First large tank, first planted tank - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-09-2017, 06:25 PM Thread Starter
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First large tank, first planted tank

I started with aquaponics to support bees. Following an article at Honey bee water garden I put a mosquitofish, a nerite snail, and some azolla into a 10-gallon tank and left it outside, near my hives. The azolla was meant to cover the surface and provide a nice landing spot for bees to drink. The fish would eat those pesky mosquito larvae, and the snail would eat the fish poop and make fertilizer, or so that article states. Thanks to this site and others like it, I now know that the plants will happily take up ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, and the snail eats algae and rotted food, not poop.

I actually got this aquarium going pretty well eventually, though I didn't have enough light for azolla and had to switch to duckweed for the surface cover. It also typically has green water. Both the snail and fish have been fine outside for months now, though, and the snail got much bigger. I will bring the tank in as the weather gets cooler, though, since neither bees nor mosquitos will be very active anyway. That little system is not what this post is about, though.

I've got a 55-gallon aquarium (48 x 13 x 21 tall). I plan to mineralize some potting soil and cap with black sand. I bought Flourish for the water column, and my tap water is pretty soft. I ordered a Yescom 48" Multi-Color 156 LED. I think this will provide "moderate" levels of light. I will probably get a SunSun Hw304B canister filter ("pro" kit with filter media included) on Amazon for $72. I'm leaning toward the 25-foot Aqueon water changer kit for $25.

*Master Plan*

Water Wisteria
Java Fern
Java Moss
Amazon Sword
Cryptocoryne Wendtii Brown
Scarlet Temple
Cardinal plant
Golden Creeping Jenny
Creeping Mint Charlie

5 skirt tetras (idealy one each of: black long-fin, white long-fin, green long-fin GloFish, purple Glofish, and blue GloFish)
4 angelfish
5-6 Corydoras (probably C. Sterbai)

Many Malaysian Trumpet Snails
Many Red Cherry Shrimp
A few nerite snails

Substrate details:
I'll use "raised bed mix" potting soil I got from Saint Louis Composting for a planter project, soak with water and dry on a tarp 3-4 times, and then try to eyeball 5-10% of powdered red clay ("RedArt" brand with 7% iron) from Krueger's pottery store. I plan to put about an inch of that mix at the bottom, with an inch of black blasting sand from Menards to cap it.

I'm hoping that if the tetras have a big enough school, they won't nip at the angelfish. I expect some of the RCS will be eaten, but I plan to keep a breeder colony and add them to the big tank when they get large enough. I'm hoping the MTS will stir the substrate.

I inherited the 55-gallon tank, along with a few old things like two Whisper 10i filters (and a charcoal kit so both have fresh filter inserts), some aquarium decor, and a 50 watt heater. I also have my outdoor tiny aquaponics tank. So far, I just have a bunch of plants and a few snails, plus the one mosquitofish. Long-term, I knew I wanted to have a shrimp breeding tank, and to keep one tank available and empty, so I bought two additional 10-gallon aquariums.

I filled one with water, conditioned it, and set up a Whisper 10i filter, a 50 Watt heater, and an air pump running. I brought in some of the more porous materials from my outside tank, hoping to kick-start the bacteria colony. I also put in a bunch of aquarium pebbles. Some of them are sitting in a fry isolation box on top of the air outlet, which is under the filter's intake. A little heat and oxygen promotes faster bacterial growth. It has about 3 ppm ammonia, from using 25 drops of Ace Janitor-strength ammonia. That was added two days ago when I started the cycle.

The other new 10-gallon tank is a dirt tank test-bed. I did not mineralize the soil, but I did rinse it and the play sand that caps it. The gas buildup from non-mineralized soil usually takes 3-4 months, based on forum posts I've read. It's got some Water Wisteria planted and some free-floating, and the Java ferns are rubber-banded to a flat rock sitting on the sand. Java moss is mostly clumped up, but a few strands float free. There is also a little duckweed on the surface. Two nerite snails and several small MTS are in there as well. This tank has a 35W (actual usage) LED grow light on it for 15 hours a day, and I just this morning poked a CO2 line into a sponge filter to make a poor quality CO2 diffuser. I added a few drops of Flourish as well. I raised the ammonia to 0.5 ppm in this tank with just a couple drops, and I'm curious how quickly it will get used. This tank also has a Whisper 10i running, but I don't have the bio-filter brush-looking insert for it.

My first fish purchase will likely be the tetras, once I get a good colony of nitrifying bacteria going. I will keep them in a 10-gallon until the 55-gallon is prepared, which might take about a month, depending on how quickly the soil mineralizing goes. In the meantime, I'm trying to grow out the plants and bacteria in preparation.
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post #2 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-09-2017, 06:49 PM
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I have a few thoughts.

1.) If you use mineralized topsoil, you more than likely won’t need to dose with Flourish (comprehensive I’m assuming). However, if you are also going to add Malaysian Trumpet Snails, you’re going to have a muddy mess on your hands. The sand cap is meant to contain the topsoil, but MTS will sift and turn the soil as they move. You’ll never be able to keep the soil truly “capped” with critters crawling in and out of it all the time.

2.) Fish won’t school with each other simply because they’re close to the same species. They need to be the same species in order to school together. Stop trying for a Noah’s Ark tank (Two of everything), and pick one tetra. You’re right that they may not fin-nip if they’re in a larger group, but 5 isn’t hardly a large group. You’ll need more like 10-12 for them to show true schooling behavior and pick on each other and not the angels.

3.) Red Cherry shrimp and Angelfish don’t go together at all. My angel used to eat adult Amano shrimp that barely fit in his mouth. You would need either a MASSIVE breeding colony or a very densely planted tank to keep RCS with Angels.

If you ever think you're too small to make a difference, spend a couple of nights sleeping with a mosquito.

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post #3 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-10-2017, 05:01 AM Thread Starter
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I appreciate your comment. I am a bit confused by the warning about MTS, though. I have seen several recommendations of MTS in a dirted tank as a way to prevent buildup of hydrogen sulfide as the substrate rots. I haven't seen discussion of it turning the sand cap to mud. I vaguely remember reading the snails only go down as far as the oxygen can go, and the don't really go into the soil much. Does it only get muddy if there is a big outbreak of them in a tank or something? Would a thicker sand cap help?

All of the tetra color variations I listed are indeed the same species: Gymnocorymbus ternetzi. I have read that GloFish tetras will school with skirt tetras. I agree it's small for a school, but I will probably increase numbers in the future. There's a gold natural (or at least non-GloFish) variation also. I was aiming for Skittles rather than Noah. : )

As the tank starts, the angels will be small. I do plan to try to make a large RCS colony in the 10-gallon breeder tank, and I'm aiming for a well-planted tank (eventually), but if it turns out I can't keep RCS in the big tank and they have to stay in their breeder tank, I'll get over it. I could probably also find a way to make a little area in the 55-gallon tank accessible to shrimp only.
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post #4 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-10-2017, 01:21 PM
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Everytime the snails move through the substrate some dirt will make it through the cap. Additionally everytime the soil burps up some gas some dirt will come with it. A little dirt goes a very long way. It will eventually settle though. Just know that eventually the black sand will mix with the dirt and everytime you move a plant or disturb the soil it will make a huge mess. Been there done that... soil grows plants incredibly well.. If I was good enough to know where i wanted everything from the start and could keep my hands out.. and didn't worry about future planting.... or fish pulling up or disturbing plants.. and any number of things I would use dirt again... It grows plants very well... but it is messy. As long as you have a solid colony of RCS and dense planting you'll be fine with a colony in that tank... but they will hide constantly. Out of a col only of 50 or so in my 75 I would see maybe 4 - 5 at a time.
Can't help you with the tetras... in a 55 I would not put them with Angels... tank isn't big enough.... can't have a big enough school... and once the Angels pair off you will only be able to house 1 pair in there...(angels)
May I suggest 1 hand picked Angel from a breeder (Pinoy Ghosts are gorgeous) and then another less nippy tetra?? Or perhaps Rainbows?? There are alot of options to choose from which don't violate very well accepted standards of care.
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post #5 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-10-2017, 06:31 PM Thread Starter
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I see. The dirt substrate is the part of this experiment I have the least understanding about, which also makes it a really exciting part. If it does turn out to be a mess, I could just put some more sand cap on top, maybe, or I could even take it all out and start over. Even heavily rooted plants should be OK in pots, if I someday decide to abandon the full dirt substrate idea. I've got some options.

As best I can tell, the common wisdom on skirt tetras is that 5-6 is a minimum school, and they should go in a minimum 15-20 gallon tank. For the angelfish, it probably does make sense to remove all but the pair when they pair up. I might have some interest in trying to get them to spawn at some point. I'm not sure what part of my plan is violating "well accepted standards of care", though.
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post #6 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-18-2017, 11:38 PM Thread Starter
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I purchased a SunSun 304b canister filter. I don't intend to use the UV light at all. I ordered the pro pack so it came with some filter pads, ceramic rings, plastic bio-balls, and charcoal. I found an article showing that plastic dish scrubby pads have more surface area per cubic foot than most filter materials, so I cleared out a Dollar General (6 pads for $1) and a Dollar Tree (4 pads for $1), and now I have about 100 of these pads. I probably wouldn't have bought the one with filter material included if I'd seen this first. I now have the bottom (first) tray full of foam filter pads, the next up has a few ceramic beads and some scrubby pads, and the top two trays are packed with scrubby pads (~23 each tray)

Surface area comparison:

I also read a bit more about mineralizing soil. Some folks are claiming that you can take care of most of the mineralizing process by boiling the soil, though it makes the house smell bad. They do note that it kills off all of the bacteria which may survive in the soak-and-dry method. Since I've been waiting nearly a week for my soil to dry the first time, and then it rained, not to mention that I'm impatient, I boiled some soil last night. If I understand correctly, the plants will bring along some bacteria to the newly sterilized soil. Each batch was about a gallon and a half of soil, and I let each one boil for a little over 20 minutes before scooping it onto some paper towels over a cookie cooling rack, to serve as a sieve.

I emptied my big tank and put an inch of this, mixed with a little red pottery clay, at the bottom of the tank. I then rinsed some black blasting sand from Menards and put about an inch of that over it as a cap. I added the little shrimp home I fashioned out of "plastic canvas" (for cross stitch with yarn) and fishing line. I've got some Java Moss started on the top of that. Soon, I'll get more plants moved into the new mineralized substrate.

I had been cycling water in a 10-gallon tank, trying to build up bacteria. I had it running such that I dosed up to about 2.5 ppm ammonia, and it would be 0 the next day. I did this a few times and then looked at nitrites, which were off the scale. I worried I would stall growth of the colony, so I did a water change. For whatever reason, I was feeling stingy and only put in enough drops to treat for chlorine, not chloramines. I did my water change and dosed a little ammonia. A day later, the ammonia was still there. : (

Now that the big tank is mostly ready, I'm going to move most of my plants in there and dose CO2 and double-dose Flourish, while also adding some ammonia to get bacteria growing in my scrubby pads in the filter. The smaller tank will hold some lower light stuff and snails until I've got the big tank cycled and I'm ready to dial back the CO2 and fertilizer a bit.
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