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poor results

I am hoping that some of you can provide some insight in to why I have 
been having poor results with my planted tank.  Please excuse any 
spelling mistakes;  my spell checker in not working correctly

I have a 20 gallon tank that I initially set up about 2 months ago.  
I am using 3, 15 watt daylight florescent bulbs over top.  I am 
using DYI CO2, and have an aquaclear mini and an aquaclear 150 on 
the back with a foam filter in each.

I started the tank with small aquarium gravel with a gravel additive 
in the bottom 1/3;  I can not think of the name of the product but 
it comes in a green box and has a german name.  I do know it was not 
not laterite, of which do not seem to be carried at any of the 
stores in the area.  I am fertilizing Flourish, Ferro Fit, and I have 
recently started adding a small amount of iron supplement that is a 
outdoor plant supplement.  I got a iron test kit a couple of weeks 
ago, and the iron initially measured a little low.  It is now between 
.05 and .1 (is the decimal in the right place?).  The CO2 seems fine. 
 When I take two ph tests and shake one up to airate it, the airated 
test raises about .2.  I thought nitrates could be a possible problem 
(though after the plants stopped growing the tank should not have 
been nitrate deficient).  Nitrates are not messuring high, but the 
tank is definitely not deficient.  The ph test is the only one that I 
think could be a potential problem.   Water out of the tap here is 
about 6.6.  Adding CO2 to this brings it down to about 6.2 - 6.3.  I 
assume that plants come from waters with a ph that is this low, but 
could this be herting my plant growth?  The temperature in the tank 
swing from about 76 to 80 after the lights have been turned on for a 

Because this is a new tank, I thought I should start primarily with 
fast growing plants.  I primarily planted wisteria (sp?) and some 
cabomba.  At this time I only had 30 watts of lighting over the tank, 
but the plants started growing nicely, but the combomba was turning 
white at the bottom -- I assumed this was from too little light.  At 
that time I added another light on the tank.  After about 3 weeks 
this growth came to a rather abrupt end.  The leaves of the plants 
stopped extending out under the lights, and the very edges of the 
wisteria seemed to be going brown.  I should note that when I bought 
the wisteria, it did not look in great shape, but it had since 
revived and was looking very healthy.

I did a ph test after the plants stopped growing and it came out at 
about 7.  This concerned me.  As I mentioned earlier, the water here 
comes out of the tap around 6.6 -- before C02 is injected into it.  I 
thought the gravel I was using must be leaching something into the 
water, and that was the only thing I could think of the might have 
been causing the drastic decrease in growth.  I decided to start 
over, and thought I would try a vermisilite / worm casting / gravel 

I mixed up the base of the proposed substrate and dumped about 3 
inches into the bottom of the tank.  I had strained the mixture 
through a stocking to remove as much water a possible, but I found 
that the mixture was still much to soupy to continue.  I decided 
to try mixing sand into the mix to firm it up.  I used a fine 
play sand for this and it was successful in firming the solution 
up.  I am now wondering, however, if this soil is too compact.  When 
I was putting the plants back into the tank, I put them into the 
vermisilite mixture, and then covered them with aquarium gravel.

The results from this revamp have been less than exciting.  The 
plants look exactly like they did before.  While they do not seem to 
be dying, they do not look healthy.  My experience with wisteria in 
the past is that it looks good very quickly if it is happy with the 
environment it is in.

I have been changing about 25% of the water weekly.  I have not been 
treating the water before putting it in the tank, instead leaving 
it for a couple of days to take care of the chlorine.  When I took 
the tank apart, I changed about 1/2 of the tank's water.

I am finding this all very discouraging.  In the past I have had good 
plant growth in this tank when I had only 15 watts of lighting, no 
C02, and no fertilization.  However, I did have latterite in the soil 
at the time.

I am considering revamping the tank yet again.  Since I am assuming 
that the substrate is the problem, I am looking at alternatives.  I 
have been considering something I heard posted on this group in the 
past and I was wondering if any of you are currently using it.  The 
method was to set up a plenum in the tank and feed nutrients into the 
tank through the plenum.  This would be covered with fine gravel.  Is 
there any thoughts out there on this.  I do not want to mess with 
soil / vermisilite again, and I thought this method could provide the 
opportunity to have a cleaner tank, with less need for as 
much mechanical filtration.

I was also thinking of using PMDD solution to fertilize the tank.  I 
have checked at the stores here and the ingredients are easily found. 
One question, however, is how do you add the water to the epsom salts 
to make it "fully hydrated".  I am far from a chemist, so don't laugh 
to hard, but do you just add 7 parts water to 1 part epsom salts to 
make the MgSo4 7H2O. 

I also am wondering about the lights.  What are your feelings on the 
daylight florescents?  Should I switch to aquarium specific bulbs?  
I was considering taking out the three bulbs and using 2 of the 
cheap 20 Watt GE plant and aquarium bulbs.  I was considering this 
for a few reasons, including the fact that I can only find the 20 
watt variety of this bulb around and my ballast for 2 of my lights 
will work with these bulbs.  I also felt that this would allow 
the tank to stay cooler (when the tank get up to around 80, it 
feels too warm to me).  These bulbs would extend to the very edges of 
the tank.  The water in my tank does look a touch cloudy.  I 
am wondering if this is because of the yellowish cast of the 
current lights.  I am worrying about the effect on the light level of 
this slight cloudiness.

Next I would like to consider my ph.  Having a ph down to around 6.2 -
 6-4 did not seem to be a big problem to me, but is it?  This would 
be one of the differences between my earlier attempts to grow plants 
and my current.  The lack of C02 in my previous tank kept the ph a 
little higher.  I started to bring up the ph yesterday, by adding 
small amounts of baking soda to the tank.