Does a planted blackwater tank work? - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources
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post #1 of 22 Old 06-01-2013, 03:59 PM Thread Starter
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Does a planted blackwater tank work?

I've been considering making my tank somewhat of a blackwater planted tank, but I'm not sure if that'd cause any issues with the plants, specifically with the lighting.

I've got a 38 gallon tank with various swords and pennywort planted in the tank. It's a South American themed tank with cardinal tetras, hatchets, and a whiptail catfish. I feel like the fish would like the blackwater..

Also not sure if those blackwater extract / additives are safe or actually worth it, or if I should try something like almond or oak leaves. I honestly don't know where to get any leaves though.. There's mostly pine trees, and other random trees around here (dogwood.. Willows..) We have live oaks around here, but I'm not sure if those oak leaves would be safe. I know they have different leaves than the oak trees up north, cause they are green year round.
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post #2 of 22 Old 06-01-2013, 08:11 PM
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This is something I have not tried. Generally speaking, most blackwater streams are devoid of aquatic plants. These streams occur deep in the rainforest and are shaded by overhanging forest canopy and vegetation in the water is primarily vines and marginal vegetation. One notable exception is the world's largest blackwater river, and the sixth largest tributary of the Amazon--the Rio Negro, whose name in Spanish of course means Black River. As Heiko Bleher has told us, this river is thick with aquatic plants in areas, but of course it receives direct sunlight being so broad.

True blackwater is crystal clear, but the colour is that of strong tea. Light can get through, so you can have plants with no problems.

Using dried leaves is the easiest and least expensive method. Oak leaves are ideal, but these are the true oak that drops its leaves in the autumn. I have one of these trees in my back garden, and I collect hundreds of leaves. I use a few in one of my tanks just for appearance, but my 10g is full of the leaves; I am raising Farlowella vittata fry in this tank, and they have a ready source of food from the biofilm on the leaves. When I siphon out the water at the water change, it is amazing how dark it is in the pail, yet I don't really notice it in the tank. Beech is another tree, and Indian almond. I'm sure there are others, but these are the three I have read about. Green maple was mentioned in one article in TFH. Avoid conifers, and any thick, waxy leaves.

The advantage of blackwater is the tannins; these clearly affect fish somehow, as some species just won't spawn otherwise.

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Byron Hosking, BMus, MA
Vancouver, BC, Canada

The aquarist is one who must learn the ways of the biologist, the chemist, and the veterinarian. [unknown source]

Something we all need to remember: The fish you've acquired was quite happy not being owned by you, minding its own business. If you’re going to take it under your wing then you’re responsible for it. Every aspect of its life is under your control, from water quality and temperature to swimming space. [Nathan Hill in PFK]
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post #3 of 22 Old 06-01-2013, 08:42 PM
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I use Live Oak leaves in my tank, and they work great. I boil mine before hand, so I don't really get tannins, but the boiled water is quite dark by the time I'm done.

Indian Almond Leaves can be bought off of eBay. I've also heard people use Alder Cones, but I'd be careful if you go that route. They're supposed to be very potent.
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post #4 of 22 Old 06-01-2013, 09:52 PM
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Many pet stores sell peat in a pellet form that works well.

I use oak and maple leaves, but I'm pretty sure my driftwood releases more tannins than the leaves. Driftwood is great for blackwater tanks, by the way.

Originally Posted by Christople View Post
^^ genius

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post #5 of 22 Old 06-01-2013, 09:52 PM
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Forgot to mention, when I collect Oak Leaves I get the dead ones that have already fallen and dried.
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post #6 of 22 Old 06-01-2013, 10:23 PM Thread Starter
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My driftwood released a small amount of tannins, but it hasn't in over a year.

I was going to ask about using the peat pellets.. I run a canister filter, would it be wise to use those in the filter?

I honestly don't know where to find safe leaves to use.. and certainly not on a consistent basis. Nor would I have any clue if they were sprayed or not. I live in a townhouse and we have landscapers out here like once or twice a week and they clean up any leaves.

I'm also reading a lot of good reviews on Kent's blackwater product.

Byron, I actually had the Rio Negro in mind when I was thinking of making the water black. We've actually got a blackwater river that is local to where I am, so I know that the water is relatively clear.. I just wasn't sure. I've read a few people saying that blackwater does inhibit the light getting to the plants, but unless it were as dark as coffee, I don't see how that would make much of a difference. I've seen the blackwater river in real life though, and you can see right to the bottom even at a few feet deep, even if the water looks dark.
I just wasn't 100% sure, because most of the plants I had seen were marginal plants . I hadn't looked too much into the deeper areas because there are gators & sharks haha.

I guess I'll look into my options, but I'll probably give this a try.. I'm reading a lot of good things about the effect of tannins on fish. :) As long as it won't kill my plants, I'd like to give it a try.

+ Planted 75 Gallon Amazonian Tank +

Cardinal Tetras -- Rosy Tetras
Ember Tetras -- Silver Hatchetfish
Diptail Pencilfish -- Cories
Bristlenose Pleco
Lyretail Checkerboard Cichlids
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post #7 of 22 Old 06-01-2013, 11:19 PM
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You could put the peat pellets in one of those little baggies they sell for filter media (like carbon and such). Like these...Fish & Aquarium Supplies: Media Bags for Bio-Filter Carbon & Phosban

You could probably make something like those, too.

The thing that makes me nervous about blackwater extracts is that you have to 'dose' them. I could never figure out how to do it safely and consistently, with water changes and such. But that's just me, I'm sure there's a formula to it :)

If you decide to go blackwater you should post a thread on it! I've been wanting to do it for awhile but just haven't gotten around to it. Would be lovely to see someone transition to it!
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post #8 of 22 Old 06-01-2013, 11:32 PM Thread Starter
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On the Kent Bottle it says to add 1tsp per 10gal once a week and/or during a water change. I figured if I use this I'd just use 3tsp.. Since I'm not trying to breed or anything, I'm sure the fish will be fine with less. I'd have to see what sort of changes there may be with the pH.. Barring any extreme pH flux, I think the fish would survive gradual inconsistencies with the intensity of the blackwater... Certainly would want to overdose, but they should be fine if there's an under dose. The product says to use double the amount if breeding or if using in hard water. I have soft water, and I'm not breeding, but there's obviously some wiggle room on the dosing.

I worry about how to 'dose' with the pellets.. Seems harder to control. It's probably cheaper though. I think I will try out some extract or pellets and if I like it I might order something like some almond leaves from online.

I read several people use this in planted discus tanks. Here's hoping it works. :) I will certainly take pics! Possibly a video, I've heard fish are generally more active in blackwater..
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post #9 of 22 Old 06-02-2013, 11:13 AM
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I'm really glad you made this thread! I was thinking about doing a lightly planted blackwater tank, too. I'm aiming for SE asian blackwater, but the principles are still the same. I never knew about Kent's Blackwater extract and that sounds like a much more exact way than just tossing in a bunch of oak leaves. I have an oak tree (unsure of species) whose leaves give a really dark blackwater. My pond gets a brown tint in the fall when they drop and when I used them in my gourami QT tank, the gourami spawned twice.


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post #10 of 22 Old 06-03-2013, 09:56 AM
Don't know how exactly this would apply but I use peat moss under sand in my tanks.

I have found that prevents KH and GH (hardenss) from increasing and neon tetras do seem to do much better then without the peat moss.

I think that kinda sounds like a black water tank only using the peat moss.

With my heavily planted tank with no circualtion, no water changes, and not mechanical filters pH does rise to above 8.0. Yet the fish do fine including those fish where recommended pH values are much lower. My way of thinking is the pH rises because carbon dioxide is low which can hardly be harmful to any fish.

my .02

maintain Fw and marine system with a strong emphasis on balanced, stabilized system that as much as possible are self substaning.

have maintained FW systems for up to 9 years with descendants from original fish and marine aquariums for up to 8 years.

With no water changes, untreated tap water, inexpensive lighting by first starting the tank with live plants (FW) or macro algae( marine)

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