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  1. Beginners plant tank questions
    by (Keith Rogers) (27 Jan 1994)

Beginners plant tank questions

by (Keith Rogers)
Date: 27 Jan 1994 (Shaji Bhaskar) writes:

>>Now I'm reading about substrate heaters and CO2 injection as if
>>these techniques were necessary to the survival of a (mostly) plant
>>tank.  Not to mention the metal halide lighting.
>You can set up a low-tech tank, and wade though a few years of trial
>and error till you figure out what plants you can grow, and how to
>grow them.  At the end of that time, you can have a decent plant tank.
>In such a tank, you will usually have to keep the fish load low in
>order to prevent algae (the plants will not grow fast enough to
>take in the waste products generated by a high fish load).

While I don't disagree with Shaji's reply above, I'd like to temper it
a bit.  A low-tech tank doesn't have to take years of experimentation
to discover which plants will survive in it, assuming it doesn't
collapse into a seething hell of algae and goo first.  In my
experience and opinion, the crucial items to aquarium plant culture
are reasonable amounts of pseudo-full spectrum lighting along with
appropriate fertilizer and trace element addition.  Note in particular
that filtration type is irrelevant IMO.  If you provide these and
supply good management at the delicate startup time you will more than
likely have fine success; it's not as assured as a Duplaesque system
but chances are good to very good.

Now the disclaimers.  A low tech tank is much more fragile than a
"high tech" one, some plants will not do well in them, though the list
depends upon a particular tank due to individual tap water qualities,
etc, and this is particularly where the trial by melt-down stories
come from.  All plants grow much slower in them.  This is not always a
disadvantage.  Not everyone has or is willing to make time to do the
serious harvesting of rampant growth in optimally growing tanks.
Nutrient consumption is also much lower, like 3/4 less.  In a big tank
this can add up to significant amounts of money.  Fish count needs to
be considerably lower.

>Or, if you want a jump start, you can use CO2.  You will be much more
>successful at obtaining lush plant growth, right from the start.  You
>will also be able to keep a much wider variety of plants, and
>substantially increase the fish load.  If you use CO2, you will
>probably need to add iron and trace elements as well, and use some
>kind of substrate additives.

CO2 injection is THE quantum leap.  Nothing else will give you such
dramatic bang for the buck as it.  Its usage, however, demands that
you supply good light and nutrients because the plants are gonna suck
it up like crazy.  You will also have a beautiful aquarium, 99%

>Substrate heaters and MH lighting are for the real picky folks. The
>recent discussions on the net seem to have created the impression that
>you cannot grow great plants without substrate heating.  IMO, This is
>simply not true, and I think most people on the net will agree.

I agree with this.  They do provide benefits but the leap just isn't
on the order of CO2 injection or proper nutrients.

>>I just want a nice aquarium to enjoy with my family.  How much of
>>this other stuff am I going to have to go out and get now?
>Some people are happy with a low-tech, low-maintenance, slow-growing,
>natural setup and consider things like CO2 to be only a small step
>away from sterile tissue-culture.  Others will go to any lengths to
>make their plants grow that extra quarter inch per week.  The decision
>about the route you want to take is very subjective.
>In terms of bang for the buck, I'd say CO2 - yes, Metal Halide
>lighting and substrate heaters - maybe later.  If you decide to use
>CO2, I'd recommend the DIY approach.  It is a lot cheaper.

For what my advice is worth, I'd say add the CO2 if you can at all
afford it.  The simple manual version is relatively cheap, ~$150 and
yields enormous benefits.  Substrate heating would be a quite distant
second, though if you go the low-heat-on-all-the-time route it isn't
too outrageous in cost.  MH lighting would be third.

Also for what it's worth, I have a small low-tech aquarium I keep at
work.  It is every bit a s lush as any of George Booth's tanks (no,
really, it *is* - I've been to his house and seen his) or any of the
dutch photos in the fishy rags.  However, it isn't as robust as a
high-tech one, but then it's at work and I don't want a lot of stuff
to operate it with or, uhh, walk away.  I have yet to find any plant
which won't survive in it.  Some, however, don't grow; they don't die
either, they just remain static.  The three I've found in that
category are Anubias "nana", Samolus americiana, and the
Whatchyamacallit novae-zealandae, you know, the stuff that looks like

A thumbnail sketch is of this tank is:

20 gallon long (for which slow plant growth is a real plus as it's so
1/2 recommended amount of Dupla laterite and Tetra Hilena D in the
bottom 1/3 of the substrate.
50 lbs of 2-3 mm gravel (makes just shy of 3" deep).
Two 20W fluorescent bulbs, currently a Lights of America plant light
and a Vitalite.
Fluval 103 cainster filter.
No heater, building is kept warm all day every day of the year and
I've yet to see the aquarium temperature go below 73F or above 79F.

Surface vacuum gravel at weekly water change of 4 gallons (out of 16
gallons of actual water).  My change water is 3 parts RO to 1 part tap
(300 mg/l CaCO3 hardness, pH ~8.1).  After I'm done I add 1/4 of a
DuplaPlant tablet (1/4 recommended dose).  Add 1 drop of DuplaPlant 24
Mon, Wed and Fri. (about 1/4 rate recommended).

Current plants:
Samolus americiana, Hygrophila polysperma, Rotala macrandra, Java
moss, frog bit, Val. "spiralis", Bacopa caroliniana, Echinodorus
quadrocastatus (sp), two species of Crypts, one is presumably wendtii
the other is totally unknown to me.

Past plants which have done well:
R. rotundifolia, water sprite, Salvinia, duck weed, Hygro. corombosa =
Nomaphyla stricta = giant hygro, E. tenellus.

Plants which have not done well:
Anubias nana, Samolus americiana, ? novae-zealandae.

Current fish:
1 Otocinclus, 5 Melanotaenia trifasciata.  The rainbow fish magically
appeard as about 25 fry upon addition of a clump of java moss.
They're now a year old and range from 1"-2" long.  I feed the fish
sparingly once a day and not at all on the weekends.  They're
full-bellied but I'm careful how much food goes in such a small
aquarium.  I would not have any more fish than this in my aquarium.

The aquarium itself is very healthy, there is some of the long stringy
green algae but that's it - no red or Cyano.  Coworkers come into my
cube to look at it all the time.  The typical comment is "those plants
aren't real are they?"  Upon affirmation that they are the followup is
invariably something on the line of "I tried keeping aquarium plants
for a while but they always died." if from an aquarist or "I've never
seen aquarium plants look that good before." from nonaquarists.

Do not get the impression that I'm poo-pooing high tech aquaria.  I am
currently designing a CO2 injected, substrate heated, MH lit tank at
home which will be some 500 gallons.  It's being built out of plywood,
epoxy, etc., but that's a different topic.  The experimental aspect to
this tank will be it's 4' top to bottom dimension for half the floor.
One of my pet peeves is that too many of the plants grown in aquaria
(especially 20 gallon longs...) are not given enough water column to
grow to full proportions and always look cramped.  I intend to
eliminate that issue for what I plan to grow.  It will also allow for
a darker, murkier bottom for certain kinds of fish.  This aquarium is
still 2 years away from completion due to fund and time constraints,
but it is in the works.

Anyway, don't think you have to have all the stuff that we plant
net.nuts talk about for a good looking setup.
Keith Rogers

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