How To: Dosing 2 Part in Your Reef Tank

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Today on BRSTV we are going to cover the complete installation of a two part dosing system. Hi, Im ryan host of brs tv where each week we cover a new topic related to reefing. This week we are going to go over the complete installation of a two part dosing system. We will give a very brief overview of why we dose these elements, discuss proper mixing of two part solutions, how to figure out your tanks consumption, common pieces of equipment related to two part and finally answer a few common questions. There is a pretty long list of reasons why we want to maintain calcium and alkalinity but the primary one is corals and coralline algae use these elements to produce their skeletal structure and grow. Second one is maintaining a stable water chemistry and environment for all of the creatures in the tank. Wide variations in alkalinity and pH make it difficult for a tank to really thrive. If you haven’t been maintaining calcium and alkalinity properly before, using a system like this will absolutely result in a major improvement in coral and coralline algae growth, stable water chemistry will certainly result in health improvements for everything in the tank which will also be responsible for additional growth and reduce losses.

Mixing the solutions is probably the easiest component. With the calcium solution just fill the jug two thirds full with filtered water. Using a standard household measuring cup measure out two and a half cups of calcium chloride and pour into the jug using the included funnel. Then shake the jug until the solution is completely dissolved. The solution should dissolve crystal clear. Then fill the rest of the jug up within a couple inches off the top.

Label the jug calcium and this portion is done. The alkalinity portion is a bit different. While it is possible to dissolve the alkalinity portion directly in the jug it is much easier to do it in an open top container where you can stir it while adding the salt. I am going to use this empty container because it is also a gallon size but you could use a clean bowl or bucket. Start by filling your jug 4/5’s the way full with ro/di or distilled water and then pour into your open top container. Measure out 2 cups of sodium carbonate also known as soda ash. Using a spoon start stirring the water slowly and pour in the alkalinity portion. All of the material should dissolve completely. Taking this extra step will help prevent the clumps of soda ash that can form at the bottom if you pour the soda ash directly into the jug. If you skipped this step and did get some of these clumps just float the jug in some hot water and shake vigorously a few times throughout the day.

Once dissolved use the funnel included in the total package to pour the solution back into the jug and label alkalinity. Next top the bottle off and give it a good shake. Time to mix the magnesium solution. Start with eight cups of RO/DI or distilled water, three cups of magnesium sulfate and five cups of magnesium chloride. There is a good deal of salt in there you are trying to dissolve so there may be some crystals left in the bottom which should dissolve over the next couple days if left in a warm location. You can avoid this by mixing it separately like the alkalinity. Once again, top it off and give it a good shake. Label magnesium and we’re done. Ok so all the solutions are mixed, we let them sit for a few hours to dissolve completely and now it is time to discuss how to dose the solutions to maintain proper calcium and alkalinity.

There are two steps to this. First we are going to assume your levels are already lower than you want them to be. Most reefers keep their calcium at 420 parts per million. Alkalinity between seven and ten dKH , we suggest 9 dKH as a good number and what most of us here at BRS maintain. Magnesium is most often maintained at 1350 parts per million. To raise the tanks levels we are going to use the reef calculator which is probably the easiest tool you have ever used. To show you how this all works we are going to pretend we are just starting dosing this tank which has around 70 gallons of water and a depleted calcium level of 390, a dKH of 6 and magnesium level of 1200.

We will start by entering the tanks water volume which is 70 gallons in this case. To get the water volume I took the tank size plus sump minus rock and sand. I might be off a bit with my guess of 70 but it is very likely I am within 10% of the correct number. Don’t agonize over getting your guess perfect because your test kit probably isn’t accurate enough to see the difference anyways. For instance if I was trying to raise the levels 30 parts per million and I was off by 10% and really added 33 parts per million it is very unlikely a hobby grade test kit would be able to display the difference.

Once I have the volume entered and the current calcium level which is 390, my desired level of 420, and what I am are dosing with which in this case is 2 part calcium solution and hit calculate. The calculator tells me I need 214 ml of calcium solution as well as some mixing and dosing notes on the side. One of the more important dosing notes is a recommendation that I don’t change the calcium level more than 50 ppm in a single day. In this case I am going from 390 to 420 which is only 30ppm so I can add it all in a single dose. It also mentions that I add it slowly to a high flow area of the tank. My personal preference is to pour it directly into a high flow powerhead which will disperse the solution quickly and avoid small pockets where the calcium is temporarily really high. The calculator is really accurate so I can come back an hour later, test and see that the levels are indeed 420 now.

It is an incredibly satisfying experience when something that was fairly confusing before is reduced to something as simple as this. The alkalinity and magnesium components are basically the same thing, enter my current levels, where I want them to be and it will tell me exactly how much I need. When you are doing this make sure to pay close attention to the alkalinity dosing notes. The alkalinity component will raise the pH temporarily so we want to add it slower and preferably not more than 1.4 dKH a day. In this case I am going from six to nine so I’m going to split the dose in half and dose over the course of a couple days. In this case I would split up the recommended one hundred and fifty millileters into four 38 milliliter doses.Keep in mind that the corals have consumed some of the alkalinity in the last couple days so it isn’t uncommon to have to make another small adjustment at the end. It’s also critical that the alkalinity solution is added to slowly to a high flow area of the tank.

The alkalinity solution will with raise the pH. While the effect on this entire tank is pretty subtle. say from 8.1 to 8.2. The effect on the localized area where you added the solution is obviously much higher. For best dispersion I find adding it near a high flow powerhead, pouring it directly into the overflow or dripping it slowly anywhere into the tank to be some of the best options. Ok we got the levels where you want them, how do we keep them there? This is where the two part daily dosing comes in.

Process is pretty simple. More or less my corals and coralline algae have consumed some amount of calcium and alkalinity in the last day since I got my levels right. We are going to replace that small amount of missing calcium and alkalinity with the two part jugs we mixed up earlier. To figure out how much our tank is consuming we started with the recommended dose found in the instructions. Since it is pretty common for most of reefers to assume more is better these are designed to be a starting point and on the lighter side.

So for instance on a tank like this one I would consider to be medium to high demand tank demand since it has a somewhat dense mix of LPS and SPS . The tank has around 70 gallons of water in it so we will start by dosing 20 milliliters of calcium and alkalinity and then we’ll test in a few days. Turns out the levels dropped a bit so we upped the dose to thirty to forty and then after a couple of more adjustments I found 60ml a day to be the correct dose where the levels are stable. I’ll test again in a week to make sure we got it right. I would like to note that it is much better to start low and work higher rather than start high and work down because adding too much can cause issues like precipitation which makes it harder to hone in on the right dose.

So it really is that easy add a small amount each day for a few days and test. It is pretty rare for it to take more than 3-5 adjustments to hone in on the correct amount. Ok so onto what my daily dosing program will look like. More or less I’m just going to add the same amount off calcium and alkalinity every day. Same things apply here. Make sure to add it slowly to a high flow area of the tank. Most people will do this at the same time as the feed the tank so isn’t that much of a chore. The two part total package comes with a couple dispensing pumps which can be used to dispense the solution into these easy to use measuring cups. Just pump out what you need each day and pour into separate areas of the tank. Make sure to use different cups or rinse between uses to prevent the two solutions from mixing in the cup. The last step in all this is dosing the magnesium. Magnesium isn’t consumed at the same rapid rate at which calcium and alkalinity is consumed.

However just as important because it is the presence of the magnesium which allows us to maintain high levels of calcium and alkalinity in the first place. Magnesium levels are also naturally much higher than the other two elements. Basically this means while you could dose magnesium every day as well, it isn’t needed and most people don’t dose magnesium daily. All I need to do now with the magnesium is once I have completely emptied both gallons of calcium and alkalinity with daily dosing, is pour in 20 ounces or two and a half cups of magnesium solution.

You can do this all in one dose to a high flow area of the tank or in multiple smaller doses if you like but this isn’t required. I won’t have to dose magnesium again until I completely empty another pair of calcium and alkalinity jugs. Ok I have been doing this a long time now with a wide variety of tanks and I’d like to make my life a bit easier with some related equipment. Best way is by adding a couple of dosing pumps which add the correct amounts automatically every day. The most popular solution for this is these small dosing pumps. You will need two of them, one for each solution. Most people control them with an inexpensive outlet timer or a timed outlet on their aquarium controller like the Apex or ReefKeeper. Basically this pump doses at a known flow rate which in this case is 1.1 milliliters so getting it to dose this tanks requirement of 60 milliliters I just need to set the timer to turn the pump on for 54 minutes a day.

I could also opt to make smaller multiple doses throughout the day by having the timer turn on six times for nine minutes each. I can also elect to do things dose the calcium during the day and alkalinity at night. There are also fancier dosers like this one from Bubble magus which asks you the amount you want to dose and as well as the ability to split the doses up automatically. For example selecting 100 millileters with one dose means it would dose 100 milliliters all at once while 100 millileters with 10 doses means it would dose 10 milliliters ten times a day split evenly over a 24 hour period. This one from Vertex does similar things but with more adjustability using the sweet touch screen. They included the ability to dose by day of the week, name each pump head, more flexible tools to adjust the volume of fluid dosed. Japanese pump heads, and high quality motors including a stepper option for extreme accuracy.

There is also easy to use calibration option which is pretty sweet. Honestly this touch screen makes it super easy to understand and operate, I think even the most technologically inept of us could figure this out on their own without even looking at the directions. Because Vertex is Vertex they also make really attractive containers for the three solutions just in case you decided a jug isn’t attractive enough for your system. Honestly while this may seem silly to some of us, a lot of reefers have just as much pride in their equipment room or sump area as they do the tank itself so this is a solid option when form has to match function.

For function alone we also stock these nice space saving jugs which make it a lot easier to fit the jugs inside your cabinet of even behind it. Bubble magus sells this nice screw on holder for the dosing lines so you can control the area the solution enters the tank and make sure the dosing lines never get bumped outside of the tank which could damage your stand, carpet or floor. If you are looking for something a bit more polished and flexible vertex makes this nice magnetic line holder. Ok to wrap this all up we do have a couple tips based on common questions we get. First off why is it called two part when there is clearly three parts> Basically all the calcium and alkalinity dosing solutions are referred to as two part even if they have a separate magnesium portion. The products that have three parts are typically doing it because three part products allow you include elements which match natural seawater ratios better. The true two parts skip one or more of these elements so they can mix the calcium and magnesium solutions together.

That brings us to another popular question, can you mix the two parts together and dose just one solution? The answer is no, soon as you mixed them they would instantly precipitate out and the solution would be useless. They do have to be kept separate. Next the system is designed so you can use equal amounts of calcium and alkalinity solution to make things easy. However there are a variety of reasons why a small amount of people might find they need to use slightly more or less of one solution than another. Don’t feel like the one to one ratio absolutely has to be followed if your tank uses slightly more alkalinity than calcium solution just go with the flow. It is also pretty common for most people to drastically reduce their testing after they get the tang of the system which is pretty normal.

If I was only going to test one element it would be alkalinity because it will drop much faster than calcium. So it is fairly common for experienced reefers to test alkalinity during normal maintenance cycles such as every other week when you do water changes and calcium one a month or so. Once you have a stable two part system going it would be pretty unusual for alkalinity to be spot on and calcium drift significantly. There is also a pretty sweet option for testing alkalinity which literally takes less than 60 seconds. With the Hanna Checker all you need to do is add 10 millileters of tank water. calibrate, add 1 millileter of reagent , invert five times, replace the sample and hit the button. A few seconds later it tells you your alkalinity. Lastly it is completely normal for the alkalinity portion to cloud the water a bit when you add it, particularly when you pour it in by hand. The tank should clear up pretty quickly. And you may find that your magnesium levels are dropping even though you are adding the 20 oz of solution on time.

This is almost always because the salt mix you are using has low magnesium levels which is most of them so every time you do a water change you are really reducing the levels. So that wraps up today’s episode, if you have any questions or want to share your experience with two part with everyone do so in the comments area below. If this is your first time with us subscribe because we do this every week.

Thank you for watching BRSTV..

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