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Thread: Non CO2 methods

  1. #11

    Re: Non CO2 methods

    While much of the attention and aquascape seen on the web focuses on CO2 enrichment in their methods, Diana Walstad presents an excellent arguement for the apporach of a non CO2 enriched planted Aquarium. We should also extend this to include Excel and carbon enrichement liquids as well as acetate which allow some algae to exist without any light or CO2 and grow heterotrophically (like us). She discusses not needing test kits, water changes, pruning often, dosing, work that most aquarist do not care for.

    What? You mean no water chnages? Yes, that's right.
    No testing? Yes, that's right, but you can if you wish.
    Not much pruning? Yes, that's right, the plants grow much slower.
    No dosing? Generally yes for many easy to care for pland species(I'll discuss this much more later), the fish waste represents the dosing and you feeding them daily adds the nutrients.

    So why don't more folks do it?
    I'm not sure, given the goals they say they want when setting up a planted tank.

    CO2 is a bit like a drug addiction that hobbyists get hooked on. That's fine, but this non CO2 approach will give an excuse to have another tank that needs less attention and is cheap.

    I suggest folks coming from either the non CO2 or the CO2 enrichement approaches to give the other method a try and see what benefits it has.

    CO2 and non CO2 tanks work for all the same reasons, but........
    They grow at different rates.

    Based off of my testing, I'd estimate close to 5 to 10 times slower than a CO2 enriched tank at 2-3 w/gal.

    This rate of growth is such that the fish waste alone is enough to supply the needs for the plants. If we added more light then the CO2 would start becoming a more limiting factor and allow algae to grow better (algae need higher light to grow well in non CO2 enriched systems wereas the plants are much more limited without CO2). A lower light level is required, generally about 1.5 to 2w/gal is good.

    We also need a balanced fish load and feeding routine since this is our main long term input of plant nutrients. Fish food varies in it's amount and ratio of nutrients. This is not an issue unless it becomes limiting. Very often since non CO2 tanks get neglected, they have trouble growing certain plants. If these nutrients are not allowed to bottom out(Say PO4 or NO3), then many of the species folks suggest cannot be kept, suddenly can be kept in non CO2 tanks but they simply grow slower.

    Rather than suggesting allelopathy, Fe algae limitation of PO4 limitation, I will say none of this exist. Rather, non limiting nutrient levels for plants will provide better conditions.

    CO2 will limit both plants and algae, the lower light and high plant biomass density will provide a better place for the plants and a worse place for the algae. CO2 and non CO2 tanks work well and are algae free namely due to high plant biomass that is relatively healthy. This plant biomass removes NH4 from the fish waste.

    We can add KNO3 and KH2PO4 and show that in a non CO2 tank, excess PO4, NO3 (and Fe) do not cause algae blooms. We can add NH4 and induce a bloom just like a CO2 enriched tank.

    This assumption and knowledge frees us from limitation of nutrients which ultimately does more harm to the plants' health and well being, allowing a better environment for algae to grow.

    Doing water changes adds CO2 back to a CO2 limited tank.
    Plants and algae both can and do adapt to low CO2 environments and induce genes to make enzymes that concentrate CO2 around Rubisco, the CO2 fixing enzyme. When we add the CO2 at higher levels back, this causes the plants and algae to destroy the low CO2 enzymes and start growing without of them since they no longer need them to fix CO2 form the KH ( the -HCO3).
    Why keep all this machinery around if you no longer need it? Doing weekly water changes "fools" the plants and helps encourage algae more. Algae are faster to respond to low CO2 than plants.
    Once the plants do adapt, they can do well.

    Soil substrates are popular with non CO2 users and they work well but peter out after about 6-12 months. They help the plants get established initailly abnd supply nutrients that are other wise lacking in the beginning before many fish are added and the tank has had a chance to accumulate waste.

    I suggest onyx sand as it added Ca, Mg, and Fe, and I add mulm/detritus freshly from another established tank to add bacteria and cycle the tank immediately. I also add a form of organic material other than soil. The bacteria that break the waste down need a source of carbon as an electron donor besides the elements in the waste. Like us, they need their carbs as well. As these bacteria break the carbon and waste down, they consume O2.
    This lowers the redox values in the substrate freeing up Fe2+ and other nutrients.

    Add too much organic matter and O2 and you get O2 levels that are too low and cause issues for your tank. Soil also has NH4, this we know to cause algae in higher amounts and it does not take much! Ways around this: don;t use soil, it's messy and has NH4/urea. Boiling the soil for a few minutes will oxidize the NH4 to NO3. Allowing damp soil to be spread thinly outside for few weeks(3) will allow the NH4 to be converted into NO3 by bacteria.
    Peat moss, ground peat, works well also.

    The other options are add lots of mulm instead and leonardite.
    Leonardite is great, it last a very long time, adds a slow release form of carbon, matches the gravel's color, sinks easily poses no issues if you disturb and uproot plants.

    You should always add fresh mulm to any new tank. Add some form of carbon as well, pre soaked/boiled soil, pre soaked peat, leonardite.

    Since the plants are the same as they are in a CO2 enriched tank and we know the rates of uptake are there, we can scale down the rates for the non CO2 dosing routine.

    I removed all fish and critters from the test tanks, I dosed only with KNO3m, and other inorganic fertilizer so that I would see only plant uptake and inorganic ferts contributions to the plant's health.

    Going back and assuming 80-90% of the nutrients will come from the fish load, I added once a week KNO3/KH2PO4.

    While trace mixes can be added, I decided to use SeaChem Equlibrium instead.
    It has Fe and Mn as well as Ca/K/Mg/SO4.
    I will add about 1/4 teaspoon per 20 gal tank once every week or two.
    This greatly enhances the growth of the plants.
    I also will add about 1/8" and 1/32" teaspoon of KNO3 and KH2PO4 respectively once a week or two.

    The plants will repsond very well to this routine. You can let the tank go for awhile and not dose to purge any excesses that might have built up over a month or two or you can test to see rather than do the water change.

    DW does not suggest dosing, but adding 2-3 things once a week or two, certainly is not that tough???? the plants do gain a lot and then you can grow most any plant in a non CO2 tank.

    From here if you want more growth, Excel is a good option. You can add about 2-3x as much ferts then.

  2. #12

    Re: Non CO2 methods

    Smaller hang on the back filters work well.
    One thing many folks setting up any planted tank seems tom over look, plant densely from the very start, do not wait for the plants to grow in!
    Add some cheaper plants till the main display plants grow it and slowly remove the "starter plants" as needed.
    Set up the substrate well, this is the main part of the non CO2 tank.
    Feed the fish well. Add algae eaters, they will work many times more efficiently since the algae grow slower under non CO2 conditions also!

    1" per gallon is a good rule of green thumb for fish stocking levels.
    These tanks often look better on any given day than the CO2 enriched tanks.

    The lower light and lack of gadgets and maintenance make these tanks much more efficent and cheaper for folks. If you leave for a week, the tank does fine as is. No worry.

    Maintenance routines:

    Dose once a week(optional)
    Add evaporation top off water
    Snip tops off plants that get too unruly.
    Feed fish daily.
    As dirt and growth get further out of hand, you can uproot and do a big hack and rearranging, do not do this more than once every 3-6 months. Do a water change right afterwards.
    You may have to remove some algae manually every so often but the algae grows slow also.

    That's it.

    Tom Barr

  3. #13

    Re: Non CO2 methods

    Hey Tom,

    Thanks a lot for dosing info! I already had equilibrium and ordered the rest of the stuff from the PMDD Store. I found a product called Diamond Black that is supposed to be leonardite granules. Is this the type of product you were refering to, and what kind of dosing should we do? This is a great forum!

    thanks again, Walt

  4. #14

    Re: Non CO2 methods

    Diamond black is the stuff.
    Add roughly 1" or peat or add 3/4" of DB leonardite.
    You can add a dusting of peat into the leonardite + mulm.
    Then cap that with flourite/onyx sand etc.

    This will allow you to uproot plants and move them without a mess as well as re slope any terracing and prevent "flat tank syndrome".

    Tom Barr

  5. #15

    Re: Non CO2 methods

    good job Tom on explaining the non-CO2 approach.

    I will be starting a 15-20G shortly using this method.

    Is it possible to use playsand rather than flourite/onyx sand?

  6. #16
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    San Diego, Ca

    Re: Non CO2 methods

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Barr
    This will allow you to uproot plants and move them without a mess as well as re slope any terracing and prevent "flat tank syndrome".

    Tom Barr
    Sand will work, but you're not going to get any of the nutrients you would get from onyx, etc. Play sand is basically inert and will show things like flourite or eco-complete or anything else when it gets mixed up.


  7. #17

    Re: Non CO2 methods

    Quote Originally Posted by Dolfan
    Tom, I am wanting to order fertilizer from the PMDD store. Can you give me a general idea of what quantity and type to order for a six month supply. I have a 75 gallon tank. This way when you give the paramaters for dosing non co2 tanks I am ready.

    thanks, Walt
    With fish, you will add about 1/4 teaspoon of KNO3 once a week
    Add mainly algae eaters for the first month or two(longer is better).
    This will add about 3ppm per week.

    A max light/CO2 tank will use at most 20-30ppm per week.
    So you will see that the dosing frequency and the amount has been reduced.

    Adding more will do no harm, but the issue becomes one of build up.
    Unlike a CO2 higher light method, there are no water changes here.
    That is the balance you are dealing with.

    So you can add and estimate the uptake and error slightly on the lower side.
    If you do this in a high light tank, you have the potential to make more mistakes.

    Less light/no CO2 means much slower growth rate, so there is less NO2, PO3, Trace element demand from the plant and they do not shut down and stunt quickly.

    So weekly dosing works fine, adding just enough works fairly well.
    Recall DW suggest fish waste alone is enough for the plants.

    While true with hardier species of plants, many cannot be grown well doing this. Well, if you add SEaChem EQ and KNO3/KH2PO4 this is simply no longer true.

    The plants grow 5-10x slower, but they do grow.
    Now you can test the NO4/PO4 for signs of build up if you calibrate the test kits and they appear to be accurate and dose based on uptake, but since the growth uis slow, generally the plants themselves tell you when you need to dose or how much/add more etc.

    Most of you already know what NO3 deficent plants look like or K+, traces etc, so you'll see the same types of things with non CO2, just slower.

    So, add 1/4 of the KNO3, 1/8 of the KH2PO4, SeaChem EQ -1/4-1/2 teaspoon each week and if you forget one week, that's likely okay too.
    Note plant health as your test guide.

    I prefer the SeaChem EQ and the macro's alone, I use onyx sand with leonardite+ mulm.

    Do water changes only if you uproot and replant and need to really clean.
    Use a brine net to remove leaves, mulm etc and swipe the net through the tank once a week to keep it looking clean.

    You can scale things down for a smaller tank.
    Sinmp,y divide the teaspoon measurements into 1/4 units for the 20 gal and recall these amounts, if you are off a little, that's fine.

    If you want to use smaller units and be more accurate, make solutions and dilute the macro's in there. If you prefer testing once every 1 to 3-4 weeks, that's fine also, that's not much testing really and it serves a purpose should something seem odd, otherwise not testing generally gets you far.

    Just use the 10:1 or 7:1 dosing ratio for CO2 : non CO2 tanks.
    CO2 : Excel dosing 3:1 and with low light 1.5:1.

    These are rough estimates, so some tweaking can be done, they are general guidelines to get folks hitting their target ranges without causing the plants to become severely stunted and in most cases these ranges will provide excellent growth, certainly much better than mere fish food alone will provide.

    What are excesses? I'm not sure. Same for the CO2 tanks except with respect to NO3 perhaps and CO2, but we don't add need to fret over that one.

    But you can pruge the tank's NO3 by not dosing for a week or two, you do not need to do the water change to lower things. Just let things go for awhile and see.

    As always, pack the tank from day one, add mulm and a good substrate(this will pay for itself!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

    Adding a porous substrate like Floruite or Onyx sand will increase the waste cycling breakdown rates allowing better growth and less algae, since the main waste products are NO3/NH4, keeping NH4 down is well worth it and more bacteria are present on porous substrates.

    So they will help add traces and help the cycling over the life of the tank, adding soil only last 6-12 months tops.

    We can dose the KNO3/PO4/K+/GH and add fish food to supply what the soil will and dosing weekly is not tough.

    Tom Barr

  8. #18
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Rochester, NH

    Re: Non CO2 methods

    I am currently setting up a 55 gal. tank. It has 130 watt pc coralife fixture, onyx sand substrate (with either peat or leonardite added, I haven't decided which yet). After filling it the other night to test the home made stand and have a leak check, I realized how much work 50% water changes are going to be, even with a python! Right now I have a 20 gal with DIY CO2 and about 2 w/gal and 50% water changes are no big deal.

    Originally I had been planning on investing in a pressurized CO2 system for the new tank, but I now have a baby on the way and it might be tough to talk the wife into letting me blow a couple hundred more on the tank. So then Tom writes this great article on non-CO2 methods! It definitely sounds appealing, but I have a few concerns:

    1. Do I have too much light for a non-CO2 tank?

    2. Is a non-co2 tank hard to keep algae out of compared to a co2 enriched tank (for the average Joe, not Tom Barr…I'm beginning to think Tom could grow plants in battery acid!)

    3. If I do need to have CO2 enrichment, will DIY suffice for a while?

    Thanks for all your help!

  9. #19

    Re: Non CO2 methods

    DIY is possible, you have too much light though, a shop light with a good reflector will do nicely.

    Overall, non CO is easier once set up and if you can keep your hands out of the tank and start the tank off right(eg do not take short cuts on the set up).

    I use a larger hose that drains the water right outside in about 2 minutes for large 50-150 gal tanks. I fill using a garden hose adapted to the bath/shower faucet. Refill takes about 4-5 minutes for a 55 gal tank. Draining takes about 5-6 minutes. 70% takes about 1-2 minutes longer.

    Tom Barr

  10. #20
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Rochester, NH

    Re: Non CO2 methods

    Yeah, I figured I probably had too much light. I may try the non-co2 method on a different tank. I can bite the bullet and buy a co2 set up i guess. Or sell the existing light (which I bought right before your article on light) and do a non-co2 setup. I guess i've got some thinking to do.

    Thanks for the reply.



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