Planted Tank on a Budget
I figured since I always looked for a thread like this I would try to put together a few tips for people considering a planted tank, but being afraid of the costs decide against it...
For starters there are 4 main parts to a well planted tank - substrate, lighting, nutrients, and CO2, all of these can get very expensive if you aren't careful. But I will go through my experience and what I used with prices
1. For substrate, most types will work, if you want you can go with one of the specialty substrates such as Flourite or Eco Complete, I found that if you have a larger aquarium this can be very pricey
My solution: It is called Turface, it is the fine clay they use to top baseball diamonds. I used the pro-league (note: this did leach color for awhile and needs to be rinsed A LOT) but I do know a guy that lives near me and uses Turface MVP without rinsing and it works just as well. Turface is a baked clay with a high CEC, meaning it will absorb and hold ferts well. With the Turface I also use Seachem Flourish Tabs.
2. Lighting - I really considered two options here. This is the biggest investment I made towards my planted tank other than the tank itself. You can either go t-5 bulb route, or cfl bulbs. It really depends on what size tank and the look you want. The odyssea lights seem to be the best bang for the buck. They aren't top of the line, but they work.
I personally didn't want a raised light, so I decided to try a DIY method. It ended up costing me about $40. But will save even more when I go to replace the bulbs rather than buying the pricey t5 bulbs every 6 months.
I followed this thread. And it works great, I use 4 5500k bulbs and 4 7000k bulbs (or whatever you can find close to 6700k at walmart or home depot)
3. Ferts - I use a dry macro /micro mix from aquariumfertilizer.com (http://www.aquariumfertilizer.com/in...ditU=1&Regit=2). 1 pound shipped comes to around $20. The mix is 1 tablespoon powder to 8 tablespoons water, I use 5 ml per day so this size mixture will last 22 days. The 1 pound of this powder probably is close to 3-4 cups (possibly more, just aiming low). Just some quick math 1 cup = 16 tablespoons, 1 tablespoon lasts 3 weeks, 1 cup lasts 48 weeks!
The root tabs usually cost around $12 and last 4 months per planting (a box can do my tank at least twice, depending on what plants)
4. CO2 - some people will use a DIY set up. Personally i find mixing the yeast, sugar and water all the time would get annoying and poses a small risk if you aren't careful. Another option is Seachem Flourish Excel, but long term this will get expensive (1 gallon usually around $60). After some research I decided to try metricide 14, it is a medical disinfectant that is a stronger version of excel (rather than 1.4% it is a 2.6% solution). One warning with the metricide 14, it comes with a small activator bottle - throw this away right away, it is what makes it a poison. Also do not try the metricide 28, I have seen bad results from this.
I was able to pick up a gallon of metricide 14 on ebay for $20 shipping. I dose 5 ml per day in my 55 gallon (1ml / 10g). Once a week I do a 40-50% pwc and after the water change I do a 20ml dose of the metricide. Since starting this I can see growth everyday. This uses a total of 50ml per week for my 55g. So the math 1 gallon = 3785 ml, @ 50ml / wk this will last 75 weeks!
So a quick wrap up of my costs:
Substrate: 50lb bag of Turface = $21 (was enough for my 55 gallon, and two 10 gallon tanks)
Lights: A t5 set up should run $40-$70 depending on tank size (bulbs probably $30 every 6 months), my DIY ran me $40 (bulbs >$20 every 6 months)
Ferts: A two year supply (possibly more) costs $20 shipped plus the cost of a syringe and mason jar to mix it in
CO2: A year and a half supply costs $20 plus syringe and mason jar for easy access
Upstart costs: $60-$100 for substrate, lights, and misc mixing / dosing equip (be prepared to buy significant other a new set of mixing spoons)
Yearly costs: around $65 for the ferts, metricide, root tabs, and replacement bulbs
I hope this helps anyone looking into switching to a planted tank, I feel this is the cheapest route you can go unless you can find some used equipment. As for plants, places like aquabid have many sellers that will put together big packages for you or you can always check you LFS for decent prices, my 55 probably has about $40 worth of plants... remember, plants grow and propagate, so stock it lightly to medium at first, and propagate it up to a heavy planted tank if you wanna save a few bucks
Well done and very helpful! thanks
30 g FW planted:corys, female ABNP, blue angel, harleys, zebra danios, rummies, mystery & assassin snails
15 g FW planted:2 male guppies, neons, pygmy corys, clown pleco, 4 types of shrimp, mystery & assassin snails
90 g FW planted:congos, rainbows, roseline sharks, kribs, male ABNP, peppered cories, assassin snailss
90 Gal Journal: http://bit.ly/1vC7gVX
fishless cycling: http://bit.ly/1DARf3T
fish in cycling: http://bit.ly/1ILvcfp
Thank you. I just wanted to make something that kinda served as a one stop thread for people just looking into it. I know it was a pain to slowly track down all this info while I was look. I'm sure some people will have other methods or opinions. But this is just my experience. The plants are doing great and haven't had any issues with the fish that are caused by these products
the liquid CO2 booster type liquids have some bad side affects on them. some crypts and mosses (just from my experience: java moss and crypt wendtti (sp?)) will melt with them.
also if you want a good budget planted its best to go with low light no ferts or co2. im finding out that the liquid co2 is ot cutting it as well as it should be so i am upgrading to a 10lbs CO2 in the near future.
but this is just my input and you have a very good write up there. i think the plants im keeping are just a bit more sensitive to some parameters than others. but its always fun to be able to mess around with stuff a bit over your reach lol
KING OF THE GOLD BARBS RAWR!!!!
I wonder if i plant one of my tiger barbs would the demon seed grow to a full tree?
gotta love them bunnies!
I.R.S.: We've got what it takes to take what you've got!
It's certainly a good start. I'll chime in when I'm back at my pc.
Yea my crypt didn't like it at first... but i has started doing well again. Crypts from my experience just don't like any changes lol
True, that the lowest budget planted tank would be just low light stuff with nothing special. But I personally got bored with the growth rates I was seeing. It seemed like the plants weren't growing very much. There never seems to be a perfect answer to the questions that we have in the aquarium trade, what works for one person may not work for another. Best we can do is try something to see if it works, luckily I haven't had too many failures (the light was too much before I started ferts and CO2)
Good write up. We often see here others tell newbies to plant their tank but leave out the important and costly elements to having a planted tank. They rush out, get a bunch of plants only to find they then need proper lights and substrate to grow them. Seems to me that information should be offered first, not last?
If they want to stay within a decent price range, they can always attach anubias, java fern and add some java moss without going to the expensive of top-notch lighting, CO2 or plant substrate and the tank will still have plants in it, just not planted but attached to wood or rocks.
For my planted tanks, I use aquariumplants.com substrate.
A 5-gallon bucket does a 55 gallon with a choice of colors. Similar to the Turface, I believe. I use no CO2 in any of my tanks.
You may be right and I've read similar, as well, but I'm not too sure it would be legal to buy a product, repackage it and sell it under your own name. That lead me to question if it was the same or not but I'm sure they work very similar, if not the same product. I like it, regardless.
Ok, my 2 eurocents:
1. Substrate. As with a good pizza the secret is in the bottom. There's basically three ways of doing this
- all in one like eco complete. Easy solution if you like to look at the stuff. Not cheap for a big tank.
- 2 layer. Start with something nutritious in a thin layer. Can be a special aquarium product (I've had good experiences with tetra myself) or pond potting soil or even a good organic potting soil. Spread thin where you want to plant and cap with a layer of gravel
- Pellets/root tabs. Especially interesting if you go for sand. Stick these under the plants. Can be used on existing tanks without major disruptions.
2. Lighting is vital. If you're buying a new tank and you know you'll want to plant pay attention. T5 lighting is very nice to have, small tubes, lot of light. T8 is second best. LED can be good but good LED systems are expensive. 1 watt per gallon is good enough for most medium light species. If you got a really tall tank you'll want more. Also look for spread of light but this can be improved somewhat with reflectors.
Colour of light doesn't matter all that much but plants do best between 6500k and 10000k. Standard daylight tubes work well.
3. Fertilizer. This is probably the most debated subject. To consider:
- plants will only use fertilizer if there's enough light and CO2.
- mixing your own is very economical but there's also more room for error. (also be careful mixing your own, the chemicals can be dangerous and some are highly flammable!)
You can have good plants with just substrate. Start dosing if you see obvious signs of defficiencies. Your growth will be less spectacular. If you don't have a plant substrate or just root tabs use a general ready mix. Start at 35% of recommended dose and work your way up to about 75% slowly.
4. CO2. Not strictly necessary but it certainly does help. "liquid" Co2. works because it releases some CO2 but also because it inhibits algae growth and thereby makes more co2 available to plants. A bio setup is easy and affordable but also tricky to get a steady dose. Pressurized systems can be more constant but it also makes overdosing and harming your livestock easier. Both variants will affect your PH. On a pressurized system it's easy to get ph swings of 0.5-1 per 24 hour period.
When you run a planted tank a pair of small stainless scissors and planting tweezers will make your life a lot easier.
A good way to get cheap plants is to find someone local that runs a planted tank and just ask for some cuttings. Don't be disappointed if not everything does well.
And the most important tip: Be patient!