I'm mostly starting this thread to attempt to force myself to document my experience as I go. I've already failed in the first by forgetting to get pictures during setup all three times. /lesigh.
So, without further adieu, what am I doing?
I've kept fish most of my life. (Un)fortunately that experience is tied almost exclusively to UGF tanks, un-planted, and extremely fish friendly ground sourced well water. To give you an idea, I had never experienced a fish loss, and mostly struggled with the fact that my fish constantly reproduced. I thought fish death was something only really bad fish keepers experienced. Fast-forward to moving to the east coast, and spending an entire year trying to figure out why I can't keep a fish alive to save my life. 1) PA municipal water is the suck. 2) Cheap RO units are the suck. 3) lead and copper pipes + chloramine is the suck. 4) Canister filters are needy 5) API pH strips are not accurate 6) Aquasoils + PA water = unstable acidic pH. Thus, the experiment, I want plants, I do not want canisters, stabilize pH by removing most of the pH activity of the soils, all while doing minimal water changes so I don't have to boil gallons and gallons of water each week. And just so we're clear, this isn't very scientific, each tank has too many variable changes to be comparable to each other.
Okay. On to the tanks!
Tank 1: start date 2016.07.17
Current USA Solo 5G w/ LED
(setup from the bottom up)
Penn Plax Clear-Free UGF 5.5 Gallon Aquarium (1 plate fits the Solo) operated with Hpumps nano air pump - carbon filter added, 100% Polyester batting (2 layers), Eco-Complete depth 1.5", ADA Amazonia depth 1"
Dwarf rotala, anubias, dwarf hair grass, bulb spidery plant thing, java moss, marimo moss ball, duck weed
PA tap water, treated with Seachem Prime (one extra drop for every 3 gallons seems to deal with my heavy metal toxicity and remaining chloramine), Dr. Tims Aquatic One and Only added at the time of set up.
bladder snails, rams horn snails
So far this has been the least stable of the tanks. It takes less than 24 hours for the pH to drop from 7.2 to 5.2, and it will continue to drop to about 4.2 over the next three days then settles there. This was the original pH issue I was having with PA water & plant substrates. ADA is by far the biggest contributor to this problem, though Eco-complete certainly does a share of it as I've tried several tanks without ADA and they still experienced the pH issue. Even after 5 complete water changes the pH is still highly unstable in this tank two weeks later.
I am beginning to see snail breeding finally. This was the goal for this tank all along, it simply never worked prior to this setup. It also seems to have gotten its copepod population under control, when I added the tap water to this tank I wasn't planning on adding fish, so I didn't bother to boil it, and it exploded in copepods and other micro-organisms. High five PA, you have some truly disgusting municipal water.
no, i am in fact not a professional photographer, how did you guess?!
Tank 2: start date 2016.07.18
Aqueon 13gal widescreen w/ Finnex Planted+ 24/7, + aquaclear 20g power filter (pre-sponge, sponge, NitraStrate)
setup: (from the bottom up)
Lee's 5-1/2 Premium Undergravel Filter 8-Inch by 16-Inch covers 3/4 of the tank bed operated with VicTsing Ultra Silent Air Pump (moderate output) - no carbon filter, Seachem Pond Matrix, 100% Polyester batting (3 layers), 2.5" Petco River Rock Shallow Creek Aquarium Gravel.
java moss, swords, hair grass, staurogyne repens, dwarf cardinal, water sprite, water wisteria, temple narrow leaf.
all plants are in Ceramics Water Plants Planted Pots with a root tab, eco-complete, and topped with ADA Amazonia (and more river rock for those plants that refused to stay rooted in the pot with ADA). Hindsight, these should have been planted with root tab, then ADA and topped with Eco-complete. the ADA is simply too light to allow the pots to be moved around much or with anything resembling speed without disturbing the ADA soil from the pot. Moving these things around the tank reminded me of Willard Wigan's ted talk on micro-sculpting ><
Fed with Seachem Flourish & Excel once a week, only quarter doses as most of my plants don't seem to really like the stuff but do better with a little bit rather than none at all.
The general idea is that the UGF due to the odd shape of the tank only covers the middle, the edges are all on their own so that's where the pots mostly sit, hopefully preventing dead-space in the UGF itself, and the pots can be picked up for gravel vacuuming.
Boiled/Cooled PA tap water (this has been the only way I've been able to successfully deal with pathogens in the water), Seachem Prime, Dr. Tims Aquatic One and Only, fish were added after several hours of running. The tank thus far has been perfectly stable and no fish death has been experienced. yay! okay, okay, that's a very early celebration, i'll hold off for the 6 month mark.
6 24K gold white clouds, 1 White cloud, 1 cardinal tetra, 1 dwarf puffer, 2 otocinclus, 1 bristlenose pleco, 2 ghost shrimp, 3 nerite snails, there's an amano shrimp that's supposed to be in here too, but until i know for sure my dwarf puffer isn't going to go on another killing spree (his name is Hannibal Lecter for a reason) it stays where it is safe. The puffer is fed 5 bladder snails every day, this tank's setup is designed to allow easy snail shell recovery from the large pea gravel, while still allowing rooted plants.
other things in the tank:
iron shale, Seiryu Stone (i wish i could remember where i bought this stuff. it was an awesome supplier who supposedly traveled to japan and hand picked each rock, very affordable, and the pieces were gorgeous, each purchase set was photoed individually so you knew exactly what you were ordering instead of getting a random grab bag. if anyone knows who that might have been, throw a link please.), fluval ceramic decor, stainless steel mesh (for moss carpet, it's not working very well, too tiny)
only issue i've run into so far, and i freaking knew better, I bought a plant from petco and it brought in thread algae. but i kinda like the wafting threads along the back wall, if i can keep it from strangling my plants it could be pretty.
Tank 3: start date 2016.07.30
Current USA Solo 5G w/ LED
(setup from the bottom up)
Penn Plax Clear-Free UGF 5.5 Gallon Aquariums (1 plate fits the Solo) operated with Hpumps nano air pump - no carbon filter added, Aquatic Arts FilterPlus Bio-Media Aquarium Filter, 100% Polyester batting (3 layers), Eco-Complete (thoroughly washed and run through a sieve to remove the sand, yes i know you're not supposed to) depth 3", edged with ADA Amazonia depth 1/2". more bio-media, mostly to shore up the ada layer and prevent it from flowing down over the eco-complete.
Boiled/Cooled PA tap water, Seachem Prime, Dr. Tims Aquatic One and Only
Anubias, java moss, dwarf hair grass, green cryptocoryne wendtii, marimo moss balls
beta, otocinclus, 2 amano shrimp, random snails that hitchhiked in and the beta decided not to eat
fluval ceramic decor, glazed ceramic
the hope with this one is that it will be more stable than tank 1. Will I see some pH stability after stripping the substrate of most of its reactivity, and using minimal ADA for the dwarf hairgrass to root in? We'll see. Once the hairgrass is well established i'll add some trumpet snails to be my gravel rooters. I'm very curious how this tank is going to behave. the combination of trumpet snails and eco-complete as well as the natural bio-activity level of the two fluval ceramic decor... it will be interesting to see. My only real problem with this tank is that i lost a LOT of water volume to the 3.5" of soil. I have never set up an UGF that deep, I'm not sure what to expect from it. On the up side, after 24 hours the pH is still where it started, so that's promising. If nothing else the extreme reactivity of the soil seems to have been mitigated by washing it, I was also able to add the fish to it after only a few hours of running the UGF as there was virtually no sediment dust up. Tank 1 had sediment dust up for 10 full days and multiple water changes.
Sooo, that's setup-ish day/month 1.
Now, if I can just remember to come back here next month and record how things are going. /nod.