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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've had aquariums for about 30 years now but have never seriously done anything with plants. I currently have a 30 gallon tank and seriously need to move to a 55 as I have two 20+ year old Clown Loaches and they need more room. I've dabbled with plants in this tank but it was not set up with plants in mind. Plain gravel substrate and a reverse flow undergravel filter (they were the rage when I set this up).

I am about to set up a 55 and want to do it with plants in mind. I was looking at the sticky regarding substrates and it looks like the option using the Miracle Grow Organic is right for me. I'm obviously going to forgo the UGF this time and just stick to my HOB Marineland Biowheel. Any thoughts on using the Miracle Grow? I've never used any kind of substrate but plain gravel.

My thought is to set this tank up and put in a new HOB Biowheel and let it run till things settle down. Not exactly sure what to do next. Perhaps add a few plants. Will the plants do OK with no fish in the tank for a while? I plan on gradually move the fish in the 30 over to the 55. I have five clown loaches (three small and two big), three tiger loaches, and a few community fish (yes, I know it's overcrowded). I can also use one of the filter pads in the old tank to help seed the new one. I can also move the powerhead with the sponge filter (that currently powers the UGF) to the new tank to also help seed it (along with some gravel).

I guess I'm a bit paranoid about having 'dirt' in my tank as I've never used that kind of substrate before. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!
 

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I've been dabbling into the planted aquariums for not too long now but have has some success with it. Some plants are easier to grow than others. If you are getting into planted tanks, don't splurge too much on gravel. Go on amazon for some eco complete and that should do the job just fine, you just might need to dose it with flourish and add some root tabs. Obviously amazon swords, ludwigia, bacopa, and hygrophila are good starter plants. Go for something like a finnex planted plus light, and look into either DIY CO2 or pressurized CO2
 

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Instead of a 55, which is not very deep (front to back) it would be a lot better to go with a tank that is not quite so tall, but is wider front to back. This would be a lot easier to 'scape, and would give the Clown Loaches more floor space.
If you still want the height, then look into a 75, which is a long as and as tall as a 55, but has more depth front to back.

The problem with a narrow tank like a 55 is that there is not a lot of room for creating a sort of 'background' and 'foreground' layout of stone, wood etc. Not enough space to arrange one piece in front of another to make it look deeper. When filled with water this effect is shortened even more.
If you start with a tank with a wider footprint there is room for more foreground and background things, more spacing between them, more planting and so on. Also, when this tank is filled the shortening effect that happens still allows it to look like there is some depth.

I prefer the Aquaclear product line over most of the other HOB filters. On my 72 gallon bowfront I am running an Aquaclear 110 plus a sump of about 200 pgh. On several of my 45-50 gallon tanks I am running the Aquaclear 70. On one of these tanks I have the Aquaclear 110- it is a river tank.
Loaches like a lot of water movement. Highly oxygenated.
I do not like any of the cartridge style HOB filters. The volume for media, the water flow pattern and the options for media are a lot better in the large box like the Aquaclear.

Some Clown Loaches dig more than others.

I would do this:
Set up the tank with hardscape, substrate, gravel over the soil so that if the fish start digging they do not reveal the soil too soon, and plant it.
Set up the new filter and begin the fishless cycle. You can use some media from your current filter to jump start it, but it is not really necessary. While you are doing the fishless cycle, the plants are getting well rooted. This is very important, not to be rushed. Also, you can fine tune the lighting and other details so you know the plants are growing well.
Some substrates release ammonia when they are first submerged. I have heard mixed reports about the Miracle Grow. Some people see ammonia, some do not. Play it safe- plan on a month of not being able to stock the tank with fish. Use this time to grow bacteria and get the plants established.

Here is the fishless cycle.

Cycle: To grow the beneficial bacteria that remove ammonia and nitrite from the aquarium.

Fish-In Cycle: To expose fish to toxins while using them as the source of ammonia to grow nitrogen cycle bacteria. Exposure to ammonia burns the gills and other soft tissue, stresses the fish and lowers their immunity. Exposure to nitrite makes the blood unable to carry oxygen. Research methemglobinemia for details.

Fishless Cycle: The safe way to grow more bacteria, faster, in an aquarium, pond or riparium.

The method I give here was developed by 2 scientists who wanted to quickly grow enough bacteria to fully stock a tank all at one time, with no plants helping, and overstock it as is common with Rift Lake Cichlid tanks.

1a) Set up the tank and all the equipment. You can plant if you want. Include the proper dose of dechlorinator with the water.
Optimum water chemistry:
GH and KH above 3 German degrees of hardness. A lot harder is just fine.
pH above 7, and into the mid 8s is just fine. (7.5-8 seems to be optimum)
Temperature in the upper 70s F (mid 20s C) is good. Higher (to 95*F or about 35*C) is OK if the water is well aerated.
A trace of other minerals may help. Usually this comes in with the water, but if you have a pinch of KH2PO4, and trace elements like CSM+B that may be helpful.
High oxygen level. Make sure the filter and power heads are running well. Plenty of water circulation.
No toxins in the tank. If you washed the tank, or any part of the system with any sort of cleanser, soap, detergent, bleach or anything else make sure it is well rinsed. Do not put your hands in the tank when you are wearing any sort of cosmetics, perfume or hand lotion. No fish medicines of any sort.
A trace of salt (sodium chloride) is OK, but not required.
This method of growing bacteria will work in a marine system, too. The species of bacteria are different.

1b) Optional: Add any source of the bacteria that you are growing to seed the tank. Cycled media from a healthy tank is good. Decor or some gravel from a cycled tank is OK. Live plants or plastic are OK. I have even heard of the right bacteria growing in the bio film found on driftwood. (So if you have been soaking some driftwood in preparation to adding it to the tank, go ahead and put it into the tank) Bottled bacteria is great, but only if it contains Nitrospira species of bacteria. Read the label and do not waste your money on anything else.
At the time this was written the right species could be found in:
Dr. Tims One and Only
Tetra Safe Start
Microbe Lift Nite Out II
...and perhaps others.
You do not have to jump start the cycle. The right species of bacteria are all around, and will find the tank pretty fast.

2) Add ammonia until the test reads 5 ppm. This ammonia is the cheapest you can find. No surfactants, no perfumes. Read the fine print. This is often found at discount stores like Dollar Tree, or hardware stores like Ace. You could also use a dead shrimp form the grocery store, or fish food. Protein breaks down to become ammonia. You do not have good control over the ammonia level, though.
Some substrates release ammonia when they are submerged for the first time. Monitor the level and do enough water changes to keep the ammonia at the levels detailed below.

3) Test daily. For the first few days not much will happen, but the bacteria that remove ammonia are getting started. Finally the ammonia starts to drop. Add a little more, once a day, to test 5 ppm.

4) Test for nitrite. A day or so after the ammonia starts to drop the nitrite will show up. When it does allow the ammonia to drop to 3 ppm.

5) Test daily. Add ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. If the nitrite or ammonia go to 5 ppm do a water change to get these lower. The ammonia removing species and the nitrite removing species (Nitrospira) do not do well when the ammonia or nitrite are over 5 ppm.

6) When the ammonia and nitrite both hit zero 24 hours after you have added the ammonia the cycle is done. You can challenge the bacteria by adding a bit more than 3 ppm ammonia, and it should be able to handle that, too, within 24 hours.

7) Now test the nitrate. Probably sky high!
Do as big a water change as needed to lower the nitrate until it is safe for fish. Certainly well under 20, and a lot lower is better. This may call for more than one water change, and up to 100% water change is not a problem. Remember the dechlor!
If you will be stocking right away (within 24 hours) no need to add more ammonia. If stocking will be delayed keep feeding the bacteria by adding ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. You will need to do another water change right before adding the fish.
__________________________

Helpful hints:

A) You can run a fishless cycle in a bucket to grow bacteria on almost any filter media like bio balls, sponges, ceramic bio noodles, lava rock or Matala mats. Simply set up any sort of water circulation such as a fountain pump or air bubbler and add the media to the bucket. Follow the directions for the fishless cycle. When the cycle is done add the media to the filter. I have run a canister filter in a bucket and done the fishless cycle.

B) The nitrogen cycle bacteria will live under a wide range of conditions and bounce back from minor set backs. By following the set up suggestions in part 1a) you are setting up optimum conditions for fastest reproduction and growth.
GH and KH can be as low as 1 degree, but watch it! These bacteria may use the carbon in carbonates, and if it is all used up (KH = 0) the bacteria may die off. They use the carbon from CO2, and this is generally pretty low in water, but can be replenished from the air and from carbonates. Keep the carbonates up to keep the pH up, too.
pH as low as 6.5 is OK, but by 6.0 the bacteria are not going to be doing very well. They are still there, and will recover pretty well when conditions get better. To grow them at optimum rates, keep the pH on the alkaline side of neutral.
Temperature almost to freezing is OK, but they must not freeze, and they are not very active at all. They do survive in a pond, but they are slow to warm up and get going in the spring. This is where you might need to grow some in a bucket in a warm place and supplement the pond population. Too warm is not good, either. Tropical or room temperature tank temperatures are best. (68 to 85*F or 20 to 28*C)
Moderate oxygen can be tolerated for a while. However, to remove lots of ammonia and nitrite these bacteria must have oxygen. They turn one into the other by adding oxygen. If you must stop running the filter for an hour or so, no problem. If longer, remove the media and keep it where it will get more oxygen.
Once the bacteria are established they can tolerate some fish medicines. This is because they live in a complex film called Bio film on all the surfaces in the filter and the tank. Medicines do not enter the bio film well.
These bacteria do not need to live under water. They do just fine in a humid location. They live in healthy garden soil, as well as wet locations.

C) Planted tanks may not tolerate 3 ppm or 5 ppm ammonia. It is possible to cycle the tank at lower levels of ammonia so the plants do not get ammonia burn. Add ammonia to only 1 ppm, but test twice a day, and add ammonia as needed to keep it at 1 ppm. The plants are also part of the bio filter, and you may be able to add the fish sooner, if the plants are thriving. 1 ppm twice a day will grow almost as much bacteria as 3 ppm once a day.
 

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I have a bio-wheel on a 55, emperor 400, I would recommend the powerhead and sponge be ran as well if you are going to use that filter on a 55 as the bio-wheel in my opinion leaves to many dead spots in the water. I actually have 2 bio-wheels on my 55 because of the dead spots. The only reason I have 2 is I already had the other bio-wheel. My 55 is not planted and if it was I would not use the bio-wheel at all. If you are going to purchase a new filter I would highly recommend instead of the bio-wheel going with a canister.

I was hesitant to use dirt at first as well but I have two tanks thriving using dirt with sand caps. The only real caveat to dirt is if you dont like the way you have things laid out it can be tricky and messy to move the plants. Welcome to the planted tank and good luck with your new build!
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Diana, I agree with you about the 75 versus the 55 but the price difference between the two is a lot more than what the 20 extra gallons would lead one to believe. I'm all ready struggling to get my wife to accept this! I really appreciate your in depth description of the steps. I'm wondering though, if I have my current filters already 'aged' and can transfer all the water from my 30 gallon to the 55 (or 75), along with the gravel, rocks, plants, and driftwood, would I still need to go through the whole tank cycling procedure? My thought is that I will be bringing over almost all of the biological filtration and not increasing the bioload as I would only be moving the same fish from the 30 to the 55. Am I wrong in this assumption?

Thedood, you mention going with a canister instead of the biowheel, can you explain your reasoning? I've always had good luck with the biowheel but I'm also open to new ideas. Is the canister better for planted aquariums?

Regarding using Miracle Grow Organic, are there any caveats to that? I know it will make aquascape changes challenging but I would assume using any kind of 'dirt' as a substrate would also do the same. It just seems from the sticky that i was reading that it would be the best combination of ease of setup and effectiveness. The Eco Complete is lacking in key plant nutrients, the mineralized top soil takes a lot of work to get ready, but the Miracle Grow seems to be easy to get ready and has all the key nutrients that are needed.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I did a lot of shopping around today and I'm going to go with a 55 gallon. As much as I want the 75 the price difference is just too great. In order to keep my marriage stable, I'm going with the 55...

I've been looking at the different substrates and have decided not to go with the Miracle Grow. I saw the Eco Complete and the Fluval Stratum both in an aquarium and like the looks of both of them. Since neither need capping, that's a plus. I have a couple of Clown Loaches that love to dig and I'm not sure what they'll do to dirt capped with gravel. I'm trying to decide which one to use. From what I saw on the sticky the Eco has a high CEC whereas I did not see that attributed to the Fluval Stratum. How important is that in the long run? Once I put this in it's in for the long haul. Also, the Fluval Stratum is clay where the Eco is volcanic rock. Would the Fluval Stratum eventually break down and compact over the years? I know that the Miracle Grow would have more nutritional value to the plants initially but I assume I can add plant tabs to the others while the organics build up.
 

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If you're looking at price alone, sand is a great value. The black diamond blasting sand in my little 10g looks just as good as the more expensive black stuff in my 46g. And was less than $8 for 50lbs.

There are a lot of differing opinions on substrate. From what I have gathered, as long as you dose whatever nutrients required, a substrate with high CEC isn't required to have a thriving tank. A combo of root tabs (which you can inexpensively make) and water column dosing (dry ferts are going to be your best deal) will take care of your plant's needs.


I am certain those with more experience will chime in. :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I just found a used 75 so I'm grabbing it and going with that.

Since I was concerned with the Fluval Stratum eventually breaking down (as it seems to be clay) I'm considering mixing it 50/50 with the Eco Complete. Any gotchas to doing something like that?
 
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