08-05-2008, 12:04 PM
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Hi walshyfz86! welcome to the forum! now, to answser some of your questions. :D .. what size is your tank? oh...nvm, it's 30 gallons.
you are going to want to grab yourself a good test kit (LIQUID) as the strips aren't as accurate, API is a good one, and you can get them from most any pet store that sells fish. And perhaps even wal-mart carries it...
sand is a great substrate in my opinion, its what I've been using for 2 years now in my Angelfish tank, and I love it. now, you said that you've already rinsed it and set it up IN the tank, and that the tank is cloudy...mnd you, thats probably STILL sand in your water (and some dirt, cause its impossible to get the sand completely clean), and it will take a few days to completely settle. I don't recommend you turning your filter on until its settled, because sand can harm your filter. once your tank is looking pretty clear, then you can turn on the filter.
i dont know what to say about the water conditioner drops, maybe someone else can help you there, i've never needed to use anything but stress-coat b/c i use bottled water in my tank (jugs of spring from wal-mart) but i've heard that those tetra drops aren't good. but like i said, maybe someone else has an opinion on those. although, I DO recommend staying away from any chemicals like bio-spira, or ph up/down, etc. most of what you want to achieve can be done naturally. i cycled my tank with media from a smaller tank that i had set up and with fish, so it cycled relatively fast. (this is where that test kit comes in handy, cuz you won't know if your tank is cycled without it. :) ) if you decide to cycle With fish, make sure you choose a hardy fella like a danio, or perhaps a platy. neons are not good fish to cycle with, and I wouldn't purchase your cichlids until your tank hasbeen established and your water parameters stable.
as far as tank mates for your cichlids, I had a bristlenose pleco in my tank and he took care of any algae that i got, plus he was smaller in size, (5-6 inches) which would probably suit your purposes.