180 gallon Planted Cichlid Community of Extreme Annoyance
*disclaimer* This is a very long read.
I hate this tank. I do. I wanted to push the envelope. This is what happened.
I initially had dreams and aspirations of an aggressive Central American cichlid tank. I bought a trio of baby Jags and put them in a 125. As they grew I decided the 125 was too narrow for a fish of that size. As I prepared to purchase a larger tank, I came upon the opportunity to buy a trio of F0 Festae (of course I bought them). One Festae female was cast out of the trio and promptly removed. I purchased and setup the 180 gallon, built a wet/dry sump, and dumped in the Festae pair. Other friends were added, and the tank was a harmonious community. Then one day, the 7” male Festae decided to kill EVERYTHING in the tank, which sucked a lot. Big mean Festae got his own 75 gallon, solitary confinement tank in the basement. Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnd then I decided that plants were pretty cool, and I jumped into that nightmare. That was two years ago.
I knew that CO2 injection in a drilled tank was not advisable due to the bubble-off of dissolved CO2. My sump was especially problematic, as all water flowed over a drip plate into a wet-dry chamber. I decided to give it a try anyways. My plan was to get a lot of CO2 dissolved, as I would be losing a lot of it. I built Durso style standpipes in hopes of reducing gas loss, and used a pair of Quiet One 4000 pumps for the returns. The next step was building the CO2 delivery system. After more research and buying a different regulator first, I settled with:
-Concoa 332 SS High Purity reg
-McDaniels Instruments K gauges
-2 x Ideal V54-1-12 SS needle valves
-2 x JBJ Bubble counters
-20 lb tank
After several weeks of researching CO2 injection I experimented with all of the CO2 injection methods. A Tom Barr style and Rex Rigg style CO2 reactors were both constructed and tested extensively for several months. I played with water and CO2 flow, as well as 5 different plumbing configurations to try and achieve a proper level of CO2 dissolution. The reactor results were unanimously poor regardless of how they were plumbed. An in-tank diffuser proved even worse due to the size of the tank. The Cerges’ style was really picky about flow. Better results came from running the CO2 directly into the intakes on the Quiet One 4000 return pumps. With only a single output from the CO2 regulator however, getting the gas to evenly run into both intakes was a challenge. The use of valves, T’s, and other plumbing pieces to split the CO2 flow evenly always failed. The gas would prefer one pump over the other, and I would only get CO2 enriched water from a single return. As each return was at opposite ends of the tank, an unequal balance of CO2 was seen in tank.
I contacted Tom Barr for help. He suggested using a powerhead to atomize the gas and split the output. I did exactly this using a Maxi-Jet 1200 powerhead. While this did work very well, I could not crank up the CO2 as high as I needed. My design also had a fatal flaw…all of the extra tubing from the powerhead caused a lot of gas to build up in the return system. This would occasionally cause the impellers to spin in the opposite direction or fail from cavitation. In either case the filtration essentially stopped causing many problems.
Sooooo……the powerhead and tubing was pulled. The CO2 regulator was ‘upgraded’ with another Ideal v54-1-12. Gas is run directly into each return pump several inches before the impeller. This made a good bit of difference on plant growth; CO2 levels were more uniform with more pearling seen on upper leaves. Even still I have reason to believe that I’m not getting as much CO2 dissolved as I could. I occasionally battle BBA still, but I am hoping that upgrading to Danner Mag-Drive pumps w/ the air fractionating impellers will further help atomize and dissolve the CO2. The CO2 continues to be a big, expensive experiment.
The light is a 72” AquaticLife 8x39w T5HO fixture. I run 4 x Giesemann AquaFlora and 4 x Giesemann Midday 6000Ks. The light is on a 12 hour cycle (the AquaFloras in the morning, and the Midday 6000Ks in the afternoon). The built in timers are way cool, but I am only moderately impressed with the QC of the fixture. Hoping that TEK comes out with a 72” at some point :/
Every drop of water is prepared and preheated before it is pumped into the tank. The Limestone bedrock under the water table here increases the tap water’s pH to 8.2+ and hardness (GH & KH) that exceeds the testing range with the standard drop kits. The tap water is great for African Cichlids and……………..African Cichlids. As such I run a 5 stage, dual membrane 150 GPD RO filter. Water is collected, mixed, and heated in 55 gallon barrels in the basement, and pumped upstairs to the tank during water changes. I also built a drain into the wall for waste water; water is simply siphoned out into the drain. No buckets!
I reconstituted the water to roughly 6.0 gH and about 3.0 kH using Epsom Salt, CaCl2, baking soda, lemon juice, and a little marine salt for other trace elements. The water is also treated with peat moss to drop the pH slightly and add some tannin to the water. pH crashes from the low kH have not been seen, and the whole tank is very stable.
I dose EI with KNO3, KH2PO4, CSM+B. Keeping levels of nitrates & phosphates stable has been extremely difficult due to the very high bioload. I do two water changes a week, swapping nearly 60 gallons of prepared water each change. Even still, excessive feeding for 1-2 days can cause massive spikes in nitrate & phosphates. I keep the fish well fed enough that they don’t revolt and tear apart plants, but not so much that I have to adjust EI dosing to compensate.
For substrate, I decided to reuse the PFS I had been using for years. I like the look of it, I like how clean it is, and cichlids love to dig in the stuff. I supplement the PFS w/ earthworm castings & Osmocote caps. There is also a good amount of mulm in the sand from years of use. The water is kept at temperature using (3) x Eheim Jager 200W heaters. I used to run Marineland Stealths, and those were great until they started to melt/crack and electrocute me. I like the Jagers more, as they haven’t shocked me.
This tank has seen a very diverse collection of fish in the past two years. Some were cool, some sucked, others died, many were killed and eaten. This is the current stock….they get along well with each other, but some have a personal vendetta against the plants. This really annoys me.
I'm not a huge fan of planting aquatic plants in this tank. I *really* don't like replanting the same plants several hours later. The fish play this game with me when I move something in the tank; I'll replant 3-4 times before they get tired of uprooting it. I think the male Yellow Acara tears the plants apart as some part of a mating ritual. He occasionally strips plants to the stem, and then abandons the site to harass his lady partner. He also tends to target certain kinds of plants; Hygrophilas rarely survive more than a few hours. Regardless of the frustration they cause, it is an absolutely stunning group of fish.
(14) HY511 Tetras
(4) High Fin Corydoras Sterbai
(8) Thin Bar Silver Dollars (Myleus Schomburgkii) ~ 5”-6”
(1) Electric Blue Ram
(1) German Blue Ram
(1) Green Severum Male ~ 6”
Due to the combination of plant eating and plant destroying fish, I have attempted roughly 70 species that have not survived the tank. What’s left are mostly your basic, hardy, common plants.
Bacopa sp. 'Colorata'
Cryptocoryne Crispatula 'Balansae'
Cryptocoryne Walkeri ‘Lutea’
Cryptocoryne Wendtii ‘Bronze’
Cryptocoryne Wendtii ‘Florida Sunset’
Cryptocoryne Wendtii ‘Green Gecko’
Cryptocoryne Cordata (?)
Echinodorus Augustifolia 'vesuvius'
Echinodorus 'Kleiner Bar'
Hygrophila Polysperma ‘Sunset’
Limnophila sp. 'Wavy'
Ludwigia sp. 'Red'
Microsorum Pteropus sp. ‘Needleleaf’
Rotala sp. ‘Bangladesh’
Staurogyne sp. 'Bihar'
Vesicularia Dubyana 'Christmas'
The not so good news is, I’m moving in 3 weeks, and this is all getting torn down. I suppose starting fresh isn’t terrible though….I need a lot of work on my plant layout now that I have an idea of what I can grow in the tank.
Last edited by RukoTheWonderDog; 08-13-2012 at 06:19 AM.