Let me begin by saying that I would never have attempted this project if this forum did not exist. I have been reading threads and combing the archives on and off for nearly two years. This forum is a tremendous resource, and it is all because of the time, thought and consideration that you all have put into your threads and your responses to questions.
With that said, please feel free to comment on any aspect of this thread. I have read through many journal threads on this forum and the most informative ones always have a lot of great feedback from forum members. I have a thick skin and am accustom to critical feedback, so don't hold back!
As I begin this journal, I am about five days out from "starting" this aquarium. By "starting", I mean adding the substrate and stones, and then beginning the aqua-scaping process. Once that is finished, I will add the plants and begin a dry start for about two months unless I have to flood sooner due to mold.
So right now, no photos to look at. Sorry! I know that the first thing I look for in these journal threads are the tank photos. Trust me, I will post lots of photos, but right now I am still in the final planning stages.
Background and Introduction:
I have about 20 years of experience keeping saltwater fish and reef aquariums, so I'm not new to the aquarium hobby, although I have never attempted a freshwater planted aquarium. I gave my last reef aquarium away nearly 10 years ago, shortly after my son was born. At that point in my life, I had essentially negative free-time to pursue hobbies. Fast forward ten years and my son is asking for an aquarium for Christmas. Unbeknownst to him, I have been planning to start a fresh water planted tank for nearly two years, and during that time I have been slowly acquiring all of the gear I need to get things started.
I am using a CPR Life Tank version 4 (aka CPR LT4), a 24 gallon acrylic tank. You can see photos of this tank here
. Unless you have experience with saltwater aquariums, you are probably not familiar with CPR. Just over 20 years ago, CPR Aquatics introduced the BakPak, a HOB protein skimmer that actually did a really good job removing organics from the water column. Back in the day, it seemed like everyone had a CPR BakPak on their saltwater fish and/or reef aquariums. The CPR LT4 is an acrylic tank with a built-in overflow into a rear filter area that contains CPR BakPak skimmer/filter. Although this tank was intended for saltwater enthusiasts, I think it will serve well for a freshwater planted tank. Below are my primary reasons for using the CPR LT4 in this project:
1.) The overflow into the rear filter area is essentially a surface skimmer that is very effective at preventing the build up of an organic "scum" layer at the water/air interface. Not only is this scum layer unsightly, it can hinder good water/air exchange, especially at night when the oxygen demands of the aquarium increase.
2.) Protein skimmers are designed to maximize the surface area of bubbles and the resident time of those bubbles in the water column of the skimmer. Although protein skimming is not of use in freshwater aquariums, the skimming chamber can be used as a CO2 reactor by injecting CO2 into the Venturi inlet on the power head. I think that this will be far more effective than any of the static diffusers, and probably comparable to the various CO2 reactors on the market.
3.) The rear filter area is not visible from the front of the aquarium. Therefore, additional equipment such as heaters, aerators, etc... are hidden from view. The result is a pristine display tank that is free from unsightly heaters, powerbeads, wires, etc....
4.) I already own a new CPR LT4 tank. It has been sitting in my basement for years, just waiting to be used for something.
The CPR LT4 is a bit of a throw back to the days when hiding your tubing, equipment and accessories was considered to be aesthetically pleasing. However, today's modern rimless tanks with their glass inflow and outflow piping have their own kind of beauty to them that I greatly appreciate. I'm guessing that if this project is successful with the CPR LT4 tank, my next project will be based on a rimless glass tank. But for now, we are going with what we know and what we have.
The CPR LT4 came with a canopy/hood with two 55 W compact fluorescent bulbs, or ~110 W total fluorescent lighting capability. I was originally going to use the OEM lighting, but quite frankly the newer LED lights now available seem like a much better option.
In the 10 years I have been away from this hobby, the lighting technology has changed A LOT! I admit to being more than a bit overwhelmed when researching this topic. For you newbies to the hobby, I hope you appreciate what a huge improvement the newer LED technology is over the old fluorescent or metal halide lighting systems.
After reading tons of reviews on this forum and elsewhere on the web, I decided to go with two Nicrew ClassicLED Plus fixtures (20"-24" size). I also purchased a digital ramp timer for each fixture. These fixtures fit underneath my canopy/hood nicely, and having two separate lights on two separate ramp timers gives me a lot of flexibility and hopefully A LOT of light without needing to run either fixture at 100%. I also plan to install a cooling fan into the canopy to prevent the LEDs from overheating.
My intent is to stagger the lighting by about 3 hours, so that each light is on for about 7 hours, but both lights are only on at the same time for about 3 hours, with a total photo period of ~10 hours. I will probably limit the lights to about 75% at maximum illumination. Obviously, I will be playing with this quite a bit.
From what I have read, it seems like you can't go wrong with ADA Aqua Soil, so that's what I will be using. Plan on the soil depth to range from 2" to 4".
Aquascape and Plants:
This is my first planted tank, so I want to keep things relatively simple. Actually, I need to correct myself because this is technically my son's aquarium, not mine. The two of us perused the internet looking at different types of aquaecapes. He wants to try an Iwagumi style with a bonsai tree, so that is what we are going to attempt. I have some nice pieces of seiryu stone and a small driftwood bonsai skeleton. I plan to use Christmas moss on the bonsai skeleton, baby dwarf tears (Hemianthus Callitricoides) for most of the carpet, and java moss on some of the stones and underneath the bonsai where light is a bit lower.
Dry start method. I bought a CO2 meter and am planning to do CO2 dosing during the dry start, with goal of achieving 1000-1500 ppm CO2 at the substrate surface. More details later as I figure it out.
Water Parameters, Fertilizer, etc...
Water source will be tap. I live in the Boston area and we have relatively soft water here, so I will likely need to boost the hardness. I intend to follow the EI method for fertilizer dosing. I will be measuring my tap water and playing with additives during the dry start period.
I have a GLA CO2 system that came with a pH controller. I plan to figure out how this system works while the dry start does its thing. I do have a drop checker, but have read a lot of mixed reviews on their effectiveness.
That is pretty much it for now. No need to post a response unless you have any questions or see something really wrong with my plan. I will definitely be posting photos after we actually start the project.