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400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
BeagleBone Black Fully Automated Planted Tank




original post:
I was going to wait until I was farther along, but I figured with all the work I am about to do it might be best to just start from the beginning.

Not alot of high tech planted cold water (ie room temp) tanks out there, well at least there not as popular as tropical planted tanks.

Some history you can skip:
I am working backwards here trying to make the best out of what I started with, ~3 years ago my wife bought our newborn son a small pair of fancy goldfish and a young bristlenose which lived in a little 5 gallon until I realized what a mistake that was.. (9 months it took me to do a google search, wtf!?)

Before this I never kept any fish, but my wife always kept a Beta around.. When I realized we needed a bigger tank asap, I pulled a used 55G off craigslist, built a canopy and stained it espresso to match the furniture and epoxied it to make it easy to clean. I carefully applied a layer of privacy film from lowes for the background.

Long story short its a few years later, I tried growing plants with the cheap fluro's I got with the tank and had no success.. anything that could live in the low light got decimated by the goldfish before they could barely get established.. Onions were about the only thing they left alone, but eventfully they got bored and kept yanking them out.

The goldfish are not going anywhere, even my mom calls them her grandkids.. so I am working with the situation because these fish will probably outlive us all... Our house rescues pets; abandoning them was never an option.
Here is my stocks:

SwordTails are blood red high-fins, totally stunning.
Restocked minnows recently, got some young females ready to mate.. driving the guys crazy.. need plants asap.
Goldfish are Calico Fantail and Ranchu
The bristlenose really should be in much warmer water, but he is a tough bugger and dont seem to mind it at all.. he is much smaller than the goldfish and will bully them away from food.

Everyone seems to get along great, the goldfish are big enough to eat a minnow but they never have (to my knowledge) and there too slow to have a chance. The swordtails are not as tropical as people think and they are thriving at room temps.. at first they were intimidated by the larger goldfish, sometimes freaking out of they thought they were cornered but they determined they weren't a threat and chilled out.

Current Setup freshly landscaped, been operating for well over a year like this:

This is my Manzanita stump I have soaking currently, its taller than my tank and will be trimmed to fit. roughly 22"Tx14W"x4.5"D

Here is what I am gathering up to push forward:

Plant Candidates:
  • Anubias Minima
  • Anubias Barteri Gold
  • Hornwort
  • Java Fern
  • Frogbit
  • Narrowleaf Micro Sword
  • Radican sword plant

Goals for Automation Are:
  • Networked to my primary Home Automation Controller
  • 3 Independent Lighting Channels
  • Realtime Temperature & PH Monitoring
  • Topoff and Drain capabilities
  • Control over Canister/UV Filter/co2/airpump/etc
  • Flood/Leak Alarm w/SMS Notification
  • Nutrient Dosing
  • Webcam for monitoring while away.

I am a software and network engineer, and I already have an automated hydroponics garden using the same tech.. I use an opensource controller called Domoticz for my home automation, it supports network slaves which will let me run slave instance at the aquarium to interface with the IO.

here is a screenshot of my controller: 2015-03-31 15.30.21.png?dl=0

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
yeah all my code will be well documented, released cc-by-nc licensed and dumped on github.. unlike my other automation projects I dont intend on cooking up any circuit boards, I intend to use off the shelf parts so anyone should be able to replicate/modify/extend.

Ive been waiting on the dutch MC series for over a year; when I intended on starting this project I was prepared to purchase an XB series and found out about the planned MC, so I shelved the project. The Light has been ordered and I have most of the dimming hardware and code ready for testing.

Plants, well I dunno really.. I am open to suggestions if anyone has any experience with this kinda tank.. I am thinking of just getting a 55g plant pack from aquabid and see what sticks... anything that struggles I can try to move to my beta tank. Ive got a very green thumb, starting on a greenhouse this summer but I dont really know aquatic plants. Getting them off the internet seems to be much more affordable than the LFS so a trial and error strategy with popular and cheap plants seems appropriate right now.

I'd like to heavily plant the left 2/3rds of the tank, give the smaller fish a play/spawn/hiding area and keep the right 1/3rd open with a few background plants to hide the airtube and balance it out. The goldfish like big open area to float, flip, roll around in.. they have claimed that side and spend alot of time hovering and watching people and pets.

I am thinking about jailing my two goldfish with a barrier made from a plastic light diffuser temporarily, allowing me to establish the plants on the other side of the barrier before I let the cows out of the barn to go graze.. I am sure they wont be happy about it but it should do them no harm, I think.. Might have to net out goldfish poop cause the filter intake will be other side of barrier.

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
thanks for the article and pix, didnt know Hornwort would survive em.. it looks softer than it must be. They devastated a few bundles of anacharis I put in there and left onions alone so I figured a nice hard leaf would be the way to go.. I like the looks of that plant, will fit my mountain landscape well looking like a conifer.

I tried a few bundles of a hard leaf grass I got from petco, I dont know what it was, they pretty much left it alone but it did not get enough light and died.

frogbit might be a great idea, if it explodes I can crank up the brightness but I expect the goldfish to keep it in check or wipe it out.. this might distract them from other, less tasty life and I am sure I could grow it in my garden in a container and find a good balance.

I edited first post to include a list of plants I may try, after consulting the article linked by @Dzrtman

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
Got my Manzanita stump all finished up, boiled it as much as I could.. ran it through the dishwasher a few times and then left it in a plastic container in back yard for almost a week.. then repeated it.

Water is a little cloudy from stirring up the rocks to burry the slate base.

and a photo of my male swordtail:

Ive got some frogbit in the mail from @angel004 in a RAOK, cheers..

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
I got some golden anubias in there now (where the dinosaur was) and there doing just fine, goldfish show no interest.. the frogsbit is keeping them occupied exactly as I had hoped.

I am thinking I am going to buy a ton of these golden anubias and carpet the left side of the tank with them with a small forest of coons tail on the far left for spawning/fry hiding..

The minnows absolutely love the clump of anubias, a male thinks its a prime mating area and guards it.. they also love the tunnel in the bottom of the stump.. Ive seen the entire school pour out of it single file, very impressive.

the right side of the tank I am going to soon remove the gravel and replace it with sand, lightly planted with perhaps a marble radican sword in the corner and the roots from the frogs bit.. I am going to move the intake to the right and reposition the spray bar to come out and spray right, hopefully keeping the frogsbit on that half.

This week is going to be freaking busy, tomorrow like everything comes in.. the BML MC Light, and all the bits to finish up the electronics.. few more plants, and then this weekend I have to catch most of the fish, drain the tank, move it away from the wall.. paint behind it and then put it all back.. ugh, well at least it will be easier to mount the electronics and plumb the water durring this time with full access to the back side of the tank.

here is what came in the mail today, after wiring it to a standard plug:

my 3.3GPM 110v transfer pump to take RO water from my two stacked 55G drums (110g total) and up to my fish tank.. this is a pressurized pump from like out of an RV, shuts off at 45psi and has built in check valve... Its also going to a faucet in the kitchen, with a pressure tank.. since it is pressurized it has enough head power to get anywhere in my house for filling up coffee machines, watering house plants, etc.. All this will be installed in the laundry room with the tanks.

I am going to try medium light without co2 and see how that goes for a while, I have some excel coming tomorrow I will try instead...

Old lights taken out, you can see I did a half ass stain job under the hood.. its all got about 4 coats of polyurethane on it so everything is very moisture resistant.

wow i should of cleaned those up sometime, oh well.. into the garage sale box.

The beaglebone black is ready to go, running current debian stable with latest domoticz fresh off the repos and it has its dimmer output cape on... I have some sample scripts written up to test my wiring, the advanced automation will come once its in place... yes I am going to code live on my tank, and yes I am that good :p (goes and gets his swimming trunks)

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)

Dallas 1 Wire Temperature Sensor installed:

I drilled through the fitting and partially through the other side to create a seat for the probe and then used gorilla glue to seal it all off.

Here is the the partial manifold ready for bench testing

Bottom is a 12v Gravity Capable Valve for the drain
Top is a 12v 3-145psi Valve for the fill.
The manifold is all 1/2in PVC and ties into a 3/4in PVC Tee with the temp probe.. a PH probe will be inline before the manifold and it will connect to the output of my filter.

and here is the beginning layout of the enclosure, I still need a few more bits.. the stainless steel float switches and a mosfet board for the 12v outputs... the electrical box on the right will hold the 120v relay and wiring, There is a dead space behind this panel for me put the LED dimmer box and some more hardware/wires.

and guess what came today, my light!

Goldfish have almost decimated the large patch of Frogsbit, good thing I have it thriving in my betta tank so I'll have alot more to add soon.

Here is screenshot of the WebUI as it currently sits:

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
Got alot of work done today:

Manifold all finished up, The Left hose barb is the tank return, the right barb goes to the filter output.

And here is the electronics package:

The two yellow plugs on the bottom are controlled by two relays, there for powering pumps.. Ive got dimming working, valves actuating and temp sensors reporting.. Now to get in the basement and plumb up the feed and drain lines then move my filter over to the right side of the tank.

I also ran a piece of 3/4" conduit up the back of the tank to the access hole in the canopy, this was probably the toughest bend ive yet done.. all the canopy wiring will traverse this.
I am repainting my living room this weekend and the tank will get temporarly drained and moved, its going back all the way against the wall.. this is when I will run some flexible tubing into the basement to connect to more hardline.. My Airline and ethernet already come up through a hole cut into the wall behind it, will be an easy and straight pull into the laundry room below.

Here is the manifold test fitted:

and here is the manifold output, eventually this pipe will be shortened and replaced with a combination purigen/co2 reactor and a 1/2in tube bypass I can install a future heater/uv unit into.

Obviously the canister and intake are moving to the right, I should get better circulation now with those on opposing ends.. this side could hold a co2 tank but I am also putting that in the laundry room, whats another hole in the baseboard?

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #15 · (Edited)
Water Pipes Plumed to basement:

Filter Plumed in and Electronics Basically Complete

I painted behind my fish tank, damn that was a PITA!

also got some more plants, need to do some scaping.. but there thriving and being mostly left alone by the goldfish.

I installed a Green/Red LED in the front right lower corner to give status, green is okay when lights on, yellow is it doing something and red will be an error.. it dims with the lamp in my software, works well as a status indicator when its ramping up very slowly from off and its not got enough power to fire the lamp.

The conduit is not ran right now as its being painted to match the wall behind.. :)

and here is the evening/moonlighting (0% White/5% Red/15% Blue)

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #16 ·
yay yesterday I got an email from liveaquaria asking to call them, I suspected to inform me that they had canceled my order.. but turns out they went to go ship it and the cc info had expired from there system it had been so long.

so yay I got some longfin white clouds on the way, ive wanted them for a while.. and I just recently found a source on aquabid for Vietnamese white clouds that are red.. will be nice adding some variety to the school without adding more species to care for.

Speaking of more species I also ordered some trapdoor snails to create a cleaning crew, I need help cleaning up detritus under the plants, doing massive gravel cleanings wont be happening anymore with the plants thriving and goldfish are messy.. never kept snails so I am looking forward to them.

The circulation in my tank has improved dramatically with the new in/out flow positioning, I was going to put a circulation pump in next payday but thats no longer needed, and I am glad I can avoid the clutter.. It also looks much cleaner, I just need to save up to buy a 20mm glass inflow pipe and it will look very nice.

The Coonstail is growing really fast.. I knew it would but am still a bit taken back by how much bigger that patch gets every day... the fish absolutely love it, the ranchu will sink him self into it and suck on a branch.. its soo weird having his fat butt disappear from view, first time he vanished I nearly had a heart attack.

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 ·
I am having an algae outbreak right now, im pretty sure I need more macro nutrients.. I sorta expected this to happen after changing out the light, takes me a little time to adjust everything.. I dont want to throw my eccosystem out of wack so ive been slowly ramping up the chemical additives and watching them closely for signs of stress... Ive knocked the lights down to about 35-40%, the algae really took off at ~50-60% brightness.. and I am sure the few days of 100% I ran while i was setting up the dimmer was no good either :hihi: At the current levels the BML lamp is cool to the touch.

So I am upping my P and K levels and watching the algae closely..

The trapdoor snails are badass cleanup crew, I threw two little ones in my 5g tank that had some cyanobacteria starting to take hold and after the weekend the tank is sparkling clean.. wow... the big ones in the 55g are going to town and have made significant impacts, the tank looks much cleaner now than when I put them in on Friday... all the GSA on the silicon in the corners is gone.

Anyone got recommendations for getting GSA off Anubias leaves? Should I yank em out and h2o2 them? :help:

Ive got the last batch of plants coming in this week, hoping to get it all cleaned up, replanted and ready for a photoshoot soon.. I am having trouble with too much flow, my goldfish are getting tired and hiding out in the plants for rest.. so I am trying to find a happy medium.. I might go with a power head on a timer to operate for a few hours to get everything well circulated without the 24/7 assault of the spraybar..

Here's some another screenshot of the controller showing temperature graphing, I can download all this data in a csv if I want to directly compare it to room or outside temp, etc.

So far its proven that closing the canopy lid has little impact on aquarium temp and that all my old analogue thermometers were pretty well calibrated..

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 · (Edited)
quick update, got the last bit of my plants in today and got them in place.. needs to establish, the algae outbreak is definitely on the decline.. the golden anubias are nearly cleared off and the snails have been doing a great job at keeping things clean.



Current Plantlist:
Anubias Barteri
Anubias Golden
Vallisneria spiralis
Marbled Radican Sword

As you can see the Ranchu goldfish loves eating the hornswort and frogsbit.. the'll uproot the anubias but leave them alone for most part.. have to rebury them into the substrate each week but they dont seem to mind it.

been working on designing dosing system, think I am going to start with pps-pro formula and then customize it as needed over time.. until then I am using Seachem's Macros, Flourish and Excel until I get the rest of it setup..

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #20 · (Edited)
Thanks for the feedback, I know its a journal and people dont want to pollute them with nonsence but feels like I am just talking to my self sometimes :D

the goldens came in plastic baskets and I left them in em.. all the roots are in a block of cocofiber and the rhizome sits on top... I just burry the basket and roots coming out leaving the rhizome at substrate..

the plants are so tough that you can grab an individual leaf and pull the whole thing out of the substrate.. so I guess thats why there good with goldfish :D

Woke up this morning to find the big anubia that was all the way to the right with a flower forming was floating around.. I called my ranchu a select dirty word and my 4yr old son repeats the word perfectly without missing a beat :eek:

Ive spanked that ranchu before trying to stop him from digging up my aquarium, yet he still runs to my hand when it touches the tank to get attention/petted.. I swear this is the most dog-like fish I have ever seen... I wouldn't be surprised to learn it has separation anxiety when we leave, and spends its entire time starring out the window waiting for me to come home.

Lets compare my Ranchu to a dog:
  • Digs up my Garden
  • Always picking up his crap (in my house!)
  • Bottomless Pit that cant stop eating
  • Thinks because he's bigger he's better
  • Thinks he is small enough to fit anywhere.
  • Goofy and Clumsey, gets worse the more exited he gets.
  • Attention Whore
  • Lazy and Sleeps alot
  • Will Chew on Everything
  • Squirrel!! Wait what was I doing?

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #21 · (Edited)
Here is an interesting graphic, decided to dig deeper into my canopy trapping heat.

02:00 I opened the hood and went to bed (Water: 75.2F / Ambient: 73F)
12:00 I closed the hood (Water: 72.7F / Ambient: 72.3)
19:00 Opened the hood and shoved a fan blowing at the water (Water: 74.5F / Ambient: 76.1)
23:30 Current temp 70.9 and falling (Ambient 73.4F)
10:00 Next Day, Not Shown (65.3F Water / 69.9F Ambient) Almost 5 degrees lower than ambient!!

and the temperature keeps dropping, 4-5 degrees below ambient so far.. the spikes in dining room temp are me opening the back door for a little bit for the dogs or fresh air.

Given this experiment I have decided its worthwhile to add some cooling to the canopy and tank. Its roughly the same temp in the dining room right now from 24h ago and look at the difference in water temp. (over 5 degrees and counting)

This gives me a good benchmark to try to replicate with the lid closed and no big loud fan sitting ontop.

To start Ive ordered a Noctua NF-R8 redux-1800 PWM computer fan to provide forced intake into the canopy from the rear, with a dog-hair filter. I will control the speeds via my Beagle to run quiet unless tank temps start getting too warm. Dont think I need much air exchange with canopy to maintain equilibrium with ambient, the LED at my current levels produces very little heat.. One of the primary reasons I went with LED was to help me keep the tank cool.. I am going to seal off the rear of the canopy and force the air to exhaust out the gap around the front and sides of the canopy.. this will help cooling and prevent light leaking on the wall behind the tank. (except through the fan, hope the dust filter helps)

I am thinking I will get two of the 140mm Noctua redux fans and make brackets to sit them ontop of the light diffuser top at both ends of the tank blowing straight into the water.. wire them all up in parallel.

If I can replicate these results I think this will really help my fish come summer when the ambient temps start to climb and the humidity drops.. Cheaper to setup and operate than a chiller and since I have automatic RO top off I dont mind extra evaporation.

Isint data-analysis fun? :D If you've been thinking of adding a blower fan on top to lower temps, and you live in a dry environment.. just do it.

Here is the chart the next morning, with the tank nearly 5 degrees below ambient!

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #23 ·
wow thats some hot tap water, im sure you could fill a garbage bin, run a fountain pump and put a fan on it.. cool both your house and the water.. but it'd take a day or so.

I was able to get 6 degrees total when all was said and done, I did not have the fan on high and I suspect two fans at opposing ends of the tank will be more effective.

The narrowness of a 55g can make it look like you got a really deep nano

I enjoy watching the tank from this perspective.. the left half of the tank is all floaters now, should give some shade to the anubias.

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #24 · (Edited)
ugh so my Calico Ryukin has developed a swim bladder issue, and I fear for the worse.. I will be out of town this weekend and he has developed a problem like this before but it got better within a few days. I noticed him having issues before last weekend and cut out there normal food and gave them cooked peas. This morning I found him upside down stuck behind a rock, but still alive.

Right now he is in a plastic colander with some plants and gravel at the top of the tank, starting to relax but still obviously in distress.

tank parameters are perfectly fine, 20ppm Nitrate 6 days after PWC, 0ppm Ammonia/Nitrite/Chlorine, pH 7.4-7.6, Temp 72F and have been for months.. last issue was KH was way down and pH had droped a point until I noticed a few weeks ago but a little baking soda took care of that. I havent yet switched to RO PWCs as I still have a few loose ends to take care of and Ive been very busy. I do a 33% PWC every 7 days and RO top off every 2-3 days.

He had one real bad bout with swim bladder disorder several months back but fasting him and feeding only peas fixed him right up within a few days.. My Ranchu has developed a persistent disorder in the last year thats pretty minor and it has learned to cope with it.. but now I fear it will get worse with time.

Normally I am feeding them sinking pellets on an auto feeder in small feedings twice a day above the sand and they munch on the frogs bit and hornwort regularly.. I toss em some veggies once or twice a week.

I am thinking I am now paying the consequences of unwittingly raising them in far to small of an environment.. Ive known that there life expectancy would be shorter due to my ignorance, but been trying to ignore what I cant fix.

Hard to watch my tank right now and see him suffering.. if he dont improve before I leave town I may have to make a hard decision.

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #25 · (Edited)
so I canceled my trip this weekend and starved out the entire tank this week, this made the calico much more eager to eat my peas after a few more days.. He got quite a bit worse, spending about 36h straight totally stressed out, upside down resting in the hornwort... looked horribly pathetic, was painful to watch but this morning he was swimming upright and seems to be on the mend.. My wife reminded me he was my very first fish, he is older than I thought and went longer in the small tank than I remembered.. The Ranchu was only in it for a few months... Dodged a bullet this time, whew.

Now for progress, I installed the vent fan on the canopy and tied it into the controller where I can adjust the speed.. the unused pairs on that cat6 cable will be used for the float switches soon.. There are two free fan plugs for directly cooling the tank with 140mm fans when they arrive. I am going to setup the fans to keep the tank between 68-74 to the best of their ability.

If you look on the far right you can catch the cabinet closer I installed to gently set the lid down and keep it from slamming and startling the fish.
There are two gold hooks you can also see, these are my light hangers when I am working on the tank and need to move the light out of my way without worrying about it taking another dunk.
Ive added a battery backed RTC to the beaglebone, just so its not dependent on a network connection to operate properly.

Here is a shot of my primary automation controller for the whole house.

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #27 · (Edited)
Thats just the dashboard, there's alot more devices than that but many are never manually operated so you have to drill down further to find them.. bug zapper, server room cooling/monitoring, lawn sprinklers, greenhouse control, exterior lighting, even a block heater for my diesel car so I have instant heat in the winter.. not to mention all the security sensors and cameras, Ive got a 12x IP PTZ on the back corner of my house that auto tracks activity around the property.. Open the back door, gate, mailbox, windows (also break), or walk around my parking area and its zoomed in and watching you.

My aquarium is one of the last things to get networked and automated... the more I add to the network the more clever my house becomes. After this project is done I am going to add electronic locks and two factor auth keyless entry.

I never expected how attached I would become to my fish, even my mom asked me to not drive 1k miles to visit for mothers day weekend and insisted I keep an eye on her sick grandfish.. I didnt tell her the fish was sick, did not wish to worry her, my little sister spilled the beans.. there were a multitude of factors at play in the decision to abort the trip (like snow this weekend!) but I do admit that lil fish weighed heavily in the decision.

400 Posts
Discussion Starter · #28 · (Edited)
Fan Speed Controller

got the 140mm fan in the canopy and wrote a program to monitor the water temp and adjust the fan speed accordingly..

basically the program does:
fans off under 68F (20C)
@ 68F fans come on @ 40% speed
Linearly increases speed until water temp is 73.4F (23C)
@ 73.4 and above fans run @ 100% speed

This has been doing a excellent job at keeping my tank at the target temp, so far.. the real test will be in a month or two when its much hotter in the house, but so far the fans have not even reached 100% speed.

Here is the last 24h of temps, keeping it between 68-70F I could probably tune this more so there is less variation but I am happy with it as it is.. I want it to drop cooler at night so it holds onto that the next day.. also seems more natural than trying to hold 70F perfectly.

The Top Off and WC system is almost complete, I am going to start testing it this weekend and work on dosing strategies. Ive got some Ruby Golden White Clouds arriving today via Priority Mail and I am eager to get em in the tank.

Here is the stand alone code for my fan speed controller.
// Fan Speed
// Keeps my Planted Subtropic Aquarium Cool
// Copyright 2015 by Ryan  Hunt <[email protected]>
// license CC-BY-NC

var w1bus = require('node-w1bus');                      // npm install node-w1bus
var bus = w1bus.create();
var fs = require('fs');
var request = require('request');                       // npm install request

var fan = '/sys/class/pwm/pwm0/';                       // Path to FAN
var probe = '28-000005e94350';                          // ID of 1-Wire Temp Sensor
var baseuri = '';       // Domoticz Base URL for % json update

var duty_max = 25000;                                   // 25 kHz
var duty = 0;                                           // Off
var max_temp = 23;                                      // 73.4F
var min_temp = 20;                                      // 68F

function updateDuty(temp) {
        if (temp > max_temp) { duty = duty_max; }
        else if (temp < min_temp) { duty = 0; }
        else {
                duty = ((((temp - max_temp) + 4) * 5000) + 5000);
        fs.writeFileSync(fan + "duty_ns", Math.round(duty));
        request(baseuri + (duty/250));
        setTimeout(readTemp, 60000);                    // Update every 60s

function readTemp() {
        bus.getValueFrom(probe, "temperature")

function setupGpio() {
        fs.writeFile(fan + "period_ns", duty_max, function(err) { if(err) { return console.log(err); } });
        fs.writeFile(fan + "run", "1", function(err) { if(err) { return console.log(err); } });

and here is the graph of its speed, matching the temp except when it shut down completely.

The fans are entirely inaudible until ~90% speed, and then even at full speed there pretty quiet and hard to hear with normal background noise.
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