There are many articles spread across the Internet about tank cycling. About how ammonia is created, primarily from fish waste & rotting food, turned into nitrites from beneficial bacteria in the live rock, and then into nitrates from even more beneficial bacteria in the rock.
On new tanks, most of the articles talk about either using one or two hardy fish to instigate this initial cycle, adding some foot to rot, or by dropping a raw prawn in to rot. A few talk about adding in ammonium chloride, which is a more controllable approach.
One thing I didn't take from any of these articles is that you have to keep generating ammonia, even after the cycle has completed.
Now, if you went with the hardy fish approach, then you will still have ammonia being generated. Otherwise, once your source of ammonia is used up, and entered the nitrogen cycle, you will then start to starve the bacteria in your rock and it will start to die off again!
I was told that the all the live rock I purchased was already fully cured and cycled so I would be unlikely to see much of an initial tank cycle at all, and indeed I didn't. However, as I didn't know about feeding the live rock, I've now had the tank setup and running for 19 days which has likely killed of a lot of the beneficial bacteria my rock started with!
Anyway, I've now ordered some Dr Tims Aquarium Ammonia Chloride, and when that arrives I can start dosing ammonia, kick starting my live rock again, and I'll probably then see an actual cycle.
This has set me back a bit before I can add my clean-up crew, but at least I learnt the lesson before adding them and maybe killing them as the tank cycled unexpectedly.
Yesterday I found myself back in the 'LFS' (27 miles from home, but the only one I trust) - Southwest Marines. The RODI unit I'd ordered wasn't in yet, nor was the refractometer, but I was eager for other supplies.
My auto-topup unit was under halfway now, so I knew I needed some more RO water "just in case" it ran out before I got my RODI unit. So this 25l should carry me through until then. I also picked up another 10kg of live rock. The 36kg I had just wasn't enough, and the tank was visibly sparse, so I needed to bulk things out a little. And lastly I picked up another 7kg bag of Caribsea Argonite substrate to pad the floors a little.
Adding the rock to the tank went relatively easily, and now it's looking a little fuller, although I haven't had to to look at it thoroughly as I then added in the substrate, after rinsing in RO water, and then the tank clouded up again, not unexpectedly, removing visibility.
The extra rock & substrate, unsurprisingly, raised the water level in the sump, and now things are gurgling. I'm reasonable confident that this will pass once evaporation catches up and levels things out again.
On advice from the LFS, I've now removed the raw prawn from the tank. Apparently this is a good procedure to kick start a tank if the rock isn't great. However, the rock I have is all fully cured, and fully cycled, so a tank cycle is highly unlikely - which explains the lack of readings from the test kits. I also have some cheato ordered for the sump now, so that should help with the nitrate a little and help reduce unwanted growth in the DT.
As I've just added rock & substrate I'm going to leave the tank to settle again for 10 days, which will mean just over two weeks as we're going away for the weekend. Somewhere in that time I'm planning on a 20% water change to lower any nitrate build up, and once all that's done it will be clean up crew time, and maybe a couple of soft frags.
4 days in.
After a couple of days to let the tank settle in, I added a raw prawn to the sump to try and kick start an initial tank cycle. The live rock is pretty mature, so I'm not sure how much of a cycle will occur, but I'm going to give it every chance before I risk putting anything living it there!
I've also done some general clean up. The inside of the tank was a little 'dusty', seemingly from installation, and there was a line of bubbles about 6 inches from the top all around the tank. However, a quick trip to the LFS got me a scraper and sponge on a stick, and I was able to polish the inside and now it's all shiny inside and out. I also levelled out the sand a little after it had just been dumped around during setup.
After consideration, and a bit more research, I've decided to order another 10kg of live rock. And, whilst I'm at it, another 10kg of sand too, as it is quite shallow in places and I want the future blennys and gobys to have something to sift in! I've also ordered by RO unit now, and I'm going to need to pick up some more RO as the auto-topup is getting through it way faster than I'd imagined.
It's all up an running!
After seven and a half hours work everything is in place and set up. When I say work, what I really mean is work for Matt from Southwest Marines, and me mainly watching him and asking questions.
The first thing I'll say after yesterday's experience is that I'm REALLY glad I paid for delivery and installation. The tank is WAY heavier than I'd imagined, even without water, and I would have really struggled. Also, if it took an experienced fish keeper / installation guy 7.5 hours to set everything up, I dread to think how long it would have taken me with my limited knowledge!
Secondly, I have to say, the whole setup looks great. The tank & cabinet look a little bigger than I'd imagined, but I think a lot of that has to do with the space reserved for the tank has been empty for a while so I was used to the space. The room is more than large enough for the tank though, so we just have to get used to the new piece of furniture.
Third. Another thing we now need to get used to is the additional sound. The tank is in our living room, and the floor is laminate, so the sound is a little more noticeable. I have tinnitus, so I notice it less, but my wife certainly notices it. However, most of the time, we have one or two computers running so they help mask the sound. I'll look into ways to reduce the sound, possibly with some kind of muffling in the cabinet, but I think we'll cope. It isn't 'that' loud, and we did expect the low hum.
Fourth. Whilst the setup of live rock is done it looks, to my inexperienced eyes, like there isn't enough of it. I kind of expected it to be higher, and maybe 'fuller', but I was informed that as the tank will have a lot of corals in it, that the tank needs a little more 'space' that normal as soft corals can grow large and fast. It also allows for the fish to have a bit more space to run free, and the water to flow around the tank better. I've accepted the comments, but in the back of my mind I'm still thinking that I may want to buy a little more. The online advice I've seen says 1kg for every 2 US Gallons. I'm not sure if that includes sump or not, but the tank is a little over 120 gallons and I've only 32kg so it does seem very low...
Fifth. Now it's all in place I'm now even more paranoid about my cats jumping in than before. I have a plastic netting screen on top, to stop the fish jumping out, and egg crate on top of that. But my ginger tom isn't the lightest of cats and I'm convinced that if he leapt up onto it there would be one soggy cat, and one wet floor. And then there would be the possibility that he couldn't get out. Cats are resourceful, but I'm paranoid. So, I covered the tank last night, and today I plan to get a metal mesh to go on top again. I want big, if possible, but a mesh that won't bend. I don't want a flat surface, as I don't want to encourage cats to walk on it, I just want to prevent a drowning!
And lastly, it's time to start monitoring ammonia, nitrate and nitrite to look for the first spike as the tank cycles. Test kits are all here waiting, and I need to get into the habit!
I've now had the call that the tank is ready, and delivery is now set for Thursday 26th May. Now it's starting to feel real and the nerves are rising a little. I've booked a half day off from work, prepped the two new electrical extensions (switched, fused, and surge protected), and cleared the space ready. This is a big investment, and a lot of responsibility. I'm pretty sure I'm up to the challenge this time around, but there is always the nagging doubt that it could all end up waste of money.
Not only will the two trained people be installing everything, and setting everything up, I'll also be getting a few hours of one-on-one time for advice, guidance and tips/tricks. That, to me, is great value for money.
I've bit the bullet and purchased some egg crate. This I'll place on top of the plastic gauze screen I'm getting to stop the cats getting in, and the fish getting out. This allows me a secondary shield to stop my crazy explorer cats. Maybe I'm paranoid, but at least I feel a bit better about it now!
I've had a couple of things that have crossed my mind that will need addressing at some point.
The first is temperature. The living room where the tank will be kept, during the summer, gets warm. And is likely to be too warm. Which leaves me looking for a solution where I'm not cooking my corals or fish.
Apparently the best solution to this is a chiller. But at a starting price of £350, that's not a toy I can afford right now. Another solution, if you're around the monitor the temperature, is to use frozen plastic water bottles in the sump. This will lower the temperature, but isn't really controllable. The last option I'm aware of is fans.
I've found a range of clip on fans - 6 computer fans aligned in a row that can be used, and attached to my temperature controller. This apparently will lower the temperature of the water by 2-4 degrees. This sounds promising, but there is a downside. It increases evaporation 10-fold. With the sump and auto-topup this isn't critical, but something that would need watching. I was also warned that the clips aren't great, and there is a risk they can drop into the tank passing electricity into the water. Other people I've heard just setup large desk fans next to the tank when it's hot. Not controllable, but simple. I'll discuss this with the people coming down to install the tank next week to work out the best option.
The second issue is one that will have to happen this year. One of the biggest ongoing costs, and hassle, is the purchase and collection of (salted) RO water. And the risk that the RO water you buy is safe to use. That means I need an RO unit.
Now, I don't have any permanent location where I can leave this setup, so that restricts my options a little in what I can buy. A brief investigation revealed that a semi-portable solution will be around £150, which can attach to an outside tap (which I have). I'll need to learn the best way to mix up the salt, but this is something that I'll need sooner rather than later. I'm also going to need a TDS water meter to go with this, but apparently many RO units give you one free, so that might be a bonus.
One concern I have with the pending marine tank is that of cats.
We have four cats. One is an old, and three-legged, and whilst he may be interested in the new inhabitants, he won't be able to cause a problem. Another is old-ish, but fat, and her weight and laziness will prevent her causing any issues. The other two, however, are the more immediate issue.
The youngest two of our feline family, Loki and Thor, are still very much in their younger years, and are very active. They jump onto everything, try to get into everything, and generally cause chaos. They also like to wrestle each other with no regards to their surroundings.
These two are definitely going to be interested in the new furniture, and its inhabitants, and I'm convinced that they are an accident waiting to happen.
The tank itself is hoodless, meaning that it is open topped with the water exposed to air (and cats). This, from a marine tank point of view, is a good thing. It allows the tank to breath, and cool, and makes maintenance easier (although it does increase evaporation too). It does, however, give free access to anything that jumps from the outside, i.e. our cats.
The tank does have a pelmet, which will raise the top of the tank a little, but our cats are experienced athletes, so the extra few inches won't pose a difficulty for them. There will be a three foot LED light system that will sit over the tank, with arms that rest on the side of the tank, but there will still be a fair gap for a cat to investigate and fall into.
We've reorganised the furniture a little to distance the higher vantage points from the fish tanks vicinity, but unfortunately cannot remove all launch points.
After raising our concerns with our LFS, we were recommended something like this: http://www.simplyaquaria.co.uk/diy-tank-cover.html
This is a plastic mesh that covers the tank (ours has a finer gauze that the one in the video) with a frame that you cut to size. I'm sure this will work great to stop the fish from jumping out (another concern with an open-topped tank), but I have my reservations that it will be able to keep our cats from falling in, especially Thor who is not a light cat. Apparently, according to the LFS, they have had a 6lb cat sleep atop this mesh. That isn't the same as a cat landing on it, but I guess it's a good start.
I am tempted to purchase some plastic egg crate though, from Ebay, to go on top of the mesh. Maybe between the two we won't get up in the morning to a drowned cat, or water all over the laminate flooring!
Time will tell I guess. I'm hoping that the co-habitation will be easier than I'm worrying about. At least during the first months the tank won't actually have any fish in, so any accidents shouldn't be too devastating!
April 25, 2016 09:18
Since we moved, 18 months ago, our lounge has had a gap. This reserved and conspicuous space is in front of a bricked up fireplace that sits halfway down our 24' living room. Underneath the laminate flooring this area has been concreted - the rest of the room is floorboards - ready to support extra weight. Either side of the fireplace now has an extra wall socket wired in, current vacant awaiting new toys to plug in. This space has survived for longer than we'd planned, due to unexpected emergency finances, but today is the day to prepare its demise!
With the current account looking healthy, and a researched shopping list in hand, it was time to visit Southwest Marines. After a (free) coffee and long chat, it was time to part with money. And, despite knowing beforehand roughly how much I was planning to spend, it was still unnerving watching the sub-total mount up.
Here's my initial setup list:
• 4' x 2' x 2' Clearseal Tank, stand, pelmet & sump, in Lancaster Oak, black background, & central weir
• 36kg Live Rock
• 500l salt water
• Sand bed for tank, and miracle mud for sump
• V2 Auto Top Up system
• Aqua Medic temperature controller (twin) with 300w Titanium Heater
• Bubble Magus Curve 5 protein skimmer
• V2 Lumenair 1200 LED lights
• Eheim Compact+ 3000 return pump
• Aquaray Miniled 400 sump light
• Red Sea Refractometer
• Various water testing kits
• Maxspect Gyre XF 130 circulation pump
• Plastic mesh cover
• TMC Reed Filter Nano 100 (phosphate reactor)
• Carbon media & sock
• 2x 6-way, individually switched, surge protected extension leads
And, to ensure everything goes smoothly, I paid extra for delivery, and full setup and installation by their trained staff. This also comes with insurance in case of a cracked tank etc. All in, with vat, I paid a little under £3000. A painful initial outlay, but it should get easier from here on in!
I paid extra for the central weir as, due to the tank's location in front of the fireplace that juts in the room, the tank will be very visible from three sides - which should make aqua-scaping interesting.
All-in-all a great initial setup, although there are still a few things I need. However, I've plenty of time to pick them up - the tank has a 3-4 week lead time, so it won't be setup till mid-May, then a couple of weeks to cycle without lights, then another 4-weeks with lights and clean-up-crew. So no corals till July, and no fish till August at the earliest.
But, the first step is now done. No turning back now!
April 17, 2016 03:23
This is where my fish-keeping journey resumes. First though, a little history.
Around 28 years ago I started keeping tropical fish. Nothing that complicated, and nothing that serious, but I enjoyed them for around seven years. However, life happened, and circumstances aligned so that I couldn't keep them any longer, and there ended chapter one.
Then, around nine years or so ago, I re-entered the hobby. This time though it was a fowlr tank! Admittedly, at that time, I knew very little about marine fish and I naively acquired an existing set-up, via the lfs, from someone that, in hindsight, didn't know much about marine fish either! It was a 36"x18"x18" tank (no sump), complete with cannister filter, a too small hang-on skimmer, not enough live rock, and over-stocked. The tank even had two yellow tangs and a regal. The lfs should never have sold me that tank - it was already a losing battle, and my inexperience, lack of knowledgeable support, and my limited income at the time meant that I was destined for failure. Luckily though I realised this before total failure hit, and I managed to sell everything to an experienced keeper, with larger tanks. There ended chapter two. However, I vowed then that I would return as I loved that marine tank, but I would only come back when I had learned more, was able to afford the hobby, and I would do it right, starting everything from scratch.
The introduction to chapter three started around 18 months ago. At that time my wife and I finally left our rented house and moved into our own home, mortgage free. Our three children had all flown the nest, and it was just us and our four cats. Financially we were stable, and our disposable income was capable of maintaining the hobby. When we decorated the new house we assigned a spot for the tank, and I had the floor reinforced in preparation.
With the goal in sight I started researching and learning, via on-line forums, Facebook groups, and Google. Information is so much easier to find these days, and help is only a few clicks away. Although, as with any subject on-line, there are a lot of different opinions on every aspect of the hobby. Since then though I've learnt a bit, and also learnt that there was way more than I realised that I didn't know! I also learnt that I love corals as much as marine fish, so my target was now a reef tank.
One of the most important things I found was a good lfs. There are two dedicated lfs in Weston but neither inspired confidence when I went in. There are also two Maidenhead Aquatics branches in the local garden centres, expensive, and the staff there really don't know enough to be selling and advising people. And given my previous mistreatment by an lfs (which no longer exists) I was cautious. Widening my search, and getting some on-line recommendations, I found Southwest Marines (http://southwestmarines.co.uk/) just outside of Bristol. It was almost 20 miles away, but as I've found out that 20 miles is well worth the travel. Their website isn't great, but don't let that put you off!
I've had excellent advice, and excellent service. They don't just try and sell things to you and they are not just after a quick buck. Their prices are damn good too! All-in-all I couldn't fault them, and it is now my go-to lfs, and would be my only recommendation to anyone in the area.
So, 18 months and a few unexpected bills later, I am finally in the position to fully re-enter the hobby. It's scary, yet exciting. Initial set-up isn't cheap and fear of failure is always toying with me - it would be an expensive failure! However, with information at my fingertips, the support of a decent lfs, and a well-researched and thought out plan, I have every chance of keeping a thriving colony. And, starting everything from new, I don't have to deal with someone else's problems. The only mistakes will be my own.
April 15, 2016 03:04