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Phosphates

Author Topic: Phosphates  (Read 1382 times)

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Offline TopCookie

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Phosphates
« on: April 05, 2018, 12:20:25 PM »
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I know pretty much precisely zero when it comes to the subject of phosphates in an aquarium...  But then I read this posting from another forum: 

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Hi I'm new here so I've only just read this article.  I'm really, really surprised that you don't mention phosphates anywhere in this otherwise excellent article.  Phosphates are the number one cause of algal blooms in the environment and, I believe, the smoking gun behind much of the algae problems in aquaria.  Many people struggling with algae in a tank fixate on killing the algae.  We know this is the wrong way to look at it.  Firstly, it is impossible to eradicate algae, their spores are everywhere.  Secondly, algae will subside all by themselves if you address the root cause which of course, you try to point out with lots of good suggestions.  It is common to blame nitrates and lighting but this is only part of the story.  What you really need to know is why your plants have stopped growing.

Nitrates, lighting, CO2 etc cannot cause an algal bloom without the presence of phosphate.   You can have a tank with ridiculously high nitrate and 10 watts per gallon lighting but if there are no phosphates, nothing will happen because no algae can grow without phosphate.  Conversely, Cyanobacteria can grow in the absence of nitrate because they can use nitrogen gas dissolved in the water.   

Phosphate is naturally present in extremely low amounts in healthy watercourses and plants have consequently become superb scavengers of phosphate.  Add phosphate and plants will at first greedily take it up and grow faster.  But in the fish tank, the levels tend to insidiously rise way beyond the needs of the plants, unless you have no/very few fish or do sufficient water changes with phosphate free water.  Even worse, and apparently much less well known, excess phosphate will eventually stop your plants growing because it interferes with iron uptake.  Your plants will gradually go yellow, especially the new leaves.  At this point, some people looking at the symptoms will suspect a deficiency and perhaps fertilise the tank.  Increasing available iron might help a little but ultimately, it's futile.    Growth will slow and eventually leaves will start dying.  Even more nutrients will be released into the water as they do so. (Note that iron uptake in plants is complex and all sorts of things can interfere with it, not just excess phosphate).

It is when your plants have stopped growing actively, the trouble really starts.  Algae tend not to do well in the presence of healthy plants.  But once the balance tips, opportunistic algae, which seem not to have the same problem with high phosphate, will start to take hold.  You'll start to see them growing on the leaves of your plants.  It is natural to blame the algae for the dying plants but it's actually the other way around.  But address the phosphate problem and as if by a miracle, the algal problem will more than likely go away.  The number one thing to do if algae start to take over is to test your phosphate levels.  The goal is to keep the levels low enough to keep your plants happy.

How much phosphate is too much?  In nature it is often less than 0.01ppm.  The bottom line is if you can detect it with a standard aquarium test kit, there is more than your plants need.  However, the official line is something along the lines of:

0.01 - 0.03 mg/L - the level in uncontaminated lakes

0.025 - 0.1 mg/L - level at which plant growth is stimulated

0.1 mg/L - maximum acceptable to avoid accelerated eutrophication (and arguably the point at which things start going berzerk in aquaria)

> 0.1 mg/L - accelerated growth and consequent problems

Tap water is often already too high in phosphates (mine is) so water changes may well not solve the problem.  I contacted my local water provider to find out the average phosphate levels which weren't published.  They seemed delighted I asked and were only too happy to tell me!    The solution? Personally I use a phosphate adsorber in my external filter canister.  Easy peasy and doesn't add anything to my tank water.   Adding chemicals to your tank water is almost never a good move and usually only good for the people who sell the stuff.

How do I know all this?  Partly it's because I am a biologist and have done my research.  Also it's a case of "been there, done that" in my aquarium which I've been running for 25 years.  I now regard algae as a useful indicator of my tank chemistry, not as a problem.

Guy's name is Omega - so thank you to Omega, if you should happen to read this...  :)


Anyways, this sounded like a potential candidate for what's happening to my poor old Hygrophila Costata stem plants and consequently I ordered myself an API Phosphate test kit...  My readings are 2ppm, possibly a little tad higher (jumps from 2 to 5 on the colour chart - mine looks like a definite 2 but guess it could easily be 2 point odd...?)... 

Yikes Cookie lad, get your panic on dude...!!!   :yikes:

Some Seachem Phosguard has just been ordered and I shall try a small amount in the little surface skimmer, see how that goes for a little while...  If the results are too slow, I'll add a proper layer in the cannister filter... 

Just wondering if any of you ladies & gents have much experience with dealing with phosphates...?

Online Littlefish

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2018, 01:01:18 PM »
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I don't. Right or wrong (probably the latter), it's not something I've ever worried about.
I am interested to hear how you get on with this.

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2018, 01:55:06 PM »
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For sure...  I'll post what happens up on here...  Those Hygrophila Costata have been getting to me and as you know, I was gonna rip them out - hence the search for replacements...  But that's not really addressing the root (excuse the pun, lol) cause, and with a bit of luck, sorting the phosphates could well be and the H.Costata can come back to full health...  :)

Offline Hampalong

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2018, 02:38:39 PM »
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Phosphates are an end product of food metabolism and run at about a tenth of the nitrate level. I've always had low nitrates and therefore low phosphates. Plants and algae need most minerals so I don't think getting rid of phosphates alone will solve an algae problem, or a plant growth problem. Will be interesting to see if it helps though. I've used phosphate removers in the past and seen not much difference.

Imagine planting garden or house plants in just a couple of inches of soil. They wouldn't grow very well. The lushest, most vigorous aquatic plants I've ever seen were grown in 6" of fine gravel with bright lighting and lots of water changes, and regular root tabs. And big Oscars that were fed heavily. That guy never had any algae at all. Kinda goes against modern thinking... and something I intend to try one day (the deep substrate).

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2018, 02:56:27 PM »
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I don't "see" any algae problems on the whole and have a great clean up crew of 12 Amano shrimp, 1 Lemon BN Pleco & then Rabbits snails plus Faunus snails...  Between them, they do a superb job on the whole...  Tank lights also on a timer etc...

It is definitely for the sake of the plants, with the H.Costata in particular, that I am having a go at this phosphate malarkey...  They used to grow so well and have a potentially very nutritious environment etc...  The part of Omega's article that touches on what is happening with the H.Costata is where he says: 

"Phosphate is naturally present in extremely low amounts in healthy watercourses and plants have consequently become superb scavengers of phosphate.  Add phosphate and plants will at first greedily take it up and grow faster.  But in the fish tank, the levels tend to insidiously rise way beyond the needs of the plants, unless you have no/very few fish or do sufficient water changes with phosphate free water.  Even worse, and apparently much less well known, excess phosphate will eventually stop your plants growing because it interferes with iron uptake.  Your plants will gradually go yellow, especially the new leaves.  At this point, some people looking at the symptoms will suspect a deficiency and perhaps fertilise the tank.  Increasing available iron might help a little but ultimately, it's futile.    Growth will slow and eventually leaves will start dying.  Even more nutrients will be released into the water as they do so."

That appears to hit a bull's eye for what is happening in my tank, and then to discover my phosphate levels are a touch too high at 2ppm, this has got to be worth a closer look at...  I'm not expecting miracles of course - there is no magic wand for any part of our chosen hobby - but will be delighted if addressing the phosphate level does improve matters for the plants...  :)


Offline Hampalong

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2018, 03:06:32 PM »
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...presumably why lots of water changes works so well - it removes phosphate (and nitrate and all the other things present) down to the trace levels that are (should be) in tap water. Tapwater contains phosphate as run-off from agriculture, especially in spring, so I would personally remove these things before adding the water to the tank (I use PolyFilter which does the job nicely). Then water changes will remove the phosphates produced by the fish...

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #6 on: April 05, 2018, 03:12:47 PM »
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I actually use Poly Filter in the surface skimmer, as it happens...  :)  Marvelous stuff, for sure...!!!

My phosphate readings this morning are the day after a PWC, funnily enough... 

One thing that could be contributing to elevated phosphate levels though, I do think there's a chance that there is a small degree of over feeding...  Certainly not by much, but as little as I do feed, all the fish do look suitably healthy and are clearly not starving...  The Corys look a tad plump even, little blighters...!!!  In their case though, I think they get considerably extra food in terms of micro-critters...

Offline daveyng

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #7 on: April 05, 2018, 03:19:13 PM »
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I have been using phosphate in my aquarium for about 6 months. I started using a small dose after reading an article on Ferts. The article implied that the amount of Phosphate in the tank should be approximately 10% of total nitrate in ppm. I know that our local water company adds phosphate at a dose of 1 ppm to prevent the leaching of heavy metals from pipes into the tap water. So I gauged how much I would need to add to bring it up to 2 ppm. Nitrate is 20 ppm from my 50/50 tap/ RO mix.
I havenít really seen a significant difference in either plant growth or algae reduction.

Offline Hampalong

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #8 on: April 05, 2018, 03:30:41 PM »
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I have been using phosphate in my aquarium for about 6 months. I started using a small dose after reading an article on Ferts. The article implied that the amount of Phosphate in the tank should be approximately 10% of total nitrate in ppm. I know that our local water company adds phosphate at a dose of 1 ppm to prevent the leaching of heavy metals from pipes into the tap water. So I gauged how much I would need to add to bring it up to 2 ppm. Nitrate is 20 ppm from my 50/50 tap/ RO mix.
I havenít really seen a significant difference in either plant growth or algae reduction.

I don't think much of that article. Plants need a lot of things but they only need them in trace amounts. Any more is an excess. And if I remember correctly (and my experience has reflected this) proteins contain phosphorus and nitrogen in a ratio that produces, after metabolism, waste phosphates and nitrates in the ratio of 1:10 anyway, so they ARE a tenth of the nitrates in your average tank, which is excessive for plants...

I don't believe they need to be added to a tank with fish at all, rather removed. Only the other trace minerals that plants require need to be added, so that everything is in correct proportion.

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #9 on: April 05, 2018, 03:49:56 PM »
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Curiouser and curiouser... 

So, while this topic is active, I've just tested my tap water with the API Phosphate kit...  Low & behold, it is the same as the tank water... 

This is good insomuch as it's not connected to over feeding or such like...  Phew...!!!

Presuming the author of the quoted article in the OP is correct and knows what he's talking about - and I have no reason to doubt him - then I would definitely like to get my level down to a max of 1ppm

Online Helen

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2018, 05:53:44 PM »
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I have experience with combatting excessive phosphate, in the days when I was trying to get my planted tank established. The solution to my problem wasn't to reduce the amount of phosphate in my tank. The following is quite an in depth explanation. This is because I had to do a lot of research (and experimentation) to find the solution. Hopefully, if I can share some of what I found, it'll save time and effort for others. (I am not a biologist, but I am a scientist and can mostly get my head around the chemistry).

All plants, aquatic and terrestrial require 3 macro nutrients: N, K and P in the correct ratios. N is nitrogen, K is potassium and P is phosphate. Plant growth is usually limited by the nutrient/s (micro or macro) that is in least supply. It is also worth bearing in mind that in this context, light and carbon are also considered nutrients.

Phosphate is in fish food (or as a product of metabolism as @Hampalong says, I can't remember which) in quantities greater than that required by the 'golden' ratio. Therefore fishtanks rarely have issues due to lack of phosphate: overfeeding and phosphate are usually the number one reason for algae problems. But they are not the only reason.

My tap water has particularly low nitrate levels (<5ppm), so without supplementing nitrate, I can't get anywhere near the right ratio of phosphate: nitrogen.

Estimative index fertilising is a method that intends to overdose all nutrients, including the one in lowest required quantities. But it also relies on frequent, large water changes to remove the excess of all the other nutrients before they cause other algae issues.

By looking at the type of algae that is a problem, you can identify which nutrient you have excess of and by looking a plant issues, you can start to identify which nutrients are the limiting factors of growth.

I have found this website really useful as it looks at both. (On different pages)
http://www.theplantedtank.co.uk/algae.htm

I hope this helps explain a bit about aquatic plant nutrients and helps you identify the issues particular to your tank.

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #11 on: April 05, 2018, 10:10:33 PM »
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Thanks for the link Helen...  :)

I'll see how I get on with the Seachem PhosGuard and report findings back here... 

I know nothing about EI fertilising but see that it is popular with some folks...  Can't see myself going down that route though tbh, but never say never Frenchie   :D

Offline daveyng

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #12 on: April 05, 2018, 11:21:22 PM »
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It appears there are two schools of thought here. 1) :- Remove phosphate to eliminate algae growth or 2 :- Balance Nitrate and Phosphate levels to eliminate algae growth.
Based on what Iíve read I would imagine that case 2 only applies in hi-tech planted aquaria using EI dosing and frequent water changes (50% per week) to keep the nutrient levels in check.
Does anyone else share this view ? Or have I over simplified this ?
I am going to stop dosing my tank with phosphate at any rate. I now think itís a bad idea.

Online Helen

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #13 on: April 06, 2018, 12:13:30 AM »
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I have used the balancing method both when my tank was relatively high tech (co2 injection) and after I stopped using co2 (it is now so low tech it is closed to the Walstead method!). Clearly the amount of nitrate and other fertilisers differs significantly to get the balance as carbon (actually KH - calcium?) is now the limiting factor. But I've modified my plant selection so that my tank better suits low tech. But I still have water with low nitrates and I still feed my fish, so I still need to balance the nitrate and phosphate. I'm currently in the process of identifying the best balance. Because I don't have the time to do the water changes for EI, it is quite a slow process. But that's fine for me.

The problem with removing phosphate is that it can cause blooms of different algae types that thrive on say high nitrates (which is also bad for the fish).

It is worth remembering that balancing phosphate and nitrate is only going to work in a planted tank (where the plants will use up both) If there are no / few real plants, then you will be better removing both phosphate and nitrate.

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2018, 01:34:59 AM »
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Essentially low tech here too, or what you might call "hybrid" perhaps...?  Substrate set up as Walstad Method for the majority of the tank and quite a few plants really...  More being added as an ongoing thing too...  Basically, I aimed for a tank that would require less work and maintenance when compared with a high tech set up - this is essentially why I will most likely never go down the EI ferts route... 

My aim with the phosphate levels is not to remove them completely per se...  but to get them down to a potentially less problematic level... 

Omega, a biologist and an aquarist of 25 years experience, states these levels in his/her posting: 

0.01 - 0.03 mg/L - the level in uncontaminated lakes

0.025 - 0.1 mg/L - level at which plant growth is stimulated

0.1 mg/L - maximum acceptable to avoid accelerated eutrophication (and arguably the point at which things start going berzerk in aquaria)

> 0.1 mg/L - accelerated growth and consequent problems


Judging by this table, I think the 2ppm (the equivalent of 2.0 mg/L unless I'm mistaken...?) that I have in my tank is considerably too high and by quite a significant margin at that...

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #15 on: April 06, 2018, 01:46:53 AM »
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Here's a couple of interesting articles on the subject of phosphates: 

https://www.thespruce.com/phosphates-in-the-aquarium-1381884 

https://www.algone.com/the-cause-and-effect-of-phosphates-in-the-aquarium

They both say that ideally speaking, phosphate levels should be around 0.05ppm or even less...

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #16 on: April 06, 2018, 03:02:17 PM »
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Quoted from Diana Walstad book: 

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... The phosphate concentration in unpolluted natural waters is indeed very low, between 0.003 and 0.02 mg/l P.  This limits algal growth, since only a few algal species can use less than 0.02 mg/l P. 
However, home aquariums typically have much higher phosphate levels.  My own aquariums contain about 1-5 mg/l P, which is more than sufficient for almost any algal species.  Because of the continuous addition of phosphate via fish food, it is highly unlikely that phosphate deficiency would ever limit algal growth in the typical aquarium"
 

Then in one of the Q&A panels that feature heavily in the book, a guys asks about algae and his set up is very high tech...  He states his phosphate level as being 0.15 mg/l...  Diana, in answering him, comments: 

Quote
"Although your phosphate levels are indeed very low (lower than for most aquariums), they are quite sufficient for many algae.  As you have seen, trying to reduce P levels in the aquarium to levels that will eliminate algal growth is almost impossible."


The question, or questions, around the whole phosphate business are intriguing to say the least, and absolute clarity on the subject is elusive...  But anyways, if anybody is following this thread, then you may find these excerpts from Diana Walstad's "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium" interesting and informative...

As for me, I still haven't got a Scooby...!!!   :rotfl:

The Seachem PhosGuard did arrive this morning and a layer added to my surface skimmer filter...  Will be interesting to see if this does make any measurable difference or not, and I will certainly report back here whichever way it goes...  :)

Online Helen

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #17 on: April 06, 2018, 04:19:30 PM »
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What are your nitrate levels?

My phosphate test kit suggests keeping the phosphate levels below 1mg/l. It also says that "a natural solution to control phosphate levels is to cultivate live plants".

As hinted at in the above extract from Diane Walstead's book, different species of algae and plant need different ratios of N, P and K for optimum growth. The aim in the fish tank is to get the levels to the ratio preferred by plant species instead of algae species. At the back of my mind is N:P is 15:1, but I can't find any of the references I got that from. (I had extensive conversations with a member of this forum called Natalia, but I think that they were nearly all on the predecessor of this forum)

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #18 on: April 06, 2018, 04:42:32 PM »
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20ppm, if that...  With all the plants in there, water parameters have never even once been an issue - to the point that I find it bizarre that so many new fishkeepers struggle with cycling...  I was really lucky I think, and had no issues at all...

Recent pic of tank: 



That is before the Bucephalandra were all added, although they're too slow growing to have any real impact of course...  Got a bunch of additional plants in a quarantine tub as we speak, so the plantings are continuing...  I may yet also replace the sorry looking H.Costata stems at the back/middle as they really are looking unhappy and of course this is what fired me up on the whole phosphate thing...  The fish seem to love those tall stems though, which is why I really hope that a phosphate reduction - if it is even possible at all - may help...?

Having said all that Helen, and after reading as much as I can about this curious subject, I'm starting to think that the likelihood of seeing a phosphate reduction is very low...  There are just too many sources of phosphate, especially as my tap water level is high...  It's gonna be like fighting a never ending losing battle, I suspect... 

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #19 on: April 06, 2018, 04:51:10 PM »
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A more recent pic...  You can see that I have plenty of growth going on and have to trim the big A.Sword and Sessiflora quite regularly, plus remove bits of A.Frogbit regularly too...  You can also see that the Nymphoides hydrophylla 'Taiwan' grows well too...  :)


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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #20 on: April 06, 2018, 08:04:57 PM »
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So do you actually have an algae problem because of the phosphate? Your tank looks lovely and lush. The photos don't show any algae (but I appreciate that our tanks can look different in photos)

If you've got good growth and no algae problems, I wouldn't worry about the phosphate level. It could be a sign that you are feeding a bit too much, so reducing how much you feed might eventually have an effect on the phosphate level (along with your routine maintenance)

You could keep going and work out the rate limiting factor, but it is very easy to get in all sorts of knots trying to figure out these things.

Offline fcmf

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #21 on: April 06, 2018, 08:38:17 PM »
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That tank is so gorgeous.  8) 

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #22 on: April 06, 2018, 11:50:38 PM »
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You guys always have kind words to say about my tank - thank you very much indeed, that really is hugely appreciated...   :)

Helen...  no algae problems to speak of, my interest in this chemistry/biology side of things is aimed squarely at the plants with the Hygrophila Costata in particular... 

I did have algae in the first couple of weeks with the tank, but I was at the time leaving lights on for about 12 hours a day and over feeding the fish etc...  Two big changes quickly sorted the algae out, the first being to get familiar with and properly set up the lighting timer and of course reduce the photoperiod drastically (7.5 hours now) and the second thing was getting a clean up crew sorted...

The CUC began with 6 Amano shrimp, which I very swiftly fell in love with, lol, consequently adding a further six a week or so later...  Then came a juvenile Lemon Bristlenose Pleco, and finally came the first Rabbit snail, which was also followed by more Rabbit snails and a couple of Cappuccino Faunus snails...  This little crew could clean up The Lake District, I swear, lolol...   :rotfl:

Here are a couple of rare pics of my baby Lemon BN Plec... 



Online Helen

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #23 on: April 07, 2018, 01:48:04 AM »
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Lovely little BN Plec. Is it old enough yet to determine if it is male or female? I ask that though I still wonder whether my BN Plec is male. He has nose bristles, but they're not terribly impressive and don't seem to have grown for a few years.

Ok, so the issue may be less the phosphates and more plant health. I have a few suggestions that may or may not work in your tank. Apologies if I'm repeating anything that you've already found through your own research.

You said that you've reduced your lighting period down to 7.5 hours. Is that all in one chunk? Do you know about lighting siestas? The theory behind it is to do with gaseous exchange. In short, when plants produce oxygen it doesn't immediately disburse. Therefore the water surrounding the leaves becomes saturated with oxygen and depleted of CO2. Because the plants then use that oxygen and produce co2 when the lights are out, or at the very least the process slows down enough for the oxygen to dissipate in the water, it is considered an optimum photoperiod for aquatic plants. Like everything, this depends on the plant, but is usually in the region of about 4 hours. In tropical rivers, where a lot of fish tank plants originate, there are also a lot of overhanging trees, so when the sun is at it's peak, the aquatic plants are actually shaded. A lighting siesta aims to mimic this - it's not dark, but there's no direct light. I have found that a siesta works really well for the plants in my tank. (It also means that the lights being on coincides with me being at home more, as the siesta is when I'm at work!)

Another question is surrounding water hardness. I have soft tap water, and I initially struggled to establish many plants (and my fish -danios were suffering). About the only plants that thrived were my crypts. I found out that both fast swimming fish and fast growing stem plants have high calcium requirements. I can never remember whether it is GH or KH, but calcium is one of the chemicals that is measured to give a hardness reading. So I no longer have fast growing stem plants. But I have also dosed with calcium (as calcium nitrate because I also have really low nitrates). It is one of the additives that I am currently checking out in my new aquascape. I have previously had a hygrophilia (though not Costata) in my tank, but it is one of the plants I struggled with because it stripped my water of calcium. Because the costata looks even more like a stem plant than the one I had, my guess is that this is quite a likely possibility.

The final thought I have is to look at where all your plants originate from, especially the ones that are closest to the hygrophilia. There is a theory that plants can produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants nearby. There is less known about the science of this than the other two suggestions, so it is a lot harder to work out if it is the case. My guess would be that plants that originate from different continents might be less compatible, but the opposite could also be true. I do know that crypts and vallisneria are not meant to mix well. I hoped that this would mean they would keep to their own ends of my tank. But my most onerous aquascaping maintenance task is pulling out the plantlets of both species from the others' patches.

I've not talked about root tabs etc because I have a vague feeling that I've read you mention that you use them. Though it's not impossible that I've read that in someone else's posts.

Hope this gives you some more ideas, and research topics!

Offline Sue

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #24 on: April 07, 2018, 09:40:36 AM »
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Calcium is GH  ;)



GH = divalent metal ions; in natural water sources this is mainly calcium with some magnesium and trace amounts of other divalent metals.
KH = chemicals that buffer water against pH changes; it is virtually all carbonate and bicarbonate in natural water sources.

(Note - metals like sodium and potassium are monovalent and are not measured in GH; and metals like aluminium are trivalent and are not included either)

Online Helen

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #25 on: April 07, 2018, 10:00:42 AM »
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 :vcross: Grr, I thought it was the calcium that was buffering in my tank! I'll have to have another look at what is going on. So if I need to increase my Kh (buffering) do I do that by adding carbon?

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #26 on: April 07, 2018, 10:33:59 AM »
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Tricky judging the colour shift with GH, but my results appear to be: 

GH:  Tap - 8.8    Tank - 7.0 
KH:  Tap - 6.0    Tank - 5.0

Dunno why the drop in the tank - possibly because of the two large chunks of bogwood...?

PH:  Slap bang in between the two ranges of the API test kit, so around 7.5


The Lemon BN Plec I've had for two months and was small/young when I got her...  I tend to assume she's a lass because of the lack of bristles - which would please me actually, if she is a girl...  My best guess is that she's still a bit young to be sure and bristles could start appearing any time over the next couple of months, or not...?

Lighting in the tank was initially reduced to six hours, a figure far more appropriate for a new tank, I believe...  Has since been built back up to 7.5 hours in steps...  Tank location is deep in a corner of the living room, which is more or less west facing and does get some daylight but it's not generally strong - however, there is a shortish period when sunlight can just reach the tank and so I have improvised a posh cardboard, lol, piece that gets popped on the tank end when the currant bun starts reaching the tank (only on days when there is no cloud cover - which is quite rare at the mo...!!!)...

I have heard about the siesta thing with lighting but haven't tried it so far...  The built in timer on the tank lights only gives you the one opportunity for on/off per day and I'm not sure I trust myself enough to be consistent with manually adding a second...  At this point, I favour the consistency of photoperiod more - but that could change...

I haven't tried root tabs and suspect they're not that necessary given the John Innes #3 layer beneath the gravel and addition of liquid ferts...  I'm still in the process of finding the right balance with the ferts, having tried TNC Lite and TNC Complete...  Started out with the Complete but switched to Lite on the grounds of growing fish numbers...  Then once I started to notice the H.Costata was looking undernourished, I switched back to the Complete...  With the advent of this whole phosphate malarkey, my plan is to now switch back to the TNC Lite as it does not contain additional nitrates and phosphates...  The next stage will be to try and learn how much to dose - so far, I have been significantly under dosing and this has worked well for all the plants except the H.Costata...  Logic behind under dosing being that the tank is well stocked plus there is the super rich substrate beneath the gravel - most of my plants are root feeders btw, which has been a concious decision based on the substrate set up, itself based on Diana Walstad's writings...  Bottom line here Helen is that I'm very much at the beginning of the learning curve, generally speaking of course but especially with regards to the use of fertilisers...  I have always assumed there would be no need for root tabs and that the high CEC factor of the substrate would mean that liquid ferts should be sufficient, along with the general organic detritus in the tank etc... 

A lot of assumptions there, when it comes to fertilising, but also a fair bit of my own studying of available material etc...  Could it be that it is worth adding root tabs just around the H.Costata...?  When they were new and healthy (if you look in the Lemon BN pics - you can see how healthy the Costata was at first), the H.Costata grew like mad, got tall fast...!!!  I kinda don't want them growing any faster, would just prefer them to be healthier again...  Damned tricky this aquatic gardening lark, eh...   :D

In terms of chosen plants and their origins, I have to confess that I have paid no attention to those details and thus cannot answer for that aspect as yet...  I probably will look into that, particularly the continental thing...  I can easily accept that there may well be such a thing as a lack of harmony between certain plants in certain situations, that could be a question of entirely natural balance, or lack of, etc... 

Offline fcmf

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #27 on: April 07, 2018, 10:46:10 AM »
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:vcross: Grr, I thought it was the calcium that was buffering in my tank! I'll have to have another look at what is going on. So if I need to increase my Kh (buffering) do I do that by adding carbon?
To raise KH from its 'baseline'/tap water level of 1, I use pieces of limestone/Tufa rock. Others use coral sand in a bag in the filter - Skittler, from recollection. Other alternatives, although they do more than just raise KH, include JBL AquaDur and Tropic Marin Re-mineral Topic. Hope that's helpful. :)

Edited to add: yes, it's Skittler - https://forums.thinkfish.co.uk/fishtank-filtration-and-cycling/coral/msg38213/#msg38213

Online Helen

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #28 on: April 07, 2018, 11:01:06 AM »
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I would be inclined to agree with you re root tabs. There was something at the back of my mind telling me you probably didn't need them. And as you have a Diane Walstead type planted base, I would suggest that you don't need to consider root tabs for a few years (depending on how much you follow her method and leave plant detritus in the tank)

What units are you measuring hardness in? I would suggest that the drop in hardness is because something in your tank (plants?!) is using up the nutrients that hardness measures. This could be calcium or it could be carbon. The soil substrate would have had plenty of these initially, but the fast growing stem plants (hygrophilia Costata) could have used the excess up, so that there now isn't enough to support its growth.

Of the two, the easiest one to try is carbon, with one of the liquid carbon supplements. As you're already using TNC, I think the next thing that I would try would be the TNC lite with the TNC carbon and see if that improves the hygrophilia.

It can be a lengthy process working out the right balance for a planted tank and it continues to evolve and change with plant growth, fish stock changes and substrate development. But you sound a bit like me, in that you're clearly doing lots of research and seem to enjoy the chemistry / science side of fishkeeping. So taking time to work out the details of the right balance for your tank will keep you occupied and might delay the onset of MTS. I can't stop myself thinking about tinkering with my tank, I just don't have the time to actually do much of it these days, so I've averted MTS for the mean time. (Though in another 8 years, I might be teaching my mini mes and succumb to MTS that way!)

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #29 on: April 07, 2018, 11:09:41 AM »
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My water supplier's website uses German degrees and gives 8.77 but I have the API GH/KH test kit...  The KH is easy to see the colour change, but I struggle with the GH colour change (I am actually colour blind but do still usually see changes in colour - just can't always tell from what to what, lol)...

In the end, I took samples of both tap water and tank water to my LFS and got them to test them for me, but to be honest, they seemed to struggle with the colour shift with the GH test too...!!!  Ended up with about three of the staff all watching closely and discussing it in detail to arrive at a common agreement  :rotfl:

With that in mind, I think it would be fair to say that my figures, and probably most people's I'd bet, are just an approximate guideline...  :)


I do have and did try the TNC Carbon...  Plants went on a massive growing spurt...!!!  Problem was that my Amano shrimp in particular went all soporific and into hiding...  It really freaked me out and I swore never to put more carbon in there...!!!  Plus I also tend to view the addition of carbon as another move away from the desired low tech priciples, and on top of that I also believe that inconsistency with carbon levels can lead to problems - once again, I'm not sure that I'd trust myself (or even want to) to dose with measured liquid carbon daily...

I am, rightly or wrongly, of the belief that we shouldn't "need" to dose with carbon, unless of course the desired goal is super fast plant growth and/or the desire for tricky plant species etc...

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #30 on: April 07, 2018, 11:30:08 AM »
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It's not carbon you need to add to raise KH - either as CO2 gas or liquid carbon - it's carbonate or bicarbonate. Some people add bicarbonate of soda (as used in cooking) but I don't like to use that as it adds sodium to the tank and there are few sources of fresh water that have much sodium (Rift Lakes excepted) so fish have not evolved to cope with it. It also increases TDS.

As fcmf says, calcium carbonate is the usual way to add buffering, and that includes limestone rocks, shells, coral etc. The mineral aragonite (rocks or sand) is also calcium carbonate. These will obviously also add calcium, therefore increase GH as well, and it will also increase pH slightly. Calcium carbonate is officially insoluble in water but it will dissolve very slowly - more so at pH under 7.
Dolomite, or dolomite sand, is better than limestone/coral/shells/aragonite, if you can find any. Dolomite is calcium magnesium carbonate not just calcium carbonate.

Offline Sue

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #31 on: April 07, 2018, 11:37:56 AM »
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Liquid carbon is usually glutarahdehyde which is also used as an industrial steriliser. Shrimps are not happy with it and some plants can be affected as well. If it must be used with shrimps, it is much safe to user a dose rate lower than the bottle says.
https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/glutaraldehyde/default.html

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #32 on: April 07, 2018, 11:50:22 AM »
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Blimey...!!! 

That explains a lot, thanks for that information Sue...  Just checked and yes, TNC Carbon is 2% Gluteraldahyde...

I nearly had pasteurised prawns...!!!   :yikes:


Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #33 on: April 07, 2018, 12:26:50 PM »
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It can be a lengthy process working out the right balance for a planted tank and it continues to evolve and change with plant growth, fish stock changes and substrate development. But you sound a bit like me, in that you're clearly doing lots of research and seem to enjoy the chemistry / science side of fishkeeping. So taking time to work out the details of the right balance for your tank will keep you occupied and might delay the onset of MTS. I can't stop myself thinking about tinkering with my tank, I just don't have the time to actually do much of it these days, so I've averted MTS for the mean time. (Though in another 8 years, I might be teaching my mini mes and succumb to MTS that way!)

For sure Helen...  While not formally educated myself, I am the son of two teachers and they long ago encouraged me to be inquisitive about stuff in general...  I do like to understand things, then I find them easier to remember - never was one for having the ability to simply remember facts and figures, unless they make sense to me...  So, yes, definitely...  an understanding of things is something I feel contributes greatly to the enjoyment we get from them...  :)

Online Helen

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #34 on: April 07, 2018, 08:20:29 PM »
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Having said that algae isn't often due to a lack of phosphate, I've just looked up the reason for green spot algae (which I've had a recent burst of) only to find the following:

"Cause   With Estimative Index low phosphate levels often bring on a GSA outbreak" :o

I guess I'm not over feeding the fish then.

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #35 on: April 08, 2018, 12:00:21 AM »
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It's really quite a hard thing to be able to refrain from over feeding them, eh... 

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #36 on: April 08, 2018, 10:52:46 PM »
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Will do a phosphate levels test soon, now that the initial few days with PhosGuard are well on...  Only used a small'ish amount in the skimmer there, but fingers crossed it may have had a little impact... 

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #37 on: April 10, 2018, 10:32:21 PM »
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Did a phosphate level check yesterday and looks to be still around that 2ppm mark, although possibly on the slightly under whereas it had looked slightly over...  That could be down to test consistency though and there is certainly no big swing yet... 

That being said, the first attempt at putting Phosguard in the skimmer was a bit of a not very good thing...  Earlier this evening, I replaced the filter pad in the skimmer, popped a load of Phosguard on top and then added a second piece of filter pad on top to hold it all in place so that it will remain in the flow path a bit better... 

Anyways, I have no artistic or creative talents and this isn't exactly neat but it is a LOT better than the first attempt which was simply to place the Phosguard on top of the single filter pad, only for the water flow to push it to one side and create a perfectly round "hole" through the stuff...!!!  This is what it looks like now: 

 

Hopefully, the upper filter pad will hold the media in place and there will be a far greater contact/flow area between the water and the media now...  Results to follow in a few more days...  :)

Offline TopCookie

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Re: Phosphates
« Reply #38 on: April 16, 2018, 12:11:05 PM »
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So, phosphate levels tested this morning...  Down to 1ppm, possibly a little higher - but much nearer the 1ppm colour chart bar than the 2ppm bar...  Also re-tested tap water for confirmation and hitting the 2ppm bar distinctly...  From this, I can deduce that the Seachem Phosguard is definitely working, albeit at a gentle or slow pace... 

At this rate, I may decided to get a media bag and put some Phosguard in the main filter...  Dunno for sure yet, but that's certainly a distinct possibility... 

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