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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
After about 6 months of passive->active contemplation, I'm going to start my first ever aquarium next week. Expecting a lot of trial and error, but also hoping that some degree of planning will help avoid absolute disasters! I'm moving into a new house with a spot just barely big enough (width wise), so also trying to think through as much equipment and set-up as possible before the initial fill! Here's the plan, would love any feedback or suggestions...

Overall goal: medium planted community tank to give me a hands-on project and to give my young children some exposure to the ideas of ecosystem, chemistry, biology, community, and experimentation ;) -- I don't have specific plants or fish I'm set on keeping, just looking to get something relatively stable to start with!

tank: 75g glass tank (already acquired, second hand)
lights: fluval aqua sky 48", may add some in-water LED lights
filter: aqua clear 110
heater: eheim jager 100W
substrate: activ-flora with front patch of sand

Plan for initial setup:
  • place substrate, hardscape, filter, heater
  • fill with water + seachem prime
  • cycle with ammonia and tetra safe start

Plan for fertilizing:
- EI dry chemicals with weekly water change

Questions:
  • when during initial cycling do I plant? (I think I can do this pretty early on, or even with initial start, but would love to hear if that's not correct!)
  • CO2 - open to adding, wondering how hard it would be to add after-the-fact and if I should just splurge and set it up now... I'm ok with limited plant selection, but it seems like adding CO2 might help me avoid problems overall
  • I have API test strips. Do I need a more detailed test kit if I'm doing EI? If so, specific recommendations?
 

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I can't comment on the first 1, as I've cheated on my last couple of tanks and had seeded filters already so I didn't really have a cycle period. I might be inclined to look into a canister filter on top of the aquaclear. You might want more water movement than that. Others may chime in here though.

Personally, things got alot easier once I got pessurized co2. Especially on a tank that large, you can't do DIY. Worth the investment to ME.

Test strips not so much. Go buy yourself the API master test kit, plus the gh/kh and phosphate test kits. The master kit is much more accurate. Depending on how much you want to spend, other test kits are better for things like nitrates and phosphates. But again, you much do you want to spend on the out set?
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks! Will get the master test kit plus the others. I probably should just bite the bullet and get CO2 from the get go.
I definitely hear your advice about the canister filter.... I think for now will see how it goes with HOB....
 

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Since you're using active substrate you can plant right away, just remember to follow the start up water change regime for active substrates. I usually start with ferts when my nitrates cycle down to 0. Active planted substrates leech ammonia, which plants will use right away. Plants actually help with cycling, just don't add any livestock until you're fully cycled.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Since you're using active substrate you can plant right away, just remember to follow the start up water change regime for active substrates. I usually start with ferts when my nitrates cycle down to 0. Active planted substrates leech ammonia, which plants will use right away. Plants actually help with cycling, just don't add any livestock until you're fully cycled.
Thanks for the tip! Prompted me to do a little more reading. I found this discussion of active substrates: A cautionary word about "biologically active”... (pasting it here for my future reference!)

I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re referencing by “start up water change regime”.... I’ve read a few descriptions of a “fishless” cycle (the one I bookmarked is in a comment on this thread:Fishless Cycle Advice). My understanding is that you do a major water change once ammonia and nitrite are zero 24 hours after adding ammonia, in order to lower nitrates to a safe level. Does this change with an active substrate?
 

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I usually adhere to the 50% change per day first week, every other day the 2nd week, twice a week 3rd week and weekly thereafter. Using a piece of my mature filter from my 10 year old tank and this active soil water change process I've got my new tank cycled already. I'm on day 12 now and I've had a nerite in there for 24 hours with no issues, not the best indicator as they can live in just about anything but they ball up and don't stay in the water when it's not cycled and there's no biofilm.

You're going to want to track your cycle. Mine went really fast because it was jump started but normally it will take a few weeks, your ammonia will spike first. With dennerle scapers soil I topped out at 2, with amazonia I usually topped out at 4, all aquasoils are different. My nitrates topped out at around 2 and nitrates topped out at 40. After that it all kinda falls into place and your numbers start dropping until you hit 0 on everything.

This is kind of standard practice with most aquasoils. With fishless cycling yes, you wait until the ammonia has built up to 2 (nano tanks) or 4 (large or saltwater tanks) and then the cycling process begins. The release of ammonia from the aquasoil itself will kick off your cycle so you don't have to worry about adding fish food or ammonia.
 

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I know this may sound silly, but if this tank is 2nd hand, make sure you've leak tested it before wading in to the scaping and adding of substrate, plants, etc... I do this with brand new tanks as well. 75 gallons is a LOT if it leaks :)
 
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If you have time and patience, cycling the soil without light before planting helps leach ammonia which means an easier transition for plants and you don't have to do the large water changes to start out.
If/ when I start a new aquasoil tank I'm trying this out. It makes a lot of sense I've just never thought to do it that way!!
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I know this may sound silly, but if this tank is 2nd hand, make sure you've leak tested it before wading in to the scaping and adding of substrate, plants, etc... I do this with brand new tanks as well. 75 gallons is a LOT if it leaks :)
Thanks! I was wondering about that.... now that you’ve recommended it I definitely well! How long would you let it sit full before considering it “ok”?
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
If you have time and patience, cycling the soil without light before planting helps leach ammonia which means an easier transition for plants and you don't have to do the large water changes to start out.
That makes sense! I feel like I’ve seen the opposite recommended (ie “plant immediately”) — i would actually rather go slow one step at a time!
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
One thing I’m wondering based on the advice above — lots of places throughout this forum describe eco complete as “inert” and my understanding was that activ-flora was similar. Does it actually leach much ammonia? Comparable to a true soil or ADA substrate? The way I’m understanding all of this is that it does not, but does have some sort of additives that will release ammonia, although not to the same degree. Yes?
 

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I would not buy eco-complete for a number of reasons - first it is over priced and second for cory and similar it is a bit large grained. I'd go with something like estes stoney river (if you want black inert) or caribsea torpedo beach or crystal river if you want white - do not use moonlight.
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Also if you are going to go hi-tech i would get a better light - at min a fluval 3.0 but I think the wrgb2 is a better light for a similar price. The fluval aqua sky is kind of well not that great - i mean it is fine i guess but i woudln't go hi-tech (add co2) with it.


One thing I’m wondering based on the advice above — lots of places throughout this forum describe eco complete as “inert” and my understanding was that activ-flora was similar. Does it actually leach much ammonia? Comparable to a true soil or ADA substrate? The way I’m understanding all of this is that it does not, but does have some sort of additives that will release ammonia, although not to the same degree. Yes?
 

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One thing I’m wondering based on the advice above — lots of places throughout this forum describe eco complete as “inert” and my understanding was that activ-flora was similar. Does it actually leach much ammonia? Comparable to a true soil or ADA substrate? The way I’m understanding all of this is that it does not, but does have some sort of additives that will release ammonia, although not to the same degree. Yes?
It most likely doesn't. When you mentioned using an "active" substrate I assumed you were talking about something like ADA Amazonia or Tropica soil. If you are using Activ-Flora there really isn't much of a reason to do a dark start.

The rest is gonna be nerdy rambling about substrates so read at your own risk. Also keep in mind I stopped learning any formal chemistry a decade ago so I might get some details wrong.

It's pretty well accepted that people don't add any ammonia to fertilizers or products destined for aquariums. You could probably get away with it, but manufacturers don't want to deal with people claiming a product killed their fish.

The paradoxical thing about ammonia is that even though it is harmful to fish and shrimp, it is a great plant food. It is absorbed preferentially over nitrates. I add osmocote, which contains ammoniacal nitrogen, as a root tab in my aquarium. I've also heard of people dosing urea in planted tanks, a precursor to ammonia.

One of the reason aquasoils work so well is because they contain organic content. In particular, the amino group of amino acids is broken down by bacterial metabolism into ammonium hydroxide, which in an aquarium just becomes aqueous ammonia. This acts as a long-term, slow release plant food. It is also why you get the dreaded ammonia spike when first cycling a tank with aquasoils. That microbial action slows down eventually to the point where there is so little ammonia being produced that it is instantly cycled by aquatic plants, algae, or bacteria.

Aquasoils have another advantage in that they have a high cation exchange capacity (CEC). This means they have electronegative groups that can grab and hold on to cations (like ammonium, potassium, calcium, magnesium etc.) until a plant root comes and takes them.

You can find CEC charts online, but essentially from highest CEC materials to lowest it goes pumice, charcoal/activated carbon, organic rich soils (compost), clay-based soils, and then as the soil gets more sand CEC decreases until you have sands and gravels at the bottom with little to no CEC.

The way stuff like Eco Complete and Activ Flora works is they add an all purpose aquarium fertilizer to gravel, which provides the plants with startup nutrients. As the tank matures, a layer of mulm will build up which then acts as a high CEC nutrient store (assuming you fertilize your aquarium).

I don't think either approach is necessarily better. I prefer aquasoils, but many people who have been doing this for a long time prefer gravels and coarse sands since they don't break down. The legendary Christel Kasselmann, for example, still uses primarily sand and gravel.

Sent from my SM-A716U using Tapatalk
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Thanks @gc
The rest is gonna be nerdy rambling about substrates so read at your own risk. Also keep in mind I stopped learning any formal chemistry a decade ago so I might get some details wrong.
All very helpful! Thanks for taking the time!
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
1028875


following sound advice and starting leak test! Also serves the purpose of making me realize how much water 75 gallons really is!
 

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😆 I remember my 1st jump into larger tanks... It's a little overwhelming at first. Don't overthink it- start up goes by fast because you're so busy and working hard, but once it's stable and through the start up blooms larger is a lot more forgiving (for the most part).
 
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