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      Using The Balling Method For Chemical Supplementation

Among reef aquarium hobbyists, it has become an accepted fact that Alkalinity, Calcium, and Magnesium must be supplemented on a regular basis. This replaces the amounts assimilated by the SPS corals and other inhabitants kept in our tanks. Regular water changes help keep the level of needed ions within the proper range but, in the long run,  the dosing of supplements is best done on a daily schedule, as this promotes stability in the tank's parameters.

My experience with dosing originated in Germany in the mid 90's. The Balling Method (named after Hans-Werner Balling) of dosing was becoming popular. The "full" Balling Method is complex and can be rather expensive. Simplified (and cheaper) versions of the method were quickly developed - that is what I use.

Basically the method entails the dosing of:

  • Alkalinity in the form of sodium hydrogen carbonate (soda ash)

  • Calcium in the form of calcium chloride dihydrate

  • Magnesium in the form of a mixture of magnesium chloride hexahydrate and magnesium sulfate heptahydrate in a ratio of approx. 5 to 3

  • Trace elements, if desired,  such as strontium, iodide, potassium, etc. can be dosed - mixed with the main supplements

You might of noticed that the simplified Balling Dosing Method is very close to what is normally called 2-part supplementation +Mg, here in the United States. Randy Holmes-Farley has written many articles in the ReefKeeping Magazine (RKM) about the 2-part method. As a matter of fact, I think he is generally credited with developing it.

Dosing of the three main supplements (Alk, Ca, Mg) is based on the system's need for Alk. Once the Alk level has been stabilized, at the desired level, and assuming the supplement solutions have been mixed correctly, the levels of Ca and Mg will automatically range around the needed values.

The original formulas I learned in Germany required that 1 gram of chemical be added to 16mL of RO water. This is for Alk and Ca. Mg was a little different - the correct formula was 1 gram of the magnesium chloride-magnesium sulfate mix to 26mL of RO water.

That's the way I learned it. Using those formulas dosing was accomplished by supplying .025 grams of the Alk and Ca per day per gallon of system water. Sounds complicated, doesn't it? It was. It can all be done much more simply.

For my system, here are the formulas I now use:

  • Alk - 4 cups (32oz) sodium hydrogen carbonate in 2gals RO/DI water

  • Ca - 3.5 cups (28oz) calcium chloride dihydrate in 2gals RO/DI water
  • Mg - 1.6 cups (12.8oz) magnesium chloride hexahydrate and 1 cup (8oz) magnesium sulfate heptahydrate in 2gals RO/DI water

I started dosing at a rate of .4mL per gallon of EACH solution per day. As my frag and fuge tanks are not yet on-line that means .4 X 330gals (375gal minus rocks) = 132mL of each solution per day.

Before I started dosing I made sure my Alk, Ca, and Mg params were in line by first testing - then I added supplements in an amount necessary to get the values to my desired level (Alk 8.0, Ca 440, Mg 1350). I used one of the various on-line calculators to determine how much I needed to dose to get the params where I wanted them. Important Note - you should not raise Alk etc. too quickly. Probably 1 dKH per day should be the max - but don't take my word for it. Read the great articles by Holmes-Farley on the subject. You can find them in the RKM archives.

When I started dosing I performed an Alk test every day until I got a feel for where the value was going. In my case it was perfect, I didn't have to make any adjustments. If the value is going up or down, it's a simple matter of adjusting the electronic timers (or controller/computer if you use one) to raise or lower the dosing times, as the case may be. If you raise (or lower) the Alk dosing times, then you should raise Ca and Mg also. Right now each of my three dosers is on for 10 minutes at a time, 8 times a day. Using this type of supplement scheme, one quickly gets to the point where their parameters become very stable.

The Costs Of Supplement Dosing

The following calculations assume a dosage of 120ml per day per supplement mixture. This is for a system with a total water volume of approx. 400 gals. It's important to note that the calculations are based on my supplement usage, which is rather low. As stated earlier, I attribute this to the fact that I do a constant (24/7) water change - totaling approx. 10% per week. Again, I feel this lessens the systems requirement for additional supplement addition.

Per cup cost of chemicals

  • Calcium Chloride 5gals $70 = $0.87 per cup

  • Sodium Carbonate 5gals $60 = $0.75 per cup

  • Magnesium Chloride 5gals $70 = $0.87 per cup

  • Magnesium Sulfate 5gals $70 = $0.87 per cup

Cost for mixing up 2gal jugs of supplements

  • Ca 4 cups = $3.48

  • Alk 4 cups = $3.00

  • MagCl 1.6 cups = $1.39 plus MagSu 1.0 cup = $0.87


       Total cost for filling three 2gal jugs = $8.74

Number of days per jug at 120ml day

  • ( 7570ml (2gals) ÷ 120ml per day) = 63 days

Total cost per day

  • ($8.74) ÷ 63 days = $0.14

Total cost per day per milliliter

  • ($0.14 ÷ 120ml) = $0.00117

The Mechanics of Dosing

Supplementation is best handled automatically using electric dosing pumps. A dosing station could look something like this:

For a description of how I put mine together, see: Implementing a Supplement Station



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Orlando says...
Help me I am looking to get a 40 gallon nano sps tank with sump. equaling about 55 gallons.
What would be my cups per ro water? what brand do you use?
GlassReef: You can find the mixing formulas towards the top of the current page. I get my supplements from Bulk Reef Supply - see the "Material Souces" section at the bottom of the current page.
30th June 2012 5:04pm
Geddy says...
Tom, I hope you and your family are well.

I have been seeing my Mg level slipping a bit and have been taking another look into the methods for raising and maintaining it.
In "An Improved Do-it-Yourself Two-Part
Calcium and Alkalinity Supplement System" by RHF he mentions using 5 and 3 cups of Mg in only 1 gallon of water. You use much less per gallon. Is there a specific reason or do you just prefer to meter this less concentrated amount for greater control.
Thanks and all the best

GlassReef: Geddy, the strength of the solution used (within reason) is actually irrelevant, as long as the dosing is done correctly. I, personally, prefer a more dilute solution. This allows me to dose a comparatively larger volume - making an eventual over or under dosing relatively harmless.
12th January 2012 9:30pm
Hawk says...
Well, the test are about 6-10 months old. But they have worked just fine.
It´s SALIFERTs tests. I have another batch. Just tested it and they read Mg=1080
But I think they must work because I just added 300ml from my canister with the Mg-mix about an hour ago. So the 300ml must have raised it from 880 to 1080. Is that possible? Can I raise more do you think?
GlassReef: Hawk, for your situation I would suggest you do the following: 1. make up a Mg solution using 550gr Magnesium Chloride and 350gr Magnesium Sulfate mixed into 10 liters of RO water. This is enough to raise your Mg level to 1300ppm. 2. dose 1/3 of the solution each day for 3 days. This insures that you don't raise the Mg level more than 100ppm per day. Spread the dose over a number of hours each day. Test your Mg each day to ensure that all is as intended. Keep a watch on your salinity in case the dosing tends to drop the specific gravity too far.
17th December 2010 1:29pm
Hawk says...
Hi. Sorry for my crappy english. But you awnsered my question by telling me the values you choose for the correction. Thing is that I have 420ppm in Ca, 9 in kH, and 880ppm in Mg. I just started up the balling method and thought I could raise Mg by just adding some mix of the Mg (same mix you are using) but I guess it would take a lot of it. Would you know how I could raise the Mg from 880 to 1350? I have some magnesium chloride hexahydrate and magnesium sulfate heptahydrate powder left. My tanksize is 360 liters (about 95 US gal).
Thank you for your help with the values!!!
GlassReef: Hawk, I'm sure your english is much, much better than my swedish. Considering that your Ca and Alk values are OK, a Mg value of 880ppm is very unusual. What Mg test kit are you using? How old is it? Have you gotten normal readings with it in the past?
17th December 2010 11:56am
Hawk says...
I was wondering what type of "product" you put in the "Reef Chemistry Calc" to set your params online. What product is balling going under? I´m using Fauna Marin-Balling light.
Thanks and really like your reef!
GlassReef: Hi Hawk! If you mean what values I choose if I ever have to make a drastic correction the the systems parameters then, when using calculators: For Ca I choose Anhydrous Calcium Chloride. For Alk I choose Anhydrous Sodium Carbonate. For Mg I choose MMagnesium Cloride Hexahydrate. Sorry, but I'm not sure I understand you question: "What product is balling going under?". If you mean what overall formula I'm using for "my" Balling regimen, it's a combination of ideas from various sources such as Holme-Farley, Fauna Marin, Peter Wilkens, and my own experience.
17th December 2010 11:00am
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