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  1. #1

    Default My very first tank -- the adventures of a complete beginner

    1 Not allowed!
    As some of you may have seen in the Introductions section, I am brand new to the hobby and in the process of setting up my very first tank.

    When I started this process all I knew about my setup was that "I want to start a fresh water aquarium". I started doing research to narrow down my choices, but felt somewhat overwhelmed at the enormous amount of information I needed to digest. I decided to make this journal and document my research and all my decisions (both good ones and bad ones!) hoping it will help other overwhelmed beginners with their own decisions about their first tank. I will try to go into some detail on my decision process so that other beginners can make their own choices. For those of you who are experienced, expect to slap yourself in the forehead frequently and roll your eyes repeatedly as you read through my journal! If nothing else, my decision-making process is certain to provide some comic relief.

    Please bear in mind I knew next to nothing when I started. The first decision was tank size. I looked at tons of fish profiles in the aquarium wiki and almost every fish I saw and liked had a minimum tank size of 10 gallons or more. My first impression was to go for 10 gallons, as I feared (incorrectly) that a bigger tank would be too much for a newbie. Then I got some feedback from this forum that told me the opposite: bigger tanks are easier to maintain. So, I was told to get the largest tank my budget could afford (It was only here I learned that tanks come in standard sizes!) Unfortunately my choice was limited not only by budget, but also by space. In the end I chose a 29 gallon because the two likely spaces I had for the tank would not fit anything much wider than 30". Petco was having their "$1 per gallon" aquarium sale so I bit the bullet, ran out of the house before I could change my mind, and bought my 29 gallon for $29. No turning back now!

    All the research I made suggested that having real plants in the aquarium has lots of benefits: plants contribute oxygen to the water and they help get rid of substance like ammonia and nitrites that are harmful for fish. Having a lush tank, however, would have probably required the addition of CO2, nutrients, more difficult maintenance, and in general just seemed to increase the learning curve considerably. I also feared that the stronger lighting needed would, in the hands of a beginner like me, surely lead to algae all over my tank. So, to try to get the best of both worlds I decided to have only low-light "easy to care" plants.

    My next step was to start shopping for equipment. I will write about those choices next!

  2. #2

    Join Date
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    Newark, DE

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    1 Not allowed!
    Can't wait to see your tank grow and develop :D I remember when I started the hobby 7 years ago, not only had I no clue what I was doing, I was merely 10 years old!!

    Just to help you out a bit, having lush and beautiful plants does not require CO2. However any tank does need some type of ferts(nutrients as you put it) to keep plants growing and healthy. Depending on what you plants you get you may need substrate ferts, such as root tabs, or liquid ferts which you add just like medicine. In my opinion both are best. I use both for my 10 gallon, which is shown in my journal here "My Ever Changing 10 gallon"

    Lights are another thing, if you want high light plants, go high lights. Many newbies freak out over algae because they leave their lights on too long or don't dose their ferts correctly. For starters keep your lights on around 10 hours. If you get an over abundance of algae, cut back to around 8.

    For ferts follow the directions of the package. If algae starts growing in abundance, and you've already cut your light down, then decrease your fert dosage or start dosing every other week instead of once a week.

    There are many types of algae and if you look on this site in the articles to the left you can identify which type of algae you have and various methods to be rid of it.

    Having a stable tank without algae growth is about finding balance. It will be a bunch of testing and experimenting but once you get the levels in check you'll see the tank flourish. For a long time I had issues with brown algae in my 10 gallon. I cut my lights back and starting dosing less and boom all my algae was completely gone and my plants were growing in great.

    If you have ANY questions don't be afraid to pm me. I'm online this site a lot during the day, and night, as i'm still in highschool, its my summer break, and I don't currently have a job.

    Can't wait to see your tank and how it grows!!
    Last edited by Gesp56; 07-20-2013 at 02:38 AM.
    My 10 Gallon Aquarium Journal
    20 Gallon: 1x Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, 10x Nannostomus beckfordi

    ~Formerly known as Carapar56~

  3. #3


    1 Not allowed!
    So great that you are taking your time and doing your research before running out and buying fish. Way too many people (including me, I must admit) run out and buy and tank and fish all in the same day, and it usually doesn't go well. With your approach, you and your fish will suffer much less hardship and angst.

    But don't forget to have fun!

  4. #4


    0 Not allowed!
    Thanks to both for your comments!

    @Gesp, thanks for the offer to help. I will almost certainly take you up on it. I'm reluctant to go high light mostly because it increases the learning curve. I know that during the first several weeks (months?) I will be learning about cycling, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, water changes, cleaning filters, feeding the fish properly, etc. Adding plant care just seems too much. Maybe once I get the hang of everything else I will try my hand at increasing the amount of light and vegetation. Gives me a new project to look forward to!

    Most of the plants I am looking at (Anubias, Java Fern) don't go into the substrate, so I am planning to only use liquid fertilizer for now. Still, that may change once I make my final decisions on plants. I am now looking at tons of tank pictures to decide what I like. I know I will have to make all these plant decisions soon!

    @Sheamurai: I admit my initial experience was exactly the opposite of what I am trying to do now: my son showed from school with a bag of four unidentified fish. I did not even have a tank to put them on so I rushed out to the nearest LFS and bought the first tank I saw. It was the emergency research I had to do to be able to house and keep those 4 fish that gave me the bug. 1 of those 4 died within a day, but the other 3 (which I now identified as rosy red fathead minnows) have been doing well for over 4 weeks now in a fully cycled 2.5 gallon tank (i know, way too small). Those are cold water fish, and I think my tank will be tropical, so these 3 minnows will either stay in the 2.5 or, more likely, I will take them back to the store so I can convert my 2.5 into a quarantine tank.

  5. #5


    0 Not allowed!
    I have read many 0f y0ur p0sts, Keep asking th0se questi0ns, even if s0me0ne r0lls their eyes 0r slaps their f0rehead- the dumbest questi0n is the 0ne y0u D0N'T ask. Y0u have a winning 0utl00k and that is the pr0verbial first step in the j0urney 0f a th0usand miles. Y0u are clearly a g00d sp0rt, wh0 else w0uld g0 thru all this f0r a bag 0f refugee fish, l0l?! A day with0ut learning is a day with0ut light- n0t very bright. I'm glad y0u f0und us, y0u will be 0ur little refugee fish, L0L.
    When in d0ubt read it until it makes sense, then read it again!

  6. #6


    0 Not allowed!
    Interesting thread let's see what happens

  7. #7


    1 Not allowed!
    Quote Originally Posted by Longshot View Post
    A day with0ut learning is a day with0ut light- n0t very bright. I'm glad y0u f0und us, y0u will be 0ur little refugee fish, L0L.
    I am actually loving all the learning. I hope to do at least as well as my little refugee fish are doing!

    Quote Originally Posted by talldutchie View Post
    Interesting thread let's see what happens
    Yes, I'm eager to find out myself!

  8. #8

    Default Equipment

    0 Not allowed!
    Ok, so after receiving tons of great feedback from many on this forum, I think I have my equipment list.

    One of my overriding concerns had actually nothing to do with the fish. My wife is (reluctantly) allowing to place the tank very visibly in our living room. So, to prevent any future change of mind, I need the tank to look as clean as possible ("clean" as in "uncluttered and elegant"). Otherwise she will send the tank to the basement, and me along with it!

    Filter: This was probably the easiest. Since I wanted a clean look, many suggested a canister filter. They offer great filtration, and as a bonus I can hide the filter in the stand under the tank for my "clean" looking aquarium. The fact that I can add some media from my current, cycled 2.5 gallon tank to the canister and jump start the cycling process is also great. Everything I read pointed to a filter with twice the capacity of my tank. I shopped around and found the Eheim 2213, which has enough filtration for a tank of up to 66 gallons, and Eheim seems to have very good reviews here. Then, however, I also read that for a planted tank you don't want too much water flow because the added surface turbulence can deplete the CO2 in the water, and some plants don't do well with stronger current. Still, the unanimous feedback here was that the 2213 would be perfect and not cause too much current, so the 2213 it is.

    Heater: This was easy. I found this calculator that told me I needed a heater of 150 watts. Then gronlaura mentioned inline heaters that connect to the return line of the filter, and I loved the idea because it moved equipment out of the tank and contributed to my desired "clean look". I found the Hydor inline heaters, which come in a 200 watt version and a 300 watt version. The 300 would have provided some added safety for cold winter nights when my room can go as low as 60 degrees F, but the size of the hose connectors was not the same as the hose size of the 2213 filter. I wanted to keep things simple (an adaptor is one more place where a leak can take place!) so I went for the 200 Watt version. According to the calculator 200 watts should still be plenty even if my room goes down to 60 degrees. Time will tell if this was a good choice or not!

    Light: For me this was the hardest decision. I decided to use LED lights because of their much lower profile to help my "clean" look. I found the Marineland hidden leds, and loved those at first sight -- cannot get more "clean" than completely invisible!

    I needed to make sure I had enough light for my low-light plants. I had found many rules of "x watts per gallon" but these were created with more traditional light sources in mind, such as fluorescent lights. LEDs are much more efficient in terms of power usage, so any rule based on wattage goes out the window. After lots of reading it seemed that a better way of measuring light was something called "PAR" (photosynthetically active radiation) and that "low light" means a PAR of 15 to 30 (apologies for the link to another forum). The hidden LED fixture is rated at 25 PAR at a depth of 12". Seems borderline because my tank is 18" high, but I did receive feedback from two different people who are successfully growing low light plants using this fixture. They are also cheaper than other LED fixtures, so I decided to ignore all the advice to get a better fixture (such as Marineland's double brights) and risk these for the sake of an invisible fixture. If it doesn't work I can always add a second LED later, and will chalk the extra money to a lesson learned. I also read that for planted fresh water tanks the ideal temperature of the light is around 6400-6500 Kelvin, which matched the temperature of the hidden LED lights. So, Hidden led light it was!

    To this list I also added a glass canopy (since my lights are under the canopy there was no need for a glass one, but I figured the extra ambient light might help a little, and also gives me the flexibility to switch to normal "over the canopy" fixture later), a digital thermometer (again, the probe goes in the tank, but the rest of the thermometer can be hidden somewhere outside) and a water changer hose so that I would not have to lug buckets of water through my living room.

    I know I decided to ignore some of the advice I got, but I feel I ignored it with lots of information on hand, so I feel the risk is minimal. Time will tell! If I was wrong, well, I will have given several people here the pleasure to tell me "I told you so!" (I know my wife enjoys that pleasure immensely!)

  9. #9

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    San Francisco Bay Area, CA

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    0 Not allowed!
    Sounds like you're doing plenty of research! You can also choose plants and their locations based upon your lighting, too. :)

    Also, no idea if this would actually work or not (I'm unintentionally trying it out in my tank, lol), but you can use a nozzle or baffle to redirect the current coming out of the filter to minimize surface disruption (especially if the outflow is just under the surface of the tank). The baffle setup I found that so far seems to be the best compromise between making my betta happy and casting shadows in the tank ends up redirecting some of the flow down to the plants.
    Last edited by Flyby Stardancer; 07-20-2013 at 09:49 PM.
    1. 2. (No Picture)
    1: Planted Betta Tank 1, Grimsby (male betta)
    2: Planted Betta Tank 2
    3: Eclipse QT Tank

  10. #10


    0 Not allowed!
    The baffle sounds interesting... I am, of course, a long way from having to worry about the placement of my outflow :-), The Eheim 2213 comes with a "spray bar" and I read that you can either place it above the water line and point the outflow towards the glass, or place it under water and point it slightly upward to create slight surface ripples, which might look very cool with the LED lights... I imagine I will be playing with the positioning a lot when i set it up.

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