Mountains of Sawdust, take two
I will be using this thread to journal my next aquarium adventure. The exciting parts are probably at least several weeks or months away, but in the meantime I will post the "backstory" as I have time available. About three years ago, I started work on a large built-in aquarium with a heavy emphasis on DIY. The first iteration(s) of the aquarium can be seen in my build thread on reef central. The aquarium was initially built as a marine reef. While I loved and enjoyed building the system as a reef, it got to the point where owning/operating it as a reef wasn't really meeting my needs, so to speak. So, over the last month or two, I have been planning it's conversion to a planted freshwater aquarium.
More to come...
First a little background about myself. I have been keeping aquariums of one form or another for most of my life. My first few systems were essentially boring freshwater community tanks. Eventually I was bitten by the reef bug and, as is the case with many marine hobbyists, I took a stance that FW was inherently less interesting/desirable than marine.
Fast forward to 6 or 7 years ago - I had just taken down a 125g reef system and was contemplating replacing it with a smaller reef. Instead I decided to take a temporary break from marine aquariums and I jumped headfirst into high-tech planted FW, more or less just to do something different. Well, instead of being just a temporary diversion, I pretty much caught the bug.
That brings me up more or less to the point at which I started the project linked above. In my heart I still felt like I wanted a reef system but there was always an inner debate about which direction to go. I went with a reef because that's what I knew best and I figured it would be the most fulfilling.
Well, now that I'm a few years in to the project, I've reached the point where it's just not fulfilling. There are a handful of objective reasons why I'm not happy with the tank (time/cost/complexity to keep it running, noise, etc) but it's just inherently not making me happy. The reef is beautiful, colorful, boisterous, and in a way, very much in your face. It's exciting and flashy. At one point in my life, those attributes were attractive.
However, things change. Where I am right now, it's almost TOO flashy. I've realized that what I want from an aquarium is not flash and pop and impressiveness. What I want is something that's calming, peaceful, and gentle. I'm convinced that planted FW will give me that overall effect much better than the reef ever could.
So that's the soul-searching commentary out of the way. Next update I'll give a quick overview of the system and what I want to do with it. :)
Oh, just to prove that I can do the planted tank thing, here's a photo (the ONLY photo I think) of one of my old systems:
Okay, so here's a cliff notes version of the system as a reef. This can all be gleaned from the thread I linked above, if you're willing to read through a few dozen pages of comments. I will post links below to specific points in that thread. I'm choosing to do this instead of cut-pasting it all here again as IMHO it's more valuable to see it intact, especially since some of these posts were done 3 or 4 years ago now.
The aquarium is approximately 360 gallons. It is 6' x 4' x 2', length x width x height. The 6' x 4' footprint was chosen specifically to give a depth to the aquascaping, vs. a thinner aquarium which IMHO can lead to a flat, two dimensional look. My house has an open floor plan, I located the aquarium so that it's visible from most of the communal living space on the first floor. More details here on the overall concept.
The aquarium itself is plywood, with glass viewing panels. There is a full-size viewing panel on the front, as well as much smaller viewing panels on one end and the back. These smaller panels were done purposefully to create a sense of "mystery" - when you enter the house at the front door, as you walk down the hall, you can get a glimpse of the aquarium through these smaller panels, but you don't see the whole thing until you walk around the corner. Doing it this way also saves me from having to design an aquascape that looks good from all sides!
In addition to the plywood aquarium, I built a plywood sump. The construction of the sump and aquarium are detailed in these posts:
Tank shell first assembled
Epoxy work begun
Epoxy pour process explained
Display tank complete, except for glass
Glass install begins
Stand and hood framing complete
For those too lazy to click, here's a quick photo-montage of the building of the system as a reef.
Tank location on floorplan:
Building the tank and sump:
tank put together, lawn chair to show scale:
epoxy and supplies:
Tank sealed, waiting for glass (it's upside down):
Installing the glass:
Installed and framing begun:
Sheetrock hung and finished:
Saltwater, rock, sand, and first livestock in the tank:
And here's a random shot of one of the LED arrays in progress:
After it had been up and running for a while, I realized there was a delamination in one of the plywood braces. I drained the tank, put the livestock in a temporary system, and contemplated what to do. I ALMOST converted it to a planted FW tank at that point but decided that I had so much invested in the reef configuration that I should stick with it. That was maybe two years ago.
Speaking of LEDs, I will be retaining those with the planted FW configuration. I DIY'd the LED arrays, as well as the drivers and controller that are running them. Here are some photos during my initial testing of the LEDs, playing around with different settings on the controller:
All on 100%:
Whites 100%, blues off:
Whites at 50%, blues 100%:
Whites off, blues 100%:
Here's one of the first pictures I took with it "finished" and running:
And here's a photo I took a few days before starting to tear it down:
Ok, so that tells the story of how I got where I am today, and what the tank was like when run as a marine reef.
Up next, details on my plan for the future.
I really like the dimensions of that aquarium. It looks a little awkward in pictures, but I know dimensions like that don't translate to pictures very well and its probably much better in real life. Can't wait to see it as a planted jungle!
No Way! I knew I'd seen your screen name before, but I couldn't quite place it until now.
Welcome to the Planted Tank Forum DWZM! I followed your build thread for your tank and a lot of the other threads that you had a hand in over at ReefCentral. I'm looking forward to see what you come up with for a "serene" layout for this huge tank.
Be mindful that plants grow a heck of a lot faster than corals, so carefull selection of species will be needed, if your looking to keep maintenance time to a minumum.
I have a few pieces of manzanita that I will be using, plus probably a handful of rock. The rock will probably be locally collected, there's lots of slate right on my own property.
I will probably be starting a temporary tank in the next few weeks to start growing out some plants. I have a 55g in the basement to use for this. Already have lights, substrate, and CO2 for it, so it should be pretty quick to get it running. That will give me time to do the major modifications I'm planning to the main system while still growing out some plant mass.
Time to put down on paper the details as far as I have them planned. Please comment/question/correct anything as you see fit, as I'd rather change things now than after it's up and running (yes, I realize that statement is somewhat ironic given the nature of this project).
I will cover each major system in a separate post, and I'll start by describing how that system was set up while running as a reef, to give a basis for a starting point. In MOST cases I'm planning on drastically altering/reducing the "infrastructure."
First we will cover flow/filtration/plumbing as I think it's the most straightforward.
Right now, there is a large overflow box (visible in the back right corner from the front viewing pane). It is roughly 10" x 12" x 24". This box has two 1.5" bulkheads that are running as a Herbie style drain to the sump. The sump is 18" x 18" x 48". Pretty plain jane layout with three baffles separating a return compartment. Return is through a 2" bulkhead via a Reeflo Dart pump, into 1.5" PVC back up to the tank. Filtration in the sump right now is a relatively undersized skimmer, an algae turf scrubber, and a mat of macroalgae. The sump is also used as a place to dose kalk and the float switches for the auto topoff are there, too.
Additional flow is via three bulkheads in the bottom of the tank plumbed to the biggest pump ever installed on a home aquarium.
My current plan is basically to make that all GO AWAY. :lol: No, really, I mean it. I don't want a sump any more. I don't want tons of equipment. I don't really think you need tons to run a planted tank anyways.
So I'm ditching the sump, but keeping the overflow box. I plan on packing the overflow box full of filter media (probably ceramic or expanded clay to act as biological media) and running one of the existing bulkheads to the Dart, which I will mount up by the overflow instead of under the tank. Also the closed loop will go away and I will block off the bulkheads it uses. This means no more plumbing under the tank, and all flow via the single pump. I will put the heaters and the ATO in the overflow box so it'll all be hidden from view. The second bulkhead I will likely screen off and use as an emergency high level drain in case the ATO fails, and/or for automated water changes (force the ATO on for X amount of time and let the excess drain off).
The Dart is rated at something like 3,600 gph and will be operating at essentially zero head. I'm guessing I will have to valve it back since I probably won't want that much flow in a planted tank. I was thinking about a spray bar at first, but I'd rather just have a single outlet and let the momentum from the flow create a gyre inside the aquarium.
I'll cover CO2 now to get it out of the way. I have a 20lb tank, regulator, needle valve, bubble counter, etc. that I saved from my earlier planted tank adventures, so I will just re-use them. I have one of those typical flower-shaped ceramic diffusers but I'm guessing that won't work well in a system this large. I'm considering just running the CO2 into the input for the Dart but I'm guessing that won't work well either and it'll probably just burp large bubbles. Maybe a small needlewheel pump to chop it up and inject it into the Dart's intake?
Thoughts on any of this?
I'm managing a 225 gallon system, so I've got a good idea of what you're up against. Getting enough plant mass into the tank to create "balanced" conditions right off the bat is difficult/expensive with such a large tank. I wouldn't recommend trying to fill it with 6" stems either. The labor time to plant it all and the on going maintenance trimming would quickly drive you crazy.
I've had a lot of success in the past, when starting out with only a small amount of plants, by employing "spot lighting". By keeping the lighting focused only on the plants that are in the tank and carefully controlling nutrient levels, nuisance algae won't invade the remaining tank space. You can probably rearrange some of your LED lighting to accomplish this.
Get your hands on as much Java Fern as possible. In my opinion , it's the best species to keep in large systems where low maintenance is desired. Most people claim that Java Fern is content with "low" light, and it is, but wait until you see the growth that occurs in "high" light conditions with proper nutrient levels and plenty of CO2!
I've grown massive Java Ferns surrounded by carpets of Glossostigma at the same time and the ferns only required trimming once a year or so. The Ferns required so little maintenance that I got bored of them and sold them off. I could kick myself for that decision as now, I don't have the time needed to maintain all the stem plants that I replaced them with.
You'll probably need to create a "reactor" of some sort and plumb it in to the system to be successful.
Going "Sumpless" will definitely help, as will reducing the overall flow rate through the system. Be sure to minimize any Air/Water mixing at your over flow too, as that will help prevent CO2 loss from the system.
Maybe you could keep the Coast to Coast? The CO2 reactor could be integrated into that. A simple high point in the piping could be made to act as a CO2 "bubble trap"and being that it's under the tank, the added head pressure would encourage the CO2 to saturate the water as it passes through the piping.
I don't have a sump on my tank either. My overflow boxes are plumbed directly into my return pumps and my CO2 is injected directly into my two OceanClear filters. The filters, by their inherent design, act as my CO2 reactors. The added 6' of head pressure on the filtration system helps to force the CO2 into saturation.
My thought in mentioning the stem plants was just to get something in there that grew quickly. I definitely don't want a lot of stems longterm, though there are a few I may keep just because I really like them. I'm terrible with names so I don't even remember what they're called, though I recognize them on sight.
Part of my master plan for this system is to ditch the built in "canopy" above the tank in favor of a suspended lighting unit, in order to allow emersed growth to be observed. It's obliterated in the photo I posted above, but that planted 60g I had featured a lot of cool emersed growth, I want that on this system, too. Just on a larger scale. :D I'm thinking also about some riparium planters along the end that butts up against the wall (the end with the overflow box).
The issue with this desire is that as the tank sits right now, the water surface is pretty much at my eye level (and behind a 4" plywood rim). So even if I tear the hood off, only REALLY TALL people will be able to enjoy the emersive growth. So I'm thinking about tearing the whole thing down and rebuilding it with a shorter stand.
Hey, drywall is cheap. :lol:
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