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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Opinions welcome! You've all been doing this longer than I have and probably made mistakes or have seen what works/doesn't.

Backstory:
I found the forum after having trouble with my first African cichlid tank, which it seems I made many beginner mistakes on. Many helpful people set me straight and I feel like I'm close to being on track for fixing those issues and learning. I'm a bit wordy, but if you're curious, you can read about it here: http://www.cichlid-forum.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=228229

Where I am now:
I purchased a brand new 60 gallon tank and I'm planning out the individual pieces that will make up the new system, which will be replacing the old system, using parts as I can to avoid spending money needlessly.

What I have so far:
  • -A 60 gallon tank with its first coat of flat black latex paint on the back (3-4+ more coats to go!).
    -Marineland Magnum 350 canister filter from the old tank, still running, with good biomass built up in it.
    -Aquaclear 50 powerhead in good condition to help circulate/polish the water.
    -Not enough time or money, but I can worry about that!

My current decisions to be made, and where I am about those

Substrate:
My existing tank uses crushed coral, which doesn't look bad, but it doesn't have that "pop" that many of the tanks I've seen on the forums here that use sand have. I used it because it came with my setup, and it would help with buffering the pH. My tap water is a big low on the pH scale, high six to low 7.
I read a bit about the Eco-Complete Cichlid substrates, sand, gravel and otherwise and feel like this is the direction I want to go. The decision still to be made is if I go for the fine salt/pepper sand, or the slightly courser white sand they sell. I think this decision will end up being driven by what I do for rocks for piles/hiding places.

Decoration:
The first coat of black paint is on the back of the tank and it looks good. Nice and smooth, but it needs a couple more coats to keep the light from leaking through. As I mentioned previously, the substrate will likely be either a white or grey(salt/pepper) mix. Given this, I'm thinking I'd like to go with either a red or blue/grey stone for my rock piles/caves. I think depending on how dark of a color the stones are, I might be better off with a lighter substrate, and the lighter the stones, the salt/pepper sand. I'll be traveling around, visiting landscaping centers and LFS this weekend looking for rocks. I'd love to find a source for nice red lava rock, or maybe blue-green limestone. I would go with the salt/pepper substrate with Texas holey rock, but that's a bit rich for my blood.
From what I've seen, stones that are not rounded, like river stones, smoothed over the years, seem to make much better nooks and crannies for the fish to hide in when they're stacked 'naturally.'
I've also been interested in the pre-formed "cichlid stones" they sell as a complement to real stones. I would want to find real rocks that look similar, or at least complement the look of those if I went with them. The more I look at them in other tanks, the less appealing they are to me aesthetically, but I understand they're pretty good functionally for the fish.
I was really psyched about trying a 3d background made of foam and drylok, but I guess I talked myself out of it for the time being. I'll be moving in a number of months and might re-evaluate the situation then as an opportunity to go for it. My biggest concern is the permanency of such a setup, followed closely by my artistic ability. I don't think it's difficult to make a good looking background. What I'm worried about is my ability to make it match, or complement the natural rocks I use to make piles/caves in the aquarium. I might try a couple free-standing features or caves as trial runs, outside the aquarium and see how they go to get the hang of working with those materials.

Lighting:
My current tank looked pretty good with the T8 18,000K bulb I picked up for it. Maybe a little -too- blue, as some of my fish with blue in them did not look as impressive once I put that in. The tank came with a 4,200K "sun-glo" bulb which gave the tank a dirty looking, dingy yellow tone that I couldn't stand. I'm tempted to go pick up a 6,400K bulb just to see what it looks like in the current setup to help figure out what I want for the new one.
I'm pretty sure I've decided at least on the source for the fixture, and will be going with Catalina Aquarium for a dual blub, T5 H.O. fixture. Spoke with them on the phone, very helpful, very friendly. 5 year warranty on the ballast (wow!) and a reasonable price overall. I have not read anything negative about their products yet, as opposed to other T5 fixtures in the same price range with many comments about dead ballasts or bulbs that die before their time.

I looked into LED, and while I'm definitely a techy person and normally go for the latest and greatest thing, I'm unsure if I like the look. The Marineland 36" double brights come close, but I don't like the dark corners of the aquarium. Maybe if they had a 48" bar that didn't break the bank. I'm not sure I like the 'spotlight' effect either. I definitely see the TCO when you take into account bulbs and power over the years which makes LED more reasonable, but I think I'm going to stick with T5s this time around. LEDs themselves are just not that expensive!

The guy at Catalina said that I might want to consider a 10,000K bulb along with a 460nm blub to get the crisp, clean, white light I want. I wonder if this will be too blue for me. Anyone running this setup with a light colored substrate that you can show me a picture of your tank?
How bad are 6,400K bulbs are far as making white in the tank look yellowed? Anyone who can point me to their tank, again with light colored substrate and this bulb? Maybe a 10,000K bulb and a 6,400K blub?

Plants:
My current setup has a Java fern floating around the bottom of it as part of an experiment to help lower my high nitrates (results pending...). I'm not against plants, but as I mentioned above, I want a clean look to the tank, and worry about the light requirements of the plants vs light requirements of what I want to see. I'm leaning away from a planted tank, but then the oddest thing happened: My fish didn't eat the fern. They didn't eat it, and they're completely fascinated by it. They almost go so far as to fight over who gets to rest under it at night, completely ignoring the fake plant of the same design only inches away. It's been days now and they're still as curious as when I figure put it in about it.

Heating:
I have a 150W heater with the current setup, and although this seems to be on the low end for a 60 gallon tank, many 150W heaters claim they're good for up to that size (30-60gallon listed). I've also read quite a bit about having a heater that is sufficient for the job, but not much more than that, for risking cooking your fish if it malfunctions. I don't foresee much need for a powerful heater, at least through the summer, as the weather here is warming up. Thoughts?

Filtration:
As I mentioned above, I have a Marineland Magnum 350 and a Aquaclear 50 powerhead, both in good shape and running happily on my existing setup. They'll be moving over to the larger tank, biomass and all when I do the switch. I think I'm still overkill for the size of tank I have, so all should be good here.

Stand:
I was going to go the cheap route and pick up one of those bolt-together metal stands, but I think I'll end up buying a single piece, welded metal stand instead. Even if the other would do the job, I'd sleep better at night not worrying about bolts loosening. My current home doesn't really lend well to a large boxy wooden cabinet stand, else I would probably go that route. I know they're the same size, but the look of those seems to have more presence if you get what I mean.

The move:
In theory, I'll have a decent biomass going in the Magnum350. The eco-complete seems to have some sort of beneficial bacteria in it. My current plan is to swap the filters, water and fish over to the new tank, and treat it as a 50% water change and hope for the best. I don't have many fish left, but still hoping things won't go south.
 

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I'll throw in my thoughts on some items. The color is not my feild but I might caution about too much concern about pictures. So much depends on the camera and often they look different in person. I find 6500 works for me as a mid range of light. Don't overestimate what size spaces the fish will like in the rocks. Many fish will squeeze into spaces where they don't look like they fit. With that in mind, I find a variety of sizes and shapes of rock and stacking carelessly gets me more natural looking and usable spaces for the fish. I avoid sharp edges. Think pile rather than stacking. Don't leave the openings open to the front. The fish want to hide and that means get away from you! They will come out and be more at ease if they know they can truly hide when they want. You may notice they stay near cover so they can duck quickly if needed. The more cover, the more they feel they can come out. Maybe the reverse of what we think to do for seeing our fish.
For heating in a heated room 150 sounds like enough but not toomuch. If it fails and stays on, you should have some time to notice. Get in the habit of checking temps often. While planning, do you fel good about your knowledge of the nitrogen cycle and water? I find some good info here:
http://www.freshwater-aquarium-fish.com/water_chemistry.htm

It just says it in a way that makes sense to me. Good luck on the plan and don't wait too long. Making a few mistakes is part of the learning curve. Like riding a bike, one can only learn so much by reading about it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
PfunMo, thanks for the information! I might have to go down to the LFS and see if they can show me what the different bulbs look like in person before making my decision.

I didn't know fish like smaller tighter spaces. It's not something that really comes up in text here (that I've seen), so maybe it's one of those common knowledge things that has become too common? I'll keep this in mind when looking for rocks and stacking them. Same thing for having places they can escape me. That honestly never occurred to me. I've been so worried with these temperamental territorial fish escaping each other that it didn't come up in my thought process.

I guess 'sharp' isn't the best word I would use to describe what I'm thinking of, as what I had in mine isn't sharp at all, just more boxy and full of random, natural angles rather than round smooth, flat-spherical stone if that makes more sense?

I've been pretty good about glancing at the thermometer when I pass it. So long as I see the red line up in the green bracket, I move on.

I have a basic understanding of the nitrogen cycle, though your link supplemented that quite a bit with the other chemicals that play a part in it. Thanks for that!

I won't be waiting much longer than needed. I'm excited to get this larger tank up and running, possibly this weekend or early next week. I just need the time to go out and purchase the stones and substrate.
 

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Different fish will like different holes to hide. Some depends on size of course. An oscar will look for different things than mbuna. i jus go with a variety and use lots of mutiple shaped rocks. Round river rock can pack down too tightly and flat rocks can lay together with no space between. I go for what I call a "jumble". Kind of like junk rocks that fell off the back of a truck in a pile. Randomness is hard for the human mind to achieve sometimes. We are trained to arrange things but nature is better at disorder than order.
 

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almost seems like your overthinking this a bit. whatever fish you would ideally keep to a breeding age.. just give them what they would need. peacocks like open space and rockery. mbuna love all things rocks etc. from my experience provide the fish with what they best prefer and youll be set on entertainment. gl in ur fix-it scheme
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Haha. I over think everything I do. It's a fault I have. Planning for me is half the fun.

So everything but the lights are here. I'll probably set this up Sunday. Can't wait.

I backed off the sand idea and I'm going back to crushed coral. I just didn't like the non-pristine look with algae on sand, but wanted a lighter colored substrate.

I have 20lbs of course crushed coral with my current setup. I'm adding to that 20lbs of fine crushed coral, and 20lbs of aragonite sand. Mixed up a bit tonight and love the look. Very natural, and less fuss with it getting into the filters or sucked up by the vac.

Tomorrow morning is landscaping supply visits, trying to find some interesting looking rocks!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·


So here we are! All my planning came down to this. The plant in the left left is real, and is the leftover from my experiment to (successfully) lower nitrates in the old tank naturally without chemicals. The one in the back right is fake, but I wanted to see how much water circulation I had on that far side, considering my powerhead is on the far left.

As I stated elsewhere, I don't think I could have made a more natural rock pile(s). Despite washing the heck out of the coral and sand before adding them, as soon as I added the water (onto the base rocks), I got a cloudy tank of whiteness and couldn't see a thing. I went at it, one rock at a time and placed them by feel on the base rocks, repositioning them until they felt stable, as if they 'fit' and moved on, from largest to smallest. I didn't see the results of my work until hours later when the dust settled. I'm very pleased with the results. I didn't try to make a single cave or other feature, and yet, there are caves and tunnels going all through those piles of rock that the fish have found. It was an interesting method that I may have to try and recreate next time I arrange the tank. Maybe blindfolded? :lol:

New light coming in a week or so from Catalina, for now I only have that small 15" T8 fixture with a 4200K "sun glo" bulb, but it was enough for a photo op, albiet with slow shutter speed.

The filter return in the center back might look like an eyesore to some, but I'm actually thinking to breaks up the plain background just enough to make the tank not look 'empty.'

Next stop.... stocking the tank in a week or so.
 

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Looks great! All these tanks with painted back glass really make me rethink the ugly (shiney) black background I have now.

Did you just put a couple coats of latex paint on over a day or two and thats it?
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
cdavitt said:
Did you just put a couple coats of latex paint on over a day or two and thats it?
Pretty much. I took advice I read from people here and used a foam roller, one of those 6" ones, not the huge "paint your house" size.
Went to the hardware store and asked for flat black, water based, latex paint (though I think all latex paint is water based), went with the cheap brand, which happened to be Glidden, which I always thought wasn't bad. Got home, taped off the plastic trim of the tank and the sides of the tank with masking tape. I found the more expensive blue stuff wouldn't stick as well to the glass, so ended up using the normal old beige masking tape.
I added one coat per night, but you can probably get away with more per day--I just didn't have the time.
I noticed my roller wouldn't let me get the top and bottom of the back where the plastic frame is, so went back over that with a brush, dabbing paint on rather than brushing. I did two coats like that, then once I felt I had a strong base, I went back and did a coat with a brush (since I couldn't seem to get a very thick coat with the roller) at night, holding a flashlight under the glass and looking for the thin spots. Added one more coat with the roller a day later, peeled off the tape and called it done.

Two tips I'll give: Until that third coat with the brush was on, it was -very- fragile. Any little brush or scratch would take it off. I'm still overly careful about it. The other tip is, go slow with the roller. If you see the roller "dragging" rather than rolling, you're probably going too fast, and putting on too thin a coat in doing such.

I'm very wordy when I type... but don't get me wrong, it was simple, and looks amazing. I wouldn't hesitate to do it again! The best part is, if I get tired of it, I can just scrape it off and do something else (like a 3d background!)
 
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