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Discussion Starter #1
In the Process of setting up a 55 Gal aquarium and I've decided I'd like to own 2-3 species of Cichlids, fairly mildly agressive and easy to care for, for a Cichlid novice such as myself. I'm thinking Electric yellow (Labs), maybe Firemouth and maybe another.Also Like to add a Pleco if possible. But have tons of questions that I'd like to ask.

I plan on creating a 3-D rockscape background with foam covered in the cemeant and sealed like Ive seen several youtube videos. Looks really cool and will add some additional nooks and crannies for fish to seek shelter. Also will add some real rocks on the bottom. As far as substrate Im thinking sand, seems like this is the way to go for Cichlids, but Im aware they like to dig and so the rocks need to be placed securely on the tank's bottom with out much sand under them.

What type of Sand is best? read something about Pool washed sand? or should I opt for substrate slightly larger than sand?

The tank I have is currenly fitted with an hang on the back style filter Topfin 60. The tank and filter are approx 6-8 years old so i was thinking might be outdated and I would need something More powerful for the tank I want to set up. With the tank I'd like to set up, what do you suggest? Seems like many people have two filters in their aqarium. Should I use this Topfin60 and purchase a second filter also?

The lighting that the tank has will be replaced. I think they are 15W luminescent bulbs...again 6-8 years old so what type of lighting should I get? Thinking about gettting a timer power strip so the tank lights will be on 12-14 hours a day.

Last question is Plants. I know Cichlids will eat or uproot plants if they can...are Real plants worth it or stick to plastics? And what are your thoughts on one or two floating, broad leaf plants to provide shade?

Any other additonal thoughts, comments would be greatly appreciated!
 

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Off the top, I would not combine rift lake cichlids (the yellow lab) with Central or South American (Firemouth is CA) species. So decide which you want, and then plan an aquascape accordingly. This involves the substrate (sand, fine gravel), plants, and wood or rock decor. There are some ideas in our profiles.

No mention is made of your tap water parameters. If you go with rift lake cichlids, hard and basic (alkaline) water is needed. A substrate of crushed coral/aragonite sand is ideal for this as it is calcareous and will add hard mineral to the water to maintain a good GH and pH. By contrast, for CA cichlids a small riverscape would be ideal, using fine gravel and rounded river rock with some chunks of bogwood. For SA cichlids, play sand works well as it is similar in appearance to Amazonian sands. Both of these are inert, meaning they will not affect water chemistry. And for these fish you want fairly basic (for CA esp) to soft and slightly acidic (SA) conditions.

Plants are possible for any of these, though some cichlids will dig them up but there are ways around this.

Byron.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Guess I have my work cut out for me and need to do more research on what geographical range of Cichlids I want. It will probably boil down to the more readily avialble species at my LFS. I do really like the Yellow Labs, due to their striking color.

I do recall my KH water test (strips) being hard close to 180 if I recall, and the GH was on the softer side around 40-50. This was when I had the aquarium set up and running. I haven't tested my water straight from the tap, all though thats a good idea. (I will have to wait until the API Water Test Kit (testube kind) comes in from Amazon. I tossed out the remaining last few test strips I had because they were more than 2 years old and I was planning on getting new, more accurate test kit).

As far as Filtration, I decided on the Fluval 406 Canister filter, which is rated for aquariums up to 100 Gallons. Im thinking/hoping this will be adequate on my 55 Gal tank.

Byron, thanks for shedding some light on what to consider, I'll spend my next few days reading up on the different species and whats I have 2-3 in mind, I'll work on figuring out substrate, rockscape, etc.!!

You mentioned "Bogwood" is that a special type of wood? Drift wood?
 

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Guess I have my work cut out for me and need to do more research on what geographical range of Cichlids I want. It will probably boil down to the more readily avialble species at my LFS. I do really like the Yellow Labs, due to their striking color.

I do recall my KH water test (strips) being hard close to 180 if I recall, and the GH was on the softer side around 40-50. This was when I had the aquarium set up and running. I haven't tested my water straight from the tap, all though thats a good idea. (I will have to wait until the API Water Test Kit (testube kind) comes in from Amazon. I tossed out the remaining last few test strips I had because they were more than 2 years old and I was planning on getting new, more accurate test kit).

As far as Filtration, I decided on the Fluval 406 Canister filter, which is rated for aquariums up to 100 Gallons. Im thinking/hoping this will be adequate on my 55 Gal tank.

Byron, thanks for shedding some light on what to consider, I'll spend my next few days reading up on the different species and whats I have 2-3 in mind, I'll work on figuring out substrate, rockscape, etc.!!

You mentioned "Bogwood" is that a special type of wood? Drift wood?
Various names, but the same stuff--chunks of wood. It can be variable depending upon the type of wood. I personally only use Malaysian Driftwood (as it is usually called these days), which is very dark brown, heavy so it sinks immediately, is not bad for tannins, and so far with me I've had no toxin issues from fungus or whatever. And it is very authentic as sunken logs, branches, placed vertically to represent tree stumps, etc. Plus it has lots of tunnels naturally, which is very good for substrate fish that like a "home."

If the GH of your tap water is around 50ppm, that is very soft, about 2 to 3 dGH. You will have no luck at all with rift lake fish without increasing the GH. This will however be ideal for the South American species, the dwarfs in Apistogramma and other genera, etc. And Central American will manage. My article on water hardness and pH in the Freshwater Articles section may help to explain all this.

Byron.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Very informative article indeed! I actually read the Water Hardness part 1 and 2 a little bit ago. I will hold off on really chooseing the type of fish I want till I am able to test my tap water. I've ordered the Master Test Kit and the GH/KH test kit (API brand) from amazon and should be able to test by next week.
I could have been wrong about my water., or it was indeed soft in the aquarium, but I was testing with Test Strips. I recall the LFS which is located 1/2 a mile from my house that their water is "hard" and since I live so close, we probably have the same water supply. Again, I'll be able to update and confirm sometime next week.
 

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Very informative article indeed! I actually read the Water Hardness part 1 and 2 a little bit ago. I will hold off on really chooseing the type of fish I want till I am able to test my tap water. I've ordered the Master Test Kit and the GH/KH test kit (API brand) from amazon and should be able to test by next week.
I could have been wrong about my water., or it was indeed soft in the aquarium, but I was testing with Test Strips. I recall the LFS which is located 1/2 a mile from my house that their water is "hard" and since I live so close, we probably have the same water supply. Again, I'll be able to update and confirm sometime next week.
You could also check with the municipal water supply people, they may have a website and water data is often posted. Generally, unless you are specifically targeting the GH and KH somehow in an aquarium, the values of the tap water will tend to remain. The pH can vary, as was explained in the article. "Targeting" means adding substances deliberately (or acidentally) that will affect the GH and/or KH, and depending upon the initial values and the extent of the substance, this may cause significant variation.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I pulled the info below directly from my county's water treatment/distribution webpage.

"Typically, our water is "moderately hard" to "hard" (5 - 10 grains per gallon, or 84 - 170 mg/l)."
 

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I pulled the info below directly from my county's water treatment/distribution webpage.

"Typically, our water is "moderately hard" to "hard" (5 - 10 grains per gallon, or 84 - 170 mg/l)."
Those numbers indicate a soft to low medium hard range, equjivalent to between 4 dGH and 9 dGH. So I would not go with rift lake cichlids unless you take steps to increase the GH.

This water will suit South American and Central American fish very well indeed, about as perfect as one could hope for.:)
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Glad you said that, because I found a left over unused test strip and the results from last night's test said the same thing, my tap water (for fish purposes) was soft-medium, and not the medium to hard as indicated on the website.

So South or Central American Ciclids it is huh.....
 

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Byron, I finally got a chance to test my tap water now that my API Master Test kit and my GH and KH test kit arrived.

The results were as follows pH of 7.4
GH 4 degrees
KH 3 Degrees

Guess this means my water is moderatley soft. I would have sworn it would have been moderateley hard. I even had my LFS which is less than 1/2 a mile from me test their water (paper strip) and their results were practically Identical, yet their Cichlids do fine. So is it a MUST to really boost the paramaters of the hardness up to bout 10-12 Degrees and the pH closer to 8 if I want to keep Cichlids? That would involve a lot of work getting the fish I buy acclimated. I heard that the fish might not grow as big and will most likely not breed in the current water parameters, but to me this isnt a big deal because I wouldnt know what to do with the Fry. What are your thoughts?

I have yet to actually set up my tank and start the cycling process due to some of the flagstone I bought to decorate, might/could contain iron.rust. I boiled the rocks and scrubbed them and noticed a fiew pieces had dark brown/reddish color, but the water did not stain and the color doesnt rub off. Im hoping that its not rust.iron and if it is that its Inert. but waiting to hear back from a geologist to be sure.
 

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I pulled the info below directly from my county's water treatment/distribution webpage.

"Typically, our water is "moderately hard" to "hard" (5 - 10 grains per gallon, or 84 - 170 mg/l)."

Some towns use mutliple water sources and the blending ratios can vary so periodic tap water testing is a good idea. In my case, it's the GH that periodically swings based on the % of water drawn from the town wells vs the reservoir. Now if only I could time it just right for my water changes!
 

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Byron, I finally got a chance to test my tap water now that my API Master Test kit and my GH and KH test kit arrived.

The results were as follows pH of 7.4
GH 4 degrees
KH 3 Degrees

Guess this means my water is moderatley soft. I would have sworn it would have been moderateley hard. I even had my LFS which is less than 1/2 a mile from me test their water (paper strip) and their results were practically Identical, yet their Cichlids do fine. So is it a MUST to really boost the paramaters of the hardness up to bout 10-12 Degrees and the pH closer to 8 if I want to keep Cichlids? That would involve a lot of work getting the fish I buy acclimated. I heard that the fish might not grow as big and will most likely not breed in the current water parameters, but to me this isnt a big deal because I wouldnt know what to do with the Fry. What are your thoughts?
Rift lake cichlids will absolutely not be healthy in soft water. It is a physiological issue. Every species of fish on the earth has evolved to live in their respective habitats. Many factors play into this, but here we are dealing with water parameters. The rift lakes are some of the hardest and most alkaline freshwater on the planet, and the cichlids species are endemic to these lakes [endemic meaning the species are found no where else]. Their physiology is such that they need hard minerals (calcium, magnesium) and these must be in the water or the fish will have many difficulties including osmoregulatory functions, immune system, etc. It is not possible to change the physiology of a fish species without hundreds of years of evolution.

The conditions in a store tank are temporary. Most--but not all--fish can tolerate unfavourable water parameters for the short term, though in many cases internal damage is done that may only show up months or years later. Stores hope to sell their fish soon, to make money; that is why they are in business, and there is nothing wrong with that. But once we acquire these fish, we must understand their respective needs and be able to provide them. Read the blue paragraph in my signature block.;-)

Your tap water as I mentioned is ideally suited to soft water fish. It will be much easier to maintain such fish. Many of our members would give almost anything to have this water; make use of it. And have healthy and happy fish to enjoy.:)

Byron.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
I think as I set up the tank and cycle it, Im going to do the crushed coral in both filters and see what my water parameters are after 3-4 weeks. hoping I can get the pH 7.8 or close to it and Im hoping that the Coral will be enough to boost the GH and KH significantly. (to the 10-15 degrees range) Because I dont want to be a Chemist and constantly have to add stuff to the water for water changes, Im hoping this will be sufficient in keeping water in the alkaline range. If not, I'll definitely have to look into keeping SA or CA Cichlids.

Even if Im unsuccessful at raising the GH, is there a way to increase the KH so that I can remain more confident that my pH wont fluctuate? If I'm not mistaken, a higher KH means more of a buffer and more likely that the pH will remain constant, which is key.
 

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I think as I set up the tank and cycle it, Im going to do the crushed coral in both filters and see what my water parameters are after 3-4 weeks. hoping I can get the pH 7.8 or close to it and Im hoping that the Coral will be enough to boost the GH and KH significantly. (to the 10-15 degrees range) Because I dont want to be a Chemist and constantly have to add stuff to the water for water changes, Im hoping this will be sufficient in keeping water in the alkaline range. If not, I'll definitely have to look into keeping SA or CA Cichlids.

Even if Im unsuccessful at raising the GH, is there a way to increase the KH so that I can remain more confident that my pH wont fluctuate? If I'm not mistaken, a higher KH means more of a buffer and more likely that the pH will remain constant, which is key.
If you go the rift lake cichlid route with hard water, the best solution is a substrate of calcareous sand. These sands composed of crushed coral and aragonite are commonly available as they are used in marine tanks a lot. This will up the GH, KH and pH suitable for rift lake fish. A small amount of calcareous gravel in the filter willnot do it; I've gone down this road. It raises GH minimally, maybe 1 dGH if that, but will send the pH soaring. Both GH and pH have to be together here.

Aside from this, is your question on KH related to keeping soft water, or to the hard? If you decide to stay with soft water you don't need to bother about KH.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
If I was staying with my current soft water, with a ph of 7.2-7.4, I was wondering what I could do to ensure there are no pH fluctuations. so I wanted to bump up the Buffer in the water (kH?). But now that I think about it, if Im replacing tank water with tap water that has the same pH, there shouldnt be any flucutations......silly me!!:)
 

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If I was staying with my current soft water, with a ph of 7.2-7.4, I was wondering what I could do to ensure there are no pH fluctuations. so I wanted to bump up the Buffer in the water (kH?). But now that I think about it, if Im replacing tank water with tap water that has the same pH, there shouldnt be any flucutations......silly me!!:)
Not silly, as pH fluctuation is a normal thing, depending upon this and that. Generally speaking, the pH will tend to lower in an aquarium due to the production of carbonic acid from the CO2 resulting from the breakdown of organics and respiration (fish, plants and bacteria). This is the general, but other factors affect this.

Primarily the KH (bicarbonate hardness), up to a point depending upon the KH. Calcareous substances will prevent it from falling (usually) and actually raise it. Tannin materials like wood, leaves, peat will add more acid which will work to lower the pH even more, again subject to the KH.

Live plants create a normal diurnal fluctuation in pH; it will be lowest when the tank lights come on, and highest when the lights go off.

Water changes can also impact pH, sometimes keeping it more stable, sometimes creating greater fluctuations. And again this depends upon the initial KH, materials in the tank, plants, etc.

I don't know if fish species were mentioned, but in general soft water fish are acidic water fish.

Byron.
 

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you could try potting the plants and using tank decore to hide the pots, or go with java moss and java ferns and tie them to wood
 
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