Apprentice Sorcerer's Recipe for Failure (ASRFF)

Karen Randall wrote:
(snip, snip)
Again, I'm sorry if it seems like I'm coming down hard on you, but 
it looks to me like you are making matters worse instead of 

Hi Karen, I liked your letter. Don't worry, I am used to have at work very
lively discussions on scientific and pseudo-scientific issues, and I firmly
believe that they can help us all to get better results.
I am sure we share the same goal, which is to keep fish and plants healthy
and happy. So, why should I be mad at you offering help?

Now, here is a little of explanation on why I did what I did, and a few
(friendly) comments on what you wrote.

I agree on your point of not jumping to conclusions about the effect of
medications on plants. I used the formaline more than a month ago, while the
Fluke-Tabs was first used less than a week ago. Would you consider
acceptable to say that they did not appear to cause and immediate visible
damage (like some algae controllers can do)? In terms of late effects,
formaline seems OK in my tank conditions, while for the other they are still
unknown. I do not know about their potential effects in different tank
conditions or on different plants, nor about more subtle problems they may
have created. 
I was thinking that probably negative effects on plants can occur directly
(when the medication targets negatively a certain physiologic function of
the plant) or indirectly (when the medication does not do anything to the
plant itself but affects other organisms or chemical parameters which the
plant needs). For example, from some gardening magazines I understand that
certain nematodes are beneficial to plants, since they kill some of their
root parasites. An antibiotic active on nematodes could indirectly cause
more plant parasite problems (this is a simplified example of course).
So, I am worried probably as much as you are about them, but I decided that
the risk was worth the potential benefit. This is of course subjective.

I know PH Down contains phosphates. However, the 1 ml I added is 0.003% of
the volume of the 300ml batch of PMDD I prepared. Would you agree that this
is a negligible contribution to the phosphates content of my tank? If you
know of a truly phosphate-free pH decreaser, please let me know. In the
past, I discovered that the phosphate-free product sold by a major company
was loaded with silicates, which I think were the reason for other problems
I got a long ago in my first tank. 

I did not understand you comment on the leaching of phosphates Vs iron from
the substrate. Do you mean that in my tank the DAI tables in the substrate
contribute to the phosphate levels? If so, I certainly agree with you.
However, do you think that in a tank without my problems the DAI tablets
should not be used anyway? Could different substrates and tank cleaning
procedures affect the rate chemicals leach in the water from the substrate?

Thanks for the tip on the tank diagnostic form. I will look at it ASAP.
I disagree with your feeling that I am the most likely cause (or major
contributor) of the problems, though!
There are several reasons. Amongst them, consider that the disease epidemics
started before I found the PMDD recipe, it did not get worse after I started
using them, and that most of the fish in the tank just look fine. A
poisoning due to the modified PMDD I used is not likely not to affect any of
the tetras and various fish which I have in the tank in addition to the
In addition, you are writing things as if I have been adding cyanide or so!
First of all, the substitutions I made were thought in advance and based on
compounds well known to be safe: PH Down (at a fraction of the recommended
dose) for HCl, and potash muriate for K2SO4, which I can't find. By the way,
before I decided to use potash I posted a request for hydroponic product
companies (for the micronutrients and the K2SO4) without receiving answers,
and since I was concerned with the chloride in the potash I then E-mailed a
person on the list who successfully used potash in order to know the dosages
he used.
I did not use KNO3 on the basis of some postings, including yours if I
remember well, saying that beginners like me have normally plenty of
nitrogen anyway. As I posted with no answer yet, I do not know what to do
for the micronutrients with iron (can you please give me an opinion on
Overall, although I am not able to modify the PMDD on the basis of well
thought molar concentrations of one thing or another, I feel I built an
adequate safety margin using proven compounds within the doses used
successfully by others. Can you point out something specific to convince me
otherwise (by E-mail, if it is not appropriate for this list)?

In general, I certainly agree with the recommendation to be very careful
about changing things around, and I do feel like an apprentice sorcerer. I
wish certain compunds would be easier to find. However, some fooling around
is part of our hobby, and it should be tolerated if reasonably safe. Would
you agree that many of the commercial preparations being advertised and used
by the tons are much more dangerous than my ASRFF??!
Thanks again for your help, past, present and future!