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Old 04-15-2006, 09:01 AM   #1
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Help me create the ultimate low-maintenance aquarium!

My 9yo daughter and I are launching off into the world of aquaria and need some help. We are a very busy family of four and cannot spend significant amounts of time on daily maintenance of a tank.

I would like to purchase a series of quality components that will work together to provide the very best environment for the fish but the least amount of work for us. I don’t want to say that “money is no object” but I am a firm believer that time is money so I would like to start with some recommendations on the ultimate components and set up that is the easiest to maintain.

Here are some initial thoughts from the books and internet research we have done:

(1) We are leaning toward a 50-55 gallon tank as it seems the bigger the tank the easier it is to maintain water quality. I am thinking a 100+ aquarium may too big for our first endeavor…

(2) I need some advice on whether to go with real plants or not – some advice seems to suggest that it helps keep the water clear but I do have softened water that I have read may affect the plants negatively

(3) All advice seems to point to going with a canister filter that is rated for a tank bigger that what you actually have-perhaps a second filter of some type for backup ?

(4) We plan to start with the stocking scheme suggested by the ” The Simple Guide to Freshwater Aquariums” – (5 platies (use to cycle), 8 zebra danios, 6 lemon tetras, 6 cory catfish) –(although that pleco sounds very interesting as well!)

Any thoughts and ideas would be greatly appreciated!
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Old 04-15-2006, 09:25 AM   #2
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Welcome to AA!

I congratulate you on doing research prior to setting up your new tank. A ton of errors can be avoided in this way.

When you mention "least" amount of maintenance, that is a pretty broad term. There are a lot of methods available to "ease" your maintenance time and chores but the maintenance is still required. Perhaps you could go into some detail of that portion of your post.

Planting your tank is always a good idea as plants will use up the bad toxins in the water column and provide O2 for your fish. Not a bad deal IMO.

A canister filter is almost a prerequisite for a planted tank, especially if you are going to supplement CO2 by injection.
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Old 04-15-2006, 10:06 AM   #3
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Overfilter & understock, you will get by with less frequent filter maintenance & smaller water changes. You have the right idea going with a canister along with an external power filter, I do this on overstocked tanks to ease maintenance chores.

Live plants take more work than artificial, there are plenty of realistic looking silk plants, plastic looks fake for the most part.

Invest in a python for water changes. This piece of equipment works on the same principle as a waterbed fill & drain kit, it hooks up to your faucet for siphoning graval & water changes, reverse the flow to fill. This eliminates the bucket brigade.
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Old 04-15-2006, 10:29 AM   #4
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You are on the right track .....

Plants are great but can be a lot of work .... key is to choose low maintainance type like Java ferns and have enough light (stock lights will not work well with plants, you want around 1 wpg - not too much or you will have to fight algae).

Generally you don't want to use softened water for either plants or fish. We can give better advice if we know what your water is like before softening & what kind of softener you have (ion excahange, R/O?).

Some people have "natural" (or Dutch) aquariums where they have heavily planted tanks with low fish load. If you plan correctly, you can balance plant & fish life so there is no need for filters/water changes, etc. This is a lot of work to set up & requires fair bit of experience ... but once set up will be truely low-maintanance. I am not saying that you should go Dutch for your first tank .... but maybe something to look into to incorporate some of the principles to reduce maintanance.

Don't bother with fishie cycling as you planned ---- a LOT of work to get cycling established with all the checking, pwc etc (and it takes weeks). Best is to use biospira ($$) ... you get an instant cycle with no work. Next best, seed your tank with bacteria & go fishless cycling. Even fishless cycling without seeding will be faster (& less work - only 1 pwc) than fishie cycling.
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Old 04-15-2006, 10:35 AM   #5
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To elaborate on my thinking on the "least" maintenance issue....

(1) During the week will only have a few minutes, most likely in the morning, to check the tank and feed the fish. I am hoping that once the cycle is complete we will not need to do daily water tests but I will rely on the advice of the forum on that. I have noticed some "gadgets" in the LFS that hang or stick on the tank that display temparture and, I believe, some other water parameters -- are any of these useful and accurate? A quick glance in the morning to check for trouble would be wonderful!

(2) We can dedicate an hour on the weekend for PWS and cleaning gravel ( I already have a Python on my "must haves") but I am hoping that we could go two weeks or more without doing PWS with the right filtration, fish combination, and tank setup -- Here is where some explicit advice would be helpful.... ( for example, I have seen the canister filtration systems with the UV sterilizer built in...does this really help keep the tank healthy or is it a waste of money..)

PLANTS- As I said, I can't (easily) bypass the softened water -- are there plants that do better in this type of water that can be suggested? Should I get my tap water tested to see what the base parameters are and then go from there?

I am a little concerned about Tolak's statement of "Live plants take more work than artificial" as it is the "work" I am trying to minimize... So far I have gleaned that I would need a CO2 injector and a double flourescent light set-up(? at a minimum) and special "plant growing" substrate -- anything else I should know on this?
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Old 04-15-2006, 01:15 PM   #6
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Thanks for the clarification.

1. Once you have your tank established (cycled), testing will gradually be done less frequently. It all depends on what you stock the tank with, how much you feed and the info posted in #2. Gadgets like thermometers to check temps are the only useful ones. A ph monitor is useful, but is unnecessary if you have a ph test. Even if the ph monitor signals trouble, you still have to test to be certain.

2. Partial water changes are mostly regimental in that the theory is it's better to do partial changes weekly than large ones bi-weekly. Depending on your stocking and filtration, you may be able to do this without any problems. Testing your water weekly will let you know. A UV sterilizer is good for algae control and to remove other harmful nasties but is also unnecessary with careful maintenance. Whether you want to invest the money is of course, your choice.

I don't know where you read that soft water is detrimental to plants. I have some of the softest water in the country and my plants simply love it. If it were hard water then yes, there could be problems. You can have a low-light, low-maintenance tank similar to mine (no CO2 injection or other bells and whistles) and it's just a matter of keeping the nutrients in balance and pruning the growth every now and then.
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Old 04-15-2006, 01:41 PM   #7
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I don't mean to stick my nose in here, mostly because I'm a noob at this, but reading these posts give me a really queezy feeling. I'm not being mean or anything, I just think that I need to say this.

I can't help but think that this is a person that is trying to do the governments' job (throw money at a problem and turn around so it goes away).

I'm not going to pick at every detail (I just don't know enough to do that without being thoroughly trashed), but if she's willing to spend a fair amount of money, perhaps hiring some one to take care of the aquarium? Otherwise, I would think her money would be better spent on something she has time for.

I'm only saying this because I don't want to see fish suffer because somebody KNOWINGLY got in over their head, and I would love to be proven wrong and will gladly eat my words if the occassion arises.
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Old 04-15-2006, 03:29 PM   #8
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supermazz9: I think that's exactly why the OP has come here, to get advice in ensuring that whatever method chosen is the right one. As you have seen, this is the same result that everyone is hoping for. So far the following has been suggested to the OP:

Fishless cycling:

Quote:
Originally Posted by jsoong
Don't bother with fishie cycling as you planned ---- a LOT of work to get cycling established with all the checking, pwc etc (and it takes weeks). Best is to use biospira ($$) ... you get an instant cycle with no work. Next best, seed your tank with bacteria & go fishless cycling. Even fishless cycling without seeding will be faster (& less work - only 1 pwc) than fishie cycling.
Partial water changes:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jchillin
1. Once you have your tank established (cycled), testing will gradually be done less frequently. It all depends on what you stock the tank with, how much you feed and the info posted in #2. Gadgets like thermometers to check temps are the only useful ones. A ph monitor is useful, but is unnecessary if you have a ph test. Even if the ph monitor signals trouble, you still have to test to be certain.

2. Partial water changes are mostly regimental in that the theory is it's better to do partial changes weekly than large ones bi-weekly. Depending on your stocking and filtration, you may be able to do this without any problems. Testing your water weekly will let you know. A UV sterilizer is good for algae control and to remove other harmful nasties but is also unnecessary with careful maintenance. Whether you want to invest the money is of course, your choice.
The forum is not designed to criticize anyone but to provide the information and advice that was requested. Whether or not the OP uses the advice is their choice.
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Old 04-15-2006, 05:34 PM   #9
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Wow! I didn't know I was going to start a political discussion on the keeping of fish!

Not that this needs to be clarified but here it is....I am starting an aquarium because I like my children to learn about and have respect for all things in nature and a something as simple as a fish tank can offer an entire ecosystem. My 9yo has already read half of the beginners aquarium book and is already learning about many of the natural processes of these living systems (I have read the whole thing...). I am very fortunate in that I could have afforded to have a full saltwater system setup and maintained for me if the goal was to just have something pretty to look at....that is NOT my goal...

We have not bought one thing yet as it would be irresponsible for us to bring pets into our home not knowing what the requirements of good care will be. We want to make sure we make the right decisions and keep healthy fish in a good environment. Hence, from my original post (" to provide the very best environment for the fish").

My purpose of posting was to solicit the knowledge of this community that seems to have a passion for freshwater fish and hope to glean some "best practices" so that we don't have to be complete "newbies" to the whole process and waste time on tasks or subpar equipment that don't benefit the tank.

I am sorry that the intent of my original question was misintrepted...
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Old 04-15-2006, 06:22 PM   #10
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2BeachGirls,

You need not defend yourself or your actions. I asked the question and you answered it quite eloquently. It's not uncommon for someone to misinterpret forum discussions, which is why I posted the information I did in my last post. I commended you in the first post and continue to commend you for doing the research and asking the questions.

I think this is clear at this point.
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Old 04-15-2006, 07:27 PM   #11
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I have been an animal freak all my life and do breed rescue for dogs. I wish each and every home would be even half as wise as 2BeachGirls prior to bringing a living creature or creatures into their home.

Of course you will be able to create an aquarium setup that will be manageable for the time you have. I am new to this list, but managed pet shops and kept aquaria for many years in the past. The "understock and overfilter" advice is spot on, and once your tank is cycled and stable the weekly maintenance will be completely manageable for you. Choose fish that have similar requirements, both in tankmates and water parameters to make it even easier.

I came to this list because we had a large plecostomus fall into our laps (not literally) and wanted to refresh and add to my knowledge of fishkeeping. You will find some very knowledgable members here who will be glad to guide you through the process, and a few that don't yet quite have the hang of using a board such as this.

Having a bit of money when starting out is a positive, not a negative. I hope you and your family enjoy the tank and I betcha your daughter ends up ahead of her class in chemistry and biology (as an added bonus)!
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Old 04-15-2006, 09:55 PM   #12
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I just have to chime in .... I think supermazz is way off .... Someone who don't care about fish would not have ask here BEFORE setting up a tank .... just because 2BG has the means to want the best equipment is not a problem .... getting good equipment from the onset usually is better for the fishies and cheaper in the long run (as you don't have to keep replacing inferior equipment every 6 months).

As for the time she is planning to commit to her tank - an hour a week is perfectly reasonable once the tank is set up. I do weekly pwc & tank maintanance & usually it takes less than an hour.
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Old 04-15-2006, 10:18 PM   #13
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I'd also like to comment on planted tanks. Some do require a bit more work, but my 26G planted is virtually maintenance free, other than doing my weekly 20-30% PWC, and clip off the excess hornwort, and dose a half capful Flourish Excel each morning before feeding the fish. You can get some plants that are a little slower growing, and minimal maintenance. The plants I have in mine is java moss, Ludwigia repens, clover, and a banana plant. Also have 1 Marimo Ball in there as well. Other than my weekly PWC, daily fish feeding, and weekly clipping off the hornwort (all takes maybe 20 minutes), and dosing, that's it. Now my 75G planted is another story. A bit more work there, but quite enjoyable, IMO.

Now for the bad news. It's not as easy as you think in the beginning. If you want to have a successful tank, you need to cycle the tank. Now that will take some of your time. It's not minimal maintenance, but daily testing. There's 2 ways to cycle your tank, and will take up to 6-8 weeks. They are fish cycling, and fish-less cycling. The most recommended, IMO, is fishless. When you cycle fishless, there's no fish at risk, and no water changes. Just add straight ammonia and bring the tank to 4-5ppm ammonia. Then test daily. Once you start seeing your ammonia drop down, and nitrites go up, you can cut the ammonia dosing to 1-2ppm. Whenever your ammonia tests 0ppm, dose again. When you dose your ammonia, and you are seeing that your ammonia and nitrite are going to 0ppm in 24 hrs, you are cycled.

Now for cycling with fish, that's just it, you have fish in the tank. But the trick is keeping your ammonia below 1ppm. This will mean either daily or every other day water changes of 50%, maybe even more depending on bioload. Anything over 1ppm ammonia or nitrite can have serious effects on your fish if kept like that.

So there you have it. IMO, fishless is much easier. Take 10 minutes daily to test, and if you need to dose ammonia, you dose it. It's easier than taking an hour daily to change half the water.

I hope this doesn't scare you away from having a tank, but to be honest, your fish will thank you in the end if cycled properly. They will live longer, and you will have a much lower chance of any diseases, etc, that are brought on by poor water conditions. And like I said, this isn't to scare you off, but to help you understand and have a very successful tank that you can enjoy. And I do enjoy mine...
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Old 04-16-2006, 09:54 AM   #14
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OK OK OK....let me clarify myself and then step off.

This is not a political discussion on keeping fish.

I am in no way saying that you don't love fish, really want fish, have every intention of taking the most care of these fish, etc. I am not criticizing you for wanting to raise fish.

I think what I was trying to say was, as this is an advice forum, here's my advice; seriously evaluate whether or not you have the time for a pet. I'm not telling you what to do or not do, and I'm not trying to be a
*beep* about it.

It's great that you've done a ton of reading and research. That is, without a doubt the best thing to start with, in any endeavor. As I stated, your definition of time make me uneasy. Perhaps I over-reacted, but I like to think I know a little about human nature, and I can see how event might commonly unfold,"it's your turn for a PWC," "no it's your turn to do it,""fine I'll do it later..."

I'm not saying that this will or will not be you. My advice is to sit down and think about if this is something that you can maintain, not just something you want.


That being said, I will again congratulate you on be very well read on the subject, as most people don't take the time to educate themselves as well as you have, prior to starting a new task (that makes you better than the average person).

If you choose to start a tank, I wish you and your daughter the best of luck with it.



ps. I'm done on this subject...completely. I'm already looked at as a big meanie for broaching the subject the way I did, and I don't need to anger anyone else; that not what I was here for. I'm not going to respond to anything else on this thread, unless absolutely necessary. My apologies for any tested patience.
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Old 04-16-2006, 12:09 PM   #15
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The longer I go in this hobby, the more I feel that we are making things much more complicated than they need to be.

You are taking the best approach and research first. I suggest you do a fishless cycle for a good, LONG time. I helped a friend start up a ten gallon and for various reasons owing to his busy schedule and some illness, he didn't stock it for six months -- continually adding ammonia to cycle it, though. It was well established before we even 'started' with fish. It has been running with fish about a year now, and is pretty highly stocked for a ten gallon, with no problems and only one death -- a white cloud mountain minnow that was probably sick when it arrived (died within a day).

Plants are good, and with a large tank like a 55 gallon, 1 wpg of light will suit you fine. Use java fern, hornwort, anacharis, and some rooted plants to help with water quality. They will help you reduce water changes. Keep stocking very low. You can use testing strips for ease, and only do water changes according to nitrATe level, when they start to go over 20 ppm.

Use a nice, rounded natural looking gravel and keep it somewhat shallow -- about an inch to two inches, more easy to gravel vac and less likely to build up anaerobic areas.
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Old 04-16-2006, 02:08 PM   #16
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Oh, and just remember, if you have any questions as you are setting up your plans and begin taking action, don't hesitate to ask here. There are many people that are more than willing to help and give good advice. I learned all I know from right here.
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Old 04-17-2006, 11:17 PM   #17
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Thanks for all the wonderful advice so far! Based on information from this forum and some more reading I am narrowing down the options.

Since my last post I found and purchased at my independent LFS a 75 gallon aquarium with stand and canopy. I know I only was going to start with around 50 but what’s wrong with a little more room for the fish?!? I actually liked the dimensions of this cabinet as it was more short and wide than thin and tall and appears it will be easier for my dd to get her hands to the bottom of the tank when decorating, cleaning, etc.

I am having the stand painted at a local store that I have had do some other items as I was not thrilled with the limited choices of “golden oak”, “golden pine”, “golden melamine” or black on the furniture selection as none would look great in the room it is going to be placed in. I ended up with a solid wood basic style that will end up a “distressed white” . I should be able to get the stand by next Monday all ready to go. In the mean time, my daughter and I plan to paint the background of the tank so it will be ready as well.

Although much equipment and such was offered to me at the LFS, I resisted and plan to put together parts that I know why I am buying them…For example, I do not want the UG filter that was offered…All in all I am happy with this LFS as it is the fifth one I tried and none seemed to hit me right but this one.

So – here is the equipment I am considering so far (please make any comments on these choices as I am not set on anything):

Equipment:
Rena Filstar xp3
Heater - Inline Hydor ETH 300W
Nova Extreme T-5 with Lunar Lights (4-ballasts for a total of 216 watts) http://www.drsfostersmith.com/Produc...&N=2004+113175
Or

Coralife Freshwater Aqualight Double (4-65 watt bulbs for 260 watts) – w or w/o lunar lights


Plants :
I think we will attempt to make this a planted aquarium because of all the benefits touted to us but with the easiest possible set-up.

I found a package at http://www.azgardens.com/habitats_easy.phpthat is labeld “Easy Life Habitat - under 2 watts per gallon of light, no CO2 injection, and (for people that have) no time to care for their tank, but want a gorgeous fully planted natural aquarium”. I plan to use the Flourish Excel daily to give them some carbon but am overwhelmed at the thought of the whole CO2 tank set-up at this point.

Here is a list of what is included for a 50-60 Gallon aquarium:
2 Anacharis
4 Rotala indica
5 Blood Stargrass
8 Japanese Fans
4 Dwarf Lily Plants
20 Dwarf Onions
4 Ambulia
20 Tall Sagittaria subulata
3 Large red-spot Ozelot swords
20 Crypt Walkeri
10 Crypt Wendtii Reds
5 Java Ferns
Fertilizer


Accessories:
(1) AP Master Test Kit (already purchased to test ph – at 7.8 out of tap)
(2) Instant read test strips (decided I didn’t want my daughter playing with caustic chemicals and these seem much quicker – I like have the first kit as a backup though in case the results don’t seem quite right)
(3) Python
(4) Flexible Bubble tube (maybe….to run a few hours a day for effect and O2 but not kill the CO2 by using too much) – Powerhead to run?
(5) Gallon of Stress Coat
(6) New Buckets
(7) Flexible Tubing
(8) Nets (1 big, 1 small)
(9) Coarlife Power Center with 2 timers

Questions:

What kind of filter media should I start with ?

Do I need a second, small filter for backup? If so, what kind would work well (I am trying to avoid anything that is HOB). Thinking of something to run some bubbles for 3-4 hours a day…

Do the plants in the above package need a substrate such as the Eco-complete or are they hardy enough to do well in plain gravel? We are wanting to do a light (or white) colored gravel and the plant substrates all tend to be dark. Can they be covered in a layer of gravel or would that be too hard to care for.


Planned implementation:

Day 1: Set-up tank on stand and put filter and hook-ups together. Partially fill tank and check for level. Drain.
Day 2: Add substrate (rinse first) and add all decorations that are not-living
Day 3: Add water with “stress coat” to decholorinate about ½ full . Get plants into tank.
Day 4:. Start up filter system and make sure all is working. Run for 24 hours.
Day 5: Add Bio-spiro and add a few platys
Day 6: Test Water for several days
Day 14: if all seems well, add some zebra danios

Please let me know if I am missing anything important!
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Old 04-18-2006, 01:57 PM   #18
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Looks pretty good, I really like the fact that you decided against the UGF. Although some folks say it's ok with a planted tank, why bother when you don't need to?

Your other equipment looks excellent. In regard to filter media, get a large bag of filter floss to replace the carbon after you add livestock and plants. Carbon is not needed, especially with a planted tank (there is still some debate about this but again, if you don't need, why bother?

Your light choice will require CO2 injection as you will have @3.5wpg. You can lower the lighting to about 2wpg and not need the supplemental CO2.

I would recommend Prime instead of stress-coat. Prime works a little better and lasts a lot longer.

Finally, in your implementation plan, Day 1 should be to fill the entire tank to check for level and/or possible leaks. Leave full for at least 2 hours.

And lastly, when you need questions answered about planted topics, post them in the Planted Tank forum.

Good luck!
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Old 04-18-2006, 02:53 PM   #19
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I'm a few days late, but it's never too late to say:
Welcome to AA, 2BeachGirls!!

Quote:
(1) AP Master Test Kit (already purchased to test ph – at 7.8 out of tap)
The best way to test is let a glass of water sit out overnight to allow the gases to equilibrate--this may or may not change the reading, but it is best to know that ahead of time.

Quote:
Day 1 should be to fill the entire tank to check for level and/or possible leaks. Leave full for at least 2 hours.
I agree and personally, would let the tank sit overnight, or all day--so I could watch it.

Quote:
Flexible Bubble tube (maybe….to run a few hours a day for effect and O2 but not kill the CO2 by using too much) – Powerhead to run?
These are fun; I used to have some run by an air pump. They are only for effect and will not affect the amount of dissolved O2 in the water. Your filter will do that job just fine.

Quote:
What kind of filter media should I start with ?
If the filter doesn't come with media, use bio balls or ceramic media or both--there will be plenty of room. The surface for bacterial growth is incredible.

Quote:
Do I need a second, small filter for backup? If so, what kind would work well (I am trying to avoid anything that is HOB). Thinking of something to run some bubbles for 3-4 hours a day…
Honestly, that filter should not fail. I keep air pumps and air stones in case of emergency to aerate the tank by agitating the top of the water. In event of power outage, I also have battery run pumps. Some members like to use two filters always in case one fails, plus you get even MORE filtration, but if you are going for understocking, one filter is fine. If in the future the filter fails, you would do what most of us do--RUN to the LFS, get a filter and transfer the media and hope the old filter was still under warranty

Quote:
Do the plants in the above package need a substrate such as the Eco-complete or are they hardy enough to do well in plain gravel? We are wanting to do a light (or white) colored gravel and the plant substrates all tend to be dark. Can they be covered in a layer of gravel or would that be too hard to care for.
That’s for an entirely new thread in the Planted forum, where members can give you their vast and different views and advice.

I can't wait for pics--the stand sounds lovely--and different!
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Old 04-18-2006, 03:22 PM   #20
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Posts: 391
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I also think that amount of light without co2 = algae, algae, algae. Large amounts of light = more growth= more work. I would start with 1.5wpg, there are nice plants that grow with 1.5.

I like the Zebra Danios to start--very active--small fish.

Sounds like you and your daughter have some DIY work ahead of you. May I suggest some caves after the backround. Have fun!
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