Aquarium Setup • FW hobby seen through the eyes of a SW hobbyist

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FW hobby seen through the eyes of a SW hobbyist

Postby magila » Sat Jan 04, 2020 7:53 am

As a person who comes from the reef community converting to african cichlids (now cycling the tank) there are a few things that stand out to me.

In this post I want to share my observations and maybe have a healthy discussion about them. The more i read about african cichlids, the more i feel like i'm back in the SW community 10yrs back. These are a few observations that stand out imo.

SW -> equipement collectors who love new high-tech gadets and automation.
FW -> more traditional people who love what they know that works and prefer more simple setups.

FW -> focus only on the first (nitrifying) part of the nitrogen cycle and than do big water changes to remove nitrates. (NH4->NO2->NO3->water change)
SW 10yrs ago -> same
SW nowadays -> focus both on nitrifying part and the denitrifying part of the cycle where denitrifying bacteria convert nitrate to nitrogen gas which bubbles out of the aquarium (NH4->NO2->NO3->N2)

FW -> canister filters are awesome
SW -> canister filters are disgusting nitrate factories, instead use filter socks which need to be clean every few days or use a fleece roller filter like a clarisea or a theiling rollermat for automation. That way decaying matter is not the water column anymore.

SW -> often uses refugiums where plants (sea weeds/mangroves/etc) remove organics
FW -> I almost don't see the use of plants for filtration, while its is much easier than in saltwater. Connect a rubbermaid with herbs, fruits and veggies next to you aquarium and you can even eat indirectly from your fish poo while removing nitrates.

FW -> big water changes are almost a must
SW 10 yrs ago -> same
SW nowadays -> big water changes are not recommended, stability is more important than actual numbers (although this might be more a coral thing).

SW -> Flow is super important. Good surface agitation is a must for proper oxygen exchange. Also good flow is very important to avoid dead spots where detritus accumulates and rot.
FW -> rarely read anything about flow management.

SW -> (water)test for everything.
FW-> test for only basic things. Are phosphates not a problem in FW?

FW -> alot more manual labour
SW 10 yrs ago -> same
SW nowadays-> alot automation. ATO to top off your water, automatic water change systems for small gradual water changes, aquarium controllers to control temperature,PH, KH, lights, etc. and gives you a warning when something is broken or even turn on/off equipement.



What is the reason for these differences? Is FW just more traditional and don't like high tech setups? Or is the FW hobby just late to catch on? Is it a cost thing?
Or do these things not work in FW?

I don't want to offend anybody nor i'm saying one way is better than the other. I'm just curious about the reasons and I would like to hear your thoughts about them.
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Re: FW hobby seen through the eyes of a SW hobbyist

Postby ken31cay » Sat Jan 04, 2020 9:46 am

magila wrote:FW -> focus only on the first (nitrifying) part of the nitrogen cycle and than do big water changes to remove nitrates. (NH4->NO2->NO3->water change)
SW 10yrs ago -> same
SW nowadays -> focus both on nitrifying part and the denitrifying part of the cycle where denitrifying bacteria convert nitrate to nitrogen gas which bubbles out of the aquarium (NH4->NO2->NO3->N2)


Protein skimmers get rid of organic waste in SW tanks before it reaches the NO3 stage. Unfortunately these don't work in FW since the water does not bubble/foam they way SW does.

FW -> canister filters are awesome
SW -> canister filters are disgusting nitrate factories, instead use filter socks which need to be clean every few days or use a fleece roller filter like a clarisea or a theiling rollermat for automation. That way decaying matter is not the water column anymore.


Personally, I much prefer the sumps in both my tanks. Though I do also have a canister filter running in the last chamber of the both of my sumps, mostly for chemical filtration. Never heard of fleece roller filter or theiling rollermat, I'll need to look that up.

SW -> often uses refugiums where plants (sea weeds/mangroves/etc) remove organics
FW -> I almost don't see the use of plants for filtration, while its is much easier than in saltwater. Connect a rubbermaid with herbs, fruits and veggies next to you aquarium and you can even eat indirectly from your fish poo while removing nitrates.


IMO heavily planted tanks are an art all its own. But the plants' needs are diametrically opposed to the fishes' needs. The persons I've seen doing this eventually get tired of the balancing act.

FW -> big water changes are almost a must
SW 10 yrs ago -> same
SW nowadays -> big water changes are not recommended, stability is more important than actual numbers (although this might be more a coral thing).


In my limited experience 5%-10% water changes every two weeks are recommended for SW tanks. So small water changes.


SW -> Flow is super important. Good surface agitation is a must for proper oxygen exchange. Also good flow is very important to avoid dead spots where detritus accumulates and rot.
FW -> rarely read anything about flow management.


This is just as critical for FW tanks.

SW -> (water)test for everything.
FW-> test for only basic things. Are phosphates not a problem in FW?


That is correct, phosphates are not a problem in FW like they are in SW. Most FW water supplies don't contain phosphates and the fish don't secrete it the way marine animals do. Orthophosphate is added to my water supply but the amount is negligible.

FW -> alot more manual labour
SW 10 yrs ago -> same
SW nowadays-> alot automation. ATO to top off your water, automatic water change systems for small gradual water changes, aquarium controllers to control temperature,PH, KH, lights, etc. and gives you a warning when something is broken or even turn on/off equipement.


Right now I actually enjoy doing the weekly tank maintenance as part of the hobby. But there are some weeks where the thought does cross my mind that an automated system would be nice. I've searched in the past for a turnkey auto water changer, or pH/KH controller, but didn't find anything for home setups. If you can suggest something that would be much appreciated.
450gal Frontosa (blue Zaire Moba) & haps
180gal Labeotropheus Trewavasae Chilumba & Kenyi
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Re: FW hobby seen through the eyes of a SW hobbyist

Postby DJRansome » Sat Jan 04, 2020 11:47 am

magila wrote:SW -> equipement collectors who love new high-tech gadets and automation.
FW -> more traditional people who love what they know that works and prefer more simple setups.
Some FW love gadgets and automation for the sake of it and some use them only if they are better than the simple solution.
magila wrote:FW -> focus only on the first (nitrifying) part of the nitrogen cycle and than do big water changes to remove nitrates. (NH4->NO2->NO3->water change)
SW 10yrs ago -> same
SW nowadays -> focus both on nitrifying part and the denitrifying part of the cycle where denitrifying bacteria convert nitrate to nitrogen gas which bubbles out of the aquarium (NH4->NO2->NO3->N2)
Marine aquarium keepers may avoid performing regular water changes to lower the nitrate as they would then need to add more salt into the aquarium, and so they only top off the evaporated water with freshwater (as salt does not evaporate). This does not remove the nitrate, but allows the nitrate to rise. 

The bacteria that remove nitrates avoid oxygen-rich environments. Therefore, well-oxygenated freshwater filters, will not grow the kinds of bacteria that eat nitrates.
magila wrote:FW -> canister filters are awesome
SW -> canister filters are disgusting nitrate factories, instead use filter socks which need to be clean every few days or use a fleece roller filter like a clarisea or a theiling rollermat for automation. That way decaying matter is not the water column anymore.
The decaying matter should be in the canister, not in the water column.
magila wrote:SW -> often uses refugiums where plants (sea weeds/mangroves/etc) remove organics
FW -> I almost don't see the use of plants for filtration, while its is much easier than in saltwater. Connect a rubbermaid with herbs, fruits and veggies next to you aquarium and you can even eat indirectly from your fish poo while removing nitrates.
Water changes are easier than plant maintenance. Plus you remove toxins that are not tested for...not just nitrates.
magila wrote:FW -> big water changes are almost a must
SW 10 yrs ago -> same
SW nowadays -> big water changes are not recommended, stability is more important than actual numbers (although this might be more a coral thing).
If fish can live in your tap water, big changes do not alter numbers and you are 100% stable.
magila wrote:SW -> Flow is super important. Good surface agitation is a must for proper oxygen exchange. Also good flow is very important to avoid dead spots where detritus accumulates and rot.
FW -> rarely read anything about flow management.
With enough filtration (GPH), you have flow, oxygenation and no dead spots. All debris is swept into the canisters. Sumps can be noisy.
magila wrote:SW -> (water)test for everything.
FW-> test for only basic things. Are phosphates not a problem in FW?
What ken31cay said
magila wrote:FW -> alot more manual labour
SW 10 yrs ago -> same
SW nowadays-> alot automation. ATO to top off your water, automatic water change systems for small gradual water changes, aquarium controllers to control temperature,PH, KH, lights, etc. and gives you a warning when something is broken or even turn on/off equipement.
What manual labor? 2 hours weekly for water changes. Consider it quality time spent communing with your fish. At least we don't have to mix salt.

Do not top off water for FW, you should always remove water when you add water. Water change systems are available but chlorine is a problem for most people with municipal water. We use timers for lights, but the rest never changes so why have gadgets to monitor?
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Re: FW hobby seen through the eyes of a SW hobbyist

Postby ken31cay » Sat Jan 04, 2020 1:38 pm

DJRansome wrote:Water changes are easier than plant maintenance. Plus you remove toxins that are not tested for...not just nitrates.

This is an ongoing discussion in the Discus forums that new Discus keepers take some time to grasp. There are other dissolved organics ("docs") that build up in the water that in effect act as toxins or are detrimental to fish health and growth. Testing nitrate levels are a gauge for water quality even though these other 'docs' are not tested for.

DJRansome wrote:What manual labor? 2 hours weekly for water changes. Consider it quality time spent communing with your fish. At least we don't have to mix salt.

I actually enjoy the time I spend with my tanks each week. For me it's part of the hobby.
450gal Frontosa (blue Zaire Moba) & haps
180gal Labeotropheus Trewavasae Chilumba & Kenyi
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Re: FW hobby seen through the eyes of a SW hobbyist

Postby magila » Sun Jan 05, 2020 5:37 pm

ken31cay wrote:Protein skimmers get rid of organic waste in SW tanks before it reaches the NO3 stage. Unfortunately these don't work in FW since the water does not bubble/foam they way SW does.


Unfortuntely protein skimmers don't get all the organics, so nitrate often is still a problem, especially in overstocked tanks. That's why many people use carbon dosing to feed and increase the denitrifying bacteria. Live rock and anaerobic filter media contributes to places where these Anaerobic bacteria can live. Deep sand bed wil also work.

IMO heavily planted tanks are an art all its own. But the plants' needs are diametrically opposed to the fishes' needs. The persons I've seen doing this eventually get tired of the balancing act.


It doesn't necessarily need to be a planted tank, just a tub with duckweed would do wonders or other things like a algae scrubber or even non aquatic plant with their roots in the water. Kinda like aquaponics systems.

Right now I actually enjoy doing the weekly tank maintenance as part of the hobby. But there are some weeks where the thought does cross my mind that an automated system would be nice. I've searched in the past for a turnkey auto water changer, or pH/KH controller, but didn't find anything for home setups. If you can suggest something that would be much appreciated.


There are several systems. For automatic water changes there is AutoAqua Smart AWC for example. I have no experience with them though, since i haven't done a water change in 8 years. :roll: For automation and control there are also several systems. From simple PH controllers with a dosing pump attached till modular control systems like a Neptune Apex or GHL systems.
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Re: FW hobby seen through the eyes of a SW hobbyist

Postby magila » Sun Jan 05, 2020 6:01 pm

DJRansome wrote:Marine aquarium keepers may avoid performing regular water changes to lower the nitrate as they would then need to add more salt into the aquarium, and so they only top off the evaporated water with freshwater (as salt does not evaporate). This does not remove the nitrate, but allows the nitrate to rise. 
The bacteria that remove nitrates avoid oxygen-rich environments. Therefore, well-oxygenated freshwater filters, will not grow the kinds of bacteria that eat nitrates.


True, those bacteria live in anaerobic area's, but those would be easily made with a very slow flow filter or a deep sand bed or things like that. I'm wondering why it is not done.

.The decaying matter should be in the canister, not in the water column.


If it is in your canister it is in your water column... Test the water from your filter and from your tank and you will see they are the same.

Water changes are easier than plant maintenance. Plus you remove toxins that are not tested for...not just nitrates.


I'm not talking about a planted tank. Just a rubbermaid full with duckweed or Elodea would be enough. Grabbing a handfull of duckweed or elodea and throw it away doesn't take much effort. Those plant also remove other byproducts as well.

If fish can live in your tap water, big changes do not alter numbers and you are 100% stable.

Thats assuming your tap water is always the same. If you have a stable source like that it is nice. But that's not everywhere the case.
With big waterchanges straight out of the tap on a non stable source it is difficult to avoid PH/temp swings and all other contaminates in there.

With enough filtration (GPH), you have flow, oxygenation and no dead spots. All debris is swept into the canisters. Sumps can be noisy.


I find it difficult to eliminate dead spots with only a canister filter, but maybe i'm just doing something wrong :oops:
Also My canister is alot more noisy than my sump. A sump with a bean animal overflow or a herby overflow should be dead silent when installed correctly.
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Re: FW hobby seen through the eyes of a SW hobbyist

Postby magila » Sun Jan 05, 2020 6:06 pm

ken31cay wrote:
DJRansome wrote:Water changes are easier than plant maintenance. Plus you remove toxins that are not tested for...not just nitrates.

This is an ongoing discussion in the Discus forums that new Discus keepers take some time to grasp. There are other dissolved organics ("docs") that build up in the water that in effect act as toxins or are detrimental to fish health and growth. Testing nitrate levels are a gauge for water quality even though these other 'docs' are not tested for.


Do FW keepers ever test for dissolved organics? Some higher end system user in SW do doc tests to check dissolved organics (tests like triton N-doc). Never done it myself though.
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Re: FW hobby seen through the eyes of a SW hobbyist

Postby DJRansome » Sun Jan 05, 2020 6:18 pm

Some do...probably ex-SW guys. :thumb:

If I was having difficulties, I'm sure I would add some things, but I'm not so I don't.

The fast canister flow is what keeps the strong flow you seek. Cichlids dig to the glass in substrate, so it would be hard to keep any areas anaerobic.

Besides, the anaerobic bacteria or plants handle nitrate...what about the other toxins we don't test for?

We were lucky enough to have a Member for a while who was a PhD in water chemistry and she confirmed that nitrate is an indicator but not the only toxin that is present.
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