Questions from a newbie
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Questions from a newbie

This is a discussion on Questions from a newbie within the Beginner Freshwater Aquarium forums, part of the Freshwater Fish and Aquariums category; --> Hi, New to these forums and I had some questions. I had tropical freshwater fish when I was a kid (2-10 gal tanks which ...

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Questions from a newbie
Old 11-02-2011, 02:43 PM   #1
Questions from a newbie


New to these forums and I had some questions. I had tropical freshwater fish when I was a kid (2-10 gal tanks which I haven't had in over 25-30 years now) and am looking to set up a 55gal or larger tank. This will be in the future (6 months to a year from now) but I am trying, time permitting, to research and re-educate myself on proper set up and care of the tank. It's amazing how much I didn't know back then. My girlfriend and I have a saltwater reef tank we are still getting going so I'm not completely ignorant, at least I think not.

I've read some of the stickied articles and was wondering a few things.

First, what I am looking to set up is a nice "natural" tank with a variety of live plants and fish, rocks and driftwood. And by natural I mean no castle ornaments or treasure chests that release bubbles, just something trying to replicate nature.

Second, would a sump system be a good option? I would like to keep as much equipment out of the tank as possible so I figured a sump would be good for housing filtration, heater, air pump etc.... My old tanks years ago used undergravel filtration with the air pump moving the water and putting oxygen in the water. Would putting the air stone in the sump work for oxygenating the water, if that makes sense?

Third, the first fish I ever had were a small group of neon tetras and they were the last to die out lasting longer than the guppies, swordtails, algae eaters, and danio's I had. I would like to get neons again, but I find the fish profiles a little daunting in how much there is to look at to find compatible fish for neons as well as what fish (or inverts) would be good for keeping things clean.

Any advice would be appreciated and sorry for the long post.
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Old 11-02-2011, 05:57 PM   #2
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Welcome! You sound like me, 10 months ago. I'd been out of the hobby for 30 years. Here is my opinion on things:

Tank size: First, having purchased a 55 for my first ever "big" tank in January, I would (in hindsight) have purchased a tank that has more front-to-back depth. I have a 40 gallon that actually looks much nicer due to the aquascaping flexibility an extra 6 or so front-to-back inches gives you.

Filter: Generally, I don't think you want a sump on a planted tank. It's possibly too efficient! You want the plants to have access to some waste products. The wet/dry sumps are very efficient and those bacteria may outcompete the plants for some nutrients. If money is not a major issue, I'd recommend a canister with a built-in heater. You want flow, but not too much, in a planted tank. With the right plant placement, it's pretty easy to hide heaters in a tank if you need to! Eheim canisters are very quiet, in my experience. Stay away from undergravel filters in an planted tank!

Substrate and background (even though you didn't ask!): I have ecocomplete, black sand, and play sand in my various tanks. I like the appearance of the black sand the best, but the sand "shows" fish detritus more and needs more frequent vacuuming than my ecocomplete, for aesthetic reasons. My plants get uprooted by my plecos and corys easier in the sand substrate, but are easily replanted in sand. You absolutely can't get a less expensive substrate than play sand! I like the ecocomplete and black sand also, but neither one is cheap. I like a solid black background - it makes the fish and plants "pop".

Fish - its up to you! Others replying can make better suggestions than I. I would note that I think the "big-box" LFS sell fish with an overall higher rate of diseases than what was sold 30+ years ago. Most LFS are not the mom and pop stores that had isolated water supplies in each tank. I strongly recommend you purchase a quarantine tank and use it religiously! It's much less costly to treat than a large tank.
- Keep your new fish in quarantine while your plants get going in the big tank and you still get to play with the big tank while you wait for the fish to clear your quarantine! Don't forget to dip your plants in a weak bleach solution before adding to your tank, you can get some nasties transported on plants too.

Hope this helps some!

Last edited by DKRST; 11-02-2011 at 06:10 PM..
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Old 11-02-2011, 07:37 PM   #3
I use a canister filter on my 55 and I love it. With all of my plants I don't even notice the intake and output. i have found large groups of Jungle Val are good for hiding equipment.
My favorite background to date is just plain old black spray paint with a mat finish. It seems to make the plants and fish standout better. It is also cheap and easy.
For substrate I have used gravel, play sand and flourite. I like the play sand the best. It is ultra cheap (2-3 dollars for 50 lbs. bag), and my bottom feeders seem more active. It has been an especially good choice for my cory cats.
Before anyone gives suggestions on stocking they are most likely going to want to know your water parameters. If you like neon tetras you will love Cardinal tetra. They are much prettier and in my experience much hardier once acclimated but, they are usually about double the cost of neons.
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Old 11-03-2011, 09:09 AM   #4
thanks for the advice. Just last night my girlfriend and I were looking at some tanks while picking up some other supplies and did notice the narrow depth, front to back, of the 55. Might go with something larger (would still like something around 48" long). And the tank we already have uses a black background which I like so will probably do the same with this tank when we get it. I was considering a dark colored gravel, but haven't decided yet.

I don't know if you would call what I am looking for a "planted tank" since when I google that I see stuff that probably has way more plants than I am looking for. But maybe I'm just not understanding the difference between a planted tank and a tank that has plants. Seems the "planted tank" is more about the plants than the fish. Though I do like the look of some of the aquascaping in those. Lightly planted might be a better description for what I would like to achieve.

The idea of dipping plants in a bleach solution scares me. What proportions water to bleach are we looking at? I don't want to introduce anything bad carried in from plants, but I don't want to contaminate a tank with chemicals either.

And the LFS we use is a small "mom & pop" type place that also makes their own custom acrylic and glass tanks and stands and have been very helpful. The customer service there is fantastic so I don't think we will be getting much, if anything, from a chain store. All of their tanks (display tanks and stock tanks) are immaculate so I would hope the fish are healthier than a big box stores.

Last edited by mes2370; 11-03-2011 at 09:13 AM..
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Old 11-03-2011, 09:41 AM   #5
Also, in terms of aquascaping, from some images I've looked at I was curious if there would be any problems if the substrate was higher in some areas instead of level (at least side to side, may be a bit higher in back). Because I had a thought of possibly building a "cave" with some rock and using the substrate mounded on top/around it to make it look more natural with some plants around and on top of it. Since I don't have a tank yet this layout is all just in my head and will probably change.

Are there any issues I need to be aware of with thick layers of substrate?
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Old 11-03-2011, 10:23 AM   #6
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I like your idea of having an uneven substrate, I agree that it looks much more natural!
With regular gravel, no big deal. You can gravel vac the areas without plants, depending on how heavily its planted. With sand, or fluorite, or Eco Complete or whathaveyou, areas with more than a couple of inches but without roots in it may cause a problem, depending. If the substrate is 3-4" for a rooted plant, like a sword, that's no big because the roots with aerate the substrate and keep it from becoming too compacted. In areas that don't know have plants with an extensive root system, I would keep to 2" or less. Two techniques that will help your substrate are a burrowing snail like Malaysian Trumpet Snails (AKA Malaysian Livebearing Snails, MTS) and an occasional raking of the areas of substrate with no roots. This is a debatable topic, and there are many opinions, so this is just mine.
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Old 11-03-2011, 11:43 AM   #7
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Regarding the bleach dip, the tolerance varies by plant. Other than "frilly" plants like Cabomba and Myro, I have had no problems using a 5% or even a 10% bleach solution. I'd suggest using the 5%. The plants I have dipped are hardy: Swords, vals, anubias, frogbit, pennywort. I dip for a minute or two, rinse very thoroughly(!), and then put them into a small bucket and squirt in a ton of Prime to neutralize any leftover chlorine. Remove and rinse one last time. Use cheap, generic bleach with no fragrance and it seems to work well.
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Old 11-03-2011, 03:19 PM   #8
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Welcome to Tropical Fish Keeping forum.

On the tank size, with a 4 foot length an 18-inch width works well. I have a 70g and 90g with these dimensions; the volume difference is in the height. Make sure you have a stable floor; this much water weights several hundred pounds and a frame construction might not support it.

On "planted" tanks, this term is used for any tank with live plants. The aquascape can vary from a few plants (that might only be floating species) in a very natural habitat replica, what we term biotope tanks, to heavily planted "Dutch" type aquaria where the plants are the focus and fish may not even be present. The number and type of plants should be pertinent to the intended fish; some eat plants, some are active swimmers so there has to be some physical swimming space, others occur in thickly vegetated streams and flooded forest. One point to remember is that live plants always aid water quality. They perform functions that are completely natural without expensive equipment that in many cases cannot copy them anyway.

Substrate depth is important, and yes, there are issues; you can read about these here:
You do not want too deep a substrate. And substrates do shift over time, so they tend to level out unless substantial rockwork or other methods are used to prevent this from occurring. If it is "natural" you are intending, the substrate is very important as it is "obvious" and once in it is the most difficult item to change (requiring a complete teardown of the tank). A dark natural fine gravel or sand works best. I am now using playsand from Home Depot/Lowe's; it is almost identical to the sand in many of the Amazonian streams and rivers.

As for the bleach dip, I follow Rhonda Wilson's advice: if it is anywhere near strong enough to actually kill parasites, snail eggs or algae, it will most certainly affect if not kill the plants. Forget it. For parasites, keeping the plants in a fish-less small tank for a week or two is sufficient. If you buy them from stores that keep their plants in fish-less tanks anyway, this is likely unnecessary.

You can read a general background on planted tanks in the 4-part series "A Basic Approach to the Natural Planted Aquarium" at the head of the Aquarium Plant section of this forum.

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Old 11-04-2011, 03:09 PM   #9
For the substrate I was considering a dark gravel (probably brownish) but I might consider sand. We have live sand in our SW tank and I like the look.

Just wasn't sure if there are issues I need to consider with live plants.
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Old 11-04-2011, 08:02 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by mes2370 View Post
For the substrate I was considering a dark gravel (probably brownish) but I might consider sand. We have live sand in our SW tank and I like the look.

Just wasn't sure if there are issues I need to consider with live plants.
Substrate-rooted plants (swords, crypts, aponogeton, vallisneria, sagittaria, etc) will grow well in either sand or a fine gravel. Main thing with gravel is to keep the grain size small, 1-2 mm is perfect.
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