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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
First off, this forum is great and has provided a ton of great information so far.

I currently have a 55 gallon tank that is non planted and I am wanting to convert it over and have a couple of questions.

1) I am planning on upgrading my light from the standard fixture I have now. From reading through the forum it seems that I either want to go with a single t5ho or a dual t5no fixture to provide medium light and not need to worry about CO2. Is this the right path to go? I want to be able to grow a variety of plants but don't want to invest in CO2 or be overtaken by algae.

2) I am also after the cheapest substrate I can find to get the job done. I actually have some pool filter sand in a bag left over from another tank so I am inclined to go that route. However, do I then have to use root tabs for plants that require more than liquid ferts? I have never used them before and online it says you have to keep replacing them as the plant uses the nutrients, so I would have to replace them every couple of months? I have also read about using potting soil or dirt, is this a better route? I am concerned because I am trying to change the substrate while I have fish in there currently and am hoping for something that I do not have to worry about cycling and releasing a lot of ammonia as it breaks down since I have no where else to keep the fish other than a bucket while I change the substrate and let it settle.

Thanks for any help!
 

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In regards to the substrate -- have you considered going the "El Natural" or Walstad approach? It's definitely worth a look, especially since you're avoiding CO2 and you're looking for cheap substrate :p

The Walstad approach uses potting soil (like you'd use for your plants) as a substrate covered by small gravel (to help keep the soil down), low lighting, no CO2, infrequent water changes (on the order of every few months to twice a year), and no fertilizing.

There's a whole forum about it at APC, I'd suggest you check it out and try to get a copy of Diana Walstad's book "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium" -- I hear some libraries have it (unfortunately mine did not!)

Good Luck!
Robert
 

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Your 55 G

Good morning Fun...

A T5 bulb will provide intense light over a small area, so a two bulb set up would work better than one for your larger tank. If you can get them in a T5, then a 6500 K bulb is best for aquatic plants, because it best mimics natural light at 5500 K. You want to aim for 2 watts of light per gallon of tank volume. I know the watts per gallon rule is "old school", but it's a good starting point.

Never used CO2. Couldn't justify the expense. I prefer all natural, planted tanks. I just use a pea gravel substrate and plant the majority of my plants in plastic potts with organic potting soil covered with pea gravel. The potting soil nourishes the plants for months and gets them through the initial shock of planting.

I wouldn't recommend covering the bottom of a tank with potting soil and covering that with a substrate. If you disturb the substrate even a little, it can create a real mess, so stick to the pots if you use potting soil.

Ferts are number two in importance. Light is first. I like hydroponics liquids. They're all natural and very good for the plants. They're also inexpensive to dose.

I think that's enough information for starters. If I missed something, then you're welcome to ask me. I'm never too busy to talk about planted tanks.

Above all, have fun!

B
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Robert and B,

Thanks for the advice.

For lighting, I think I will end up getting something like the Coralife T5no fixture that will give me two bulbs.

I am still a little bit torn on the substrate. I did a planted tank in the past and had Flourite topped with sand and that worked out well, but I do not want to spend that kind of money on a 55 versus my old 29. Plus, I wasn't a fan of the Flourite coming u through the sand and damaging the barbs of my Corys.

I am really not a fan of potted plants and would rather have it planted into the substrate instead, which might lend itself better with pool filter sand.

I have looked a little bit into the Walstad approach and from my inexperienced mind it seems alright. What I worry about is that I do not have the time to really deal with swings in my water chemistry since I am limited in tank space and have some current residents in the tank that I am trying to change up. Pool filter sand is inert (supposedly) and shouldn't have a great effect whereas soil would probably break down somewhat and cause ammonia swings right?

For a beginning planted tank that would be planted slowly but surely, would it be better to just go with PFS or should I go another route? I would think that whatever decision I make now is going to more or less be set in stone down the road.
 

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I have changed to a bigger tank several times. The way I have always done it is to net the fish/shrimp and put them in a 5 gallon bucket with tank water in it. Then I remove everything from the old tank, and move it out for the new tank. I have used several substrates, the cheapest of which is mineralized topsoil (real soil from woodsy river area) topped with pool filter sand. I put that in the tank, dry. Add just enough water to cover the substrate, plant most of the plants, fill the tank with new water, add Prime. Then get the filter going, finish planting any remaining plants, and put the fish back in. That has always worked out well for me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I am currently torn on substrate selection. I can probably get a bare bones top soil for really cheap from Home Depot and then top with PFS or maybe some kind of pea gravel. Or, I could just use PFS instead. I have a couple of concerns:

When using moderate or low light demanding plants, does the substrate really matter so much?

If I decided I wanted to rearrange the plants, wouldn't it be hard to move any kind of rooted plant if it was in the soil instead of sand?

How thick of a bed would each scenario be? I assume if it was soil it would be around 2" of soil and an inch of top substrate. For just PFS maybe 2" to 3"?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I was also browsing through some threads on here and came across some PAR analysis of the coralife t5no fixture and it was apparently much lower than expected. So this would give low light and I would need a single bulb t5HO fixture to get medium light? If I go to medium light is there a substantial amount of plants that can be used in addition to the low? I am trying to figure out if it is worth it to spend the extra money and if there are even any affordable single t5HO fixtures.
 

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I am currently torn on substrate selection. I can probably get a bare bones top soil for really cheap from Home Depot and then top with PFS or maybe some kind of pea gravel. Or, I could just use PFS instead. I have a couple of concerns:

When using moderate or low light demanding plants, does the substrate really matter so much?

If I decided I wanted to rearrange the plants, wouldn't it be hard to move any kind of rooted plant if it was in the soil instead of sand?

How thick of a bed would each scenario be? I assume if it was soil it would be around 2" of soil and an inch of top substrate. For just PFS maybe 2" to 3"?
It really depends on what plants you choose. Stem plants would do fine in PFS. Anubias and Java fern doesn't matter, they generally need to be tied onto hardscape rather than planted anyways. Carpeting plants and rosette plants (swords, crypts, etc) generally do better with substrates containing at least some nutrients, so the soil layer would be beneficial for them.

I was also browsing through some threads on here and came across some PAR analysis of the coralife t5no fixture and it was apparently much lower than expected. So this would give low light and I would need a single bulb t5HO fixture to get medium light? If I go to medium light is there a substantial amount of plants that can be used in addition to the low? I am trying to figure out if it is worth it to spend the extra money and if there are even any affordable single t5HO fixtures.
Hagen Glo makes a single bulb T5HO. I believe www.catalinaaquarium.com does, too?

A single bulb T5HO or a dual bulb T5NO should still leave you low light over a 55gal tank. A dual bult T5HO will require pressurized CO2, though. There's not really such a thing as "medium tech" on a big tank, as either it HAS pressurized CO2, or it doesn't. DIY CO2 just won't cut it on big tanks.
 

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Funagi - The setup I am working on is similar to yours. 55g low tech. I actually ordered the Hagen GLO 2x54w and sent it back because is was too much light.

I settled on a 48" All-Glass triple tube lightstrip. Three T8s. Polished aluminum reflector not individual parabolic, but better than white reflectors. Light output is probably better than 2 T5NOs and a little less than 1 T5HO w/ a good reflector.



It's old school I know, but bulbs are cheap and you can mix different spectrum bulbs. Check my journal for more info. Just another option for ya! :confused1:
 

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When you have low light you can expand the variety of plants you can grow by just adding CO2. It doesn't have to be pressurized CO2 - any CO2 is better than none. Eventually most people get very tired of changing the mix in DIY CO2 bottles, and the cost of the sugar begins to add up, so most people end up with pressurized CO2. Try CO2 and you will be amazed at the difference it makes. (Of course, it does increase the time you need to devote to the tank, so don't do it if time is a problem.)
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Alright, well.. here is what I am thinking then.

For substrate I would do a layer of top soil covered by a layer of PFS.

For lights I am considering getting the AH Supply 54w retrofit kit to allow my existing fixture to use one t5HO bulb. Is this a good idea? I should get a medium light level while avoiding having to use CO2 and heavy fert correct? Having never done a retrofit kit before, are they relatively easy? I am pretty hands on and can follow directions.
 

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You can also add CO2 by dosing Excel.

I use EI dosing with Excel and its been working really well. Here is the description of the method I'm using.
http://www.barrreport.com/showthread.php/2819-EI-light-for-those-less-techy-folks

This is working in both my 29 and 55 gallon tanks. The 29 uses floramax and pea gravel substrate, the 55 has Miracle Organic Choice Potting Mix topped with small sized pea gravel.

The biggest downside to dirt tanks IMO is the replanting issue. So if you go that route I would highly recommend a detailed plan. Start with some poster board cut to the dimensions of the base of your tank. The draw out where you want plants and hardscape. Be sure to consider the growth height of the plants. Make a list of the plants that fit into your plan. Buy them and plant them before adding the water, then fill it up. Plant fairly heavily early on, that way you don't have to try and fill in and disturb things after you got water in it.

Depth for dirt tanks should be 1-1 1/2" dirt with 1-1 1/2" cap. You can have areas that have more cap depth to give some elevation to the substrate.

If you go all sand, rooted plants will appreciate root tabs. Depth should be around 1-1 1/2" you can go deeper in places where the major root feeding plants will be.

IMO, medium light works best if you are planning on a Excel/Fert dosing regimen. If you don't want to do Excel/Ferts, your best off to stick with low light.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
If you go all sand, rooted plants will appreciate root tabs. Depth should be around 1-1 1/2" you can go deeper in places where the major root feeding plants will be.

IMO, medium light works best if you are planning on a Excel/Fert dosing regimen. If you don't want to do Excel/Ferts, your best off to stick with low light.
Thanks for the input. Sorry for asking so many questions, my wife gets obsessed about my thirst for knowledge when it comes to expanding my hobby.

So, I am thinking I should just stay with PFS and be done with it. I already know my wife and I get bored too easily with having the same setup for too long and would want to scape more than once, so plants would have to be somewhat movable.

With the root tabs, are these things that have to be constantly replaced as the nutrients are used, or are they just there in the beginning to help them through the shock of the new tank?

I definitely don't take issue with using a liquid fert once a week if it isn't too expensive. Maybe as time goes on and I devote more time to this I would do a 3x week dosing schedule or something, but for right now I would like to stick with a system that I can pour some liquid in once a week and be good.
 

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Thanks for the input. Sorry for asking so many questions, my wife gets obsessed about my thirst for knowledge when it comes to expanding my hobby.

So, I am thinking I should just stay with PFS and be done with it. I already know my wife and I get bored too easily with having the same setup for too long and would want to scape more than once, so plants would have to be somewhat movable.

With the root tabs, are these things that have to be constantly replaced as the nutrients are used, or are they just there in the beginning to help them through the shock of the new tank?

I definitely don't take issue with using a liquid fert once a week if it isn't too expensive. Maybe as time goes on and I devote more time to this I would do a 3x week dosing schedule or something, but for right now I would like to stick with a system that I can pour some liquid in once a week and be good.
If you think you'll be moving things dirt is probably the last substrate you'd want to consider. PFS and small pea gravel are good choices for simple cost effective setups, but either way plants will appreciate the ferts and excel.

I'd have to check the sites, but root tabs generally last around 6 months.
There several vendors but rootmedic comes to mind as they are a sponsor of the forum.

I dose dry ferts once a week on my two tanks and I dose daily Excel. I try to do 50% water change once a week, but sometimes I go almost 2 weeks between changes if I am busy. I bought my dry ferts from aquariumfertilzers each thing I need comes in a 1lb bag that should last me at least a year. I think the total was around 30-40 dollars including shipping.

I had my LFS special order me a big bottle of Excel they charged me what it cost them, so that was cool saved me some shipping cost. The big bottle should last me close to a year. It was around $30.00
 
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