Zomg, 6 months after I initially acquired this used tank I'm officially getting it going. I have already started a cycling process on this tank 2 separate times and been interrupted by broken equipment, budget issues and family events including both funerals and weddings. Most recently the death of my poor kitty.
I finally have it past the point of no return. I've set it up for the final time, I've got all the equipment (or the money set aside for it) and I'm planning on ordering fish within the next 2 weeks depending on when it finishes cycling.
Here's some history. I was on a real budget for this tank so I settled for a used tank that had quite a few scratches in the sides and back of the glass. I spent probably a month using my free time to buff scratches out of the glass with cerium oxide. To my dismay, it didn't get out the worst of the scratches, but it certainly did make it look better. The best thing is that there are no scratches on the front pane of glass, which is the most important thing to me as that's the side I'll be viewing it from 90% of the time.
The owner of the tank before me just had a single large goldfish in it and an under gravel filter. The algae on the tank was severe. When I got it all cleaned out I realized that there were many places where the silicone in the corners had been scrubbed away with the algae and many other places where there was green algae under the silicone reaching almost to the deepest part of the corners. I was concerned about being able to get that algae out of the silicone and doubly concerned about the integrity of what was left over. It seemed very brittle, but wasn't cracking.
I decided if I was taking the time to try and buff the scratches out I might as well tackle the project of resealing the tank so I knew I could trust the seal. I also spray painted the back of the tank black.
After the buffing of scratches and the resealing of the tank, I turned to fixing up the filter. I obtained a very lightly used Eheim Pro 2 2028 from a doctors office that decided to get rid of their 130 gallon aquarium to make more space in their waiting room. The doctor said this filter was about 6 months old. It looked to be in very good shape, but the tank was not up and running so I didn't get to see it in action. I took the risk and bought it from him anyway for a very reasonable price.
When I first got the filter up and running to test it, it began leaking out of the lid where the power cord comes out of the unit. With the help of my dad, who is an electrical automation specialist and 5 star mechanic, we tore the entire lid apart and discovered the largest o-ring inside was cracked where someone who had previously taken the unit apart had pinched it when trying to get it back into place. No problems here, ordered a new o ring online for $10, lubed everything up nice, cleaned off the hard water stains and viola! It's been working perfectly since.
I was originally going to get an aquaclear 110 for a second filter, but I don't know if I want that now. I like the aquarium how it sits, about 1.5 inches from the wall. I would have to move it 4.5 inches from the wall to fit a HOB filter and I'm not sure I want that much space behind it. That's almost inviting my 2 year old to yank at the tubing running up from the canister underneath. I will be getting a second filter, but I just haven't decided what yet.
After reading a lot of pros and cons on heaters, I decided to go with an Eheim Jager 300W heater. There are positives and negatives to every heater I read about. This one appealed to me the most based on my budget and what I personally was looking for in a heater. It has been able to keep the tank at a steady 83 degrees since I set the tank up in my house about a week ago.
For lighting I went with the advice of a lot of experienced members here in a thread I started up a couple of months ago and I bought a Finnex Ray 2. It's beautiful. The light in the tank looks very evenly spread to the naked eye, sufficiently bright and most importantly it is thin and lightweight so it fits under the full hood of my tank with room to spare. It also doesn't run super hot so I don't have to be as wary about the temp under the closed hood as I think I would have to be with the 3 or 4 bulb HO T5 fixtures.
Substrate proved to be one of the worst mistakes I've made with this tank so far, but I'm glad I fixed it before it ruined anything. I researched a lot about substrate and determined that I was going to get something cheap and simple. I read the opinions of many that stated they were able to grow plants easily in regular pool sand without having to shell out the extra money for the fancier plant substrates like eco complete or flourite. I knew I would have to buy root tabs, but I was okay with that.
It was very important to me that the substrate black. I envisioned this tank with black background and black substrate from the beginning because that's what I have in my 10 gallon and I think it looks awesome. It's really tricky to find a cheap, black sand though. Lots of research brought me to that old aquarium standby, Black Diamond Blasting sand. I read differing opinions on this from people who have used it in their tanks for years, to others that argue that it is sharp and threatens potential injury to the fish. After a lot of reading on the matter I decided to go with it.
Everyone says you can buy this at your local hardware store, but ACE, Home Depot and Lowes all failed me. I then turned to a tractor supply store and they looked at me like I was crazy. Finally I called someone who does sand blasting (metal blasting, cabinet blasting?) and asked where they buy their media. They directed me to a private supplier that was only 3 blocks from my house. Score!
That supplier didn't have Black Diamond brand, but they told me they did have 20/40 grit black coal slag blasting sand that is the same thing. I went down there and bought a 90 lb bag for $10.
When I got home I opened the bag and immediately plunged my hands into the sand and wiggled them around to see if it felt sharp. It didn't, in fact it felt quite smooth. Test # 1 passed.
Most of the threads that I read said that you didn't need to rinse the blasting sand before putting it in the tank. As a precaution I put 1/4 of the sand in a plastic tub and rinsed it in the bath tub. It rinsed clear. Test #2 passed.
I excitedly dumped the remaining sand and the stuff I'd rinsed into my empty tank and filled it up with water. My sink takes quite awhile to fill the tank with the python so I walked away, made lunch and returned to a full tank. Test #3 failed.
The whole tank had some sort of brown greasy oil floating in it. I opened the lid and smelled the water and it smelled like a greasy car engine. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind not to turn on the filter and run this nasty water through my beautiful new biomax and filter padding. I drained all the water from the tank, and filled it back up again hoping I drained the grease out. The second fill of the tank looked a lot better. The water was almost completely clear, but I could see that layer of brown....yuck just resting on the top of the substrate. I put my hand down in the sand and swirled it around and it filled my tank up with grease again. I filled and emptied the tank about 5 times thinking I could eventually suck all the grease out of it, but it didn't seem to be getting better.
That's when I decided to dig all of the sand back out of the tank and rinse it in the tub before returning it. That ended up taking forever because I didn't want to scratch the glass any more than it already is. I used buckets, dust pans and kids play shovels to get the bulk of it out. This is where test #4 comes in and it was another miserable fail. In the process of trying to dig the sand out I cut my hands in seven different places on the sand. They were small, but big enough to bleed. It looked like a baby mouse thought my hand was cheese and tried to eat it.
Surely if I sliced myself open so easily, my future fish could do the same.
I was fed up with trying to cut corners, between the scratches on the glass, the resealing, fixing the filter and now this substrate disaster, I marched that 90 lbs of sand outside and dumped it right in the trash, then price checked a bunch of websites and bought myself about 8 bags of eco complete. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime!
After taking the tank into the back yard and giving it a good clean to get rid of the remaining grease, I put the eco complete in, filled it with water and finally sighed relief. I am really happy with the way that worked out in the end.
So now my tank has been cycling for about 7 days. The first day I added ammonia (up to about 4ppm) and then I actually didn't test it for a couple of days because I knew it would take a few days anyway. On the 3rd day I tested and I was really surprised. I haven't done my own fishless cycle before and I didn't expect the ammonia to drop as quickly as it did. So for the last 4 days (including today) my test results have been the same.
Ammonia - 0
Nitrite - 5
Nitrate - 10
Every day after I test I dose my ammonia back up to 2 and then don's test again until the next day.
I have more to say about my plans for the tank as well as proposed stocking, but I think I've rambled quite enough for one post and will revisit this thread later today.
Sorry the picture below is crooked....I took it in a hurry because my camera battery was dying. I'll take better ones in future when I have battery to spare :)