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re: Algae challenge


Sorry to come so late to this thread.  Maybe I can still add something. 
Maybe not.

Dwight provided us with these points from 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.

I know that some people have tried the hobby and left because of
problems controlling algae.  I don't think it's because algae control is
the make-or-break element of the hobby.  I think it's because those
people had unrealistic expectations when they started in the hobby and
didn't have the patience to solve the problem.  Algae control in a
planted aquarium is like weed control in a garden; it's part of the
job.  If that's too much of a burden for the new hobbyist, then the new
hobbyist needs a different hobby.

> My broader issue, however, is: if one doesn't win the algae fight, one will
> not likely continue in the hobby.

I grew plants (admittedly not as well as I do now) for a long time
before algae control became an issue.  I suspect that controlling algae
is a big problem mostly for those people who dive into the hobby
head-first, without a background of experience to help them understand
their aquarium.

Keep your initial attempts simple.  Concentrate on what you need to do
to grow plants and the issue of how to control algae may never become
all that important.  If you insist on starting out with a high-light,
CO2-supplimented and heavily fertilized tank then be patient.  It takes
a while to understand how it all works.

> 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).

There is no such thing as "the" current, accepted piece of work on the
subject.  There are many different ways to grow plants and the Sears and
Conlin paper provides one method.  PMDD is a method of formulating a
fertilizer to use in that one approach.

I think James and/or Tom already listed some of the other methods that
are available, so there's no need for me to repeat the list.

> 2) Is PMDD fundamentally the way to add nutrients for high plant growth and
> reasonable control of algae?

No.  PMDD is not fundamental.  It's part of one method, and I consider
that to be a fairly advanced approach.  You may want to get your start
in the hobby using a more basic method.

> 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).

A few years ago we often repeated the same good advice to people who
wanted to to make a fast start in the hobby.  Several accomplished
aquarists have described systems for growing a pretty complete group of
aquatic plants.  Study their methods, figure out which one you want to
use and reproduce it exactly. Don't mix and match methods or materials.  
> 3) For high plant growth and algae control, as a general matter, should
> nutrients be added to the water column, or to the substrate.

Probably both, but that depends on the plants that you choose to grow. 
Some plants grow best with a rich, fertile substrate, while other plants
won't use the substrate at all.  If your tank contains plants in both
categories then you need to fertilize both ways.

> 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)?

I think the most widely advised approach is to fully plant the aquarium
from the beginning.  You don't have to load up with fast-growing plants
if you use a lot of plants and keep the fertility to a reasonable
level.  If your fish load is too high or you have over-fertilized in
some way then you might be  able to add fast-growing stem plants to fix
an existing problem.  That only works if you also provide enough light
and CO2 to meet the tank's increased needs, and it doesn't work at all
if the problem didn't come from over fertilizing.
> 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.

That depends partly on the nature of your water supply and partly on the
approach you choose to take.  If you have moderately hard, well-buffered
water and use Diana Walstad's approach then you might not need any test
kits.  If you have soft, poorly-buffered water and use the Sears and
Conlin method then you will need more.

Regardless of whether you test it yourself, you need to know if your
water is hard or soft, well buffered or poorly buffered.  You can get
that information from your water utility.
> 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.

If you like those fish, then fine.  Otherwise you probably don't need
that many algae eaters.  My 55-gallon tank has 3 SAEs (2 would be
plenty), 4 rosey barbs and some snails.

> 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.

Newer hobbyists very often react too soon.  Heck, so do I.  I think Tom
suggested 3 weeks, and that sounds fine to me.
> Do you recommend Diatom filters for periodic use? Vortex or System 1?

No, but maybe for occasional use.  The filters work for clearing up
green water, but people often find that the filter treats the symptom
and not the disease.  The problem repeats itself. 

> 7) Other comments?

All of the methods I can think of right now are designed primarily to
support healthy plant growth.  Sears and Conlin obviously place a lot of
emphasis on algae control, but even their method works primarily by
promoting robust plant growth.  All of our divergent methods converge on
that one point; they aim primarily at growing healthy plants.  You
should concentrate more on what it takes to grow healthy plants and less
on what it takes to grow sickly algae.

Roger Miller