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Old 01-24-2013, 05:37 AM   #1
Geek2Nurse
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Geek2Nurse, water, and plants


In the midst of building my first-ever greenhouse aquaponics system, I found myself being drawn back to a long-ago hobby again. I grew up in a house full of aquariums, with a dad who was an avid fish breeder, so I've had lots of aquariums in my own lifetime, but mine always had undergravel filters and plastic plants, and a pretty standard variety of easy-to-keep fish, so they wouldn't die while I was busy changing diapers or running Mom's Taxi Service. The aquaponics thing got me thinking about the plants. Again. I'd secretly always wanted a planted tank, but there were kids to raise, and moves every couple of years, and it just never happened.

But now the kids are all grown, and we've finally ended our nomadic lifestyle, bought a house in the country, and settled in. (Yay!) Thanks to Craigslist, I'm now the proud owner of a 130 gallon 48"W x 24"D x 28"H aquarium with a wet/dry sump and a PowerCompact light hood with 2x65W 6500K (I think) and 2x65W dual actinic bulbs. I haven't really decided yet whether that's a lot of light or not, due to the depth of the tank, but I'm hoping it's just about right for the low-tech variety that I want.

(The tank came with a 14" plecostomous, who is temporarily living in a 30-gallon tote in the spare bathroom while I figure out what to do with him. If it weren't so cold, I'd stick him in the 275-gal aquaponics tank, but it's at 54 deg F and I don't think he'd like it out there right now. )

I've been reading forum threads until my eyes cross every night after work, and things are (very slowly) starting to make sense, although I still really have more questions than answers...

I started with substrate consisting of 75lbs kitty litter, 30lbs Fluorite, and 75-ish lbs aquarium gravel that came with the tank (the other 25lbs is in with the pleco). Then I scrounged around in the back yard and found two rocks that weren't too buried in frozen muck to pull free, and soaked them clean. (Fortunately, we live on an old lava flow, so pretty much any old rock I grab from the back yard is bound to be visually interesting, and these two didn't disappoint me.)

Then I had to wait to fill the tank, because all the hoses were frozen. Argh.

Finally, I went to my LFS (my first aquarium-related acronym, yay!) and got overwhelmed with plant choices and finally just gave up and started pointing at plants until it seemed like I had a lot.

It felt like a lot.

I keep forgetting just how BIG this tank is.

But I really want more rocks anyway, so I just stuck the two rocks in one end, and then planted the plants all in that end. I don't know any of the aquascaping methods, so I just stuck things in where they looked good to me, and I've probably broken at least 47 design rules, but I'm okay with it, for a beginning.

I'm a complete n00b at this, so any suggestions, advice, etc. are welcome. I want to learn, preferably as much as possible from OTHER people's mistakes!

This is the planted half:
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My granddaughter approves:
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Old 01-24-2013, 05:48 AM   #2
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I think my first question is about fish. Or light. But probably fish. Yeah, let's go with fish.

Since the wet/dry sump was still wet when I set things up, I'm expecting the tank to be pretty much instant cycled. I don't want to put in a BUNCH of fish until I get the rest of the plants in, but I'm thinking a couple of bottom feeders would probably be a good idea. And since I've picked a couple of snails off the plants already, I'm also thinking snail-eaters would be a good idea. Which makes me think of clown loaches, because I always had a particular fondness for them. But maybe algae eaters are more important at this stage. I've got a rather large one in my spare bathroom, but I fear for my tender plantings, if I were to turn him loose in there.

Anybody care to weigh in on what my first fishy tenants should be?

Edit: Stats, in case they matter, and since I have them: Current temp 75 degrees F; pH 7.6 (well water), ammonia 0, nitrites 0, nitrates 10-20ppm (The darn oranges look exactly the same to me. How do you tell?). The guy at the fish store tested the hardness, but I can't for the life of me remember what he said it was, except that it was "fine."
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Old 01-24-2013, 06:10 AM   #3
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Ummm, I just looked up clown loaches. Wow. I never had any idea how big they got. So, okay, no clown loaches. *sigh*
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Old 01-24-2013, 06:29 AM   #4
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first up congratulations on your first tank! but I would like some basic questions to be answered from your end to help out further (atleast plantwise) do you have CO2 injection in the tank? if yes then great otherwise would advice you to reduce the light in there - as more the light with less nutrients greater the chances you will have an algal outbreak in no time. Second comes filtration - hope it around 10X from your sump, otherwise again lower flow rate leads to algal boom. third - fertilization - yes, you do need it, please read up on macro/micro nutrient and fertilizing methods for captive aquaria. reading up on PMDD+PO4 and EI is where I would start. finally comes fish - this comes last once the tank is cycled and ready so we can look into this at a later stage. Hope this helps.
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Old 01-24-2013, 06:56 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zico_aqua View Post
first up congratulations on your first tank! but I would like some basic questions to be answered from your end to help out further (atleast plantwise) do you have CO2 injection in the tank? if yes then great otherwise would advice you to reduce the light in there - as more the light with less nutrients greater the chances you will have an algal outbreak in no time.
No CO2. I've got approximately 2W/gallon with the current fixture, which I thought is the high end of the range recommended by Tom Barr for the low-tech method I've been reading about. (I can't remember what the name of it is -- it's the one where you dose fertilizers regularly and don't do water changes.) I was thinking that with the depth of the tank, that really would bring it down somewhere less than 2W/gallon -- do you think that's not the case?

Right now the ballast is bad for the 2 actinic bulbs, and I'm waiting for a replacement, so only the white bulbs are working. What if I used the actinics just for dawn/dusk and then only the 2 65W white bulbs for daylight? (I still don't really understand all the lighting stuff or the differences in bulb types, as you can probably tell. )

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Second comes filtration - hope it around 10X from your sump, otherwise again lower flow rate leads to algal boom.
I don't actually know the flow rate of the pump, but the water flowing into the tank is coming in pretty forcefully. Hopefully I'm okay there.

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third - fertilization - yes, you do need it, please read up on macro/micro nutrient and fertilizing methods for captive aquaria. reading up on PMDD+PO4 and EI is where I would start.
That's where I've been spending most of my time...the quantity of acronyms per paragraph really makes it hard to absorb with a brain that's already fried from a full day of use at work, so it's going slow. I just can't keep them all in my head long enough to get through enough of the text to absorb what it's saying. Acronyms are HARD on us newbies!

(I added a dose (per the bottle's instructions) of Seachem Flourish to keep the plants happy while I get myself unmired from the acronym muck.)

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finally comes fish - this comes last once the tank is cycled and ready so we can look into this at a later stage. Hope this helps.
My nitrates are 5ppm out of the tap (well water), so I think it's already cycled, 'cause I don't know where the other 5-15ppm would have come from, otherwise. Am I correct in that assumption?
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Last edited by Geek2Nurse; 01-24-2013 at 06:58 AM.. Reason: Forgot to mention fertilization
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Old 01-27-2013, 05:37 AM   #6
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Well, my plants came with bladder snails...not really what I had planned to have as the first occupants of my new tank. :P I also added a handful of juvenile crystal red shrimp from a guy who breeds them locally, and they're very pretty, although pretty lost in all that space.

I looked up the model of pump that came with the aquarium, and it's rated at 950 GPH. I only had one day off this past week, but I made some progress. I replaced the icky black 1/2" hose that came with the pump with a length of flexible tubing (to avoid transmitting pump vibrations up to the tank) and some 3/4" PVC, and the flow rate is significantly greater now. It was pretty strong before, but the water level in the drain portion of the overflow is about twice as high as it was, so it's definitely stronger now. I also found out the pump is submersible, so I took the other icky hose off its inlet and dropped it into the sump. Now I don't have to prime it every time I need to turn it off for one reason or another.

I also got the bad ballast replaced in my light fixture, and discovered in the process that the fan had been removed from it, for some reason. There's also a bad LED (one of the "moonlight" lights). Now I've got an excuse for a trip to Radio Shack, I guess, although I'm not as dangerous there any more as I was back in my engineer days. I have the lights on timers now, with the actinics coming on first in the morning and turning off last at night.

I also found a few more rocks, including one totally awesome huge one that took both me and my husband to get it into the tank.

All the plumbing and messing around in the sump stirred up the mulm that was left in there, which I had left alone for cycling purposes, so now there's a fine coating of yuk on everything in the tank, but the shrimp seem quite pleased with it. The snails probably are too, but snails don't show their emotions much so it's harder to tell with them.

I was diligently squishing snails every time I saw them, and was starting to feel completely ineffective since there were just more of them every time I looked. Then I saw a squished snail crawling up a leaf, so now I'm feeling ineffective and guilty. *sigh*
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Old 01-27-2013, 05:38 AM   #7
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(I dropped the pump into the sump. Not the icky hose.)
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Old 02-07-2013, 04:49 AM   #8
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Just a quick tank update. I got more plants in it, but it could still use even more. I've been eyeing the various mosses that grow all over everything in our wet winter climate, and thinking that at least some of them probably grow just as well under water. Next day off I may trek down to the local lake and see for myself.

Anyway...

I put a backing on it. I used one of the translucent plastic sheets they use to cover fluorescent light fixtures, and stuck it on with Vaseline, but I spread the Vaseline too thin, so it looks a little funky. I also got some more plumbing done; the water inflow now spreads out across the surface instead of flattening the plants below the inlet.

I'm dosing weekly with Seachem Flourish, iron, and potassium (haven't got the phosphorus yet) at a little less than the recommended amount for my tank volume, until I can get a better handle on how to be more precise with what's needed. Losing just shy of a gallon per day to evaporation; haven't done any water changes yet, just daily top-ups.

Current water chemistry values:
pH 7.6
Ammonia 0
Nitrite 0
Nitrate 20
KH -100 ppm
GH -350 ppm

Current occupants are 9 black phantom tetras, 20 very small "green" neon tetras (I asked why they're called green, and was told it was because they're more purple than regular neons...there's obviously some sort of fish color logic in operation here that I don't understand), 2 reticulated hillstream loaches, 3 small spotted corys, a handful of crystal red shrimp, a couple of blue jelly shrimp, some Malaysian trumpet snails, and the uninvited bladder snails.

The plants seem to be growing pretty well, to my inexperienced eye. There's new growth on everything. I see silvery leaves quite often, which I assume is "pearling," although I'm running a low tech setup and not using CO2/Excel. I'm still not sure whether my lighting is adequate for such a deep tank or not. I'm running the 8500k lights (130w total) about 8 hours daily, and the actinics a total of 12. I know they're for marine tanks, but I have them, and they give me a way to sort of simulate dawn/dusk instead of just going instantly from blackness to brightness and vice versa. I hope the actinics aren't harmful or anything. I'll replace them, eventually. Sooner if I find out they're detrimental in some way!

I'm also in the process of setting up a non-planted 55gal tank for the 18" pleco that came with my 130gal. I was going to sell/trade him, but then when someone wanted him I found I didn't want to give him up. I have a sickness, I know. Good thing my husband loves me.

The pleco looks too big even for the 55-gal, but it's going to have to do for now. I'm building a sump to increase the water volume a little, although there's not much I can do to increase the living space.

That's it for now. As always, I welcome input/advice!


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Old 02-08-2013, 02:47 PM   #9
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Looking good!
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Old 02-08-2013, 04:20 PM   #10
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what a nice sized tank! Love it. I too will one day have a biggun to build out. I like your scape. Have you thought about adding larger background sized plants in a different color maybe?
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Old 02-10-2013, 03:34 AM   #11
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Yeah, when I can find some! Ive got some reds and some dark greens in there that haven't gotten up past the rocks yet, so i think it will take on more variety as things get established and start growing. Right now, though, I'm pretty happy with anything that just doesn't die.


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Old 02-10-2013, 03:52 AM   #12
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Great start for a nice big tank!

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Old 02-10-2013, 03:58 AM   #13
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What a great start! I absolutely LOVE those rocks - you are so lucky! Plus you're lucky to have a lfs with such a nice selection of plants, nothing like that here...

Perhaps my favorite pic is the one with your granddaughter - the look on her face is precious. You're getting her hooked just like your dad got you hooked - lol.
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Old 02-10-2013, 04:15 AM   #14
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What a great start! I absolutely LOVE those rocks - you are so lucky! Plus you're lucky to have a lfs with such a nice selection of plants, nothing like that here...

Perhaps my favorite pic is the one with your granddaughter - the look on her face is precious. You're getting her hooked just like your dad got you hooked - lol.
Some of the plants came from Herms, on this forum. He has nice stuff! My granddaughter likes to dance in the light of the fish tank, too. Haven't caught that one on camera yet!
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Old 02-10-2013, 05:40 AM   #15
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Some of the plants came from Herms, on this forum. He has nice stuff
Thanks .I appreciate that.

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