I set up my first planted tank 20 months ago after taking down my latest reef tank in frustration. I had bought an expensive coral to put the finishing touch on a 50 gallon tank that was doing well. Unfortunately that coral apparently had a pathogen that killed 75% of the corals in the tank within a few months. My first aquarium was a saltwater fish tank back in 1995; I was hooked, by 1998 I had two full blown reef aquariums, a six foot 135 and an eight foot 240 gallon and dozens of corals (they were much cheaper then). I spared no expence, I had nine metal halides and VHOs burning, two chillers running, all the latest equipment, and the electricity bill along with it. I was addicted, I even set up a tank at work, twice! A few systems later, now I was ready to throw in the towel.
I was telling the owner of my local LFS that I was giving up the reef and he suggested I should try a planted aquarium, after all, I had nearly all the equipment already; all I needed was new lighting, CO2 equipment, substrate and livestock. He showed me the planted tanks in his shop that I somehow had not noticed( they weren't that great in hindsight) and suggested I take a look at this website and do some research, so I did.
I was blown away; I never realized what could be achieved with freshwater plants and fish. I saw tanks that looked as colorful as reef tanks and loved the look nature style aquariums so I decided to convert my reef to a planted tank. I decided on a Nature style aquarium because it seemed the way to go for a first planted aquarium. The dimensions of my tank were not ideal but since it is built into a corner of the dining room with the cabinet matching those in my kitchen I was going to use it. Here is it ready for its life as a freshwater planted aquarium.
Using my reef set-up with a sump and some of the same equipment was probably overkill for a Nature style set up, but hey, I had the equipment and I was going to use it.
Equipment and Set Up
Tank and sump:
Custom sized standard black framed 55 gallon glass tank with inside dimensions 28.5”L x 19”D x 24”H with a 23” x 14” x 17” sump. I like my tanks at eye level so the stand is 45” high. Overflow is a small 1.75" x 5"unit mounted on the (inside) side of the tank; that way I could get the back of the tank closer to the wall. See next pic, upper left hand corner.
Return Pump from the Sump:
Waveline 4000 variable speed circulation pump. With my initial set up I had a lot going on with the return from sump to tank. The water return to the tank flowed though a UV Sterilizer first, then through the Griggs reactor and finally to the tank. Note crossing black 1” lines in the pic above.
I went with two 24” Current USA Planted Pro plus fixtures. I needed two fixtures to light the whole tank and get sufficient light to the substrate. I liked the bracket mounting system Current had, which allowed me to mount the brackets on the wall behind the tank and completely hide the lights behind the 4” wood rim I have on top. Wood rim not shown here.
CO2 and Controller
: GLA regulator and DIY Griggs reactor initially 24” long. I later extended the length to 30”. CO2 controlled with Neptune Apex Controller.
In-Tank Circulation Pumps:
I first tried a Tunze 6040 variable speed powerhead pointed across the back at various heights, I later replaced that with a Hydor nano pump mounted in the upper front corner in a continuing quest to find the right flow. I really wanted to get rid of the in-tank powerhead because my goal was minimize equipment in the tank.
To do that I took the UV Sterilizer out of the return pump loop; I couldn’t run the return pump at the speed necessary to get good enough in-tank flow AND proper sterilization at the same time. Putting the Sterilizer on its own pump allowed me to run the Waveline return pump at a speed that made the in-tank powerhead unnecessary; I also gained the benefit of lower flow through the UV. The increased flow from the return pump then required me to extend my Griggs Reactor to reduce the new bubbles getting to the tank, my aim was 100% dissolution. Here’s my Control Panel and initial sump set up:
For Bio in the sump are Poret foam pads and three large net bags of Hydroton and Seachem Matrix. Mechanical filtration initially was a 100 micron filter sock receiving the water from the tank. In addition I had a powerhead pushing water through a 30 micron pleated filter cartridge and then to a spray bar under the bio media in order to get better circulation through that media. However I found the 30 micron filter clogged too quickly, so I switched to a Tunze in-tank filter stuffed with floss and 25 micron pads. Here’s a pic of the in-sump Tunze filter/under-bio-media spray bar set up:
To reduce the degassing of CO2 happening because of the sump I came up with this modification of the filter sock set up instead of attempting to cover the sump, which I read about but didn’t seem practical to me.
Turns out a 7” Pyrex lid fits a 7” rimmed filter sock perfectly. The PVC elbow with a reducer fitting and a course piece of foam in the pipe also helps slow the water and catch bubbles. Also I insert some plastic mesh material in the reducer fitting. After a year and a half of use by all indications this set-up works well; it achieves two goals- quieting the water fall from the tank and keeping Co2 contained (% containment??) in the sock/lid set up, reducing off-gassing. I have since switched to 25 micron poly filter socks from 100 micron felt socks; the first time I cleaned out the sump and Bio media showed me I needed to do that. Lots of detritus was getting through the 100 micron sock.
Note that the mechanical filtration is easily accessable and fits in a 14 x 15 x 17H section of the sump it shares with LOTS of Bio media- three full size pieces of Poret foam and at least 1.5 gallons of Hydroton and Matrix. That’s the advantage of having a sump, easy access and lots of room, along with increased water volume, and minimal equipment in the tank.
I’ve been planning on getting to a Tank Journal for over a year now. I'll post again with more tomorrow. To be continued…