I tested my tap water again today, and found there were no phosphates, which is excellent! This leads me to believe the algae bloom I have had trouble with in the tank, was due to the build up of organic material in the fluorite bed. I am very happy to have removed that organic sink, replaced with a sand bed. With regular water changes and the addition of SeaChem PhosGuard, I think we can have pretty high quality water for the fish in the future. By the end of the week, the tank water’s phosphate level should have dropped to near undetectable levels.
It seems I always end up changing my mind. The West African tank idea, is no more! I’ve decided to switch over to a new theme, and further explore cichlids, a fish of which I have limited experience. I’ve kept, bred, and raised successfully, a batch of angelfish and Convict Cichlids before, and Angelfish continue to be one of my favorite fish to keep, but I haven’t really had much exposure beyond that. I’ve kept Oscars before, and German Rams, but with limited success. (Though I was able to raise the oscars to full size, and they lived their normal expected lifespan of about 13 years.) I had a small dabbling with Malawi and some Tanganyikan cichlids as well, but that was an attempt I would not consider successful. And finally, with water being a rarer commodity around here, I decided to not use as much RO water as possible. This means settling for our extremely hard water (which also has phosphates!)
This led me to Central America, where the water is hard and clear, and there are some of the most beautifully colored cichlids in the world. I’ve never really kept any Central American cichlids, except for the Convict Cichlid. They were an interesting experience, but one I would not want to redo. I also thought about housing larger fish, something more dramatic and bold vs the schools of tiny fish I had been chasing after for many years. (And which I was never really successful at either.) And the final decision breaker, was finding a biotope that met these qualifications, but also had readily available stock of fish at the big box pet stores. Increasingly, the price of this hobby is increasing, and the number of quality LFS’s is decreasing. One of my favorite LFS’s closed down a few years ago, and I still haven’t quite found a decent replacement. This leaves me PetCo and PetSmart, less than ideal, but it could be worse. With limited tank space and number of tanks, I also wanted to try and avoid mail ordering online as well. (Plus, ordering from Live Aquaria now has sales tax on top of shipping!)
All of this led me to the Firemouth cichlid. They are an old stalwart in the hobby, are decently sized, but do not require an enormous tank, and are gentle enough to house other fish with them. The Central American biotope, or theme, is one I have never done before, and it has a distinct look and feel to it. I visited the local PetSmart yesterday and was able to see they stocked both the Firemouth cichlid, but also Pictus catfish, Buenos Aires tetras, and the Green Swordtail. While some of these fish are not technically found in Honduras, I think they fit the theme of the tank very well.
Set in my decision to move forward, I ended up redoing the entire aquascape of my tank, and giving it a well deserved make over. I removed all the old substrate (where I mixed sand and Fluorite together – bad idea), cleaned out everything, removed many of my old plants, and placed in some new rocks. Below is the end result.
The driftwood on the right, I may remove, or just remove the Anubias nana. I may also remove the Crypts and put in its place, some Vals. The existing fish, except for the upside down catfish, will move to another tank. It is a work in progress, but the inspiration for a new tank is finally here, and I am ready to delve deeper into the world of cichlids.
I was suddenly inspired recently to give some serious love to my current 40 gallon tank. I am in the process of converting it over to a West African river biotope. But before that can happen, I have to get the hair algae under control. With a little bit of patience and elbow grease, I got to work this past Sunday, removing all the plants and hardscape, scrubbing everything clean, tossing handfuls of crypts, bolbitis, and java fern. I performed a 60% water change, cleaned out the filter, and vacuumed the substrate. I’d say the effort was successful for now. For reference, I have to run the RODI unit for about 3-4 hours to get enough water to perform this much of water change. With a bit more woodwork, I think I can begin stocking the biotope – with the understanding, there will be some visitors temporarily.
Current stock levels:
3 Black Skirt Tetras
2 Congo Tetras (female)
Today I decided to get started on building a tank stand for the 20 Gallon Long Southeast Asian tank. I’ve never built a stand before, nor have I ever used a circular saw. After a visit to Home Depot, I got some basic supplies to get started, including a sawhorse, a clamp, carpenter’s triangle, and a set of screws. I already had a tape measure, drill, and a small handheld circular saw.
With the supplies gathered, my wife helped me make the first cut. We are using 2×4’s, which are overkill, but there is a method to the madness. To complete the goal of converting the 40 gallon breeder into a display tank, we need to replace the ugly iron stand. The techniques and basic frame design here will be used on the 40 gallon later on, so this is more of a test to ensure everything goes together properly. This was my wife’s first time using a circular saw as well, so a learning experience for both of us! The cuts were very quick and without any issues. We used the carpenter’s triangle clamped down to help guide the saw. I will definitely need a couple more clamps to help hold down the wood to the sawhorse in the near future.
After everything was cut, we drilled and screwed together the pieces, to form the bottom frame of the stand. The top will be an exact duplicate of this as well. The stand is designed to hide the bottom black frame when completed, so the entire frame will be covered in 1/4″ plywood, and moldings will be added to the top and bottom. There will be a shelf, and a door, but we are still deciding on how that door will work (or if we will have two smaller doors instead of one huge one).
Here is the tank on the stand frame. We will need to get some legs to build on top of this, which will be over the next couple days. Overall, this seems quite easy so far. I’m not sure why I waited so long to try and build my own stand!
To test if the RODI unit is working, I purchased a TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meter. It is a simple device, just hold the probes in the water and wait a second. Results are fast, and appear to be very accurate. I did a couple experiments to get a better understanding of TDS in different environments.
In my existing 40 gallon breeder, the TDS reading was 385. Not really surprising. In my house water, which is filtered, the reading was 250. Also not terribly surprising, considering our city water is liquid concrete. The reading in some water I had made from the RODI unit was 7.
Overall, I can see how useful the TDS meter will be moving forward. It is just another tool to help us keep track of what is going on in our tanks.
Just completed a 5 gallon water change on the 40 gallon. The RO unit is working great, and the water is testing where I expect. I will get a TDS meter on Monday, and I can further validate the RODI unit’s effectiveness. I will continue these small water changes over the next couple weeks to see if there is a difference in the algae growth. And hopefully, with that under control, I will begin to move over the existing plants and start transforming the tank to the West African biotope.
I hooked up all the water lines and got the RODI unit semi-installed. I ran through about 2 gallons of water, just clearing the membranes. I will now need to get a couple large containers to hold the filtered and waste water. Throughout the week, I am going to continue to flush a couple more gallons through the system before testing and using it in my tanks.