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As freshwater aquarists, we (and our little charges) live under the TYRANNY of the Three Kings of the Nitrogen Domains. We must obey and submit to the Rules & Writ of these Realms!
As follows,
AMMONIA: King of Fire and Initial Terror
NITRITE: King of Tricks and Pain
NITRATE: Harbinger King of Endings and Warnings
Yep.
And as such, the Technology we directly employ so usefully to overcome and submit to the demands of the Kings of AMMONIA and NITRITE have proven suitable to answer the fierce cruetly of what those Kings demand. Our endless minions of bio-media employed in filtration foam, matrix, bio-slime and K1 Media are able to answer those demands of these terrible (and quite deadly) Kings!
Yes, those lovely, microscopic-sized, Niter-Bacteria are indeed - such HUNGRY little devils, aren't they?
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But then, as Freshwater Aquarists, we are ultimately confronted by the mystery of the NITRATE King.
Oh yes....
Our Harbinger King of Endings and Warnings?
So, what is this final King? Indeed, his NITRATE is barely more than the end product produced by his more cruel predecessors. So - shall we regard this King's mildness as a sort of
Benevolent Tyranny. His quiet warnings as something 'nice'?
Hah! Ignore the Harbinger King at your peril, I say!
For his warnings (as shown in measured PPM levels of Nitrate in test kit readings), are accompanied by Phosphates, Mysterious Funk and a veritable horde of potentially BAD Bacteria! These are Dangerous Things, that the little Cichlid charges in our care would much prefer to simply avoid, thank you....
So how do we deal with this quiet, but ever-determined Harbinger King? Well, as fresh water aquarists we have been blessed with an abundance of that treasure we hold Most Dear,
WATER.
And as such, using that resource to simply flush the Harbinger King of his most deleterious effects has always been the preferred method of dealing with it.
IS DILUTION, THE SOLUTION, TO POLLUTION?
Indeed....
But the profligate use of what is rapidly becoming a precious resource - WATER - is becoming ever harder to ignore. And ultimately, as experienced by our salt water aquarium-keeping brethren.... When suitable water becomes expensive, or hard to get?
YOU TEND TO USE LESS OF IT.
Oh yes....
And, as we are currently seeing today in excessive heat, actual drought and the in-ground sources of our treasured fresh water contaminated by the relentless Harbinger King (Nitrate)... Our once seemingly endless supply of wonderful, fresh water is getting more expensive, or hard to get. Conserving that fresh water is something that more and more of us today are actively confronting now, as a reality in our daily existence.
It IS a problem.
So, what can we do to confront it? The potential solution, as it is in those rather humble (awesomely hungry) Niter-Bacteria, could lie in something also a bit simple. Something you grow. Can fuss over. And can visibly see - THRIVE. That is,
AQUATIC PLANTS.
Oh yes, those photosynthetic loving friends our Macro-Algae growing, salt water aquarists have been growing for years! Humble. Quiet. And often over-looked.... those aquatic plants (including yes - even the hated ALGAE) just LOVE to chow down and annihilate those things produced by our Harbinger King. That is, those Nitrates and Phosphates that are actually REQUIRED to sustain and grow our humble little, photosynthetic-loving friends. So, let's do a 'deep dive' into this potentially over-looked aspect of our fish-keeping world.
Explore a bit about the meaning of plants, and how they have recently emerged as a more accepted part of the fresh water aquarium world. How fresh water plants at the very least, can help us in keeping those Nitrates under control in our tanks without having to perform so many of those high-percentage, high-frequency water changes. From the 'all in' aspect of the CO2-driven, High Tech, heavily planted aquarium... to the DIY-built, above tank plant refugium. On down to the tank with a couple Pothos plants sited above the aquarium, and allowed to grow and dangle a bit down into the tank water beneath them.
  • Have you measured the effects of your plant-based, Nitrate-eating efforts? Before - After?
  • Have you been actually DRIVEN to use plants as part of a freshwater conservation effort?
  • Have you failed? If so, what have you learned? (Good info that may help us!).
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Oh yes, I've got a couple more posts with info about this coming up that will be linked to You Tube videos showing those - dare I say.... HOLISTIC? - approaches to freshwater aquarium keeping processes!
Yep.
Lets get our Aquatic Plant on, Yo'. :cool:
 

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Hornwort:
Pros: Sucks up nitrates like crazy. Provides nice overhead canopy & shading. Does not require the addition of fertilizer or CO2 to tank. Great novice plant as it does not require any special care. Great shelter for smaller fish & fry.
Cons: Grows like crazy & will overtake tank if not thinned back when needed. Biggest con is it sheds it's needle-like leaves which relentlessly clogs filter intakes with HOB, canister & sump overflows. Also will clog those sponge pre-filters requiring weekly or more cleaning of sponge pre-filter.
Recommendation: Utilize this one in tanks which are filtered by air driven sponge filters.

Red Root Floaters:
Pros: Sucks up nitrates like super crazy. Provides nice overhead canopy & shading. When given proper conditions has nice red color to roots & leaves. Does not require the addition of fertilizer or CO2 to tank but will benefit from it. Great shelter for smaller fish & fry.
Cons: Grows like crazy & will overtake tank if not thinned back when needed. Does not do well in tanks that have a lot of surface agitation/movement and will die off under these conditions.
Recommendation: Utilize this one in tanks which are filtered by air driven sponge filters. Or section off parts off surface using floating tubing to provide calm areas for plants to thrive.
Special Note: You always hear people complain that this plant dies off/poor growth & coloration even when surface water is calm as recommended above. This plant tends to not do well in tanks with covers. Red Root Floaters do not like the tops of their leaves wet & moisture from covered tanks does not agree to this plant. Use with tanks with no covers to provide good gas exchange & conditions for leaves and this sucker will thrive.

Anubias:
Pros: Several species to choose from. Nice choice for aqua scaping as it can be easily attached to driftwood & rocks using super glue, thread or fishing line for example and placed throughout the tank. Slow growth so does not overtake tank or require thinning. Most fish will leave it alone. Nice looking plant. Goes well with substrate diggers/movers as it does not require planting in substrate. Not a monster nitrate eater but it will consume some. Great novice plant as it does not require any special care. Does not require the addition of fertilizer or CO2 to tank but will benefit from it.
Cons: Slow grower. See recommendations below.
Recommendation: Does not like intense lighting/prefers low lighting. For this reason does well planted in mid to lower levels of tank where light penetration is lower. Also does well planted below canopy of floating plants which help shade the Anubias.

I'll let someone else complain about duckweed. LOL. Duckweed is a great plant if you know what you are getting into & how to utilize it's beneficial aspects.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Those are awesome plant recommendations and keeping anecdotes from @Aussieman57 ! Always best to understand what will grow and work best for the aquarium you have.:)
And so, let's move into actual APPLICATION for those plants. That is, how to potentially optimize aquatic plants for use in a comprehensive, aquarium filtration system.
One thing I recommend a LOT in setting up and running a plant refugium, is to actually mount the thing ABOVE the tank it supports. That is, water is pumped up from the aquarium below it in some manner, then is overflowed from the refugium back down in the tank. A simple loop system.
Here is one example of an above tank plant refugium that seems to be working just fine,


A simple air stone is used in this instance to drive water from the aquarium up a tube to the refugium. He is using 'Monte Carlo' grass type plants for this, with aquatic shrimp to graze out the algae and add viewing interest to the build.
Another attempt was made by a C-F member @karpomatic1 , aka 'Uaru King'! This one is made of a simple, ABS plastic trough purchased at Lowes. Same principle, with water pumped up from the tank that then overflows the refugium and is sent back down to the aquarium. In a tank stocked with extremely herbivorous Cichlids (Uaru) the plant refugium is the only method to enjoy the Nitrate eating benefits of aquatic plants, without having the Cichlids chow down on them!


I have also seen Aquaclear filters set up and used as hang on back refugiums. The media is simply removed from the filter and replaced with aquatic plants. A sponge pre-filter is almost always used on the intake to optimize biological filtration capacity. Supply a suitable source of light for that refugium to grow those aquatic plants, and your small hang on back plant refugium is in business! :cool:
 
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
And then we have filtration systems which are truly 'comprehensive'. Typically sited down into a sump, which is roomy enough to handle all of the various aspects of the filtration needed, these comprehensive filtration techniques go head-on at neutralizing AMMONIA, NITRITE and yes..... even NITRATE. And yes, once again we see aquatic plants employed in some fashion to handle that Biological Filtration Bizness.
Here is an example of a sump-based, comprehensive filtration system at work. Would you consider this build to be somewhat 'holistic' in nature?


Whew.... that Wolf Fish and those Bichirs are something else! :oops:
Anyway, here are notable aspects of this guy's build I would like to highlight,
  • He's ALL IN with Comprehensive Filtration for that sump. That Duckweed, Moss and (nuisance?) algae he's actively encouraging to grow in the sump are all totally part of the filtration system. The plants are almost certainly eating a lot of Ammonia and Nitrite (fast food for plants!) along with the Nitrate and Phosphates produced by those fish.
  • TWO aquariums - ONE sump! Anybody else catch that? He must have divided the discharge flow from that sump with a 'tee' fitting and control valves for the two aquariums that sump services.
  • It's High Tech. K1 fluidized media is used in this thing to optimize Biological Filtration capacity.
  • Even an 'All-In' comprehensive filtration system like this - isn't enough. There is a water change accompanying his (monthly?) sump cleaning. Is this due to NITRATE buildup? 'Funk' cleaning and general water maintenance? I would LOVE to see what his measured Nitrate readings are for this system. With the plant matter he exported out in cleaning that sump - there is definite Nitrate consumption with active plant growth he has to control and physically manage with this system.
  • Room. That is a BIG Sump. 75 gallons (at least) is my guess, and he has it sited on that shelving rack with plenty of room above it to perform required maintenance or any needed adjustments.. Notice the double-walled, greenhouse plastic sheeting he uses on top to control evaporation.
  • Water conservation. He is definitely NOT wasting it. Notice early on how he drains and collects the aquarium water out into that blue garbage can? Betcha 'Dollars-to-Donuts' that aquarium 'waste' water will almost certainly get used to water some house plants, a garden or maybe even his own Bonsai Tree nursery or something!. :LOL:
  • Comprehensive filtration is organic - and messy! Not for the faint of heart it seems.... he's got his hands all over that algae. And despite a bit of careful siphoning, the 'funk layer' on the bottom of that sump never does get fully cleaned out. It's visually pretty BAD in that sump after those cleaning efforts, when the water is so churned up. The next day though, it does settle down and clear up pretty nicely. And, the Wolf Fish definitely does look a bit happier with more room to swim around inside the sump.
Does this interesting build foretell the future of our freshwater aquarium hobby? As shown in an area where freshwater is possibly getting more expensive or harder to come by - a comprehensive filtration system like this makes a lot of sense. Could you see yourself setting up, operating and maintaining an 'All-In' filtration system similar to this one?
 

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Well, he uses the same tank lids that I do. And we use the discarded tank water from water changes to water outdoor plants. When I have some time I may look into building a plant refugium/sump for the three 40 breeders I have stacked. Still waiting for the Pothos part of this thread. Hard to believe there are no other participants at this point.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Well...
Hard to believe there are no other participants at this point.
This info is a lot to take in! Could these emerging concepts and changing realities identified in this thread, be a 'paradigm shift' for a lot of folks? I mean for most of the crowd here, if that aquarium equipment isn't plug & play - 'box ready' for purchase and delivery? They just don't know what to do with it.
And well, applying DIY-level stuff for an aquarium (or most things) requires IMAGINATION. Plus, a confidence in your crafting and work abilities that almost no one in this 'immediate gratification' crowd has these days. But, I suspect this Nitrate reduction/water conservation stuff is coming soon enough to our aquarium world. Getting some folks exposed to these changing new realities, counts as a decent success in my books, at least... ;)
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And no worries my friend, using those Pothos plants (and other terrestrials) to aid in the 'Comprehensive Filtration', aquarium-keeping effort? Is coming up next! :)
 

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I'm so removing the hornwort I just got from my community tank after reading this! Especially since I'm bad about plant care. My cichlids destroyed a few plants that I ha in with them for a week. I spent a good part of the day picking the small pieces out of my filter pads yesterday.
 

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Whew.... @Aussieman57 , those videos you put up are amazing! :D
The 'Half Man-Half Cichlid' Road To Zero Nitrates video, shows how it's done - FOR REAL. The really big plant refugium tray system he had sited next to that 500 gallon tank was really something else.
Wow, he is seriously ALL IN with plants to filter that huge aquarium.... that guy drank down ALL the kool-aid!
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And, as you've stated elsewhere - there is NO Magic Potion or Mystery Rocks you can use to just 'POOOF!!!' those Nitrates away. Nope.... It's gonna be plants or a dedicated build of an Anoxic type (which is NOT 'Anaerobic') filtration process, to hit those Nitrates.
Comprehensive Filtration.
As for the Pothos? Doooood.... anything I can put up pales in comparison to the video with the 500 gallon setup. :oops:
But well,


And yeah, I know. :rolleyes:
I would definitely go with an Aquaclear 110 with media removed and plants installed as a HOB refugium, before attempting that little pen & pencil holder DIY build! But hey, I guess there's all sorts of ways to 'Plant Those Pothos'. :)
 
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