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llamas 09-07-2009 02:43 PM

Help with co2, lighting, and nutrition
 
Hey all,

I have become really interested in keeping plants and tranforming my 55 gallon tank to a heavily planted one. I have a few questions though.

I understand that the three major factors in plant growth is Co2, nutrition, and lighting. Right now I have no fertilizer, regular gravel, single strip regular flourescent lighting (30w total http://www.fishforum.com/images/smilies/rolleyes.gif), and no Co2 system. For each category I have a basic idea of how I will upgrade. I would like some input however to what you all think.

Lighting
In terms of lighting, I have been looking into HOT-5 lighting. I found a product called the Nova extreme 2xT-5 lighting system. recently, a Single lamp reflector version was released. http://www.drsfostersmith.com/produc...0&pcatid=16770. Because of the single lamp reflectors and the added power of the T-5 lights. Do you think this would be enough for most plants? even some grass like plants such as micro-sword?

Nutrition
I decided to go with the PPS-Pro system. Basically this is two types of fertilizers that you form with water and dry ferts. You make a micro-nutrient solution and then a macro-nutrient solution. What is the besty way to handle root feeders? The liquid solution won't go into the gravel will it? I have seen things like root tabs, special substrate, and laterite that you mix with the gravel. Which one do you thik is best?

Co2
I figured that at this point, Co2 would be almost required. Is this true? If anyone could give me any information about Co2 systems or post links, it would be appreciated. I need to learn a lot more about it. Also, any feedback fro systems would be nice.

Thanks for answering these questions. Sorry for having so many...

Byron 09-08-2009 12:41 PM

Your understanding of the trio of plant requirements is bang on; the light (both intensity and duration) must balance the nutrients; CO2 is technically a nutrient, but usually separated out because it may or may not need to be something added.

The first thing you must decide is the type of planted aquarium you want when it's done. Some plants require more light (and corresonding nutrients) while many will thrive with minimal light, no CO2 and basic nutrients (fertilizer). The effect you want will determine which way to go. Plant authorities generally refer to high-tech and low-tech, and which one you chose is determined by the end result you are after.

High-tech involves mega light, CO2, enriched substrate and regular (sometimes daily, as with the Takashi Amano Nature system) liquid fertilization. Low-tech means minimal light, no CO2, no substrate additives (although some may help in certain cases) and liquid fertilization once or twice a week. This latter method is obviously far less expensive to set up and run. If you want an example of what it can look like, check out the photos of my tanks under my Aquariums.

Some of the most light-intensive plants are stem plants and substrate groundcovers like dwarf Hairgrass. As you have mentioned mnicro swords as groundcover, I will continue on the basis that we are going relatively low-tech, since these plants, as you can see in my South American tanks, thrive in such conditions. I have two species of pygmy swords (one in the 115g and another in the 90g), and each week I am pullng out new plants from the runners to keep them as you see it.

Lighting: Your single 30w is insufficient over a 55g tank, agreed. My recommendation would be either a twin-strip regular fluorescent or a single strip T5 HO fluorescent. In either case, tubes should be full spectrum around 6700K. The sun at mid-day is approximately 6500K, and full spectrum relicates this light. The advantage with a regular fluorescent twin-strip fixture is that you can mix tuibes. Over all three of my current tanks (and over the former ones) I have one Life-Glo 40w full spectrum 6700K tube and one that enhances the blue light a bit more. Plants require mostly blue, then red colour light; this combination however makes the aquarium look purplish and in my view garrish, so the green light in full spectrum balances the red and blue and the colours of plants and fish are natural. I have a Lightning Rod 11,000K Ultra Daylight as the second tube over my 115g, slightly more blue, but balanced quite well by the full spectrum of the Life-Glo.

I looked at the linked info you posted; in my view, that is way too much light. Aside from the fact that plants will be thriving under what I've indicated above, there are the fish to consider. Most tropicals come from fairly dark waters, shaded by overhanging or aquatic vegetation, and I can attest as others have often written that these fish do show their best colouration in subdued light and are less stressed [= healthier]. So my recommendation is to provide the minimum for the plants (which are what need it) but no more. There is also the problem of algae when light is beyond what the plants need in balance with the nutrients.

CO2: In low-tech setups this is not necessary. Fish respiration and other biological processes in an aquarium provide what the plants require in balance with the minimal light and other nutrients. I have never used CO2, and have no intntion to do so, as I like the results wthout it, and if it works, simpler is best. You can also have more fish in a planted aquarium; I won't get into plant filtration here.

Substrate: Plain gravel will work [some plant authors claim not, my experiences say different], the smallest grain size is preferable. Sand is another option, but it will compact more easily than gravel so more diligence is necessary. Whether or not you put a layer of nutrient additive under the gravel/sand is up to you; I tried it once, saw no difference between that tank and the two without, so I haven't since wasted the money for additives (they are expensive). I have regular aquarium gravel, darker or natural highlights the plants and fish better (and some fish do definitely show better and are more relaxed over darker substrates as in nature). Echinodorus (swords) are heavy feeders, and I use Nutrafin's Plant-Gro sticks next to the larger swords in my two SA aquaria, and it has made quite a difference.

Nutrients: I haven't used the system you mention but it sounds good and others have had success. The main thing is that it must be balanced, providing all of the necessary macro- and micro-nutrients and in the correct porportion. Dosing too much of any one nutrient sometimes causes a deficiency of another because the plants can't absorb the other nutrient due to the effect of too much of the first, etc. I personally have good growth with Seachem's Flourish Comprehensive Plant Supplement, and previously I used Kent Freshwater Supplement. Once or twice a week is all that's needed, again to balance the light and CO2 for the needs of the specific plants. As mentioned above, root ferts are useful for larger swords. Aquatic plants remove their nutrients from the water in all cases. Some can do so partly through the leaves, most mainly through the roots. The roots in the substrate absorb nutrients from the water, so whether the nutrients are put in the water in liquid form or as tabs doesn't matter that much, except that the tabs are stronger next to the roots for those plants that require more [an enriched substrate works the same, but the sticks are less expensive and can be used where they will do the most good]. The water flows through the substrate (here is where the fine gravel is better than the sand, the compacting issue) and bacteria do their thing; the plant roots produce oxygen for the aerobic bacteria...it is quite a complex cycle down in the substrate of a planted aquarium.

Hope this helps out.

Byron.

llamas 09-08-2009 04:06 PM

Wow. Thank you very much for the information. Some points were brought up that I did not even think about, such as the fact that the tropical fish come from darker waters. I have read that some fish like a little shade, but never really thought that most prefer it that way. I will keep on looking into the different types of lights to use.

If I were to want to try to go to a little higher tech would that cause too much stress to the fish because of the higher lighting? Also, if I were to go higher tech would that mean the need of a Co2 unit? Would you recommend this?

llamas 09-08-2009 04:12 PM

I just looked at your aquarium pics and am STUNNED! The tank looks incredible with very little lighting and no Co2. They are truely spectacular!

Byron 09-08-2009 04:52 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by llamas (Post 240335)
Wow. Thank you very much for the information. Some points were brought up that I did not even think about, such as the fact that the tropical fish come from darker waters. I have read that some fish like a little shade, but never really thought that most prefer it that way. I will keep on looking into the different types of lights to use.

If I were to want to try to go to a little higher tech would that cause too much stress to the fish because of the higher lighting? Also, if I were to go higher tech would that mean the need of a Co2 unit? Would you recommend this?

You're welcome.

Low-tech and high-tech are somewhat relevant terms; a lot of us who consider ourselves "low-tech" probably have aquaria somewhere in between. To be technical, low-tech can mean no filter, no light, no fertilizers; not easy--in fact many aquatic plant authors say this is the most difficult. Most would agree that having CO2 is high-tech. And I am not a proponent of high-tech simply because I do not think CO2 is necessary for the vast majority of planted aquaria. As I mentioned previously, there are a few plants, some of the stem plants in particular and some substrate groundcover like Hairgrass, that require higher light--say 3 (maybe) or 4 watts per gallon--and most agree that with this much light CO2 is at the least helpful [or at the most essential] to balance the light.

To digress a moment, this balance is critical. Plants need light and nutrients and cannot photosynthesize if anything is lacking in the equation. But when the equation is not balanced, say more nutrients than the light available, then algae easily steps in to use it. If CO2 is insufficient but the other nutrients and light are present beyond the CO2, algae readily thrives because it is more capable of gathering carbon from carbonates than plants. But in a successful planted tank where everything is in relative balance, algae is naturally present but within reason. It is only when the balance is offset that algae becomes troublesome.

Back to your question: adding a bit more light, provided the CO2 in the aquarium is sufficient to balance, would be OK. But CO2 only comes from the fish and biological processes working in the tank. Adding more fish will obviously increase the CO2. Using a low-flow/low current filter will also help, since fast flow/current especially with surface disturbance will drive CO2 out of the water and be contrary to what you're wanting. And it depends upon the plants' needs in terms of light.

But you still need to answer that basic question I mentioned in the last post: what sort of tank do you want? If you want an underwater garden with flowering aquatic plants, it is going to have to be high-tech--and quite a different design, since many aquatic plants are actually bog plants and flower during the dry season when they are emersed. On the other hand, if you are aiming for a thriving planted aquarium that is primarily fish-oriented with plants for aesthetic and biilogical (filtration) purposes, there are dozens of lovely plants that will grow in 1-2 watts of light. If you checked out my aquarium photos you will have seen five different tanks, all with 1 watt or less per gallon. Considering the variety of plants in those tanks, there are relatively few more that could be added with more light/CO2. And to go to the expense (continual) of CO2 just to have a couple more plant species...well, that has to be your decision.

You also need to consider the viewing time; the more light, the less time it can be on unless you want an algae soup. I have my lights on for 12 hours a day now; previously I had aquaria with 15 hours of light. All of these have approximately 1 watt of light per gallon, plus diffused daylight. Rarely do I have an algae problem. If I doubled the light, I would not be able to keep them on for such long periods--because I would break that balance again.

To sum up the foregoing, I would aim for 1-2 (max) watts of full spectrum light per gallon. And this is a rough guide...T5 HO light would have to be less to give the same results.

As for the fish, this is not easy to answer, and you will find differing views from aquarists. It is a fact that most of the fish occur in dimly-lit waters, that is not even arguable. What we do not know exactly is what effect there may be from keeping these fish under brighter light, although i believe we can surmise the answer to this question. Would the fish live longer if kept in less light? Will it be less stressed and therefore less likely to contract parasites or disease? We know that some fish will not spawn except in darkness, and the eggs will not hatch in light, and the fry will not survive except in darkness. It should be obvious that these facts clearly indicate light has an important part to play in the fish's life. My personal view is that the aquarist should provide the fish with an environment that is as close to its natural habitat as reasonably possible. There are some areas of the hobby where the detrimental effects of not doing this are very obvious, and other areas still unknown. But the fish have evolved over millions of years and are adapted to specific environments; it makes sense to me that placing those fish in a completely foreign environment is only asking for problems. Cardinal tetras will live for more than 10 years in aquaria; the fact that few aquarists can achieve this may well be because they do not provide what is necessary.

Byron.

P.S. While I was typing this and before I posted, I see you looked at my photos. Well, like I said, I am satisfied with sitting in front of these tanks, so why should I spend more money on CO2 and twice the light? Just to have a couple more plant species? I'd rather buy more fish. B.

llamas 09-08-2009 09:02 PM

Thank you again for all the information. I do realize that it would be best if I decide now what exactly I want out of my tank. I feel like I would, at first, want to start out kind of simple. However, I think that the more I get into the hobby, I would like to advance more and more into the tank. That's one of the things that I love about the hobby. You can always work on something and make it better. I may even get to the point where I want to keep higher grade species such as some stem plants, carpet plants or even red leaf plants. I'm not sure yet how crazy I will go though as I haven't even started.

With light systems it seems like if you ever want more light, you have to get a new system. Is there a way that one can have a multi-light system yet only use one of the bulbs? I am only curious to see if there is such a thing possible. That way, if I do get farther into it, I can start using the second light.

MoneyMitch 09-08-2009 10:05 PM

another great thing about this hobby is the wide variety of DIY pretty much anything in a aquarium including the aquarium can be made inside your garage. to answer your lighting question im sure if you think it through enough and browse a home depot while thinking you can come up with something insanely good for you and at a reasonable price too!

WisFish 09-09-2009 08:36 AM

One thing that's not mentioned much that I feel has an impact on the amount of light is the type of plants you have and the arrangement of them. When I first setup the tank with the new fixture I thought it was really bright. But after about two weeks, the jungle vals take over the top of the tank leaving very little light for the rest of the plants. I have to trim the tops of the vals every two weeks to make sure the plants in the front of the tank get enough light. When my wisteria get to the top of the tank, same effect. Just something to keep in mind when chosing a fixture.

llamas 09-10-2009 02:29 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WisFish (Post 240659)
One thing that's not mentioned much that I feel has an impact on the amount of light is the type of plants you have and the arrangement of them. When I first setup the tank with the new fixture I thought it was really bright. But after about two weeks, the jungle vals take over the top of the tank leaving very little light for the rest of the plants. I have to trim the tops of the vals every two weeks to make sure the plants in the front of the tank get enough light. When my wisteria get to the top of the tank, same effect. Just something to keep in mind when chosing a fixture.

That was something that I realized and was considering as well. If I have some foating plants, it may better to have stronger light.

Byron 09-10-2009 02:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by llamas (Post 241223)
That was something that I realized and was considering as well. If I have some foating plants, it may better to have stronger light.

Not necessarily. If you noticed in my 90g the surface is half covered with plants, and the swords are thriving. I thin the surface plants out each week (they grow very fast) but I keep about half the surface covered in that tank. What I said previously about light holds for what you have indicated you want. Adding more intense light than necessary for the plants (and fish) is only going to cause other problems because it will exceed what the plants require in the light/CO2/nutrient balance and that's when algae becomes a problem. As Karen Randall used to say, what we see as "bright" is not what the plants perceive; there has to be a balance, and light should always be the limiting factor in that balance.

Byron.


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