I'm a long time fish keeper. Tank in question is an established 66gal freshwater that once was planted. I keep rainbows and loaches and my tank used to have healthy (excuse spelling) Anubias, aponogentin, val and Java fern. At that time I had 4x 48" T12 fluorescents daylight house bulbs from a hardware store. All was well. Then the ballast died. My hubby took the opportunity to upgrade to T5s and installed 4x 48" of them. My plants all died quickly. I tried halving the lighting (I can turn off 2 lights with a switch) with no luck. We started trying different lights and have tried everything on the market. Frustrated, we bought CO2 and a UV filter... We have fertilized, we have used substrate... All plants die and become coated in algae. The water tests for phosphorous, nitrate and nitrite were all low to 0. Our water is hard (GH 140, carbonate hardness 70)
I've spoken to shop owners. The most consistent thought has been that I burned my plants by upping light intensity dramatically so I have since been reducing it (been making changes over the past >6 months)
Three weeks ago I switched to a fluval actinic 54 watts and a Phillips alto soft white house light (3500 kelvin) and took out the CO2 (I figured I needed signs of plant life for that to be useful). No improvement. Things are just dead in there.
Things I wonder: when "they" recommend 2 watts per gallon (and I realize lumens and watts etc are not the same) I should have @150 watts. But how does that relate to tube length? A 2' 54 watt tube must produce less light energy than a 4' does. Is my problem the tube length??
I am really frustrated with it. If I were to sell off the T5 ballasts and start fresh what would you recommend? Finding some old T12s again? Sigh. The ballasts I have must have 2 lights on at a time so I am stuck needing 2 tubes. Too much? Is there anything I can do with the ballasts I have?
Light used to be measured in watts per gallon.
When we were using T-12 and T-8 bulbs, 2 wpg was about as low light as you could go and still get reasonable plant growth.
When T-5s came out, and they had better reflectors, it soon became obvious that 2 wpg from T-5 was at least medium light, and add the better reflectors or else look at T-5 HO (high output) and you are into a seriously high tech tank, even with just 2 wpg.
Now light is measured in PAR, which measures how much of the light is in the wavelengths that plants use the most when they are photosynthesizing. Plants use a certain range in the blue spectrum (not actinic) and a certain range in the red part of the spectrum. They use less of the other wavelengths.
People see yellows and greens as the brightest light, so bulbs intended for people (that is, most bulbs) will be rich in yellows and greens, and have less reds or blues. Plant specific bulbs look dim, and sort of pink-purple to our eyes.
CO2 can be from a pressurized system, yeast/sugar, or you can use a related product like Excel, but the plants need a better source of carbon when the lights are brighter. Even in a low tech tank some carbon can help.
Plants need over a dozen elements to live. Here they are, in some sort of order...
Hydrogen, Oxygen (plants get these from the water) and Carbon (see above) are used in the greatest amounts.
Next most used elements:
Referred to as macros, plants use nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) in great amounts.
Fish food provides reasonable amounts of N and P, especially in a low tech tank. Fish food is low in K.
Calcium, Magnesium, Sulfur. Ca and Mg come in with the water when you do water changes, as long as the water has a GH of at least 3 German degrees of hardness. Plants use these 2 in a ratio of about 4 parts Ca: 1 part Mg. The water does not have to have this exact balance, but if one or the other is in seriously short supply you could supplement with either one separately. If both are too low then a GH booster such as Seachem Equilibrium is good.
Sulfur deficiency does not seem to show up in aquariums.
Trace or micros.
Plants use the smallest amount of about half a dozen elements that are usually grouped together and dosed as micros. Important not to over dose, as these can become toxic. In a low tech tank fish food supplies enough micros, except for iron.
Iron (Fe) is the only one that is treated separately. Plants use more Fe than of the other micros, and fish food is low in Fe, though it has all the other micros. Dose a chelated iron, as iron can get bound up in many ways, most of which make it unavailable to the plants.
In a low tech tank monitor the NO3. If the NO3 from fish food is rising or stable, then the fish food is also supplying P, and most traces.
But probably not enough K, Fe, Ca or Mg. As I said above, the tap water usually has Ca and Mg, but you would need to dose K, Fe and C in a low tech tank. Carbon from a DIY (yeast/sugar) set up, or from Excel is usually enough.
In a tank with higher light the plants will probably remove all the elements the fish food is bringing in and will need more.
Dose N, P, K, Fe, Micros. Alternate days for the phosphorus and iron- they can react and form an insoluble precipitate.
If the water is low in Ca, Mg, or both, dose these, perhaps just when you do a water change, or perhaps some more when you dose either macros or micros.
Look into fertilizing schedules such as Estimative Index or PPS-pro or PPS-original.
Happy fish keeping!
In the first picture I posted I used nothing. No CO2 or fertilizing... I had "cool white" T12's and was growing what I take to be hardy plants. The only change has been lighting. Maybe I'm a lazy soul but my real goal is to get back to where I was... I do have a CO2 generator now and water fertilizer but use of each has not helped me so far.
We were toying with the idea of replacing the ballasts and lights with some strips of LED lighting (the type used for closets and under cabinets) or actually going back to T12s or T8s.
If you were planning to set up something basic, simple and cheap what would your strategy be? I think the T5s were a big mistake.
I have T-5s on 3 tanks but just 2 bulbs on tanks 14-22inches above the substrate. How long are your lights on? 6 hours is a good starting "day", 8 a maximum. You can have them on when you're home to see the fish. Have them turn off a bit before room lights will be off.
I haven't tried co2 yet, most of my plants are low-medium light, slowish growers (like most of yours look to be). I use Excel in 1 tank after weekly water changes That tank has a few higher light/higher co2 liking plants. But vals & elodea hate it (& maybe a few other plants) & are very stunted in that tank (unlike in my other tanks).
I have read that BBA (black beard algae) is often from fluctuating co2 levels, how are you measuring it? I only see it on very old leaves sometimes. You can try spot treating them with either hydrogen peroxide OR Excel in a syringe. You can use as much as you would for the entire tank, it helps if the water level is lower during a water change. Treat, wait maybe 10-15 minutes & refill.
Like Diana said, it's all about finding a balance that works for you.
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