Another low-tech - zero water change - discus tank idea.
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Old 07-02-2013, 06:06 PM   #1
cro117
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Another low-tech - zero water change - discus tank idea.


i have been keeping/breeding fish in ecosystem setups for years without filtration or water changes. the disadvantage is very low bioload. since i've only ever had tanks in the 20ish area before, 55g being the largest i've ever owned, this meant fish in the 1-2" ranges. i've always considered 3" a "monster fish." i'm now setting up 240g tank with a 100-150g sump, so 350-400g total volume, and decided it was time to try my hand at discus. i'd like to get any thoughts or opinions on my setup as it's in the construction phase before it's up and operational.

ok, so the tank will be the 350+ gallons previously mentioned 8'x2'. the filtration will be the entire setup, with deep sand beds both in the display tank and sump. aerobic bacteria will inhabit the first 2" of the sand bed, as well as any other surfaces in the tank, and anaerobic bacteria will inhabit the 2" and below area of the sand bed. i plan to mix peat into the sand bed to provide a carbon source at the initial setup, but i don't plan on "recharging" it at a later date. instead i'm hoping that the fall of detritus will be enough of a carbon source at a later date.

as far as the substrate, i plan on using a mix of play sand from home depot and natural clay kitty litter. this will be my first experience with kitty litter as a substrate so i have some concerns, but it would be way too expensive to use fluorite in the quantities i need.

in the display tank i was planing on a 1/2-1" bottom layer covered with sand, and in the sump tank i was planing of a 50/50 mix amounting to a 5"ish layer. one of my concerns is the clay chips rising enough in the substrate to cause an issue with scaleless sand dwelling species.

my next concern comes from the lighting. i was planing on using a few LED screw in bulbs. i was thinking something like 6x 1000 lumen(13w) 6500k, but i can switch that over to 5000k and add or subtract as many as are needed. being screw-ins they will be very versatile. i know they can be very effective, i've known people who use them for coral growth, i just need to dial in the proper amount of lighting for plant growth and discus happiness.

any suggestions on lighting ideas would be great. i plan on insulating the tank as much as possible, mostly via an insulated canopy, so i'm concerned about how the lighting i chose might hold up under very high humidity.

my next concern is that i want to house a breeding colony of cherry shrimp and scuds in the sump. though i've never had scuds before so i'd have to do some more reading on them. the little i did a few years back suggested that they will eat young cherry shrimp and plants. anyway, my concern is with the return pump. my plan is to just wall off the end of the sump tank with some sort of screen mesh, but i haven't decided what would be best for this purpose. i would like it not to trap too much detritus, but at the same time not let baby shrimp through. i might have to just give in and turn it into one big mechanical filter.

and i guess lastly, i've never tanks at discus temperatures for long periods of time before, and usually my plants do very poorly when it gets above 80, even amazon swords. so if anyone has any suggestions for fast growing filter plants, such as water sprite or pennywort that will thrive in warm waters please let me know.

oh, almost forgot the most important part, lol, bioload will be a group of 6-8 discus that i will sell off till i have 2 pairs, so 4 total, i was thinking a mormyrid too since i could never have one before, and a freshwater stingray if i can find one. probably reticulated do to the small width of the tank. i've never needed algae eaters before, but i am partial to plecos, so i might have a pair of bristle noses too, but i kind of consider them just excess bioload.

i'll probably add to that list with a few others down the road, but i cant think of anything i really care about right now. my passion and experience has always been micro fish, but with the ray, those wouldn't be great candidates. though if i don't get the ray, then there will defiantly be a few species of appistos in there

lastly, how do i do a long term build thread? do i just start it like a regular thread, or is it something different?
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Old 07-02-2013, 06:52 PM   #2
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Sounds like an exciting project. I can't offer up any advice, but I'm looking forward to seeing you document everything. You'll probably want to create a journal in the sub-forum if you want to keep a running log of your progress.
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Old 07-02-2013, 07:27 PM   #3
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An interesting project - and it would be very informative to follow it's progress over several months to see how everything develops. Your planned practices seem very sound, and would likely work out well under normal aquarium conditions, and with any other species stocking.

However, if as your caption says - no water changes planned, (even with that size of tank coupled with a very low bio-load), in my view one would not expect the discus to develop to any optimum size if you don't provide at least some fresh water on an occasional basis, along with good, regular tank cleansing husbandry.

At required discus temps, plant growth would not likely be ideal, and the production of detritus from decomposing plant matter & other wastes could over time tend to produce an unhealthy environment for the discus that would not be detrimental to most other species of fish.

Having said that, and it's certainly not meant negatively in any way, as perhaps that's not your objective in any event. One thing that is more or less a given, is that if you get full-grown mature adults of say 6" in size from the outset, they wouldn't shrink in size.

FWIW, that's my take, but I do wish you well.
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Old 07-02-2013, 09:50 PM   #4
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i'm not really worried about fish waste or even overfeeding at all, but when i said zero water changes i really meant water changes a few times a year. the setups i do never produce any nitrates, even when i add 15ppm nitrate tap water, it's gone in a matter of days, part of the reason i don't do many water changes. i do like to do the rare water change for mineral replenishment. though the discus probably wouldn't care one way or another the snails do better when the minerals are replenished. topping off with tap helps with that as well.

as far as the detritus from the plant it's all for the good of the echo system. it will break down into ammonia, easily handled by the system, and smaller particles containing carbon, the buildup in the gravel. this will fuel the denitrification cycle taking place in a healthy deep sand bed. in my smaller tanks i don't even remove dead fish or uneaten food as it fuels the echo system, resulting in a very stable healthy environment. though with something the size of an adult discus i probably would have to rethink that, lol.

i'm just worried about the temperature. a higher temp will affect the dissolved oxygen which will affect the nitrification process, but i don't really see that being a big enough issue to cause a problem
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Old 07-02-2013, 09:56 PM   #5
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the thing that really has me worried at this point is the lighting/humidity. if insulate the tank as much as im planing i'm hoping i can keep in a lot of heat from escaping the tank, but when i've done this in the past with breeding betas there was a lot of humidity. like it would literally drip off every surface which i'm pretty sure the lights are not rated for.

has anyone out there tried sealing off and insulating a canopy before? would i really save that much heat trapping the evaporation in?
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Old 07-02-2013, 11:06 PM   #6
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this sounds good and i hope you succeed at it!!! my concerns:

rays are messy eaters and poop alot!! i had a reticula,, they are awesome to hand feed.
and the same goes for the discus depending on what you feed them.. if you them beef heart it will make a mess...

i have always wanted to do a filterless large FW tank but it is much different then doing a filterless SW tank...

anyways best of luck

btw,,, i kept swords in my discus tank and they thrived!!! never added co2 or any ferts! i used to keep my tank
between 85-88 degrees
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Old 07-02-2013, 11:37 PM   #7
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oddly enough, i learned about mud filter sumps, aka deep sand beds, from a reef guy at the aquarium store i used to work at. i had been doing the ecosystem thing for a while before that, but i didn't understand the value of the deep sand bed till i learned about reef tanks.

as far as food, that's another thing i'd like some opinions on, though i'm guessing it will be more of a trial and error experiment. i was planing on mixing tilopia, beef heart, liver, dried krill (for fiber), cyclopies (color enhancer), and spirulina (immune enhancer) into a gelatin mix that i'll cool in one large flat sheet that i'll tear up like a fruit rollup. the food will be made with discus in mind, but i'd assume a ray would be fine with mostly the same diet. i'll also have plenty of live cherry shrimp for the ray i hope.

i'm worried that my homemade food idea sounds better in theory then practice though. does beef heart even blend?
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Old 07-02-2013, 11:56 PM   #8
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yeah,, i have made my own beef heart mixture many time,,, you just dont want to liquify it. then freeze it. there are tons of recipes online for it... beef heart does make the water water messy. i also fed them black worms,, which was cool to watch because the ones that make it to the sand and hide,the discus would just puff the sand away then suck up the worm.
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Old 07-03-2013, 12:05 AM   #9
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I am by no means a discus expert, so others chime in on this...I think the hormones that discus release into the water is what can also cause them to stunt...that is one of the main reasons why folks do daily water changes with juvenile discus, amongst keeping nitrates down...
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Old 07-03-2013, 12:08 AM   #10
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oh, liquifying it and freezing it was sort of my plan. why is that bad. i was going to mix everything together then blend it to an almost liquified state then mix it with a gelatin and let it cool into gummy beef heart, then i was going to tear it into pieces and freeze it. i've only attempted this with a veggie food though, baby-food, spirulina, spinach etc. then chopped it into cubes and froze it. it worked ok aside from the fact that im very bad in the kitchen.

do you foresee problems with this method?
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Old 07-03-2013, 12:29 AM   #11
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i read somewhere a long time ago in an argument on common fish myths about whether or not the whole fish hormone thing really exists, that the hormones if they did exist where biodegradable, and as such would break down in a large enough volume of water without causing an issue. i've always kind of bought into that school of thought and never had much of an issue with stunting. i also figure that if the water volume weren't large enough for the bioload that nitrates would build up before growth hormones leading to not only a stunting problem, but health issues during development.

so ya, i've always just figured that if the bioload started to put pressure on the environment that it would show in more obvious ways before hormones or pheromones even became an issue.

i wish i actually knew what i was talking about on this subject though rather then just old secondhand knowledge and speculation. it's just really hard finding good info on this matter, so if anyone knows a good link that would be awesome.
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Old 07-03-2013, 12:55 AM   #12
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My years of discus-keeping experience tell me that the plain facts of the matter are that, genetically-speaking or otherwise, discus have been proven time & again to remain healthy & thrive when receiving large, frequent doses of fresh clean water and squeaky clean tank conditions.
Anything less than that is no recipe for success.
As for beef heart mixes, imo that should be reserved solely for discus being raised/grown out in bare-bottom tanks.
Using any type of those mixes, in any other kind of tank environment, particularly without a religious tank cleansing regime after feedings, is just asking for trouble.
Discus are not difficult to keep, so long as one follows the tried & true methods of keeping them.
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Old 07-03-2013, 01:06 AM   #13
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i agree with not being difficult,, as time passed by it seemed they were easier and easier to care for... also good clean water promotes good growth, breeding and fertilization. one of my pairs of discus blue diamond high fin,, would lay eggs everytime i did a wc,, whether or not the male was interested in fert. the eggs

all in all i hope it works out for you,,, discus can get pretty expensive and i wouldnt want to see all that work to result in stunted growth..
i had one discus that never grew larger than a silver dollar.(i had him for 3 yrs and saved him from a 10 gal tank in a LFS at the time)

as for the Bh mixture you want little bits of food for the fish to eat...
all liquid will dissolve before they get a chance to eat it

Quote:
Originally Posted by discuspaul View Post
My years of discus-keeping experience tell me that the plain facts of the matter are that, genetically-speaking or otherwise, discus have been proven time & again to remain healthy & thrive when receiving large, frequent doses of fresh clean water and squeaky clean tank conditions.
Anything less than that is no recipe for success.
As for beef heart mixes, imo that should be reserved solely for discus being raised/grown out in bare-bottom tanks.
Using any type of those mixes, in any other kind of tank environment, particularly without a religious tank cleansing regime after feedings, is just asking for trouble.
Discus are not difficult to keep, so long as one follows the tried & true methods of keeping them.
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Old 07-03-2013, 01:21 AM   #14
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if it works like the veggie batch i made before it shouldn't be liquid, it would be like dropping a gummy bear into the tank. well, not quite that gummy, but you get the idea, the veggie one i made was mostly liquid baby food and spirulina soup, but once gummifide it held up pretty well in the water. it's just a matter of getting it the right Constancy so that the fish can actually eat it.

and as far as the discus care, i can certainly do more water changes if it comes to it, but i don't really think that discus are above any rules of biology or chemistry. it will be fun to see just how independent i can make an ecosystem in this size tank. i just with i were better at carpentry so i could get past the stand/canopy construction phase and get a cycle going
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Old 07-04-2013, 11:40 AM   #15
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Hoping you journal the build! I'll be subscribed not to miss the updates! Your not the first to propose such a system yet it's still considered rebellious, (going against conventional discus management) and being such a large project I envy you.

Based on NPT methods and the tanking experiments I've done over the last several years with reduced filtration and bioload balancing to reduce maintenance I have little doubt you can achieve your goal. I have a hard time justifying water changes based on any test or visual condition on several of my older tanking systems.

Regarding the sump/refugium have you considered a Mattenfilter type sump design? They are easily setup and it works fantastic (imo). Over time I've converted three of my sumps to use a direct flow path through sponge panels to reduce CO2 losses and create moss/shrimp refugiums.
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