Can I get a sanity check on my first aquarium setup? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-14-2019, 02:41 PM Thread Starter
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Post Can I get a sanity check on my first aquarium setup?

Hello,

I'm starting my first fish tank and decided to go med-tech nano-planted (ferts med-high light). I'm new to the hobby, but I'm an obsessive researcher and hobby collector (I have too many hobbies, hence choosing nano to save a bit of $$). I have everything I need (I think) but I've kinda hit a mental wall. I just need a bit of reassurance that I have everything ready to go and I have a few last minute questions. Feel free to give your opinions as well.

Ok, here's what I got:

Equipment
  • Top-fin 5.5g (16.2 x 8.4 x 10.9) - I removed the rim, tossed the lid and light, but kept the HOB filter which I packed with 30ppi filter foam to add more biological (and mechanical?) filtration.
  • Chihiros A401 LED (40CM) - This should give me a nice range of available par values since my tank is so shallow and it has a dimmer (although the lowest setting flickers and is basically useless).
  • 25W heater (got spooked at 50W heaters in 5gal tanks malfunctioning and ramping to 90F+ and cooking fish)
  • Digital and "mercury" thermometers
  • Driftwood (going for a "natural" look)
  • Aquascaping scissors, tweezers and substrate spatula

I intend to add a HOB refugium in the future just because I think it's a cool concept to improve bio-filtration.

Plants
I still haven't made a final shopping list, but I think I'm going to attempt to grow the following:
  • Carpet/lowMonte carlo and/or Marsilea hirsuta as main carpet with small patches of Eleocharis parvula and s. repens in areas where the driftwood meets the substrate
  • On driftwood Taxiphyllum barbieri and/or taiwan moss with a bucephalandra red and an anubias nana petite in the driftwood holes
  • Background/corner Lindernia rotundifolia
  • Floaters I like the idea of floating plants but may wait til my tank growth is exploding (hopefully). I love the look of mosquito fern and salvinia minima.


Here's a few pics of my driftwood before cleaning in the tank. I still have to quickly sand the rim and wash the tank.






FYI, the driftwood was found in brackish water so I scraped all the barnacles off, soaked it for a week, then boiled it for an hour and scrubbed it with a soft brush. The water smelled so good after boiling I wanted to drink it (smelled like crawfish and cajun boiled peanuts). Anyway, I know the wood's probably too big for the tank, especially since I'm going to attempt to jam pack it full of plants and moss, but I want to see nothing but green from 10 feet away. If/when I add fish, I'll pick something that contrasts heavily with the green -- hence why I'm avoiding red plants with the exception of the subtle buce red. Easy shrimp and snails and some swimmers small/peaceful enough not to eat them.

Ferts and substrate?

I'm struggling to decide whether to use the Flourite or go with an aquasoil. Just how beneficial is aquasoil to a new planted tank?

Assuming I stick with the Fourite:
  • Will adding root tabs before planting be similar to using aquasoil? Root tabs are kind of a mystery to me -- any good links?
  • Do I need to immediately need to start dosing liquid ferts? I hear aquasoil can be used for the first 6 months or so with no ferts?? I plan on using ferts and
  • Is Flourite actually good forever? I hear you must completely replace aquasoil at some point -- or can you just add root tabs as you would in Flourite?
  • And ultimately, does substrate really matter a year down the road? I want to make clear that I don't intend to rescape this tank repeatedly as some aquascapers do.

I'm sure I missed something as I typed this out over a few days. Chime in with whatever advice or criticisms you'd like!

Thanks for looking!

30 seconds later edit: I already forgot something. Cycle before adding plants? Cycle after adding plants? DSM? I've heard each method being touted as the way to start a planted tank.

Last edited by yeet; 02-14-2019 at 08:57 PM. Reason: Changed a number
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post #2 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-14-2019, 05:53 PM
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I suppose I'd suggest considering a different kind of filter. I know some people use them and are successful, but most seem to go either HOB, or something like this in tank canister made for nano set ups

For the most part, air stones are not very popular in planted tanks, and that's pretty much what one of those sponge filters is. Most people are using either a small powerhead or just using the filter output (either HOB or canister) to agitate the surface and promote good gas exchange.

I think you'd find that a HOB refugium will not be necessary for increased biofiltration. You will likely have plenty regardless of what filter type you use. additionally you'll have beneficial bacteria colonizing on any rock surface or sand, etc.

I'm not familiar with the substrate you listed, however, I'd still suggest using aquasoil. Substrate is incredibly important, and aquasoil is an industry standard. In my tank, which is 1.5 yrs old (yes it does matter a year down the road), I have only added 2 root tabs...which weren't even necessary, I just did it under two plants that are said to be heavy "root feeders" if that's even a thing. Aquasoil will not only provide nutrients to your plants, it will help buffer your pH down to a slightly acidic range as is ideal in a planted tank. Additionally, it will help cycle your tank by feeding your growing BB colony with ammonia.

There's no reason you can't start with liquid fertilizer right away, however, its very important to find that balance between light/fertilizer/carbon. So, if you're not using CO2, it may be very easy to over fertilize (and over light) which will just make your tank an algae farm. Also, without CO2, you might have trouble getting something to carpet well.

In order for your plants to thrive, you NEED all of these things in check:

Macro nutrients
Micro nutrients
GH/KH
Lighting
Carbon source


You can add plants while your tank is still cycling. DSM is great...but probably not for beginners?

for what its worth, I don't think the wood is too big for the tank...IMO you tend to need quite a bit more hardscape than you think at first.
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post #3 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-14-2019, 06:30 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks, Jaz.



Sorry I didn't make it clear that the kit I bought came with this HOB power filter:

I also have a sponge filter. I might not put it in the tank and just use it as a backup in case my HOB dies.

The refugium thing will just be an experiment if I do it. Possibly use it for more than just a refugium.

I'm seriously considering switching to aquasoil. I know it's expensive stuff, but is there a brand that sells a small quantity at a nano/budget price? (I only need about 2-3L for a ~1.5" substrate depth) Also, I tested my tap water's PH (w/o dechlor) and it's around 8.4. This seems pretty basic so hopefully the aquasoil can help drop it down some. Conversely, Flourite has no effect on water chemistry from what I've read.

I would like to add a few rocks here and there but I'm still searching around for somewhere I can buy small quantities. My LFS seems to be mostly focused on reefing so they don't have a good selection of substrates or hardscape for planted tanks. My next tank will probably be a small reef tank so that's why I'm trying to avoid overbuying FW stuff.

Thanks again for your help, Jaz.
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post #4 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-14-2019, 07:43 PM
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3L for $20

http://www.buceplant.com/a/amp-1/products/controsoil


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post #5 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-14-2019, 09:00 PM Thread Starter
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Perfect! Thank you very much.

Is granule size personal preference? I see fine and extra fine are for tanks smaller than 20g. What size for a 5.5 you think?
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post #6 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-14-2019, 11:33 PM
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I always go extra fine. It's slightly better to plant things in. For the most part though, I aim to have my substrate not visible because it's completely covered by plants or hardscape. So the look of it won't really matter.


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post #7 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-15-2019, 01:32 AM
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I tend to go at new things a few steps at a time and take the easy road when new. So that leaves me to recommend a far different approach as the first tank is always the hardest one. That leaves me to recommend a sub like Flourite which is not so prone to changing that water so much and doing things like adding ammonia. I like to have a stable setup rather than the "best" theoretical set. Aquasoil and DSM are both somewhat complex for many who are just starting to learn about basic things like keeping fish and plants alive. Plants rarely die due to lack of food so doing some of the really easier things at first and then slowly adapting as I know more.
I would also look at not using the sponge filter unless it is something you like for the bubbles, etc. The primary value of the rising air is that it gets water moving so that the gas exchange takes place at the surface, so the noise and added equipment in the tank is not for me. The HOB will give the water plenty of movement, so I go simple.
One big item that might be considered? Heaters are very bad about sticking in the "on" position and killing the fish so I never run without a temperature controller as a backup safety. They can be found on the auction site for under $15 if you do some simple DIY wiring to add the AC cord and outlet or the fished with all the bells and whistles can be found in the $35 and up.
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post #8 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-15-2019, 08:13 PM
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You seem to have a good selection of equipment but split between hi tech and low tech. Maybe try thinking about your stocking and work backwards.
Only a personal opinion but the DW would look great coming out of the tank , it would be good to see an update.

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post #9 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-19-2019, 01:17 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fallon View Post
You seem to have a good selection of equipment but split between hi tech and low tech. Maybe try thinking about your stocking and work backwards.
Only a personal opinion but the DW would look great coming out of the tank , it would be good to see an update.

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So, I ordered some blue petrified wood and some black controlsoil. I'm thinking once the substrate and rock is in, it will elevate the driftwood out of the water 2-3 inches. I played with the idea of standing the driftwood up vertically, but the arch shape just looks too cool.
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post #10 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-19-2019, 02:39 PM
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I'm with you on the arch. Seems like fish of all types love to duck under and come out as it they were hiding. One way to get some height, if it does seem right, is to use a brick for a base. Brick is pretty inert, has handy holes and can help hold the wood down if something like a plastic tie is used? Keep the options open!
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post #11 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-19-2019, 04:32 PM
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If your going to have an aquarium with fish in it, it is very irresponsible to not have a lid on it.
Fish jump: from being chased by other fish, when startled by shadows or movement across top or side glass, during breeding, when water quality is poor.
I understand that the "lidless: aquarium is an aesthetic that many find attractive. If wish to go that route, get fish without a swim bladder.


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post #12 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-19-2019, 08:41 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by PlantedRich View Post
I'm with you on the arch. Seems like fish of all types love to duck under and come out as it they were hiding. One way to get some height, if it does seem right, is to use a brick for a base. Brick is pretty inert, has handy holes and can help hold the wood down if something like a plastic tie is used? Keep the options open!
This driftwood is a brick. Even after fully drying this piece just sinks like a rock. I will play around with elevating the driftwood on one end.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Discusluv View Post
If your going to have an aquarium with fish in it, it is very irresponsible to not have a lid on it.
Fish jump: from being chased by other fish, when startled by shadows or movement across top or side glass, during breeding, when water quality is poor.
I understand that the "lidless: aquarium is an aesthetic that many find attractive. If wish to go that route, get fish without a swim bladder.
I plan to add the plants, cycle, add a few inverts, then maybe fish. This is at least a month out. I have a few machines at work than can quickly cut a PC lid with notching for whatever HOB items I have at that time.
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post #13 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-19-2019, 08:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yeet View Post
This driftwood is a brick. Even after fully drying this piece just sinks like a rock. I will play around with elevating the driftwood on one end.



I plan to add the plants, cycle, add a few inverts, then maybe fish. This is at least a month out. I have a few machines at work than can quickly cut a PC lid with notching for whatever HOB items I have at that time.
If not wanting to fully close the top and still have safety but let air pass, I find cutting light diffuser (eggcrate) to be a way to work a pretty good jumper fence but still cut out for the equipment. Not a total fish-proof deal but it does take a pretty small fish and a good shot to clear the spaces.
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post #14 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-20-2019, 01:28 AM
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Just a thought: if you expect to use a sponge filter as backup it should already be populated with beneficial bacteria. It might be simpler to have an extra HOB to which you can move your current filter media if necessary.
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post #15 of 19 (permalink) Old 02-20-2019, 12:45 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by PlantedRich View Post
If not wanting to fully close the top and still have safety but let air pass, I find cutting light diffuser (eggcrate) to be a way to work a pretty good jumper fence but still cut out for the equipment. Not a total fish-proof deal but it does take a pretty small fish and a good shot to clear the spaces.
I've seen people do this before but never knew why.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fisherking View Post
Just a thought: if you expect to use a sponge filter as backup it should already be populated with beneficial bacteria. It might be simpler to have an extra HOB to which you can move your current filter media if necessary.
Oh, yeah... I'm dumb lol. Well the sponge filter and pump only cost me less than $10 bucks so maybe I'll give it away to someone who needs it.
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