Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Materials Use in Planted Tanks

The Tank: 

   A tank between 10 and 30 gallons is the best size for beginners. Smaller tanks can be managed, but require more attention to detail. Larger tanks often take up more space than can be spared and are more expensive. Certainly, if you have a tank that is outside this range, don't hesitate to use it, but be aware that these instructions will have to be modified. 
   If possible, use a tank that is longer than it is tall. Tall, narrow tanks and those of unusual shapes are difficult to light adequately, and are also hard to work in. Some of the best tanks are: 
   Standard 10 gallon, standard 15 gallon, 20 gallon "long", 20 gallon "high", 29 gallon "high", 30 gallon "long". 
   All of these tanks can be outfitted with commonly available aquarium equipment.

Other equipment and supplies:

- Enough good quality fluorescent lighting to reach at least 2 watts per gallon. An exception to this rule is the 10 gallon tank. This tank is small enough and shallow enough that you can usually get adequate growth of shade tolerant plants using a single 15 watt bulb as long as the bulb is less than 1 year old, and of good quality. Except for the 29 gallon "high" tank, all of the other tanks mentioned can be adequately lit with two bulbs of the largest size that will fit on the tank. i.e., two 24" 20 watt bulbs over the 20 gallon tanks, and two 36" 30 watt bulbs over the 30 gallon tank. For the 29 gallon size, you will need three 24" 20W bulbs for adequate light. Aquarium strip light fixtures come as either double or single bulb fixtures. You can use any combination of single or double bulb fixtures that will meet your needs. 
   Some good brands of bulbs are: 
More expensive: VitaLite Pennplax Ultra-Trilux Triton 
Less Expensive: GE Chroma 50 Phillips Ultralume 5000 Phillips Daylight 
- Glass canopy 
- Heater: 150W heaters are probably adequate for the 10-20 gallon tanks, 200W heaters will be adequate for the larger tanks. Buy a good quality submersible heater. Don't skimp here... a tank is left unattended too often to risk your plants and animals to a faulty thermostat! 
- Thermometer: Any aquarium thermometer will do, but I prefer the stick-on-the-glass liquid crystal type for several reasons. They are unobtrusive, but easy to read, they are inexpensive, and most are marked with both Fahrenheit and Celsius scales which makes them another useful learning tool. 
- Filter: Do not use an under gravel filter or other air driven filter in a planted tank. It will drive off needed CO2. Use either an internal or external power filter. There are many good ones on the market. My preference is for those that have rinsable, reusable filtration media rather than those with disposable "cartridges". They are less expensive to maintain, and more environmentally friendly. Any good pet shop can tell you which size filter to get for your particular tank, but it is better to slightly oversize the filter rather than skimping. A couple of reliable brands of outside power filters are Marineland and Hagen. Duetto internal power filters are excellent in a number of applications. 
- CO2 Generator: See specific directions for making a yeast reactor. 
- Electrical equipment: Use a heavy duty power strip to provide power for your aquarium equipment. If you cannot locate the tank near an outlet, use a heavy duty extension cord. You will also need a light timer (like the ones used when people go on vacations) to turn the tank lights on and off each day. 
- Support: Remember that an aquarium is heavy! Filled, it will weigh close to 10 pounds per gallon. 10 gallon tanks can be placed on a sturdy table. Larger tanks really need a properly designed aquarium stand. 
- Gravel: Use fine non-coated natural color aquarium gravel. It should be between 1-3 mm. in size, and not contain calcium carbonate bearing rock. You can test this by placing a drop or two of muriatic acid (available at the hardware store) on a sample of gravel. If it foams, don't use it. 
You will need about a 25 pound bag for a 10 gallon to 20 "high" tank, you'll probably need a 50 pound bag for the larger tanks. 
- Laterite: This is an iron rich tropical clay that will serve as the nutrient base for your plants. Your local pet store will either carry it, or can order for you. 
- Another very good alternative for the substrate of a planted tank is Seachem Flourite. This product is attractive, easy to use and grows plants very well. You do not need to add laterite or other materials to a Flourite substrate; it can be used as-is.