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Old 07-03-2007, 07:12 PM   #1
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I Still Don't Get Ferts

I have Swords and Java Moss in my 55-gallon tank with this 48" light setup, and I am currently dosing Excel for a carbon source. I know I have nothing right now that is demanding on the light setup and ferts, but I am wondering for the future. I'm quite confused. There's macros, micros, and maybe something other stuff I'm missing.

You guys have test kits. What test kits are you using and what are you testing for exactly?

Once you read your test kit, what products are you adding?

If you're not adding more plants to a tank, is your fert regiment standard and continuous, except for adding more for plants that are growing and using more nutrients?

It took me long enough to understand fish. Does anyone have a dumbed down guide to plant ferts?
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Old 07-03-2007, 07:39 PM   #2
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The easy guide to ferts is using the Estimative Index, or EI, method.

Now, as you read through it, you're going to get confused. I sure did, and stayed that way for a long time. But, ask questions here, and we'll help you setup your regime, then all you have to do is keep it up.

Macros and micros
I can never keep which one straight, but basically Macros (I think) contains your ferts for Phosphate, Nitrate, and Potassium, and micros (or vice-versa) contains the other small elements you need, sometimes called traces, which includes several different nutrients in trace amounts.

Basically, you dose macros on one day, and micros on the next, alternating and skip any dosage on the day prior to a PWC. EI method assumes that you do around 50% PWC every week to "reset" the system essentially.

Test kits I played with for a long time, determined that I would nail down exactly what was needed for ferts. Never happened. Standard test kits arent accurate enough, and I wasn't willing to spend 100s of bucks on what would be needed to actually accomplish that. EI method is based on a medium plant mass and the size of the tank.

Essentially, once you get started with a baseline EI plan, you start dosing. As problems arise, i.e. algae or too slow growth etc, you tweak based on what symptoms you have.

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Old 07-03-2007, 08:27 PM   #3
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Neilanh basically nailed this process down and just to add food for thought (no pun intended), think of macros as vitamins and micros as minerals/metals. Dosing ferts is a delicate balancing act even when using EI. You start out with some generalized targets and then you tweak them based on your observations/results.

HTH.
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Old 07-03-2007, 08:28 PM   #4
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Fertilizers just provide extra nutrients that plants need if they're growing really fast. If they aren't growing too fast you usually get enough from your tap water. (Example of low light set ups).

Usually once you have more than 2 wpg of light and are needing a carbon source (Excel, CO2) your plants are growing fast enough that you may need to supplement your fertilizers.

The easiest way is to look at your plants and algae...if your plants aren't growing well or you have lots of algae you may be lacking some nutrient and may need to start fertilizing.

Macro are the nutrients plants need a lot of: nitrate, phosphate and potassium

Micros (or trace elements) are the one they just need little bits of: iron, other minerals etc. (most of the time you figure out how much to dose of a mixture based on the iron content).

The only reason you need to dose them on opposite days is the phosphate reacts with the micros and can make things precipitate.

There are lots of different sources for fertilizers.

Like Neilanh said, many of us use EI (estimative index) which operates under the assumption that if you put in lots of nutrients so there's always enough and do weekly water changes so they don't build up to toxic levels you won't need to do lots of (or any) testing. You adjust things based on how the plants are doing.

The stickies give examples of places to start on how much to dose--remember, they aren't hard and fast rules...just places to start and then you need to adjust based on your experience with your tank.

Clear as mud? Keep asking specific questions and we'll keep answering.
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Old 07-03-2007, 09:08 PM   #5
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I think I get it a little bit. You guys aren't actually testing for anything, but the way the plants/algae grow are indications of your levels of needed ferts. Did I get that right? I'll take a read through the stickies again and see if I can get through them without hurting my brain.

Is there a way to measure CO2 in a tank then or is a watch and see like the ferts?

Thanks, everyone.
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Old 07-03-2007, 09:22 PM   #6
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You got it. I should've mentioned, I haven't touched a test set in months.

For CO2, there are easy ways to meaure it. If you know your kH (or this one is a pretty simple test to do) and check your pH, you can calculate your CO2. Drop checkers work for a near real-time indicator, and I run checkers in my tanks, which gives me a color based on the level of CO2.
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Old 07-03-2007, 09:24 PM   #7
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Yes, there is a way to measure CO2 levels. You have to test for pH and KH. Enter those values in the chart here (about halfway down the page):

http://www.csd.net/~cgadd/aqua/art_plant_co2chart.htm

You could also purchase a drop checker: (some people have made their own)

http://www.thatpetplace.com/pet/group/11110/product.web
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Old 07-04-2007, 02:28 PM   #8
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Is there any kind of fert regiment that doesn't require the weekly water changes to remove ferts so they don't get to toxic levels? It seems like a waste to put them in just to pull them out. Plus my current bioload in my tank doesn't even register on my test kits until about two weeks, when I start seeing nitrates.

Also, can you explain how this all works in my goldfish barrel? I don't dose it with anything. I assume since it is outside, it is getting its carbon dioxide from the air. The fish poo, but I don't know what kind of ferts that produces, and I change water, skimming off some floating poo and only putting in 5 gallons to replace what I skimmed off and to replace evaporated water. The lilies are growing great. Is this a different beat?
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Old 07-05-2007, 08:47 AM   #9
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theotheragentm,

Bioload is the key issue in healthy plants with little fert addition. If you have a high bioload your nitrogen levels, and most likely traces are adequate to grow most plants in most conditions. CO2 levels will still be a potential problem, especially outside like in your goldfish barrel (due to high light from the sun), but everythings possible.

Your current 55 is another case, however. You mention that it takes 2 weeks or so to see nitrAtes. This could be problematic in the future if you add pressurized CO2 or increase the lighting. You would then probably need to dose additional nitrogen.

Here's my fert basics guide written on the fly:

Your plants (just like us) require nutrients to not only survive but thrive and fight off disease. Many are found naturally in your water supply and from fish waste. These include macro nutrients (those that are needed in large supply) such as nitrogen, carbon, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. In many areas many of these nutrients are found in abundance in the water and food that is fed. Think of these like your grains and fruits/veg's/meat. They are needed in large amounts to keep the plant healthy. A deficiency in these can cause the plants to become wounded and leak nutrients into the water that allow algae to become apparent. Our goal is to have these nutrients in ample supply so we never have weakened plants, and thus, they outcompete the algae for food.

Just like our sweet-tooth side, plants also need their "fats and sweets". These are needed sparingly, but are needed nonetheless. People die without fat. Too much is a bad thing, but too little is much worse. With plants trace elements such as Iron, Manganese, Boron, Chlorine, Sulfur, and a host of others are needed for healthy plant structure. Most of these are found in adequate supply in your water source and through the food and fish waste produced. In low light setups and most water supplies, supplimental trace ferts are not required. In higher light setups, however, the small amounts of traces in the water/food are not enough to prevent deficiency and so you need to add these back into the water during the time between water changes.

So to quickly recap, you have macro nutrients that are needed in large amounts, and you have micro nutrients that are needed in small amounts, but JUST as important to the overall health of the plant. If these are kept in adequate amounts, your plants will outcompete the algae, and you should not see much algae. This is no simple feat however. All it takes is one minor deficiency and you can have an outbreak of algae on your hands. The plants grow slower, or leak nutrients into the water, and suddenly you have given the algae everything they need to quickly take over the tank. This is just like our own health. We are constantly being bombarded by disease and infection and normally our bodies are able to fight these off. But eat poorly, stress out, and get too little sleep, and you will get sick.

The EI method attempts to provide excess of all the nutrients so you never have this deficiency problem. By adding in more then is needed, there shouldn't be a chance for your plants to become weakened. Every water/food source is different, and you need to compensate for individual source deficiencies (and its often hard to find out what your water doesn't have, a report from your local water supply is a good start). Hard water is generally a good sign that your macro's are in pretty good numbers, but its not a guarantee.

2 macro's that are normally NOT in proper supply once the lights get turned up a bit are potassium (K) and carbon (CO2). Potassium is that one macro fert that causes so many problems because its normally not dosed when other ferts are not dosed (and not as heavily found in water). CO2 is self-explainatory. As the lights turn up, that 1-3ppm of atmospheric CO2 (and sometimes even with Excel) just doesn't cut it, and it will become your limiting nutrient.

And that's where it gets so complicated. Potassium might be your limiting reagent, but once you dose it, the next in line becomes the problem (say iron). You now dose iron and phosphate is in short supply. Compounding all of these problems is our test kits are not very accurate and might be measuring nutrients that are not in the proper form for the plants to use. Just like we can't use the oxygen in water (we drown), plants might not be able to use some of the nutrients that your test detects. So even though that test says you have 1ppm of phosphate, your plant might not be able to use it! By dosing all the ferts in excess (within reason) you make sure the plant always has access to the nutrient it needs.

HTH
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Old 07-05-2007, 04:52 PM   #10
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Thanks 7Enigma for that. Are the water changes necessary weekly doing EI dosing because you never truly know the amounts of ferts available and so you're doing an abundant amount, which may end up getting to toxic levels for fish?
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Old 07-06-2007, 09:25 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theotheragentm
Thanks 7Enigma for that. Are the water changes necessary weekly doing EI dosing because you never truly know the amounts of ferts available and so you're doing an abundant amount, which may end up getting to toxic levels for fish?
Exactly. Both for the fish and for the plants. Just like we can have too much of a vitamin/mineral which becomes toxic to us, plants can also develop deficiencies when you supply toxic levels of a fert. One of the most common is nitrAte toxicity. This harms both the fish as well as the plants (you'll get soggy stems and normally stunted growth).
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Old 07-06-2007, 01:39 PM   #12
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One last question...for now...

Do you have recommendations on products to actually dose with? I'd like to keep it simple and dose things in one product or as few products as possible to save me from measuring each and every thing.
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Old 07-06-2007, 06:20 PM   #13
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I use dry ferts from Greg Watson. I don't know if he still sells them (check greg watson.com). You can premix them dry I suppose so you are only dosing from either one bag or the other (trace with all the other ferts, phosphate separate). I just keep the 4-5 bags separate and add them individually.

EDIT:

Here's the link:

http://www.aquariumfertilizer.com/st...cplantfood.php

I recommend mono potassium phosphate, CSM+B, potassium sulfate, potassium nitrAte, calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate. That will have you completely covered. You can easily get buy for a LONG time with 1 pound of the first two, but I'd recommend 2-3 lbs of potassium sulfate. The rest I'd grab a pound or two. Due to the shipping costs it pays to purchase more then you need at once since the price after the first bag is very inexpensive.
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Old 07-06-2007, 10:37 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 7Enigma
I use dry ferts from Greg Watson. I don't know if he still sells them (check http://www.gregwatson.com).

EDIT:
Here's the link:

http://www.aquariumfertilizer.com/st...cplantfood.php
Thanks for posting the link ... I passed the activity of sharing ferts with my friends off to Alan, a long time aquatic hobbyist ...

You can still find a link to the new site on my personal gregwason.com website ...

Thanks,
Greg
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Old 07-07-2007, 09:09 AM   #15
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Yep, that's how I found it. I've been very happy with your products in the past and wish your friend Alan all the best of luck. He'll be hearing from me in about a year (when my last purchase will run out!).
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Old 07-09-2007, 02:56 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 7Enigma
I use dry ferts from Greg Watson. I don't know if he still sells them (check greg watson.com). You can premix them dry I suppose so you are only dosing from either one bag or the other (trace with all the other ferts, phosphate separate). I just keep the 4-5 bags separate and add them individually.

EDIT:

Here's the link:

http://www.aquariumfertilizer.com/st...cplantfood.php

I recommend mono potassium phosphate, CSM+B, potassium sulfate, potassium nitrAte, calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate. That will have you completely covered. You can easily get buy for a LONG time with 1 pound of the first two, but I'd recommend 2-3 lbs of potassium sulfate. The rest I'd grab a pound or two. Due to the shipping costs it pays to purchase more then you need at once since the price after the first bag is very inexpensive.
One more question. Which of these do you combine for dosing as micros and which do you do for macros? Based on the names, some of the products look like a mix of micros and macros.
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Old 07-09-2007, 07:21 AM   #17
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The potassium phosphate (phosphate), potassium sulfate (potassium) and potassium nitrate (nitrogen and potassium) are the macros. The CSM+B are the micros. The other two are also macros and the amount needed will depend on your total hardness. I do not use either of them.
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Old 07-09-2007, 07:49 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theotheragentm
Quote:
Originally Posted by 7Enigma
I use dry ferts from Greg Watson. I don't know if he still sells them (check greg watson.com). You can premix them dry I suppose so you are only dosing from either one bag or the other (trace with all the other ferts, phosphate separate). I just keep the 4-5 bags separate and add them individually.

EDIT:

Here's the link:

http://www.aquariumfertilizer.com/st...cplantfood.php

I recommend mono potassium phosphate, CSM+B, potassium sulfate, potassium nitrAte, calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate. That will have you completely covered. You can easily get buy for a LONG time with 1 pound of the first two, but I'd recommend 2-3 lbs of potassium sulfate. The rest I'd grab a pound or two. Due to the shipping costs it pays to purchase more then you need at once since the price after the first bag is very inexpensive.
One more question. Which of these do you combine for dosing as micros and which do you do for macros? Based on the names, some of the products look like a mix of micros and macros.
Basically everything but the mono potassium phosphate can be dosed on the same day. And you always take the "more trace element" when using a mixed fert. Potassium phosphate and potassium nitrAte are great ferts since they do double duty when dosing. But remember the former is for phosphate (so you only dose a small amount) and the later is for nitrAte (again depending on bioload you might not use this often).

I included the other ferts as a kitchen sink approach (ie you will never go, S@#$ I need X, you already have all the ferts).

A small program I highly recommend is Chuck's Aquarium Fert Calculator. It does all the math for you and makes dosing dry ferts really easy. You can find it here:

http://www.csd.net/~cgadd/aqua/art_p...osage_calc.htm

This will show you that a combined fert is not 1:1, ie there is not the same amount of potassium as there is nitrAte in potassium nitrAte. That is why we selectively pick which fert to use for what we need (ie you would NOT use mono-potassium phosphate for potassium dosing!).

HTH
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Old 07-09-2007, 09:49 AM   #19
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You are too kind with your quick responses. Looks like an order will be made soon for me.
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Old 07-10-2007, 12:59 AM   #20
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I knew I'd have more questions. I started taking a look at the dosing calculator.

So if I have a 55-gallon tank, I wrote it as 50 gallons. I said I was going to mix with 100ml of water to make calculations easy.

If I add 1/4 teaspoon of potassium nitrate, that is going to be 5ppm total? So I want to be dosing every other day so my total for the week is about 1/4 teaspoon to hit that 5ppm mark?

Then that same 1/4 teaspoon on the week would give me 3ppm of phosphate?

Am I using the calculator correctly? That would mean I need to add potassium sulfate or mono potassium phosphate to reach the rest of the suggested potassium amount for the week? Which one does one choose?

Then how do I dose the micros? I see magnesium sulfate and it looks like 1/4 teaspoon over the week would be about right for the suggested total, but what about the others?
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