Feedback requested on my outdoor planted tank - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-10-2007, 11:59 PM Thread Starter
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Feedback requested on my outdoor planted tank

I have a 75-gallon tank that I set up on my outdoor covered patio last March. Having moved recently to our present, southerly location in Monroe, Louisiana from the north, my ambitious goal from the get-go was to make this a permanent outdoor planted discus and cardinal tetra tank. Now I knew I had some strong sticking points working against me from the very start, including the following:

1.) Many experts say discus and planted tanks do not mix-- both because discus require warm water (at least 80F for larger fish and at least 82F for younger fish), and because Discus are healthiest in substrateless tanks that can be maintained nearly dutreus-free.

2.) The summers are very warm in Monroe, with average daily high temperatures in the 90's for nearly four months of the year. Most planted aquarium experts know the great majority of aquarium plants will fail in water temperatures above 82F, and certainly above 85F. While this past summer was not exceptionally hot, there were at least a few weeks where the water temperature in the aquarium approached 88F. Of course this is nothing a chiller won't fix, but I've already sunk enough $$ into this setup, as you'll see later. And I cannot lower the temperature too much with a chiller given my aspirations for discus and cardinal tetras.

3.) The winters are quite cold in Monroe, with the average high/low temperature in the month of January being 57/35. Records that I found indicate certain rare cold snaps have occurred here that have brought temperatures as low as 4 degrees Fahrenheit! Low temperatures are just now becoming a challenge, with two nights this week having fallen to 34F. With two 150W heaters going, this lowered the water temperature from 80F in the evening to 74F in the morning. I have since insulated three sides of the aquarium tightly with 1" thick Styrofoam insulation and have replaced one of the heaters with a 300W outside-the-tank Eth heater which is plumbed to the outlet line of my canister filter. Also, I had some pieces of glass and insulation cut to fit the openings on the top of the tank, minus the areas where cords and filter lines enter the tank. My plan is to place the glass and insulation pieces on the top openings of the tank only on cold nights. All this should help maintaining the temperature of the tank, but I may still need to add a third heater to keep the temperature at 80F on the coldest nights in winter (I can already see that big electric bill).

So, given theses three huge hurdles that I needed to clear, I chickened out (at least for this year) with trying discus in the tank. Instead I decided to go with a school of 40 small cardinal tetras, a species which prefers similarly high temperature as discus. I told myself if I could get them through the extremes of a Monroe summer and winter, next spring I might splurge and buy four of the fabulous but extremely expensive discus varieties.

Now as many of you probably know outdoor aquariums aren't all problems, and can actually have some big advantages. You don't have to worry about spilling during water changes and I can just siphon directly to the flower bed. From previous experience with low-tech outdoor tubs, I knew that for some reason fish raised in tanks exposed to the outside air often grow much faster, larger, and more colorful than their indoor counterparts. This certainly held true with my cardinals as they have grown large and beautiful over the last six months. 88 degree water temperatures had no adverse effect on them. They even exhibited some breeding behavior, but my relative failure with the "planted" part of the aquarium certainly doomed any breeding effort. I should mention that I had a real worry that outdoor predators would move into the tank and eat my fish, especially since I have a waterfront property on a cypress bayou. However, birds, dragonfly larvae, waterbeetles, parasites, and other pests were not a problem. I did see the smaller species of water beetle in the tank one time, but I believe only because the light attracted it in at night.

The tank is situated in a corner up against the house so it receives no direct sunlight. It is lit for 14 hours a day with a single rectangular 400W metal halide fixture with a horizontal bulb, and therefore has extremely high light levels in the middle of tank and more moderate light levels on the ends. The light is situated approximately 2' above the tank, as this was the lowest setting that illuminated the entire top of the tank with the given reflector design. The lighting setup is nice because it leaves the top of the tank uncovered and exposed to the outside air.

The substrate is comprised of 2-5mm pea gravel from the local bulk-sale rock yard, which I slaved to wash thoroughly and to disinfect via boiling. It is a little over 3" deep in the front of the tank and 5" deep in the back. I added a thin layer of Seachem Flourite substrate in the middle, using four 15lb bags. I probably would have used more, but this was the entire supply I could find locally.

CO2 is provided via a 20 lb tank and a pH controller set to 6.75. I use reconstituted RO water with a kH set to 4dH using potassium bicarbonate. The GH is also set to about 4dH with Seachem's Equilibrium product. I keep a plastic garbage can filled with RO water right next to the aquarium for easy top-offs and water changes. Filtration is provided by a Fluval 304 canister filter loaded with the standard foam pads and three trays filled with sintered ceramic biomedia.

I used the fishless ammonia cycle to get the nitrification process going in the tank before adding fish and plants (I probably should have added some hardier plants from day one). This worked well for me, but took alot of time given I did not have a bacteria "seeding" source that I trusted to use in the tank. The process took 4 full weeks, but established such a good bacteria colony that when I introduced the fish (40 small cardinal tetras), that no ammonia or nitrite spike was observed.

I have had several planted aquariums over the years and probably my most successful was one of my first. It was a 45 gallon tank with three cheap fluorescent "plant and aquarium" bulbs over the tank and yeast-provided CO2. I must admit that as I have become more knowledgeable and high-tech with my tanks over the years (more light, reconstituted RO water, etc), I have had far less success getting plants to thrive and in keeping algae suppressed.

Instead of learning from this I did what many-a hardened advanced planted aquarium hobbyist would do-- attempted to fix the problem with more technology. This time, I conspired to beat algae from the onset by darkening the tank during the fishless cycle period and employing an extremely oversized (for the tank) 25 watt UV sterilizer thereafter to keep the algae spores from getting a foothold in the tank. Unfortunately, this only delayed the imminent algae take-over of the tank. I went cheap on the clarifier, and did not get one with a built-in wiper for the quartz sleeve. Furthermore, the way I plumbed it in did not allow for easy removal and cleaning. So, I have had it installed and uncleaned now for 6 months. I am uncertain if regular cleaning would have led to better success, but somehow I think not.

I bought some plants about two weeks after the fish and UV Sterilizer had been added. This was a novice mistake of which I knew better, but I simply procrastinated. That 400W light was burning down on the tank full of fish and devoid of plants, just begging algae to move in. The plants I bought include two swords, 6 crypts, some rotala, and several bunches of Glossostigma. Now I know the Glossostigma and some of the others were just a stupid decision for a new tank setup. In the past, I would have just purchased a ton of Hygrophilia polysperma to compete with the algae aggressively until the tank aged a bit, gradually adding more demanding plants later. But as many of you probably know, this plant has been listed a noxious weed by the federal government and is only available if you know a fellow hobbyist who still grows it. I used a 20-minute soak in a fairly strong solution of potassium permanganate to disinfect the plants, but this did not keep ramshorn snails from moving in with the plants. I'm not sure how well it disinfected the algae. Surprisingly, most of the plants "took" and started growing, except for the rotala, which melted away. Even the glossostigma started spreading horizontally along the bottom of the tank.

Still the growth was not even close to as phenomenal as what I had experienced with some of my previous tanks. Yes, I had been a little less aggressive with the CO2, given my plans for discus in the future. Occasionally I let the kH slip to 1 or 2 dH gradually over several water changes. Since the pH was kept constant by the controller, this meant less CO2 was available to the plants.

Eventually the plants started developing symptoms of moderately severe nutrient deficiency, despite me adding iron, potassium, and trace minerals regularly with water changes. My best guess is that the biological filter, (with its three trays of bio-media) is effectively out-competing the plants for ammonia. Certainly the high summer water temperatures contributed to the plant decline as well. Various forms of green algae started showing up gradually on the sides of the tank and on the leaves of the plants. The nutrient deficiency caused all but the swords and crypts to gradually fade away. The swords are nutrient deficient to this day. They exhibit smaller, yellower leaves, not the clear leaves you see with iron defficiency. The crypts are actually in fairly good health, however, and are spreading very slowly.

When tank temperatures rose into the mid-eighties during the summer, my second polishing filter (a magnum hot canister) gave up the ghost. Gradually the green algae was replaced by cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). Eventually the blue green algae took over everything in the tank, and to this day it recarpets everthing in a matter of one week after I siphon the tank, clean the plant leaves, and scrape the glass. This despite the fact that the water temperature has receded to the 80F heater setpoint. This does not seem to affect the crypts adversely as long as I clean off the leaves at least once every two weeks, but of course is really unsightly. I think the increased water temperatures, the decreased tank circulation, and the decreased water hardness all contributed to the blue-green algae taking over the tank.

Now that fall has arrived, I plan on forming an assault on the cyanobacteria and take back over the tank without resorting to antibiotics. I have already started raising the kH back up to 4dH to increase the CO2 levels in the water. I am also considering replacing the polishing filter to add back the additional circulation that was lost in early summer. I need to figure out the source of the nutrient deficiency for the plants, and am considering removing some of the biomedia from the filter.

Finally, I am in need of some Hygrophilia polysperma. Would any of you be willing to contribute a few stems to the battle? I will gladly pay for the value of the plants and the shipping! If I do add discus next summer, what plants do you recommend keeping in a tank that has 82 to 88F water temperatures? Is my only option to buy mature discus and a chiller to keep temps at 80F? Do you have any personal stories of success with plants at high temperatures? If so, I would love to hear them.

I would have added a picture of the setup to this post, but my wife is out of town this weekend with the camera.
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post #2 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-11-2007, 05:40 AM
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Finally, I am in need of some Hygrophilia polysperma. Would any of you be willing to contribute a few stems to the battle?
It's illegal to buy/sell/ship this plant now, it's a federal noxious weed.

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Do you have any personal stories of success with plants at high temperatures?
I keep my heavily planted community tank at 82-83 and have no problems whatsoever, 2 species of Echinodoros are even flowering in it.
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post #3 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-11-2007, 06:16 AM
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technically yes, but you can probably obtain it through a local club or the like...
I doubt the Feds are out to slap the hands of hobbiests who are sharing small amounts, but who knows.

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post #4 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-11-2007, 06:17 AM
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Hygrophilia polysperma is commonly shipped and sold, you can even find it in some LFS. As someone who lives on the waterfront I'm sure you don't need to be told not to release anything into the water lol. If you post on the swap and shop, someone will chime in and send you some.

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post #5 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-11-2007, 06:28 AM Thread Starter
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bdement-- I am aware of why the plant is now hard to get. Still, the chances are next to zero that the hobbiests would get into any trouble sharing these plants. Sara, it used to be commonly shipped and sold only a few years ago, but is no longer. I'll post on the swap portion of this forum and see if anyone responds.
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post #6 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-16-2007, 03:07 PM Thread Starter
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A test last night!

It appears my efforts to winterize the 75 gallon tank on my covered patio have paid off. The temperature dipped down to 28F last night here in Monroe (first frost and first freeze here), and the water temperature only dropped from 81F to 80F. A couple weeks prior, the tank had dropped from 81F to 74F when the outdoor temperature got down to 34F. The changes I made were as follows:
1.) I insulated three sides of the tank with 1" thick styrofoam insulation which I cut to fit out of a 4'X8' sheet from Home Depot. If you cut the pieces just a hair oversize, you can attach them securely to the tank simply by wedging them between the plastic top frame and plastic bottom frame of your tank. To maximize the insulation's effectiveness, I made sure no air could blow between the tank and the insulation by using black duct tape to seal the insulation to the aquarium frame. The insulation coincidentally makes a nice (and cheap) backdrop when painted flat black.
2.) I had 1/8" thick glass pieces made to fit the two top openings of the tank ($40). These glass pieces only have small cutouts to the outside air to allow cords and filter tubing to enter the tank. I also cut styrofoam pieces to use on top of the glass covers when temperatures get really cold, but chose only to use the glass covers last night.
3.) Previously I had two submersible heaters in the tank-- a 150 Watt and a 250 Watt. I took out the 150 Watt heater and replaced it with an outside-the-tank 300 Watt Eth-brand heater which hooks into the canister filter return tubing. So basically, I have 550 Watts worth of heating power versus the 400 Watts that I used to have. And I believe the 300 Watts in the Eth heater goes a lot further than a standard submersible since the heat transfer is much more effective when the water is vigorously flowing over the heating element.

Adding the lids to insulate the top of the tank probably had the biggest impact in maintaining the tank temperature, followed closely by the change in heater type/power. Insulating the sides of the tank contributes far less than insulating the top, but it probably helps keep the tank at least a couple degrees warmer on cold nights. What do you my chances are of successfully overwintering the cardinal tetras in the tank outside? I think my chances are pretty good, provided we don't have a power-outage inducing ice storm!
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post #7 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-16-2007, 04:18 PM
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I'd be wary of water freezing inside your tubing, or in the canister, or something like that. Just don't break your filter.

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post #8 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-17-2007, 02:33 AM Thread Starter
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Big game up there in Ann Arbor this weekend, fishscale. Don't suppose you know who I'll be rooting for, being an MSU alum... I grew up in Frankenmuth, Michigan; my wife in Millington, MI

I thought about wrapping the filter tubing with insulation or pipe heating tape, but it seems pretty unlikely that water leaving the tank at 80F could freeze before it got back into the tank... especially this far south. I also figure just sticking a cheap little space heater inside the stand cabinet would do the job with much less effort on those one or two really cold nights this winter.
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post #9 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-17-2007, 10:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Ryan, Monroe, LA View Post
Still, the chances are next to zero that the hobbiests would get into any trouble sharing these plants.
While you're right, you probably won't get into any trouble, I think this type of thinking is dangerous. It's not the hobbyist that's in danger, it's the native plants, crops, and waterways that are.

There aren't any restrictions in Louisiana, but the interstate sale/shipment of the plant is prohibited under federal law, with steep fines. That is, if they choose to prosecute you of course.

As aquarists, I think we all know how devastating it is for something unwanted to be introduced into our tanks. I would think that with that sort of understanding, it would heighten our awareness and respect for aquatic conservation efforts, like the introduction of invasive species.

Since our hobby most likely caused the unnatural introduction of many of those invasive species, I think it's our hobby's responsibility to not make it any worse.
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post #10 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-18-2007, 12:01 AM
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You're using sunlight yes? I have great success using sunlight.

If you need fast growing plants, you can use anarchis where it's grown locally.

You might find this link interesting
https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/ph...75-update.html

He's raising discus in a planted tank.


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post #11 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-18-2007, 03:26 AM Thread Starter
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mistergreen-- The tank receives no direct sunlight, and not even that much indirect sunlight-- probably similar to a tank in front of a north-facing window. It is lighted with a single 400W metal halide fixture.

I did really find the link you posted interesting-- it's almost hard to believe he has been so successful, but then again some of my most successful planted tanks were when I was just starting out doing low tech...

Anarchis is just way to ugly to place in my tank-- I'd rather grow algae!
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post #12 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-20-2007, 05:26 PM
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Hygrophilia polysperma is commonly shipped and sold, you can even find it in some LFS.
Not legally it isn't. Any store or business selling plants, even pet stores, has to have a license with the department of agriculture. There is a dept of agriculture rep in every district of every state that regularly inspects every retail store and nursery in the state. Any retailer or nursery that is caught selling a prohibited plant is fined several thousand dollars. If you are caught selling any plants at all without having a license you can be fined several thousand dollars. Very few hobbyists are aware of that law. California has the strictist laws and the heaviest fines or jail time of any state in the country, but there are simular laws in every state. California and Hawaii have the most restricted plants of any states in the country.

It is actually against the law to even posses a high level noxious weed. Just because you can get away with it does not make it right.

Anacharis is also a high level noxious weed, (Elodea, Egeria densa.) Egeria najas however is not restricted.

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post #13 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-21-2007, 05:23 AM
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It is actually against the law to even posses a high level noxious weed.
It looks like the regulations vary per state: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=HYPO3

To me, this webpage would seem to mean that there are no regulations in Ryan's state of Louisiana. Regardless of that, the Fed still regulates interstate selling/shipping.
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post #14 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-21-2007, 09:11 PM
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You might consider building a 'greenhouse' around the tank for the winter, that way you won't have to worry about the weather as much. You can take it back down in the spring when the weather is assured to stay warm.

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post #15 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-22-2007, 03:32 AM Thread Starter
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Murphy

I actually seriously considered building or buying a small greenhouse to place around the tank, but decided even a well-built perminent one would be an eyesore... At a minimum, you know the glass or plastic would be fogged up constantly and there would be no viewing the tank without opening the greenhouse up. I still consider a temporary "pop-up" greenhouse and a space heater to be a good backup plan in the event I can't keep the tank heated on a cold night.

Here are a couple pics of the setup-- I know, I need more plants but this past summer outside melted away some of them:



There are a wall of glass doors to the left of the tank so it can be easily viewed from the living room couch at night. The classy garbage can on the right is my RO water reservoir

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