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Algae Challange

The following post is forwarded for Caleb Clapp:

It would seem that algae control is the make-it-or break-it element in
whether a planted aquarium hobbyist is born or throws in the towel.
Assuming the basics like equipment, substrate, maintenance, etc are
reasonable, it also seems that the control of algae in planted aquaria is
still basically a matter of trial and error.  At least, there seems not to
be a generally accepted roadmap.  For example, your recent debate/dialogue
question if it is the "absence of one or more nutrients" or "surplus of one
or more nutrients" which stimulate algae, or conversely, which cure it.
Similarly, there are discussions based on maintaining surplus nutrients,
except a) Phosphate, or b) Nitrates, depending who one reads.

Irrespective of these particular examples, (the subtlety of which I may not
yet properly appreciate), it is surprising that: 1.  the debate goes on to
such an extent; 2.  the system of analysis has been very home-spun i.e.
mostly hobbyists doing their own experiments with lots of simultaneous
variables, vs. much more mainstream (corporate/institutional/well funded)
research (likely by fertilizer companies or universities).  Or, is this just
a statement that the planted aquarium hobby is so very small, no one will
fund anything? (than how do Seachem, etc get by); and 3. No companies
produce an affordable nutrient system (a combination of micro and macro
nutrients, etc) that has been broadly accepted by the advanced hobbyists,
that vigorously stimulates plants, and limits algae.

It appears that the most detailed work on algae control is the Sears-Colin
paper, written in 1996, Control of Algae in Planted Aquaria
<http://www.cam.org/~tomlins/algae.html> .  This concludes that PMDD (Poor
Man's Dupla Drops) is the best way to reach the proper balance of high plant
growth while limiting algae.  Since then, individual hobbyists
debate/discuss "tweaks" to that approach.  However some of these "tweaks"
are as dramatic as reversing the basic premise, e.g. the above "absence" or
"surplus" of nutrients question, as well as which nutrients to
increase/limit; adding "water column" nutrients vs. "substrate" nutrients,

Here is the context of my questions:

I am one of those newer hobbyists recently referred to.  However, I have
invested much more time than most would consider.  Over the past month, I've
read everything I can find on Algae control, PMDD, and related topics, as
well as many other aspects of the hobby.  I have been willing to spend
significant time and money during this start-up phase (4 hours/day for a
month).  I am having a significant algae problem, the particulars of which I
will describe in a minute.  

My broader issue, however, is:  if one doesn't win the algae fight, one will
not likely continue in the hobby.  Yet, other than the PMDD approach, there
is little in the way of a roadmap.  Thus, I challenge/beg those of you who
know your stuff to respond to the following questions for newer hobbyists,
who are willing/trying to get is right and who will invest reasonable time
and money to succeed, but who must have reasonable long-term success against

1)  Is the Sears-Colin paper fundamentally the current, accepted piece of
work on the subject.  If not, what is? (I hope the answer is not, "all the
little e-mails that have flown around since it was written", i.e. I hope
there is a comparable start-to-finish piece(s) to read/follow).

2)  Is PMDD fundamentally the way to add nutrients for high plant growth and
reasonable control of algae?  (As you likely know, these can be bought,
pre-prepared, from Homegrown Hydroponics: Poor Man's Dupla Drop
<http://www.hydroponics.com/info/aquatics/pmdd.htm>  ).  Or, is there a
group of readily available products that are viable, or better, (such as:
Flourish Tabs or Jobes Spikes w/ Flourish liquid w/ Flourish Trace, w
Flourish Potassium, Iron and Excel).  And what about Dupla Drops, etc,
themselves?  Are they the most straight forward way to go?  Are they
completely unaffordable?  Is there anything missed by buying Dupla? In your
answer to this question, please be specific.  I, like many others, are
looking for a basic path to follow (of which there will likely be several,
but we need to know what they are to choose/begin on one).

3)  For high plant growth and algae control, as a general matter, should
nutrients be added to the water column, or to the substrate.  If the answer
is "to the substrate", and PMDD or Dupla liquids are best (or other non-tab
products), Florida Driftwood sells a clay ball substrate injection tool to
do this: Substrate Nutrient Injector
<http://floridadriftwood.com/substratefertilizernutrients.html>  .  Is that
what it takes?

4)  If a tank needs to be kicked into high gear, to enable plants to
out-compete algae, what fast growing plants do you recommend?  Does the
concept of adding fast-growing plants in reasonable quantity make sense for
newer tanks, and for most other tanks that are experiencing significant
algae (assuming nutrients, light, filtration etc are reasonably correct)?

5)  What test kits and from which manufacturers should one have if employing
the recommended nutrient plan.  The newer hobbyist may do well to test,
rather than rely on experience, plant characteristics, etc to ensure correct
dosages.  However, most are not scientists.

5)  Given my current "bloom", and my perception that with the other basics
covered, reasonably strong algae control is essential to the longevity of a
hobbyist, I am inclined to have at least 50%-75% of my fish algae
controlling fish, etc, for my 29g tank this means:  4 SAE, 4 Otto Cats, 6
Amino Shrimp, 2 Mollies, 2 Swords, 4 Corey Cats, Snails (not sure which).
This quantity can rise and fall with the level of algae problems.

6)  When employing all of the above measures, generally how long should one
pause to see if the desired effect is coming, e.g. how long would it take to
know if PMDD is working, if adding plants is working, etc.  This is
important, because newer hobbyists may tend to act, or react, to soon.

Do you recommend Diatom filters for periodic use?  Vortex or System 1?

7)  Other comments?

As these general points are vital to me and most serious newer hobbyists,
please focus on the above.  If you still have any cyber-breath left, here
are my individual current circumstance/conditions for which comments are

29g 30" tank.  110 w compact florescent (4w/g) w 2 full-spectrum bulbs 12-14
hrs/day.  Carbo Plus C02 at 66% (I have also read everything on the web
about the Carbo Plus.  (Other than sometimes mistakenly high quoted cost,
(only about $150 @ True Aquarium Plants: Carbo Plus
<http://www.trueaquariumplants.com/prod_list.asp?depID=15&catname=CO2> ), is
there anything truly wrong with this way to adding C02?)).  KH 5, GH 2, PH
6.8 (prior to Seachem Alkaline Buffer and Acid Buffers: KH 2.5, GH 2, PH
6.4). Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate undetectable. Temp 78-82.  Substrate 3"
Florite w a box of Laterite below.  Whisper-2 filter.  A few Seachem
Flourish Tabs and daily Seachem Iron.  Prime with water changes.  Reasonable
heavy planting, but by no means full.  For fish: Ottos, Cardinals and
Coreys.  Not over-feeding.  Weekly 50% water changes.  Cycling was very mild
due to high plant vs. fish load.

I have likely damaged my plants from too much handling:  Once to replace
original large Petco gravel with Flourite, and once to fully replant and
substantially prune all plants.  There were only one-week intervals between
receipt of plants (mail order) and each of these two replantings.  In each
case plants were likely out of water too long (6 hours).

During my 1 month tank life, after 2 weeks I had Diatom Algae, which went
away with Ottos and change from 2w/gal to 4w/gal of light. For next and last
2 weeks I have serious, probably string algae (brownish long hairs 1"-8",
and cobwebby balls covering the upper leaves/stems on most plants.  Swords
are less effected.  Even 1 day after water change and attempted algae
removal, new algae growth is very apparent.  Daily and nightly growth

Likely due to poor treatment of plants, resulting in slow current growth,
and compounded by current algae.  Many plants are doing poorly (after one
week since final replanting).  

My current plan is as follows:  1)  Add 4-6 SAE, 2 Ottos (4 total), 6 Amano
Shrimp, 2 Mollies and 2 Swords.  This will be done gradually to adjust for
boi-load.  2) add 50%-75% more plants using quick growing ones.  3)  use
PMDD as sole nutrient program.  4)  continue 50% weekly water changes and
physical removal of algae (not easy without uprooting plants, so I'll err on
side of little plant disturbance.  5)  give it time 2-3 weeks, and reassess.
6)  Keep my fingers crossed.  If plants grow and algae are under control, I
will somewhat thin the algae-eating fish, add carpet foreground plants
(Amano influence), and focus on Angles and Cardinals, with others for
variety (glass cat, Hatchet, maybe a few Fancy Guppies).  I'll try to resist
messing with the established plants too much, i.e. just let them grow with
normal maintenance, until everything is very well seasoned (especially me).

From me and others trying to learn to do this right, despite a few bumps in
the road,....THANKS!

Caleb Clapp