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newbie approaches

I'd like to add a #4 to the three options that Erik suggested:

#4 follow the directions of an experienced plant grower instead of
experimenting on your own. 

Commercial for Steve's method: =======================

I have developed an approach which utilizes soil and a small amount of
peat to supply trace nutrients from the substrate. K, Mg, Ca are
supplied by dosing at water change time. N and P are supplied partly via
fish and fish food, partly via the natural fertility of the soil and
partly through periodic additions of fertilized clay balls. This method
works even with very soft water and you can tailor it for situations
where the tap water does contain some minerals. Adding nutrients only at
water change time allows you to estimate the concentration in the
aquarium within two limits; the lower limit being if all the nutrient is
depleted from the aquarium and the upper limit where none of the
nutrient was used. You don't have to understand the math to use this
method; just follow the instructions. 

You can also use this water change dosing method with chelated trace
nutrients to calculate how much Fe you want to add to achieve say 0.1
ppm of iron in your water change water.

For a summary of my method refer to my web page.
http://home.infinet.net/teban/ Caveat: this method assumes that you will
fertilize with CO2 and have adequate lighting.

End of Commercial ========================

An equally valid method is to follow the PMDD regime (assuming you have
enough Ca in your tap water) and rely upon the fish food for P. It's
possible to augment the PMDD approach using clay or anything else in the
substrate and even by adding Jobe's sticks or clay balls to the
substrate. The PMDD approach does require you to use two test kits,
nitrate and iron. The iron test kit needs to be accurate enough for you
to establish 0.1 ppm but there is a way to guesstimate iron by staring
very hard at your plants to see if they are growing or if the algae is
growing too fast. I can't see how we can expect newbies to know how to
do this. Telling them to grow plants for 6 months until they somehow
learn it by osmosis seems less than perfect. ;-)

There may be simpler approaches but they are more dependent upon the tap
water having adequate minerals. 90% of water supplies probably have
enough minerals so its easy for the people who do have hard water to
preach the use of simple methods.

The traditional methods of growing aquatic plants (pre-Dupla) relied
upon getting trace minerals from the substrate by one of two methods:

1) using plain washed gravel and allowing fish detritus to accumulate
for 6 months - the Rataj and Horeman approach

2) using natural soil in the substrate, and CO2 from the soil or by
injection. - the Dutch aquarium method.

So when you talk traditional and simple, is this what you mean??? The
traditional approaches were far from simple or easy because they were
difficult to reproduce. IMHO Dupla definitely made things easier by
applying technology and marketting products. (George don't faint)