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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Does anyone have any experience aquascaping a tank housing Malawi cichlids (males and females)? And if so what are your thoughts on using a soil substrate? Or even if you don't have experience with it, do you see any issues resulting from using (potting) soil? Assuming it has been flushed of any potential toxins, insecticides, fertilizers, etc.? Any help/suggestions/comments/criticisms are appreciated. Thank you
 

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Do you mean , can it work? YES!
Got some pictures here.
http://s990.photobucket.com/user/Pfunmo/library/125 on 06112014?sort=3&page=1

Would I recommend a fully dirted tank for it? NO. I have a feeling it would be too much trouble and it is not really needed. Trying to have a fully planted tank with lots of delicate carpet type plants is more than I would want.

They also do this at times:


There are ways to work around some of the trouble but it will not be smooth running at all times! Takes more work but it can be very nice as well.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
cool thank you PlantedRich. I realize cichlids can stir up the substrate a lot. What do you think about putting small rocks over the top to kind of keep it from getting spread around? I have a bag of white marble chips that I use in my garden, and I was thinking they might be ok since from what I read cichlids tend to prefer a high pH. So if the marble did raise it any, it wouldn't be a terrible thing, right?
 

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In my view almost any rock may be handy in a tank of Malawi. They love the high PH, KH/GH that rocks tend to do. I use a tub full of limestone in my tanks as it is the easy stuff to find. Even limestone has a max level that it can raise the tank parameters, no matter how many you use.
That leaves me finding limestone slabs as one of the handy ways to deal with plants and cichlids who might dig. I now know that I made a mistake in the picture above. In the background you can see some rock? I covered both tank ends with rock stacks and left the center open. When breeding, I found having the center open was hand so that I could put a divider in to cut the chase in half when catching holding females. So I wound up with ends covered in rocks and the center open other than the plants in trays. Looking back, I see, I should have known where they would dig! I now leave an open spot for nest sites and put rocks where I don't want them to dig.
I use small rounded "Mexican moonstones" to slow digging in other spots. They are not so dumb that they keep digging where the rocks tend to slide down into the hole!
This is my designed nest site in the back corner and we both get what we want. I have plants and they have nest sites. See how the heavier fluorite is moved out so they can pick up the eggs?
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
good stuff! i like that idea and will try to find a way to clear some floor space for them to breed, although I should probably get a bigger tank for that. The one I'm using (20g High) is mainly to house the plants and I have cichlids in there to help feed the plants and chose them because they've always been very hardy in my experience and beautiful colors to boot. I just got the females because I saw them and usually the LFS don't keep females around so I figured it'd be a good investment in case I upgrade in the future. Which, knowing me, I most likely will soon... Thanks for the responses Rich!

- micah
 

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I would were it me, (and it ain't) use large size gravel and a thin layer, to help make gravel vaccuming more effective with cichlids that lie to dig and create lot's of waste.
Plant's would be in pots where soil capped with gravel could work well in my experience ,and pot's can easily be moved about.Fish can dig all they like with this method.
Would look for larger tank as well.
 

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Cichlids like to dig, they really need a Sandy bottom tank. Doing a dirted tank with a heavy gravel cap would kind of be taking away from the needs of the fish. Why not dwarf cichlids. Apistos love a dirted tank!
 

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Before we talk about what cichlids like to do , we need to decide which cichlids we are discussing. Some dig, some don't! Anybody remember that angelfish are cichlids? Same goes for African cichlids. Some will dig huge holes and some won't. If you only have females, I have never had any females dig the nest out. That is often the male who does that end. But then we can always choose some that we can depend on them digging in our chosen spots. The small "cousin" (Lab. Chisumulae) of the yellow lab is one that I never see dig except in the cave that I made for breeding. They are a tiny fish and that probably makes them a bit shy about nesting in the open?
So much depends on what we each want and which fish we choose. I use a total mix of sand, gravel, and Flourite and let the fish move things as they see fit. I also have almost totally stopped vacing the sand/gravel as an unnecessary work. I can't see much point in vacing out debris that breaks down into dirt while at the same time adding dirt and nitrate to feed the plants. If it gets heavy enough to look bad, I just net it out. most of it winds up stuck under the rocks and out of sight. I'm betting there are not many who pull their wood out just so they can vac under it? If nitrates were a problem due to excess waste, I would have to make changes but right now it seems like just wasted effort and damage to plant roots to dig around in the substrate to clean it.
As a way to get into plants without fully committing, I did a 20 gallon with plants in pots and used it as a growout tank for both fish and plants for some time. Worked quite well for me.
It went from this tank with little twisty CFL bulbs, no CO2 and little that could be called ferts. It was growing plants and the Lab. Chisumulae and electric blue cichlid fry.



To this with the Chisumulae breeding and plants full blown.
See the female up and behind the male who is holding eggs? Twenty gallons seemed to suit them.
 

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You might be able to set up little planters with dirt pockets in them, so that way most of the substrate is completely diggable without making a mess, but the plants still get their nutrients.

Not sure if it would work as well for your setup, but I've used those compressed peat pots filled with a soil mix. It makes it handy for planting, and keeps the soil near the plant roots, but the plant isn't confined to it. For your set up, maybe some sort of basket-like pot, so the roots can still grow out, but it will still contain the dirt and not allow a fish to dig into it?
 

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I agree with much /most of what Planted rich stated.
Problems that sometimes arise with regards to many species of cichlids including Malawi are..
Most of the fish commonly offered at fish stores are juveniles ,and as such are hard to sex at this size,unless one knows what they are looking for and or they purchase the fish from breeders that know what they are selling so,,what you and I may hope are females may indeed turn out to be males and quite possibly mixed/inbred fishes whose habits may or may not be true to form.
These fishes are also often bought in numbers to help prevent aggressive tendencies,territorial issues.
These juvenile fishes we most often see for sale can do well in larger numbers but once they reach sexual maturity,all bets are off.Then things can get troublesome for weaker,subdominant fishes .
Original poster states He/she would like males and females and much larger tank than that mentioned with plenty of areas for fishes to claim territories would in my experiences bring best results.Also easier to maintain larger volume of water with larger number of fishes as opposed to smaller volume of water.
Let us say that a male and female or maybe a couple of males and females do indeed set up shop(common occurrence) and attempt to spawn.
The males as Planted rich states are often the ones that dig pits in an effort to attract a female for spawning purposes.They may dig several pits(common occurrence) until the pair finds suitable spot.This is why soil based tanks are not the best substrate unless you don't mind the mess created by the fishes as they do what comes naturally.(depending on species as Rich stated)
Is why I suggest clay pots filled with soil to about 2/3 full ,and then cap the soil with gravel if plants other than those attached to wood and rock like Anubia or java fern are wanted.
The larger size gravel,and a thin layer, I have used as mentioned makes gravel vaccuming more effective where larger numbers of fish and or swarms of fry often lead to excess foods from overfeeding(common occurrence) and waste finding it's way in to the substrate and water quality can become compromised more easily.(common occurrence)
The thin layer of substrate ,makes it easy to get down deep with the gravel vaccum and this in turn helps keep good water quality between water changes.(cleaner water= healthier fishes)
Plants attached to wood and rocks ,and or those planted in clay pots with soil and gravel cap ,can easily be moved for regular cleaning of the thin layer of gravel .
This method has worked well for me with most cichlids up to and including Discus and makes tank maint less of a pain in the @#$$ .
Trying to limit where fishes may or may not dig in a glass box of water is more work than some may care for and can often be an effort in futility.
Opinions vary but I am sharing some observations based solely on my experiences.
Did very much like the idea mentioned above with regards to apistogramma or other small cichlids for such a soil based tank as the OP has expressed interest in.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 · (Edited)
Thanks everyone for the input. I realized I should've specified what type of cichlids from Malawi just as I was reading PlantedRich's post about it. I have 1 male blue haps with 1 female, and 2 male peacock with 2 females. I used to breed Haps way back when, as well as Red Jewels, and got pretty familiar with telling them apart (M/F). I have also kept peacocks before but didn't breed because I didn't have females, not to mention already having 12 tanks running at the time and no room for another (thats a lie, theres always room for another! but the show "hoarders" had just come out and I was trying to avoid an intervention..!) But as far as digging goes, I only really remember the Haps being diggers and the peacocks for the most part were pretty docile by comparison. They spent the majority of the time getting chased by the haps! And with this new tank, theres not a lot of floor space for them to do much digging.

In regards to Lochaber's suggestion about the basket pots, that's actually what I have them in sorta. Its a carrier that the garden centers get their bulk shipments in. This one only holds like 8 pint size pots but its perfect for tthe fish. I just cut the holes a little bigger so the fish can fit through and flipped it upside down. The plants fit nicely and haven't had any pop out yet. I have a picture of the tank on my profiles. I posted a few of my old tanks but that was a few years ago. After college I gave away the majority of them. I was reunited with the 20gal after my friend passed. I also inherited his fish so that's what got me started back up. I've always loved the look of natural plants but I never could get them to survive very long so now that has been my focus. And so far so good! I also got a 5.5gal betta tank that is what I really first started the plants in! And they're doing well too. I should post that one too.

Also, like PlantedRich, I rarely if ever vaccuum my gravel these days, but then again, I don't load up the substrate like I used to. I need to add a bit more soil to the one tank, but I wouldnt attempt to vaccuum it. I keep my eye on the water parameters and adjust as necessary but I usually do a 25% water change once a week anyway, and sometimes more often than that when I want them to breed. Some might say 6 cichlids in a 20 is pushing it, and I typically agree, but for what I'm using the tank for and with the amount of hiding spaces I've made for them, I think its a fair compromise between what I want and what they need. Like I said though, when I see that they're outgrowing the tank or feeling claustrophobic, I'll spring for a bigger tank. How do you guys think I ended up with 12 tanks the first time?! :)

Thanks again for the replies. Keep em comin!
 
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