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Old 02-15-2007, 08:23 PM   #1
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Making the move to a planted tank...

I'm going to be converting my existing tank to a planted tank in the upcoming months and I wanted some input from you experts on how best to do this. Here's my tank's specs...
55 Gallon Acrylic Standard Size
Eheim Pro II 2028 Canister Filter
Penn Plax Cascade 400 Internal Filter (for water movement)
Standard gravel, two pieces of driftwood, a dozen rocks, plastic plants and a dozen fish

My first plan was to order up the proper lighting system. I was looking at a Current USA Dual Satellite with two 96 watt bulbs. It's one of the few that fits beneath the wood tank hood I have and should provide a pretty good amount of watts per gallon (3.49).

I was also planning to put in some new substrate that has laterite/iron in it. What I'm not sure about is how to do that... do I take out some of the existing substrate and mix the two? Take all of the current substrate out? While I'm doing this do I need to remove my fish? Any input on how best to undergo this entire process would be most appreciated... Thank you!
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Old 02-15-2007, 08:44 PM   #2
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You've made a wise decision. Converting a standard tank to planted isn't all that complicated. Depending on your existing gravel, if it's no larger than 2mm in size, it can work well. Of course, if you want to go for a nutrient based substrate, then go with Eco-Complete. You can definitely mix this, I believe the ratio is 60-70% Eco and the rest your regular gravel. You could also remove the existing substrate and do a 100% Eco thing, but that is entirely up to you. Eco is pretty costly if you cannot get it locally.

With the amount of light you are aiming at, you would do well to inject CO2. You could look at doing a CF strip which will cost less and give you 110w and a nice 2wpg level, which is plenty for a moderate set up and CO2 injection can be eliminated.
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Old 02-16-2007, 11:47 AM   #3
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My current substrate is in the 1-2mm size range. I guess my concern was if I switch out 60%+ of it if I will lose too much of the "good" bacteria? I do have Eco and another "enriched" substrate available at the LFS but may order them online in order to save money.

The CF strip I'm looking at will have 192 watts total from the white and blue actinic bulb. So it will have roughly 3.5 watts per gallon. I'd like to stay away from Co2 to start and see if the "enriched" substrate and good lighting are enough to keep the plants happy.
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Old 02-16-2007, 12:40 PM   #4
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A few thoughts... Eco-Complete comes packaged with bacteria, so you should have no problem with a 100% replacement (the hassle of actually doing it aside).

In FW, Actinic bulbs are not desirable and at the least should not be counted in your WPG. Some claim they can help cause algae, problems. Regardless, they will not do anything for your plants.

With 96-watts of lights that are good for your plants on a 55g, you may be able to get away with no CO2. Understand that good substrate is no replacement for CO2. Using something like Aqua Soil with Power Sand can replace Macro water column dosing, as your plants will find most of those nutrients in the substrate, but no substrate will supplement CO2. Also Eco-complete is an iron rich substrate, but will not replace the need to dose your water column with the appropriate micro and macro fertilizers.

Some good reading if you are going to try and dodge CO2:

http://www.barrreport.com/articles/4...2-methods.html
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Old 02-16-2007, 01:44 PM   #5
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I didn't read through the replies (not enough time right now), but here's how I would make the switch:

Pick up a good substrate and get rid of your fake/plastic stuff. Take out all of your current gravel. You should probably try and empty your tank and put your fish in a temporary place. Last time I did this, I moved my fish in to old Coolwhip containers (with lids to reduce stress, and also filled with existing tank water). Once you get most of the water out, adding your new substrate is a piece of cake. Be sure to rinse it well, if it's needed (I use fluorite, thus it needs a good rinsing). I like my mix of fluorite and silica sand, 50/50 with a 3" bed, but you can use whatever you want.

Now, assuming you have the standard light for a 55 gallon, you're at roughly .75 WPG. Not a lot at all. You don't want to just jump in and go much over 2.5 WPG without thinking about CO2, at the least. You have two options. My personal suggestion would be to pick up the fixture you're looking at. Keep it 50/50 with the actinic lights. This will give you just 96 watts of usable lights for your plants (about 1.75 WPG).

Now you can start your planting. With the setup I have explained, you should be able to keep most plants from the low to the mid (and maybe mid-high) range. Work with these plants, get to know them and the concept of the Planted Tank.

Once comfortable, swap out the 96W Actinic lights with standard lights. This will pump you to the 3.5WPG mark, which is more than enough light for just about anything. DO NOT DO THIS WITHOUT WORKING ON THE NEXT PARAGRAPH.

To go with your upgraded lights, you're going to need CO2, no doubts about it. You can easily get by with DIY CO2, until you can get a pressurized system up and running. Do a search on it for more information.

With the CO2 pumping, you're well on your way. It's now time to start thinking about test kits and fertilizers to get the most from your plants. Standard kits needed are pH, kH, gH, nitrate, and phosphate. Greg Watson is the king of fertilizers and for about $30, you can get a year supply of fertilizers. Just starting out, I would do a search for Tom Barr's EI (Estimative Index) for a dosing regiment.

There's not much more to the planted tank than what I have explained. You can probably stop at the 1.75WPG mark without CO2 and fertilizers and be just happy with a lush planted tank. If you want a full, high-light, high-tech tank, then 3+ WPG, CO2, and Ferts is the way to go.

Hope that helps!

**EDIT**
These are my personal opinions. There are other solutions and options (like Flourish Excel in place of CO2 [note that it won't be enough to really make your plants THRIVE though]).

**SECOND EDIT**
In regards to losing your beneficial bacteria when removing the gravel, don't worry about it. Your filter media will probably hold more than enough bacteria. Besides that, when you add in the plants, they will probably be more effective and efficient than the bacteria you had on your gravel. It's been stated, and proven, that a planted tank can actually be set up without needing to be "cycled", in traditional terms. I wouldn't worry too much about getting a mini-cycle in your tank.
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Old 02-16-2007, 04:29 PM   #6
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Wow... interesting that the higher amount of Watts per gallon the more need there would be for Co2 supplementation. I wouldn't of thought that from what I've been reading.

Does everyone prefer Eco-Complete? Is there another enriched substrate I should consider?

The lighting system I'm looking at is a Current USA Dual Satellite 36". It comes with a 10,000k - 96 watt daylight bulb and a 96 watt-460nm blue actinic.

http://www.thatpetplace.com/pet/prod...itemKey=204940

What's the point of having a blue actinic if it doesn't contribute to plant growth?

Is there another lighting system that I should be considering? I have room 36" width but a maximum of 3" in height because of the wood hood to my stand.
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Old 02-16-2007, 05:01 PM   #7
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The more light in your tank = more/faster photosynthesis for your plants. In order to accommodate and well-nourish your plants, they need a better source of carbon (CO2) than what your general fish, fish waste, and water column can support. This is also why you typically need to dose ferts as well, because plants need more than just one mineral to fully thrive.

I personally use fluorite with a 50/50 mix of silica sand. I like the look and it grows plants well. Never needed any root feeders or anything of the sort. I would go with Eco-complete now, if I did it all over again. SeaChem also makes something called Onyx sand. I've heard good things about it, but I've never seen it in action. If you really want to get technical, you can also use a layer of peat with a good terrestrial soil topped with sand. This tends to be more geared towards the elite planted aquarist and I don't think many people go this route. All prices are generally similar, so it's a matter of preference or availability.

Actinic light is used by corals in the 'reefers world. It will also bring out the color of your fish nicely. Actinic lights have their place, but it's just not in the planted tank (unless it's in addition to your normal lighting). Space issues aside, I like your selection for your situation because you will be able to essentially use 1/2 light until you can get CO2, at which point a simple bulb purchase will easily put you where you need to be.

If you want to look at other lighting options, try here: http://www.ahsupply.com. Most planted tank owners at least know of these guys, if not live by their products, especially their reflectors!

Hope this helps!
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3.5 WPG using T8's
Fluorite w/sand mix
Rena Filstar XP2
Pressurized CO2 w/SMS122

29 Gallon Goldfish
4" Red/White Ryunkin
4" Orange Fantail
Penguin 100
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Old 02-16-2007, 06:17 PM   #8
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In terms of substrate... Flourite is good, but needs to be thoroughly rinsed before use. Eco-complete is a little better, does not require rinsing, and comes with bacteria colonies in the bag.

Aqua Soil is the premium substrate in the FW planted hobby, and when used in conjunction with Power Sand (both ADA products) will give you a very rich substrate. It can also change the aspects of your water, and is known to cause an initial spike in NH3. Much more for the advanced user IMO.

FWIW, I would not mix it. For the hassle, why not get the full benefit of 100% eco?

You need to be conscience of 3 things: Lighting, CO2 and Nutrients (Macros and Micros) with FW planted tanks. Any imbalance in these three will QUICKLY lead to algae. Whatever substrate you go with, you will still need to "dose" nutrients into your water if you want your plants to do well.

Aquatic plants are nothing like a terrestrial garden, where you just plant your carrots in sand and mulch and let the sun and rain do the rest. Much, much more complex and demanding if you are to be successful. Even tanks with lower lighting levels can profit enormously from the injection of CO2. It took me 18 years before I finally caved in and started using CO2, and what a difference! While you can keep plants with some level of success without CO2, I would not describe them as "thriving" without it.

I do not mean to discourage, just to emphasize that balance is very important, and you will need to make sure you read up on things, as this is not as simple as it may seem like it should be

You are in the right place though, so be sure to ask lots of questions. Lots of people here with good experience with what you are about to do.
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Old 02-16-2007, 06:31 PM   #9
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I don't mean to take away anything from Aquarium Advice, but the forum below is dedicated to the Planted Tank and has a WEALTH of information that will help to understand everything about the Planted Tank. As long as you start slow and do your research, the balance comes easy enough and isn't entirely difficult to maintain (reference Tom Barr's Estimative Index).

http://www.plantedtank.net
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3.5 WPG using T8's
Fluorite w/sand mix
Rena Filstar XP2
Pressurized CO2 w/SMS122

29 Gallon Goldfish
4" Red/White Ryunkin
4" Orange Fantail
Penguin 100
AquaClear 20
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Old 02-16-2007, 09:05 PM   #10
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Ya, good point. There are a number of forums that are good. This is one of them. The Planted Tank has many more different planted forums. APC is another good one, along with Tom Barr's forums for more advance discussion. You will find many of the same people on all of these boards.
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