Hi everyone, thanks for reading my first post! I'm relatively new to planet aquariums, but I'm not new to fishkeeping. The aquarium I have setup now has been running fairly well for about seven months. I'll try my best to give a description of my setup below, and then I'll list my questions.
I have a 29 gallon freshwater aquarium that is heavily stocked with fish. I also have an assortment of freshwater plants, most of which were recommended to me by the aquarium plant specialist at my aquarium store.
Substrate: medium gravel
Lighting: one 24" Flora-Glow tube (brand new) - the light is on a timer, set for 14 hours daily
Hood: "versa top" glass canopy
Filtration: marineland bio-wheel filter
Heater: submerged, set at 78
CO2 gas: NONE
3 medium clown loaches
2 medium plecos (brushmouth)
3 pygmy algae eaters
9 cardinal tetras
2 rainbow tetras
4 cherry barbs (2 male, 2 female)
7 platties (various colors, sexes)
4 red tail rasboras
1 red sarpae tetra
Décor: two medium size pieces of lacerock, one large piece of driftwood (not sure what type -- looks like a gnarled brown log)
Plants: Crypts, Java Moss, Java Ferns, Compact Sword, Annubis (not sure what type, specifically), and a few other types of low-maintenance plants that were recommended to me and have been doing fairly well
Maintenance Habits: I know my tank is overstocked with fish, so I do a 30% water change weekly. I test my water monthly and have never had any issues with nitrates or ammonia. I feed twice a day using a combination of plankton, flakes, dried bloodworms, shrimp pellets for the colown loaches and algae discs for the plecos. At each water change I add the recommended doses of plant fertilizer (liquid), Genesis (a yellow chemical to remove chlorine), and another type of plant fertilizer that supposedly helps plants use up more of the CO2 in the tank (I'll try to post the name of this product soon).
Here's a picture of my tank as it was about 2 months ago. I've since rearranged it a bit, but hopefully this picture will give you an idea of what I'm working with.
(link to picture: http://sites.google.com/site/bsnyder921/Home/Fishy004.jpg?attredirects=0
So here are a few of the issues I've been having, along with some things I've tried to do myself to work them out. Feel free to post suggestions to just one of the problems!
1- Algea. I have the dreaded black beard algea which seems to grow on just about everything in my tank -- from the driftwood to the rocks to the plants themselves. When it gets bad on the plants I cut off the damaged leaves. I try to scrub it and pull it off of the decor during water changes. I was advised to use a chemical (or fertilizer .. not sure which it is) that supposedly helps plants to absorb more available CO2 in the tank. This, as it was explaiend to me in the store, would make the plants healthier, thereby makign them absorb more nutrients, thereby taking more nutrients away from the algae. For the most part, the black beard algae isn't a major issue, it's just an annoyance. I've also tried decreasing the amount of time I have my light turned on (from 18 hours to 14 hours) and just yesterday I switched from a Power-Glo tube (VERY bright) to a Flora-Glo tube (not nearly as bright, specifically made for planted tanks).
2- Clogged filter. The filter cartridge in my filter gets clogged so bad after only 2-3 days that the water starts to "run over" in the filter. It's hard to describe what happens without a picture of my filter, but the water basically runs back out of the filter and into the aquarium without ever going through the filter cartridge or across the bio wheel. So far, all I've been able to do is take out the cartridge and rinse it under warm water while gently scrubbing it with my hand. This removes the brown "slime" that seems to accumulate and clog the cartridge. Is this buildup of slime normal?
3- Smell. I use a gravel vac / syphon for my water changes. When I jam the syphon all the way to the bottom of the gravel (as deep as 3.5" in the back, 2" in the front) it pulls up lots of very fine particles, which I think is normal.. What I don't think is normal, however, is the smell of the water/particles from this part of the tank. I can't really describe the smell other than to say it's utterly disgusting and rortten smelling. It also only seems to come from the very bottom of the tank. I've heard that poor water circulation can lead to anaerobic bacteria, which can be very smelly. Is that the cause of the stink in my aquarium?
4- Hood/Canopy. I bought the glass top for my aquarium because I liked the look of it more than the black plastic top, and because I thought that a glass top would prevent excessive evaporation since it provides a better seal. On the other hand, I just read that having a glass top can cause your tank to "suffocate" by now allowing enough of an air exchange. Any thoughts?
5- Substrate - gravel VS flourite. Right now I have gravel as my one and only substrate in my tank. My goal with my aquarium is to have beautiful healthy plants (along with healthy fish). I've heard that flourite is a great substrate for plants. I thought that during water changes I could gradually take out a few cup fulls of the gravel and replace it with flourite. Would this be a good approach to making my plants healthier? Should I just remove EVERYTHING from my tank and start over with 100% flourite substrate?
6 - Surface agitation- Air stone VS powerhead. I've already done a bit of reading on this but I keep coming across conflicting information. I know that surface agitation is important in tanks because it makes gas exchanges easier. But even when my filter is running at its peak there isn't very much surface agitation. What would be a better choice for making my fish and plants healthier -- adding a powerhead to increase surface agitation or adding an airstone to increase surface agitation and add oxygen to the water?
I know this is a lot of information, so I'll be grateful for any advice I get. I'm looking forward to learning more about this hobby!