A recovering Reef Aquarists’ deep dive into Planted Aquariums. A Retrospective w/lots of pics - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-05-2019, 04:34 AM Thread Starter
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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.

Lighting: 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:






Filtration: 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…
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post #2 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-05-2019, 03:20 PM
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Welcome to the easy (well, easier) side!
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post #3 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-05-2019, 05:36 PM Thread Starter
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Tank Set up continued and initial plants

Fertilization Method

I already had a dosing pump and containers from the reef set up. After researching various methods I decided to go with the PPS-Pro method mainly because I did not want to do 50% water changes weekly. My routine then and now is 25% water changes weekly almost without fail. The dosing is handled by a dosing pump; on that subject, I am really surprised at how many Aquarist still dose manually with the low prices on dosing pumps these days. I picked up a dosing system for my low tech tank- 3 head dosing pump, bottles, line, and check valves for about $100 of Amazon. So NPKM modified PPS pro macros on one head, CSM +B on a second head, and the third pump head Seachem Iron. Here is that system on my low tech/Excel tank which I plan on Journaling later, so ignore the bottle marked Excel, I don’t use Excel on the tank being profiled.



Water

For water, I had choices. I have a whole house potassium water softener with a 5 ft. carbon canister in my garage and I have a RO System. I could go with San Diego tap(Unfiltered), I could go with softened, with softened and ROed, or some combination of two of the above. After having to prepare salt water for years with near zero TDS RO/DI water for my reef I was intrigued by the possibility that I could use tap water, so that’s what I started with, San Diego tap water right out of the hose; what a concept! Here’s a pic of my water container with drum pump in a closet conveniently located next to the tank stand. I filled it up twice a month and it was good for two 15 gallon water changes plus I used it to replace evaporated water with the dosing pump you see in the picture. I have since stopped using this pump, I discovered my RO water and a bucket, which was easier and I got rid of a piece of equipment to maintain.




Tank Decor

Locally I found Manzanita Direct here in San Diego County. I picked up three awesome pieces of sandblasted Burled Manzanita root and started seeing what I might do with what I had. I decided to go for a river bottom look with a slope from left to right, plants to the top on the left sloping to ground cover on the right side which made sense because the tank is in a corner. I also wanted to slope back to front if possible. I also wanted to create an overhang under the large piece for the fish, which would also serve to better facilitate flow throughout the tank.




When I decided on the pieces and arrangement I laid them out on an eggcrate and irrigation grate base. The main piece was large and I wanted to make sure I was going to have room in back for plants. This was after I had boiled both pieces in a 15 gallon pot probably 8 times each. When I had the layout the way I wanted I zip tied the wood to the base and put the whole assembly in the tank.






Here’s the tank a few hours after filling. For the substrate I went with a mix of Flourite Black, Flourite Dark, and Flourite black sand. Notice that the tank is pretty clear, contrary to the bad rap Flourite gets for being dusty, I didn’t have that experience. I took my time rinsing with 5 gallon paint filter mesh, a few buckets of water, and a hose. I initially thought I might use more river rock I collected from the open space near my house; these rocks are ubiquitous in San Diego County. I didn’t end up using much of it as you’ll see, and I threw them in there to see how they looked underwater. I liked the fact that I was using wood that came out of the ground 15 miles away and rock from my neighborhood.



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post #4 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-05-2019, 05:59 PM Thread Starter
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The Initial Planting

I headed down to the LFS for my first batch of plants. I planned on planting heavily and ending up spending about $200. I pretty much went with the plant recommendations from the store. Here's what it looked like after the initial planting; your typical Swords, Anubius, Crypts, and Java Fern, and some carpeting plants just to see if they would grow. Please excuse the lousy pictures, I didnt know what I was doing back then and they do get better. You can see the Tunze powerhead on the left back wall just below the overflow. The item in the top right corner is a magnet cleaner.



Side view:

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post #5 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-05-2019, 07:00 PM Thread Starter
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Pics after three weeks and eight weeks later

The pics above were taken on 2/27/18. next two pics taken 3/16/18 after three weeks:






And on 4/20/18 almost two months later, I was pleased at the way it was looking, however I was starting to see Black Beard Algae and questioned whether I should move away from tap water. I did have the lighting turned up to 100% from day one thinking I needed it; I started to ramp that down to help with the BBA. I was two months in and I was still trying to get the lighting and CO2 dialed in; you can see my notes on things to do. I had also removed some wood branches and stocked the tank with fish, mostly guppies at first:




Last edited by mboley; 12-05-2019 at 07:11 PM. Reason: improvement
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post #6 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-06-2019, 01:45 AM
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That looks awesome, welcome to the dark side......er green I mean lol
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post #7 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-06-2019, 02:46 AM
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Fantastic overview of your tank. Looking forward to seeing where you take this with all the reef experience!
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post #8 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-06-2019, 03:25 AM
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Great start to the TJ, and glad to hear about a former reefer. You'll have fun with planted tanks, I find it much more relaxing and less complex. I was a former reefer, 1988-1991 time frame, back in the Albert Thiel days. I find it hard to believe I was able to have a functioning tank considering we had no internet to communicate with others and to share ideas. I definitely do not miss the salt creep!

Looking forward to see what your journal brings.
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Last edited by Ken Keating1; 12-07-2019 at 05:53 PM. Reason: Removed duplicate paragraph
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post #9 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-07-2019, 05:00 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Keating1 View Post
Great start to the TJ, and glad to hear about a former reefer. You'll have fun with planted tanks, I find it much more relaxing and less complex. I was a former reefer, 1988-1991 time frame, back in the Albert Thiel days. I find it hard to believe I was able to have al tank considering we had no internet to communicate with others and to share ideas.
Thanks Ken, funny you mentioned Albert Theil, I bought some 400 watt Metal Halides from him and subsequently he gave me advice a few times. Scripps Institute of Oceanography here in San Diego also had classes in the mid 90's, I remember being shocked when told we didnt need bio balls, that the live rock was the Bio media.

I am 20 months in now and I agree that planted tanks are much more relaxing, but not necessarily easier. I like how dynamic planted tanks are compared to a reef, meaning the growth of plants versus corals. The time to establish a nice tank is instant gratification compared to a reef and I like the fact that I can change the entire look with $200, which I did on this tank later on. This tank is now mostly stems, which I'll get to.
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post #10 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-07-2019, 05:56 PM
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This tank is now mostly stems, which I'll get to.
Well you got my attention now!

Over the past few years we have had a good number of former reefers start journals here.

Always interesting to me how they compare/contrast reefing to planted.

Looking forward to seeing how this tank developed and where it's at now.

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post #11 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-07-2019, 06:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Greggz View Post
Well you got my attention now!

Over the past few years we have had a good number of former reefers start journals here.

Always interesting to me how they compare/contrast reefing to planted.

Looking forward to seeing how this tank developed and where it's at now.

Subscribed!
I found it, so far, to be more rewarding for the effort. The effort I've put into my first planted tank has bore fruits my first several forays into reef tanks just never did. You can do absolutely everything right in a reef tank and in a matter of hours, sometimes for seemingly no reason at all, it all goes to hell. Recovery takes forever, and you hemorrhage cash doing it.

With this planted tank, things are more stable, easier to maintain and changes can be made to have quick and dramatic results. I have plants growing like weeds, fish spawning, shrimp doing great. It's nice to be rewarded for the effort.

In any case, nice tank @mboley! Nice to see another member running a sump
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post #12 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-07-2019, 08:17 PM Thread Starter
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On 6-11, 3.5 months from set-up, and again , excuse the reflections,:






These next pics were taken 8/5/2018, just 1.5 months later, 5 months after start and you can see the plants have taken off. Good growth but still dealing with BBA. At this point lights running at about 80% power and I keep increasing CO2, along with using Peroxide and or Excel for spot treating. I removed most of the Ludwigia from the back left corner, it was just growing too fast and crowding. I improved my water quality also but still was going the easy route; my water was now 50% San Diego tap and 50% softened/ and carbon filtered from the whole house potassium water softener.

Notice the lack of equipment in the tank, only the two locline nozzles and a magnet cleaner are visable. Of course the mag cleaner doesn't need to be there.



This next pic shows the growth of the monte carlo, sorry for the sideways picture. I couldn't get it to post correctly for some reason.








Here's a pic showing the entrance to the overhang below the large wood piece, its behind the Anubius roots. Propping up the large wood pieces to create overhangs is definitely a practice carried over from reefing, the fish like it and I would think the improvement in circulation throughout the tank as a result benefits a planted tank too, as it does in a reef. The Tiger lotus has taken off. Also notice the Flourite mix of the Black and Dark products; its looks more natural to me than a lot of the others Imo.



At this point five months in I am satisfied with how my aquascape is looking and wishing I had a larger tank...or a second one, which I now do, to be continued.
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post #13 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-11-2019, 11:22 PM Thread Starter
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More Tank Pics showing growth

Continued. Here are pics from 10-1, 11-28, and 1-18,

10-1-18







11-28-18.
In this pic I replaced the Tunze Powerhead that was located in the lower left corner with a Hydor nano pump on the upper left side. The Tunze was taking up room in the back left corner that I could plant. I'm ten months in and feel like I'm getting the hang of it. Finally cranked up my CO2 enough and turned down the light intensity to 65% and stopped the BBA from showing up. Took out the Ludwigia that was in the back corner. For some reason the large Sword on the left and also the one in the right back corner have stopped growing as fast.




1-18-2019.
You can see I tried some stems on the left. This is the last picture I took before I made a change to T-5 lighting and stem plants in May 2019. Hang with me, I have since learned how to take pictures so they get better. I had been reading about and looking at lots of pics of Dutch style tanks and loved the color and plant assortment; these were the closest thing to a reef tank in the planted tank world and I was ready to try it. At the same time I set up another tank within a room in my garage that I will profile in a separate Tank Journal.


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post #14 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-11-2019, 11:58 PM Thread Starter
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In mid May 2019 I changed my lighting to a four bulb T5ho Hydroponic fixture with individual reflectors and two circuits, one for the middle two bulbs and the other for the end bulbs. Here was my initial bulb configuration: Trulumen and ZooMed Flora, ATI Purple, and Geismann Tropic






And here is my first planting effort at mostly stems:






I left the pygmy chain sword and a red sword in the lower left hand corner from the old tank, also the red A. reineckii on the the right stayed from the old tank. The main wood piece is out of place in a Stem tank and it does take up alot of space but I like it so much I was going to leave it and find a plant I could attach to it; as you can see I tried some Buce Plant and some Hygro Pinnatifida. The T5's have been running for about three weeks now. Ive adjusted my dosing up and looking forward to tank filling in.
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post #15 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-12-2019, 12:04 AM
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This is a great story so far.

Like a good book, looking forward to the next chapter.
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