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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So I'd like to get into the fishkeeping hobby. I'd also like to keep it simple and relatively cheap once things are actually up and running.

It seems one of the least maintenance-intensive ways to do that is to have a lush, heavily-planted tank with a fertile substrate and a low-tech approach. Low cost and low maintenance are what I'm after, and I do love the greenery of a planted tank, so it seems like a good approach.

I've made much use of a 2nd edition copy of Ecology of the Planted Aquarium as a starting point and I've been lurking around here for a while to try and get up on the current thinking with low-tech tanks.

The Tank in question is a 56-gallon Marineland "column" tank, because the price was right (gas there and back). The dimensions are a bit wonky, it's 30" long by 18" wide and 25" high. That makes the typical budget-friendly fluorescent shop light recommendation a little less appealing, since it would be hanging over several inches on each side. Plus the extra depth might be an issue?

Right now the theme I'm going for is "North American Community Tank" with some native plants and a couple of bait/feeder minnows in a temperate (read: unheated) setup. Mostly I want a handful of Rosie Reds and some other small, colorful species of bait fish like Red Shiners.

I'm shooting for the typical 1" of mineralized soil underlayer with another inch of Black Diamond to cap it. Decorations would be a few small clay pots for caves, maybe some driftwood off to one side and a few modestly-sized chunks of banded gneiss here and there.

As to my water chemistry, I have a rough idea how it is out of the tap. Thanks to an outbreak of iron-loving bacteria in our well (which is still present and sometimes requires a bleaching), I do have health department test results. Here they are as tested in 2012.

Chloride - 3.9 mg/L
Nitrite/Nitrate - 1 mg/L
Calcium in water - 17 mg/L
Copper in water - 0.013 mg/L
Iron in water - 0.37 mg/L (relatively high; it's because of the bedrock and clay soil here)
Hardness - 53 mg/L (quite low)
Magnesium in water - 2.5 mg/L
Manganese in water - <0.010 mg/L
Lead in drinking water - <0.0020 mg/L
Zinc in water - 0.043 mg/L
Alkalinity - 61 mg/L
pH - 7.2

I seem to have fairly soft but basic water with low carbonates and low nitrates, but a ton of iron. Whether the Fe's in a bio-available form for plants or not I can't say, but it sure is feeding the iron bacteria. (Speaking of which, would I need to kill those bacteria off to keep them from becoming an issue in a low-tech tank? I know a lot of the slow and shallow surface waters here have thick masses of brown sludge from their rusty excretions.)

After perusing several books and websites, I have a tentative "wish list" of plants that are naturally occurring in the US and pretty common in the hobby.

Rooted plants:
Bacopa caroliniana and monnieri
Cabomba caroliniana
Ceratopteris thalictroides
Echinodorus tenellus
Elodea canadensis
Najas guadalupensis
Sagittaria subulata

Floating plants:
Ceratophyllum demersum
Most any "duckweed"
Limnobium spongia

Mosses:
Fissidens fontanus
Fontinalis antipyretica

In terms of aesthetics I'd like to set up something with some "specimen" bunches of Bacopa, some Elodea, maybe a clump of watersprite or Cabomba in a corner and a foreground of either E. tenellus or S. subulata with some floaters on the surface and some mosses tied to the hardscape. My thinking is that the Elodea and watersprite along with some floaters will do a lot of nitrogen-removal, especially if I snip and scoop a little every week, while the other plants would mostly be for looks.

So what I'd like is some advice on lighting options and my best-bet plant species. If I go for this low-tech, low-budget, unheated setup in a deep, stubby tank;

- What kind of lighting would I need to get the plants I want to thrive in the conditions I'm trying to achieve? Most LED fixtures are beyond what I'm willing to spend, and there seems to be a dearth of small fluorescent tubes that would fit the bill. I can probably wire up something with CFLs in a plastic gutter lined with aluminum HVAC tape, though that would be a bit of a project to tackle.

- What sort of conditioning would I need to do with my well water for the plants' benefit? Can I avoid regular dosing if I'm careful?

- What plants from my list are likely to work towards my goal, and which ones are unrealistic? I'm probably imposing an extra burden on myself with the "native to North America" criterion, but there do seem to be good options under that restriction. Besides, the usual low-tech recommendation of "Java fern, Java moss, and anubias" doesn't really appeal to me.

- What aspects of my plan should I reconsider?

UNLEASH THE FEEDBACK
 

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Here are a couple of fluorescents in 30":
T5HO
Amazon.com : Coralife 08601 Aqualight High Output T5 Dual Lamp Fixture, 30-Inch : Aquarium Lights : Pet Supplies

T5NO
Amazon.com : Aqueon AQE40201 T5 Dual Strip Lighting Hoods for Aquarium, 30-Inch : Plant Aquarium Light : Pet Supplies

These links are just examples, I am not recommending these particular fixtures since I haven't owned either. If I were you, I would do some research into brands and prices, but both T5HO (T5 high output) and T5NO (T5 normal output) fixtures are available in 30" length.

I have used T5NO fixtures and had good success in a low tech tank, but I used two fixtures on my tank, so for the price, you might be better to go for the T5HO's and if they are too much light, you could diffuse them or raise them. On my high tech tank, I am using two T5HO fixtures. So, it really depends on what light level you are trying to achieve. The T5NO fixture has two 18 watt bulbs. The T5HO fixture has two 31 watt bulbs.

Anyway, something to take a look at.

I hope you get some suggestions for other people. Especially people who have lit a deep tank.
 

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Hi there and welcome to TPT.
You may want to take a look at my tank being that we have the same one. I decided to go with the Finnex 24/7 30" light and I'm suspending it over my tank in order to achieve lowish/low-middish PAR. I think that most of the plants you listed are relatively easy to grow and most will thrive with bare minimum nutrients. Being that several of them are stem plants, you will have to do some trimming once they grow tall (I'm not sure if you consider that low maintenance or not). If you are looking for slow growing plants that do not require much trimming, you may want to go the route that I have and plant various cryptocoryne specie. Many stem plants are fast going and will suck up a lot of nutrients in the water column which could eventually lead to you needing to dose and potentially require co2, steering away from it being a low maintenance setup.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Here are a couple of fluorescents in 30":
T5HO
Amazon.com : Coralife 08601 Aqualight High Output T5 Dual Lamp Fixture, 30-Inch : Aquarium Lights : Pet Supplies

T5NO
Amazon.com : Aqueon AQE40201 T5 Dual Strip Lighting Hoods for Aquarium, 30-Inch : Plant Aquarium Light : Pet Supplies

These links are just examples, I am not recommending these particular fixtures since I haven't owned either. If I were you, I would do some research into brands and prices, but both T5HO (T5 high output) and T5NO (T5 normal output) fixtures are available in 30" length.
Thanks for the links, but the reviews don't seem to be all that "glowing." Seems to be a common theme for t5 fixtures on Amazon.
Plus I would probably need a couple of those fixtures to get enough light, add in the appropriate bulbs and it would run up the budget. Probably still cheaper than an LED fixture, at least.

I hope you get some suggestions for other people. Especially people who have lit a deep tank.
That's what I'm after!


Hi there and welcome to TPT.
You may want to take a look at my tank being that we have the same one. I decided to go with the Finnex 24/7 30" light and I'm suspending it over my tank in order to achieve lowish/low-middish PAR.
Looks like there's a sale too, bringing the cost down to less than a hundred dollars for the time being. That's a more budget-friendly price point to me, if I can use a single fixture and still feed some of those low-growing foreground plants enough light.

Being that several of them are stem plants, you will have to do some trimming once they grow tall (I'm not sure if you consider that low maintenance or not). If you are looking for slow growing plants that do not require much trimming, you may want to go the route that I have and plant various cryptocoryne specie. Many stem plants are fast going and will suck up a lot of nutrients in the water column which could eventually lead to you needing to dose and potentially require co2, steering away from it being a low maintenance setup.
Occasional trimming is fine, compared with more frequent water changes.
Crypts are out of the running. Not native to the US.
I'm against using CO2 supplementation in this case and dosing is something I'd really like to avoid. If the plants are that hungry, I suppose I could add more fish! >:) Or maybe sneak some oyster grit into the substrate/filter for an extra mineral boost.

Keep the guidance coming, folks.
 

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Have you considered using 5000K daylight LED PAR38 parabolic 'reflector' type screw in, 110 volt bulbs, that are now becoming available?
I would reckon in the 14 to16 watt range they would have a good amount of 'punch' to keep your PAR levels up in such a deep tank. You might be able to work with just one bulb for a start. I have a similar 45 gallon tall that I'm considering for a pair of these lights in a mid to low light, low tech tank.
 

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I'm also noticing in your list of aquatic plants a couple that don't do so well at temperate temperatures. I'm thinking Water Sprite, C. Thalictriodes and Fissedens would be happier and grow better in a warmer environments.

The others are good choices, although I'm think the E. Tenellus and Najas might be a little closer to subtropical for optimum.

This is going to be a room temperature tank?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
Room temperature, yes. Meaning 68-70-ish most of the time, 65-ish on winter nights, and 80-ish on hot summer days as we ease up on the thermostat to reduce power usage. But it'll have a glass cover that should help keep things a little more on the warm side.
I wondered about the watersprite in an unheated tank since it's really only found in Florida year-round.
E. tenellus and Cabomba, I'm thinking, might want more light than I can give them with a tank this deep.
Dwarf sag probably wants more carbonates than my water naturally has in it, even with the soil, so I might have to add some. Fortunately it seems like my water doesn't have a lot of built-in buffering capacity from the looks of those test results so nudging conditions one way or the other should be relatively straightforward.
But this is all based on what I've read, not any practical experience. Again, that's why I ask!

I have considered screw-in reflector bulbs (or just screw-in bulbs in reflectors). The hang-up there is, well, hanging them up. Or mounting them in general. I'd like something that can sit on top of the tank instead of depending from the ceiling so I'll have to build a mount if an off-the-shelf aquarium lighting solution won't do. I could probably just make a rail out of PVC that sits above the tank and loop the power cords for some brooder lamp reflectors over it, but that wouldn't look so great.

I've seen the threads and videos where clip-on flexy desk lamps with CFLs have been used, but it seems like doing a whole 56 gallon tank with those would be a little rough. Plus the models I've seen in person look a bit flimsy.

I've come across these Exo Terra terrarium light fixtures in pet shops and though "I could probably build it cheaper and to the proper dimensions with some gutters and light sockets," so that kind of thing is pretty much my baseline for a DIY solution. Basically a long box with reflective surfaces and CFLs mounted horizontally that can sit on the top of the tank.

My thing about the lighting is that "watts per gallon is dead" but I don't have a good conceptual grasp on a rule of thumb to replace it. PAR seems like it's very situation-specific kind of thing and could only be reliably be followed with a meter to measure it in any given tank setup that doesn't tightly follow a known model.


*EDIT* Just realized I hadn't given a figure for "budget." Let's cap the lighting at ~$100 how 'bout? Give or take a tenner.
 
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