Troubleshooting my 20 Gallon High
So my 20 gallon planted tank has been set up for around a year now. For the first few months or so, plant growth was minimal but noticeable (mostly the moneywort). I had significant cuts of water sprite and micro sword that never grew but slowly melted away. I have a few other species that did ok but recently have been suffering.
As of about 4-5 months ago I started having bad algae problems. Many different varieties over time and as of today, the algae is completely suffocating my existing plants reducing them to nearly nothing.
I understand that the algae took off because some nutrient required for plant growth was insufficient, plants didn't utilize available resources and the algae opportunistically flourished. That or my water changes have been too infrequent. Whatever it be, I have been using the same fluorite substrate since I started the tank. I'm thinking that the plants exhausted the iron in the gravel and that is a cause of the stifled plant growth and algae bloom. The algae is so thick on the leaves and stems that it isn't reasonable any longer to remove it by hand. Not to mention the afflicted plants have become too brittle to withstand much cleaning.
My plan moving forward is to break the tank down and restart by throwing down an inch of soil and two inches of a fine gravel or sand. Maybe after time I'll place some root tabs but in the mean time I am considering going with a full blown pressurized CO2 system. I am curious if people think the CO2 is necessary with a 20 gallon. I previously tried Flourish Excel with no noticeable changes (I was however being conservative with the doses for fear of harming my fish) but am now looking for something to really stimulate plant growth.
It is worth mentioning that I am using a single aquarium T5 bulb over a 20 gallon high. I can't exactly remember the details but I think my lighting is insufficient, especially if I add CO2.
I apologize for the length of this post but if anyone has any suggestions or possible causes for my aquarium failure I would love to hear them. My main objective is to set up a thriving, sustainable system, with healthy plants and fish. I have tried to be a proponent of the low-tech set-up but it just does not seem to be working for me with my patience and time I am able to dedicate to the tank. Thank you!
I don't bother with co2, but i guess it couldn't hurt. maybe just an air pump would do the trick? Sounds to me likewhat you need is a good algae eter like amano shrimp or otocinclus. In my tank, I had a bunch of plants that looked pretty sad. I couldn't see any algae, but the plants were browning. I bought some otos and shrimp, and the plants perked up really fast.I think there's more algae than we realize in most tanks and it suffocates the plants.
It's worth a try!
If you are set on going with soil... I can't comment other than to say you probably don't need it.
If you can figure out a balance between nutrients, light and water parameters you might do better than to overly complicate the setup.
I use LEDs, pretty low light but they are working for 12 species of plants so far (maybe 11, jury is out on the java fern, although it is staying green and solid, it is doing NOTHING), I know I am only a month in but everything is showing nice new growth. I don't know about other lighting. Check my aquarium in my profile for all the plants and other details.
Oh, I run 14 hours of light... It should be less but we like the tank lit in the evening and I turn it on to feed in the morning... the time is the time. I have seen no sign of algae, I wouldn't mind SOME algae but I won't try to grow it. I have three kinds of snails, so maybe they keep it clean and I can't tell, they've been in since the start and have cleared up a fungal issue for me already.
What is your water hardness KH and GH?
If it is very soft, less than 5dH perhaps you need to add something there. Plants like a higher KH from what I understand and, seeing as mine starts at 21dKH from the tap and my KH and GH drop about 25% in a week, they must be drawing something out of all that hardness, and they certainly are taking off. Stems are growing near 1" a day.
Don't mind that I talk about my stuff, I like to put suggestions into some context rather than just saying "do this and do that and maybe try something else" with no reference at all. It's easy to tell someone what THEY should be doing.
So I have had Otocinclus cats in the past. The three of them survived for about three months and then over the course of the fourth month died off one by one whilst my other fish did fine. I have been unable to ascertain what led to their deaths. It was definitely not a lack of algae or pestering by my other fish. They were introduced a few months are the initial set-up.
On that note, I am hesitant to buy any more. It's a nasty business seeing their sunken carcasses decomposing on the bottom of the tank. I would however be interested in suggestions on snails or other fish that might somewhat resolve the issue. Though looking at my tank, it seems beyond recovery. When I was doing a water change a couple of days ago, I was having trouble vacuuming the substrate as a layer of algae had covered the fluorite in many areas. On top of this, the plants have become so brittle cleaning them by hand only further damages them.
Addressing the soil thing, I am definitely not set on it. I would rather avoid it even but I know it is a good long term option.
JDM, your tank looks great and while my tank wasn't ever that heavily planted, it did ok for the first few months. I have extremely hard water around 25 dGH and slightly lower KH. I have resolved to start bringing home RO water from work and doing half tap, half RO water changes. I'm curious to find out what is allowing the rapid growth you're talking about and how sustainable it is. My money wort grew well at first though too and as stated, has recently degraded with everything else.
As you mentioned, to overly complicate my set-up may only lead to further problems but I would really like to establish a tank with serious plant growth. To me, the only thing standing between that and my current failure is a financial barrier. I need a stronger light and/or CO2 or else I heavily plant from the start on a part soil substrate.
If they don't happen to like your algae (it could happen) the snails are still good to have in there. At maybe $3 a piece, not a bad cleaning crew and less temperamental than fish, particularly algae eaters that can be picky. They also do well in hard water, good for their shells.
Your water is too hard for oto's. I created a hardwater fish list and the top catfish is the Emerald Catfish (specifically the Emerald Brochis Splendens, not the similar cory version) that is good up to 30dGH. It also fits a higher temperature tank, up to 82F, oto's are only good to 79F so it reduces your temperature range slightly if you have other tropicals. What are your fish now?
Dwarf Hygrophila is my really fast grower. I've cut and replanted some of them twice in a month and my tank is 20" tall... I will have to cut again this weekend. High KH and decent fish load, they seem to thrive on ammonia overloading as right now they are growing faster since putting nine more fish in the tank. I havent' measured the rates to compare, wish I had now, I am curious exactly what they respond to the most but I know my ammonia levles are riding slightly "non-zero" mid day.
Stems don't get their nutrients from the substrate, they just use their roots to hold them down. I am experimenting with Seachem tabs for my swords and valls, the valls' area overlaps some of my hygrophila so I will see if that part of the bunch grows any better with substrate supplementation.
I don't know about the light, as I said, but if I can do this on 1Watt per bulb LEDs (8 watts total) then I don't think it is light you need. Just be sure that the bulbs are in the 6500K range and fresher than 12 months old. If you stick with that, then CO2 is a waste of time and money as you are not getting into a high energy system. I add some flourish, hit and miss once per week, and when I change water I don't go heavy on the vacuuming, just pick up some of the more obvious crap and take out leaves that don't settle to the bottom.
I'll know better in a few weeks or months how well it will do long term, but swords have almost replaced all of their browned "store" leaves with nice fresh green leaves... much faster than I thought they would.
Long and short is that I am not really "doing" alot for the plants, more just observing their reaction based on what I might consider "regular" tank setup and maintenance.
Just adding to JDMs comments. I read you have a t5 bulb over a 20 gallon. How old is the bulb? I can only assume that you are getting low to medium light levels. What is your lighting schedule? How many hours a day? What is your WC routine?. Excess light and nutrients might be compounding the algae problem. How much and how often? As cleaning the leaves and doing the change will remove some of the loose algae. What fertiliser do you use? If it is seachem excel then you are adding liquid carbon (CO2) supplement. Try using seachem flourish comprehensive as it has all the micro nutrients that plants need. I add it 24 hrs after the water change.
The only other thing is the plants may need certain light levels. Just confirm their requirement before purchase.
That's all I've got as I have had some wins and losses. I wouldn't break down the tank, just give it a good clean with some major waterchanges and try again.
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If algae is a problem, there is likely too much, not too little, light. But we need to know the nutrient state too, and the species of plants. Also, what type of algae? In one place you mention on the Flourite, which would suggest cyanobacteria, quite a different issue.
Flourite is in my view not worth the money. And I say this after today tearing down my 70g and removing the Flourite that has been in this tank for just under two years now--with no good plant growth compared to my sand tanks. You still must add liquid fertilizer, so let us know if that was/is being done, which product, and how often.
CO2 is not going to improve anything if the balance isn't there. And while soil is "popular" with many, it has issues that might make things worse still. I believe that one is best to have a healthy planted tank with thriving plants, starting on the natural side, and then if that is successful but a different result is wanted, consider options.
We can go further when the other data is available.
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