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rockhound 01-16-2013 03:16 PM

Re-engaging in Aquaria: A Log and Questions
Introduction and Background:

Personal Background:

Hello everyone! My name is Nick and I am somewhat new to the hobby of aquaria. I am a geology student in California in my fourth year at university. .Feel free to PM me with any questions about rocks (whether or not the question is related to aquaria). I am a lover of science and all things in nature. I am excited to get into the hobby!

Background in Aquaria:

I have recently acquired three fish tanks, a 5-gallon, a 15.6-gallon-tall, and a 37-gallon-tall. These tanks were my father's from about ten years ago. He ceased his activity in the hobby due to time restraints. I used to help him take care of the tanks. We had a community tank as well as bred fancy guppies as a way to fund the hobby. After stopping our involvement in the hobby, the tanks were stashed in the garage for years until recently my mother gave him the choice to either throw them away or give them to me. I gladly accepted them because I think that this would be a fun hobby that would allow me to use my scientific mind to the advantage of the fish and plants that I will keep.

The first tank that I am going to set up is the 15.6 gallon-tall tank. Its dimensions (LxWxH) are 20"x10"x18". It is equipped with a Marineland Eclipse 1 hood. Due to my father's disorganized nature, I do not have the pump for it. I have special ordered the pump and impeller parts and am awaiting their arrival. It's turning out to be quite the headache both in the part acquisition and financially. In hindsight, I probably should have purchased a new hood/cover/pump rather than continue to use the discontinued set up that I have.

My reasoning for starting with the 15.6 gallon is as follows: the parts were significantly cheaper for this tank than the 37 gallon-tall (being a college student, this is important), I awaiting a stand for the 37 gallon-tall (I am having my father bring it on his next trip down here), and I simply do not know what I want to do with the small 5 gallon tank.

Water Supply and Water Parameters:

For this 15.6-gallon tank, I desire to set it up so that it optimally caters to whatever species of fish and plants that I put in it. I am going to tailor these choices to my local water parameters rather than using tons of chemicals to alter pH and hardness. The water supply in my area comes from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park, California, though I live in a city. The local aquifer contains a large amount of carbonates and mercury (so much that it was mined here for many years) so this water is not used for a municipal water supply.

All measurements were taken after letting tap water sit in the tank for 24 hours unless otherwise stated. The tap water was treated with Kordon Novaqua+ Water Conditioner (this was in the box of aquarium stuff my father gave me. I do not know if it is still "good" due to its age). All testing was done with the API Master Test Kit and the API KH and GH Test Kit, yielding the following water parameters:

pH: 7.4-7.5. The resolution of the test kit is not great enough to determine this exactly. The color falls between the 7.3 and 7.6 on the regular pH test. Using the high pH test that has a lowest possible reading of 7.4, I read a color that is slightly darker than the 7.4, so I would say that my pH is closest to 7.5.

KH: 6-7 dKH. The measurement of 6 dKH was taken straight from the tap whereas the measurement of 7 dKH was taken after treated tap water was in the tank for 24 hours. I am thinking the discrepancy between these two measurements is due to the substrate that I chose. More on substrate later.

GH: 8 dGH. This measurement was constant across both untreated tap water and the treated water in tank.

Ammonia: .25 ppm. As I do not have any fish yet, I would imagine this is from the addition of chloramine to the water by the local water company.

Nitrite: 0 ppm. No surprise as I do not have a source of bacteria. Additionally, if there are bacteria in the tank, the ammonia levels are probably too low to see a significant amount of nitrite.

Nitrate: 0 ppm. No nitrite, no nitrate.


The species of plants and fish that I put in this tank will be determined based on the aforementioned water parameters. Based on the following sections, I would like any advice that can be provided. I intend for this to be a fairly heavily planted tank, so any suggestions should be based on that.


After conducting some research, I have selected CaribSea's Eco-complete substrate. This substrate is rich in many nutrients that plant need to survive. It also comes in a pleasant black color. My only concern with this substrate is that it has made the water in my tank a little cloudy, and there is a discernable coating of fine-grained (probably silt in size) sediment on the bottom of the tank. I am assuming that this will clear up with time, especially once all my pump parts arrive and are installed. I used 40 pounds of the substrate because 20 pounds of the substrate was barely 2 inches in depth and I did not want to leave half of the second bag sitting around. With this much substrate, I should be able to make some interesting terrain. Right now it is essentially flat.


The lighting in this tank is going to be tricky I think. I do not know if I will be able to get enough W/gal for high light or even medium light plants. The fixture in the Eclipse 1 hood is a single tube 18” T8 fixture. Currently it has a 15 W “Life-Glo” 6700k full spectrum T8 bulb. It puts out about 960 lumens for about 7500 hours. From what I have researched, this is not very much light, so I will be looking at primarily low-light plants. If anyone has any advice for a different bulb or fixture that can be installed in the Eclipse 1 hood, I would be grateful.

Non-plant Decorations:

The only decoration that I currently have is a chunk of quartzite. This rock is almost entirely made up of metamorphosed quartz. Because of it's extremely low content of calcium, magnesium, and iron, as well as its low solubility, it should not affect the chemistry of the water in the tank.

In addition to the rock, I am expecting the arrival of a piece of Malaysian driftwood. I will probably attach some plants to this driftwood so that the fish have some cover and terrain to explore. In addition, the driftwood will leach tannins into the water. Selected fish will have to be able to tolerate these conditions for a few weeks until the water clears up. Will the tannins have an effect on the pH of the tank?


As mentioned in the introduction, I am looking to plant this tank fairly heavily. I think heavily planted tanks are more aesthetically pleasing than sparse tanks. However, due to the small size of this tank, it brings up the question: how heavily can it even be planted? Since it is a “tall tank” I will populate it with some tall rooting plants, probably Amazon Swords. What other rooted plants would be suitable for this size tank? I would also like it to have a decent carpet of some sort of moss; perhaps Java Moss or Christmas Moss will be suitable. I will attach ferns or other plants to the driftwood. I am undecided whether or not I will attach any thing to the rock, as it is fairly smooth and lacks rootable surfaces. In addition to all these I will probably have a good amount of floating plants to provide comfort for the fish.


Stocking this tank is probably what I am most concerned with. There seem to be no definite rules as to how to stock a tank. All fish should be comfortable in a heavily planted tank. I am looking for either a community of a couple shoals of small fish or one larger school of a single species. I was thinking of getting some larger species, but I do not think that there is nearly enough space in this tank. I was thinking about Dwarf Gouramis.

As for shoals and community fish, I was thinking about Neon Tetras, but I think my pH may be too high. However, they would excel in a blackwater environment, provided my driftwood has enough tannins.

A species tank that I was considering is Celestial Pearl Danios. I love their coloration. However, this species may be cost prohibitive for now and I do not think this tank is large enough for a comfortable school of them. Please correct me if I am wrong. I will have to special order these probably. I do not know of any local fish stores that have them. I am going to a few more stores in the next couple days that I have not been to yet. All but one of the stores I have been to are horrible.


This section is just a list of the questions from the text above as well as some additional questions that I have.

• Can water conditioner “go bad?” The stuff I have is 8-10 years old.
• Will the tannins from the driftwood have an effect on the pH of the tank?
• Is a single 18” 15 W 6500K bulb enough light for a heavily planted aquarium?
• How heavily can a tank of this size be planted while still having room for fish?
• Suitable tall rooted plants?
• Suitable carpet plants?
• Suitable floating plants?
• Suitable ferns?
• What are some ideal species of fish for a tank of this size and water parameters?
• Anything else you feel like telling me!

Cycling Log:

Once All my pump parts arrive, this section will house a log of water parameters and graphs for your perusal.

Molinious 01-16-2013 05:56 PM

Hello and welcome
Being a geologist id say couold be very helpful here as alot of forum members do aquascaping so rock type questions will surely arrise

Sookielee 01-17-2013 08:03 AM

My compliments on a very organized post. Regarding plants for the tank, May I suggest going to Aquarium Their plants are divided into section that make looking for certain type or ideas very easy. They even have a Hardy Low Light section, which may be what you will need. I am sure others will know better if your current lighting will deem this a necessity.

Byron 01-18-2013 12:34 PM

First, Nick, welcome to Tropical Fish Keeping forum.:wave: I came across a post of yours in another thread and will second that it is nice to have a "geological" member (or another, we may have some already).

Now to your issues/questions. Beginning with the substrate, the Eco-complete that you already have. I have a 70g with Seachem's Flourite substrate, which the experts have told me is much the same thing, and I have not found it of any appreciable benefit to plant growth. I have 7 tanks, the others have play sand (5) or fine gravel (1), and the same species of plants, under the same lighting, do equally well. I am also not fond of the black for the very same reason you mention (mine looks the same) plus it shows detritus more than one would think. And, perhaps most importantly, these substrates are sharp and fish like corys and loaches should not be put in tanks with either substrate. Not only have professional catfish aquarists told me this, but I have first hand experience; I had to move my corys out of the Flourite tank due to issues with the substrate.

Lighting. I would stay with what you have. I use Life-Glo tubes over my single-tube tanks because they are the best. ZooMed's UltraSun is near identical, and there is a tube by CarribSea I think that is very much the same. These are more intense light than basic T8 tubes so while they cost more, they do provide more intense light over time. They need replacing every 12-18 months. I find 12 months better, as light depreciation is substantial in T8 tubes.

Now, this may limit some plant choices. Low and most moderate light requiring plants should be fine. High light plants, maybe; trial and error will tell you this, as sometimes these will manage, other times not, depending upon the species and all other relevant conditions. We can discuss plant species if you ask; and I would go into replacement lighting at this time.

Driftwood. I ;like the Malaysian Driftwood, I use it in all my tanks and I have a lot of it. Yes, like all wood, it will tend to soften the water and lower pH, but this is usually minimal. Initial tannins are not as bad with MD as with Mopani and some other types, though this is not detrimental to fish or plants [unless really heavy so light can't penetrate].

Water parameters. Are these for the tap water straight from the tap [I understand it sat in the tank and you used a conditioner]? Or do you have a water softener? The latter is very important.

Assuming the params are straight tap water, they are pretty good. A GH of 8 dGH will work for soft water fish and provide sufficient "hard" mineral for live plants, and some medium hard water fish would be OK with perhaps a slight increase in GH [I'll leave this for now, since you have specifically mentioned soft water fish so presumably that is the desire]. The pH I would expect to lower a bit as the tank establishes biologically. But as GH is more important than pH for soft water fish, this is not a concern. My tap is 7 to 7.2 and my tanks vary in the 6's.

I had a bottle of Kordon's NovAqua that was opened for more than 12 years and still effective as new. If it is kept away from light, and out of extreme temperatures, it will likely last.

Fish. Active fish are not good in small tanks as they need the length, so look into quiet, sedate forest fish. The gourami is such, as is the neon tetra. But here I would not have neons because they should have a bit more space. The Dwarf Gourami is possible, but given the health issue with this species I would caution against it. The Honey Gourami is a better choice. But with your soft water, almost any of the smaller gourami would be good too.

At this point I'll mention our fish and plant profile; you will see that the fish names above shaded, so that forms a link to the species profile that you can click. Profiles are under the second heading from the left in the blue bar across the top of the page. Data on numbers (for shoaling fish like tetra), minimum tank sizes, water params, etc are in each profile.

This tank is admirably suited to many of the smaller soft water fish. There are several species in the cyprinids, such as the Boraras species; Ember Tetra among the characins, and also in this group most of the pencilfish in the genus Nannostomus, several of which are in our profiles.

The planting thickness depends upon the fish selected; I have suggested fish that prefer browsing among plants, not swimming much. For species, check our profiles. If I start suggesting plants this post will never end.;-)


rockhound 01-20-2013 09:24 PM

Thank you guys for the warm welcome. From what I have seen from the community thus far, this is a good place to learn and share our experiences in the hobby. Without further ado, I will respond to Byron as well as initiate the next installment of the log all in one go.

Substrate: Good to know that this substrate will work for plants, but too bad there is really any appreciable benefit. It wasn't cheap so I guess I'll stick with it for now. Since I cannot use it in tanks with loaches or corys, what other options do I have for bottom dwellers that would be beneficial in a planted community tank? Would shrimp be an option?

Lighting: Glad I made a good choice on the light. I will stick to low light plants for the most part probably for now. At some point I may build a custom fixture that can house brighter lamps. But for now I just want to get the tank going and growing.

Driftwood: I received my Malaysian driftwood about two days ago. I briefly rinsed it off and put it in the tank. The water is stained with tannins a little bit, but I do not mind. I'm sure it will also dissipate with time. Here is a picture of the tank now. It is very empty, but I am going to a couple fish stores tomorrow with a friend and I'll be picking up a bunch of plants. I am going to hold off on fish for a week or two probably. The rock on the left in the picture is quartzite with a weathering pattern called "desert varnish." It was sourced from the Darwin Hills just west of Death Valley, CA.

Water Parameters: All of these water parameters are from the tank which has been sitting for a week now. Some of them have changed slightly.
pH: 7.2- This is down by 0.2 since the last measurements four days ago. I think it dropped due to the increase in biological activity as well as the introduction of the driftwood into the system. As Byron mentioned, tannins may lower the pH.

KH: 7 dKH- Same as last measurement.

GH: 8 dGH- Same as last measurement. I am unaware of the presence of a water softener in use. I think it is unlikely. I do not get the typical "slippery skin" feeling when washing up that is felt in the presence of a water softener. My water is sourced from a mountain reservoir with granitic basement rock (See original post) so it is likely that the water is just soft. Are there any test kits available that can indicate the presence of the salts used in water softeners? If it turns out that a water softener is in use, what are the possible consequences?

Ammonia/Ammonium: 0.25 ppm- Same as last measurement.

Nitrite: 0.25 ppm- Up from the previous measurement of 0 ppm. This indicates the presence of some nitrifying bacteria. Do these bacteria develop on their own? I did not use anything to "seed" the tank. Could they have hitched a ride on my driftwood?

Nitrate: ~3 ppm- The previous measurement was 0 ppm. I used the approximation symbol (~) because other than 0, the lowest measurement on the test kit is 5 ppm. The sample was darker than 0 but most definitely lighter than the color that would be indicative of 5 ppm. The bacteria that consumes Nitrite seems to be present as well.

I have not added any additional source of ammonia to the tank. I still have no fish. The only source of ammonia is whatever is present in my tap water or from the decomposition of the driftwood that was added to the tank.

Fish: For fish I think I have settled on the following:
2 Honey Gourami - This will likely be a male/female pair.
6 Barred Pencilfish - Equal number of males and females.
6 Mosquito Rasbora - Again, equal number of males and females.

I do not know if this would be overstocking the tank. These fish are all pretty small. If this is overstocking, would the following selection be good?:
2 Honey Gourami
9-10 Mosquito Rasbora

Or could I increase the number of Honey Gourami? Say:
4 Honey Gourami - 2 male/female pairs
8 Mosquito Rasbora

I want to make sure this tank is not overstocked. I have heard that in well planted tanks overstocking is less of an issue, but I would still like to avoid it if possible.

As I mentioned previously, It will probably be a week or two before I get fish. When I go to the fish store tomorrow I will just be picking up the plants. When it comes to stocking the tank with fish. I will probably stick with just the Honey Gourami at first and check the stability of the tank over a week or so and then add the Mosquito Rasbora or Barred Pencilfish.

Plants: The amount of plants that should be placed in the tank is still something I am curious about. So far I have come up with a few ideas for plants that will be placed in the tank.

Floating Plants:
Mix of either Amazon Frogbit or Duckweed along with some Watersprite.

Driftwood Plants: These plants will be attached to the driftwood. I will probably try to stick their rootbase into the holes on my driftwood. If they will not stay, I'll tie them on with some thread.
Java Fern
Maybe some Java Moss

Stem and Substrate Rooted Plants:
Ludwigia will be planted in space beneath the arch created by the driftwood (see picture above) and perhaps in the front left corner.
Green Cabomba will be placed in the front right corner as wel as in between the rock and the driftwood.
Wisteria will be planted in the front of the tank in the foreground near the Ludwigia.
Amazon Sword will be planted in the back middle and back right corner of the tank.
The front of the tank will be planted with tufts of some sort of moss, probably Java Moss or Christmas Moss, especially around the base of the rock.

Equipment: I still have yet to receive all of the parts for my pump. It is rather frustrating ordering parts for a discontinued Eclipse 1 hood. If and when I decide to set up my 37 gallon with the Eclipse 3 hood, I will probably sell it or strip it and then buy a new setup for it. It would likely cost me the same amount of money that I would spend on the acquisition of the discontinued parts.

I am working on finding an appropriate heater for this tank. As mentioned in this thread, I think my heater may be malfunctioning. Additionally there is no real indicated heat level on the control knob. This will make adjustment rather difficult. I think I would be keeping this tank at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit based on the fish and plant species that I have chosen. I am going to have to buy a good thermometer too. Currently I just have one of those unreliable stick on LCD thermometers.

Byron 01-21-2013 01:01 PM

Responses to questions, in order (hopefully).

Tannins from Malaysian Driftwood are not as bad as some other woods, and I find that if I just add the wood without prior rinsing they will usually be gone in a few weeks, slowly getting fewer and fewer with each water change. Not a problem.


Are there any test kits available that can indicate the presence of the salts used in water softeners? If it turns out that a water softener is in use, what are the possible consequences?
Tests would have to be done with scientific equipment or in a lab. I wouldn't bother. The problem with water softeners is what they add in the way of other salts. Some of our members have kept fish in water with softeners. The problem is not short-term, but long-term. The salts added build up and these add TDS (total dissolved solids) which can affect soft water fish much more than hard water fish. Also, if the salts include sodium (common "salt") this is bad for almost all fish, except those fine with brackish water.

Ammonia/nitrite/nitrate. Have you tested the source water (tap) on its own for all three? You should, just in case any are present. There are ways to deal with this if they are.

Fish. Are you set on the Honey Gourami? My choice would be the pencilfish and rasbora, but with more of each. Both species are better with larger numbers. The pencils I would say 7. The rasbora no less than 9, and here I wold go with 12. I had 10 in a 10g with other fish and they were fine.

If the HG is definite, I would say one male and two females. With this, the rasbora (12) would be better. Pencils are characins, and all characins have lots of teeth, and fin nipping when combined with sedate fish has to be watched. And pencils can lean to this when tempted.

As for substrate fish, corys would be ideal but for the substrate. A Whiptail catfish should be OK.

Plants. Floating first. Either Frogbit or Water sprite, not both. Both will grow very fast and in my experience when together they get tangled within days. Either one will need to be trimmed back at each water change, but that is fine. Duckweed I wold not have with either, simply because you want some open areas and this will be between the leaves of the Frogbit or WS. Duckweed will fill these gaps within a couple days.

Stem plants. I would go with one only; the visual space will look larger than it will with too many. And here again, these are fast growers. Another issue, these are higher light plants. I cannot grow Cabomba or wisteria in my tanks, the light is insufficient. And you are getting forest fish that prefer darkness, so this is important. The green-leaf swords are all fine; pygmy chain sword for the bottom would be good. A better stem plant for corners would be Brazilian Pennywort.

Amazon sword, one plant in this small a tank. It could easily fill the entire space, not exaggerating. But this would be nice with these fish. Another reason to limit the stem plants.

Heater. I now use Eheim Jagger heaters. For a 15g, I would get a 100w heater.


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