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Really new to this - could use suggestions(long)

2740 Views 27 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  Ladykatze
For the holidays my family gave me a wonderful gift, a 75 gallon set up. I've never done a planted tank before. Right now I have a 10 gallon with platys (I quit counting them) and a female betta, a 7 gallon with 6 red-eyed tetras, a 5 gallon with 6 serpae tetras and a 2 1/2 gallon with 1 male betta. No plants except plastic.
I would like to start fairly slow with this planted tank, especially since our tap water leaves a lot to be desired. I've been reading the forums here for a couple of weeks, and the more I read, the more questions I seem to have.

What I have (this part was my present):
1-All-Glass 75 Gallon Aquarium
1-Emperor 400 Filtration System
1-All Glass 48” Twin Tube Full Hood (need lights)
1-All Glass 300Watt Submersible Heater
3- 25lb bags of Spectra-Stone medium size, neutral color mix, gravel
All glass Oak color stand for the aquarium

What I know I want:
Large piece of interesting slate mounted Driftwood (for decoration and water quality)
Low light plants for all of the usual reasons
Automatic Fish Feeder from my local fish store

Planned Fish:
Various Gouramis (? Dwarf )
Dwarf Pleco – maybe 2
2 or more corys
Maybe something else that will work well(?)

I have 2 water test methods and I tested Tap water: (cold water from the tap) with no additives other than what the city puts in, for a baseline. Here are the results:

Aquarium Pharmaceutical Freshwater Master Test Kit:
Nitrates: 0 - expected
Nitrites: 0- expected
Ammonia: 0- expected
High Range Ph Test: 7.8

Mardel 5 in 1 Test Strip
Ppm Total Hardness: 250-400 (closer to 400)
Ppm Total Alkalinity/ Buffering Capacity: 300+ (went off the scale to solid Blue)
Total Ph: 8.4
I’ll cycle the aquarium with a couple of platys from my 10 gallon, unplanted aquarium.

This is not set up yet at all – all of the hardware is still in the boxes it came in. I will be putting the aquarium against the west wall of an east facing house, in the downstairs. There is a bank of windows on the east wall. Next to the planned location there is a small “wet-bar” type sink and 4 power outlets.

I am open to suggestions as to how to achieve the healthiest mix. I need to stay low tech because I’m out of town frequently, and to compound the problem I physically can’t lift a lot of weight to any height, and neither can my husband. So I need to use my tap water instead of RO. I have budget constraints (like everyone else) but I would like to start setting this up soon. I know that for plants I will need a substrate other than the gravel. One of my local fish stores suggested either eco-complete or fluorite red and small gravel (red flint?) with the more rounded medium gravel on top to protect the corys and plecos from damage.

So, any suggestions, ideas, advice, comments whatever, would be welcome.

Thank you in advance
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Welcome to the forums! What a great gift you have :)

Depending on the size of the substrate, you may want to change to something smaller, like sand or better suited, like SMS, Eco Complete, ADA AS, etc. There are several topics on these substrates discussed here.

You may consider looking to setup another Emperor 400 or maybe switch to a larger canister filter. Canister filters also allow you to connect inline heaters, CO2 (if you decide to go that route), UV (not that necessary), etc. This will prevent of clutter inside the tank, since all the equipment will be outside the tank.

If you don't have one already, look into investing Python No-spill, which will help in water changes. No heavy lifting of buckets required.

Purchase a chlorine test kit to see how much chlorine you have in your tap water. As far as dechlorinator, Prime is most commonly used. It will nuetralize chlorine and bind with ammonia making it harmless to fish, but still benificial to plants.

If you are only gone for a few days, an autofeeder is not necessary. Fish can survive several weeks without food. If you decide to go with an autofeeder, make sure you limit the amount of food being dispersed. This will lessen the chances of polluting the tank. Eheim Auto Feeder is the most common feeder used among discus breeders, so you may look into that.

Good luck and hope you keep us posted on your tank :)
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Thank you so much for your suggestions. I have been reading the forums here since Christmas day as a "guest". I will definately look into the chlorine test kit, I have never thought about it with the other tanks. I guess I "assumed" that the dechlorinator I use was doing all of the work there.
I have looked at the python no-spill system at the pet store where I buy cat food - for the small tanks, it just didn't seem worth it. For this larger tank it would definately help. Especially with the sink next to the aquarium.
As for the auto feeder idea - I am frequently away from home for anywhere from 2 days to 2 months. We have a friend who comes in to take care of the cats when we are both gone, but I'm pretty sure that we seriously over feed the fish. I'm considering the autofeeder primarily to cut down on overfeeding. I know that the bottom feeders (plecos and corys) will need algae tabs or "sinking wafers" to stay healthy.

Thanks again. Now I have even more ideas to look into.
Congratulations on the gift! Although there's a huge difference between a 75 gallon and all of the nanos you keep.

Regarding your fish choices, you have quite a lot of room in that tank. You could go with some of the larger gourami choices -- pearls are beautiful -- which would really be showcase pieces in your tank. I love dwarf gouramies myself as well, particularly when the males are showing lots of blue. You have a lot of options.

I'd get a whole school of cories, definitely more than 2. Regarding the plecos--fan favorite on this message board is probably the bristlenose pleco... I think someone did a poll recently of favorite cories and plecos and loaches.

I echo what Crazie.eddie said about the python and about the canister filter. With light stocking, your current filter is fine, but if you're going to have large fish, a canister filter is definitely the way to go--something to ask for next christmas or your birthday at least. :) You have a number of options regarding your substrate, and the substrate message board has tons of information about possibilities. I would say, though, that flourite is a lot sharper than eco-complete. Eco is "rough" but not particularly sharp. Your inert gravel on top will save you money initially, but you may regret it in the long term. Consider root-tabs as well if you end up with heavy root feeders like swords, lotuses, etc. especially if half your gravel will be inert.

What wattage is your lighting? You didn't mention.

Post photos!
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I didn't mention the lighting wattage - because I haven't purchased it yet - they gave me the standard hood with connections for 2 48" flourescent tubes. So I'm open to suggestions there as to lights that will work with what I was given.

Also, I would love to show pictures - except it is all still in boxes. I plan to take pictures once I have the space "opened up" and can start setting it up. No one (including me) wants to see a picture of what the space looks like right now. The second family room in my house is used for storage - and the Local charities will only take so much "stuff" at any one time. Picture your kitchen junk drawer, turn it into a 16'x20' room, and add all the stuff that's too good to throw away, then multiply by 15 or so years. Yes, I do believe that the gift is an effort to reclaim part of the house from the dreaded packrat disease! The only useable corner is where my computer and I are...

How big is your definition of large fish - I was thinking of not using anything much bigger than 6" or so adult size. More variety? I went to World of Fish in Richfield, MN on a "fact finding mission" and saw Gouramis in colors that I never knew existed. The people I spoke to there were very patient, and seem to be more than willing to assist a total neophyte like me. I figure that with all of the knowledge and advice on this site, and the one on one assistance there, I should "probably" do okay.
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I like Hengels Rasboras, great fish for your size tank.
I echo what Crazie.eddie said about the python and about the canister filter. With light stocking, your current filter is fine, but if you're going to have large fish, a canister filter is definitely the way to go--something to ask for next christmas or your birthday at least. :) You have a number of options regarding your substrate, and the substrate message board has tons of information about possibilities. I would say, though, that flourite is a lot sharper than eco-complete. Eco is "rough" but not particularly sharp. Your inert gravel on top will save you money initially, but you may regret it in the long term. Consider root-tabs as well if you end up with heavy root feeders like swords, lotuses, etc. especially if half your gravel will be inert.


I have not looked into the canister filters at all yet. Is this something that may be added in the future, or is it something I should plan to install at the begining?

Also, I used the "substrate" calculater for eco-complete, it generated 175 lbs to put a 3" substrate of eco in my tank... even at the least expensive LFS I found it in it's @$23 for 20 lbs. (gulp) And they only had about 4 bags (80 lbs) in the sales display.:eek: The math scares me sometimes...

Fortunately, I have time. Absolutely nothing will get set up until after Jan 28th - I'm leaving town again for 10 days.
Filtration is definitely something that you can easily upgrade in the future. It's just that you'll be left with the previous filter that you can't return to the store. Even so, all it takes is removing the previous filter, seeding the new one, and bam, you're good to go.

Substrate now... different story, as you'd have to tear down the entire tank. I really don't think you need a 3 inch substrate in the entire tank. Your hardscape of driftwood and/or rocks will displace some substrate. Also, for interest, I'd incorporate a slope in your setup which will add the illusion of depth and also help detritus collect at the front of the tank where you can more easily siphon it (in theory at least). Are you thinking about a planted foreground or a bare foreground? That will play into how deep your substrate will have to be at the front of the tank as well.

Good substrate is expensive, but it is definitely not an absolute necessity. You can grow lush plants in plain old gravel, believe me. You'll just be more limited in choices and you won't get the same growth. There's plenty of cheaper options than Eco, which is probably the most expensive substrate out there due in part to the fact that you're paying for water weight when you buy that heavy wet 20lb bag. (Nothing against eco, its very good, just not cheap).
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Man, I'm jealous. I would love to have a new 75 gallon to play with. :)

It sounds to me like you need to determine which route you want to go before taking the next step or spending any money. I would suggest researching low light / low tech setups vs. high light / high tech setups. There are advantages and disadvantages to both routes. If you go high tech though, you are going to have to spend some money on canister filters, fairly expensive lighting, and a pressurized CO2 system. Since you are thinking about using eco complete, your budget might be getting squeezed as it is. Eco is good (I use it), and it is one of the cheaper planted substrates. I feel your pain though with the high costs associated with buying that much substrate. For what its worth, I used 3 bags on my 29 gallon to get a 3" depth.

A high tech approach might also not appeal to you as much because of the other costs involved. You will need more light for sure and you will want to inject CO2 (probably with a pressurized system). Those two things are going to set you back several hundered dollars. You would also want to invest in canister filter(s) in a high tech setup to keep the water column from degassing CO2. I have gone the route of using a hang on filter with CO2 injection and the effectiveness is decreased. One of the other things to consider is that the plant growth will be fast with some plants and it will require regular maintenance with weekly water changes of about 50% as well as keeping things trimmed and clean. You will also need to dose fertilizers on a daily basis.

A low tech approach doesn't require as much attention. The plant growth is slower, and you can generally get away with out injecting CO2 with a pressurized system. I can't go into all of the details because I am not a low tech kind of guy. There is a TON of information on this forum about low tech setups though. You just need to look for it and talk to the people that specialize in that area.
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Coming from a farming background, I know the value of starting with the "dirt" and working my way up, if I want to have any healthy plants. I expect to spend a certain amount for substrate, and I would rather do it at the beginning than later, when I would have to take everything apart. That's one of the reasons I want to start low tech and stay that way for at least a year. The substrate that I use needs to be something that I can purchase at my LFS when I'm ready for it, the same store that had the eco also had Florite red. So my thought is that any upgrades that I do to the system itself need to be done at the front end if they are on the bottom of the tank. Filtration and lighting can be changed later, since they are at the top, right? The two planted tank substrates that I have seen the most mention of have been eco and flourite, I have seen Laterite mentioned but not as often. If there is another substrate of the quality of those first two, I'll be happy to entertain a new suggestion. The LFS in Richfield seems to have, or be able to get, anything!

I was considering a sloped design for the substrate, with the middle third of the front left unplanted for about 8 inches towards the back at least to start with. Kind of a "cove" shape, if that makes sense? That way I can see the corys zipping around at least part of the front. Looking at the photos of some of the aquariums on this site the ones I seem to enjoy looking at the most are the ones that are not completely planted, that have some bare foreground. My LFS has some really interesting slate mounted driftwood, and I believe that there are plants that I can attach to the driftwood that will grow in a lower light? One of LFS's recommended using 1/2" of playground sand, @ 1" of Laterite, another 1/2" of sand and then standard aquarium gravel on the top for a total depth of 5-7 inches. Those are flat inches, without any sloping. However, I like the sloping idea. It just seems more attractive to me, and would give all of the fish lots of space to play at the front.
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I like sloping the substrate. It makes the tank look like it has more depth. I personally wouldn't mix the substrates. I would go with one thing. If you mix the substrates by creating layers they will probably get mixed up over time and then you will have substrate that you might not like looking at.
I'll add a couple of things...

If you have someone over to feed the fish while on vacation, and are worried about them overfeeding, there is a simple solution. You can pre-portion the food into small containers, dixie cups or the like, and hide or lock away the rest of the food.

Cories need to be in groups to be happy, the bigger the better. You could easily do 8-10 in a tank that size. You could probably get away with two different species with 6 a piece if you wanted to.

Just my personal preference, I would go with 10 cories, a couple bristlenose or 10 otos, a handful of amano shrimp, pearl gouramis and about 20 schooling fish of some sort.

I haven't used flourite, but eco-complete is fine for cories, see my avatar!
I've seen a lot of posts and aquarium descriptions that include shrimp and otos. They are not something that I'm at all familiar with. Something more to research, I guess.

Right now I have 2 corys of unknown species of in with my red-eyed tetras, they live in a 6-7 gallon Aquatic Gardens "Bookshelf" aquarium. They are really cute and fun to watch zipping around. I've had the bookshelf set up for over a year, at the time the book I was reading recommended using an undergravel filter along with the hang on the back filter, it has the flourescent lighting that came with it, and a submersible heater. No live plants, just a large rock (currently growing algae) and plastic plants.

I also forgot to mention that the Serpae Tetras are in a 5 gallon hex and have 2 unknown species of dwarf plecos (about 3-4" long) sharing their space. I know that the plecos are not the same species, they look totally different. They are also quite different in personality. One has an attitude toward snails (won't touch the algae in the tank if there are any) and the other one spends all his time in hiding. Even when he is the only pleco in a tank, I never see him eating the algae, and the algae usually looks undisturbed. The 5 gallon Hex has a Penguin 100 biowheel filter, the light that came with it, and a heater. Another large rock, plastic plants and the Serpae Tetras and 2 plecos. It's been set up for quite a while, since about fall 2005.

The 10 gallon of platys (and one female betta) has a few plastic plants and some "Greek column" decorations. It also has a Penguin 100 biowheel filter, the incandescent light that came with it, and a heater.

Midnight the male Betta has an undergravel filter, and a heater in his 2.5 gal home. He has the smallest coral life light, a cave and 1 living plant. The reason he got the "good" light is that it was the only one I could find at any LFS that would fit his tank, the tank didn't have a heater, he lives by a window and it was late fall. That window has a draft somewhere. I don't have anywhere that I could easly move him to, so I opted for adding heat from the light and later added a heater. He likes that corner, and is a pretty active fish, so I don't really want to have to move him.

By the way, your avatar is a very nice lookingfish. I like the "dwarf" plecos, at least in theory, because I'm not looking to have a fish that is lots bigger than all the others. Some of the ones I have seen are huge! Simple and in perspective, that's me. Once I get my camera battery charged (lots of grandchildren pictures at the holidays) I'll attempt to post some pictures of what I have set up.
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Soilmaster Select makes a great substrate on a lower budget, but is apparently getting harder to find.
If you can find a local Lesco in the yellow pages, they may still have some laying around.
It's typically about $15 for a 50 or 55lb bag. (I forget which)
I found a Lesco dealer in my area, and looked at the product info sheet, apparently this is sold as a topdresing for baseball fields? Or am I looking at the wrong product?
Please let us know the hood's/light specifications.

I think you need to go back and focus on the lighting. The bulb does not determine the wattage so much as the fixture/ballast determines what bulb you have the ability to use in the fixture.

I think with the All Glass off the shelf hoods with only twin tubes, you are limited to 80 watts of t-8/t-12 light. I could be wrong, as I chose to build my own setup, but 80 watts over a 75 is very little.
I believe that you are correct. It will only have 80 watts over 75 gallons, at least for the forseeable future.
SMS is indeed a baseball field topper. Aquarium substrate is not the intended use, but it works and it has gained a strong following.

Did you have an idea regarding what plants you want to grow? Your lighting is going to restrict your choices.
No idea on the plants yet. Wheat, corn oats, petunias I know about, aquarium plants, no. How about ones that almost grow in the dark? Just kidding, those are the plastic ones in my nano tanks, right?

In another thread, someone posted this link :
I know that I need to research for compatability with my water conditions, and concentrate on the ones that will grow, albeit slowly, in very low light. I thought maybe if I started with this list, I could at least make some pseudo intelligent choices? Besides all of you, I have the wonderful LFS close to my office, and they are happy to answer questions also. They have planted tanks that are healthy, vibrant and bee-u-tifull. I've been to a few LFS in my area where I would not want to buy a plant unless it was a "rescue" purchase. The nice LFS suggested plants that grow from bulbs for my taller plants, and recomended that I stay away from "bunch" plants, because they didn't think they would do well. Saturday was my first trip to some of these places, and I was asking very general questions, partially since I was in no way ready to purchase anything, and partially because I wasn't even sure of the right questions to ask. But I'm learning more and more all of the time. I hadn't posted my questions here yet either, come to think of it.

Can I convince java fern or java moss to grow on a reasonably tall piece of driftwood? A submerged piece of wood just seems like it should have some kind of moss-like plant, not algae, growing on it. We previously discussed an open space in the front and sloping substrate. I would like to use some plants that will slowly spread out to fill in gaps, but still leave the open space. I do know that almost anything I plant will probably grow slowly, and I'm okay with that.

Any suggestions?
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