Help with new planted tank!
Hi everybody, love the forum it's been very helpful! I haven't been in the hobby since I entered HS (about 10 years ago) and my dad just gave me his old tank that he no longer wanted to maintain so I'm just gonna jump right in and try my first planted tank.
I have a 30 gallon 30''L 12''W 18''H with a hanging filter (w/ bio wheel), about 2-3 inches of sand, and currently stocked with 6 cardinal tetras and 2 dwarf gouramis. I was reading all the stickies and I love the idea of the low tech planted aquarium but I have no idea where to start, I want to go heavily planted but not sure how many fish I would need to stock to balance the tank (i.e. would I need a minimum amount of fish in order to keep the C02 up and what would be too much?). I've also never used a sponge filter before only hanging filters, in fact I've never even seen them sold before at my LFS so not sure how to get one of those going or how big it should be. I also had a concern about the lighting, in the sticky it said that the plants should have 10 hours of complete darkness and I'm not sure if that's realistic for my tank. It's in the living room currently so it would get a trickles of sunlight during the day and we are up pretty late at night, of course I would leave the light off in the tank but what about the lights from the TV or the lamp in the living room would that be an issue?
If anyone could point me in the right direction in regards to what plants I should start off with as well as the filtration and how much more fish I could realistically stock I would greatly appreciate it! I was hoping to get a few albino cory cats and MAYBE a couple rams or kribs.
Oh and I forgot to mention that my PH is between 7.4-7.6 it's hard for me to tell from the color in the test kit, and I'm also assuming I will need to change my substrate is this correct? I wanna get this right the first time so I'm up for whatever will help! :-D
I use an eheim 2215 and it is fairly well planted. This I find does the job with the small amount of fish I have in there. Have a look at my aquarium to get some ideas of sotck level and so forth?
First, welcome to Tropical Fish Keeping forum. Nice to have you with us.
To your questions. I would not worry about the light, the tank light is the main thing and it has to be controlled or algae will take over. A timer works best for consistency.
The substrate is probably OK, being sand, unless it is white. That I do not recommend, but if it is darkish, fine. A depth of 2-3 inches is all you need, deeper in the back where larger plants go and less in the front. Sloped or terraced with rock, up to you.
I would definitely not use that filter. Sponge filters are fine in planted tanks, I have the Elite dual sponge shown below on my 30g (same dimensions as yours) and it works well; it is available in single or dual sponge, one size each. The Hydro (second photo shows all sizes, rated for tanks) are also good filters, I have one of these in my 10g. These both connect to a small air pump. Can explain more if asked.
CO2 occurs mainly from bacteria breaking down the organics in the sand, less from the fish and plants. Have a read of my article on bacteria for more info on this:
Question on your water parameters. Do you know the hardness of your tap water? This is important, both for the fish and the pH stability. You can find this out from your water supply people, many have a website with data posted. We want the GH and KH (alkalinity) numbers. I can offer more suggestions on fish when I know this; you have space for more:-).
For plants, in this sized tank an Amazon Sword would be ideal as a "centrepiece" but planted off-centre. Good plants for the back would be Brazilian Pennywort, Corkscrew Vallisneria; pygmy chain sword for the mid-to-front, crypts (though these can be temperamental and you might want to hold off at first), dwarf sword. These are in our plant profiles, click on th shaded name to see the profile. Fish and plant profiles are under the second tab from the left in the blue bar across the top of the page.
This should start you off.
Thank you very much! I jumped on my water district website and they have some numbers up that really don't seem all that helpful... [PH Range 7.0-8.7 avg 7.8, KH Range 69-215 avg 120, GH range ND- 435 avg 91] From the test kit I have at home I got 57 for the KH but the kit would not work for the GH which I don't understand why.
As for the substrate it isn't white but it's a lighter color (and it does look white with the light on). I'll post a pic as soon as I get photobucket to work...
So for the sponge filter do you recommend the single or duel sponge? It just connects to a regular air pump like one used for the air stones?
The plants all look really awesome, would be able to also get some kind of moss? I was hoping to do one of those moss walls that cover the back of your tank.
*** Edit*** Just saw that I could use the aquariums tab so I uploaded the pic there (sorry for the low quality cell phone photo), and I also just found one of my cardinals dead and I'm noticing some brown algae (diatoms?) on the plants. I just checked the ammonia level and it has gone up slightly, when it was at zero a few days ago. Could my tank be cycling as if it's a brand new tank even though I have the established bio wheel and the same substrate and decor that has been in the tank for years?
What dechlorinator are you using? Any other products going into the tank water?
Will have more when the above info is known.
To the cardinals. This is not a good fish for a new tank. I have many times in the past lost cardinals in new tanks. The tank should be well established (not only cycled, but established for a month or more after) before cardinals are introduced.
Filter: Dual sponge (the Elite) or the Hydro rated for a 30g, either will do. I find the Elite easier to clean as you can easily just slip the sponges off during the water change, rinse them, and slide them back. The Hydro has to be pulled apart. Not impossible, just a bit more fussing. Otherwise, either are in my experience excellent filters.
Sand: I myself would change the substrate, that is quite light and not easy on the fish. Cardinals and all forest fish for that matter occur in waters so dark you can barely see them. Substrates are mud/sand covered with a deep layer of wood and leaves. In other words, dark.;-) The fish "expect" darkness below them, otherwise they feel vulnerable and this is stressful. Many characins can actually change their colouration light/dark according to the substrate; I have personal experience with this when I moved fish from a tan substrate to a darker gray tank. And Stanley Weitzman has written on the subject. It is well documented.
If you like the sand, playsand works well. Takes a lot of initial rinsing, but it is in my view worth it. I have it in my 33g, photo attached. My dwarf loaches love it too, they are now out and about far more than they previously were. Changing the substrate after a tank is set up is possible but not easy, so I recommend deciding what you want and doing it now, before you get plants and more fish. The playsand at Home Depot and Lowe's I believe is what they call a tan but to me it is more gray/tan; it is what is in the photo. It is very close in appearance to the sand in the Rio Negro in Amazonia.
To the water. Taking the "average" numbers, that gives us a GH of 91ppm [= 5 dGH] and a KH of 120 [= 7 dKH]. GH is fine for soft water fish. KH will act as a buffer to prevent the pH from lowering, but there is an easy fix. Remove some of the tank water as during a water change, and for replacement water use tap water that has been boiled and cooled naturally. This gets rid of KH. You can replace half the tank water like this, KH has no effect whatever on fish. And GH is not affected by boiling. Once done, the natural biology will cause the water to acidify and pH will lower. I would get it below 7, low to mid-6's is ideal and much better for cardinals and similar fish.
Semi off topic, but Byron, for the sponge filter, doesn't the air exchange affect the CO2 levels in the water? With sponge filters, the increased gas exchange would promote removal of CO2 in the water. I have a sponge filter in a 1g nano and my plants dont grow at all unless i add excel.
Wow so the water will naturally become acidic if you boil away the KH? Would I do that every water change or just once in a while? Would the constant changes in PH from water changes really bother the fish, say if the PH gets down below 7 but then I do a water change and the new water I add in is at the usual 7.4?
In regards to the bacteria, I was very careful transporting it so all the bacteria would remain intact. I did not change or rinse the substrate, nor the decor (however these were removed from the tank during transportation and didn't remain submerged so maybe they lost some bacteria?), I did a complete100% water change on the tank when I brought it home and all that was in there were 2 silver dollars and a bristlenose (which I gave away to my LFS). The tank was established for a solid 5 or 6 years and I tried to transport it keeping as much intact as possible, I monitored the tank for a week and the water quality was very good and I saw the cardinals on sale for 1 dollar each so I decided to go for it hoping for the best. I'm using Amqual plus to dechlorinate the water, however it is a very old bottle so maybe it lost its potency? What bugs me is I had the cardinals in for about a week and a half and they were all fine, and I bought the two dwarf gouramis yesterday and did a partial water change right before introducing them to the tank and this morning I wake up to a missing cardinal and a small ammonia spike so I'm really at a loss. No other products are going into the tank so maybe my hands or the bucket/ siphon were contaminated but not sure how... :-(
I'm probably going to go with your suggestion on the play sand I was thinking about that before but wasn't sure if certain sands or gravel were unsafe for aquariums so that's really useful to know that I can do that. Are there any darker substrates I could use, possibly borderline on black? I've noticed that the cardinals have been hanging out towards the back of the tank where I have the black background so would a really dark/black substrate help out even more or would it not make a difference?
***Edit*** Just to clarify I did have the 2 silver dollars and the pleco in the tank untill I added the cardinals, I basically swapped them out, so the bacteria should have had plenty of "food" especially with the waste the pleco was producing.
:hmm:I am only guessing here, but the difference might be the design. Air is pushed directly into the filter and it bubbles up inside a tube, pulling tank water in through the sponge. The water in the main tank probably takes a while to get into the sponge. The effect of bubble wands and such is different; in those the air is pushed into the main water column and CO2 would probably dissipate much faster because of that. :question:
Once a tank is established the pH tends to remain stable. Water changes can at first be less in volume, maybe 20-25%, monitoring pH to see how it is going to adjust. There will be some fluctuation, up when teh new water is added, then lowering as the tank's biology affects it. Minor fluctuations are OK, my tanks fluctuate around .4 to .5 every water change, and of course there is the normal diurnal fluctuation in planted tanks that can be this amount too.
Have you checked your tap water for ammonia (and nitrite and nitrate too for that matter)? Worth knowing, just in case.
Adding two gourami will obviously increase the ammonia, but if the bacteria are OK to start with, they should be able to multiply sufficiently to handle it within 10-20 hours.
You can also buy black sand for an aquarium, more expensive though. I think Carribsea makes a black onyx sand. It wouldn't be too bad in a smaller tank, unlike having to do a 4 or 5-foot tank. Then there are the plant substrates like Flourite and Eco-complete. I have Flourite black in my 70g now. Flourite also comes in a black sand. Eco-complete I saw in the store but it was sharper and I didn't want to risk my corys/loaches so I went with Flourite.
Cardinals do not like light. Many forest fish are similar. My cardinals in the 115g always remain down among plants, coming out only to feed. I posted this video a while back on this fish in its dimly-lit natural habitat; this video was made at mid-day but you can see how dark it is in the river under the branches and overgrowth. The behaviour of my cardinals is no surprise in this context.
Great! Thanks for all the help Byron. I'm gonna run some experiments on my tap water tonight and try to figure out what might have happened, but I did think of one possibility... when I bought the gouramis from the pet store they wrote the price on the outside of the bag in permanent marker, and I floated the bags in my tank for several hours without thinking about it, could that be the cause?
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