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Discussion Starter #1
for now i'm just pooling notes and research till i get this started.

i've come across a lot of information so far, and read a lot of peoples experiences (bad experiences mostly).

on a search to see what to do to keep things going, what helps, what to avoid.

for a goal of keeping a self-sustaining tank (not sealed, so i would be topping up water lost due to evaporation.)
 

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Discussion Starter #3
hard part is squishing an ecosystem into a tank

in my mind everything has to be compressed
higher densities of everything at every level

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substrate, till i hear better, i'm following what i heard from beaslbob

peat moss with a cap, ... i'm going to add some cheap cat litter to the mix for CEC (help retain nutrients in the substrate (Montmorillonite clay - cheapest of the cheap cat litter, ingredient (single) natural clay for the clumping cat litter - no odor control or anything added

i'm unsure about what to use for a cap, possibly arcillite (baked Montmorillonite clay) or do i go cheap and get play sand, or expensive and ceramic beads (for foundry casting - cerabeads), or exotic - sand blasting glass beads, ... probably not the glass beads, i want to keep the cap ontop not have it sink under the peat moss due to density (what i am considering the cerabeads for

blackworms in the substrate (to keep it airy and help with mulm/detritus breakdown
assassin snails to help as well (possibly adding Malaysian Trumpet snails for extra)

greenwater to help absorb nutrients from the water column (beneficial side effect) but also as food for the live food

Rotifers (mixed - sessile & planktonic)
moina prefered (likely daphnia only because i can't find moina.
possibly copepods (when i looked into it again recently they're smaller than the common daphnia manga (which is huge :(

i'm debating about freshwater sponge and/or clams at this point, ... mostly for the exotic "i can do it" feature that isn't possible in most peoples 'way-to-clean tanks'

but i think only if the greenwater is still out of control with the zooplankton in the tank (not enough eating the greenwater - but again i'm not sure about this from another perspective, ... if the greenwater isn't dense enough, the zooplankton won't get dense enough as well.

these smaller critters at this point are little more than live food (with worms and snails additionally helping keep the substrate fresh... that much turning over the substrate is pushing me to get the cerabeads to ensure it stays ontop

i want lots of algae (various kinds of algae) for fresh food for the fish (flagfish), and plants that the flagfish can munch on as well (a large varied diet) ... it's really hard to find people talking about what plants flagfish will eat, most talk of "don't get these plants because the fish eat them" them (that's about what i have to go on for my search)

for algae searches, i initially went with "what phytoplankton will reproduce quickly?" a recent research report i had pointed out to me mentioned that daphnia do best with a particular type due to protiens and such it produces, ... well that threw my critter list (including phytoplankton) into chaos :(

kinda like where initially i stayed away from rotifers, no inherent nutritional value, ... so find something else, ... but there's not much else that is sessile that could provide additional nutrients for the flagfish eating aglae & have extra critters in their food.

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having greenwater & zooplankton helps keep nutrients in the water column from becoming hypoeutrophic. nutrients are quickly found by the phytoplankton, then eaten by zooplankton, then eaten by fish, to be pooped out and land on the bottom of the aquarium again, to (hopefully) move down into the substrate and have bacteria release the nutrients slowly back into the water column again, and the process repeats.

that was the easy part.

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oddly the hard part is plants

stem plants tend to grow without limit and flagfish have small mouths so are limited in the plants they can munch on

i think i'm stuck on more stem plants than i want, but that's a bit of trial and error to see if the plants can survive the flagfish or if they'll be eaten into extinction as well

flagfish i've heard have a tendency to eat what they want in priority, first one salad, then another when the first is no longer available, ... in my tank algae disappears first and so i can't tell if they eat the rotala (that i've heard they will eat) because they like algae first, ... did have two small sprigs of Limnophila that disappeared really fast - likely eaten

a search for plants that aren't stem plants has left me with cryps and swords, ... i think swords are softer and likely to be eaten more, ... but find smaller leafed swords, ... most are growing well over 12" tall.

i still search for swords despite the low tank as i want it to block line of site so the hungry flagfish won't eat the zooplankton into extinction (they're little piggy fish :( but to find plants that will grow without crowding the surface as the leaves reach the top & continue growing into a mat & block out light, ... not good

shorter leaves would be great, but not so easy to find :(
java fern would be perfect, ... but nothing eats it unless they're desperate, ... then the flagfish aren't trimming the leaves keeping them thinned out.

still so much up in the air, ... i settled on flagfish for their diet, ... carnivore with strong herbivore tendencies, ... what i would like to think would help reach a balance for a self-sustaining tank, ...

but the plants are really difficult, ... fast growing non-stem plants to significantly block line of site in the tank that are more of a salad for the flagfish, ... hundreds of plants to go through, well once things are sorta organized there's a start, but looking for experience is hard.
 

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capped peat moss will give a lower ph,not good for clams.ant capped soils etc will also not work with clams.they will just dig it up.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
what options have people come across for high intensity lighting ?

in the aquarium supplies stories prices are insane
in general gardening & hydroponics prices are half or less (comparing some of the bigger name brands for aquarium products)

sunlight supply produces a T5HO 8 lamp fixture for similar price to some duel lamp fixtures for aquarium products.

any alternatives people have come to for affordable lighting ?
 

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Sunlight, or a series of mirrors to reflect it in if you want it more self sustaining. If you use electricity it really isn't self sustaining.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
i'm not quite ready to consider the sealed no-tech self-sustaining aquarium

i am fine with low-tech, lights, heater, air pump.
a filter i am not so sure of though, on the fence.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
tank stand construction ...

i'm thinking something like this (only slight differences)
changes to what lengths of wood line up with things same shape, just a difference of what 2x4 is full length and what is overlapping what board.

if someone has ideas for something stronger, i'd like to hear it.

yes, this is taken from what someone else built (built for a 40 gallon)
found with:
-diy tank stand (36"L18"D 30") for 40 gallon breeder tank
in a google image search
a 90 gallon would be expected 1000lb

i can't weld, nor do i have the equipment if i could
this stand is built with 2x4
i like the minimal boards, i like the boards braced against other boards to distribute the weight (and i think increase overall strength)

i'm no construction worker or even close, so i dono if this would be expected to be sufficiently strong or not

Edit:
can't seem to add the image i found :(
 

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The 2x4 design is plenty strong for a 90 gallon. The 4x4 design is way overkill. I've got a 10'x3' stand of sorts, holds five 40's & three 20's, above a couple 150 gallon tubs. That one has six 4x4 legs, 2x6 perimeter, 2x4 cross members every 18". Four 4x4's will easily hold up a jacked up truck that weighs 5k pounds. I went with six due to the 10' span, a 2x6 will only span so much. Look at how commercially made stands are constructed, you'll see a 2x4 design is built way more sturdily than what they offer.
 
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Discussion Starter #13
ironing out details

one of the reasons for water changes is an accumulation of fish hormones in the water.
(once people get past the nitrogen cycle nitrate issue)

appearntly (and i'm going to side with this) this is easiest noticed for those breading fish with heavy requirements for "clean water" (and no more clarification on this is given), ... i am told those who are familiar with breeding discus show improved growth and colors with "massive daily water changes"

k, for me that's good enough to say there's something really serious going on there, or at least significant to pay attention to, things that cannot be ignored

on another thread (thank you Mikaila31) the concern for anyone who claims 'self-sustaining' is any indicator of increased TDS (total dissolved solids) is a tank that will never be self-sustaining as these will continue to climb till one problem or another shows up.

from the question i asked about hormones in the water, recent studies (December 16, 2009) - if you call that recent, find that plants can do significant work in reducing hormone levels in water (testing done in a hydroponics test - rather similar to our aquariums if you think about it)

so, in theory, sufficient plants may be able to compensate for hormones given off by our fish in our closed eco-systems (aquariums)

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other things i have done in my current tank was to let the plants grow to very heavily overgrown. a rather literal floating body of plant mass had grown 3-6" below the surface that supported the plants growing emerged (flowers on Bocapa are rather beautiful, if small, and hygrophilia Difformis assumes a more typical leaf shape). otherwise the mass of plants was insufficient to support the weight of the emerged stems.

i noticed during this time i could not get pH above 6.5 (at the time, inexperienced compared to now - i still may be inexperienced by many standards) ... one day i did a massive pruning (the plants had been growing for about a year without a pruning at all) ... this was a disaster with a very drastic consequence.

the pH shifted to ... i dono, something very high
ammonium that was readily available for the plants was no longer being consumed
a low pH that may have hindered the bacteria for the nitrogen cycle to get started left my tank without means to process ammonia.

so ...

ammonium turned into ammonia and i lost half my fish by the time i realized what was going on while adding daily pH stabilizers and ammonia neutralizers to bring things into balance while the nitrogen cycle built itself up again. ... a truly disastrous event :(

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now i have started a different direction for plant growth, ... i have previously (after the massive plant pruning) started pruning to keep things with about 4" of growth (when trimming) and letting the plants grow till about touching the surface ... i learned from before, don't trim it all at once, so i trimmed in sections over the course of a couple weeks

now i'm trimming only half the tank, leaving the other half to grow wild.

now my tank has a heavily planted side, and a not so heavily planted side, ... a light side and dark side (for StarWars fans), a dense side and a very open side.

i am hoping to see this old tank erach a point where TDS starts to go backwards (lower)
i have no idea what the numbers are at now, ... but it's time to find out.

for now i've got a start of what i can look at to see at least if this part of "self-sustaining" is possible.

can things reach a point to ensure TDS isn't going to climb through the roof till the fish end up with calcified armor and shields in the tank, ... hmmm, roman infantry fish :)

--- there is worse than surprisingly little details on what to consider when setting up "self-sustaining" aquariums, ... there really is, there is no place to start, and those that do either fail (and say little, or give up and say little, or get ridiculed and nothing is said, ... but what is going on, what are some of the places to start, ...

or at least what are some of the things to start considering.

so far, ... well can't measure hormone levels, ... but can measure TDS, and if that's lowering (after i test it) then i've got a chance.

weekly tests for a month? (because daily is subject to daily fluctuations)

well maybe hormones may not be directly testable, ... but i'm sure there are going to be some insanely sensitive fish out there that may help show a sign of how things are in the water we cannot test for

when it comes to hormones in the tank, ... even for the samples of sensitive discus breeders, ... massive daily water changes to see improved growth, color, health, ... that's hard to test when trying the idea of a self-sustaining tank, ... i'm either changing water, or i'm not, ... and checking to see how fish are doing gets hard to do without a sensitive species of fish and a control tank, ... using a species that will have the greatest easily recognized visual on how it's doing.

and i thought finding a tiny primarily herbivore was difficult, ... now for a test i'm looking for a tiny sensitive fish with recognized visual clues about it's health & stress ? ... :/

damn, ... unless someone has some ideas, (and i may only be able to keep it in mind now), i wouldn't know where to start looking for that test, i'd have to keep it in mind as something to consider for years down the road

Edit:
wow my posts can be big and messy at times :(
 

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Flear, you may be difficult to follow at times, but trust me we all THRILLED that you break up your posts. A wall of text would just be too much to handle :) Truthfully, I wonder if it might be easier to follow if it were less broken up - thoughts grouped together a little more.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Water softening

are there plants that soften water ?

it's easy to make water harder (just ignore it)

i have heard there are leaves that can be added that will make water softer (and i hear tanis can do the same thing)

but between those few types of leaves and wood,... these would not grow (and drop) on a rate to have any constant stable effect on a tank, ... or for wood, ... would eventually loose all it's tanis

are there any plants (growing submerged or floating) that have water softening capabilities ??

-... more than just soaking up whatever nutrients they absorb, but to actually have a measurable effect on the water ???

time to look :)
and as always, open to others knowledge :)
 

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Discussion Starter #16
the tank itself (size/shape) has taken a backseat.

some aspects are still in limbo (substrate) even if mostly figured out - it's not complete yet in my mind

things i have settled on
blackworms
no burrowing snails (other aquatic snails are fine)
wolffia
azolla
flagfish
Montmorillonite clay mixed into the substrate
rotifers
moina (if i can find a dealer)
greenwater (still needs more research)

non-floating, rooted plants i'm so uncertain about :(
additional nutrients and stuff mixed with the substrate, i'm also uncertain

filters and such are suddenly seeming problematic for interfering with plants and critters in the tank :(
more research & study to do.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
update:

using a DSB
-5"

using some floating plants
-wolffia (watermeal) for sure - to be decided for others

not using plants
lets be clearer, ... not rooting plants that would interact with the DSB
so resorting to algae to fill this niche.
freshwater macro-algae, ... out of everything out there, 3 types i have heard of (one only rumor of)
there's gotta be more, am looking into this :)
 
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