Starting a planted tank -- inadequate lighting?
I'm new to the aquarium scene and I'm starting to explore my options as to what direction to go with a tank and would appreciate any advice. It's a 46 gallon freshwater tank and I've got about two inches of gravel substrate in there. I'm interested in the idea of an Amazon biotope set-up, but not necessary worried about following that too strictly. I've seen a lot of gorgeous tanks on here and elsewhere in that style that I'd like to emulate: bogwood and slightly tinted water, plenty of plants, and maybe 4ish species of South American fish.
The question that brought me to this post is this: is my lighting just plain inadequate? I have two t5 21 watt bulbs, not 'HO', one of which is a 6700K and the other is the standard 'colormax.' I've seen a lot of different stuff about watts per gallon etc, which I understand is an unreliable measure by itself. But I do seem to have weak lighting compared to most plant buffs. And it's a relatively tall tank at 18 inches. Does this mean that that I absolutely need more/better/different lighting? Or will I just have a relatively slower growth situation (not necessarily a bad thing) with some limitations on what I can grow in there? The two E. bleheri I put in there a few days ago (along with a root tab iron supplement) aren't dead yet so I'm thinking optimistically...
weak lighting compared to high tech maybe, but for a low tech, natural set-up what you have is plenty, alot of plants will manage with just one of those bulbs
most swords, Brazilian pennywort, and maybe even some other easier stem plants should be fine
I think what you have is perfect. Put the light on a timer for about 7 to 8 hours a day max. Pick up some Seachem Flourish and dose about once a week and grow most anything you like. You might need some surface plants actually to help cut some of the light, Pennywort is a nice easy one but I have feel in love with Riccia. Oh and do a weekly 40 to 50% water change. I'm sure the experts here will help you with more details esp Byron who is very good with the low tech method.
Amazon swords when given years can outgrow many tanks, luckily it does take a long time.
Not all of these plants will be Amazon but they are all easy plants. Ludwigia is pretty easy and usually gets a bit of red if given good light. Rotala is nice and has small leaves that can get pretty bushy, it can also get pinkish again if given good light. Cabomba can be easy, but the purple type or other colored plants may need more light. Anacharis will GTO in anything and can even be left floating. There are many others that vary as well, dwarf sag, Anubias, an java fern are easy as well. Anubias and java fern should be tied to driftwood or a rock though.
Your tank lighting is fine for lowtech. You can probably have your lights on for 10 hours, but slowly going up until you find the sweet spot is best, if you go to rapidly your plants may not adjust to it or there might not be enough nutrients and grow algae (My case).
First thing, Drew, is welcome to Tropical Fish Keeping forum. And to the wonderful world of planted aquaria.:-D
I agree with what prior members have posted. The benefit of the fixture you now have, a T5, is that it will take HO tubes. I think you have sufficient light with what you have for what you are intending, but if at some point you did decide to try a few more demanding plants, you have the ability to change a tube to HO. But I wouldn't at this stage.
One still reads knowledgeable authors suggesting plants won't grow under less than 2-3 watts of light. One can only assume they are assuming CO2 and high nutrient dosing is part of the package. Enough of us have around 1 watt per gallon or less of T8 light with thriving plants to counter this nonsense.
You will need nutrients though, esp for the swords; Echinodorus are heavy feeders. Are you using any fertilizers now?
Amazonian setups are my passion. Have a look at my 115g, 70g and 33g tank photos under the "Aquariums" tab below my name on the left. Everything, fish and plants, in the 70g and 115g is Amazonian, and the 33g is very Amazonian in style even with some fish and one plant from SE Asia.
Hey thanks for the responses everybody, this is quite a welcoming and helpful forum!
All the different things to think about in starting a tank properly have been a bit overwhelming, and sometimes it's hard to figure out what's important with SO many opinions out there. It's refreshing to hear people talk about options rather than deal in absolutes.
Thanks for the tip about hours of lighting; I ordered a timer so I can let the electronics do the thinking on that one.
Byron: Cool, good to know that my lights are worth using, but also a good point that I have the option to just switch the bulbs out later if I want to go in a different direction. I have seen your tank photos, and they're pretty inspiring. I'd be happy to come up with something half as impressive. I did put an API root tab in the gravel between the two swords I've got in there now, I'm not sure how you guys feel about that versus other products (BradSD recommends seachem flourish a few posts up.)
I'm happy to try new options as I progress (substrate, lighting, CO2, etc) but I'm glad to know I'm at an okay starting point to give it a go without making the situation more complicated just yet.
Okay well anyway thanks for the warm welcome, I'm sure be back with more frazzled confusion soon (and I'll try to get what I can out of the archives before bugging you with too many already-answered qurestions!)
Its a balance issue more then anything. Balance between lighting (duration and instensity) and nutrients. Plants need 17 (I think is the number) nutrients if one is missing or not enough they will stop photosynthesizing. This is where algae will start to come in. If the lights are on too long and the plants stop photosynthesizing algae can and does take over. The trick is finding that "sweet" spot where this doesn't happen. Every tank is going to have some algae. The key is keeping it under control and not letting it take over. Depending on the lights most people have their lights on about 8 hours but this can vary. Really not set rules apply when it comes to how long lights are on. Its just a matterof what works in your setup.
If you have heavy-feeding larger substrate-rooted plants, such as Echinodorus (swords), Aponogeton, Tiger Lotus, etc, then substrate tabs in addition to the liquid can be beneficial. I have maintained the named plants in tanks with just liquid and in tanks with both ferts; growth is usually better with the tabs as well, because it puts more nutrients closer.
The API tabs have caused problems for other members, and most of us suggest the Seachem Flourish tabs to go with their Flourish Comprehensive Supplement (liquid). Brightwell Aquatics' Florin line is also good. With either, you use very little of the liquid. [Be careful not to disturb the API tab, it can make quite a mess if you do. Seachem's tabs do not do this, in my experience.]
What I usually do when setting up a planted tank is to have the lights on according to my preference, and then monitor plant response and algae. Some algae is normal, there is no such thing as a planted tank that is healthy and free of algae. But we aim to keep algae off the plant leaves as much as possible. If I find algae becoming a nuisance, i cut back the light by an hour (having already determined minimum intensity and spectrum for what i intend). After a couple weeks, this will either have worked or not, and if not, reduce another hour. Until the algae no longer increases. Plants can manage with as little as 6 hours of good light per 24-hour period, so you can be anywhere from this on up.
Because every tank is biologically different--due to source water, fish species, plant species, ambient light conditions, tank lighting (intensity and spectrum), fish foods, natural decor like wood & leaves, water additives and fertilizers--there is no hard and fast rule about light duration.
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