I've been out of the hobby for over 10 years and decided fish would be a better alternative to another dog for the time being. The last time I had an aquarium was right after college, and I had a low tech 55 gallon saltwater aquarium. I kept some pretty expensive fish in there, and tried to grow out a couple zoanthids to no avail, but it was a learning experience. In the end I think my only survivors were a snowflake eel and radiata lionfish that I gave away when I sold the tank. A few years prior while in college I played around with a planted community discus tank, but looking back I really didn't know what I was getting myself into and the plants and discus I tried to keep, well they died. My rams, loaches, plecos, and corys all did just fine though. Since that time I have discovered forums and pretty much spend all my internet time learning everything there is to know about a particular interest. In addition to fish keeping I also enjoy competitive shooting, archery, kayak fishing, cooking, backpacking, skiing, and tinkering with my truck.
Enough about me, on to the project.
I saw an ad on craigslist for german blue rams that caught my eye and decided to go on this journey again. That immediately had me looking around for a new (used) tank, and since I'm finally in a permanent location with lots of space I thought a 125 gallon would be a good starter. My dream is to convert our current laundry room into a 500+ gallon built-in and move the laundry to an unused closet near our bedroom, but that ain't going to happen any time soon. I've got enough projects around the house as it is. Anyway, I found one close by that came with a stand, Beamswork EA, a couple large Penn Plax canister filters, and some other misc stuff. We agreed on $450 for it all (probably overpaid slightly), but what's done is done. That was about a month ago, and since then I've been refinishing the stand, built a custom hood, drilled the tank (more on that later), frosted the glass, and been collecting free hardscape and other supplies for the build. After some research I realized the Beamswork EA probably wasn't going to do the job in terms of growing much, so I've purchased a DA FSPEC to go with it. I ended up taking the last 18 rams from that craigslist ad, and to keep them temporarily I convinced my wife I also needed a 29 gallon quarantine tank to house them. So, that is what I'm working with at this time.
For filtration, the original plan was to only use the canisters and hang over the side equipment it came with, but I can't leave anything as-is so I decided to drill. The cleanest setup I could think of was a single intake and single outflow with manifolds in the tank stand to connect both filters. Later I decided I wanted to convert the 29 gallon quarantine tank into a sump at some point, so I've drilled another two holes for that loop. Below is my current filtration plan:
I realize having both a sump and canister filtration loop is completely overkill, but the sump will not be operational for quite some time and it's not really possible to drill that after the fact. When the sump loop is up and running, I may delete the canister loop and replace with a transfer pump, but I figure having the option to add/remove chemical media or whatever else in the canister loop could be a nice feature. It also allows either system to fail and still maintain filtration/heating. On the canister loop I have my water change setup and after measuring it last night it's closer to a 42% water change based on total tank volume. After adding all the hardscape I plan on using and having the bulk of the water volume higher up, that figure may be closer to 50% than the stated 30%. Basically for a water change I'll shut down the canister filters and close both intake and outflow valves on the canisters. Then open the ball valve on the intake manifold that drains into a 1" barbed fitting. I can run a 1" hose straight into the kitchen sink and drain 40-50% of the display tank water. For filling, I have a 60 gallon barrel on a wheeled cart that I'm mixing RO and well water directly in to, then heat/age prior to a water change. I'm using RO water for now since my well is slightly hard with plans to slowly acclimate my stock to using only well water. GH and KH straight from the tap are around 7 degrees with the pH at 7.4, but after aeration the pH jumps up to almost 8. In the 29 gallon I have setup with the rams right now I've been experimenting with different ways to lower the pH, but in the end I just decided to buy a RO filter and mix with my well water. I did have some luck with peat lowering the pH, but given I'm planning to keep discus I wanted to be precise. Once I get the big tank setup I'll experiment some more and figure out what works before I order any discus. My end goal is to keep GH and KH around 3 degrees with a pH around 7-7.6, but if I can maintain the pH around 7.4-7.6 with either peat or CO2 then I'm not too concerned with the hardness.
Here's a pic of the canister manifolds:
Since I'm stuck with cansiter filtration only right now, I decided to invest in an inline heater of which there are only a few options. I bought the Hydor 300w despite the mixed reviews and I'm hoping for the best until the sump is setup. I do plan on using a temperature controller as a fail safe for the Hydor, and eventually to synchronize with the sump heater. I'm still undecided on CO2, but if I do I'm going to run an inline diffuser on the sump loop. I think adding CO2 will get me off of RO water and help the plants, so it would be a win/win. Finishing up talking about filtration I think my sump setup is pretty standard stuff. In the diagram I have the first chamber for a filter sock and heater leading through a couple bulkheads with mechanical filtration, the second chamber will be submerged bio media however I might change that to a planted refugium, the third chamber will be wet/dry bio and I might move the submerged bio media below that, with the final chamber the return pump.
Tank stand and canopy painted and ready:
This is a planted tank forum I guess I'll talk about my plants. In terms of the type of scape I'm shooting for I guess it would be a nature style. I scavenged a huge hardwood stump that is going to be the primary focal point. On that stump I'm going to drill numerous pockets for anubias and probably have some mosses draped about. I've also been picking up tons of large and small rock from a small creek that I plan on creating a sort of river bed scene with. The larger rocks will fill one side of the aquarium creating some height, then I'll use the smaller rocks for the river bed. On the high portions I'm considering hairgrass or something low level, then on the lower levels I want a few swords or ludwigia. This will not be a densely planted tank as I want to keep the maintenance easy to maintain high water quality conditions for the discus. The discus are #1 priority over the plants and other livestock. In addition to 6-8 discus, I plan to keep the german ram crew I've already got in the sump tank, L144 blue eyed long finned plecos, large shoal of cardinals or rasboras, kuhli loaches or come kind of cory, and maybe a few dwarf agassizii flame red cichlids. I've been going back and forth between discus and platinum angelfish, but in the end I just want discus despite their reputation and additional care requirements. The discus supplier I'm likely going with is Discus Madness in NJ, and I'm thinking of 1/2 blue diamonds or cobalts, and 1/2 red pigeons or marlboro reds. I definitely don't want the rainbow discus tank.
Here is a pic of the stump in-place:
All the holes are drilled at this point and I'm waiting on some parts to complete the sump overflow and sump return nozzle. Frosted window treatment on the back is done, huge pain in the ass. Getting real close to moving into it's final resting place! Tonight I'm going to mount the lights into the canopy and maybe start working on the sump baffles. Given the size of the sump tank I have to have it in-place prior to setting the tank, so it might take me a few more weeks to actually kick on the pumps.