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Thread: Tom Barr's Non-CO2 method

  1. #1
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    Tom Barr's Non-CO2 method

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Barr
    Non CO2 methods

    While much of the attention and aquascape seen on the web focuses on CO2 enrichment in their methods, Diana Walstad presents an excellent argument for the approach of a non CO2 enriched planted Aquarium. We should also extend this to include Excel and carbon enrichment liquids as well as acetate which allow some algae to exist without any light or CO2 and grow heterotrophically (like us). She discusses not needing test kits, water changes, pruning often, dosing, work that most aquarist do not care for.

    What? You mean no water changes? Yes, that's right.
    No testing? Yes, that's right, but you can if you wish.
    Not much pruning? Yes, that's right, the plants grow much slower.
    No dosing? Generally yes for many easy to care for plant species(I'll discuss this much more later), the fish waste represents the dosing and you feeding them daily adds the nutrients.

    So why don't more folks do it?
    I'm not sure, given the goals they say they want when setting up a planted tank.

    CO2 is a bit like a drug addiction that hobbyists get hooked on. That's fine, but this non CO2 approach will give an excuse to have another tank that needs less attention and is cheap.

    I suggest folks coming from either the non CO2 or the CO2 enrichment approaches to give the other method a try and see what benefits it has.

    CO2 and non CO2 tanks work for all the same reasons, but........
    They grow at different rates.

    Based off of my testing, I'd estimate close to 5 to 10 times slower than a CO2 enriched tank at 2-3 w/gal.

    This rate of growth is such that the fish waste alone is enough to supply the needs for the plants. If we added more light then the CO2 would start becoming a more limiting factor and allow algae to grow better (algae need higher light to grow well in non CO2 enriched systems whereas the plants are much more limited without CO2). A lower light level is required; generally about 1.5 to 2w/gal is good.

    We also need a balanced fish load and feeding routine since this is our main long term input of plant nutrients. Fish food varies in it's amount and ratio of nutrients. This is not an issue unless it becomes limiting. Very often since non CO2 tanks get neglected, they have trouble growing certain plants. If these nutrients are not allowed to bottom out(Say PO4 or NO3), then many of the species folks suggest cannot be kept, suddenly can be kept in non CO2 tanks but they simply grow slower.

    Rather than suggesting allelopathy, Fe algae limitation of PO4 limitation, I will say none of this exist. Rather, non limiting nutrient levels for plants will provide better conditions.

    CO2 will limit both plants and algae, the lower light and high plant biomass density will provide a better place for the plants and a worse place for the algae. CO2 and non CO2 tanks work well and are algae free namely due to high plant biomass that is relatively healthy. This plant biomass removes NH4 from the fish waste.

    We can add KNO3 and KH2PO4 and show that in a non CO2 tank, excess PO4, NO3 (and Fe) do not cause algae blooms. We can add NH4 and induce a bloom just like a CO2 enriched tank.

    This assumption and knowledge frees us from limitation of nutrients which ultimately does more harm to the plants' health and well being, allowing a better environment for algae to grow.

    Doing water changes adds CO2 back to a CO2 limited tank.
    Plants and algae both can and do adapt to low CO2 environments and induce genes to make enzymes that concentrate CO2 around Rubisco, the CO2 fixing enzyme. When we add the CO2 at higher levels back, this causes the plants and algae to destroy the low CO2 enzymes and start growing without of them since they no longer need them to fix CO2 form the KH ( the -HCO3).
    Why keep all this machinery around if you no longer need it? Doing weekly water changes "fools" the plants and helps encourage algae more. Algae are faster to respond to low CO2 than plants.
    Once the plants do adapt, they can do well.

    Soil substrates are popular with non CO2 users and they work well but peter out after about 6-12 months. They help the plants get established initially and supply nutrients that are other wise lacking in the beginning before many fish are added and the tank has had a chance to accumulate waste.

    I suggest onyx sand as it added Ca, Mg, and Fe, and I add mulm/detritus freshly from another established tank to add bacteria and cycle the tank immediately. I also add a form of organic material other than soil. The bacteria that break the waste down need a source of carbon as an electron donor besides the elements in the waste. Like us, they need their carbs as well. As these bacteria break the carbon and waste down, they consume O2.
    This lowers the redox values in the substrate freeing up Fe2+ and other nutrients.

    Add too much organic matter and O2 and you get O2 levels that are too low and cause issues for your tank. Soil also has NH4, this we know to cause algae in higher amounts and it does not take much! Ways around this: don;t use soil, it's messy and has NH4/urea. Boiling the soil for a few minutes will oxidize the NH4 to NO3. Allowing damp soil to be spread thinly outside for few weeks(3) will allow the NH4 to be converted into NO3 by bacteria.
    Peat moss, ground peat, works well also.

    The other options are add lots of mulm instead and leonardite.
    Leonardite is great, it last a very long time, adds a slow release form of carbon, matches the gravel's color, sinks easily poses no issues if you disturb and uproot plants.

    You should always add fresh mulm to any new tank. Add some form of carbon as well, pre soaked/boiled soil, pre soaked peat, leonardite.

    Dosing:
    Since the plants are the same as they are in a CO2 enriched tank and we know the rates of uptake are there, we can scale down the rates for the non CO2 dosing routine.

    I removed all fish and critters from the test tanks, I dosed only with KNO3m, and other inorganic fertilizer so that I would see only plant uptake and inorganic ferts contributions to the plant's health.

    Going back and assuming 80-90% of the nutrients will come from the fish load, I added once a week KNO3/KH2PO4.

    While trace mixes can be added, I decided to use SeaChem Equilibrium instead.
    It has Fe and Mn as well as Ca/K/Mg/SO4.
    I will add about 1/4 teaspoon per 20 gal tank once every week or two.
    This greatly enhances the growth of the plants.
    I also will add about 1/8" and 1/32" teaspoon of KNO3 and KH2PO4 respectively once a week or two.

    The plants will respond very well to this routine. You can let the tank go for awhile and not dose to purge any excesses that might have built up over a month or two or you can test to see rather than do the water change.

    DW does not suggest dosing, but adding 2-3 things once a week or two, certainly is not that tough???? the plants do gain a lot and then you can grow most any plant in a non CO2 tank.

    From here if you want more growth, Excel is a good option. You can add about 2-3x as much ferts then.

    Smaller hang on the back filters work well.
    One thing many folks setting up any planted tank seems tom over look, plant densely from the very start, do not wait for the plants to grow in!
    Add some cheaper plants till the main display plants grow it and slowly remove the "starter plants" as needed.
    Set up the substrate well, this is the main part of the non CO2 tank.
    Feed the fish well. Add algae eaters, they will work many times more efficiently since the algae grow slower under non CO2 conditions also!

    1" per gallon is a good rule of green thumb for fish stocking levels.
    These tanks often look better on any given day than the CO2 enriched tanks.

    The lower light and lack of gadgets and maintenance make these tanks much more efficient and cheaper for folks. If you leave for a week, the tank does fine as is. No worry.

    Maintenance routines:

    Dose once a week(optional)
    Add evaporation top off water
    Snip tops off plants that get too unruly.
    Feed fish daily.
    As dirt and growth get further out of hand, you can uproot and do a big hack and rearranging, do not do this more than once every 3-6 months. Do a water change right afterwards.
    You may have to remove some algae manually every so often but the algae grows slow also.

    That's it.


    Regards,
    Tom Barr
    Hi Folks, here is Tom's detailed explanation on Non-CO2 methods with plants. Enjoy!

    Permission granted by Tom Barr for use of his article.

    Regards
    Peter Gwee

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    I have to say that I have a couple of small betta tanks that I don't add anything to and the plants I have in there look much nicer than my larger planted tanks. There is no filtration in these tanks, just some Echo-complete for planted tanks as a substrate...and an occasional dose of excel...maybe only a couple of times a week, when I remember to...lol...and one betta. There is no algae growth in these tanks that I can notice...there was when I first set these tanks up, but since they have established...no algae and the water stays sparkling. I only do water changes because I feel like I have to, but I can go longer than you would think for such small tanks. The fish in them are healthy and looking good.

    I have been considering trying something like these setups on a larger scale. I am presently getting a 20L planted set up. Though I do have a filter running in it, it's a whisper type..I chose that one because it doesn't stir the water up much at all and you don't get all the splashing and bubbling with these filters like you do with other power filters. I will be adding a seeded sponge filter as well...at least until the plants are well established.

    I'll see how this tank does without the excel added...I plan on putting a pair of german blue rams and some otos in this tank. It has a total of 40watts 6700K flourescent lighting over it though my smaller planted tanks get very little light and seem to be doing fine.

    Sometimes, I think we all just fuss too much....lol.....

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    I'm recently getting into non-CO2 as well. I have a super-nano (about 2 litres of water I think) that is doing quite ok with weekly dosings of KNO3, KH2PO4 and Seachem equilibrum as well as Seachem Excel.

    Growth was really slow and lots of hair algae appeared during the first few weeks because I let it ulitise sunlight from a window. Bad choice.

    I removed as much of it as I could when I got my 11W PL, and now it's going on for about a week. Growth is still slow, but I like it because changes are very subtle, and it makes you look at the tank more.

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    great Article! It makes me wanna setup a 5ft CO2-less. After my house shifting Maybe late May (early June)... I may wanna setup one...

    currently have a bullet proof 2ft tank in office with almost no fert dose (Read Sugar as fert) no CO2.
    It is mentioned in the article that "Leonardite" is a slow release Carbon source... when in Sg can I get them. I can get Cocopeat from Dr Mallick webby... So any idea?

    But what kind of plant can I use to aquascape? Crypt, Fern, moss, Nana... but I really like HairGrass... can it survive a low light, CO2-less setup?
    Last edited by limsteel; 5th Apr 2006 at 00:12.

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    What is Leonardite?

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    From here
    Leonardite
    A soft brown coal-like deposit usually found in conjunction with deposit of lignite. Often defined as a naturally occuring oxidized lignite. Clay rich in humic and fulvic acids; these clays come from a chemical and biological degradation of animal and plant residues as well as synthetic activities of microorganisms.

    Quote Originally Posted by limsteel
    But what kind of plant can I use to aquascape? Crypt, Fern, moss, Nana... but I really like HairGrass... can it survive a low light, CO2-less setup?
    Hairgrass can survive in the above-mentioned conditions. Actually, I think one can use most of the plants found in our hobby for such a setup. For me, when I think of non-CO2 setups, an image of a "biotope" like scape comes to mind, not one of stemmed plants.

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    hmm....but how does it actually releases Carbon?

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    Quote Originally Posted by |squee|
    From here
    Leonardite
    A soft brown coal-like deposit usually found in conjunction with deposit of lignite. Often defined as a naturally occuring oxidized lignite. Clay rich in humic and fulvic acids; these clays come from a chemical and biological degradation of animal and plant residues as well as synthetic activities of microorganisms.
    Anyone know anyway selling them cheaply, not those ADA dennerle blar blar Aqua clay those cost an arm and leg

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    Hi all

    After reading article, it does mention that frequent WC encourages algae..did I get that rite? I thot WC removes the bad chemicals and thus prevents algae growth...

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    Quote Originally Posted by wasabi8888
    Hi all

    After reading article, it does mention that frequent WC encourages algae..did I get that rite? I thot WC removes the bad chemicals and thus prevents algae growth...
    Yes, in the terms of non-CO2 method in which less light is used/little or no dosing and only via fish waste. Which chemicals do you add that is bad? Ammonia should not be an issue unless you overstock which is why a non-CO2 tank should be light in fish load as compared to a CO2 enriched tank. The main thing about stopping the water changes is to stablized the CO2 content in the tank. (Depending on the tap source, some are high in CO2 which confuses the plants. They take about one week or so to acclimatised to a stable range of CO2 be it low or high).

    Regards
    Peter Gwee

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    Quote Originally Posted by |squee|
    I'm recently getting into non-CO2 as well. I have a super-nano (about 2 litres of water I think) that is doing quite ok with weekly dosings of KNO3, KH2PO4 and Seachem equilibrum as well as Seachem Excel.
    I think the spirit of Diana's suggestion is to do away with all such dosings as well.

    Tried doing something like what Diana suggested but did not work out for the following reasons:

    (i) Was a shrimp-only tank with no fish - very little co2 to begin with; and
    (ii) I personally preferred the look of the plants with co2 injection.
    Last edited by myrontay; 25th Apr 2006 at 10:29.

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    She doses another way: through frequent fish feedings, and her growth is slower than Tom Barr's I believe.

    I agree with your 2nd point, plants look so much lusher and better with CO2 injection. Personally I'd like to go non-CO2 for those "au naturel" type of tanks. It sort of feels special to know that that particular tank is working at the same pace as Nature will (sort of).

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    Quote Originally Posted by |squee|
    She doses another way: through frequent fish feedings.
    Yes that is right. She adds a little more than what the fish require.

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    Quote Originally Posted by |squee|
    ..., plants look so much lusher and better with CO2 injection. ...
    I disagree with that. Most plants looks almost the same with or without CO2. They just grow faster with CO2 injection.

    In fact some plants looks even better IMO in non-CO2 tank when they grow shorter and more compact.

    BC

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    Quote Originally Posted by bclee
    I disagree with that. Most plants looks almost the same with or without CO2. They just grow faster with CO2 injection.
    This is only true if CO2 is not the limiting factor. If CO2 is the limiting factor, an higher CO2 level would support more plants, ceteris paribus.
    Myron Tay
    Aquatic Gardener

    "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." Genesis 2:15

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    Quote Originally Posted by myrontay
    This is only true if CO2 is not the limiting factor. If CO2 is the limiting factor, an higher CO2 level would support more plants, ceteris paribus.
    If you'd actually try it out, you will be surprise at how much plant a non-CO2 injected tank can support. CO2 limiting will not limit the amount of plants it will support but the growth rate.

    My non-CO2 tank as a testimony:
    Jan 08, '05


    Jun 14, '05


    Aug 14, '05



    That was an older picture. My tank was literally overrun by the plants latter. The bunch crypts at both ends have tripled the size since. I've just made a major trimming. I will update in another thread once it's ready.

    BC

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    I have actually tried out a non-Co2 tank with taxiphyllum giraldii (Spiky moss) for 2 months and it did not grow well at all due to what I suspect was the lack of co2 as the only inhabitants were 10 crystal red shrimps. The plants looked sickly as evidenced from the first picture on the following thread: http://www.arofanatics.com/members/m.../myshrimptank/

    The growth was much better with the introduction of co2 as evidenced from the last picture about a month after the introduction of co2.

    I suspect that your tank did not face the same issue of co2 as the limiting growth factor due to the inhabitants in the tank.
    Myron Tay
    Aquatic Gardener

    "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." Genesis 2:15

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    Agreed with you BC. However, my experiment with non CO2 planted tank is restricted to crypts and ferns and hair grass.

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    Bioload is not the only factor. I have another shrimp tank in which plants are growing just as well. (I will post a picture of it later.) The CO2 contributed by the critters contribute quite little to the carbon requirements of the plants. IMO, the major source of CO2 would be the substrate and maybe the filter. The substrate not only provide minerals for the plants. The bio activities (decomposition etc...)in the substrate will also produce CO2. Other than CO2, most plants are also able to use bicarbonates as the C source.

    In your case, the moss will probably not be able to utilise the bicarbonates. You will probably need a substrate with some organic matter to provide the CO2 that is needed by the moss. Soil substrate can help, but it can be a little messy. I guess from the plant choice you have, you may have neglected the substrate as a major success factor for a non-CO2 tank.

    Once you understand the needs of the plants, you can grow most plants just as well in either CO2 or non-CO2 tank.

    BC

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    BC

    I also noticed that the red plant in the middle of the tank is not in the latter pictures.

    I also have two tanks (one 3 feet and another 1 feet) in my office with no co2 injection and I have since discarded the red plants as they were not fairing well. The taiwan moss and erect moss are thriving however but they are not as lush as the spiky moss I have at home.
    Last edited by myrontay; 27th Apr 2006 at 10:29.
    Myron Tay
    Aquatic Gardener

    "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." Genesis 2:15

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