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Trying Not To Epically Fail: First Planted Tank
For a beginner a planted tank is very overwhelming. So I'm trying to break it down into small manageable steps. Currently I'm saving up for my lighting system for my 55gal community tank. I'm either going with the 48” All-Glass twin-tube fluorescent strip light or the triple tube, which were both recommended by Byron. I was wondering if more was better here, or is the twin-tube the correct call?
With that out of the way, I think I need some help with my substrate. From the pictures of all of your beautiful planted tanks, I'm kind of getting the idea that my gravel diameter is a little large. I have attached a photo of my gravel so you can get a better idea of what I'm working with.The suggestions I got from Byron was for my gravel to be around 1 to 2 millimeters. I think mine is larger but was wondering if it was salvageable? If not were do I go from here? There are a million types of aquarium gravel at Petco and PetSmart, which one will work best for me? Also how deep should my gravel be?
After that I was wondering about the Malaysian driftwood that Sweet Aquatics is selling. Is it any good, and how many pieces should I get for my 55gal? Also is it best to boil it then soak it for a couple of weeks? I really want to get this right and not epically fail again.
I'll start this off with some suggestions on the specific issues you've raised. Also, have you read the 4-part series at the head of this section (we call them "stickies")? They contain some background info on the various aspects of a low-tech natural planted aquarium that you might find useful. Now to your issues.
On a 55g I would certainly not have three tubes, and two may be over-kill. I would suggest one will be adequate; Angel079 recently went from two to one tube over her 55g and raved about the increased plant growth and activity of the fish in response to less bright light. Depending upon which plants you are looking at, I would go with one regular T8 tube fixture. Most dual-tube fixtures (the All-Glass are like this) will only work if both tubes are in, so removing one is not an option if you were to try that. Years ago I had a 55g with one tube, and had good plant growth. I explain more on why this is better in that article series. [One tube will also save you money on energy.]
The depth of substrate depends upon the plants; large root system plants like the Echinodorus (swords) and Cryptocoryne need sufficient depth; minimum 2 inches at the front (smaller plants or no plants along the front) to 4-5 inches at the rear where the larger swords, etc. would be planted. I have about 5 inches in my 115g, and the three Echinodorus bleherae have root systems that extend out almost a foot from the plant crown and right down to the bottom (I can see the roots through the bottom glass from underneath, thick all over the tank). This depth is where the compaction issue can arise, but I have never had problems with my regular gravel, and I do not vacuum the substrate except along the open front where the corys feed.
Another comment on substrate, the darker the better, both for the appearance [fish and plant colours pop with a dark substrate and background] but even more for the fish. Forest fish, such as those we normally house in planted tanks, prefer a darker substrate like their natural habitats, and they will be more relaxed and thus more colourful with black, dark gray or dark brown natural-looking gravels.
Sweet Aquatics will definately be able to help- perhaps you would be interested in one of their biotope packages since several of them include driftwood.
Malaysian wood only needs to be rinsed before putting it in the aquarium- It's not quite tannin free, but compared to other woods it has next to 0.
As far as switching out the gravel, you may have to treat it as if it were a cycle. (If you have fish in the tank already- you'll be removing 50-90% of the filtration bacteria when you replace the gravel- monitor your nitrites and ammonia)
As far as establishing the gravel for your plants, that's not neccesary. Plants don't mind virgin gravel at all- I have set up a new tank and planted it first thing- and I let it cycle with the plants.
I concur with redchigh's comments. And I would suggest that when you change the substrate, you do so when you have your plants. Live plants in an aquarium will assimilate a lot of ammonia/ammonium, and even in fully new tanks with enough live plants and not too many fish you will never see a "cycle" of any sort.
Thanks Byron and Redchigh for all your great advice. I'm sure I will have a few more questions, but I‘m feeling a lot better about the whole process. I definitely owe you guys some high quality pictures after I get this bad boy up and running. :-D
Dont feel bad if at first you dont succeedl, It took me six months to finially get a plant to grow."I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that wont work." Thomas Edison
I started my tank last Oct - an eclipse 6 gal - sucky lighting! And I've done well w/ 2 crypts - lutea & spiralis.
I even have a sword that with root tabs is doing pretty good.
I do dose excel & seacheme comprehensive which I think makes a huge difference.
So if I can do it with that type of set up - I'm sure you'll do fine!
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