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RE: Melissa's fertilizer question

> Hello!
> Yah, I always forget, but I shouldve mentioned that I dont have
> web access
> right now.. :(
> And yes, I am a beginner with plants.  Ive been keeping just fish
> (FW) for
> ten years, and gave the plants a go once or twice in the past but
> didnt do
> any research onthem beforehand. This time I want to do it right
> in my 120G
> tank.
> I was just wondering what Jobes were and the other types of fertilizer
> mentioned here.
> thanks

Mmmmm..... O.K.......

With a tank of that size, you'll want to get it right the first time, 'cause
it will be a drag to have to break it down to correct a major problem after
the fact.

1. What kind of fish are you planning on keeping in the tank? Are they
"plant friendly" or do you hope to keep "monsters"? The most attractive
large planted tanks usually have very small fish in schools, with maybe a
few Angelfish or Discus as a focal point (substitute any other medium sized
fish which won't attack and eat your plants). If you are hoping for Rift
Lake Cichlids, your options are limited but not entirely gone. If any of
your fish are "diggers" you might be forced to pot up your plants
individually in clay pots and sink those into the substrate, protected by
pebbles large enough so that the fish can't get at the substrate around the

2. Are you planning a hi-tech or a low-tech approach? High-tech involves
supplemental CO2 and very high light levels (approximately 3-4 watts/gal).
Low-tech may or may not have supplemental CO2 and has more moderate light
levels, usually around 2 watts per gallon. Both approaches work, but the
plants which do well in one type of setup may or may not do well in the
other and the rate of growth of your plants will differ (faster in a
high-tech set-up, requiring more maintenance). The "need" for supplemental
CO2 depends to a large extent on how much light you are providing - at 1.5 -
2 watts/gal. the need is less than at 3-4 watts/gal. For low tech set-ups
without supplemental CO2, you can also select plants capable of using
bicarbonate as a source of Carbon. See Diana Walstad's new book "Ecology of
Planted Aquariums" for more details on that sort of thing.

For a beginner on a limited budget, low-tech is a lot simpler.... and can be
just as nice to look at. You plants will just grow more slowly.

3. The absolutely worst substrate in a planted tank is plain gravel with no
additives, at least in the beginning. Over time, as fish mulm and uneaten
food gets mineralized, it will be able to grow plants but never really well.
If you want a nicely planted tank, the substrate deserves more attention
than this.

Oh, and by the way - get out of the habit of vacuuming the gravel - it might
be needed in a fish tank but it isn't a good idea in a plant tank.

Different people here advocate different things - some favour laterite mixed
into the lower 1/3 of the gravel bed, covered by 2/3's clean gravel (2-3 mm
diamater gravel in all cases). Laterite, in and of itself, contains very
little in the way of nutrition for plants other than iron. It's main purpose
is to act as a bonding site for nutrient ions which find their way from the
water column into the substrate either thru passive diffusion or more active
diffusion in tanks with substrate heating (let's not even go there....).
Tanks with laterite in the substrate will also usually require a full regime
of liquid fertilizer, containing both macro and micro nutrients added to the
water column. Laterite works, and works well.... provided that you follow
through with fertilizing the water column.

Then there's the clay / kitty litter crowd. Either will act as a bonding
site for nutrients within the substrate and some clays will also contain a
lot of micro-nutrients which will lessen the need for micronutrient
additions to the water column.

There are also numerous "commercial" additives which have fertilizer
components "built-in" - Aqualine Buschke sells "Terralit", one that I have
used with success in the past. The fertilizer encorporated into the Terralit
gives the plant roots a nice initial push to get them started.

Then there is the "soil based" crowd. This can seem daunting for a beginner,
but it is certainly "dirt cheap", provided that you have a ready source of
suitable soil. This being the middle of winter, that might present problems.
A couple of pounds of "real" low-organic, well mineralized top soil or
topsoil/clay subsoil combination with a very small addition of peat moss
(very, very small addition) can comfortably support good plant growth for a
long time, especially in a low-tech set-up. With some sub-soils you may have
a problem with metal toxicity in the beginning but this lessens over time -
metal toxicity usually shows up as the stm plants rotting off at the point
where the plant meets the gravel or just below.

The "Jobes crowd" use Jobes Fern and Palm sticks inserted into the substrate
(usually just plain gravel). This can work and I have to admit to using them
on occassion, but I prefer to only do so in tanks which have been set up for
a few years and have need for a few select "boosts" in spots with heavy root

Regardless of the method you decide upon, select ONE method and stick with
it - don't try to complicate matters by trying a bit of this and a bit of
that - hybrid substrates which contain multiple types of additives are
usually a bad idea, especially for the beginner (I speak from long, sad
experience here....).

Also remember that it is generally recommended that a successful planted
tank is best planted heavily right from the start (70% of the substrate
surface has plants in it). This will either require that you have a healthy
wallet or have made friends with a local plant enthusiast who can give you
some trimmings from their tanks. Stem plants are great (and cheap) during
the initial stages of a tank - they grow fast and help get the tank started
in the right direction quickly. Generally, stay away from slower growing
plants like Crypts for at least the first three months. With planted tanks
of any type, patience is a real virtue.

If it were MY first large scale plant tank, I think that I would go the
laterite route. Dupla laterite is next to impossible to get in North America
now, but there are alternatives. One place you can try is Karl Schoeler:

K. R. Schoeler Enterprises, Incorporated
241 County Road 42
Apple Valley, MN 55124
Phone: (612) 432-9608
Email: Karl at SubstrateGold_com

The appropriate amount of Substrate Gold (176 oz will do a 120 gallon tank
nicely @ $45.00 + $9.00 shipping within the US) mixed into the lower 1/3 of
the gravel bed, covered under a couple of inches of plain washed gravel,
will make a safe, suitable substrate which will be stable for a number of

Put at least 2.5 - 3 watts of light over the tank and if you can afford it,
add supplemental CO2 (Dave Gomberg, who is on this list, sells a nice
package for CO2 supplementation at a reasonable price. Email
gomberg at wcf_com). Or, you could hobble along with DIY yeast generated CO2
for the first little while.

For lighting, if you haven't already settled on something - you might want
to contact Kim at AHS. He sells inexpensive compact fluorescent kits which
can be retrofitted into most aquarium hoods.

A H Supply
48 Benedict Rd.
Pittsford, NY 14534
(716) 218-0201
Email: ahsupply at ahsupply_com

For fertilizing the water column, pick a good, well rounded aquatic plant
fertilizer like Tropica Mastergrow or Seachem Flourish. Dose initally at no
more than half of the manufacturer's recommended doseage and make any future
changes slowly, over a period of weeks.

You asked about "Jobes" sticks and I ended up writing a book...... oh well,
old aquarists do tend to go on...... ;-)

Good luck...

James Purchase