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Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2011 1:38 am
by iAquanaut
Hello Everyone!

Right now I am interested in making a DIY lighting fixture for my tank as I am on a tight budget. My tank is 46 gallons and I was hoping to have a lighting fixture that gives it about 3-5 watts per gallon and doesn't cost $500. Has anyone ever made their own lighting fixture before and, if so, how did you do it?

Also, does anyone have any special substrate, or substrates they like to mix in their planted tank? I was considering going with flourite, but would prefer something with a more natural look to it or even something with some extra nutrients to give the plants a boost.

And one last question: Could someone explain how CO2 is beneficial in a planted aquarium? I am still confused over the need for CO2. I know that plants need it for photosynthesis etc, but is it extremelyimportant for a planted tank?

Thanks for any help. Right now I am in the planning stages of my tank and wouldn't mind some tips on equipment and such. My goal for this tank is to have a very thick capeting plant, tall driftwood that looks somewhat like tree branches, and an assortment of low light plants, high light plants, and mosses along with some tetras and the fish I currently have in the tank.

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2011 7:31 am
by ScottFish
Here's my quick two cents worth: 3-5 Watts per gal. is high; aim for 3 --that's still on the high side. Regarding the DIY, remember it is about the bulbs you will be using --the lummens and color spectrum. The usual bulbs in the Home Improvement stores may have the watts, but very low lummens. I use Flourite. You might want to consider potting soil (without chemical additives) under the Flourite to give added nutrients to your tank. Some folks on this Forum are trying this and I'm sure will be glad to share their progress with you. You will need CO2 only if you want to grow high light plants (with high light bulbs!). These plants will "gobble up" the natural CO2 in your tank and will need more if they are to grow. I dose with Excell and have appreciated how it also kept the "black stuff" (algae) under control. Good luck.

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2011 8:56 am
by Dutchman
Hi,
I'm one of those "middle of the road" guys. I don't believe in CO2 injection, because most of the time the CO2-level (particularly in the morning) is quite substantial, like 15 to 20 ppm, depending on your stocking.
In my opinion (IMO) you should increase your lighting untill there's no more improvement in the plant growth. I know that's not so easy to do, but, if you think the growth is a bit stunted, increase the energy by about 1.5 (as in: fit a third tube).
After that, just leave it at that and live with it.

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Wed May 11, 2011 12:27 am
by iAquanaut
ScottFish wrote:Here's my quick two cents worth: 3-5 Watts per gal. is high; aim for 3 --that's still on the high side. Regarding the DIY, remember it is about the bulbs you will be using --the lummens and color spectrum. The usual bulbs in the Home Improvement stores may have the watts, but very low lummens. I use Flourite. You might want to consider potting soil (without chemical additives) under the Flourite to give added nutrients to your tank. Some folks on this Forum are trying this and I'm sure will be glad to share their progress with you. You will need CO2 only if you want to grow high light plants (with high light bulbs!). These plants will "gobble up" the natural CO2 in your tank and will need more if they are to grow. I dose with Excell and have appreciated how it also kept the "black stuff" (algae) under control. Good luck.


Thanks for the info! Could you tell me the lumens and color spectrum that plants prefer?

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Wed May 11, 2011 12:31 am
by iAquanaut
Dutchman wrote:Hi,
I'm one of those "middle of the road" guys. I don't believe in CO2 injection, because most of the time the CO2-level (particularly in the morning) is quite substantial, like 15 to 20 ppm, depending on your stocking.
In my opinion (IMO) you should increase your lighting untill there's no more improvement in the plant growth. I know that's not so easy to do, but, if you think the growth is a bit stunted, increase the energy by about 1.5 (as in: fit a third tube).
After that, just leave it at that and live with it.


Thanks! I do not believe in CO2 injection 100% at the moment so you could call me a "middle of the road" guy, too. Don't plants get plenty of CO2 from it diffusing into the water at the surface?

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Wed May 11, 2011 12:50 am
by Dutchman
Don't plants get plenty of CO2 from it diffusing into the water at the surface?
No, you can work it out mathematically using the gas pressure ratios, which tells you that the CO2 diffusion from air is minute. The CO2 in your tank comes mainly from your fish. You can manipulate the level somewhat by controlling the water splashing at night. Reduce the disturbance and keep the water level nice and smooth and the CO2 level will rise.

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Wed May 11, 2011 12:57 am
by iAquanaut
Dutchman wrote:
Don't plants get plenty of CO2 from it diffusing into the water at the surface?
No, you can work it out mathematically using the gas pressure ratios, which tells you that the CO2 diffusion from air is minute. The CO2 in your tank comes mainly from your fish. You can manipulate the level somewhat by controlling the water splashing at night. Reduce the disturbance and keep the water level nice and smooth and the CO2 level will rise.


Ok. So exactly how much CO2 do heliophytic plants need and what light temperature do they prefer? I'm pretty sure that my fish alone will not be able to supply near enough CO2 for them.

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Wed May 11, 2011 1:55 am
by Dutchman
I'm no expert at that level, but I am certain that with common stocking levels you can get 10 to 15ppm of CO2 and perhaps more if you save the CO2 produced at night. Otherwise, measure pH and KH mornings and night and work-out the corresponding CO2 levels (plenty of tables on the internet) and find out.
5000 to 6500K is a good light temperature. 10000K is NOT recommended. You can also combine different tubes to give an optimised K-rating. I can help you with that.

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Wed May 11, 2011 4:25 pm
by freshfish
As I mentioned in my reply to your PM, you WILL need to inject pressurized CO2 if you run as much light over this tank as you're currently considering.

Light is what controls plant rates of growth. The more light, the faster plants grow, and therefore the more nutrients they need (especially carbon, easiest supplied by CO2). If you put high lighting over a tank, and do NOT supply the right balance of nutrients, you will end up with nutrient-deficient plants and an algae farm instead of a healthy planted tank.

I run only 2x21 watts over my own 46gal and still occasionally have to dose Excel to knock back algae, especially on the taller plants that are closer to the light. However, this light level IMO is a very good compromise between enough light to support most "low light" plants versus not so much that my tank requires CO2 or much in the way of supplemental fertilization.

Most bulbs in the 5000-10,000 kelvin range will support FW plant growth just fine, including some outside that range (like the 18,000 kelvin PowerGlo made my Hagen). Kelvins are not a regulated measurement here in the USA so are pretty subjective from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Wed May 11, 2011 9:56 pm
by Diana
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynth ... _radiation

PAR is a way of comparing light to see how well it meets the needs of plants.
There is a chart in that link that shows the different plant chemicals (Chlorophyll and others) that react to light, and what wavelengths they respond to. Then the info from that chart is combined on the next chart down.

Basically, plants use a fair amount of energy from an area that we see as red, and they use energy from the area that we see as blue. The higher bumps in those charts show what light the plants need. They use very little in the green area. Mostly they reflect green, that is why they look green.

The human eye sees the yellow to green area of the spectrum as the brightest. Most bulbs are designed to give more light in that range. This is not the right area for the plants. Look for bulbs that show a wave length chart, and that show more bumps in the areas that the plants use for optimum plant growth.
Then get a bulb that will make the tank look good to your eyes.

I combine bulbs. One (or more) is specifically chosen to help the plants, and looks sort of purple to my eye. If I used only that one, the fish would look weird. So the other bulb is a 'daylight' or 'cool white'. This one sort of evens things out so
IMO that combo produces a natural looking tank, while still including the parts of the spectrum that the plants use.

Kelvin is an opinion, not a measure of what wavelengths a bulb produces.
PAR is an accurate representation of how well plants respond to that light.

3-5 watts per gallon is not a good enough goal.
3-5 watts of what sort of light?

3-5 wpg of incandecent is no good at all.
3-5 wpg of office light is almost as bad.
3-5 wpg of T-12 flourescent, or even T-8, chosen from an assortment of bulbs to give you some of the wavelengths plants need, and some that please your eye, will probably make your tank a high tech tank. (High tech= specialty substrate, pressurized CO2, daily fertilizer. No way to get around it)
3-5 wpg of T-5, or T-5HO, plant specific bulbs is so high tech that even really dedicated aquatic plant people do not go there.

Here is my suggestion:
DIY light fixture: Look here at TFH for Cor's thread about the right shape of the reflector. Build that.
Use T-8 bulbs, if you can find them. Use 2 that are plant specific, and one that is for your eyes. If you want to keep open your option for more light, go ahead and build in a 4 bulb set up.
Put these bulbs on separate ballasts, separate timers.
A 4' long, T-8 bulb with top quality reflectors will aim the light right down into the tank, minimum loss to restrike. The 4' T-8 bulbs I am using say 32 watts. Two of these, over 46 gallons = a bit less than 1.5 wpg. But remember, these are specifically chosen, researched, to be the highest PAR bulbs you can get. Another bulb, better for our eyes will not add much to that. A third plant bulb (if you set up for 4) would give your tank (3 x 32)/46= 2 wpg of high PAR light. I sure would not go more than that!
Timing:
1) right after planting the tank: Two plant bulbs: 3 hours on, 2 hours off, 3 hours on. Human-eye bulb: On only when you are there to see it. (But off during the same 2 hours as the plant bulbs)
2) After the plants have settled in, and you are seeing some growth: 2 Plant bulbs: 4 hours on, 2 off, 4 on. Human-eye bulb: On only when you are there to see it. (but still off during those same two hours)
3) Once you get into the CO2, fertilizer regime: Run all three plant bulbs on the 4-2-4 pattern, or even bump it up to 5 hours or even 6 hours on, the same 2 off, then 5-6 on. Again, add in the human-eye bulb only when you are there to see it.

To further research the 2 hour break in the middle of the day, google Siesta in combination with Planted Aquarium or similar terms. Seems that break helps fight algae.

Substrate:
You do not want a substrate that has fertilizer. The substrate HOLDS fertilizer, but does not SUPPLY it.
Soil particles that are very small (clay) hold the fertilizer in a way that plants can use it. This is cationic exchange capacity. Use the best soil you can find, or research Mineralized Soil and make your own, if you have a good starting material.
Then add the nutrients plants need.
Hydrogen and Oxygen are already taken care of.
Carbon is the element they need the most of after H and O. Do not skimp. Do not use the KH/pH charts. Get a drop checker.
Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium are referred to as Macros. Fertilize with these more than the next group. Use tablets you push under the substrate, or water column dosing.
Calcium, Magnesium are generally present in most tap water, unless the GH is under 3 German degrees of hardness. If it is that soft, or you have any reason to question these, get a separate Ca test and see what each of these are. Municipal water companies often post water quality info on line (if you are in the USA- I do not know about the rest of the world)
Iron is the mineral that is most often lacking. Unless you know your tap water supplies it in a form plants can use (probably not) I would fertilize using chelated iron.
All the other minerals that plants need (roughly a dozen) they need in such small amounts that you will likely buy some Trace Mineral product of some sort, and it has all the plants need. Dose according to the package.

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Thu May 12, 2011 2:39 am
by Dutchman
freshfish wrote:Most bulbs in the 5000-10,000 kelvin range will support FW plant growth just fine, including some outside that range
I'm a member of a local Planted Tank Forum called "APSA" (Aquatic Plants South Africa), and some time ago our Prof member posted an article on 10000K tubes. His point was that the output of these tubes include a lot of blue and a lot of visible (luminous) light.
They also include substantial peaks at ±545nm, which according to the Prof stimulates algae growth. As these tubes also lack red light, it has an unfavourable influence on plant growth.
It goes too far to get into the details here, but the long and the short of it is that the Prof suggested not to exceed 6500K for any planted tank.

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Thu May 12, 2011 4:45 pm
by freshfish
I certainly won't argue with your professor, but keep in mind that in the USA since kelvins aren't regulated, 10k bulbs are not all alike. I happen to like 10k bulbs quite a bit and am 100% confident they WILL grow plants, though I do also prefer to use them in combo with bulbs with lower kelvins or with pink bulbs for aesthetic reasons. I actually dislike 5000-6500k bulbs because I don't like the yellowish appearance they give a tank.

My goal with planted tanks is also just to keep the plants alive and growing somewhat, not maximize their growth to the fullest potential (since that would equal more work for me to keep the plants trimmed LOL). So goals may be another thing to factor in with bulb choice.

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Thu May 12, 2011 9:41 pm
by Dutchman
That's all very acceptable - I suppose - as long as you don't get algae blooms using the >10K bulbs. Your tanks are also not heavily lighted, which reduces that chance anyway.

I finished the design of my tank. It will be a Paludarium (river edge). One of these days, when I've worked-up enough courage, I'll order the glass. Any recent pics of your tanks?

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Thu May 12, 2011 9:48 pm
by freshfish
Lights are off for the night, but I'll try and get some tomorrow for you. The 90gal is in severe need of a trim LOL

Re: Planted Tank Questions

PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2011 1:55 am
by iAquanaut
freshfish wrote:As I mentioned in my reply to your PM, you WILL need to inject pressurized CO2 if you run as much light over this tank as you're currently considering.

Light is what controls plant rates of growth. The more light, the faster plants grow, and therefore the more nutrients they need (especially carbon, easiest supplied by CO2). If you put high lighting over a tank, and do NOT supply the right balance of nutrients, you will end up with nutrient-deficient plants and an algae farm instead of a healthy planted tank.

I run only 2x21 watts over my own 46gal and still occasionally have to dose Excel to knock back algae, especially on the taller plants that are closer to the light. However, this light level IMO is a very good compromise between enough light to support most "low light" plants versus not so much that my tank requires CO2 or much in the way of supplemental fertilization.

Most bulbs in the 5000-10,000 kelvin range will support FW plant growth just fine, including some outside that range (like the 18,000 kelvin PowerGlo made my Hagen). Kelvins are not a regulated measurement here in the USA so are pretty subjective from manufacturer to manufacturer.


Thanks Freshfish!

How much lighting would you suggest I provide so that I do not need to inject CO2 but still have a relatively highly lit tank?

Wow, Diana! Thanks for all the info! I do know about PAR and what it's affect is on photosynthetic organism because I keep a saltwater reef tank that has alot of photosynthetic corals in it. Your post helped clarify the PAR that plants prefer, though.