Zero Water Change Planted Discus Tank Proposal??? - Page 2 - The Planted Tank Forum

View Poll Results: Chance of success for a zero water change planted Discus tank???
With a bit of luck a strong chance of working beautifully! 15 20.00%
May work, but not as easily, beautifully, or as stable as pictured. 25 33.33%
May survive, but not thrive. 23 30.67%
Doomed to fail... 20 26.67%
Multiple Choice Poll. Voters: 75. You may not vote on this poll

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post #16 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 06:09 PM
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In a large tank, no problem. I've heard it done before as well... Put in a lot of plants to help make your tank healthy. A UV sterilizer couldn't hurt.


I do no water changes to my little 10G tank but there are only shrimps and snails in there. I'll add a betta soon.

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post #17 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 06:17 PM
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You can feed your juvies much cleaner food than beefheart. They just need a high protein diet to get the kind of growth that produces show quality discus.

Im assuming you are going for the juvies because they are cheaper. I would rethink this. If what you want is what you describe then either grow them out seperately in a BB or just buy adults. Its not that nice fish arent possible but discus are expensive. If you are new to their needs its wisest not to start with juvies. Ive seen many start this way and fail miserably - and expensively. Its been proven through many years of developing breeding and rearing techniques that discus do much better when raised in BB conditions. Maintenance and medication are much easier this way, and when raising juvies, you will likely need both.

As for temps, I keep mine at 82 and they are fine. This is also fine for most plants.

With a thick carpet you will have trouble. Food and detritus will get caught in the carpet if it is not vacuumed once in a while. Discus are big fish. So are their feces. With no water changes, you risk turning the tank into a toilet with fish in it. Plants and inverts alone cant hanldle this kind of load. Again - discus are expensive. Your choice.

That said, i dont think you can't achieve a great tank with a reasonable maintenance schedule. If you go the low - tech route you may be closer to your goal (less to juggle), simply because discus are a high-maintenance fish. Moreso than most, anyhow. Mistakes with guppies cost a couple bucks. Mistakes with discus cost hundreds.

This is indeed the holy grail, but you saw what it took Indiana Jones to find that thing. He wasn't a part-timer.
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post #18 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 06:18 PM
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I'd do it as a discus biotope - white sand, floating plants only, and big branching pieces of driftwood producing lots of tannins.

Instead of water changes, have a large sump full of emersed plants (hydrocotyle, pothos vine) and a UV sterilizer. The plants will take up aerial CO2 and consume the fish wastes/hormones. If you use plants with roots that form one big network, you can put fertilizer in a separate container that never enters the actual fish system.
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post #19 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 07:19 PM
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Just thought I'd post here as well as the parallel thread. I'm eager to see how this experiment turns out.

(from the other thread)

Well, it certainly sounds interesting. I don't have much to add because I've never kept discus, but I do have one thing to mention.

In my 40 gallon long medium light, pH 6.5, no CO2 tank, I've noticed that the bacteria colony in my HOB was actually very weak, despite consistently excellent water quality tests. How do I know this? I took the filter media out of it (which had been in there for months) and placed it in a HOB filter on my 10 gallon quarantine tank in preparation for some new arrivals. The ammonia spiked up to .25 ppm for almost a week when I got fish in the quarantine tank. I'm just guessing, but I think the heavy planting in the 40 gallon, along with a healthy population of floating Salvinia, just sucks so much ammonia , in the form of ammonium ion, out of the water that the bacteria just don't get much food. The Salvinia minima really does propagate itself very rapidly, and it must be sucking tons of nutrients out of the water. Might be a good choice for a floating plant for you.

I might be able to get by with no filters at all on my 40 gallon, and just powerheads for water circulation. I haven't been bold enough to do any experimentation.

Anyway, thought this might be relevant.

Tom

edit: for what it's worth, I would hold off on the discus for a while until you're sure your new tank maintenance model is working acceptably. Maybe the Congo tetras would be better able to handle water quality issues?
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post #20 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 09:49 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the comments everyone, and I wanted to touch upon a few of those topics further. Many have had success with the keeping of discus in bare-bottom tanks with daily water changes techniques, which volume breeders have pioneered and popularized. However, to control nitrates there are more ways than just that one (as well as potentially easier and less wasteful of ways than throwing out several hundred of gallons of water per week by hand. If you enjoy doing several WC’s per week then you’re welcome to it, but personally I’d rather be extracting my own teeth. And doesn’t the constant instability of new water of different chemistry being introduced each day put a stressful toll on fish as well?

If fish are in a bare tank with aerobic bio filters and limited plants then of course there are going to be nitrate problems requiring WC’s. However, the nitrate problems I believe seem to stem primarily from the fundamental flaw of the bare tank rearing technique itself. There are two other ways to control nitrates - proper filtration and/or live plants. The use of an anaerobic filter or anaerobic filter medium of denitrator blocks/pumice/volcanic rock will absorb and eliminate nitrates, as will anaerobic activity in for example a tank’s deep substrate. This, and the anaerobic activity within ‘live rock’ is how marine aquarists keep their nitrates at the undetectable levels necessary for their invertebrates. (If you’re smelling Hydrogen Sulfide then that simply means that the anaerobic bacteria need slightly more water flow).

Healthy live plants will absorb ammonia directly before it is even broken down into nitrites and nitrates, and they also absorb nitrates although they can’t utilize it as effectively as ammonia. Many planted fish tank enthusiasts find that they actually have to dose nitrates to maintain levels at the desired 5-10 ppm. Personally I’m not sure quite how much planting would be required to maintain optimal water quality and nitrates for a well-stocked discus tank, so to try and maintain a healthy margin of error I’d want to look at utilizing both methodologies. And those techniques seem a saner approach for me to enjoy this hobby then constantly juggling instable water conditions in a bare-bottom tank which has no outlet for the perpetually escalating nitrate levels.

In my vastly overstocked small pilot tank I was getting some slight blue-green algae growth, which actually flourishes when nitrates are lacking. (The BGA cleared up as soon as I fixed my broken filter return to reintroduce water current and once I got my DIY CO2 brew going which brought down the alkalinity).

So nitrates aside, which can be quite easy to control, it’s these other dissolved organic solids that I’ve heard vague mention of which I’m more concerned about, that is if they do exist and are detrimental, such as ‘growth-retarding hormones’, of which I have yet to see any conclusive evidence for the existence of. And if they are a problem then perhaps further research would reveal that an ozonizer (with or without a freshwater protein skimmer) or UV sterilizer will oxidize those elements into an inert harmless form or one which plants can utilize. Or perhaps an RO unit filtering the tank can eliminate any remaining problematic organic compounds instead?

Moreover, wouldn’t properly filtering the water with aerobic bacteria, anaerobic bacteria, and plants more closely operates in the manner of mother nature and provides higher water quality than going against nature by artificially doing water changes constantly?

I appreciate that apart from my pilot tank this isn’t beyond a theoretical discussion at the moment, albeit a necessary discussion to have before I actually attempt this. Perhaps years down the road I will be able to successfully report back that there were other easier alternative to the constant water changes so many discus keepers were doing all the meanwhile. I must admit that I’m surpised if no one here has actually tried any such approach as this with discus, as the science of it seems sound as far as I’ve heard thus far. But then again, our flat earth theory took a long time to disprove and remained quite resilient in the eyes of the public for centuries as well! ; )
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post #21 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 10:54 PM
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A little extra filtration wouldn't hurt, but I'm not sure it would be essential either. I've had an experience very similar to Powchekny's. A heavily planted tank seems to do a fine job of chemically filtering your water for you. You really want canisters for water movement and mechanical filtration. But then, I'm hardly an expert.

I'd also question your plan to get juveniles. Not the saving that you might expect. Hormone production / growth rates aside for a moment, they just are much weaker than the adults - like all fish. I'd probably grit my teeth and buy some nice-looking adults.

I think your concern should be the colour, not really the size, of the fish. Fish raised with frequent, large water changes tend to have much brighter, sharper colours. But if raised properly, they should retain those colours in adulthood even with much smaller water changes - at least this seems to be the experience of the importer down the road, who has some amazing adult discus that have lived in his care on weekly 15% water changes (if they're lucky) for years.

I'd also suggest you stock more lightly, at least initially. Sure, it's a big tank, but if you want zero water changes you just can't keep many fish.

I'd suggest growing duckweed. With or without CO2, it grows crazily and really soaks up nitrates and phosphates. Of course it would require weekly removal - and if you wanted weekly maintenance I guess you'd just change the water

I'm not sure a phosphate absorber would be necessary with very heavy planting.

The important question (though I might be doubling up posts a little here) is:

Do plants absorb discus hormones? Does carbon? Does anyone actually have any proof of any of this?
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post #22 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 10:58 PM
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Oh, and consider sandwiching some Java or Flame moss between two sheets of fly wire and sticking it to the sides with suction cups. It's surprisingly difficult to see, eventually fills out beautifully, and will absorb abominable amount of pollutants.
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post #23 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 10:59 PM
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As has been mentioned already, Salvinia minima makes a great duckweed substitute - it gets atmospheric CO2 and really eliminates nitrates quickly. Plus, it's an easy size for quick removal, and has nice looking feathery roots that only dangle about 2 inches down maximum (as opposed to frogsbit which can hang down 16+ inches).
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post #24 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 11:02 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theblondskeleton View Post
You can feed your juvies much cleaner food than beefheart. They just need a high protein diet to get the kind of growth that produces show quality discus.

Im assuming you are going for the juvies because they are cheaper. I would rethink this. If what you want is what you describe then either grow them out seperately in a BB or just buy adults. Its not that nice fish arent possible but discus are expensive. If you are new to their needs its wisest not to start with juvies. Ive seen many start this way and fail miserably - and expensively. Its been proven through many years of developing breeding and rearing techniques that discus do much better when raised in BB conditions. Maintenance and medication are much easier this way, and when raising juvies, you will likely need both.

As for temps, I keep mine at 82 and they are fine. This is also fine for most plants.

With a thick carpet you will have trouble. Food and detritus will get caught in the carpet if it is not vacuumed once in a while. Discus are big fish. So are their feces. With no water changes, you risk turning the tank into a toilet with fish in it. Plants and inverts alone cant hanldle this kind of load. Again - discus are expensive. Your choice.

That said, i dont think you can't achieve a great tank with a reasonable maintenance schedule. If you go the low - tech route you may be closer to your goal (less to juggle), simply because discus are a high-maintenance fish. Moreso than most, anyhow. Mistakes with guppies cost a couple bucks. Mistakes with discus cost hundreds.

This is indeed the holy grail, but you saw what it took Indiana Jones to find that thing. He wasn't a part-timer.
Good comments. The low tech approach is tempting, but I do like the idea of the stability of dial in Ph. And I don't mind a bit of maintenance and monitoring, apart from the fact that I see water changes as potentially needless. And I'd prefer to try and play it safer if possible with high filtration for the proposed moderate fish loads, so that I don't need to worry so much if there is a little uneaten food. The possibility of equipment malfunction does give me cause for concern though, but perhaps there are certain technical safeguards I could try and incorporate into the system.

I'm at peace with the idea of the carpet looking a bit messy, similar to a forest floor with a bit of mulm and decaying leaves. Perhaps it wouldn't be as tidy as it ideally could look, but I'm drawn still to the idea of a naturalistic approach where the surface of the substrate becomes enriched with organic matter. So yes, perhaps a toilet in some sense, such as in the sense that bears do crap in the woods, and in the way that manure is used to fertilize our own food crops. I wouldn't be relying merely upon plants though, I'd have comprehensive filtration as well to supplement the water quality improvement provided by plants. (And hopefully the filters will manage to suck some of the detritus out of the tank, and I could always resort to stirring it up now for the filters to suck up should that prove aesthetically desirable. Getting a strong current across the carpet would help as well, but I'll have to think about how that could be achieved in a visually discrete way.

Do you think it'd be a better bet for me then if I were to start with mid-size discus instead of juveniles? Pending the results of further research I'd still like to try and see if I can maintain the right water parameters without water changes, but more for the sake of seeking out the truth of the matter than simply stubbornness of course! I know that others do this with other species, so it should be able to work with discus as well if treated carefully. Water changes could always be a back-up measure in any case, if water quality starts to go off track.
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post #25 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 11:20 PM
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Sorry... i voted "May survive, but will not thrive", but after reading further, i think i'm leaning towards "Doomed to fail". It's obvious that you've done plenty of research, but i'm still unsure whether you understand how expensive and how difficult it will be to keep a setup like this maintainence free/water-change free. You said you were hoping to make this a beautiful, inexpensive tank, but nothing about your proposed project is cheap. Don't take me wrong, i'm all for new techniques-- but i think this will be much more trouble than it'll be worth.

Like Solid said, i don't think that DIY-LED's will produce nearly enough light to grow much... you're likely gonna have to get some metal halides. Also, you're going to need tons of filtration... i'd recommend a few Fluval FX5's.

Anyway, don't mean to sound harsh, but i think this is a bigger project than you may think. For now, i'm going to be a doubter. But if you do decide to start a project like this, please do keep us updated and maybe you can change my mind.

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post #26 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 11:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Mxx View Post
Good comments. The low tech approach is tempting, but I do like the idea of the stability of dial in Ph. And I don't mind a bit of maintenance and monitoring, apart from the fact that I see water changes as potentially needless. And I'd prefer to try and play it safer if possible with high filtration for the proposed moderate fish loads, so that I don't need to worry so much if there is a little uneaten food. The possibility of equipment malfunction does give me cause for concern though, but perhaps there are certain technical safeguards I could try and incorporate into the system.

I'm at peace with the idea of the carpet looking a bit messy, similar to a forest floor with a bit of mulm and decaying leaves. Perhaps it wouldn't be as tidy as it ideally could look, but I'm drawn still to the idea of a naturalistic approach where the surface of the substrate becomes enriched with organic matter. So yes, perhaps a toilet in some sense, such as in the sense that bears do crap in the woods, and in the way that manure is used to fertilize our own food crops. I wouldn't be relying merely upon plants though, I'd have comprehensive filtration as well to supplement the water quality improvement provided by plants. (And hopefully the filters will manage to suck some of the detritus out of the tank, and I could always resort to stirring it up now for the filters to suck up should that prove aesthetically desirable. Getting a strong current across the carpet would help as well, but I'll have to think about how that could be achieved in a visually discrete way.

Do you think it'd be a better bet for me then if I were to start with mid-size discus instead of juveniles? Pending the results of further research I'd still like to try and see if I can maintain the right water parameters without water changes, but more for the sake of seeking out the truth of the matter than simply stubbornness of course! I know that others do this with other species, so it should be able to work with discus as well if treated carefully. Water changes could always be a back-up measure in any case, if water quality starts to go off track.
I'd recommend juvies at least 4". They still have some growing to do but not so much that it could do a lot of damage with less than perfect water. You could certainly go from there with this plan.

Sounds like you have given this some thought! Typical BB rearing utilizes sponge filters for the bacteria colonization (similar to the pumice blocks you propose) so i imagine the theory behind massive daily (i never did this) water changes is dissolved organic solids. Not sure about the hormones... Sounds like metascience to me.
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post #27 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 11:35 PM
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Btw - the biggest thing to remember is to get all of your discus from the same reputable supplier and always qt new fish. Horror stories. Horror!
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post #28 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 11:37 PM
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do you have proof that discus put out a growth stunting hormone? if so i would like to see it. Or are you just repeating what everyone else says.
The same can be said for just saying the opposite of what everyone else says.

I will let the health of my fish and the reputation of nearly every breeder in the world do the talking when it comes to water changes. More is better. Cleaner water is BETTER for fish. There is no way you can argue this with any common sense.

There is a huge difference between fish surviving and thriving. It seems once a month you post in threads about this and tell everyone they are wrong and that water changes are not needed, but the simple matter is this: why NOT do something that WILL help?
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post #29 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-29-2010, 11:39 PM
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This is not all to say that this can not be done, but remembering to be slow about changes and understock your tank while overfiltering will give the best results. IN a zero change tank, using RO water is really a must.

It sounds as though this is well thought out though.
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post #30 of 115 (permalink) Old 12-30-2010, 12:50 AM Thread Starter
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Sorry... i voted "May survive, but will not thrive", but after reading further, i think i'm leaning towards "Doomed to fail". It's obvious that you've done plenty of research, but i'm still unsure whether you understand how expensive and how difficult it will be to keep a setup like this maintainence free/water-change free. You said you were hoping to make this a beautiful, inexpensive tank, but nothing about your proposed project is cheap. Don't take me wrong, i'm all for new techniques-- but i think this will be much more trouble than it'll be worth.

Like Solid said, i don't think that DIY-LED's will produce nearly enough light to grow much... you're likely gonna have to get some metal halides. Also, you're going to need tons of filtration... i'd recommend a few Fluval FX5's.

Anyway, don't mean to sound harsh, but i think this is a bigger project than you may think. For now, i'm going to be a doubter. But if you do decide to start a project like this, please do keep us updated and maybe you can change my mind.
I'm certainly enjoying this discussion and learning a fair amount, although not every opinion seems based in quantified fact rather than parroted dogma.

Azfishkid, I didn't suggest this project would be cheap, but I'm willing to invest some decent funds into it and fortunately I'm no longer on a high-schooler's budget. But I think there are ways to save still. For instance, to achieve the filter medium volume of the two large Sun suns costing $170 which I'd suggested, I'd need seven of the Fluval FX5's which you suggested, which would cost $2500.

The latest Reef tank lighting coming out is powered by only a few ultra-high output LED diodes, and that's at far greater intensity than is required for a planted tank. Those LED's as well as CREE's are still at quite a premium though, so I'd stick with what is currently the SMD 5050 LED's which on Ebay costs $12.80 per metre with 60 LED's per metre. I've yet to work out how many LED's would be required, but I think that's probably cheaper still than flourescent fixtures for the same quantity of light, lasts longer, uses less energy, doesn't suffer intensity degradation, and doesn't need to be changed as often as flourescent bulbs. If I can light my house with them then I can surely light my tank with them.

Can't wait to try this, but I'm going to have to wait to complete my house renovation first...
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