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watergirl 05-29-2009 01:04 AM

Help with getting my tank back into shape?
I got interested in this hobby, and bought a used tank. I am not sure how deep my interest runs or how sustainable it is, but I am committed to keeping this one 125 gal freshwater tank so I figure I might as well make this tank be OK to Very Good.

My already fizzled out completely because I made newbie mistakes and killed some fish. Partly due to getting sick for a while, and partly due to power outage. And other things like the fish getting overstressed due to equipment failure, poor maintenance, etc.

Also I was starting out with the previous owner's mistakes -- when I got the tank it was pretty dirty and some parts were broken and filtration was terrible. In retrospect I wish I could have started with a better used tank. (Couldn't afford new.) It's pretty hard being a newbie AND starting out with all kinds of problems, now I know quite a bit more but am still pretty much a newbie in many ways.

I almost wish I could find someone with a nice used tank and get them to bring it and then move into that tank and sell this one -- but I guess I am just dreaming. Maybe I should though, because right now I am looking at forking out $200+ for a better filter and needing to spend so many hours getting this one back in shape. The biggest thing that could motivate me to work on the tank is if I could have some pretty new fish that I really like.

Anyway, on the plus side, I only use reverse osmosis water. The tank is underpopulated so it's not as terrible as it could be, something like 36 inches of hardy/easy fish in there although the one is a messy fish. I did a 30% water change last week and am doing a 15% water change now. I have some BioZyme that I will add but I am only adding like 1/3rd what I should so that I can make it last.

However there was essentially zero filtration going on for a time. I turned on one of my powerheads that is connected to the undergravel filtration system and a bunch of crap came out. The powerheads have not been running for a while. Is it bad for me to turn on the other powerheads now or good? There are three and they are Maxi Jet 400's.

At one point the nitrate was like 100 so that is why some fish died. Now it seems to be about 40 and probably it's getting better as we speak. I just installed a MarineLand 400 BioWheel. I put a totally new fresh bag of ChemiPure in one side, a new MarineLand cartridge (the type with a blue side), and to help it get established I put 2 bags of media from the old filter. One bag I think is ceramic? That bag is VERY old. The other is good quality carbon and months old. I know this is NOT adequate enough filtration but it is MUCH better than what the tank had. I am wanting an Eheim 2028 Pro II for this tank, but am not sure if I am going to take that plunge just yet.

I love the way the gravel bottom looks, it's sort of like river rock, but it's more chunky and sharp and smaller. But I was told that if I had a sand bottom, the bottom would hardly need cleaning. So I am thinking maybe I should put in the effort to switch over. I already have many lbs of pool sand I could use so it would not cost me more in money. Would the sand help a lot or just a little? Would my Cory Cats be okay with the change? Sand would be nice because I could get that type of fish that I really like that burrows.

I do have another tank here that is not running which my fish could live in temporarily I suppose. It would be a pain to move them twice though. And I am a little worried that this other tank is too dirty or otherwise unfit.

Even if I get the fish types that I want, I am not sure I would keep my interest in them long enough. When they are no longer 'new' and when they aren't as small and 'cute'. But as I said, I do want to have at least one large tank here. I was/am disappointed that so many fish aren't compatible with other ones, and so many inverts aren't compatible and would try to eat my little fish, or they are difficult to care for. I had also not realized that plants are not as simple as buying them and putting them in the tank. Also most of the hardy easy fish seem too plain looking.

One of the fish is a pleco but he is older and big and probably not helping the algae greatly. I may be getting rid of him due to bio-load/space. The other fish are cory cats, giant danios, medium to large tinfoil barb, gourami, and some kind of small rosy barb.

I wanted snails but did not figure out which type of snails to get. Was interested in pretty much any kind of invert that was compatible and easy enough, I like more 'unique' stuff.

pH is fine, ammonia is 0. There is maybe something else I am supposed to test too?

Tank is glass and has a store bought glass cover. I am keeping the temp around 77, I think that is the best temp that all my fish would like. I know they make Water Clarifier and I have some. The tank has plastic plants, slate rocks, a piece of driftwood made for tanks, and 2 bubble bars. The tank gets very little exposure to sunlight and for a while it has gotten little light period.

Icky stuff gets stirred up if you move the gravel. "Vaccuming" the gravel does not seem to do much, it seems not worth the effort, like rather than standing there doing that for a while, I could just scoop out some of the gravel and go rinse it and get a better effect for the effort. But maybe I am wrong, I don't have enough experience with this.

Thank you for any advice.

iamntbatman 05-29-2009 01:29 AM

Don't be discouraged! A 125g tank is quite a good size and can hold a lot of small fish or even several pretty darn big fish, so you have a lot of possibilities.

So, your filtration consists of an undergravel filter driven by the three powerheads (which you're not currently using because they make a mess) and the Emperor 400, correct?

Well, here's the deal: corydoras and other types of bottom dwellers really do prefer sand. If your gravel is as sharp as you describe, it could be harming them already. Switching over to sand is definitely better for the cories and is essential for any burrowing fish. There are lots of threads on this forum about using sand substrate. However, you can't use the undergravel filter at all if you use sand. If you want to switch to sand, you'd need to take that out and either keep it for some other use or sell it. The Marineland Emperor 400 filter you have is nice but is probably not enough for a tank of that size on its own. Canister filters aren't a must-have item, really. Plenty of people get by with just hang-on type filters. Instead of buying that $200 Eheim, you could just buy two more Emperor 400's for about half that cost and have adequate filtration for a tank of that size even with a fairly heavy bioload.

The nitrates will keep coming down with water changes, especially if you get all of the gunk out of the gravel and the undgergravel filter. You could do a large (90% or so) water change on the tank by filling up some big rubber tubs with water from the tank, putting the fish in there, siphoning out the rest of the water, removing the gravel and UGF and all of the gunk under it, and then putting the sand in and filling the tank back up and then dump the tubs of fish back in the tank. Doing so would be a huge upset to your biological filtration, though, so I'd only recommend doing this after you've had all of your new filters up and running for several weeks, during which time the UGF has been turned off so that the bacteria will colonize the new filters rather than the gravel.

Are you unhappy with the fish you have now? Are these fish that you bought, or ones that came with the tank? What sorts of fish are you interested in? Do you want a community tank like you've got now, or would you rather have larger fish that don't work well in communities? Big cichlids have a lot of personality, and you've got room for some of the larger cichlids, so that's certainly an option.

Maybe you could post pictures of the tank? Some simple redecoration can go a long way from having a "bleh" fish tank to one that's really beautiful. In a tank that size, you have a lot of real estate to make a really cool aquatic environment. What kind of lighting do you have? Even if you have really weak lighting, plants like java fern and java moss will still grow so a planted tank isn't out of reach.

watergirl 05-29-2009 01:47 AM

Thanks for the encouragment. Part of why I started this thread is that I need that support to motivate me.

Yeah, if it were easy to switch to sand, I believe I would do it right now. I do like the gravel look more, but not when it's going to be all messy. I am probably willing and able to make the switch to sand. Maybe start switching slowly? Could I switch while the fish are in there without really stressing them out?

Yeah I am considering going a cheaper route with filtration, but honestly even at my best, I probably won't dedicate enough time to cleaning and maintaining my tank and so I figure it would make sense for me to plunk down an extra $100 to get a super good filtration thing going for my tank. To avoid problems later and have it look nicer and have happier fish. Even though money is somewhat tight.

The lighting seems to be just two 15W bulbs, one over each half of the tank. The tank did look nice to me when I first got it. I like most of the inanimate items that are in the tank currently. What looks ugly is those tubes from the undergravel filter, they are slightly yellowy or greenish even. And the bubble bar things I have, if the blue isn't hidden, I think that is very ugly. And the powerheads and rest of the 'equipment'.

If I could find someone who were willing, I'm wishing I could trade these 'large' okay condition tanks for smaller ones that were in great condition. I *might* actually try doing it and buy one in great condition then resell the 125 gal (and my nanoreef which has problems too, that's another story but overall similar, it was not cared for well enough) to someone who wants a cheap but large tank to work on.

Fish that I want... well I know I don't want anything that is beyond intermediate level, I should probably not have anything intermediate either.

I really enjoy small and tiny fish. Although for such a large tank, it seems weird to not have any fish over 2" or 3", and apparently most fish of this size would eat tiny fish. So in that case maybe I should either a) own a smaller tank for the tiny and small fish b) use a tank divider

I had planned to have a separate 20 or 29 gal for the small and tiny fish. And I already have 20, 29, and 10 gal tanks but I am not sure I want to start another one up and go through the new tank cycling process.

Another type of fish I really wanted was the loaches, the colorful small playful types. I had planned to set up a 45-65 gal tank with lots of sand and loaches (and shrimp or something compatible).

I would say that yes, my current setups were/are not a good match for my personality. The 125 gal tank was designed to house cichlids. I do really like how it looks though, as I said.

Thanks for giving me more to think about and write out.

watergirl 05-29-2009 02:06 AM

Also regarding my current fish. Yeah I am not happy with the large pleco. Especially since I keep thinking about how much bio load he adds. So I keep planning to get rid of him and find him a new home, but something makes me keep him. I think he will go eventually. Same with the med/large tinfoil barb. I really like having that large shiny fish, the entire tank would be not the same at all without that fish or one like it, and I did go through a bunch to save its life, but I also really dislike this fish's personality or something. I feel he isn't too happy in there and feel guilty for not caring for it better. I also have this fear of a large fish dying and having to see it floating there. The Gourami, I think it is quite ugly so it bothers me, but ugly is at least unique and I like its color and I don't want to part with it, I have room for it. I like the others and want to get them more of their own kind.

Sand is better for plants too I am thinking? I don't mind if I don't have plants. They would be nice but I guess they get to looking half eaten up. I think certain inverts would make me happier than certain fish.

Since I just put the 400 Biowheel on and removed the old one, I shouldn't be getting new fish for 4-6 weeks right? Even with keeping those 2 filter bags? That part really sucks. I know of a place that has a good sale on fish right now and want them as I've already made myself wait to get new fish for months. I could put the old filter back on the tank too, it is an AquaClear 70 but the tubing has grown gross black and green algae/mold type stuff. I rinsed it a while in hot water but it would need major scrubbing. I was going to get rid of this AquaClear filter. The filter had been on and off back and forth for a while. I also have one or two other used filters I could put on there for now, one is only rated for 20-40 gal I believe.

One thing that makes it all harder is that my RO system doesn't output very fast, so it takes like an entire day of carrying buckets back and forth to just fill 40 gallons of RO water. And I only have the patience for like 1/2 a day of that before needing a break. I am wishing I could figure out how to connect a hose so I could at least just turn on the RO and have it flow into the other room and up the side of the tank and into the tank.

watergirl 05-29-2009 03:04 AM

Actually the fish seem a lot happier now that the nitrates are not so bad, and the minnows love the powerhead's current of course. I am hopeful that the chemipure can do a lot more in the next day or two. They seem happier / more active with light on. I'm happy with the tank considering there aren't that many fish so far. And I like the tinfoil barb a lot except don't really like him chasing the gourami (bullying) and that he would eat any tiny fish, and he is a little TOO visible. Not sure if I would let him go.

Twistersmom 05-29-2009 07:51 AM

For the water changes you may find a Python No Spill Clean N Fill to be a great help. It can be connected to you sink to fill your tank back up. It also can be connected to drain, but I just throw the hose out the window and drain the tank into my yard.
I also have some tinfoil barbs. Yours might be a little lonley, out of all my fish, none school closer together than my 3 tinfoils. Although you would not want to add any fish small enough to fit in their mouth, mine do well with smaller fish such as some red eye tetras that are in the same tank now.
Your tank, although large, does not have to house large fish. I think it would be awsome to have a bunch of different small schooling fish.
I think it would be best to wait on the better filtration and the removal of the dirt under the UGF, before adding any fish.
Sound like a nice tank. Good luck with it. If the looks of the equipment is bothering you, add some tall fake plants to hide them some. I also have some fake plants from the reptile section, they came with suction cups to place where ever you need it on the glass to help hide those airline, heaters, or whatever.

Byron 05-29-2009 08:59 AM

There is potential for some problems in what you have described regarding the filtration and substrate, so I'll offer a few suggestions.

Undergravel filters work fine but cannot be turned off for more than a couple of hours. The filters pull the tank water down through the substrate (gravel) and filter plate and return it up the tubes into the tank with the particulate matter left in the substrate. Bacteria, both aerobic and anaerobic, live in the substrate and perform their tasks, good and bad. Aerobic bacteria (the good guys, nitrosomonas and nitrobacter) require oxygen which they get from the constant flow of water; if this ceases, as when you disconnect the undergravel filter by stopping the water flow, the aerobic bacteria will die and cause pollution. Once you stop the undergravel filter for any length of time, do not start it up again; the only solution then is to remove the substrate and filter plate (this is a major task and the fish have to be taken out before this is done). Stirring this up may or may not be harming the fish now in the tank (depends upon their biiload, pH of your water, and other things) but adding new fish will increase the bioload and probably spell disaster. Before you even consider new fish, decide how you want this aquarium to look (new substrate, plants, type of need to know the end goal before you starting building the house).

I second the view earlier that canister filters on a 125g are the best. Nothing else even comes close, so it is money well spent. I won't go into the reasons now.

Substrate, sand or gravel. Sand is no more "clean' than gravel, or vice versa. Detrius will accumulate on and in the substrate no matter what it is comprised of, and regular maintenance is mandatory if you want healthy fish. Twistersmom mentioned the Python apparatus and it is the only way to go with large tanks. Partial water changes of 30-50% every week are necessary, and this gadget makes it a breeze. I have a 90g and 70g now, and previously had these plus a 115g, and have always done a 40-50% water change on them every week; it only took me 2 hours to do all three, and that included time spent trimming plants. The substrate has to be vacuumed along with the water change.


watergirl 05-29-2009 10:41 AM

Yeah, I have no problem with draining it. For filling it, I don't want to use my sink faucet. I want something to connect/catch the water from the reverse osmosis tank small size faucet I have. From there the water has to travel a little 'uphill' to get into the tank. The water coming out has little pressure. I know I could have a big garbage can with wheels (although it would take up space and not look nice) but then I still need a way for the water to go uphill from the garbage can to the tank.

I believe a bunch of people said that with sand you just had to vacuum the surface whereas with gravel there's so much surface area underneath.

Sounds so complicated. There should be some way I can suck out the gravel into a bucket to switch to sand. :|

1077 05-29-2009 11:30 AM

I have a small pond pump with a garden hose attached to it. When I don't need to vaccum the sand ,I use this to drain the water quickly from the aquarium. You could also use it to pump the R/O water from your storage tub back into the aquarium. The pumps come in several sizes and are a bit pricey BUT they save a ton of time and no lugging buckets is required. When I need to do weekly gravel vaccuming, I use the Python and run the hose to the sink or out the back door.
I recently switched the gravel in 80 gal to sand and found that a small cheap plastic dustpan, worked very good for scooping out the old gravel. I then washed all the old gravel and am saving it for possibly another:squint: (checks to see if girlfriend is around) Tank.

watergirl 05-29-2009 11:38 AM

Hehe, I hope you get another tank :) Good idea about the dustpan. Yes, I might do the pump idea! Definitely worth checking into.

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