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Build Thread Frank's Dutch Attempt

FrankZ

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Below are the details on my latest iteration of this 75-gallon tank. I am going for a true Dutch style aquascape.

Filter - Fluval FX4, Hydro Koralia 565GPH power head

Light – 4 x 48” T5HO on from 9 am to 5 pm, distance from substrate is ~26 inches. Finnex Planted+ 24/7 CRV run on 24/7 mode ~26 inches from substrate.

CO2 – atomizer into the suction of the FX4, starting pH at 6 am is 7.4, pH drops to 6.2 in about 1.5 hours. I have a pH controller set to 6.15, it only cycles off a few times per day. CO2 is off at 4 pm.

Substrate – mineralized topsoil made from marsh mud, duck and chick poop dirt, and regular yard dirt. Wet dried about every few days from April through July. MTS is topped with red clay and then a couple inches of Black Diamond Blasting Sand. Substrate is essentially brand new, I installed it July 3.

Plants – Foreground (left to right): pogostemon helferi, hemianthus micranthemoides, lagenanadra meeboldii green (brand new, been in the tank 1 week).

Midground (left to right): ludwigia super red, bacopa monnieri, nymphaea stellate, hydrophila a‘parawitota’

Background (left to right): lobelia cardinalis, pogotstemon stellatus, ludiwigia repens, cabomba piahyensis, hygrophila salicifola purple

Sides and back – java moss with hygrophila pinnatifida along top, sides have a ricca line running down the front

Fertilization as of 8/4 is NPK 26/6/29 and Mg 5 ppm, once per week with 70% water change. Micros are burraqua at 3 x dose at water change then double dose mid-week.

I ended up with the above fertilization for no real scientific reason other than reading that others have had success. The plan is to give this new schedule at least a month before doing anything different.

I think my main issue with all of this is I have the patience of a doctor’s office on Sunday (NONE).

A couple of issues with my plants. Everything seemed to be light green, not as dark green as it could be, specifically the HM and bacopa. I noticed some leaf curling and weird grow on the H. salicifola as well. Most of these systems have been on the middle age leaves, not new ones but not the oldest either. The bacopa has this the worst. H corymbose isn’t really growing, it just sits there. The cabomba isn’t exactly happy either but not throwing leaves all over the tank.

The p stellatus, l repens, and h pinna all grow like weeds with zero issue. My lobelia, it the mini version, but it will not stay mini, it grows to oak tree size in all my tanks, even low tech. I have tried various sources of the lobelia mini and every time it just grows the same massive thick stem with little branching etc.

Any thoughts, comments, suggestions are greatly appreciated.
 

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Substrate – mineralized topsoil made from marsh mud, duck and chick poop dirt, and regular yard dirt. Wet dried about every few days from April through July. MTS is topped with red clay and then a couple inches of Black Diamond Blasting Sand. Substrate is essentially brand new, I installed it July 3.
Love this. Interested to see how it works out for you.

Most of these systems have been on the middle age leaves, not new ones but not the oldest either.
Do you mean that the curling is only in the middle leaves?

I think you have a nice Dutch growing in there. @Vin and @Burr740 are the people I think of when you're going for a strict Dutch. Perhaps they can chime in and give you some thoughts on the layout. However, getting the plants to all grow healthy is the first step.

You didn't mention your source water. Tap or RO?
 
Love this. Interested to see how it works out for you.


Do you mean that the curling is only in the middle leaves?

I think you have a nice Dutch growing in there. @Vin and @Burr740 are the people I think of when you're going for a strict Dutch. Perhaps they can chime in and give you some thoughts on the layout. However, getting the plants to all grow healthy is the first step.

You didn't mention your source water. Tap or RO?
Thanks for the comments. vin and burr are how I got into Dutch scaping. vin’s rotala kill tank led me to burr’s journal and here we are. All because my ammania gracilis looked like I set it on fire.

I use tap water not RO. Calcium ranges from 20 ppm to 80 ppm. I’ve never tested any Magnesium with my Hach test kits. Due to my career I have a large assortment of portable testing gear. Alkalinity is always between 120 and 160 ppm.

Here are two photos of the symptoms is middle leaves I was talking about. Yeah I meant symptoms not systems. Autocorrect hates me.

Photos are not the best, I have had a GDA explosion since Friday when I cleaned my FX4 but I think you’ll get what I’m talking about the hooking is most pronounced on the hygroIMG_2109.jpegIMG_2108.jpeg
 
Yup, I see it.

Not an expert but wouldn't the fact that new growth seems to be growing normal mean that you had an issue previously but no longer? Damage to older leaves usually means the plant is moving nutrients to the newer growth. However, impacted plants in the middle usually point to issues in the past.

Just my non-scientific thoughts.
 
I would give the whole thing more than just one month. Patience is the key (I know!!). In my Dutch, I tried heavy front loading but then changed to twice a week and had better results. Your soil appears to be rich so probably not much water column ferts needed in the first 3 months but small amount of water column ferts would be beneficial in my opinion. I would keep up with maintenance and get plants to grow more and mass to increase.

Interested to see how this tank would do over time.

Omid
 
Yup, I see it.

Not an expert but wouldn't the fact that new growth seems to be growing normal mean that you had an issue previously but no longer? Damage to older leaves usually means the plant is moving nutrients to the newer growth. However, impacted plants in the middle usually point to issues in the past.

Just my non-scientific thoughts.
Makes complete sense to me. The curled leaves on the hygro and dark dimpled leaves on the bacopa seem to appear as the leaves age. They look good for a week or two then start with the curling and dimpling.

My best course of action, I think, is stick to a routine for a couple months and trim my way out of the weird growth if it stops.
 
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I would give the whole thing more than just one month. Patience is the key (I know!!). In my Dutch, I tried heavy front loading but then changed to twice a week and had better results. Your soil appears to be rich so probably not much water column ferts needed in the first 3 months but small amount of water column ferts would be beneficial in my opinion. I would keep up with maintenance and get plants to grow more and mass to increase.

Interested to see how this tank would do over time.

Omid
Thanks Omid. Patience is not my strong suit. I hope the soil has plenty of nutrients in, I think the roots haven’t reached it yet. The clay is pretty dense and when I planted I made sure to not stick the stems far into the clay, it does make a massive mess if I accidentally pull any up through the BDBS, it tends to stick to the tweezers pretty good.
 
IMG_2128.jpeg
Thursdays are my usual water change day. I did a few extra last week to reset everything for my dosing change. So I just vacuumed the substrate lightly and got the stray leaf and debris. I use my drop checker as a level indicator for water changes, I siphon out water until the drop checker is exposed. It reduces the guess work for me and keep the changes consistent.

No trimming or up rooting today. I am going to let things get close to the surface before trimming. I am also keeping my dosing the same for a while. Lots of good growth since Sunday. NPK 26/6/29 and Mg 5 ppm Micros are still burraqua homemade blend - triple dose at water change then 3 singles the rest of the week.

This photo was just my T5’s. Looks way better without the LEDs. Going to have to remember that when taking photos in the future.
 
View attachment 2699
Thursdays are my usual water change day. I did a few extra last week to reset everything for my dosing change. So I just vacuumed the substrate lightly and got the stray leaf and debris. I use my drop checker as a level indicator for water changes, I siphon out water until the drop checker is exposed. It reduces the guess work for me and keep the changes consistent.

No trimming or up rooting today. I am going to let things get close to the surface before trimming. I am also keeping my dosing the same for a while. Lots of good growth since Sunday. NPK 26/6/29 and Mg 5 ppm Micros are still burraqua homemade blend - triple dose at water change then 3 singles the rest of the week.

This photo was just my T5’s. Looks way better without the LEDs. Going to have to remember that when taking photos in the future.
Good stuff, looking forward to seeing this develop. Have you done any uprooting yet? I’m very curious on how messy or not things will be.
 
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Good stuff, looking forward to seeing this develop. Have you done any uprooting yet? I’m very curious on how messy or not things will be.
I have uprooted some plants and found a trick to keep the mess to almost zero. I gently pull on the plant with my hand. If it comes right out I just slowly pull it up for trimming. If it doesn’t budge, with this soil it’s one or the other, I slide the scissors just under the surface of the sand and snip the stem leaving the roots etc in place.

II read about that on a forum before, I know I didn’t come up with it on my own, I just do not remember which one. UKAPS comes to mind.

Leaving the roots and the small piece of stem in the substrate hasn’t resulted in any problems so far so I will continue doing it until I find a reason not to do so.
 
Leaving the roots and the small piece of stem in the substrate hasn’t resulted in any problems so far so I will continue doing it until I find a reason not to do so.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. However, decaying plant matter in the substrate will, sooner or later, result in some adverse situation. I would suggest vacuuming as much of that out over time as you can.
 
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. However, decaying plant matter in the substrate will, sooner or later, result in some adverse situation. I would suggest vacuuming as much of that out over time as you can.
I will keep an eye out for the decomposing bits and make sure to vacuum them out. Thank you for the pointer.
 
IMG_2156.jpeg
Thursday update. Did my usual water change and some trimming. I removed some ugly new growth on the bacopa and tried to trim the ugly out of the hygro salicifola.

Something still isn’t right here and hasn’t been for two months or so.

The cabomba self prunes, meaning the stems detach at a node, seemily randomly. The H salicifola keeps having hooked leaves and twisted growth. The H paratiwata is barely growing. Ludwigia repens has bouts of droopiness and the L super red seems to droop all the time.

When I started this journal and most recent dosing, I cleaned the filter and attributed the sudden increase in GDA on that but it hasn’t slowed down at all. In fact GDA and GSA has been increasing mainly because the plants aren’t happy and growing.

I dose slightly more than EI, front loading the macros plus 5 ppm magnesium so I know this is NOT a NPK or magnesium issue. Micros are burraqua, 3X dose at water change then single doses every other day (3 more dowse per week). Iron total for the week is 1.02 ppm per week. So I doubt it’s micros.

CO2? Well yeah it could always be CO2, and usually is CO2. I use a pH controller set at 6.15 with a dead band of 0.1, can’t change the dead band. Fully degassed water pH is 7.6, at 6 am when the CO2 starts, tank pH is 7.4. It takes about 75 minutes (I’m no 30 minute man 🤪) to get down to 6.2. By lights on at 9 am the pH is just about at the shut off of 6.15. I have played with various testing methods for CO2, short of probe, and found Chemets to be right on with the pH/CO2/alk charts. I am usually 40-45 ppm per the chart and Chemets. So I think I can rule out CO2.

So what gives? Only thing I do not dose is calcium. I checked my tap, I don’t use RODI, 5 ppm calcium and zero magnesium. I know I don’t have any magnesium so I always dose it. My tanks tested at 5 ppm calcium as well. Could this be it?

I’ve begun adding 15 ppm calcium from lab grade calcium sulfate.

Now the conundrum. My tap water hardness changes seasonally and apparently it’s significant enough to cause issues - think. I do recall having better growth during the winter time, which I assume is when the calcium levels are higher.

Is doing 15 ppm of calcium every week going to be enough during the low season and am I going to run into issue when the hardness goes back up?

Hardness goes up into the 100-ish ppm range. It’s always calcium though, Delaware surface fresh waters are devoid of magnesium. The water treatment plant adds NaOH for alkalinity pH stability and a poly phosphate (probably hexametaphos based on my experience) so the alkalinity is stable as well as the phosphate although it’s not a plant usable PO4.

I really don’t want to be constantly testing my water and adjusting my dosing, I do enough wet chemistry at work.

Guess I have four options

1. Dose 15(?) ppm calcium at every water change - ideal solution but I do not know

2 RODI - constant parameters across the board. Will have to move the tank to the basement. Wife over rules through the floor piping and i am not lugging buckets

3. Constantly test and chase the calcium level- 🤢

4. Zero water change or significantly reduced water change tank. I have no experience with this one and wouldn’t even know where to start running a high tech higher light tank.

Or is there something else I’m missing?

Ideas, suggestions, etc are welcome.
 
View attachment 2745
Thursday update. Did my usual water change and some trimming. I removed some ugly new growth on the bacopa and tried to trim the ugly out of the hygro salicifola.

Something still isn’t right here and hasn’t been for two months or so.

The cabomba self prunes, meaning the stems detach at a node, seemily randomly. The H salicifola keeps having hooked leaves and twisted growth. The H paratiwata is barely growing. Ludwigia repens has bouts of droopiness and the L super red seems to droop all the time.

When I started this journal and most recent dosing, I cleaned the filter and attributed the sudden increase in GDA on that but it hasn’t slowed down at all. In fact GDA and GSA has been increasing mainly because the plants aren’t happy and growing.

I dose slightly more than EI, front loading the macros plus 5 ppm magnesium so I know this is NOT a NPK or magnesium issue. Micros are burraqua, 3X dose at water change then single doses every other day (3 more dowse per week). Iron total for the week is 1.02 ppm per week. So I doubt it’s micros.

CO2? Well yeah it could always be CO2, and usually is CO2. I use a pH controller set at 6.15 with a dead band of 0.1, can’t change the dead band. Fully degassed water pH is 7.6, at 6 am when the CO2 starts, tank pH is 7.4. It takes about 75 minutes (I’m no 30 minute man 🤪) to get down to 6.2. By lights on at 9 am the pH is just about at the shut off of 6.15. I have played with various testing methods for CO2, short of probe, and found Chemets to be right on with the pH/CO2/alk charts. I am usually 40-45 ppm per the chart and Chemets. So I think I can rule out CO2.

So what gives? Only thing I do not dose is calcium. I checked my tap, I don’t use RODI, 5 ppm calcium and zero magnesium. I know I don’t have any magnesium so I always dose it. My tanks tested at 5 ppm calcium as well. Could this be it?

I’ve begun adding 15 ppm calcium from lab grade calcium sulfate.

Now the conundrum. My tap water hardness changes seasonally and apparently it’s significant enough to cause issues - think. I do recall having better growth during the winter time, which I assume is when the calcium levels are higher.

Is doing 15 ppm of calcium every week going to be enough during the low season and am I going to run into issue when the hardness goes back up?

Hardness goes up into the 100-ish ppm range. It’s always calcium though, Delaware surface fresh waters are devoid of magnesium. The water treatment plant adds NaOH for alkalinity pH stability and a poly phosphate (probably hexametaphos based on my experience) so the alkalinity is stable as well as the phosphate although it’s not a plant usable PO4.

I really don’t want to be constantly testing my water and adjusting my dosing, I do enough wet chemistry at work.

Guess I have four options

1. Dose 15(?) ppm calcium at every water change - ideal solution but I do not know

2 RODI - constant parameters across the board. Will have to move the tank to the basement. Wife over rules through the floor piping and i am not lugging buckets

3. Constantly test and chase the calcium level- 🤢

4. Zero water change or significantly reduced water change tank. I have no experience with this one and wouldn’t even know where to start running a high tech higher light tank.

Or is there something else I’m missing?

Ideas, suggestions, etc are welcome.
Here are my thoughts on your situation:

1) Are you sure your alkalinity is stable from one water change to the next? If not, your CO2 could be fluctuating pretty drastically. I know @GreggZ is a fan of PH controllers given they are used correctly, however, he is definitely in the minority of the best plant growers I know in using one. I would confirm that your alkalinity is stable from one water change to the next if you haven't.

2) I have no idea if 5ppm calcium is enough and whether that could be causing or contributing to your issue. Most people I know do run higher calcium levels, anywhere from 3-8dGH.

3) You have a pretty funky substrate reminiscent of Vin's shenanigans. I know in one of his tanks where he loaded the substrate up there was a crazy GDA bloom for at least like 2 months before it cooled down and then grew plants great. Your substrate may need more time to mature and cool down.

4) RO is definitely worth considering at your alkalinity levels in general.
 
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You're juggling too many parameters! Change one and observe for at least 6 weeks. It gets overwhelming and frustrating very quickly if you test, chase, test, chase, etc.

Regarding calcium levels, I usually go for 30-40ppm. For magnesium 10-15. Basically gh between 6 and 8. I keep kh at zero.

Getting an rodi system puts you in full control of parameters. Do you need it for an awesome tank? No. Would I recommend it? Heck yes!!

I was told that in setting up a true Dutch, you wouldn't test your horticultural skills. Instead you go for choosing plants that you can grow well and focus on making it a real Dutch.

Omid
 
You're juggling too many parameters! Change one and observe for at least 6 weeks. It gets overwhelming and frustrating very quickly if you test, chase, test, chase, etc.
👆 This. Although painful, it will keep you sane.

I would choose a water, whether RO or tap, and learn to manage it. If an in-house RO isn't feasible, then maybe having a LFS deliver to your house is an option. I have some reef friends that get it delivered every weekend.

If that's too much of a pain, use tap with a Python and just learn to work with it. Like @OmidNiav said, just change one thing and see what it does. For example, if you're getting GDA and GSA, I would reduce light a bit and see if that helps over a few weeks. If it does, then move on to something else at that point.

In my aquarium, I accept the fact that some plants will not survive in the early days. I focus on the ones that are growing well and get them to help me stabilize the tank. Then I slowly re-introduce the ones that didn't make it when the tank is more mature. You can read more about this in my Tissue Culture Kill Tank thread. Some plants will never grow well in my set up and I, painfully, need to accept it.
 
I know in one of his tanks where he loaded the substrate up there was a crazy GDA bloom for at least like 2 months before it cooled down and then grew plants great. Your substrate may need more time to mature and cool down.
In my aquarium, I accept the fact that some plants will not survive in the early days. I focus on the ones that are growing well and get them to help me stabilize the tank.
Substrate – mineralized topsoil made from marsh mud, duck and chick poop dirt, and regular yard dirt. Wet dried about every few days from April through July. MTS is topped with red clay and then a couple inches of Black Diamond Blasting Sand. Substrate is essentially brand new, I installed it July 3.
Here's the posts that caught my eye. This is basically a new set up. New tanks tank time to mature and become stable. Problems like you are seeing are not uncommon. Patience is your friend.

To me the wild card is that substrate. What led you to create that mix? Do you know of successful Dutch tankers that use such a blend? I just have no idea what is in marsh mud, duck and chick poop dirt, and yard dirt. Personally I wouldn't introduce unknown elements into a tank, especially a Dutch style tank which is going to have LOTS of uprooting on a regular basis. There are lots of Dutch scapers that use inert substrate just for that reason.

But then again I could be wrong as I have never used anything like that, and I don't know anyone personally who does. But I do believe that substrate health/cleanliness plays a greater role than most people realize. Just saying it's possible you might be playing whack- a-mole with ferts/CO2/dGH when the root cause is something entirely different.
 
Great info everybody. Thank you for the feed back and suggestions. Here is some more details on this tank it’s all from memory, wish I would’ve had a journal all this time to keep things straight. Info is going to be accurate but time lines might be off

I started it in late 2017 with blue acaras and Tahitian moon sand. It was a fish tank with some plants, mostly ferns, swords and anubias. Early 2018 I decided to try a bigger variety of plants and CO2 after experimenting a bit with a small 20 gallon shrimp tank where I could grow just about everything. The shrimp tank was distilled water with salty shrimp remineralized per the bottle. It had petco black sand with osmocote root tabs, 1 x month water changes, Thrive S once a week. Medium high light and constant co2 from DIY yeast.

I figured I could replicate the success in the little tank in my 75 gallon but use tap water instead since I thought it was stable.

I tried keeping the Tahitian moon sand and add the root tabs with minimal water column dosing. Tried this for 6 months with little success. Basically the same growth issues I see today. I then increased to EI levels and things improvised for some plants but only temporarily. I’d get a few months of good growth and actually get to start shaping the groups and things would go south.

In late 2019 I switched the sand out to Landen aqua soil with eco complete becaue I didn’t want to spend the money to do the entire tank in aqua soil. This iteration lasted until July of this year when I switched to the MTS and sand.

My idea behind the MTS was probably flawed for a Dutch style tank due to the constant uprooting needed. The chicken and duck poop isn’t actually fresh. It was from the spot in the yard where we had the flocks a couple years back, the marsh mud is river delta silt where it is wet dry wet dry every 6 hours from the tides. It’s not a salt marsh in that it never sees salt water it is just effected by the tide. I ran all those through a dozen or more wet dry cycles to mineralize it completely to inorganic nutrients and keep the organics and ammonia to a minimum like I’ve read about. It looked like grey powder when I was finished.

So to try to tie all this rambling together, that small shrimp tank was easy to grow everything I put in it. The water parameters for that tank were super stable since I made it up myself at each water change.

I think going RO/DI might be my choice for success assuming it’s not my crazy MTS substrate causing problems, but I don’t think it is since these growth issues aren’t new to my tank. I do have an RODI system in the basement with a 35 gallon holding tank so it’s just a matter of figuring out a pump and hose rig to easily get the water up to the tank without buckets or drilling holes in the floor.

For now, I’m going to be patient and not change anything for a while. That’s the hardest thing but sometimes the best.
 
IMG_2204.jpeg
Shortly after my last update I was trying my best to be patient but something felt wrong besides my lack of patience. So I played with my flow, ditched my pH meter and finally (I know, I know, should have done this a while ago) installed my Dwyer gas flow meter.

Mr. Barr always says to suspect CO2 even when you “know” it’s good. It wasn’t, not by a long shot.

Between the on/off flow from the controller, poor distribution, and restricted CO2 flow from the atomizer and I had a lot to fix. The atomizer restricted the canister flow enough to cause problems which weren’t apparent until I removed it for cleaning. So I left it out.

Back to bubbling the CO2 into the canister intake at a rock solid 37 cc/min for 8 hours. Within two days the water went crisp and clear, surface scum left. Plants pearled like they haven’t since before joining this community. I haven’t even had to touch the glass to scrap GDA!!

This photo is from today which is around 10 days after I made the above adjustments.

The next step is to up my CO2 game even more with my @Yugang reactor, which will hopefully be by the weekend.
 
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