Zero Water Change Planted Discus Tank Proposal???
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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 20.27%
May work, but not as easily, beautifully, or as stable as pictured. 25 33.78%
May survive, but not thrive. 22 29.73%
Doomed to fail... 20 27.03%
Multiple Choice Poll. Voters: 74. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 12-29-2010, 03:35 PM   #1
Mxx
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Zero Water Change Planted Discus Tank Proposal???


From reading through these forums I don't doubt that the premise of my proposed discus tank may leave you concerned, especially as it's heresy for anyone that has committed much of their lives to the orthodox discus keeping practices. In any case, I'm at the start of planning and researching a tank set-up which I'm afraid intentionally breaks practically every one of the normally accepted rules of discus keeping. And what I'd like to know is if anyone else has done something similar this and under what parameters?

What I'm looking to achieve is a spectacularly beautiful densely planted display tank with many beautiful healthy discus combined with a few other select species, (yeah, sure like seeing the Holy Grail, right?). And I'm looking to achieve this via an inexpensive high-tech low -maintenance over-filtered automated set-up with a fair stocking load yet ZERO water changes apart from topping off the tank occasionally with RO water and NO gravel vacuuming, as I have neither the time nor inclination to do regular water changes. I appreciate this is a contentious proposal to this group, but am hoping this can be considered with an open mind and doesn't rile everybody up unnecessarily.

I'm thinking a 78"Lx24"Dx30"W 185 gallon tank, though possibly even the 108" long 280 gallon tank instead which is hardly more costly for the tank itself. Filtration would be one (or two, as need sees fit) generic Sun Sun canister filters, which filter 530 gph and have a filter volume of 4.4 gallons. I'd have two small corner sumps at either end, one as a screened overflow intake with the other returning water along its height through vertical slots and containing the heater, and possibly a return bar with holes drilled across its length running along the bottom back edge as well to ensure some, though low current throughout the tank and the plant beds and water surface. I'd have a DIY pressurized CO2 system connected to the light timer which is run by a digital Ph controller. Lighting would be via a highly energy efficient DIY LED hood with high powered warm-white (which I think provides the most natural looking light) waterproof LED strips, as many as are needed, which are currently sold quite inexpensively in 5 metre spools.

The substrate would be black flourite (or black flourite sand) mixed 50/50 with small grain inert black gravel. The entire bottom would be densely planted, with the likes of large Swordplants, Giant Vallisneria, and a foreground of Dwarf Hairgrass, (temperature range permitting). I may plant the rear wall as well, in case I don't opt for the 3D background which seems a bit pricey. And I'd have branching vertical tree roots extending down through the entire tank depth if I can find a decent source for such wood. I intend to dose liquid fertilizer as necessary, but I'm hoping I can get away without having to dose root tabs at all once the fish and the tank bed is well established.

As for fish I'd intend to start with 12-18 juvenile captive bred natural colour discus some of which I'd sell off as necessary as they grow, perhaps 10-15 Congo Tetras, a few African Butterflyfish, a group of Rams or Bolivian Rams, several Synodontis Angelicus or as shoal of Panda Corys or Brochis, and numerous Bristlenose and Siamese Algae Eaters. For the discus's initial 9 month grow-out period I'm considering possibly holding off on the Tetras, Rams, and Butterflyfish to be able to concentrate on being able to feed the discus heavily without compromising on water quality. I could feed once or twice a day with frozen food, though I may avoid beefheart if it causes water problems, but I could set up an automatic feeder for additional dry feedings during the day. For temperature I'd target 82 degrees to try to balance the discus's requirements with the upper limit for the other species and the plants.

As a kid I'd kept, bred, and reared mainly South American Cichlids, despite the customary sub-par set-ups of a decade or two ago, and with regular weekly water changes. However, the more I look into it now the more I've been discovering that throwing out all the perfectly good well-conditioned water seems altogether unnecessary. Currently I'm running a small test tank with which I'm trying out some of these ideas and to see if I can maintain stable high water quality with 2-3X overstocked tank, a canister filter for a tank 15x larger, and generous feedings, albeit with dosing with Excel for now. That's still in early stages and I'm still modifying the set-up, but water conditions seem great so far with limited algae (after I added phosphate absorber to the filter).

For the benefit of my fish and to reduce their stress (as well as to minimize the triggers for algae growth, the primary goal with water chemistry would be to achieve balanced stability, (to which water changes would actually be detrimental). With a biological filtration volume of the size I'm proposing, I believe that even with moderate stockings and generous feedings, Ammonia and Nitrites should stay near zero. With dense planting and moderate supplemental CO2, dosing liquid fertilizer occasionally, and medium-high lighting levels, I believe the plants should be able to absorb all the Nitrates (or the ammonia directly which is what plants actually prefer), and possibly all the Phosphates as well. I'd have to carefully monitor Nitrate and Phosphate levels at first, and possibly add a Denitrator filter or Denitrate blocks, and Phosphate Absorber to the canister filter should that prove necessary.

The automated CO2 system would be able to maintain the Ph at a fixed acidity, (although it may prove necessary to add a small bag of gasp! crushed coral to the filter which would dissolve slowly enough to react appropriately with and neutralize the organic acids and carbonic acid produced, thereby preventing the Ph from dropping too far while nevertheless fixing the GH and KH at the desirable soft level for discus.

I would also maintain some fast growing floating plants, which I could easily net out as necessary in order to be able to easily take some nutrients back out of the tank, so while this is still not a closed-system, it should basically equate to food and light in/plants out. And I could control the floating plant quantity in order to shade the other plants and slow down their growth later on so that I don't have to be trimming them constantly.

I wouldn't introduce the discus until the plants were firmly rooted and growing well, at which point I'd dial down the CO2 to a moderate level due to the high water temperatures discus require with its accompanying lower O2 levels. I'm sure some careful monitoring, and fine-tuning of the set-up will be necessary at first, but firm stability should be achievable in time.

Thus, with Ammonia, Nitrites, Nitrates, and Phosphates well under control, and supplemental trace elements and minerals added as necessary, as far as I'm aware at this stage in my research and unless I've thus far missed something, that should perhaps make water changes pointless, shouldn't it? And if that is the case, then shouldn't I be able to keep discus and the other species very happy and healthy in very stable good water conditions, while being able to feed them appropriately to achieve decent growth, with limited maintenance and minor monitoring required once the tank is well established? Iíve seen some mention of potential build-up of vaguely described dissolved organic compounds in addition to nitrates, as well as the suggestion that discus secrete growth inhibiting hormones. I havenít bottomed out this issue, but surely there must be other ways that this can be taken care of, activated carbon added to the filter weekly? I suppose if it proved absolutely necessary then I could do weekly water changes during the grow-out phase. I could install a separate sump tank underneath, with a plumbed faucet, direct drain, and build a utility sink into the downstairs bathroom as I may do anyway then it might be viable in terms of time if I can simply flick a switch to do so, (but NO gravel vacuuming, especially as the tank bed would be fully covered with plants). What by the way would worst-case scenario be? That I end up with a school of a dozen 2/3 grown discus instead? Not ideal perhaps, but not the end of the world I guess as far as experiments go, and thatíd still look spectacular.

I still need to delve into some of the finer points in water chemistry in greater depth and have ordered some books to do so, but I thought I'd put my plan out to the experienced aquarists in this forum as well. I have some time to plan out my tank set-up still, as I'm just now about to embark upon remodeling and extending the living room which will eventually house this display tank, and would appreciate your informed opinions and experience meanwhile. In any case, I'm not looking to breed discus, which I don't really have the time to attend to anyway, I'm just looking to be able to achieve a beautiful natural tank with beautiful fish which I can enjoy without excessive hassle, which to me seems a perfectly reasonable goal to try and attain. Pending success, I may later on also try a similar approach with a small-mid-size marine tank with a trickle filter sump in which I'd be cultivating live rock and Caulerpa algae.
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Old 12-29-2010, 03:37 PM   #2
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Default Zero Water Change Planted Discus Tank Proposal???

From reading through these forums I don't doubt that the premise of my proposed discus tank may leave you speechless, especially as it's heresy for anyone that has committed so much of their lives to the orthodox discus keeping practices. In any case, I'm at the start of planning and researching a tank set-up which I'm afraid intentionally breaks practically every one of the normally accepted rules of discus keeping. And what I'd like to know is if anyone else has done something similar this and under what parameters?

What I'm looking to achieve is a spectacularly beautiful densely planted display tank with many beautiful healthy discus combined with a few other select species, (yeah, sure like seeing the Holy Grail, right?). And I'm looking to achieve this via an inexpensive high-tech low -maintenance over-filtered automated set-up with a fair stocking load yet ZERO water changes apart from topping off the tank occasionally with RO water and NO gravel vacuuming, as I have neither the time nor inclination to do regular water changes. I appreciate this is a contentious proposal to this group, but am hoping this can be considered with an open mind and doesn't rile everybody up unnecessarily.

I'm thinking a 78"Lx24"Dx30"W 185 gallon tank, though possibly even the 108" long 280 gallon tank instead which is hardly more costly for the tank itself. Filtration would be one (or two, as need sees fit) generic Sun Sun canister filters, which filter 530 gph and have a filter volume of 4.4 gallons. I'd have two small corner sumps at either end, one as a screened overflow intake with the other returning water along its height through vertical slots and containing the heater, and possibly a return bar with holes drilled across its length running along the bottom back edge as well to ensure some, though low current throughout the tank and the plant beds and water surface. I'd have a DIY pressurized CO2 system connected to the light timer which is run by a digital Ph controller. Lighting would be via a highly energy efficient DIY LED hood with high powered warm-white (which I think provides the most natural looking light) waterproof LED strips, as many as are needed, which are currently sold quite inexpensively in 5 metre spools.

The substrate would be black flourite (or black flourite sand) mixed 50/50 with small grain inert black gravel. The entire bottom would be densely planted, with the likes of large Swordplants, Giant Vallisneria, and a foreground of Dwarf Hairgrass, (temperature range permitting). I may plant the rear wall as well, in case I don't opt for the 3D background which seems a bit pricey. And I'd have branching vertical tree roots extending down through the entire tank depth if I can find a decent source for such wood. I intend to dose liquid fertilizer as necessary, but I'm hoping I can get away without having to dose root tabs at all once the fish and the tank bed is well established.

As for fish I'd intend to start with 12-18 juvenile captive bred natural colour discus some of which I'd sell off as necessary as they grow, perhaps 10-15 Congo Tetras, a few African Butterflyfish, a group of Rams or Bolivian Rams, several Synodontis Angelicus or as shoal of Panda Corys or Brochis, and numerous Bristlenose and Siamese Algae Eaters. For the discus's initial 9 month grow-out period I'm considering possibly holding off on the Tetras, Rams, and Butterflyfish to be able to concentrate on being able to feed the discus heavily without compromising on water quality. I could feed once or twice a day with frozen food, though I may avoid beefheart if it causes water problems, but I could set up an automatic feeder for additional dry feedings during the day. For temperature I'd target 82 degrees to try to balance the discus's requirements with the upper limit for the other species and the plants.

As a kid I'd kept, bred, and reared mainly South American Cichlids, despite the customary sub-par set-ups of a decade or two ago, and with regular weekly water changes. However, the more I look into it now the more I've been discovering that throwing out all the perfectly good well-conditioned water seems altogether unnecessary. Currently I'm running a small test tank with which I'm trying out some of these ideas and to see if I can maintain stable high water quality with 2-3X overstocked tank, a canister filter for a tank 15x larger, and generous feedings, albeit with dosing with Excel for now. That's still in early stages and I'm still modifying the set-up, but water conditions seem great so far with limited algae (after I added phosphate absorber to the filter).

For the benefit of my fish and to reduce their stress (as well as to minimize the triggers for algae growth, the primary goal with water chemistry would be to achieve balanced stability, (to which water changes would actually be detrimental). With a biological filtration volume of the size I'm proposing, I believe that even with moderate stockings and generous feedings, Ammonia and Nitrites should stay near zero. With dense planting and moderate supplemental CO2, dosing liquid fertilizer occasionally, and medium-high lighting levels, I believe the plants should be able to absorb all the Nitrates (or the ammonia directly which is what plants actually prefer), and possibly all the Phosphates as well. I'd have to carefully monitor Nitrate and Phosphate levels at first, and possibly add a Denitrator filter or Denitrate blocks, and Phosphate Absorber to the canister filter should that prove necessary.

The automated CO2 system would be able to maintain the Ph at a fixed acidity, (although it may prove necessary to add a small bag of gasp! crushed coral to the filter which would dissolve slowly enough to react appropriately with and neutralize the organic acids and carbonic acid produced, thereby preventing the Ph from dropping too far while nevertheless fixing the GH and KH at the desirable soft level for discus.

I would also maintain some fast growing floating plants, which I could easily net out as necessary in order to be able to easily take some nutrients back out of the tank, so while this is still not a closed-system, it should basically equate to food and light in/plants out. And I could control the floating plant quantity in order to shade the other plants and slow down their growth later on so that I don't have to be trimming them constantly.

I wouldn't introduce the discus until the plants were firmly rooted and growing well, at which point I'd dial down the CO2 to a moderate level due to the high water temperatures discus require with its accompanying lower O2 levels. I'm sure some careful monitoring, and fine-tuning of the set-up will be necessary at first, but firm stability should be achievable in time.

Thus, with Ammonia, Nitrites, Nitrates, and Phosphates well under control, and supplemental trace elements and minerals added as necessary, as far as I'm aware at this stage in my research and unless I've thus far missed something, that should perhaps make water changes pointless, shouldn't it? And if that is the case, then shouldn't I be able to keep discus and the other species very happy and healthy in very stable good water conditions, while being able to feed them appropriately to achieve decent growth, with limited maintenance and minor monitoring required once the tank is well established? Iíve seen some mention of potential build-up of vaguely described dissolved organic compounds in addition to nitrates, as well as the suggestion that discus secrete growth inhibiting hormones. I havenít bottomed out this issue, but surely there must be other ways that this can be taken care of, activated carbon added to the filter weekly? I suppose if it proved absolutely necessary then I could do weekly water changes during the grow-out phase. I could install a separate sump tank underneath, with a plumbed faucet, direct drain, and build a utility sink into the downstairs bathroom as I may do anyway then it might be viable in terms of time if I can simply flick a switch to do so, (but NO gravel vacuuming, especially as the tank bed would be fully covered with plants). What by the way would worst-case scenario be? That I end up with a school of a dozen 2/3 grown discus instead? Not ideal perhaps, but not the end of the world I guess as far as experiments go, and thatíd still look spectacular.

I still need to delve into some of the finer points in water chemistry in greater depth and have ordered some books to do so, but I thought I'd put my plan out to the experienced aquarists in this forum as well. I have some time to plan out my tank set-up still, as I'm just now about to embark upon remodeling and extending the living room which will eventually house this display tank, and would appreciate your informed opinions and experience meanwhile. In any case, I'm not looking to breed discus, which I don't really have the time to attend to anyway, I'm just looking to be able to achieve a beautiful natural tank with beautiful fish which I can enjoy without excessive hassle, which to me seems a perfectly reasonable goal to try and attain. Pending success, I may later on also try a similar approach with a small-mid-size marine tank with a trickle filter sump in which I'd be cultivating live rock and Caulerpa algae.
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Old 12-29-2010, 04:11 PM   #3
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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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Old 12-29-2010, 04:17 PM   #4
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interesting concept. I have to say I didnt read the whole thing, I stopped after your mention of the filters, you said one or two of the sun suns... In your initial premise you said it was to be over filtered, One o two small canisters is hardly over filtered for a 180-280 gallon tank. I have a 360 GPH filter on my 55g and I don't consider that over filtered by any means.

I dont know much about discus so I cant comment on that side of your idea, but just for a basic tank that size I would say you need a lot more filtration planning.
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Old 12-29-2010, 04:36 PM   #5
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On that sized tank I would even consider a sump, especially if it's a low tech. You could easily seal off a sump, with a tight fitting glass lid and have a pump output of 1000GPH. with it densly planted you'd probably only be seeing a circulatory GPH around 600.

A 30-40 gallon sump with a the water coming in as a grid of drips, into a fine mesh, then next through bioballs, and the last layer have a fine mesh, with the pump sitting in the bottom of the sump, pumping water back into the tank. You could probably even find a ready made sump or look up on DIY sumps to figure the rest out...

Sump would give better filtering power over 2 small SunSuns. 1060GPH for a 280 gallon tank isn't enough IMO. Especially once the plants knock it down.
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Old 12-29-2010, 05:05 PM   #6
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There has been alot of threads on no water change tanks recently. I think they can work great, if you find a perfect balance. However, my tank loves its water changes. The fish and plants all perk up and look better after water changes. Also when I don't do water changes algae seems to thrive, perhaps because my tank isn't balanced properly but thats my experience. Water changes take 20-30 minutes once a week (on my 86g tank), and I don't really want a hobby that takes less time than that...

I also think growing out discus In this style tank will make your job much harder. I'm sure you've read about to properly feed young discus, so they grow to their potential, you must over feed them. Most people at Simplydiscus.com forums strongly recommend a bare bottom tank for easy cleaning with 2-3 waterchanges a week to remove growth stunting hormones. I think this is very overstated, and you can have discus in a planted tank no problem In fact it helps with the water quality greatly, but with zero water changes, i think its going to be pretty tough to get the right balance for a clean, clear, algae-free display tank. It certainly isn't impossible though.

It sounds like you have done a good amount of research and planning, but for some advice on your equipment: I don't think a string of LEDs is going to give you the light you will need. Most of the LEDs on strings (I've seen anyway) are low power and wont give you near enough light for a tank that big or tall. You want LEDs that are 3+ watts each.
Also for filters, i would recommended more/larger filters, maybe the cf500 filters (http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/eq...filter-10.html) or some fluval FX5s. You will probably need 2-3 of these as well on a tank that size.

Please do not be discouraged by my advice! Just giving you some advise on things you might want to look into more. I hope you prove me wrong.
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Old 12-29-2010, 05:18 PM   #7
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Fascinating concept, and do let us know how that turns out once you get there! It sounds as if you've done a fair bit of homework already on this. Ozonisers might be worth looking into as I'd heard they are very good for breaking down any organic solids into inert forms or ones that would be utilized by plants, with or without a protein skimmer. So that might hold the key you need to unlocking any remaining water quality issues. You may need to monitor fertilizer and mineral levels as well though if you're not doing water changes.

Quite an involved and bold venture if it is as you say, an experiment! Hopefully you'll get other helpful responses which speak from experience rather than the usual superstitious and prejudiced views based simply upon uninformed following of 'the herd'. But prepare to be flamed by the crowd of the the biased! Logic would in any case seem to dictate that regularly chucking large volumes of pristine filtered tank water down the drain and replacing it with crappy city tap water full of hardness, chemicals, and phosphates makes no sense, and that there must be an easier way of doing this as a hobby if you're prepared to invest in the right equipment. Viva la Revolution! Good luck with that.
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Old 12-29-2010, 05:30 PM   #8
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I think you're better off doing an automated system similar to what Scolley did with his big clear kahuna tank. That way once everything is set up correctly you don't have to do much yourself besides watch it, dust off the algae, and make sure everything is running correctly. He uses aquacontrollers and everything is automated even the water changes. He keeps discus as well.

Another thing you may look into is using Daphnia to help filter the aquarium, although since you'll have fish they may just eat them all.

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Old 12-29-2010, 05:36 PM   #9
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I just have to say i have been keeping discus on and off for around 5 years. and have gone nearly a year w/o water changes before with no ill effects. DONT OVERFEED THEM and you will be fine, dont feed beefheart, it fouls water fast. Get them to eat dry foods.

They do not REQUIRE the warmer temps. Don't believe all the myths & BS from previous generations.
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Old 12-29-2010, 05:56 PM   #10
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Thanks very much for the comments, in response, I had also considered an in-tank sump by partitioning off the back 4-6 inches for the length of the tank, and putting vertical dividers within that to create a veritable maze which the return water would need to wind all the way through before returning to the tank. And I'd fill the lot with nylon pot scrubbers purchased wholesale, (which are cheaper and have greater surface area than anything else on the market). Some Denitrator/pumice blocks placed there would also be able to host the necessary anaerobic bacteria for converting nitrates directly into nitrogen gas if a deep substrate doesn't sufficiently take care of that already. That sort of a sump would therefore have between 25 and 37 gallons of biologically active medium, which is vast compared to most any other set-ups though the Sun Suns seem easier and I wouldn't be losing tank volume.

Basically I'm more concerned with biological filter volume than simply water current. If 530 GPH isn't cutting it and is creating dead spots then it'd be easy to plug in another Sun Sun to double that, or just to add a simple additional water pump, and I'd have the tank plumbed in advance ready for that if need be. Discus like very calm of current in any case. As the large Sun Suns do have 4.4 GALLONS of filtering volume, that's by no means a small canister filter and much more than any other canister filters I've seen, and at a fraction of the cost no less, (they're also sold as garden pond filters).

The current generation of LED lighting is well beyond anything seen previously, and with the help of a residential lighting designer I know I'll be lighting my entire several hundred square foot renovated Living/Dining Room with them, so I know they're up to the task. I just don't yet know how may spools of LED tape would be required, whether that'd be 10 metres, 30 metres or more of the stuff. I have a 1.2 metre LED strip working on my small proof of concept tank, and the lighting level there is brilliant.
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Old 12-29-2010, 05:57 PM   #11
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Fish put out more than just poop. They also put out hormones, which can't be removed by plants, and other forms of "waste." My vote is "doomed to fail."
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Old 12-29-2010, 06:08 PM   #12
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"Doomed to fail."
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Old 12-29-2010, 06:12 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LilGreenPuffer View Post
Fish put out more than just poop. They also put out hormones, which can't be removed by plants, and other forms of "waste." My vote is "doomed to fail."

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.
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Old 12-29-2010, 06:13 PM   #14
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Fascinating concept, and do let us know how that turns out once you get there! It sounds as if you've done a fair bit of homework already on this. Ozonisers might be worth looking into as I'd heard they are very good for breaking down any organic solids into inert forms or ones that would be utilized by plants, with or without a protein skimmer. So that might hold the key you need to unlocking any remaining water quality issues. You may need to monitor fertilizer and mineral levels as well though if you're not doing water changes.

Quite an involved and bold venture if it is as you say, an experiment! Hopefully you'll get other helpful responses which speak from experience rather than the usual superstitious and prejudiced views based simply upon uninformed following of 'the herd'. But prepare to be flamed by the crowd of the the biased! Logic would in any case seem to dictate that regularly chucking large volumes of pristine filtered tank water down the drain and replacing it with crappy city tap water full of hardness, chemicals, and phosphates makes no sense, and that there must be an easier way of doing this as a hobby if you're prepared to invest in the right equipment. Viva la Revolution! Good luck with that.

(There seem to be two paralled threads on this topic, one with the poll and the other without. So I'm copying my quote here as well now)
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Old 12-29-2010, 06:17 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by nonconductive View Post
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.
All fish do this. I don't have a source on hand, so just take it or leave it.
LilGreenPuffer is offline   Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
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community tank, discus, display tank, planted, water change

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