank does stay between 70 and 80 at all times. Our apartment is actually pretty warm so the tank typically hovers around 75.

I've attached a pic. Please be gentle, I'm kinda embarrassed by it. lol
 

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More light is not better in a low CO2, low nutrient tank. You see the algae does great in this situation. Think low light. Buy lots of new plants to decorate your tank. The reds on those barbs are excellent.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
More light is not better in a low CO2, low nutrient tank. You see the algae does great in this situation. Think low light. Buy lots of new plants to decorate your tank. The reds on those barbs are excellent.
I had much lower light before with the previous setup and that wasn't doing much. Or was that even too much light? Get rid of the clamp lights entirely and just use the one Fluval strip light on top?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Yes, just the Fluval light.
That's like a complete 180 from everything I've been trying so far, lol. I kept thinking more light, MORE LIGHT!!!!

I just switched off the two grow bulbs and I just have the Fluval light going. I should expect to see a change within a week or two, right?

Edit - how long should I keep the Fluval light on? Everything I read says 10 - 12 hours, so is that still a good rule of thumb?
 

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Yes, It is 180 from your thinking so the plants will grow (slowly) instead of algae :)

There are lots of other things you need to do. First, remove the algae and buy lots of plants to add in your tank. You'll need easy to grow plants. You can find them at your local petsmart.
Get Java Fern, Anubias, water wisteria, Elodea, cryptocoryne, staurogyne, hornwort. You need a lot of plants to out compete the algae.

Start with 7 hours of light. You'll need to add general fertilizer once in while.

When you're hooked and are more advanced, you can start adding CO2, more light, and fertilizers everyday to grow the plants faster.

The goldfish will eat some of the plants btw.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
So was the high light harming the plants or just causing the algae to grow so fast it was sucking up the nutrients that the other plants needed?
 

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High light doesn't harm the plants, except by making the plants grow faster than they have nutrients to allow them to grow that fast. When you don't use CO2 the plants are very limited in how fast they can grow, because they only get CO2 from the atmosphere and a little from decaying plants and fish breathing. Algae are very adaptable, so they manage to grow even with little CO2 available to them.

Algae can be viewed as a beautiful "plant", or, like almost all of us, it can be viewed as an ugly, hated thief of your otherwise nice tank. So, removing algae is a job that we can't really ignore.

Your substrate is inert - no nutrients for the plants there. You have to supply almost all of the nutrients that the plants need. Fish waste supplies some nutrients, as does un-eaten fish food. A good place to start with adding nutrients is https://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/forumapc/fertilizing/15225-estimative-index-dosing-guide.html. One way to use this information is to use about half the amounts of each chemical that is recommended, until you have lots of plants, and they are growing, thus using up what you are supplying.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
High light doesn't harm the plants, except by making the plants grow faster than they have nutrients to allow them to grow that fast. When you don't use CO2 the plants are very limited in how fast they can grow, because they only get CO2 from the atmosphere and a little from decaying plants and fish breathing. Algae are very adaptable, so they manage to grow even with little CO2 available to them.

Algae can be viewed as a beautiful "plant", or, like almost all of us, it can be viewed as an ugly, hated thief of your otherwise nice tank. So, removing algae is a job that we can't really ignore.

Your substrate is inert - no nutrients for the plants there. You have to supply almost all of the nutrients that the plants need. Fish waste supplies some nutrients, as does un-eaten fish food.
So perhaps some root tabs then for the plants plus the reduced lighting mentioned above? Anything else I could do short of CO2 injection?
 

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I would first order/buy some more plants, not all stem plants. You could use Sagittaria subulata and Cryptocoryne wendtii, both of which would do very well with root tabs. And, you could add some Pogostemon Stellata which is a vigorous growing stem plant, or many others. Then, you could decide how you want to fertilize the plants.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I would first order/buy some more plants, not all stem plants. You could use Sagittaria subulata and Cryptocoryne wendtii, both of which would do very well with root tabs. And, you could add some Pogostemon Stellata which is a vigorous growing stem plant, or many others. Then, you could decide how you want to fertilize the plants.
Question - if the tank doesn't quite have enough nutrients already, wouldn't more plants make it worse? Or just so long as I fertilize properly?
 

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Plants need nitrogen in the form of nitrates or ammonia, so if you have lots of plants you don't have to be concerned about a buildup of nitrates or ammonia, both of which harm the fish. Fish waste products also can build up in the water and become harmful to the fish, but plants also take care of that. Without lots of plants you need to change the tank water much more often. Fertilizing the plants is needed so they have all of the nutrients they need, so normally we add nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and several other elements in very small amounts. An alternative to this is to use dirt - topsoil - under the gravel substrate, so the plants can get the nutrients from the soil, through their roots. The Walstad method - el natural - is one way to do that.
 

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Fish waste and root tabs should be good for a low tech tank. You might see deficiencies in potassium & micronutrients down the road but nitrogen and phosphate should be supplied by fish waste 24/7.

El natural should supply more complete nutrient and a little CO2 through organic breakdown. No digging fish in this tank. You can imagine the dirt will go everywhere. Goldfish are out.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Thank you everyone for the advice and suggestions! I went ahead and put in some root tabs and cut down the lighting in the tank, so hopefully I'll see some results in the next couple of weeks. If things work out, I'll go ahead and stock up on more low-light plants.

Thanks again!
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Followup question about CO2 - I know that using an airstone to agitate the surface of the water will allow CO2 from the air to mix with the water, but using CO2 injection is of course going to be far more effective. I can't afford injection, so would it make sense to try to get a lot of surface agitation to make sure the CO2 levels in the tank stay stable or reduce agitation to allow the CO2 produced by the fish to build up for the plants?

Thanks!
 

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The CO2 in air will wind up in the water and reach equilibrium. CO2 in water will be slightly less than in air. It will never be anymore unless you inject, around 2-3ppm by weight.

CO2 in water is measured by ppm by weight, while in air is by volume, 409ppmv. They're different unit of measurement.

Plants in water need way more CO2 than if they're grown in air, terrestrial plants, mainly because CO2 in water diffuse very slowly (kinetic energy). Most aquatic plants have to change their leaf morphology to adapt to life underwater.

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Actually, CO2 levels in your house is usually higher than outside air (409ppm). It could be 1000+ppm. That's why low tech plants generally do so well.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
So it'll reach equilibrium without agitation? Or just with a normal airstone so anything more is pointless?
 
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