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Substrate for planted Aquariums


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Hello everyone,

Hope you all are doing well, 🙂

I would like to know what substrates/aquasoils you experience fish-keepers use for your planted aquariums.

I'm trying to decide what substrate to get to start a planted aquarium with no CO2 but not sure what to use. I've been watching some Youtube videos and a lot of them have had good results with using Fluval Stratum so my plan was to use as my bottom layer eco- complete and top layer some Fluval Stratum but what I'm worried is that this aquasoil will drop my Ph and KH even lower than what it is.

Last time I checked my KH, it was at a 3 and my Ph is always between 6.4-7.2 so to avoid the Fluval Stratum from lowering my PH/KH even more, I was thinking of adding a bit of Aragonite and hopefully rise and maintain my kH and PH between 7.2-7.4 but don't know if this would work.

Please share your thoughts and your experiences with the substrates you use and any recommendations of what I should do, I would really appreciate it.

Thank you in advance

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Posted (edited)

My kh out of the tap is 1.  I used to supplement it with Seachem Alkalinity booster to between 3-6, but six months ago I tapered off over the course of a month and no longer supplement at all…

If anything plant growth is more robust now and livestock are as healthy as always…

Bear in mind aragonite and crushed coral only adds calcium and carbonates and does  not add magnesium.  Calcium magnesium balance is important to plant growth. Also aragonite and crushed coral will cause significant fluctuations in levels if you have really soft water and do significant water changes. These substrate amendments dissolve slowly over time slowly raising gh, and kh and hence ph.  In a planted tank plants will continually work to reprogram new leaves to optimize growth for conditions.  I choose to raise GH with Seachem Equilibrium which contains the right ca mg ratio and the water going in to the tank is already the sane GH and KH AS THE WATER i am taking out.

my preferred substrate of late is mesh bags of well rinsed Safe T Sorb as a base with more bags where I want to add height.  This is a baked clay product with a high cation exchange rate and is incredible cheap.  By putting it in mesh bags, it does not migrate up through my capping substrate fir aesthetics and is easy to keep the two substrates separate when I tear down a tank.  I like coarse Black Diamond Blasting Sand(BDBS) forcapping and aesthetic.  It is roughly a 1 mm grit black inert substrate.

 

I used to add rolled up bags of aquasoil looking like little logs or burritos in areas, and without question, plant roots do migrate to the bags, but it would reduce freedom of where to site plants and I largely gave up on them, and removed the ones I did have as I have admired @Mmiller2001 tank that is simply inert substrate BDBS. His plants look better than mine…. I have not noticed any loss since removing the aquasoil…

IMG_2540.jpeg.8028ef3949819a246b0efc3d4600413c.jpegimage.jpg.44801e426551c3ad5e9ad02f6c1acf2a.jpg
This is my first tank, and it still has the original cheap inert brown aquarium gravel and plants grow fine with just Easy Green water column feeding. No root tabs…  I much prefer the black  coarse sand substrate look, but I do not have the motivation to tear this tank down to replace it currently.

 

Some day I plan on a 75 gallon tank, and I will transfer all of the plants and livestock from this tank into it and replace all of the substrate in this one and try my hand at a true Dutch aquascape layout in here.

image.jpg.9dc5ea6afc07abc474d4ae0e16f104f8.jpg

Edited by Pepere
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Posted (edited)

You are kind of defeating the purpose of using aqua soil  if you are planning to use it as a top layer. Ideally you would use it as a bottom layer so plants can absorb nutrients from their roots.

Capping it with eco complete should also reduce how much it buffers your water parameters and leaches nutrients into the water column, by how much i am not sure. You can also look to other brands of aqua soil that do not have a big impact on water parameters.

Edited by JoeQ
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Posted (edited)

Which fish do you want to keep?

I've used 2 types of Pool Filter sand, Eco Complete, Landen Aquasoil and Black Diamond Blasting sand. I prefer inert sand substrates personally. They are easy to plant in, inert and look great.

I would not try to fight the KH if you go with an aqua soil. Just choose fish that do well with little to near 0 KH.

Edited by Mmiller2001
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On 5/27/2024 at 4:20 AM, Pepere said:

My kh out of the tap is 1.  I used to supplement it with Seachem Alkalinity booster to between 3-6, but six months ago I tapered off over the course of a month and no longer supplement at all…

If anything plant growth is more robust now and livestock are as healthy as always…

Bear in mind aragonite and crushed coral only adds calcium and carbonates and does  not add magnesium.  Calcium magnesium balance is important to plant growth. Also aragonite and crushed coral will cause significant fluctuations in levels if you have really soft water and do significant water changes. These substrate amendments dissolve slowly over time slowly raising gh, and kh and hence ph.  In a planted tank plants will continually work to reprogram new leaves to optimize growth for conditions.  I choose to raise GH with Seachem Equilibrium which contains the right ca mg ratio and the water going in to the tank is already the sane GH and KH AS THE WATER i am taking out.

my preferred substrate of late is mesh bags of well rinsed Safe T Sorb as a base with more bags where I want to add height.  This is a baked clay product with a high cation exchange rate and is incredible cheap.  By putting it in mesh bags, it does not migrate up through my capping substrate fir aesthetics and is easy to keep the two substrates separate when I tear down a tank.  I like coarse Black Diamond Blasting Sand(BDBS) forcapping and aesthetic.  It is roughly a 1 mm grit black inert substrate.

 

I used to add rolled up bags of aquasoil looking like little logs or burritos in areas, and without question, plant roots do migrate to the bags, but it would reduce freedom of where to site plants and I largely gave up on them, and removed the ones I did have as I have admired @Mmiller2001 tank that is simply inert substrate BDBS. His plants look better than mine…. I have not noticed any loss since removing the aquasoil…

IMG_2540.jpeg.8028ef3949819a246b0efc3d4600413c.jpegimage.jpg.44801e426551c3ad5e9ad02f6c1acf2a.jpg
This is my first tank, and it still has the original cheap inert brown aquarium gravel and plants grow fine with just Easy Green water column feeding. No root tabs…  I much prefer the black  coarse sand substrate look, but I do not have the motivation to tear this tank down to replace it currently.

 

Some day I plan on a 75 gallon tank, and I will transfer all of the plants and livestock from this tank into it and replace all of the substrate in this one and try my hand at a true Dutch aquascape layout in here.

image.jpg.9dc5ea6afc07abc474d4ae0e16f104f8.jpg

Wow, your tank is STUNNING! Thank you for sharing, really appreciate it. So for your substrate you just use Safe T Sorb in mesh bags as the bottom layer and the Black Diamond sand as the top later? 

With using the Safe T Sorb in mesh bags, will the plants still be able to root and get the nutrients they need?  Is it necessary to place it in mesh bags? I might be wrong but I believe a video I watched a while ago of Kevin Novack from Youtube stating that he uses this as his substrate.

What brand is the Safe T sorb that you use? I want to try this now, your plants look really happy and the aquasoils that are out there are really expensive and have to be replaced every 2 years so I would prefer something inert as well. I just thought that using aquasoils will be the only way to get healthy plant growth 

On 5/27/2024 at 4:48 AM, JoeQ said:

You are kind of defeating the purpose of using aqua soil  if you are planning to use it as a top layer. Ideally you would use it as a bottom layer so plants can absorb nutrients from their roots.

Capping it with eco complete should also reduce how much it buffers your water parameters and leaches nutrients into the water column, by how much i am not sure. You can also look to other brands of aqua soil that do not have a big impact on water parameters.

Thank you, yeah I was planning on using it on the top because I've heard aqua-oils have to be replaced about every 2 years so it would be easier for me to replace it if its on the top layer but your right. 

Do you use any aquasoils in your tanks? If you do, which brand do you use? 

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On 5/27/2024 at 3:05 PM, Tropicalfishkeeping201 said:

With using the Safe T Sorb in mesh bags, will the plants still be able to root and get the nutrients they need?  Is it necessary to place it in mesh bags?

I place it in mesh bags cause it keeps the substrate cleaner.  I used to just lay it in the tank and cap on top, but as you pull stems up to trim and replant them, you pull up some of the Safe T Sorb with it and it sits on top of the black sand.  I put a strong 2 inches of BDBS on top of the mesh bags.  The mesh bags do not pose any trouble to roots entering into it.  I had plenty of roots enter in to Aquasoil filled mesh bags…

I also use UGF (under gravel filter plates) below the Safe T Sorb but used as an Under Gravel Filter, not as a plenum as Novak advocates for.  I also built adapters to use Easy Flow kits from the Aquarium Co Op instead of stock air risers.  This is in addition to aFluval 207 canister filter and a spray bar…

 

I believe Safe T Sorb is a brand name.  I bought a bag of that and the BDBS at a nearby Tractor Supply.  Both makes exceedingly low cost substrate for an aquarium.

for more proof that outstanding planted tanks do not require special substrates, check out @Mmiller2001 tank build thread…

 

his work puts mine to shame, and he has been a big influence in my improvement in plant keeping.

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On 5/27/2024 at 6:12 AM, Mmiller2001 said:

Which fish do you want to keep?

I've used 2 types of Pool Filter sand, Eco Complete, Landen Aquasoil and Black Diamond Blasting sand. I prefer inert sand substrates personally. They are easy to plant in, inert and look great.

I would not try to fight the KH if you go with an aqua soil. Just choose fish that do well with little to near 0 KH.

The tank that I currently want to start a planted aquarium, has mollies, a few platys, and 1 betta which is why I want to increase my Kh and PH a bit. What I was planning on doing to raise my KH/PH is, without them being inside the tank, I was going to purchase this Carbisea Cichlid substrate which a Fishkeeper that I saw on Youtube suggested to add some of this in a media bag to buffer the water so it will raise both these parameters. What do you guys think of this?

I think based on what you all suggested, I feel like using a inert substrate instead of Aquasoil. @Pepere, @Mmiller2001, and @JoeQ

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On 5/27/2024 at 1:45 PM, Tropicalfishkeeping201 said:

The tank that I currently want to start a planted aquarium, has mollies, a few platys, and 1 betta which is why I want to increase my Kh and PH a bit. What I was planning on doing to raise my KH/PH is, without them being inside the tank, I was going to purchase this Carbisea Cichlid substrate which a Fishkeeper that I saw on Youtube suggested to add some of this in a media bag to buffer the water so it will raise both these parameters. What do you guys think of this?

I think based on what you all suggested, I feel like using a inert substrate instead of Aquasoil. @Pepere, @Mmiller2001, and @JoeQ

I would definitely go inert and I would not use the cichlid substrate. Just buy potassium carbonate lab grade off Amazon. It’s 11 bucks or so and will last about 2 years. It’s easy to measure with some teaspoons.

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Posted (edited)
On 5/27/2024 at 12:24 PM, Pepere said:

also use UGF (under gravel filter plates) below the Safe T Sorb but used as an Under Gravel Filter, not as a plenum as Novak advocates for.  

Thank you, I'm going to check out @Mmiller2001 build trend.

Is this the Safe T Sorb that you use from Tractor supply? Does this provide minerals and nutrients to the plants?

This is the sand I'm going to add on top of the Safe T Sorb: The Carbisea Sunset Gold Sand

Also where did you get your Under Gravel Filter? Is this necessary? What is the purpose of this? Can you show me the one you have in your tank so i can purchase it. You guys are helping me out so much! @Pepere, @Mmiller2001, and @JoeQ. I was about to spend a lot on substrate.

 

Safe T Sorb.jpg

CarbiSea Sunset Gold Sand.jpg

Edited by Tropicalfishkeeping201
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On 5/27/2024 at 12:55 PM, Mmiller2001 said:

I would definitely go inert and I would not use the cichlid substrate. Just buy potassium carbonate lab grade off Amazon. It’s 11 bucks or so and will last about 2 years. It’s easy to measure with some teaspoons.

Oh, is this the potassium Carbonate lab grade? Will this help raise my KH a bit? 

This is the Cichlid Substrate gravel I was planning to use. I was going to put a little bit in a filter media bag and place it inside my HOB as this product states that it buffers the water because it contains calcium, magnesium, carbonate, & more and its Arragonite based to maintain a higher pH without chemicals.

Potassium Carbonate.jpg

Cichlid substrate 1 .jpg

Ciclid Substrate 2 .jpg

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On 5/27/2024 at 5:08 PM, Tropicalfishkeeping201 said:

Is this the Safe T Sorb that you use from Tractor supply? 

Yes.

 

On 5/27/2024 at 5:08 PM, Tropicalfishkeeping201 said:

Also where did you get your Under Gravel Filter? Is this necessary? What is the purpose of this? Can you show me the one you have in your tank so i can purchase it.

No. Like so many things in fishkeeping it is not necessary.. there are lots of ways to keep fish and grow plants well…

I like it in part as a redundancy.  In the event of a power failure the beneficial bacteria in my substrate would fare fairly well for an extended period of time even without any flow.  A simple air pump consumes 3 watts of power and will keep the bacteria colony happy and healthy, assuming bacteria has emotions…. I don’t need much battery backup…. The bacteria in my canister filter on the other hand would not be doing well If I was away from home when the power went out and could not get to it within a few hours.  In that case, I could give the media a thorough cleaning once I got home and the colony in the ugf and gravel substrate would be able to handle the ammonia from remaining bacteria decomposing in canister filter.

The other reason I like it is that it continually pulls water column fertilizer from tank water down through the substrate around the roots and through the Safe T Sorb to take advantage of the Cation exchange of the baked clay.  Does it have real world benefit?  I have no idea.  I wouldnt know how to test it, but it sounds scientific….

In any event ugf plates are pretty cheap and have no moving parts.. the last a very very long time…

I use Penn Plax ugf plates on my 29 gallon that cost $15.00.  I fitted two Easy Flow kits from the co op that greatly increases flow for $6.00 each that are a worthwhile upgrade in my book for the dramatic increase in flow…  it took about 15 minutes to make adapters from 3/4 male pipe thread adapters from local hardware store…

 


 

https://www.amazon.com/Penn-Plax-Premium-Gravel-Filter/dp/B005Q4900Q/ref=sr_1_3?crid=3QOHXPVK3I7WG&dib=eyJ2IjoiMSJ9.S-JadbyzitRyQ3hlLdJRYa0i3ABPrZ0znzaC-Fprt4y_EvzdEbUqgMyhrvf2XGoOk18O5qzHvKwskK5_QgNiljOq0Z_LU-9Q0g-PTOVAM047Od5dYoa0aNZ1PP-YTpyqp0sPfx0S3PnpCmYMF1TO6g3U6peC3gNCvMF-qVx4rnmI24xtFxR58XxAFA3GmMSZwbOKu4LFLQZbpesmNxRqG2al442W6_C9TKL4I22n0LzQd9oat31FWRp_PGxuM4gyLhrSwEB_dR_2D79NMourYFUNuZnHE37MdRkG_vPOJi8.9GoJAN9KNTniDwZXg1wKbpbJJh8uSvfYE5qYM5Xg6Aw&dib_tag=se&keywords=Under+gravel+filter&qid=1716848149&sprefix=under+gravel+filter%2Caps%2C174&sr=8-3

 

https://www.aquariumcoop.com/products/easy-flow-sponge-filter-upgrade-kit

 


 

 

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On 5/27/2024 at 3:16 PM, Tropicalfishkeeping201 said:

Oh, is this the potassium Carbonate lab grade? Will this help raise my KH a bit? 

This is the Cichlid Substrate gravel I was planning to use. I was going to put a little bit in a filter media bag and place it inside my HOB as this product states that it buffers the water because it contains calcium, magnesium, carbonate, & more and its Arragonite based to maintain a higher pH without chemicals.

Potassium Carbonate.jpg

Cichlid substrate 1 .jpg

Ciclid Substrate 2 .jpg

Yes, the potassium carbonate will raise KH and is what I use. It’s so easy to dose and I’m willing to assist you how to use it. The reason it’s better to use is because it also adds potassium if you are going with plants in your tank. Extra potassium is always nice and many people use baking soda which adds sodium which plants and fish do not use in any fashion. In fact, it’s detrimental at higher concentrations. Using things like wonder shell, crushed coral and the like will raise KH, but also raises Calcium. Potassium is extremely mobile, where calcium is semi mobile, so it’s better to have extra K versus extra Ca.

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Posted (edited)
On 5/27/2024 at 8:46 PM, Mmiller2001 said:

Yes, the potassium carbonate will raise KH and is what I use. It’s so easy to dose and I’m willing to assist you how to use it. The reason it’s better to use is because it also adds potassium if you are going with plants in your tank. Extra potassium is always nice and many people use baking soda which adds sodium which plants and fish do not use in any fashion. In fact, it’s detrimental at higher concentrations. Using things like wonder shell, crushed coral and the like will raise KH, but also raises Calcium. Potassium is extremely mobile, where calcium is semi mobile, so it’s better to have extra K versus extra Ca.

Thank you so much! Yes, if you can please assist me on how to use it, I would really appreciate it.

First time I hear about Potassium Carbonate. I'm going to purchase it, the one in the picture I have posted here.

I have a Java Fern that all the leaves are turning completely brown, It could probably be this that I have low potassium. 

Where do you add this potassium carbonate? In a mesh bag inside your HOB filter? 

I was looking at your journal of your build trend, Do you also use Safe T Sorb on the bottom and sand on top as your substrate? Do you use CO2?Your tank looks amazing, the plants are really thriving! Both your tanks and plants look amazing @Pepere and @Mmiller2001, I hope I can achieve this

Potassium Carbonate.jpg

On 5/27/2024 at 3:24 PM, Pepere said:

Yes.

 

No. Like so many things in fishkeeping it is not necessary.. there are lots of ways to keep fish and grow plants well…

I like it in part as a redundancy.  In the event of a power failure the beneficial bacteria in my substrate would fare fairly well for an extended period of time even without any flow.  A simple air pump consumes 3 watts of power and will keep the bacteria colony happy and healthy, assuming bacteria has emotions…. I don’t need much battery backup…. The bacteria in my canister filter on the other hand would not be doing well If I was away from home when the power went out and could not get to it within a few hours.  In that case, I could give the media a thorough cleaning once I got home and the colony in the ugf and gravel substrate would be able to handle the ammonia from remaining bacteria decomposing in canister filter.

The other reason I like it is that it continually pulls water column fertilizer from tank water down through the substrate around the roots and through the Safe T Sorb to take advantage of the Cation exchange of the baked clay.  Does it have real world benefit?  I have no idea.  I wouldnt know how to test it, but it sounds scientific….

In any event ugf plates are pretty cheap and have no moving parts.. the last a very very long time…

I use Penn Plax ugf plates on my 29 gallon that cost $15.00.  I fitted two Easy Flow kits from the co op that greatly increases flow for $6.00 each that are a worthwhile upgrade in my book for the dramatic increase in flow…  it took about 15 minutes to make adapters from 3/4 male pipe thread adapters from local hardware store…

 


 

https://www.amazon.com/Penn-Plax-Premium-Gravel-Filter/dp/B005Q4900Q/ref=sr_1_3?crid=3QOHXPVK3I7WG&dib=eyJ2IjoiMSJ9.S-JadbyzitRyQ3hlLdJRYa0i3ABPrZ0znzaC-Fprt4y_EvzdEbUqgMyhrvf2XGoOk18O5qzHvKwskK5_QgNiljOq0Z_LU-9Q0g-PTOVAM047Od5dYoa0aNZ1PP-YTpyqp0sPfx0S3PnpCmYMF1TO6g3U6peC3gNCvMF-qVx4rnmI24xtFxR58XxAFA3GmMSZwbOKu4LFLQZbpesmNxRqG2al442W6_C9TKL4I22n0LzQd9oat31FWRp_PGxuM4gyLhrSwEB_dR_2D79NMourYFUNuZnHE37MdRkG_vPOJi8.9GoJAN9KNTniDwZXg1wKbpbJJh8uSvfYE5qYM5Xg6Aw&dib_tag=se&keywords=Under+gravel+filter&qid=1716848149&sprefix=under+gravel+filter%2Caps%2C174&sr=8-3

 

https://www.aquariumcoop.com/products/easy-flow-sponge-filter-upgrade-kit

 


 

 

Thank you so much! I'm going to give it a try as well, I really appreciate the help! You guys have saved me from spending so much money on substrate @Mmiller2001 and @Pepere

Edited by Tropicalfishkeeping201
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Posted (edited)
On 5/28/2024 at 5:50 AM, Tropicalfishkeeping201 said:

Thank you so much! Yes, if you can please assist me on how to use it, I would really appreciate it.

First time I hear about Potassium Carbonate. I'm going to purchase it, the one in the picture I have posted here.

I have a Java Fern that all the leaves are turning completely brown, It could probably be this that I have low potassium. 

Where do you add this potassium carbonate? In a mesh bag inside your HOB filter? 

I was looking at your journal of your build trend, Do you also use Safe T Sorb on the bottom and sand on top as your substrate? Do you use CO2?Your tank looks amazing, the plants are really thriving! Both your tanks and plants look amazing @Pepere and @Mmiller2001, I hope I can achieve this

Potassium Carbonate.jpg

Thank you so much! I'm going to give it a try as well, I really appreciate the help! You guys have saved me from spending so much money on substrate @Mmiller2001 and @Pepere

Here’s the one I use. I’m in the USA so if you are somewhere else, anything like this. https://a.co/d/8pIX66f
 

1g will raise 10 gallons by 1.07 degrees. I just round up, so 1g will raise 10 gallons 1.1dKH. It also adds 15ppm of potassium to that 10 gallons.

 

Edited by Mmiller2001
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Posted (edited)
On 5/28/2024 at 9:08 AM, Mmiller2001 said:

Here’s the one I use. I’m in the USA so if you are somewhere else, anything like this. https://a.co/d/8pIX66f
 

1g will raise 10 gallons by 1.07 degrees. I just round up, so 1g will raise 10 gallons 1.1dKH. It also adds 15ppm of potassium to that 10 gallons.

 

Thank you very much!! 🙂 Where do you add the potassium carbonate? In a mesh bag in the HOB filter or with each water change? 

Also just to confirm, once its added in the aquarium, will this last two years keeping the KH up before it has to be added in the fish tank again or do you add it into the water before each water change?@Mmiller2001  My tap water has a low KH

Edited by Tropicalfishkeeping201
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Posted (edited)

I was looking into the Safe T Sorb because I decided I want to use this as my bottom layer for my substrate and cap it off with sand as you did @Pepere since its affordable and your tanks look great too! But I was reading that some people said that it drops your KH drastically and you have PH and KH swings in the beginning and I wanted to know if you dealt with this too and what interventions did you take to avoid this from happening? 

Also, how long did it take for the water parameters to than stabilize? I'm asking so I kind of have an idea of how long I should wait before adding my fish into the tank once I add this substrate.  I want to avoid them from getting any stress from the KH/PH swings. 

Edited by Tropicalfishkeeping201
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Without question Safe T Sorb will absorb all KH out of your tap water for a bit..

I used Seachem Alkalinity buffer to raise KH to 6 degrees initially and check to kh numbers daily and add more Alkalinity buffer daily for a few days until the absorption stops.  As I remember it only takes a few days…Safe T Sorb also absorbs fertilizer as well early on.  I dose with easy green and then test for nitrates daily and redose as needed until levels stabilize which happens within a week..

 

My tap water has 1 degree .kH in it. Once things stabilizes I do not supplement kh anymore and allow tank KH to drop to tap water level through water changes..

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On 6/2/2024 at 10:56 PM, Pepere said:

Without question Safe T Sorb will absorb all KH out of your tap water for a bit..

I used Seachem Alkalinity buffer to raise KH to 6 degrees initially and check to kh numbers daily and add more Alkalinity buffer daily for a few days until the absorption stops.  As I remember it only takes a few days…Safe T Sorb also absorbs fertilizer as well early on.  I dose with easy green and then test for nitrates daily and redose as needed until levels stabilize which happens within a week..

Thank you so much! Really appreciate your help! @Pepere

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