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post #1 of 11 (permalink) Old 08-10-2017, 10:04 PM Thread Starter
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Transitioning to a Planted Tank

Hi there, I'm a new member and fairly new to aquariums as well and hoping I can find some help. We have a 5 gallon Fluval Chi Model 2 tank in our office that our previous admin assistant was in charge of. We haven't had much luck with our fish in there though, our LFS has been recommending guppies and we have lost them all. The admin assistant has left the company and now the aquarium is my job, and I'm really hoping to do better! I'm thinking our main problems were 1) too many and too large of fish, and 2) lack of live plants to help keep the ecosystem balanced.

I've been doing A LOT of research over the past two weeks, but it seems for every site I find that says do it one way, there's another contradicting it.

So here's where I am...

I have some rocks and small pieces of driftwood on the way to hardscape and create hiding places for the fish, which is something we did not have previously and I think also could have effected our fishies' happiness and longevity. I also have this assortment of plants coming next week (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...?ie=UTF8&psc=1). I plan to get the plants going for a week or two before introducing new fish, and I'm leaning towards a small school (5-6) of either neon tetras, cardinal tetras, or galaxy rasboras. Our snail is still living in the tank, which currently has a plain gravel substrate.

So, I'm looking for advice on which substrate to get for the transition to the planted tank. I think I've settled on CaribSea Eco-Complete or Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum. I'm leaning more towards the Fluval because eventually I'd like to get a couple shrimp, having read that in a 5 gallon nano tank with 5-6 nano schooling fish it's ok to get a few shrimp as well.

Any tips on which of these substrates would be better? I've read that either comes packed with nutrients so it's all you need (other than light and CO2) but I've also read no, these are both inert and you still need to fertilize. So are one of these actually full of nutrients at least to begin with, and then I just need to supplement later? I've also read contradicting reports on whether you need to vacuum the substrate or just let debris decompose to become plant food, so advice on that would be helpful as well.

Additionally, what is the best thing to do with our snail while I set up the new tank? We also have a betta in a 1 gallon tank, would it be ok to move the snail over with the betta while I get the tank set back up with the new substrate and arrange the plants? How long should I let the newly built tank cycle before introducing our snail back into the larger tank? Any tips on which nano fish to get or anything else at all that could be helpful is greatly appreciated, thanks!
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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 08-10-2017, 10:57 PM
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I like FSS, I keep it in my 2.5 with my CPD's, and it looks quite nice. The only downside is that you need to be careful when washing it, because it crumbles very easily.

FSS is made of volcanic soil, and has lots of nutrients locked away in it that plants can get at. After a while though, it does lose its stock of nutrients and needs to be replaced, or supplemented with root tabs. EC on the other hand comes packed with nutrients as well, and also has a high CEC (cation exchange capacity) that lets it hold onto cations (i.e. nutrients), and release them to plant roots, same as with FSS from what I can tell.

What type of snail do you have? You can move the snail over to the betta tank, and if you can save the filter media, after the filter's up and running again, you can move the snail back in. You should also let the tank cycle for a few weeks (3-4) as well, just drop in fish food, enough for the snail to eat in a day, and make sure to monitor water quality, doing water changes as necessary.

I highly suggest a small school of 6-8 CPD's (galaxy rasboras) if the water in the tank is hard. But if the water in the tank is soft, I would go for either boraras rasboras(8-10) (Boraras spp.), the neon tetras(5-6), or green neon (Paracheirodon simulans) tetras (6-8) (IMO the cardinal tetras get too big for a 5 gallon).

If you want shrimp, tetras are not the place to go, unless you decide on ember tetras(Hyphessobrycon amandae) or the green neons. Those, or the previously mentioned CPD's or Boraras rasboras, won't bother your shrimp as much as the neon or cardinal tetras.

So many fish to keep, not enough aquaria.
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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 08-11-2017, 08:55 AM
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Originally Posted by snowflake22 View Post
Hi there, I'm a new member and fairly new to aquariums as well and hoping I can find some help. We have a 5 gallon Fluval Chi Model 2 tank in our office that our previous admin assistant was in charge of. We haven't had much luck with our fish in there though, our LFS has been recommending guppies and we have lost them all. The admin assistant has left the company and now the aquarium is my job, and I'm really hoping to do better! I'm thinking our main problems were 1) too many and too large of fish, and 2) lack of live plants to help keep the ecosystem balanced.

I've been doing A LOT of research over the past two weeks, but it seems for every site I find that says do it one way, there's another contradicting it.

So here's where I am...

I have some rocks and small pieces of driftwood on the way to hardscape and create hiding places for the fish, which is something we did not have previously and I think also could have effected our fishies' happiness and longevity. I also have this assortment of plants coming next week (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...?ie=UTF8&psc=1). I plan to get the plants going for a week or two before introducing new fish, and I'm leaning towards a small school (5-6) of either neon tetras, cardinal tetras, or galaxy rasboras. Our snail is still living in the tank, which currently has a plain gravel substrate.

So, I'm looking for advice on which substrate to get for the transition to the planted tank. I think I've settled on CaribSea Eco-Complete or Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum. I'm leaning more towards the Fluval because eventually I'd like to get a couple shrimp, having read that in a 5 gallon nano tank with 5-6 nano schooling fish it's ok to get a few shrimp as well.

Any tips on which of these substrates would be better? I've read that either comes packed with nutrients so it's all you need (other than light and CO2) but I've also read no, these are both inert and you still need to fertilize. So are one of these actually full of nutrients at least to begin with, and then I just need to supplement later? I've also read contradicting reports on whether you need to vacuum the substrate or just let debris decompose to become plant food, so advice on that would be helpful as well.

Additionally, what is the best thing to do with our snail while I set up the new tank? We also have a betta in a 1 gallon tank, would it be ok to move the snail over with the betta while I get the tank set back up with the new substrate and arrange the plants? How long should I let the newly built tank cycle before introducing our snail back into the larger tank? Any tips on which nano fish to get or anything else at all that could be helpful is greatly appreciated, thanks!

There are a lot of questions in there. I will try to address them all, but will inevitably miss one.

First let me clear up one misconception I think I see in there. Inert vs active substrates. These terms do not refer to whether or not the substrate contains nutrients for plants. An inert substrate can not have any nutrients for plants (like pool sand) or be targeted for plants (like Eco-complete). Active substrates tend to almost always contain nutrients for plants. Back to the point though... An active or inert substrate is referring to whether or not that substrate is buffering the water parameters (This usually means removing kH or carbonate hardness from the water in order to keep the pH low). Active substrates are often used by people who keep crystal red shrimp and taiwanese bee shrimp for example. These species of shrimp require specific water parameters, like soft water with little to no kH, and an acidic pH to thrive. However, I will tell you right now that most people who keep these shrimp do not keep lots of fish, or even any fish, with them.

If you are going to keep shrimp with the fish you listed I would get Amano shrimp. They are generally considered to be much more hardy and tolerate a wider set of water conditions. I keep a colony of about 10 shrimp in my 55g with my white skirt tetras with absolutely zero problems (this is my own personal experience). So if you go with amano shrimp I reccomend you do not get an active substrate like the fluval plant and shrimp one, and just get eco complete. Also, the soft acidic water that will result from the active substrate would be harmful to your snail in the long term (I am assuming it is an inca, nerite, or mystery snail). The acidic water will degrade the shell and cause it to pit and eventually crack.

I am not experienced with betas, but he may try to nip at your snails antennae. If he harasses the snail this can really stress it out and overall I would say is just not a good idea. Someone else with betas can comment further.

As for vacuuming substrate, I vacuum about 30% of mine lightly once a week. If you are concerned about nutrients you should be dosing fertilizers. a buildup of fish waste in the substrate can lead to ammonia spikes if it later becomes agitated and generally just doesn't look good in my opinion.

As for the cycling question... time depends on many factors and ranges from a week to a couple months. you need to have a source of ammonia to get things going. Whether this is commercial ammonia or fish flakes, the nitrifying bacteria need food to get established. I won't go into a ton of detail here on this. Once ammonia levels decrease, nitrite levels will raise. The second type of bacteria will eventually colonize and turn the nitrites into the (mostly) harmless nitrates which are removed from the tank by your plants and water changes. Essentially, you should wait for ammonia levels and nitrite levels to test 0 before you add any considerable amount of livestock as both of these compounds are toxic to fish. To speed this process up you can add something like seachem stability to help seed bacteria quicker. People have mixed results with these "bacteria in a bottle" solutions but I have had good luck with them speeding things up myself.

If you have any more questions let me know and I hope this helped.
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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 08-11-2017, 03:28 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by ichthyogeek View Post
What type of snail do you have? You can move the snail over to the betta tank, and if you can save the filter media, after the filter's up and running again, you can move the snail back in. You should also let the tank cycle for a few weeks (3-4) as well, just drop in fish food, enough for the snail to eat in a day, and make sure to monitor water quality, doing water changes as necessary.
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Also, the soft acidic water that will result from the active substrate would be harmful to your snail in the long term (I am assuming it is an inca, nerite, or mystery snail). The acidic water will degrade the shell and cause it to pit and eventually crack.

I am not experienced with betas, but he may try to nip at your snails antennae. If he harasses the snail this can really stress it out and overall I would say is just not a good idea. Someone else with betas can comment further.
Thanks so much! I'm not certain what kind of snail he is, maybe a nerite? I changed my avatar to a picture of him. I've never seen antennae on him, his body is pretty much always in the shell but you can see his little mouth eating the algae when he's on the glass. At one point they had put the betta (I named him Rhaegal) in the big tank with 2 of the guppies and the snail. Our LFS said this should be fine, but we separated them after a couple days. Rhaegal never seemed to bother the snail, but the guppies had bites out of their fins. We think the guppies were doing it to each other though, because we continued to see new damage even after we pulled Rhaegal out into his own tank.

So it sounds like EC is the way to go, I don't want to harm our snail! I'd read that cardinals do get a bit big as well, so based on all of your advice I'll probably do the CPD's and then a little ways down the road some Amano shrimp. I have some test strips coming into today so I'll be able to know how hard our water tends to be so I can better decide once I have that info.

So how long should I run the filter with the new substrate and plants before moving the shrimp back into the tank?

Thanks again! I really appreciate the great advice from both of you!

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So how long should I run the filter with the new substrate and plants before moving the shrimp back into the tank?
Sorry, I meant snail! Don't have the shrimp yet.
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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 08-11-2017, 03:38 PM
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So how long should I run the filter with the new substrate and plants before moving the shrimp back into the tank?
Like I said the time can vary a lot. If you would rather not wait for the complete cycle one option is to use your water conditioner (like seachem Prime) once every 48 hours and dose for the total gallons in your tank. This will detoxify the ammonia and nitrites while keeping them available for the bacteria to consume while they are getting established. Couple this with a 30% water change every 2 to 3 days. I would monitor the ammonia and nitrate levels at least once a day though just in case. Cycling with livestock often leads to the death of a fish or two. To be honest I'm not sure how sensitive snails are compared to fish, but I'd imagine its probably equally not good for them.
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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 08-11-2017, 03:51 PM Thread Starter
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Ok thanks! I suppose there's no harm in keeping him in with Rhaegal for a while as long as he's not getting picked on.
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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 08-11-2017, 03:55 PM
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Ok thanks! I suppose there's no harm in keeping him in with Rhaegal for a while as long as he's not getting picked on.
If it was me trying to cycle it quickly, I would take all the livestock out (like you already did). Dose ammonia to 3 or 4 ppm. Crank the heat up to 86F or so. Dose seachem stability everyday for the first 7 days as per the instructions. Monitor the ammonia/nitrite levels. It will really tell you how far along the cycle is. And using media/gravel from an established tank like you said will go a long way as well.
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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 08-11-2017, 06:25 PM
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^^Agreed, but keep the temp more at 82-84 if there are plants in there, and don't bother with Stability, just run the filter.

So many fish to keep, not enough aquaria.
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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 08-16-2017, 09:59 PM Thread Starter
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Great, thanks! Just waiting for the plants to arrive!
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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 08-17-2017, 01:16 AM
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I've been running a fluval chi since they first launched. In fact, it was what got me into this hobby. I hope it does the same for you!

I'm currently running the latest model (I'll try to attach a photo) with one modification: I'm still using the square acrylic pebble basket that you see on top of the filter cube. It has a mix of pebbles and bio- media. However volcanic rock pebbles would work just as well (if not better).
As for the fish less cycle which others have mentioned previously, Diane (that is her member name as well) has posted an excellent step by step guide on how to accomplish it. You can find it by running a thread search with her member name. The only thing I would add to her instructions is to find the right bottle of ammonia! Many bottles that say only "ammonia" on their label or list it as the only ingredient are not suitable because they also contain surfactants (same thing that makes soap bubble) which you do not want. The easiest way to tell is to shake the bottle. If bubbles form toward the top, it is the wrong kind. I once spent an entire day going to homedepot, lowes, target, grocery, etc, etc only to finally find a bottle at a local mom and pop hardware store. I've read many people have success with the ace hardware brand.

As to stock recommendations
Flora:
Even though the chi II features upgraded lighting from the previous version it still is considered "low light." As you can see from my photo most of what I have in there is fake except for the moss balls as I have a difficult time growing anything.
However in addition to moss balls
-Java fern
-petite anubias
Both are beginner level plants, do well in low light, and are low maintenance. And even though they are "beginner" level I still find them to be among the most beautiful. To gain the most, from a visual aspect, purchase some that have already been grown out (preferably from one who used cO2 and strong light). While they will not continue to grow as lush they will still keep their form much better than most.

-One product I would recommend using is Seachem Flourish Excel. I've had excellent results using it in low tech setups.

Fauna:
I can not now recall all the fish you were considering but I do remember that I tried a good number of them in this tank when I was starting out without much success. Most of the tetras grow too large for this tank and while they may survive they will not thrive. They usually prefer a stronger water flow and a tank with greater length to width ratio. An exception to this may be the green neon tetra as they stay small. Following are some suggestions
-Betta. Look at the ones being offered on aquabid. There are some truly stunning ones that are most likely not offered at your LFS. I've purchased a few using aquabid from a breeder in thai land.....some of the mot gorgeous fish I've ever owned.
-Zebra nerite snail (which you already have). They have a tendency to lay their eggs in what look like little white dots which some people find a nuance but scrape off easily with an algae magnet. Also the the eggs will not hatch so no unwanted offspring
-Endlers (which I currently have)
-Shrimp. Amano are good algae eaters but (again having tried them in this tank) find them to be too large. I successfully keep red cherry shrimp in mine. The best tip to having them in a tank is start out with 8 and let them breed a while to establish a small colony and then add fish. If you have sufficient nooks and crannies for them to hide in you should be able to maintain the colony.
-Thai micro crabs ( I have about 4 in my chi with everything else). Though to be honest I rarely ever see them as they hide. They're fun to watch though when they do make an appearance.
-African dwarf frog (have kept these in a chi before)
-CPDs while these are stunning little fish they do tend to be a bit shy
-sundadanio axelrodi. These flashy little guys stay very small and a small school of them would make an excellent assortment.

I hope some of the above helps. Feel free to ask me anything you'd like.
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post #11 of 11 (permalink) Old 08-17-2017, 10:30 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks so much everyone! Your tank is pretty cool Pattern8. The plants arrived today and are now planted! It looks like a jungle in there! Had to tie down the Bacopa monnierii to rocks, they kept trying to float up on me. The photo with the red gravel is before, the others are after. So far the snail is doing well in with Rhaegal, he swims by and flares at him but hasn't been picking at him or anything.
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