My first (planted) tank - so far so good?

Discussion in 'Beginner Discussions' started by A new day, Jun 13, 2019.

  1. A new day

    A new day

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    Hi everyone,

    I’m delighted to have found this forum - you guys seem so encouraging and generous in sharing your knowledge – and I definitely need some big brothers and sisters in my new fishkeeping venture! While I am loving it so far, there is a lot of beginner’s angst J

    Let me introduce you to my first and (so far!) only tank. I set it up 19 days ago and added my 4 platies (1m, 3f) on day 10. They are all still alive and seem really happy, so that in itself is a big win for a newby! The platies are just adorable – outgoing, colourful, actively exploring the whole tank – and hardy little fish good for a beginner.

    I’ll try to give as much detail as possible on the timeline, setup, water parameters etc to help you help me best. I believe I am approaching the end of the cycling process.

    I haven't yet figured out how to best upload photos (it says my images are too large), but my profile pic is of my tank.

    Tank: 65L (17 gallon) with some large dragon stone and (too much?) gravel substrate. I am therefore treating it as a 15 gallon. Let me just say that, while I love my tank, I almost immediately regretted not getting a 40-50 gallon. Next time J For now I’ll focus on getting this tank right and honing my skills.

    Water source: Cape Town tap water, dechlorinated

    Filter: DoPhin F800 internal filter, which seems to be doing a great job! I’m not mad about the fact that it is visible in my tank (detracts from the natural look), and being a canister filter it takes up precious space in my already small tank. But more than ok for now, the water is crystal clear.

    Temperature: 27,5C. I started at 26C but at the LFS the platies were kept at 28C. They didn’t seem happy at 26 (after 24h) but made a miraculous turnaround an hour or two after I cranked up the temp. I am worried that the water might be too warm for the corys that I’d like to add later…?

    Light: Sorry, I discarded the box and can’t read the specs on the light due to condensation. It is full spectrum LED I believe. I used Bostic Marine to adhere it to the inside of the hood. I run the light for about 10-12 hours/day.

    Products: Seachem Stability, Prime

    Testing kit: Initially only Sera liquid testing for PH, Ammonia and Nitrates, and later also got JBL test strips (which includes nitrites). I wanted to double-check readings, as I base so many decisions on water parameters.

    Food: At first I fed the platys Tetra Prima (on recommendation of LFS) but the granules were too large for their mouths and did not dissolve quickly enough for them to consume it before falling into the substrate where they couldn’t reach it. This caused an issue in water quality (see the section on nitrates below – had to do a deep clean gravel vac on day 15 to get rid of the gunk). I then switched to Hikari micro wafers which are great. The platys are greedy little pigs and I really need to restrain myself i.t.o. feeding, getting there!

    Plants: Six plants from the LFS, planted on day 1. I knew off the bat that I wanted a planted tank with a natural look. I’m not mad about the plants at the back (they didn’t come properly rooted from the store), do you think I should give them some time? The medium-sized plant just to the right off centre seems to be doing great. In front you’ll see 2 pieces of driftwood with moss superglued to it. They seem to be doing ok but I also think they are gunk traps. I gave them a proper rinse in dirty tank water during my pwc on day 15. Wish I could keep shrimp to clean them, but my platies will terrorise shrimp.

    Can someone help me identify the plants in my tank, and do you have some suggestions for better planting and where to get them from? Good beginner species please, no CO2 for now. Perhaps something attached to driftwood for at the back? I don’t think the gravel substrate is the best for rooting plants?

    Fertiliser: I use JBL Ferropol 15ml twice a week. Any suggestions?

    Algae: There is currently very little algae in the tank. I see the platys seem grazing on it. I also spotted a little tadpole snail that must’ve hitch-hiked in with the plants. Going to leave him for now (he’s cleaning gravel and glass, and leaving my plants alone).

    PH: Remained steady at 7 but started dropping by day 15 (when I switched over to Prime – coincidence?). On day 17 was 5.5. Should I be worried?

    Ammonia has been at 0 for a while now (before I added the fish).

    Nitrites: Spiked at 5 (!) on day 15 but then dropped rapidly and was 0.5 by day 18. I’ll wait until it has been 0 for a couple of days before considering the tank fully cycled and adding any more fish. Does this sound right?

    Nitrates and water changes: I started reading nitrates of 10 at day 8, which I considered a good sign. Rose to 25 the day after adding fish, which was day 11 after initial setup. By day 13 nitrates were 50 and I did my first pwc of about 20% with a light gravel vac. Nitrates at first stayed at around 50 but then climbed to 75. On day 15 I did another pwc which ended up being around 50% with a proper gravel vac. I also gently shook the filter (without opening it) in dirty tank water to remove dead plant material that seemed to partially block the intake. Didn’t want to do anything to disrupt the beneficial bacteria that is hopefully populating the filter.

    I’ve continued to test the water daily but I haven’t done another water change since this big one as the NO2 and NO3 seemed to move in the right direction. Nitrates are miraculously dropping (are the plants absorbing some of it?) and were 25 by day 18.

    Future stocking ideas: In addition to the 4 platys (sold to me as sunset platies), I would like to round off the tank with a male Dwarf Gourami (normal or flame), and 5-6 corys (or something else for the bottom level). Any input here? I’m aiming for a peaceful community tank with something at the top, middle and bottom levels.

    I am worried that my temp might be too high for corys at 27,5C and that the gravel substrate might hurt their barbels? Cory (pardon the pun) of Aquarium Co-Op seems to think that corys should do fine on sharp substrate as long as you feed them something that doesn’t sink into the gravel and cause them to dig too deep into it. My LFS sells panda corys (very cute) but they probably need cooler water?

    Sho, this ended up a very long post – apologies!
     
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  3. Reedfish

    Reedfish Moderator

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    Hi, and welcome to the Forum

    A few thoughts on your setup.

    65L isn't that big.
    You could probably add a Dwarf Gourami and a few Corries, but that would be it. In a smaller tank, it's more difficult to keep parameters stable. And you also need to give your filter time for the bacteria to build up, so don't rush into adding the new fish.

    I personally would not keep Corries in a tank with sharp gravel.
    Fine sand, or small round gravel is probably better for them in the long run.

    Am sure others will come in with their thoughts too
     
  4. Pezulu

    Pezulu

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    Welcome to TASA.
    That is a great first post. I almost have a picture in my mind of your tank, without having to look at any pics.
    It seems you are doing things right.

    Ammonia will start going down towards 0 from about day 5, as you described, while Nitrite should spike slightly, before also going down.
    Nitrate is the result of the cycling and will be lowered by being used by the plants as well as water changes.
    Your pH seems a little low, but if it is stable I wouldn't worry too much at this stage. I believe CoCT water is on the soft side.
    It also seems that the JBL Ferropol may be effecting the pH, as the fertiliser is supposed to be most effective at between pH 4 - 5.

    Your stocking ideas sound good.
    Panda Cories are a firm favourite of mine.
    I am just worried about the gravel substrate.

    What plants have you got in the tank? The profile pic is a bit small to make an accurate identification.

    You can dial the temperature back to 26°C, and the Platy's should be ok.
    Best is to do it early in the morning, when the tank temperature has dropped during the night.

    Good luck, and keep us updated.

    You can use the AqAdvisor app to check stocking levels, filtration, etc.
    http://www.aqadvisor.com/
     
  5. Pezulu

    Pezulu

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  6. Hawk

    Hawk Clown Fish :-)

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    Your light cycle is a lot. You can reduce the hours to 6.
     
  7. Cale24

    Cale24

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    Welcome to the forum and great first post! Tank already looking good.

    - CT has very soft water- would suggest you have your tap water hardness tested at a local fish shop (its low pretty much everywhere in CT). It would be good to consider using a product like Seachem Equilibrium to raise GH (General Hardness) a bit with every water change. Try do 20% every few days or 50% once a week or so with a gravel vac now and then. Careful not to scratch the glass when doing maintenance on a gravel tank! Use a plastic card to scrape down algae along the bottom edge when it eventually turns up.

    Baking soda can raise KH (Carbonate Hardness). Worth doing some reading on water hardness in general - its something especially important when our tap water is so soft.

    - Another great product to use in your filter is Seachem Matrix (I don't work for Seachem I promise) - it is vastly superior to sponge as a haven for beneficial bacteria. Some sponge is good for filtering, and some filter floss (fine, white, wooly sponge) as well to 'polish' the water. Surface agitation is good so position your filter outlet high enough that it creates that if you have not already. The current flow strength is also something to consider when selecting fish.

    - I would agree that corys' would battle on that gravel. A lot of people use pool filter sand (PFS) and that seems better suited.

    - Light - will determine your plant options usually and I'd recommend 'low-tech' plants as a start to the hobby. There are lots that would do just fine with some fertilisers. Root tabs are a good option to consider for your gravel, especially if you want to try your hand at more demanding options. The shallow tank height also helps in this respect as your light, while not intense, is at least closer to the plants. I'm not as clued up on various fertiliser options out there but others can advise.
    If you start getting algae problems then cut down the hours of lights on. I also do 12 hours a day in my community but its a tallish tank and I have minimal algae issues. Plants will help keep those nitrates down as you say.

    - PH dropping - I would guess this is due to the low KH of our tap water + nitrates getting high in your tank.

    - Testing kits - Sera and JBL are good brands but strips are a bit less accurate than liquid based tests, although they are a good general gauge. With a good fundamental tank setup, good maintenance and routine, the water in a cycled tank shouldn't get too out of hand. A LFS will usually test things for free and in the first couple months its good to test and re-test until you are getting consistency - the goal of any tank setup. Also, hardy fish (like Platys') are a good start. Add others slowly. I remember giving fish away to friends when I first started in the hobby, having made the common mistake of over-stocking. Eventually one learns less is more! Some nano shoal fish (say, 6-8 ember tetras) would be nice? Dwarf gourami too. The more research the better. I kind of don't know how I kept a stable tank as a kid years ago, with all the reading I've done in my last couple years back in the hobby.

    Keep us posted and enjoy!
     
  8. OP
    A new day

    A new day

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    @Reedfish @Pezulu @Hawk @Cale24 I truly appreciate your feedback, suggestions and encouragement. @Pezulu a huge thank you for posting the photos. I'll try to process all the info & tips I got from all of you so far, and might ask more questions on specific matters in the near future.

    In the meantime:
    1) I've dialed down the temp to 26,5C this morning, fish seem fine. I'll do another 0,5C tomorrow morning to get it to 26C.

    2) I'll focus my immediate attention on understanding and fixing the pH, KH and GH issues. My GH is <3 (problematic), CH is 0 (problematic) and pH is <6 on JBL (I'll do a Sera reading also). Trip to my LFS tomorrow (for Seachem Equilibrium, not fish yet :)

    3) Nitrites are 0,25 today (down from 0,5 yesterday) - still going in the right direction. Will wait until they've been absolute 0 for a couple of days before introducing more fish. pH, KH and GH also need to be sorted first.

    4) Nitrates are 18 today (down from 25 yesterday). Good.

    5) CO2 reads <15, which is apparently not optimal. Too dumb still to understand what the implications are.

    6) I've discarded the idea of corys on my gravel substrate (another tank, another time). The ember tetras are a great future idea, thanks! I'll have a little orange colour scheme going with them, the platys and the Dwarf Gourami. They'll pop against the green once the plants are better established.

    7) I'll pay more attention to the planting once I've sorted the water issues.

    Once again, thank you. Please keep the advice coming, I appreciate it.
     
    Cale24 likes this.
  9. OP
    A new day

    A new day

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    @Cale24 how much baking soda would you recommend for my tank volume and readings above? It feels like something I could do immediately, as I have baking soda at hand.
     
  10. Pezulu

    Pezulu

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    Some of the plants in your tank are either blacklisted, or need constant attention to prevent them from running away from you.
    The plant in the left is either Elodea / Egeria Densa or Anacharis, and is blacklisted.
    The tall plants in the back and to the right looks like Hornwort, which is more commonly used as a floating plant. It doesn't form roots, but can be anchored in the substrate.
    When water conditions, light or temperature change it throws off all the needles that are difficult to syphon out. It also grows best near the surface, and any parts in shadow throw off their needles, and become stringy.

    Don't worry too much about the water parameters and pH.
    As long as your ammonia is 0, nitrite is 0 and nitrate gets taken care of, your tank should be ok.
    If you are planning on keeping or breeding finicky fish, take note of KH and GH.
    Having a stable pH is much more important than trying to fiddle to get a specific pH.

    Plants take care of themselves, and just rely on you for occasional fertilisers and trimming.
    You might want to take another look at the plants in your tank.
    Good low tech plants are typically Java Fern, Anubias, Bolbitis and various Cryptocorynes.
    Most don't need to be planted in soil, and can be anchored to wood, rock or decor.
     
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  11. OP
    A new day

    A new day

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    @Pezulu thank you!
    Re plants: Oh dear, blacklisted! I'll remove that one and most of the Hornwort and chuck it on the compost heap. I've jotted down the plant suggestions, thank you. I like the idea of anchoring plants rather than struggling with the gravel substrate, and will look for those. Next tank - better substrate etc.

    Re water parameters: Do you see problems with keeping platys, dwarf gourami and ember tetras under those conditions? I'll also hear what the locals say, as our CT water seems to have its own set of challenges.
     
  12. Cale24

    Cale24

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    I have the dose written down as 1 flat teaspoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) per 189 litres/ 50 US gallons for a 1 degree raise in KH. So, perhaps a half teaspoon would be good? I don't think its necessary to do it with a water change but would hold of until your next one and add at the same time as Prime.
    The regular blue Robertson's brand for example is often used locally.
     
  13. OP
    A new day

    A new day

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    @Cale24 thanks! Will hold off until tomorrow and do the whole shebang after a water change.

    @Pezulu on 2nd thought I'll take the blacklisted plant back to the LFS when I go there tomorrow, and see if they have any of the plants you suggested. I've already removed the hornwort, just kept a piece floating for now (my future dwarf gourami might appreciate the cover from above). I'll try to take close-ups of some of the other plants tomorrow. Don't want any more blacklisters :)
     
  14. Hawk

    Hawk Clown Fish :-)

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    @A new day - whereabouts in CT are you? Which is your LFS?
     
  15. OP
    A new day

    A new day

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    @Hawk I'll pm you on that matter, thanks!
     
  16. OP
    A new day

    A new day

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    Update Days 20 – 24: major pH issue caused by untreated driftwood (rookie mistake)!

    Once again, many thanks to @Hawk @Pezulu and @Cale24 for all the kindess, guidance and help so far. I’ll pay it forward once I’m in a position to do so.

    Below is a summary of what has changed since I last posted.

    Changed LFS – very good move.

    Filter matrix: On day 21 replaced the carbon in filter canister with matrix I got from Hawk. Should provide a nice home for the beneficial bacteria going forward.

    Plants: Thanks again Pezulu for the identification of the plants I had in my tank and the recommendations for easy beginner species. I’ve removed the 2 blacklisted species and all the hawthorn, and kept only the Ludwigia. Hawk gave me loads of Java fern (normal and narrow leaf) and Crypts, as well as 2 baby Anubias and a baby Vallis. Completely changed the setup, thanks so much! They crypts and vallis would do better in a substrate more suitable for rooted plants. Hawk also gave me used substrate (aquasoil type) which I’ll use for a future tank and eventually move the crypts and vallis there. Would rooting tabs help in the interim?

    pH: Took a water sample to the (new) LFS for testing. My readings correlated with theirs, so at least good to know that my test kit is ok.

    As it turns out, the major free fall in pH (down to 4,5 on days 20 and 21!!!) was caused by the use of untreated driftwood….very silly. On day 21 I removed the driftwood from the tank and started soaking it separately – definitely the culprit as seen in the rapid drop in pH of the soaking water.

    Did a 30% pwc on day 21 and a 40% pwc on day 23, as well as an alkaline regulator (bit by bit) to try and bring pH back up. Read 6,5 on day 23 and 6,8 on day 24, which I’m happy with. Hopefully will not be too much an ongoing problem now that the root cause has been removed, and can be kept in check with regular water changes and perhaps some crushed coral?

    Despite the 2 water changes, the water is still quite brown with tannins. According to the LFS, the carbon in the filter probably masked the issue by removing most of the discolouration. Once I replaced the carbon with matrix, the colour showed up very clearly.

    I’m very wary of driftwood now! Have soaked it, pressure cooked it for 10 mins, soaking again. It is still leaching a lot – even after having been pressure cooked it still drops a jug of pH neutral water to 5,5 in 24 hours.

    The platys are (amazingly) still alive and looking well. There is now also fry in the tank. I cringe at the pH roller coaster I’ve subjected them to, this can’t be good for their health in the long term. They’ve been in the tank for 2 weeks now.

    Cape Town soft water: Will continue to read up on GH and KH and the inter-relatedness with pH. My KH is fine now but GH still low. Will also keep the soft water in mind i.t.o. future stocking – e.g. I’ll stay away from fish that specifically need hard water.

    Nitrogen cycle:

    - Ammonia was 0,003 on day 15; 0,006 on days 20 and 22; 0,003 on day 23; and now <0,003 on day 24.

    - Had 0 nitrites on days 20 and 21 and was very excited as it probably meant that the tank was cycled. Unfortunately the very low pH probably killed off some of the beneficial bacteria and caused another mini nitrite spike on day 23. Nitrites read 0,25 on Day 22; 1 on Day 23; 0,25 on Day 24. Will continue to keep an eye on this and make sure that it reads 0 consistently before adding more fish (there is a beautiful flame dwarf gourami waiting in the wings for me at Hawk :)

    - Nitrates were 18 on day 19; 10 on days 20 and 21; 18 on day 23; 40 on day 23; and 25 on day 24. I’ve done pwc on days 21 and 23. Perhaps the slight but fast NO3 spike was caused by the removal of the fast growing plants, and the new (slower growing plants) will take some time to grow out and absorb some nitrates? I will also keep an eye on potential overfeeding, it can creep up on one :)

    Hardscape: While I love the tall rocks on the left and right, their position in the corners makes gravel vacs very difficult. I’ve had to remove them each time I gravel vac, which is not really sustainable. Might have to re-think. Everything is so cramped in a small tank! Perhaps the Java fern will give me the height I need over time, and I can use the dragon stone in a future scape.

    Is there anything potentially problematic that jumps out at you? I’m generally confident about my ability to care for living things (terrestrial animals and plants, babies) but fishkeeping is a whole different ball game! Technical, but addictive :) Already dreaming about a 75 gallon planted community tank and using the small one for nano fish and shrimp, but need to get this right first.
     
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  17. Hawk

    Hawk Clown Fish :-)

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    I need to chat with you about how to use dragon stone when you come again.
     
    A new day likes this.
  18. OP
    A new day

    A new day

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    The 65L with a male flame dwarf gourami I call Flame (very original), 2 adopted female guppies, and an explosion of platys. Currently 11 fry (and counting) with 2 more females heavily pregnant.

    The platy fry are very cute but I'll have to give them away once they've grown out, will offer to forum members when the time comes.

    Water issues all sorted and parameters look good.

    I'm also busy setting up a 180L. Very excited about this one. Thinking I'll eventually move the platys (and possibly guppies) to the larger tank, then add some neon or ember tetra to the 65L.

    IMG_7679.JPG
     
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  19. Toy

    Toy

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    To avoid a pH free fall add some crushed coral in a stocking and place it inside your canister or HOB, the recommended dose is one cup per 150 Lt but I'm using 50% resulting in a stable 6.8 to 7 pH.
     
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  20. OP
    A new day

    A new day

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    @Toy can I used dead coral picked up from the beach, or rather not?
     
  21. Toy

    Toy

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    Crushed coral is effectively dead coral so if you treat it there should not be any issues.

    I am not sure what the correct treatment is though...

    Maybe boiling it few min to kill off all the parasites/bacteria?
     
    A new day likes this.

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