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Cichlid Planted Tank

Discussion in 'Journals' started by tiger15, Jan 17, 2018.

  1. tiger15

    tiger15 Member

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    Background

    I am new to planted tank, but not new in fish keeping. I have been keeping cichlid tanks for the last 30 years, but none had plants, only rockscape. My last attempt to keep plants with cichlids years ago had been complete failure with BBA took over, and I gave up. Last spring, I decided to try again, and did my research and determined to make it work this time.

    Here are videos of my 75 gal before conversion, with rockscape but no plants, except for a fake plant background, and BBA on the rock which is botanically plants.





    Here is how my planted 75 looks like now:



    In the ensuing posts, I will describe the journey I got here. The journey wasn’t smooth, but haphazard with mistakes, before appearing to move in the right direction, as of now. There is still a long way to toward my satisfaction, and rooms for improvement, but at least the plants are growing, not fading. You notice that I have been active in this and other plant forums lately, asking many questions, and reading journals of other successful hobbyists, specially Fablau and Greggz, who provided valuable monitoring data. I also read Walstad’s book on “Ecology of Planted Tank”, and Karen Randall’s book on “Sunken Gardens”, two very different and apparently contradictory approaches.
     
  2. tiger15

    tiger15 Member

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    Equipment

    I did not start this planted tank from scrap, but converted my existing fish only 75 gal that has been established for two decades. So I keep all existing equipment and accessories, including many left over fish.

    Tank: Standard 75 gal, 48”L x 18”W x 20”H

    Filter: 2 Penguin 370 HOB for a combined 740 gph. Unlike canister filters, HOB flow is constant and will never slow down, even when the filter pads are clogged.

    Substrate: 1 mm size dolomite gravel and no more than 1 inch thick, buffer for hardwater fish, and replenish kH and gH. Since cichlid dig, I did not plant anything in the substrate. Most of my plants are epiphites attached to rock, with a couple stem and rosette plants potted in small plastic cups.

    Hardscape: Lace rock. Large rock are piled up to make terrace. Epiphites are superglued to small rock placed on top of the terrace.

    Dosing: 1 tsp K2SO4, 1 tsp KNO3, and 1/8 tsp KH2PO4 weekly. 1 tsp Flourish comp and 1/8 tsp 11% DTPA twice a week. 2X excel (Matricide 14) daily.

    Lighting: Total 112 watt or 13416 Lumen LEDs from Ebay. These include two strip lights on the glass top, three submersible LEDs tied to the front and side rims, and a couple verticals.

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/12-48-LED-Light-Aquarium-Fish-Tank-0-5W-Full-Spectrum-Plant-Marine-FOWLR-/262793246177?var=&hash=item3d2fb2b5e1:m:mPHvG4uNw2HEPubEFdu-y6Q

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/Blue-white-LED-Submersible-Light-Underwater-Strip-Bar-Lamp-Aquarium-Fish-Tank-/262064897321?var=&hash=item3d0448fd29:m:m0PEhqW2AUlVBO57A9kglQg

    Based on Rotala Calculator “Cree” assumption, I estimated my light is medium, around 50 PAR at the substrate level.

    Photoperiod: 8 hour total, split 4 hour in the morning, and 4 hour in the evening and a 7 hour afternoon siesta period

    CO2 diffusion: Tunze 7074.500 Co Reactor. This reactor runs on a 3 watt motor at 75 gph which I synchronize with my photo periods.

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/DIFFUSER-CO2-TUNZE-7074-500-/172945874097?hash=item2844609cb1

    Regulator: Milwaukee MA957 CO2 Regulator and bubble counter

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    #2 tiger15, Jan 17, 2018
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2018
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  3. tiger15

    tiger15 Member

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    Flora: 90% of the plants are epiphytes attached to rock. A few substrate plants are potted in small plastic cups and placed on top of rock terrace to receive maximum light. These are my current list of plants that survived, excluding many that died out. Even in the same genus, my Anubias Coffeefolia kept dying. My Bolbitis is also struggling, even though it's supposed to be an easy plant. Now I placed it on top of rock pile to get more light to see if it will recover, or go to the trash.

    upload_2018-1-17_16-7-17.png


    Fauna: I currently have the following fish after rehoming a 9 inch Frontosa, a 10 inch Vieja Bifas, and a 10 inch Green Terror. These big guys don't eat plants, but they are strong and like to rearrange the aquascape by nipping off leaves and uprooting plants, and so they had to go. The remaining cichlid are all under 6 inch. Not in the list are 5 Kribensis which I will add soon, which take up home in the rock caves. So the stocking is rather heavy.


    upload_2018-1-17_16-6-2.png
     
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  4. Mike k

    Mike k Member

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    I love it. That green terror was a hoss


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
  5. tiger15

    tiger15 Member

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    Testing

    I test pH, nitrate, kH and phosphate and occasionally iron immediately before each WC, and shortly post WC and macros dosing. Recent testing results are copied below. All my test kits are from API except for iron from SeaChem. I do not show iron because the results are always non-detectable, but I know iron is there as I dose Flourish Comp and 11% DTPA twice a week. I only began dosing N and P a couple months ago under the wrong assumption that my fish wastes are producing enough. But my plants suffered as I believe plants don't like fluctuating nutrients no more than fluctuating CO2.

    upload_2018-1-18_15-11-29.png

    I have been recording testing results of all my fish tanks (I have 6 operating now) in spreadsheet since 1996, including tap water testing which I copied results below.

    upload_2018-1-18_16-22-52.png

    I also received test results from my water company which I copied selected results below:
    upload_2018-1-18_16-15-43.png
     
  6. tiger15

    tiger15 Member

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    Maintenance

    I do 75% WC every week including partial substrate vacuuming. Note that I do not have plants in the substrate. The routine is not new to me as I have been doing it for a long time to manage messy cichlid before I have plants. I have all my plants on rock or in small pots, so I can move them around to vacuum underneath. My planting system is essentially a modular system, so moving plants around to re-scape is easy, and the scape scene changes often after each WC.

    During WC, it's also good time to spray H2O2 on exposed BBA. My plants are largely free of algae except for old and emerged leaves in transition. But with heavy stocking, I have BBA on bare rock surfaces, hardscape and aging plants if I don't spray. If I have loosen plants, it's also good time to take them out on a table to reglue.

    I fill the tank directly from tap by mixing warm and cold water, after dosing API water conditioner. I dose macros for the week immediately after WC, and micros a few hours later. On every other day, I dose 11% Fe DPTA or Flourish comp alternatively.

    About twice a week, I change diapers (filter pads) on my Penguin HOBs. which is the average time mine get clogged up. It's no hassle because HOBs are so easy to clean. Even if I delay cleaning, HOB flow will bypass and never slow down. I run a Tunze CO2 Reactor that has an independent motor that provides additional circulation.
     
    #6 tiger15, Jan 18, 2018
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2018
  7. tiger15

    tiger15 Member

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    Design Consideration

    I don't have a grand design plan for the scape. May be in my second or third planted tank, I will pursue a themed nature aquarium or a Dutch garden. However, I have several practical design considerations to convert a cichlid tank to a planted cichlid tank:

    First, Walstad's dirt tank won't work with cichlid which like to dig. The larger the cichlid, the more powerful and destructive they are. Substrate plants won't work with cichlid except for dwarf or gentle cichlid like angels and discus. My plant selection is therefor limited to majority epiphytes attached to rock and a few stem and rosette plants secured in small plastic pots. My fish selection is also limited to medium size cichlid not exceeding 6 inch. I had to rehome several large cichlid because that were too powerful that destructive to plants even though they don't eat them.

    Second, most planted tanks prefer to have dark substrates that show plants best. I inherited white dolomite gravel from my hard water cichlid which isn't aesthetically the best match. Dolomite is calcium magnesium carbonate, so I don't need to dose gH or kH, but it contains no nutrients or CAC as in many plant substrate. I keep the substrate depth to under 1 inch to prevent anaerobic pockets and vacuum it in water change. My cichlid love to pick up gravel and blow around. So as a routine cleaning routine, I have to pick up planted rock to shake off gravel contamination.

    Third, I have standard glass top that limits placement of LED strip lights to the rear half. Since LED light is highly directional, there would be a gap of coverage in the front half. Without resorting to elevated or hanging light, I tied supplemental LED submersible tubes to the front and side rims with fish line to provide surround coverage.

    https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/76AAAOSwt6ZWWR87/s-l1600.jpg

    I have not measured PAR, but estimated I have medium light between 50 to 60 PAR at the substrate level based on Rotalabutterfly and Flowgrow Calculator. To reach higher light, I placed plants on top of the rock terrace.

    http://www.rotalabutterfly.com/light-calculator.php

    https://www.flowgrow.de/db/lightcalculator

    Forth, most planted tanks use canister filters that are quiet, easy to hide, and can drive an in line CO2 reactors. I inherited two Penguin 370 HOBs which are very powerful, but can't drive CO2. Initially, I tried an atomic CO2 diffuser but the ceramic disc soon got clogged, creating excessive back pressure. I replaced it with a Hinze CO2 reactor which runs on an independent motor that is attached inside the tank with a strong magnet. It's essentially a power head with an elbow to divert flow down a tube where CO2 is bubbled up at the bottom. It works decently well at moderate bps, but hit capacity at high bps (>4 bps). HOBs are conspicuous and aesthetically distracting. Nevertheless, I like HOBs because they are easy to clean, flow won't slow down (only bypass), no seals to leak, and won't go anaerobic.

    Fifth, having epiphytes on rock is essentially a modular system making it easy to re scape. I am new to planted tank, but not new to terrestrial planting as I have been gardening for many years. I understand the basic elements of garden design, such as grouping plants, plant in odd number, limit the number of species, and avoid symmetry. All these rules applied to aquatic garden with one difference in that aquatic garden looks best with 3D perspective. I piled lace rock to create 3D terrace. Lace rock is light in weight and inter lock tightly. I used big rock for terrace foundation and placed planted small rock on top to create 3D depth. Small rock are safe and easy to move around and in and out of the tank for replanting (super gluing). Rock terrace is not new to me as I have been piling rock to make caves for cichlid. I chose not to use drift wood because it's too bulky to move out of the tank for planting.


    This powerful 10 inch Bifas had been re-homed

    Bifas.JPG
    Plants are glued on the table
    Glue.JPG
    Water change is also time to spray H2O2 on exposed surfaces
    h2o2.JPG
     
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  8. tiger15

    tiger15 Member

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    Some pictures of the plants and fish. The plants haven't attained show quality yet, still need to fill up more and get more lush, but are progressing in the right direction. I still have bba on hardscape surfaces and older leaves in transition from emerged growth, so I am dosing 2x Excel daily and spraying H2O2 during water change. I used to have other algae but they are gone. My bristlenose are doing a good job in cleaning GDA off the glass.

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    #8 tiger15, Jan 28, 2018
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2018
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  9. tiger15

    tiger15 Member

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    More pictures

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  10. tiger15

    tiger15 Member

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    A video update of the tank after 2 weeks vacation. There was no feeding or dosing during my absence except for dropping off a Flourish root tab. About 3/4 of the tab was used up, and the plants look healthy with no outbreak of BBA. As a surprise, a pair of Krib is guarding a dozen of fry.

    I am pleased with the outcome after 10 months of struggling, and learning, to establish my first planted tank.


     
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  11. tiger15

    tiger15 Member

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    Update 4/29/18.

    Java fern (trident and narrow leaf), Buce (red mini, wavy green and giant), Anubias (pettite, nana, narrow leaf and barteri) and Crypto (unknown species) are doing well and expanding. Ludwigia repens red is struggling and barely grow. Added new plant Echinodorus Kleiner Prinz and new fish Panda Gara and Sailfin Molly for algae control. The Echinodorus is acclimating quickly, already sent out runner offspring. Bolbitis heteroclita and Hygophila Pinnatifida did not make it after months of struggling and had to be removed. It's hard to predict what will and what won't work until trying it. Still have minor bba on older anubias leaves so I am dosing 2x excel daily. The Molly pick on the bba but I don't see much physically removed. The Electric Blue Acara are breeding constantly and one pair just laid eggs at the left corner in the video. Breeding cichlid abused delicate Rotala Rotundifolia repeatedly so I had to remove it despite the only stem plant thriving.

    https://photos.google.com/photo/AF1QipNtRRJbU8zg-ipchhkYRj6CbLbJDQpBbKo3cCjC



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    #11 tiger15, Apr 29, 2018
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2018
  12. tiger15

    tiger15 Member

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  13. tiger15

    tiger15 Member

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    I have been cichlid fish keeper for a long time before learning how to grow plants. I am giving this tank equal opportunity focus on both fish and plants. Here are the list of the fish I am currently stocking, rather heavy!

    The plants help hide many fish so it doesn’t look as crowded off feeding time, as in the video, when they all come out. To manage the high organic waste, I am doing 75% WC weekly as I have always been doing for years. I am surprised that there are no more algae on the plants any more, though bba could pop up on the hardscape if not because I spot treat with peroxide on all exposed surfaces during WC.

    Bristle nose pleco 0.5 - 2 inch x 15
    Lamprologous tretocephalus 2 inch x 4
    EBA 2 inch x 4
    Kribensis 1 inch x 6
    Roseline barb 2 inch x 5
    Glofish tiger barb 1 inch x 7
    SAE 2 inch x 3
    Aulanocara stuwartgranti flametail 3 inch x 4
    PinkTail chalceus 5 inch x 1
    352865[/ATTACH] View attachment 1352866 View attachment 1352867 [/QUOTE]

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