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post #1 of 18 (permalink) Old 02-09-2016, 01:54 PM Thread Starter
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Join Date: Feb 2016
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First tank ever

Hey there Internet aquaticists I'm going to be setting up my first tank this weekend. I've been reading as much as I can and feel like I may just have my bearings. I guess I'm looking for some general advice, maybe about what substrates are worth the bucks and which ones not so much. My plan is to plant very heavily from the beginning and go low tech. Is it necessary to cycle the tank without plants for a week or two before I start adding? Any start up guides you would recommend? Thanks and I'll post pics along the way!
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post #2 of 18 (permalink) Old 02-09-2016, 01:57 PM Thread Starter
Algae Grower
Join Date: Feb 2016
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Oh yeah, it's a 20 gallon tall and I've been thinking about getting the bio wheel filter and haven't really figured out any lighting yet. Would also be psyched to get some recommendations on those! Looking to stay relatively affordable without sacrificing utility.
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post #3 of 18 (permalink) Old 02-09-2016, 02:22 PM
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I would not recommend bio wheel filters, in my experience they make a splashing noise and the wheel stops turning several months down the road anyways. Aquaclear is generally the safest choice although I'm sure there are other good brands as well.

You do not need to cycle a tank before adding plants.
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post #4 of 18 (permalink) Old 02-09-2016, 02:28 PM
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You can add plants during the cycle, they can jump-start the cycle because bacteria is on the plant leaves. I would go for a sunsun canister, the hw-302 is $40 on amazon, it is a really nice filter for the price. Dirting the tank may be good for low-tech, something like pool filter sand is good, so is black diamond blasting sand. I personally use Caribsea Eco-Complete, Seachem Flourite is basically the same stuff, just needs alot of rinsing

A 15-year old that faces parental opposition in this hobby

55g High-Tech
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post #5 of 18 (permalink) Old 02-09-2016, 06:48 PM
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please help!? i am new to the hobby and really admire these beautiful planted tanks. i went out and got some dirt for under the fluorite substrate. for the plants i have anubius, amazon sword, crypts, dwarf sag, corkscrew val and java moss. heres the problem, i set up my tank about a week ago and dwarf sag and val and the sword are just melting. i am currently using a liquid co2 and I'm wondering if a diy co2 system would improve? also the tank i bought was a kit so it came with an led light.. could that be the problem? the light is not strong enough? or is all of this just something these plants got through trying to adjust to these conditions.. thanks in advance guys!
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post #6 of 18 (permalink) Old 02-09-2016, 07:21 PM
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Before throwing money at it I would plan what you want as far as livestock. Do you want fish or shrimp only. I wish I had spent more time planning mine. Example: I am going to move the contents of my 10g to a 20H, mostly because I did not plan the 10g well enough when I built it.

You can have it planted while it cycles. I did the fishless cycle and it worked well. Good luck and welcome to the forum. I look forward to seeing your results. Oh and one more thing. Patience is a must. I thought my 10g tank was going to die off at first so dont panic. Take your time and do things right and before you know it you will have an aqua jungle.
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post #7 of 18 (permalink) Old 02-11-2016, 07:21 PM Thread Starter
Algae Grower
Join Date: Feb 2016
Posts: 11
Just got the tank from my coworker, gonna head to petco tonight and grab an aquaclear 50, Eco complete and some equilibrium. Should I also get dechlorinator for the initial set up? I've been reading Sudeep Mandel's guide and he does not mention it. As far as stocking it goes, I'd like to have a couple schools of small fish, some algae eaters of some sort (snail(s), SAE, shrimp, etc) and if it wouldn't be too much one medium-ish sized fish (really like dwarf gourami but not sure if that would work). If anyone has a stocking list suggestion id love to see it. For me the plants are the main draw, but I would like some attractive fish to complete the natural ecosystem!

Last edited by themetalchurch; Yesterday at 12:28 AM. Reason: phone grammar
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post #8 of 18 (permalink) Old 02-11-2016, 08:12 PM
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For dechlor I use prime. I come from the cichlid world and am a noob when it comes to planted tanks so I will leave it to others with more experience to recommend stocking suggestions. I can tell you this I have espei rasboras and I love them, very entertaining fish so I would recommend rasboras of some type based on that. I also have oto and I love them as well even though I dont see them as often since I added the espei tank mates. I'm sure cory will be recommended as a neat fish. Good luck on your tank. Please start a journal and share with us!
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post #9 of 18 (permalink) Old Yesterday, 12:29 AM Thread Starter
Algae Grower
Join Date: Feb 2016
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Ok, so Petco sucks hahah. All I was able to pick up was:

Aqueon 100w heater
Seachem Pure

I'm going to place an Amazon order tonight, definitely getting the AC50, Eco-Complete (none of the pet shops in my area sell any planting substrate unfortunately), Seachem Equilibrium, and...?

My question now is this: what else do I need for the initial set up and first few weeks before I introduce fish? Water testers, any other "accessories", etc.? I'll attach a picture of the light fixture my buddy gave me. It currently has a 17w bulb which from what I understand won't be powerful enough. Petco only had that wattage as well, so I guess I'll have to add that to the order?

Thanks for the input so far. Psyched to get this bad boy up and running. Luckily Petco's plant selection is OK. Anyone have any first hand experience with those plant packages on amazon? OR where to source some driftwood, preferably that's been pre-soaked to get rid of those tannins?
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post #10 of 18 (permalink) Old Yesterday, 12:53 AM Thread Starter
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Join Date: Feb 2016
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Here's the light. I measured it and the bulb was 17" which doesn't seem like a size anyone makes. I'm stumped here haha.
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post #11 of 18 (permalink) Old Yesterday, 02:19 AM
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Before you can start altering the water (adding or subtracting things), you need to know what is in there.

I would start with looking at your water company quality report.
They call things different names, but look for any of these, and what units they are using to measure and report. Not all water companies list all these, but lets see what you can find.

GH, General Hardness
KH, Alkalinity, Carbonate Hardness
Chlorine or chloramine

You can also get a test kit that includes different tests. I like the 5-way or 6-way strips, they include GH, KH, pH, NO2, NO3 but do not include ammonia (separate strips). Fast, easy to use, sometimes a bit tricky to read. Good light helps. These are great for the fishless cycle.

API liquid reagent/test tube kits are often used, but seem to have a few problems. You can get a Master Test Kit which includes ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, high range pH and mid range pH, but does not include GH or KH.

There are other test kit companies, but I have not used many of the others.

Light: one of those over a 20 does not look like enough light. Is it a t-8? or t-5? Looks like a t-8. Anyway, 17 watts over a 20 gallon tank is less than half of what it needs. Each fluorescent fixture has a certain ballast and starter that can only handle certain bulbs. I would give up on that, and get a light fixture for planted tanks, that reaches the fill width of the tank.

Is it necessary to cycle the tank without plants for a week or two before I start adding?
No, this is just an extremely long leak test. Waste of time.

I am including the fishless cycle. There are some interesting points about water parameters, and this is a very good way to cycle the tank. You can plant from the start, or you can get going with the fishless cycle while you sort out other issues. Get some experience using the testing supplies.
Cycle: To grow the beneficial bacteria that remove ammonia and nitrite from the aquarium.

Fish-In Cycle: To expose fish to toxins while using them as the source of ammonia to grow nitrogen cycle bacteria. Exposure to ammonia burns the gills and other soft tissue, stresses the fish and lowers their immunity. Exposure to nitrite makes the blood unable to carry oxygen. Research methemglobinemia for details.

Fishless Cycle: The safe way to grow more bacteria, faster, in an aquarium, pond or riparium.

The method I give here was developed by 2 scientists who wanted to quickly grow enough bacteria to fully stock a tank all at one time, with no plants helping, and overstock it as is common with Rift Lake Cichlid tanks.

1a) Set up the tank and all the equipment. You can plant if you want. Include the proper dose of dechlorinator with the water.
Optimum water chemistry:
GH and KH above 3 German degrees of hardness. A lot harder is just fine.
pH above 7, and into the mid 8s is just fine. (7.5-8 seems to be optimum)
Temperature in the upper 70s F (mid 20s C) is good. Higher (to 95*F or about 35*C) is OK if the water is well aerated.
A trace of other minerals may help. Usually this comes in with the water, but if you have a pinch of KH2PO4, and trace elements like CSM+B that may be helpful.
High oxygen level. Make sure the filter and power heads are running well. Plenty of water circulation.
No toxins in the tank. If you washed the tank, or any part of the system with any sort of cleanser, soap, detergent, bleach or anything else make sure it is well rinsed. Do not put your hands in the tank when you are wearing any sort of cosmetics, perfume or hand lotion. No fish medicines of any sort.
A trace of salt (sodium chloride) is OK, but not required.
This method of growing bacteria will work in a marine system, too. The species of bacteria are different.

1b) Optional: Add any source of the bacteria that you are growing to seed the tank. Cycled media from a healthy tank is good. Decor or some gravel from a cycled tank is OK. Live plants or plastic are OK. I have even heard of the right bacteria growing in the bio film found on driftwood. (So if you have been soaking some driftwood in preparation to adding it to the tank, go ahead and put it into the tank) Bottled bacteria is great, but only if it contains Nitrospira species of bacteria. Read the label and do not waste your money on anything else.
At the time this was written the right species could be found in:
Dr. Tims One and Only
Tetra Safe Start
Microbe Lift Nite Out II
...and perhaps others.
You do not have to jump start the cycle. The right species of bacteria are all around, and will find the tank pretty fast.

2) Add ammonia until the test reads 5 ppm. This ammonia is the cheapest you can find. No surfactants, no perfumes. Read the fine print. This is often found at discount stores like Dollar Tree, or hardware stores like Ace. You could also use a dead shrimp form the grocery store, or fish food. Protein breaks down to become ammonia. You do not have good control over the ammonia level, though.
Some substrates release ammonia when they are submerged for the first time. Monitor the level and do enough water changes to keep the ammonia at the levels detailed below.

3) Test daily. For the first few days not much will happen, but the bacteria that remove ammonia are getting started. Finally the ammonia starts to drop. Add a little more, once a day, to test 5 ppm.

4) Test for nitrite. A day or so after the ammonia starts to drop the nitrite will show up. When it does allow the ammonia to drop to 3 ppm.

5) Test daily. Add ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. If the nitrite or ammonia go to 5 ppm do a water change to get these lower. The ammonia removing species and the nitrite removing species (Nitrospira) do not do well when the ammonia or nitrite are over 5 ppm.

6) When the ammonia and nitrite both hit zero 24 hours after you have added the ammonia the cycle is done. You can challenge the bacteria by adding a bit more than 3 ppm ammonia, and it should be able to handle that, too, within 24 hours.

7) Now test the nitrate. Probably sky high!
Do as big a water change as needed to lower the nitrate until it is safe for fish. Certainly well under 20, and a lot lower is better. This may call for more than one water change, and up to 100% water change is not a problem. Remember the dechlor!
If you will be stocking right away (within 24 hours) no need to add more ammonia. If stocking will be delayed keep feeding the bacteria by adding ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. You will need to do another water change right before adding the fish.

Helpful hints:

A) You can run a fishless cycle in a bucket to grow bacteria on almost any filter media like bio balls, sponges, ceramic bio noodles, lava rock or Matala mats. Simply set up any sort of water circulation such as a fountain pump or air bubbler and add the media to the bucket. Follow the directions for the fishless cycle. When the cycle is done add the media to the filter. I have run a canister filter in a bucket and done the fishless cycle.

B) The nitrogen cycle bacteria will live under a wide range of conditions and bounce back from minor set backs. By following the set up suggestions in part 1a) you are setting up optimum conditions for fastest reproduction and growth.
GH and KH can be as low as 1 degree, but watch it! These bacteria may use the carbon in carbonates, and if it is all used up (KH = 0) the bacteria may die off. They use the carbon from CO2, and this is generally pretty low in water, but can be replenished from the air and from carbonates. Keep the carbonates up to keep the pH up, too.
pH as low as 6.5 is OK, but by 6.0 the bacteria are not going to be doing very well. They are still there, and will recover pretty well when conditions get better. To grow them at optimum rates, keep the pH on the alkaline side of neutral.
Temperature almost to freezing is OK, but they must not freeze, and they are not very active at all. They do survive in a pond, but they are slow to warm up and get going in the spring. This is where you might need to grow some in a bucket in a warm place and supplement the pond population. Too warm is not good, either. Tropical or room temperature tank temperatures are best. (68 to 85*F or 20 to 28*C)
Moderate oxygen can be tolerated for a while. However, to remove lots of ammonia and nitrite these bacteria must have oxygen. They turn one into the other by adding oxygen. If you must stop running the filter for an hour or so, no problem. If longer, remove the media and keep it where it will get more oxygen.
Once the bacteria are established they can tolerate some fish medicines. This is because they live in a complex film called Bio film on all the surfaces in the filter and the tank. Medicines do not enter the bio film well.
These bacteria do not need to live under water. They do just fine in a humid location. They live in healthy garden soil, as well as wet locations.

C) Planted tanks may not tolerate 3 ppm or 5 ppm ammonia. It is possible to cycle the tank at lower levels of ammonia so the plants do not get ammonia burn. Add ammonia to only 1 ppm, but test twice a day, and add ammonia as needed to keep it at 1 ppm. The plants are also part of the bio filter, and you may be able to add the fish sooner, if the plants are thriving. 1 ppm twice a day will grow almost as much bacteria as 3 ppm once a day.
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post #12 of 18 (permalink) Old Yesterday, 02:25 AM
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The label on the bulb will tell you what you need to replace it.
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post #13 of 18 (permalink) Old Yesterday, 03:06 AM Thread Starter
Algae Grower
Join Date: Feb 2016
Posts: 11
nitrate: .71-4.41 ppm yearly range
GH, General Hardness: 139 ppm
KH, Alkalinity, Carbonate Hardness: 68 ppm
Chlorine or chloramine: 1.52-2.99 ppm yearly range

that's all the info i can glean from my water department's report. i am getting the master test kit. having a hard time figuring out the best light fixture to suit my needs. that isn't a price i factored into my budget but i can make it work for $50-75.
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post #14 of 18 (permalink) Old Yesterday, 03:12 AM
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GH of 139 ppm says you do not need to add Seachem Equilibrium to your water. You do not need to raise the GH.

KH is quite low. 68ppm is barely enough to keep the pH stable.

Use the Chloramine or chlorine (whichever it is) level to figure out how much dechlorinator to use.
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post #15 of 18 (permalink) Old Yesterday, 03:20 AM Thread Starter
Algae Grower
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What will I be adding to boost the KH?
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