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HankB 03-29-2008 10:08 AM

55g makeover
 
I really don't enjoy those shows on TV where they take a plain unattractive person and "change their life" by redoing their physical attributes. That seems so superficial.

However, my 55 gallon freshwater tank is badly in need of just such attention. :lol: As spring approaches, It seems like a good time to act.

I've been keeping fish off and on for a long time. You don't need to know! Suffice to say that I know what Jewel Aquarium Cement is. I don't feel like I've kept up with recent developments, so don't assume I know what I'm doing WRT current practices and equipment. I am, however, aware that the UGF has fallen from favor. ;)

The tank - is a standard Perfecto 55 gallon with dual hoods including fluorescent lighting that would make the prince of darkness proud. I have a Supreme heater - I sold the same model when I worked at a pet shop in high school about 40 years ago. I have an Eheim cannister filter with the media they included - 1 tray of rubble, 1 tray of little ceramic tubes and 1 pad on top. Once in a while I rinse one of these out in tap water.

At present I am using plastic plants and they are dieing. Seriously. They disintegrate after a while and I'm tired of that look. :blueworry:

Present population includes:
1 kuhli loach. He's so old he has lost his white bands and is now solid black.
2 yoyo loaches
2 skunk loaches.
1 diamond tetra.
several glow light tetras
several bleeding heart tetras.
3 clown plecs
1 otocinclus

So. I would like to base my makeover on a switch to live plants. I really like the way they look. I think that rules out a switch to large African Cichlids. ;) But I haven't really decided what else I might like.

Here are the areas that I think I need to address:

Water:

I am using tap water (conditioned with Tetra conditioner.) This is Lake Michigan tap water which starts out at about 135-165 ppm hardness. To that they add all kinds of crap including chlorine and polyphosphate. SWMBO is going to set up a reef tank and I may install an RO/DI unit to provide water for that. Can this be used for a FW tank? It will be extremely pure and I always thought that some minerals were a good thing for both plants and animals as well as to provide some buffering capacity in the water. Are there additives for RO/DI water that would make it more suitable? Could I just keep a piece of lime stone in the tank to provide some hardness?

Lighting:

My first thought is to upgrade the existing fixtures with a PC kit from AH Supply. I think the two fixtures will each hold a 55 watt kit. Should I be looking at other options? I recall that the light should be close to the front of the tank to provide the most pleasing effect and the hoods I have place them closer to the rear to allow for the front to open up. Maybe I should just turn the hoods around and feed the fish at the back of the tank. Are there replacement hoods that would be significantly better?

Filtration:

I use an external canister filter as mentioned. It is the Eheim Pro 222n (maybe a 2222 or 2224 - I cannot see a marking on the filter and that's what it looks like from a web search.) I'm still using the media it came with. Is there something better to use? It seems to me that activated carbon (bone charcoal for us oldsters ;) ) has also fallen from favor. Or does it have a place?

CO2:

My son has a DIY yeast based CO2 system on his tank and gets phenomenal plant growth. I think I'd like to do that for my plants too. I've found some sites with DIY instructions but feel free to point out anything you have found that is particularly helpful for someone about to embark on this.

Substrate:

I have a mix of two grades of red flint gravel. One is about 2-3 mm size pieces and the other looks like it is about 6 mm diameter pieces. It's about three inches deep and has been mostly undisturbed since I removed the UGF plates several years ago. I don't have a burning desire to remove it, but will consider suggestions for an alternative.

Process:

Should I plan to do this in place? It there is a significant benefit, I could set up another tank to house the fish temporarily so I could tear down this setup. Or can I just upgrade the pieces in place and pitch the plastic plants as the live ones take their place? It seems to me that the one thing that would require a complete tear down would be to upgrade the substrate. Barring that, I think I can get by with an in place upgrade.

Maintenance:

I know I'm not cleaning my filter as often as I should. When I do, I don't do a complete change either. Once I did rinse both hard media and found my fish gasping at the surface the next day. I'm pretty sure I upset the cycle by disturbing things too much. At present I'm doing daily partial water changes. I have a 'J' shaped siphon set up in a funnel connected to a jug to collect overflow. That makes it incredibly easy to pour a gallon of water into the tank at any time. I do 2 or 3 gallons on a good day. I just need to do a better job of hiding this contraption because it is a bit unsightly. I did have the thought of growing this into a trickle system where make up water was constantly added to the tank and the overflow was routed to a drain. This could easily provide a daily water change of up to 50% (probably) which could be good - depending on the quality of the makeup water. I would probably go no higher than 5-10% daily.

Lurk and search. I haven't been lurking. I'll start now. I'm sure I will pick up a lot that way. I did try searching but didn't seem to have much luck. That really depends on the right search terms, so if you want to grit your teeth :redmad: and tell me "search first!" - do so, but help me with search terms please.

If you have read this far, thank you! If you have thoughts, questions or suggestions about this, please let me know! I really appreciate your help.

thanks,
hank

Pasfur 03-30-2008 07:41 AM

Wow Hank. After reading your question i decided to approach this from a different angel. If i were buying your aquarium today, what would I personally do to the system to make it more efficient?

I see no benefit in changing the gravel, heater, or hood. In fact, changing the gravel would have a negative impact on the bio filter. You may want to replace your bulbs, if you have not done so recently. You should change the bulbs every 9 to 12 months, at which point most florescent tubes will no longer provide the color spectum of light that your eyes will find most visually appealing.

Your choice of water supply is a personal preference. You can use purified water and add buffers, or you can use tap water and use a water conditioner to remove chloramines. My opinion is this... organized society has an amazing convenient system which delivers water right to your home. All you have to do is turn a small knob, and water flows out. Add a touch of Amquel, and you're good to go. 8)

Ok, i'm going to be honest with this part of my answer. I would personally replace your filtration method. I would use the canister filter only for mechanical and chemical filtration. Meaning filter pads and activated carbon. I would add an Emperor 440 for biological filtration. Honestly, the Emperor can handle it all, so i just see no reason for the time and trouble of using a canister filter. This is also personal preference, and many will disagree with me. They are wrong, naturally, but they will disagree.

CO2. I have no opinion. The scope of my knowledge ends when you begin to discuss live plants.

Why would you do so many water changes? Test for General Hardness, pH, and Nitrate. Monitor the changes in each and adjust your water partials accordingly. I can't imagine changing more than 20% per week. Just make sure you are chaning water for a reason, and not just to be trendy.

Mark

HankB 03-30-2008 07:01 PM

Hi Mark, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.
Quote:

Originally Posted by Pasfur
You may want to replace your bulbs, if you have not done so recently.

Agreed. Were I not planning a light upgrade that's the first thing I would do. In addition, I am going to see if I can clean or replace the glass between the lights and tank. There's a lot of scale on them. (Probably replace as I tried cleaning before with incomplete success.)

Quote:

Your choice of water supply is a personal preference. You can use purified water and add buffers, or you can use tap water and use a water conditioner to remove chloramines. My opinion is this... organized society has an amazing convenient system which delivers water right to your home. All you have to do is turn a small knob, and water flows out. Add a touch of Amquel, and you're good to go. 8)
I'm still undecided on this. I would be delighted with our tap water if it weren't for the phosphates they introduce. I wouldn't consider anything else except having to put in an RO/DI unit for a reef tank, the alternate source is available. Maybe
Quote:

Ok, i'm going to be honest with this part of my answer. ... I would add an Emperor 440 for biological filtration. Honestly, the Emperor can handle it all, so i just see no reason for the time and trouble of using a canister filter.
I'm fine with personal preference. What interests me is what benefits you perceive that drive this preference. In my case, I've sunk $$$ into the Eheim and the tank is about 2" from the wall, so there would be obstacles to switching. Plus I'm concerned that the the extra aeration I perceive with the wheel would liberate the CO2 I'm planning on. But I'm still interested in the reasons for your preference.

Quote:

Why would you do so many water changes? Test for General Hardness, pH, and nitrate. Monitor the changes in each and adjust your water partials accordingly. I can't imagine changing more than 20% per week. Just make sure you are chaning water for a reason, and not just to be trendy.
I suppose part of this is the American tradition of "If some is good, more must be better." I realize that at some point the extra benefit drops off and other considerations - convenience for example - become more significant.

My rationale is that the density of fish in natural waters is much less than what we often carry in our aquariums. Byproducts of the fish - perhaps more than just the majors we test for - could have an affect on their growth and robustness. We know if we overcrowd or do not change water, the fish's growth will be stunted. Without undue crowding, 20% weekly is adequate, but I might like to explore the farther reaches of that spectrum, though I don't plan to go to the extreme. Three gallons daily out of 55 is just a bit over 5% That's about 35% weekly and not so much more than 20%.

Thanks again for comments.

-hank

Lupin 03-30-2008 07:54 PM

Re: 55g makeover
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by HankB
At present I am using plastic plants and they are dieing. Seriously. They disintegrate after a while and I'm tired of that look. :blueworry:

What do you mean?:question:
Quote:

Present population includes:
1 kuhli loach. He's so old he has lost his white bands and is now solid black.
2 yoyo loaches
2 skunk loaches.
1 diamond tetra.
several glow light tetras
several bleeding heart tetras.
3 clown plecs
1 otocinclus
Odd mix. I'd ditch those skunk loaches as they are not community fish. How long have you had them?

okiemavis 03-30-2008 09:40 PM

This sounds like it's going to be a fun project! I agree with the first response for the first part, except about filtration. The Ehiems are great models, and I personally think they work best with just mechanical and biological filtration. I don't use chemical filtration in any of my tanks and I don't see a need. The carbon just has to be replaced so often, and that cost adds up. You may want to change your filter pad from time to time, but other than that your filtration system is perfect. I don't like power filters, I think they are much noisier than canister filters and aren't any lower maintenance.

Here's an idea for the water situation: lots of people use a mix of RO and regular tap water. It will lower the phosphates in your water from the tap, but still allow you to retain some of the nutrients. Also, let me recommend Prime as a water conditioner, it's a LOT more concentrated than the Tetra stuff, so it'll last you a lot longer, and it removed all the heavy metals from your water. Just my personal preference :) As for the water changes, I suppose that's really personal preference, although some people might argue that disrupting the tank every day is stressful for the fish. Seeing as you don't even stick anything into the tank to do it though, I can't imagine that it would.

What sort of tank inhabitants were you going for? Oddballs are becoming increasingly popular and affordable. There are some incredible ancient fish and the like. As for your current stocking, it is a rather strange mix. I'd settle on one type of tetra, as they are shoaling fish and do better in large groups. The kuhli would probably appreciate friends- they do better in groups of 6 or more. If you choose a couple of fish that you are very interested, people can help you shape the rest of your aquarium around that.

DIY C02 can be great. It sounds like your son has a good system working, and seeing as he can actually show you it in person, I'll leave that to him. You are going to want to get some good fertilizer. I use a liquid fertilizer like Flourish, and root tabs for the rooted plants. Your substrate is old, and probably doesn't have many nutrients left in it. Root tabs are great because you stick them under each rooted plant and it provides both macro and micro nutrients for about 6 months. Plants without roots absorb nutrients from the water, so it's nice to supplement the water with a simple liquid fertilizer. Seachem's line of stuff is really good, but I also like the API line. I always buy whatever is most convenient and cheapest.

Best of luck!


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