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  1. Karen`s System ?
    by krandall/world.std.com (Wed, 10 Dec 1997)

Karen`s System ?

by krandall/world.std.com
Date: Wed, 10 Dec 1997

Pat Bowerman wrote:

>     Karen, thanks for the good start. Now, how about telling us more.

OK.  As I said before, the difference in my approach is more in philosophy
than execution.  I work with my tanks the way I garden and the way I cook.
By using my senses combined with what I know about how things work to
manage the system.  I don't enjoy turning my tanks into chemistry
experiments.  I enjoy observation, and I act upon those observations.  I
want to point out again, that for those who enjoy getting out those test
kits and mixing their own supplements, that's great.  I think we all learn
from hearing about their experiences.  But I'll still let them experiment
on their own tanks ;-)

Also, let me warn you that what I write here is not engraved in stone.  It
is subject to change at any moment.  If I found that under a certain set of
circumstance this "method" _wasn't_ working, I would tweak the arrangement
until I was getting the results I wanted. I might even (gasp) get out the
test kits if I had to diagnose a problem.  I just don't have major problems
very often, so I don't use test kits very often either.  I don't think I've
_ever_ used up a test kit before I decided it was too old to be relied upon.

>I'd love to hear you talk about filtration, lighting, substrates, ph,
>CO2, UGF, UGH, stocking levels of fish and plants, water parameters, and
>whatever else I might have left out.

Well, I am planning to finish that book someday, but not until my youngest
is in school full days.<g>

> Seriously, how about a brief
>overview of the "Randall Method". I realize that you must have covered
>this at length before, but did you ever cover it all at once?

Yes I have several times in articles for AFM, TFH and AUSA.  

> George has
>his web page to show us his methods, and I appreciate him for it.

We should all appreciate what George has done greatly.  There are very few
non-commercial entities who would be willing to pay for and maintain a site
as useful as this for no benefit to themselves.  

I am, month by month, adding to the collection of articles stored at the
Aquarium Frontiers site.  For an in-depth look at a lot of different
methods, (they also do tell you what my personal preferences are) you can
access those articles.  But it will probably be another 6 months before I
get through covering all aspects piece by piece.  (I don't think Cynthia
wants me to monopolize the APD to that extent!<g>)

>But, I
>don't believe that I have read that much about your methods until the
>past few days and now I'm intrigued. Just think, we could have even more
>stuff to misquote you on. <G>

Oh great.  Your _really_ trying to talk me into this , aren't you!<g>

>     Have you ever had any trouble with cyanobacteria in your nitrogen
>limited tanks?

No.  But remember, my tanks are _not_ nitrogen limited (if I can help it)
just the water column is.  Higher plants can't grow without nitrogen
either!  Also remember that it is not my "goal" to keep the water nitrogen
free.  My "goal" is to maintain healthy plants in a relatively algae-free
environment.  The fact that the nitrogen level in the water is low is an
incidental byproduct. (again I'm trying to point out my difference of
perspective and approach)

> For that matter, have you ever had any algae problems,
>and if so, what kind?    

Ever?  Ever is an awfully long time.  I don't think that _anyone_ who plays
with planted tanks has never made a mistake that caused an algae problem.
I have a little (2 1/2G) tank at the moment that is working its way out of
an algae problem.  But I know exactly what caused it... neglect while I was
working on all these school tanks.  My bigger tanks can handle a month or
two of neglect just because they are larger systems.  A tiny tank has less
margin for neglect.   I also have no doubt that the tank will come around
quickly now that I am giving it the attention it needs. 

I get spot algae on the glass that is noticeable if I go over two weeks
between water changes/regular maintenance on my tanks.

My paludarium _always_ has a brown cyanobacteria growing on the waterfall.
It never infests the rest of the tank (in 6 years now) so I don't worry
about it.  Some people might perceive that as a problem... I've learned to
live with it.

I have no visible filamentous algae in any of my tanks. (except the 2 1/2)
I'm not sure that means there is none.  I think it's more likely that I
keep enough algae eating animals that they keep it in check.

>It doesn't have to be a book. Just a brief capsule of some of your core
>beliefs. I'm sure that we would all benefit from hearing different
>ideas. 

Remember, that the information I'm giving you here is "cook book".  There
are a lot of recipes out there for pumpkin pie.  Many of them are good, but
it's hard to mix and match if you don't already know what you're doing.  I
don't do things exactly the same way in every tank I have at home.  Some
have more light, some less.  Some have a steady supply of CO2 (and
therefore a steady pH) while others are subject to the vagaries of yeast
reactors.   In the high light/ pressurized CO2 tanks, I can grow more
species of plants than in the low light/yeast reactor tanks.  All, however,
are lush and healthy.

This is the way I set up the school tanks.  They can be run successfully by
people who don't know much of anything, with a check list for maintenance.

>filtration, lighting, substrates, ph,
>CO2, UGF, UGH, stocking levels of fish and plants, water parameters,<

If we're going to go "cookbook" let's start with a standard tank.  This is
not quite the way I set up my own tanks because I use some things (like T-8
lighting and pressurized CO2) that require some DIY.  Since a lot of our
school tanks are 20H's, lets go with that.  

Filtration:  Appropriately sized OPF.  We are using mostly Marineland
filters, since they very kindly donated them to the program.  Keep the
water level in the tank high to avoid as much surface turbulence as possible. 

Lighting: 2 20W daylight type bulbs in a double strip or 2 single strips.
(I use more light at home, but I don't want the growth too fast in the
school tanks)

Substrate:  "traction sand" from the local hardware store.  It's cheap and
convenient.  It's also inert and about 1mm in diameter.  Commercial
aquarium laterite is mixed into the bottom 1/2 of the 3" bed.  Plants that
I know do better with a soil substrate in our town's water go into pots of
soil topped with gravel.  These are burried in the substrate, and hidden
with foreground plants, driftwood or rocks.  In a situation where I don't
know the water as well as I do here, I suggest planting everything directly
in the gravel/laterite, and only using soil with plants that show that they
really need it.

pH and other water parameters:  You need to know what they are.  If at all
possible, work with what you have without processing the water too much.
The more work you need to do, the less likely you are to do water changes.

If your KH is between 3 and 8, I wouldn't mess with it.  If your KH is
below 3, try running the tank first without supplemental CO2.  If you want
the boost of CO2, you will have to raise the KH to at least 3 for safety.
If your KH is above 8, add supplemental CO2 and see how things go.  With
the right plants, you may do fine.  If not, you may have to add DI, RO or
distilled water to bring it down somewhat.

Do not change water during the first month after set up. (assuming that you
ahven't done something to bring on an algae problem)  Thereafter, water
changes should be at least 25% bi-weekly. (I do them more often at home
because I stock more heavily)

We use yeast reactors run into the filters of all school tanks.  1 2L
reactor for tanks up to 30G, 2 on tanks between 30 and 50G.  At home, I use
pressurized CO2 on tanks above 30G... yeast reactors enmasse are too much
work.  But you have to have more knowledge to use pressurized gas safely,
so we don't use it at school.

We don't use UGF's or UGH's at school.  I _never_ use the first, and I
don't think the latter is a necessity, although I'm sure it does't hurt,
and may be of some benefit if someone really wants to use it.  

Stocking levels of fish: Plan your community carefully.  Don't just throw
in two of these and a pair of those.  If you want low maintenance, keep the
fish load low.  I  use Siamese Algae Eaters and Otocinclus in every tank I
set up.  In small tanks, you may need to rotate them out as they grow.
It's always easy to find the bigger ones a good home.  I don't get excited
about a few snails, but I don't purposely add them to tanks either.

Plants:  I think I covered that the other day.  If at all possible, start
with locally grown (similar water conditions) fast growing species.  Plant
densely the day you set the tank up.

Fertilization:  I use a fertilizer that can be added just once a week
because I'm lazy and it works.  My personal favorite is Tropica Mastergrow.
 Start at 1/2 the recommended dose and work up depending on the needs of
your plants.  I don't add macronutrients unless I am pretty positive that I
am really seeing a macronutrient deficiency. (this may be another time to
break out the test kits if you're not sure)  Make sure _all_ other bases
are covered first.  

Quite frankly, I've yet to have a situation in a school tank or other tank
lit at about 2w/g where I felt the need to add macronutrients.  There's
usually enough within the system for this level of growth.  In these
systems, we're using LIGHT as the limiting factor.

At home, with 3w/g, I do need to supplement nitrogen, but I do it through
substrate supplementation, not into the water column.  I could get fancy
and make my own, but I have been satisfied so far with the 16-2-6 Jobes
sticks, so I don't feel much impetus to experiment further.  They're easy
and cheap.

OK, I'm getting tired, and I've probably bored half the List to death.
Anything pressing that I didn't mention?
Karen Randall
Aquatic Gardeners Association


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