First planted tank- Upper Rio Negro Low-tech Biotope. Suggestions please!
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Old 08-22-2011, 05:37 AM   #1
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First planted tank- Upper Rio Negro Low-tech Biotope. Suggestions please!


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I've kept fish for around ten years. Now, as a present to myself, I've decided to start a bigger tank- my first planted one.

My goal is to do a strict Rio Negro biotope. I've always loved the colorful schooling fish that come from this region, and the blackwater ecosystem has always intrigued me.

I'm on a budget, so a lot of this is DIY work. If you see room for improvement, please let me know!

Hardware:
55 gallon tank
Hagen Aquaclear 70 HOB filter
StealthPro 200W submersible heater
Custom DIY hood

Lighting:
DIY 2 X 28W T5NO wired in parallel. One is 6700K, one is 10,000. Fixed to hood lid, roughly 4" above the water, 22" above substrate. No reflectors, but inside of hood is painted with high gloss pure white paint. I don't have a PAR meter, but I guess I'm in the 'low' light category, so I'm trying to plan accordingly.

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The wires are hidden in the white aluminum downspout that the T5's are attached to.

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Substrate:
Mineralized topsoil taken from my garden in the early spring. 6 wet/dry cycles, cuttlebone shavings, KCL powder, and pure gray clay from the creek. Capped with sand collected from the 'beach' on the river near my house in Annapolis. About 3" deep.

Water: aged rainwater, treated with Seachem Prime
78 degrees F.
ph - 6.0
kH - 1 degree
gH - 1 degree
TDS- dunno. Probably 0 or close to it.
Still cycling, so N compounds in flux. One week in, and NH3 has to be replaced every day to 5ppm. -N02 is spiking. I don't have a -N03 test kit, so I'm just waiting for -N02 to go away.

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Hardscape: Sweetgum (?) stump taken from same river. No rocks in keeping with biotope.

Plants: Few so far, as I'm still in the middle of a fishless cycle. Amazon sword (Echinodorus amazonicus), Cabomba caroliniana, Cabomba furcata, and three bunches of Brazilian Micro Sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis). Please suggest more if they are from South America!

Livestock: None so far, due to ongoing cycling. I'm planning on a school of 20-30 Cardinal Tetras (Paracheirodon axelrodi),10-15 Corydoras habrosus, a Farlowella vittata, and possibly some Otocinclus if they're biotope appropriate. I love my bulldog pleco (Chaetostoma sp.), but I'm not sure if he's acceptable. Suggestions are welcome!

Thanks everyone. I learned a great deal from plantedtank.net about how aquaria can be much more than just fish!
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Old 08-22-2011, 05:44 AM   #2
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Man, I would get so sidetracked watching the tank, then the tv, then the tank, then the tv.... I'd go crazy That's a pretty awesome set up though. The only thing that immediately stands out is the furcata in the dark corner, back right. That plant needs high light in order to grow without the nodes being like 3 inches apart. Given the low light you are producing I would do everything I can in order to give them the most of what you have.
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Old 08-22-2011, 05:51 AM   #3
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I don't know plants all that well, but the set up looks sweet. I guess I would suggest hiding the heater behind the wood.
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Old 08-22-2011, 02:11 PM   #4
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+1 for hiding the heater, I'd also suggest a background to hide the cords and such (black is a good choice, brown might look ok for a biotope like this)

I'm assuming the brick is in there to act a weight to hold the wood down? I'd either hide it behind some plants or get rid of it as soon as you are able.
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Old 08-22-2011, 05:05 PM   #5
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Looks like the brick is holding the wood down. I think it's okay to stay in there as it will also prop the wood up on the angel that he has going.

Depending on the substrate I would probably make the area under the brick complete inert though (use just plane gravel under it) to avoid dead spots in the substrate.

After the plants come in the brick should be well hidden, I mean he has a sword there now so that brick is gonna get hidden, haha.
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Old 08-23-2011, 02:50 AM   #6
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I love the big piece of wood! It gives the "sunken tree" feel that characterizes the deep blackwater portions of the river. (The smaller one would look better at more of an angle)

Here are a few comments regarding a "strict" Rio Negro biotope. Disregard them if you're fine with a "loose" one.

Amazon swords aren't actually found in what people think of as the Amazon River. Crazy, I know.

In fact, while you might find a bit of Cabomba, submerged plants will be very rare in this biotope. Consider some South American floating plants instead, like Salvinia, frogbit, giant duckweed, or red root floater. Water hyacinth would also work, if you want something a bit more robust. My recommendation is to go with Salvinia and ignore submersed plants entirely. Floating plants will also be right under your lights, which means even your T5NOs will grow them nicely. Heck, double-strip T8s from Home Depot would.

Don't bother with any carpeting plants at all. You don't have the lighting for it, and they're not biotope-appropriate.

If you're cool with your giant awesome piece of driftwood being slowly nibbled away, consider a royal pleco - they chew driftwood to get at the tasty bacterial colonies inside, and they may even keep your glass clean in the process.

A school of cardinals would look fantastic in this tank. Other tetra species could work too, but cardinals are classic for a reason.

Substrate: yours will work, but some clean white river sand would be best, as the Rio Negro is known for fine white sand. Since I've just advocated removing all your substrate, I'll point out that for moving substrate out of a tank, nothing beats a small shop vac. You might add some dried oak or katappa ("indian almond") leaves to the bottom to improve the look. Skip cory cats - very few are found in blackwater habitats.

Those are my suggestions - good luck!
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Old 08-23-2011, 03:36 AM   #7
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Quote:
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Skip cory cats - very few are found in blackwater habitats.
That's not true, we caught at least 3 or 4 species in the Rio San Martin, including tons of C. hastatus. At night they'd be schooling in the thousands in the shallows.
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Old 08-23-2011, 03:54 AM   #8
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That's not true, we caught at least 3 or 4 species in the Rio San Martin, including tons of C. hastatus. At night they'd be schooling in the thousands in the shallows.

That must have been an awesome experience.
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Old 08-23-2011, 03:57 AM   #9
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It was! lol They'd drive you crazy with their whiskers between your toes, though. Plus you had to watch out for leeches- those things came out like crazy at night, too.
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Old 08-23-2011, 05:03 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sevenyearnight View Post
I don't know plants all that well, but the set up looks sweet. I guess I would suggest hiding the heater behind the wood.
Agreed sevenyearnight. That'll be the first thing I do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kamikazi View Post
+1 for hiding the heater, I'd also suggest a background to hide the cords and such (black is a good choice, brown might look ok for a biotope like this)

I'm assuming the brick is in there to act a weight to hold the wood down? I'd either hide it behind some plants or get rid of it as soon as you are able.
I tried a brown and a beige background, but they really made the tank seem less deep horizontally. I'll either go with white, black, or none- in which case I'll hide all the cords.

Yeah, the wood wasn't fully waterlogged. I live close to a tidal river that's tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. This particular stump was towards the high tide line.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kuni View Post
I love the big piece of wood! It gives the "sunken tree" feel that characterizes the deep blackwater portions of the river. (The smaller one would look better at more of an angle)

Here are a few comments regarding a "strict" Rio Negro biotope. Disregard them if you're fine with a "loose" one.

Amazon swords aren't actually found in what people think of as the Amazon River. Crazy, I know.

In fact, while you might find a bit of Cabomba, submerged plants will be very rare in this biotope. Consider some South American floating plants instead, like Salvinia, frogbit, giant duckweed, or red root floater. Water hyacinth would also work, if you want something a bit more robust. My recommendation is to go with Salvinia and ignore submersed plants entirely. Floating plants will also be right under your lights, which means even your T5NOs will grow them nicely. Heck, double-strip T8s from Home Depot would.

Don't bother with any carpeting plants at all. You don't have the lighting for it, and they're not biotope-appropriate.

If you're cool with your giant awesome piece of driftwood being slowly nibbled away, consider a royal pleco - they chew driftwood to get at the tasty bacterial colonies inside, and they may even keep your glass clean in the process.

A school of cardinals would look fantastic in this tank. Other tetra species could work too, but cardinals are classic for a reason.

Substrate: yours will work, but some clean white river sand would be best, as the Rio Negro is known for fine white sand. Since I've just advocated removing all your substrate, I'll point out that for moving substrate out of a tank, nothing beats a small shop vac. You might add some dried oak or katappa ("indian almond") leaves to the bottom to improve the look. Skip cory cats - very few are found in blackwater habitats.

Those are my suggestions - good luck!
Thanks Kuni! BTW, which direction should I tilt the secondary piece of wood. Top to the left or right?

I actually got a few Salvinia leaves, probably attached to the Cabomba. I'm going to try to leave the submersed veg for now, and restrict the Salvinia to the left side where there's no SAV.

Won't a Farlowella be equivalent to a royal pleco?

I'm totally in agreement about the cardinals!

Quote:
Originally Posted by lauraleellbp View Post
That's not true, we caught at least 3 or 4 species in the Rio San Martin, including tons of C. hastatus. At night they'd be schooling in the thousands in the shallows.
Laura, did you see any C. habrosus, or would C. hastatus be more biotope appropriate?


So it might be cheating, but there's a distributary of the Orinoco that connects it with the Rio Negro. It's called the Casiquiare Canal. I just spoke to one of our visiting scientists from Venezuela, and she was pretty sure that the Casiquiare had a good mix of flora and fauna from both watersheds. Can anyone speak to this? A 'Casiquiare Biotope' would give me a little more leeway into plants and livestock.

Thanks all!
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Old 08-23-2011, 05:05 AM   #11
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I was in Boliva, so we're talking about a different biotope. I'm not up on what is or isn't in the Rio Negro, unfortunately lol
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Old 08-23-2011, 07:23 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lauraleellbp View Post
That's not true, we caught at least 3 or 4 species in the Rio San Martin, including tons of C. hastatus. At night they'd be schooling in the thousands in the shallows.
I meant very few species. There are definitely cories in blackwater, there are just more species in clear streams. And wherever there's one cory, there's also his thousand friends...
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Old 08-23-2011, 07:31 PM   #13
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Well, the tank's OK after the earthquake. I guess I don't have to worry about the old thing breaking!
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Old 08-23-2011, 07:32 PM   #14
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Quote:
Thanks Kuni! BTW, which direction should I tilt the secondary piece of wood. Top to the left or right?

I actually got a few Salvinia leaves, probably attached to the Cabomba. I'm going to try to leave the submersed veg for now, and restrict the Salvinia to the left side where there's no SAV.

Won't a Farlowella be equivalent to a royal pleco?

I'm totally in agreement about the cardinals!
I'd tilt the wood left, but just see what looks good. You might try have the pieces of driftwood cross visually at the golden ratio point on the right side of the tank.

I wouldn't remove the submersed plants, but blackwater + T5NO lights means they probably won't get enough light, just like in nature.

My understanding is that Farlowella are in shallower fast-flowing water, in the middle of twiggy driftwood and overhanging branches. Royals and their close relatives are sort of unique in that they prefer hanging out in big driftwood snags to eat the bacteria growing on and in the wood. Your big pieces of driftwood suggest a deeper, siltier area of the river, so I think a royal would be more appropriate, but again, it's a question of how far to take the biotope, and how close is "good enough".
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Old 08-23-2011, 07:32 PM   #15
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Well, the tank's OK after the earthquake. I guess I don't have to worry about the old thing breaking!
Whoa. Good to hear.
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