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making your own black water extract


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#1 Auban

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Posted 18 October 2015 - 07:41 AM

why would you do this?  i can think of a few reasons...  your natives come from the black water streams of north carolina, maybe?
you like the look of it?  your fish spawn better when there are a lot of tannins in the water?  not to mention that tannins tend to help reduce fungus...
 
black water extract is pretty simple.  its just tannins dissolved in water, kinda like tea.  the easiest source to use for black water extract just so happen to be those things that have the most of it, such as indian almond leaves and alder cones.  now, what else do we have readily available to most of us?  
 
hardwoods!  yep, if you have access to hardwood trees, you have access to all the tannins you will ever need.  personally, i prefer oak, but just about any hardwood bark you can get will usually suffice.  the bark has the highest concentration, so use that.  i find that the best bark to use is that of dead trees, or bark that has fallen off the tree and began to break down.  the real reason i prefer it is because it is much easier to grind, but really any bark will work.  
 
basically, just grind up small bits of the oak bark in a coffee grinder or a magic bullet, etc, and then brew it in hot water on the stove for a while.  when the water is nice and dark, as dark as you want it, just strain the oak bark pieces out and set them aside to dry.  dont throw them away, since they work kinda like alder cones, they dont release all their tannins all at once.  usually, you can make a second batch of black water extract from the same oak bark.  
so, with this in mind, you can make your own blackwater extract.  i like to concentrate mine so that i have it on hand for later use, but you could just drop some oak bark or leaves into a pot of water and boil it without even grinding it up, you will end up with dark, tannin rich "tea", it just wont be quite as strong as it would if you ground it up.  
 
  right now, i am also experimenting with chicory, which seems to be working well.  so far, none of my fish seem to be suffering ill affects, and i have stained the water even darker than the black water i used to wade into in north carolina.  i have yet to determine if it has any of the stringent qualities of tannin sources, but it seems to be making the fish more calm in general. 
 
while i havent tried chicory with them yet, my black banded sunfish really responded well to the oak bark extract.  they came out of hiding a lot faster and started eating a lot sooner than they did without it.  
 
my oak bark boiling in water:
20130123_142625.jpg
 
the black water extract after i condensed it down quite a bit:
6b1283e4-6f2f-4e0a-8bfc-bfcb7ab4f5e3_zps
 
my 40 breeder after adding an ounce or so of the condensed black water extract:
20130123_142949.jpg
 

"The ecologist is continually having to look at the aspects of nature with which he is unfamiliar and perforce must be an amateur for much of his working time.... professionals may carp at omissions, misconstructions, or even downright errors in these pages. perhaps ultimately they may forgive them for the sake of the overall vision that only the amateur, or the ecologist, blithely sets out to experience."G. Evelyn Hutchinson

#2 MtFallsTodd

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Posted 18 October 2015 - 08:41 AM

Cool post, I put oak leaves in my filter and in my tank. Just barely stains the water but seems to calm the fish down. Makes great hiding places for small darters and looks more like a natural habitat.
Deep in the hills of Great North Mountain

#3 Betta132

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Posted 19 October 2015 - 01:49 AM

I generally scatter a handful of oak leaves in the tank, or some small pecan branches- the bark leaches lots of tannins. It does get a bit messy, though.



#4 Josh Blaylock

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Posted 19 October 2015 - 08:26 AM

very neat info here.  I'm setting up a new tank that may need a little blackwater, I'll try this.


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#5 NotCousteau

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Posted 19 October 2015 - 10:40 AM

Great information. Let's see more blackwater tanks shots!

#6 Josh Blaylock

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Posted 19 October 2015 - 01:56 PM

I have a large oak and shellbark hickory in my backyard.  I suppose I'll use the oak since you have experience with that and haven't had issues.  Have you ever just dropped a piece of bark in the tank and let it leach out slowly?


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#7 Auban

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Posted 19 October 2015 - 05:21 PM

yes, and it does slowly stain the water.  but, most of the pieces I find didn't look all that appealing, so I went with boiling it instead.  plus, less time waiting for it to get water logged. 

 

speaking of which, even if you don't want to actually extract the tannins, once a piece of bark sinks in the boiling water, it will sink in the tank.  so, it might be worth it for that alone.


"The ecologist is continually having to look at the aspects of nature with which he is unfamiliar and perforce must be an amateur for much of his working time.... professionals may carp at omissions, misconstructions, or even downright errors in these pages. perhaps ultimately they may forgive them for the sake of the overall vision that only the amateur, or the ecologist, blithely sets out to experience."G. Evelyn Hutchinson

#8 loopsnj64

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Posted 19 October 2015 - 06:48 PM

I am considering doing this, how much boiled bark extract (i know results will vary considerably) would i add to a 5 gallon cylinder tank if i want to be able to see reasonably clearly


"All good things must come to an end, but bad things think thats rather dull, so they stick around long after their natural end has come"

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#9 Auban

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Posted 20 October 2015 - 01:01 PM

that is a hard question to answer.  I would only need a teaspoon of the stuff I used to make.  my advice would be to brew some up and add it slowly.  if you add too much, you would either have to wait for it to slowly break down or do a water change. 

 

much less effort to just add a little and wait a few minutes to see how it looks once it disperses completely.  without a source of tannins in the water, like a piece of driftwood or water logged oak bark, you will have to add more extract from time to time.  eventually, it will break down and the tank will clear up.


"The ecologist is continually having to look at the aspects of nature with which he is unfamiliar and perforce must be an amateur for much of his working time.... professionals may carp at omissions, misconstructions, or even downright errors in these pages. perhaps ultimately they may forgive them for the sake of the overall vision that only the amateur, or the ecologist, blithely sets out to experience."G. Evelyn Hutchinson

#10 gerald

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Posted 20 October 2015 - 01:39 PM

Is there anything special in bark that you dont get from leaves?  I use mainly post oak leaves, since they're more rigid, make good hiding cover, and last longer than the other available oaks near me.


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Hangin' on the Neuse
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#11 loopsnj64

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Posted 20 October 2015 - 02:47 PM

that is a hard question to answer.  I would only need a teaspoon of the stuff I used to make.  my advice would be to brew some up and add it slowly.  if you add too much, you would either have to wait for it to slowly break down or do a water change. 

 

much less effort to just add a little and wait a few minutes to see how it looks once it disperses completely.  without a source of tannins in the water, like a piece of driftwood or water logged oak bark, you will have to add more extract from time to time.  eventually, it will break down and the tank will clear up.

 

So i think what i will do is boil some (uncrushed) bark, add a very small amount of the extract, and position the bark on front of the filter, on the gravel etc.


"All good things must come to an end, but bad things think thats rather dull, so they stick around long after their natural end has come"

-From an art book I read


#12 Auban

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Posted 23 October 2015 - 12:07 AM

Is there anything special in bark that you dont get from leaves?  I use mainly post oak leaves, since they're more rigid, make good hiding cover, and last longer than the other available oaks near me.

 

nothing that i can think of.  the biggest difference that i see is that the bark has a whole lot more tannins than the leaves do.  


"The ecologist is continually having to look at the aspects of nature with which he is unfamiliar and perforce must be an amateur for much of his working time.... professionals may carp at omissions, misconstructions, or even downright errors in these pages. perhaps ultimately they may forgive them for the sake of the overall vision that only the amateur, or the ecologist, blithely sets out to experience."G. Evelyn Hutchinson

#13 littlen

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Posted 23 October 2015 - 07:56 AM

It might be somewhat anecdotal, but has anyone ever added any blackwater extract and, viola!....something started breeding with no other changes to the tank after a long period of inactivity? 


Nick L.

#14 Auban

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Posted 24 October 2015 - 02:10 AM

i have had some non-native fish spawn after adding black water extract.  would they have bred anyway?  maybe, but it did seem to trigger them. 

 

one thing I notice in North Carolina is that a lot of rivers and streams seem to get darker after periods of heavy rain.  I always figured its because of all the tannins that accumulates along the way as the water drains.  in other places, the opposite seems to happen, the water gets clearer. 

 

I guess any change might trigger a spawn so long as there is enough food, light, and the temp is right. 


Edited by Auban, 24 October 2015 - 02:12 AM.

"The ecologist is continually having to look at the aspects of nature with which he is unfamiliar and perforce must be an amateur for much of his working time.... professionals may carp at omissions, misconstructions, or even downright errors in these pages. perhaps ultimately they may forgive them for the sake of the overall vision that only the amateur, or the ecologist, blithely sets out to experience."G. Evelyn Hutchinson

#15 littlen

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Posted 24 October 2015 - 06:37 AM

Yeah, I know that a big water change, which usually results in a drop in the tank temp, can trigger spawning.  I have just never worked with extract, and seen if it had the occasional results that a big water change does.  What fish did you have spawn after adding extract? 


Nick L.

#16 MtFallsTodd

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Posted 24 October 2015 - 06:51 AM

I have had black water extract be the magic touch to get apistogrammas to spawn.
Deep in the hills of Great North Mountain

#17 mattknepley

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Posted 07 November 2017 - 07:04 AM

Hey folks, bumping this ol' thread of Auban's because I have a similar question, but about peat moss. Would peat moss be ok to use? I have a rump ton of peat moss left from my more involved carnivorous plant phase. This particular batch of moss did not seem to be as of good quality as previous batches, one frustration it had was that it never ever seemed to stop leaching its mossiness into community trays or individual water trays. It rather reminded me of a peat bog pond we had a cabin on in upstate NY when I was growing up. Lots of aquatic plant growth, and if you opened your eyes while swimming you'd see the water was a reddish brown and had moss floating around if you'd been particularly vigorous in your splashing. The bottom was soft, squishy, and deep. Until the poor pond was ultimately overpopulated and "loved" to death, or near death, it boasted all kinds of finny and amphibian life.

So,while I don't reckon peat water and black water are the same, they both tend to be very soft,no? That pond was the softest water I can ever recall being in. Has anyone tried using peat moss as a combo substrate and water conditioner/colorer? I have four Blackbanded Sunnies and a couple really nice Lined Topminnows chillin' in a tank outside that is loaded with plants (Java Moss and a some floater that came along for the ride from Bahama Swamp a couple years ago and is loving the pond life) that I want to bring inside before winter comes. I envision slightly browned water as I would rinse the bejeebers outta the peat before adding it, and a mass of floating,long stemmed plants like what they have now and the Java Moss, too. Medium light and a sponge filter with low air flow through it.

Is this likely to be good for the fishes? Would it reduce fungus risk? That question is particularly interesting to me as I am currently about to pull the plug on my ten gallon "souvenir" tank. It had some convention fishes and a couple SC fishes in it. Things were going great with it for a couple months, then WQ issues just blew up in my face. Could never get ammonia down, no matter how many water changes or the addition of a high flow sponge filter to try to boost beneficial bacteria. Fish of the same species died off withing a couple days of each other, so I assume it was a long term "seige" type WQ issue or disease that just eventually wore them down. To get back to the fungus, they almost immediately are encased in a rather deep carpet of white, fine, straight fungus upon death. Kinda like it's been there the whole time, just waiting to bust loose. The corpse breaks down into mushy pieces very quickly if you can't find it right away. In addition, occasionally I see a free swimming, 1/4 inch long, very fine worm vigorously thrashing its way through the water. At first I thought they were food that happened to come in on some of the leaves or rocks that are in the tank, now I'm wondering if they are parasitic...

Yeah, this is a rather unruly post wandering in several directions, so feel free to respond however you feel, but in general I guess my main questions are:

is peat a viable/practical water conditioner for Blackbanded Sunfish and Lined Topminnows?
does it have antifungal properties?
is it likely to have other health/behavioral benefits?
Matt Knepley
"No thanks, a third of a gopher would merely arouse my appetite..."

#18 littlen

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Posted 07 November 2017 - 07:48 AM

I've used a baseball sized amount, placed in a ladies nylon stocking, in a H.o.B. filter to soften water and drop the pH.  Then again, a good piece of driftwood does about the same in what little applications I've used each for, but at least the wood goes in the tank and has another function (aesthetic/decor).  I gave it a good pre-rinse and never noticed any fine particles that got out.  I don't believe there are any anti-fungal properties.  Fish died and there were still 'fuzzy' bodies to be found.  If your fish are not reacting well to a tank with an ammonia issue, hardness is irrelevant.  I'd get the water stable first before worrying about adding peat.  I haven't got 2C worth of an opinion on health/behavioral benefits to a tannin rich tank.  FWIW, While raising some species of dart frog tadpoles, a 'magnolia leaf tea extract' was made that seemed to help increase the numbers that survived through metamorphosis.  No science behind it, just anecdotal at the time.


Nick L.

#19 gerald

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Posted 07 November 2017 - 02:41 PM

Tannins, lignins, fulvic acids, and similar dissolved organic carbon (DOC) compounds from leaves and wood DO help fish osmoregulate in ion-poor water.  Experiments with Rio Negro fish (pacu and tetras) in the 80's showed that blackwater-adapted species couldn't maintain their ion-balance in low-ion water (similar to Rio Negro) without DOC.  I'm not sure if they figured out the biochemistry to explain how exactly DOC helps maintain internal ion balance. 

 

Peat, leaves, and wood can absorb a little bit hardness (Ca + Mg) but adding heaps of peat or wood to hard water will NOT make it soft.  You will have hard brown water.  Same applies to alkalinity (KH) and pH: the base-neutralizing capacity of peat/leaves/wood is limited.   Dont assume that all brown water is soft and acidic.

 

Nick -- The supposed "anti-fungal properties" of blackwater might be an indirect effect.  If DOC keeps the fish (and fish eggs) alive and healthy by helping them osmoregulate in ion-poor water, then they can resist fungus better.  Just because dead fish grow fungi in blackwater doesn't mean that blackwater DOC isn't helpful in keeping fish and eggs from getting fungus infections in the first place. 

 

Matt - No, those thread-like swimming worms (and creep-on-glass worms) are not parasites; they are scavengers. 


Gerald Pottern
-----------------------
Hangin' on the Neuse
"Taxonomy is the diaper used to organize the mess of evolution into discrete packages" - M.Sandel


#20 mattknepley

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Posted 07 November 2017 - 06:32 PM

Thanks, guys. Gives me a bit to think on. The BBS and Lined Topminnows are happy in the pond water I have them in now, I just wondered if they might not be happier in something trying to recreate their native water. Come to think on it, their home was cypress swamp (down around Goodale State Park in Camden, SC). Keeping in mind what you said about the limitations of using peat or other DOC in aquaria, do you think a layer of cypress bark, shed leaves, twigs, et cetera would have any value?
Matt Knepley
"No thanks, a third of a gopher would merely arouse my appetite..."




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