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Low-Tech Set-up and Water Changes

Luvlyjub

New Member
Joined
18 Feb 2021
Messages
7
Location
Essex
Question on initial water changes for a new low-tech minimal planted set-up.

Firstly, this is not a primary aquascape tank for plants but for Cichlids and I am not following a Biotope approach. Plants will all be Java's and Anubias varieties that will be an experiment aka George Farmer and his Mbuna planted tank. Therefore, not planted in the substrate but fixed on root and rocks as I appreciate the benefit plants add to a tank visually and water quality. With the caveat of the additional fine tuning, maintenance and experience as I have learnt.....or not!

As I have yet to start my first real nature aquarium as intended I have been side-tracked to get this tank completed but had issues with first attempt with algae and dying plants. Anyway, I have stripped back and re-arranged my hardscape ready to be replanted. As a side note I have decided to undertake a fishless cycle first (yes using ammonia and bottle bacteria.....I have seen the posts on this) before I introduce the plants with hopefully fish a few weeks later once I am happy the plants are behaving themselves.

But to the point of my question is after planting (noting minimal and low-tech and not using an active substrate with potential ammonia leach) is there a need to undertake such high volume water changes daily as advised with such a set-up? My thoughts are this would not be as necessary in these circumstances noting that the tank would have cycled first and the low level of planting. Everything I have seen or read talks about water change every day (some say 30%, others 50% or higher) for the first week and then scaled down over a six week period. Don't get me wrong in that it would not be a bad thing but not sure if this would be required and a less intensive water change frequency would be adequate.

Advice greatly appreciated.
 

MichaelJ

Member
Joined
9 Feb 2021
Messages
470
Location
Minnesota, USA
Hi @Luvlyjub Welcome to UKAPS! :)

What kind of Cichlids are you going to keep?

Way back in the day when I was a Cichlid aficionado (various Cichlasoma's), running mostly plant-less or very scarcely planted tanks, I had a rather cavalier attitude towards the whole cycling process - I don't remember loosing any fish because of that (likely being plain lucky), but today, with more knowledge, and densely planted tanks and more sensitive livestock, I do (did) take a more rigorous and careful approach. Here is good source of info on cycling and info that might apply to your tank.

Cheers,
Michael
 
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Kevin Eades

Member
Joined
24 Jan 2021
Messages
170
Location
Portsmouth
Question on initial water changes for a new low-tech minimal planted set-up.

Firstly, this is not a primary aquascape tank for plants but for Cichlids and I am not following a Biotope approach. Plants will all be Java's and Anubias varieties that will be an experiment aka George Farmer and his Mbuna planted tank. Therefore, not planted in the substrate but fixed on root and rocks as I appreciate the benefit plants add to a tank visually and water quality. With the caveat of the additional fine tuning, maintenance and experience as I have learnt.....or not!

As I have yet to start my first real nature aquarium as intended I have been side-tracked to get this tank completed but had issues with first attempt with algae and dying plants. Anyway, I have stripped back and re-arranged my hardscape ready to be replanted. As a side note I have decided to undertake a fishless cycle first (yes using ammonia and bottle bacteria.....I have seen the posts on this) before I introduce the plants with hopefully fish a few weeks later once I am happy the plants are behaving themselves.

But to the point of my question is after planting (noting minimal and low-tech and not using an active substrate with potential ammonia leach) is there a need to undertake such high volume water changes daily as advised with such a set-up? My thoughts are this would not be as necessary in these circumstances noting that the tank would have cycled first and the low level of planting. Everything I have seen or read talks about water change every day (some say 30%, others 50% or higher) for the first week and then scaled down over a six week period. Don't get me wrong in that it would not be a bad thing but not sure if this would be required and a less intensive water change frequency would be adequate.

Advice greatly appreciated.
I would suggest yes water change is still valuable as the plants will still be adjusting to the new conditions and be giving off organic waste. The ammonia is not really why you need to change the water really I've never seen levels which I would worry about at least with the tropica soil. Plus you stated you want to add ammonia to cycle. Some sensitive plants will struggle with brand new soil but the plants you suggest will be fine. I only did 2 water changes in the first week of my low tech nature and that seemed OK. I used to follow george farmers routine for a new tank but my partner has OCD and I get an earful if I get drips on the floor every day 😅.

You probably have your mind fixed on the cycle as you seem firm in your comment. I would suggest not to bother adding anything. It will save you money. In my 20 years of fish keeping I never added a thing. Patience is free and more sustainable if that's your thing. If you are reusing rocks and wood it will have more than enough organic material to start the cycle on its own. This is only my advice and opinion and I respect if you want to try another method
 

MichaelJ

Member
Joined
9 Feb 2021
Messages
470
Location
Minnesota, USA
I get an earful if I get drips on the floor every day 😅.
Oh I am not the only one with that problem?! :lol: Well, at least my wife really appreciate the tanks outside the few hours of weekly maintenance.
You probably have your mind fixed on the cycle as you seem firm in your comment. I would suggest not to bother adding anything. It will save you money. In my 20 years of fish keeping I never added a thing.
Agreed - let nature run its course.


Cheers,
Michael
 

dw1305

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UKAPS Team
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7 Apr 2008
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12,320
Location
nr Bath
Hi all,
But to the point of my question is after planting (noting minimal and low-tech and not using an active substrate with potential ammonia leach) is there a need to undertake such high volume water changes daily as advised with such a set-up?
You will need to change a reasonable volume of water just to control nitrate (NO3) levels, and again this would be dependent upon having a low nitrate supply for water changes. If you could have some quick growing plants that would help with reducing nitrate levels, even if the plants have to be physically separated from the fish. I like a floating plant because it has access to aerial CO2. Access to 400ppm CO2 means that they aren't carbon limited and this allows them to potentially incorporate more fixed nitrogen.
As a side note I have decided to undertake a fishless cycle first (yes using ammonia and bottle bacteria.....I have seen the posts on this)
You don't really have a lot of choice if you tank is very lightly planted and heavily stocked. The more ammonia you have (it doesn't matter where it came from) the more oxygen you need to process it. If you haven't seen them you might be interested in the videos of Viktor Jarikov on PlanetCatfish, he is a Monster Fish keeper.

If you haven't seen it I'd recommend <"Talking with Dr Tim Hovanec"> and <"Bio Media for ........">. In terms of the filter media set-up etc. I'd follow the advice in <"Aquarium Science">, he may not be very good on planted tanks, but he knows all about heavy stocking of Mbuna etc.

cheers Darrel
 

Karmicnull

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6 Sep 2020
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451
Location
Cambridge
You don't really have a lot of choice if you tank is very lightly planted and heavily stocked.
If on the other hand your tank is heavily planted - albeit just with epiphytes - just put the plants in on day 1 and let them do the job instead of adding ammonia. Leave it a few weeks and then add other livestock slowly over time giving the tank time to adapt to the gradually increasing bioload. Whilst you've just got plants I wouldn't worry too much about daily WCs, but you might want to up the frequency when you first add the livestock as a belts-and-braces approach to making sure your fish are safe.
 

dw1305

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Hi all,
If on the other hand your tank is heavily planted - albeit just with epiphytes - just put the plants in on day 1 and let them do the job instead of adding ammonia.
Yes it is only really the "lots of fish, not (m)any plants" scenario where you are reliant on microbial nitrification. Oxygen becomes even more important at that point, you don't have the net oxygen production of the plants from photosynthesis, you don't have their fixed nitrogen removal capacity and you don't have the increased area for nitrification that plants create.

If I was obliged to keep a large volume of fish, in a non-planted tank, I would want a very large planted trickle filter to deal with their waste.

cheers Darrel
 

Tim Harrison

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It's essentially a fish tank, so Darrel's advice above regarding water quality is particularly pertinent for the sake of fish husbandry. But substantial and regular water changes will always help in the fight against algae. But to avoid algae this time around reduce the light intensity as well. The plants you intend to use will be fine under low light. Also you'll have a far greater chance of success if you plant a lot more than you intend to. In short there are no real shortcuts to success. Ultimately you get out what you're prepared to put in.
 

Luvlyjub

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Thread starter
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18 Feb 2021
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7
Location
Essex
Thank you all for the replies. 👍

I will need to learn how to use multi-quotes but until then...

MichaelJ - I will be stocking Malawi Mbuna no more than 4" and low aggression species.

Kevin - Exactly! Drips on the floor, hoses, tubs full of water. I have tried various water change in/out methods over time and I am not keen on adding tap water direct and then treating with conditioner (I do not use RO BTW) and fill 80L tubs that at least allows for temperature and water checks beforehand. So the less changes the better if not required for this new set-up. I have very hard water and a PH range from tap of 7.33 to 7.77 over the year. I am not one for keeping fish species and trying to imitate their home environment but in this instance for Cichlids the higher side the better with good natural buffering and I am using coral sand as substrate. This has not dramatically increased my PH as the tank set-up in cycle is currently 7.86 and the root wood may help keep this slightly lower as I was concerned with plants at this PH level. Anyway the cycle is already in process and even though I had stripped back the sand and rocks still had some bacteria as ammonia I am adding is being munched and converted and just waiting for Nitrites to start falling.

Darrel - Agreed I will do a fair number of water changes in the first week but my thinking is that I would limit this to 2/3 for my set-up rather than daily with a full aquascape nature tank? And then reduce over 3 weeks to work within a regular 30% weekly thereafter. A good idea on the quick growing plants and I had thought of that on my first attempt and added Hornwort that you can let float although I did not like the aesthetic look in my set-up but I suppose it could be temporary to deal with the Nitrate as you suggest. I did see your thread earlier on Dr Tim and this is slightly above my level of understanding at present, as although I have kept fish for many years (with plants at times unsuccessfully) I now understand that a little science and knowledge will help me with this.

Karmicnull - I tried this first time around to cycle with plants. It seemed OK at first but then I decided to add a few more plants after a few weeks and the algae started. Tried the spray with liquid CO2 and that seemed to make matters worse and other treatments did not work and if I and honest I was not then too attentive and made matters worse and left with no option but to start again. Not sure if a pre-cycle will help but that's what I am doing and I will probably need to monitor any decaying plants quicker as I think that was the root cause of my problem and rising levels of Ammonia?

My fish stocking levels will not be high but moderate for size of tank with a combined 1800l/h from internal and external filtering as even with low-tech I am aiming for good circulation and dosing ferts daily. Due to my previous poor experience with plants in this set-up I suspect it was plant decay that initiated the problems and I was wondering how this affects my set-up as I would have had less plants to deal with the waste breakdown and probably not a fully cycled tank? Does a decaying plant produce Ammonia or Ammonium and as my PH is on the higher side around 7.8 I guess I would have more of an issue with the toxicity, or is this only for fish? I guess that leads us back to the water changes then. 😄
 

dw1305

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Hi all,
This has not dramatically increased my PH as the tank set-up in cycle is currently 7.86 and the root wood may help keep this slightly lower as I was concerned with plants at this PH level.
Don't worry about the pH, plenty of plants like alkaline water, and the pH will always be <"somewhere near pH8"> because of the carbonate ~ CO2 ~ pH equilibrium.
A good idea on the quick growing plants and I had thought of that on my first attempt and added Hornwort that you can let float
I'm a great Hornwort <"(Ceratophyllum demersum)"> fan. Because of where you live you are likely to have fairly high nitrate levels in your tap water <"and plants"> will help reduce this
Hornwort that you can let float although I did not like the aesthetic look in my set-up but I suppose it could be temporary to deal with the Nitrate as you suggest.
It isn't only nitrate (NO3-) it removes, plants take up ammonia (NH3) as well.
Does a decaying plant produce Ammonia or Ammonium
They do, but not a great deal because <"they aren't very protein rich">.

cheers Darrel
 

Dominik K

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Joined
14 Jun 2021
Messages
69
Location
Southampton
Thank you all for the replies. 👍

I will need to learn how to use multi-quotes but until then...

MichaelJ - I will be stocking Malawi Mbuna no more than 4" and low aggression species.

Kevin - Exactly! Drips on the floor, hoses, tubs full of water. I have tried various water change in/out methods over time and I am not keen on adding tap water direct and then treating with conditioner (I do not use RO BTW) and fill 80L tubs that at least allows for temperature and water checks beforehand. So the less changes the better if not required for this new set-up. I have very hard water and a PH range from tap of 7.33 to 7.77 over the year. I am not one for keeping fish species and trying to imitate their home environment but in this instance for Cichlids the higher side the better with good natural buffering and I am using coral sand as substrate. This has not dramatically increased my PH as the tank set-up in cycle is currently 7.86 and the root wood may help keep this slightly lower as I was concerned with plants at this PH level. Anyway the cycle is already in process and even though I had stripped back the sand and rocks still had some bacteria as ammonia I am adding is being munched and converted and just waiting for Nitrites to start falling.

Darrel - Agreed I will do a fair number of water changes in the first week but my thinking is that I would limit this to 2/3 for my set-up rather than daily with a full aquascape nature tank? And then reduce over 3 weeks to work within a regular 30% weekly thereafter. A good idea on the quick growing plants and I had thought of that on my first attempt and added Hornwort that you can let float although I did not like the aesthetic look in my set-up but I suppose it could be temporary to deal with the Nitrate as you suggest. I did see your thread earlier on Dr Tim and this is slightly above my level of understanding at present, as although I have kept fish for many years (with plants at times unsuccessfully) I now understand that a little science and knowledge will help me with this.

Karmicnull - I tried this first time around to cycle with plants. It seemed OK at first but then I decided to add a few more plants after a few weeks and the algae started. Tried the spray with liquid CO2 and that seemed to make matters worse and other treatments did not work and if I and honest I was not then too attentive and made matters worse and left with no option but to start again. Not sure if a pre-cycle will help but that's what I am doing and I will probably need to monitor any decaying plants quicker as I think that was the root cause of my problem and rising levels of Ammonia?

My fish stocking levels will not be high but moderate for size of tank with a combined 1800l/h from internal and external filtering as even with low-tech I am aiming for good circulation and dosing ferts daily. Due to my previous poor experience with plants in this set-up I suspect it was plant decay that initiated the problems and I was wondering how this affects my set-up as I would have had less plants to deal with the waste breakdown and probably not a fully cycled tank? Does a decaying plant produce Ammonia or Ammonium and as my PH is on the higher side around 7.8 I guess I would have more of an issue with the toxicity, or is this only for fish? I guess that leads us back to the water changes then. 😄

George farmer has a good tactic for water change where you add the conditioner at the tap.

Im planing to switch to this method once i work out how long a hose i need. I only got a small tank but doing changes bucket at a time is already pain in the proverbial backside.

 

MichaelJ

Member
Joined
9 Feb 2021
Messages
470
Location
Minnesota, USA
Thinking back +35 years when Cichlid tanks were all the rage for me and my buddies, we didn't know a fraction of this... Honestly, all we had to go by was a couple of books we took out from the local library and what the LFS told us (and they would only recommend us stuff that would skim our allowance...). That's it. As I remember it, with a new tank It was 2-3 weeks (at the very best!) of waiting for "beneficial bacteria to grow" and 1-2 weekly 20-30% WC's and that was it.... After that, fish got in and thereafter bimonthly (as in twice a month) 30-50% WC's and filter cleaning. We did use a dechlorinator, blue tetra bottles as I remember, we were not complete savages :) ... Somehow it kind of worked out anyhow.... go figure. Take note though: None of this is recommended nowadays obviously, and I would never use this approach for plant-less / scarcely planted tanks again. Just thought someone would find it interesting to hear how it was done (by some) back in the day.

Cheers,
Michael
 
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