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Need help deciding on basics

Discussion in 'Are you new to aquatic plants? Start here' started by vyerous, Oct 19, 2008.

  1. vyerous

    vyerous Junior Poster

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    First off, hello everyone. I have been reading up on the fundamentals to starting a planted tank for about two weeks now. I got through the overwhelming part of the learning curve and have a basic idea of what I want.

    I plan on having a relatively low maintenance tank / medium technology, something that doesn't need a whole lot of attention. I can handle water changes every week or two, checking ph and what not, I just don't think I want to have to add chemicals everyday.

    I am taking a setup that my brother used, very low tech, no plants, and using the basic parts to start my tank. It was being used up until a week ago so it is still functional and works fine, he just bought a bigger tank and gave me his.

    It is a 30g wide tank, keeping the standard powerhead it came with and I am going to use it to help distribute co2 along with moving water around. I have a cascade filter that I am going to clean out (he did not take care of the tank when it was being used) and that will be it for filters. As far as co2 goes, I'm going to start off small and see how it goes, I'm going to buy one of those cheap co2 kits that comes with the reactor, co2 tablets, hosing, etc this co2 setup.

    I know I want to have some sort of short haired grass in the foreground, have a medium sized rock or driftwood, and have some decent sized plants in the background on the sides making the V shape. I also plan on growing the foreground plants (sorry I can't remember the name for it) slowly by planting them in the substrate and just adding enough water for them to grow.

    My question is mostly about starting out. I am going to order the substrate but I am unsure where to go with it. I have been looking at aquariumplants.com's substrate but I wasn't sure if that would be enough for what I want. I plan on getting amazon swords or other small grass/carpet like plants, which I think I read they usually can thrive through their roots. With that substrate (or others you might recommend) do I need to put rocks or anything else on top or can that be my base and that is all I need?

    My second question is about lighting. I am looking at "beginner" plants that look great but are pretty easy to take care of, what lighting setup do you recommend for this. I thought about doing a little diy style by buying two desk lamps and changing the bulbs out to two 30watt (insert # of lumen) and having them as a light setup until I can afford or make a better one. I do have the standard aquarium light that came with the tank but it is one of those long tube lights and just from looking around home depot and lowes I cannot find a tube light that has enough watt output or the right lumen. If you guys can shed some light on this subject it would be greatly appreciated.

    Like I said I have been reading a lot but not everything hits on the questions I had in mind. I am sorry this is long but I really want to get this rolling soon. Again thanks for your help, this forum is awesome!
     
  2. Gerryd

    Gerryd Plant Guru Team
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    Hi,

    I am not sure that your goals in this statement are compatible:

    You say you want to use c02, which is injecting a chemical into the water DAILY, but you don't want to add other chemicals. I assume this means plant fertilizer and such?

    C02 is a main plant nutrient. If you are adding c02, the plants will then require more of the other macro and micro nutrients, such as N, K, P, iron, etc.

    Also, if the filter you mean is the one that hangs over the tank with the cascade effect, this will drive c02 right out of the water.

    If your goal is lower maintenance and fuss, I would suggest the following:

    1. Get a nutrient rich substrate like ADA AS or make one of the DIY substrates. This will allow you to dose less water column nutrients, but IMO, you should dose these as well for better plant growth.

    2. Get a filter that can move 10x the water volume. Your choice here, there are many good ones. Please advise which model/type filter you were planning to use.

    Lights and lumen.

    Lumen is not a good way to measure light needed for plant photosynthesis. PAR is a much better measurement, but requires a meter.

    Since you do not want a high maintenance tank, which includes pruning, I would suggest no more than 1-1.5 watts per gallon for your setup. Again many choices here.

    I assume you are using a 24 or 30" flourescent bulb in your fixture? These can be replaced by much better bulbs. Please advise as to the fixture it came with.

    I would not recommend a desk lamp or two.

    Higher light=higher nutrient demand. Lower light=less nutrient demand.

    If you do decide to go c02, I would recommend saving your money on the kit you link to, and then get a small c02 cylinder and a quality regulator/guage/needle valve setup.

    It will be better in the long run, if you like the c02, or go to a bigger tank...

    If not, then I would suggest using Excel which is a liquid carbon supplement and is used by many.

    I would also suggest reading the article on light and c02, and the EI threads for more information.

    I hope this helps.
     
  3. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    Taking you at your word, you don't want to do fertilizing, at least not daily. So, that restricts you to lower light intensities, since it is light intensity that drives plant growth and determines how much fertilizing is needed. With a 30 gallon, shallow tank, you will want to limit your light to around 30-40 watts, if they are tubular PC lights, like what you can buy from AH Supply, with their good reflectors. Or, you could use a T5 light, with individual reflector, but that would limit you to less than 30 watts, which would mean a single 24 watt 22 inch bulb. Or, one more option would be T8 size bulbs, which are not nearly as bright, so you would probably want 2 24", 20 watt T8 bulbs, or possibly 3 of those bulbs.

    Once you settle on a low light intensity, you can chose either a nutrient rich substrate or an inert substrate. ADA Aquasoil is the premier nutrient rich substrate, but you could use a soil underlayer with an inert substrate on top, and try the Walstad El Natural type tank, or the Barr no CO2 method. Using Excel would probably fit your needs best, using a nutrient rich substrate, without CO2. That means you only dose fertilizers about once a week.
     
  4. jeremy v

    jeremy v Guru Class Expert

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    Vyerous,

    I just thought that I would let you know, that CO2 system will most likely not do you much good, and if it fluctuates CO2 levels too much it might make things worse for you in as far as algae and overall plant growth/tank stability. It appears to just be a "modified" yeast-sugar type CO2 generator like all the DIY ones that people use made out of 2 liter bottles. The specs say that it will generate CO2 for a month, but I would expect that 2 weeks would be the absolute max you could get out of it before the CO2 production would be too slow to meet your needs. It looks like a pretty small container as well, so I don't know how much actual CO2 this system will even be capable of producing to begin with. I would say that based on what you say you are wanting with your tank that you would be better off using Excel or else just running the tank non-CO2.

    Excel can be found at a good price from

    Drs. Foster and Smith- Excel

    or

    Big Al's- Excel

    If you used Excel you would have to add it to the tank according to the dosing levels and frequencies, but I think that it would still take much less overall time and get you better results than having to refill and adjust that CO2 generator (when needed) in order to keep CO2 production up.

    Remember as well, the kit you linked to in your post only comes with enough stuff to generate CO2 for 1 month. You need to keep buying $5-7 refills after that in order to continue using that setup. It looks like each refill lasts you one month. You would end up saving time and money by just dosing a little bit of Excel liquid each morning when you fed the fish.

    If you still do want to do actual CO2 (not Excel), you might also look into the DIY CO2 method that uses yeast and sugar (and usually 2 liter pop bottles). That would be a good tank size to possibly do a few bottles on a rotation schedule and get really good results. You would most likely also be able to set up a better system that produces more CO2 (and more consistent CO2) versus the system from the link you provided, while costing you a lot less money over time to keep CO2 production going. It will be some work to maintain CO2 production though just like it would be for the CO2 Bio-System, and you indicated that you want to keep your daily efforts to a minimum so that might not be for you.

    Have a good one, Jeremy
     
  5. vyerous

    vyerous Junior Poster

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    First off, thanks so far guys.

    Gerryd, I should have specified a bit more. I just felt overwhelmed by having to add an assortment of chemicals everyday, along with testing for certain chemicals and balancing everything in between.

    I think the El Natural tank will work best form me, maybe I got caught up looking at these beautiful ADA tanks and figured "oh co2 is part of making plants work." While that statement is somewhat true I guess I don't really need to go for it until I go for more of a high tech setup.

    Now I have a few more questions.

    If I go for the El Natural method, no co2, I will buy the ADA substrate, go with the excel you provided in the link, which one exactly is right for me? I've read about people saying their substrate will only provide nutrients for so long until they have to replace it, how long with this last me? Do I have to top it with an inert material such as sand? Also how deep should the substrate be since is the main source of nutrients for plants and how deep should the layer be on top?

    As far as the light fixture goes I am unsure exactly. It is your run of the mill light that comes with the tank when you buy the kit. It is 1 15 watt strip light (long tube) and I'm sure this is not enough light for what I want to achieve. I know this can be an expensive hobby but I am trying to keep it low cost. If you have any suggestions for what light would be best for me I would appreciate it.

    Thanks again guys.
     
  6. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    The cheapest light you can buy is a 2 foot long "shop light" fixture, that takes 2 bulbs. They would be 18 watt T8 bulbs, but try to get daylight bulbs, not "warm white", to get closer to a good spectrum. Use that plus the 15 watt light you now have and you would be set for an el natural tank.

    Next cheapest, and probably best is to get 3 single bulb 24" long light fixtures that use T8 bulbs, usually intended to be mounted under a kitchen cabinet. Ace - Electrical: Lighting: Indoor Lighting: Undercabinet: Ace® Under Cabinet Direct Wire Fluorescent Fixture Make a simple wood box open on the bottom. Attach those 3 fixtures side by side, stagger a bit so they cover the whole 30 inch length of the tank. Paint the inside of the wood box with an "ultra white" paint, to serve as a pretty good reflector. With that you could use Excel and probably get pretty good growth of most relatively low light plants, dosing dry fertilizers, KNO3, KH2PO4 and CSM+B, once a week or so.
     
  7. vyerous

    vyerous Junior Poster

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    I have been looking at some other options there that are about the same price. I am going to do about 60watts or something around 2wpg. I read somewhere that you need to buy a light that has a certain color spectrum output to help promote the photosynthesis. This makes sense to me but does it really make that big of a difference? Can I get by with just an adequate amount of watts or do I have to have the combination? I'm not too worried about a huge amount of growth, I really just want my plants to survive and look healthy. Thanks.
     
  8. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    In theory plants will do best with a bulb that matches their sensitivity to light, but in practice people grow plants very well with almost any bulbs if they are bright enough. If you don't want to use CO2 and fertilize several times a week, try to stay well below 2 watts per gallon, depending on what kind of light you use. T5 lights tend to have individual reflectors for each bulb, of good quality, and the bulbs are much brighter than other fluorescent bulbs, so one watt of a T5 bulb can be as good as 1.5 to 2 watts of other bulbs. If you get too much light, and don't use CO2 or regular fertilizing your plants probably will not grow well and algae will grow well.
     
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