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Howdy!

After many years away from aquaria, I've gotten back into it (a bit more heavily than I'd originally planned!) New wife, new location, new job, new hobbies.

It all started a few months back when my wife suggested we get a small tank to go in my eight-year-old daughter's room. That quickly morphed into a 55-gal community tank with fake plants. Since then, we've acquired a 5 gal and a 20 gal. The 5 was supposed to have been a hospital/quarantine tank, but it's now home to five guppies and a couple of Corydoras julii. We got the 20 to move the livebearers into - we had a trio of Swordtails in the big tank, and a few Endler's Livebearers (we're getting some female Endler's this weekend) but everone else prefers an acidic pH, so now the denizens are all in their preferred pH range. We removed the last silk plant from the 55 this past weekend, and put the last fish into it. We're slowly bringing the pH in the big tank down into the 6.5 range. As you'll notice in the pictures, we have a wall-'o-bubbles at the back of the big tank. My wife loves the look, so the heavy aeration stays. All three tanks have power filters (Emperors on the two larger, a Whisper on the 5). Substrate is the same in all three tanks, just normal uncoated small aquarium gravel.

Since we started putting live plants in the big tank, we upgraded to a 110W compact fluorescent fixture, running the GE 9325K bulbs, and I've cobbled together a DIY dual-2-liter yeast CO2 system feeding a Hagen ladder. Right now it's cranking out 20-25 bpm. I know the aeration negates a large portion of the CO2 injection, but I figure any CO2 is better than none. Since I added it, the plants have gone insane, so it must be doing something! Plus, since the DIY CO2 is danged near free, why not? I'm using Nottingham ale yeast (I also have done lots of homebrewing over the years) at 1/4 tsp with 2c sugar in two-liter bottles. The CO2 has been going for two weeks now. It's only had a tiny impact on the pH (I'm guessing because of the aeration) - maybe a couple of tenths - but the plants' growth rate has really improved. Combined with the additional light, I'm seeing a healthier look to the plants, as well. The Cabomba caroliniana had been getting really leggy and thin, and most of the tops were separating from the lower stems and going walkabout; now, they're staying dense and compact, with lush growth, and a majority of them have bloomed (I didn't even know they'd do that). I've been using the scorched-earth philosophy of hair algae control - trim the pieces of plant where it grows. The Vallisneria spiralis is apparently a good substrate for hair algae, so it's looking pretty pekid now. The tank gets a .5ml dose of PMDD every morning - I haven't started testing to see what kind of nutrient use there is, and may just go by looks.

We carry a heavy fish load in all three tanks. We do 20-25% water changes every weekend, and also change about a quart a day in the 5 gallon. Nitrates are kept under 15ppm in all three tanks. In fact (as I'm sure the more experienced of you can guess) the big tank's nitrate level is dropping slowly, so I'm eventually going to have to add the potassium nitrate into the PMDD (it's not there now). After reading the forums here, it sounds like I need to test for phosphate levels, too, and perhaps supplement. We started the tank with phosphate buffers, and extracted the phosphates a couple of weeks ago with Poly-Filter in an attempt to slow down the hair algae. The hair algae has nearly ground to a halt, so I guess the plants and phosphate-level reduction and physical-removal regimen are doing the trick.

Flora in the big tank:
Cabomba caroliniana
Vallisneria spiralis
Ceratopteris thalictroides
(Watersprite, planted and floating)
Vesicularia dubyana (Java moss, on top of the driftwood pieces)
Eleocharis montevidensis (Giant hairgrass)
Eleocharis parvulus (Dwarf hairgrass)
Ludwigia repens
Alternanthera reineckii 'roseafolia'
Nymphaea lotus 'zenkeri'
(Green tiger lotus bulb - hasn't done anything since being planted a month ago - suggestions?)
Nymphaea lotus 'zenkeri' (Red tiger lotus bulb - same story as the green - is this common?)
Hydrocotyle leucocephala (Pennywort)
Ceratophyllum demersum (Hornwort)
Egeria densa (Anacharis or Elodea)
Myriophyllum pinnatum (Foxtail or frill)
Bacopa caroliniana (I think? Right front corner in the pictures.)
There are also a couple of stems/vines of an unidentifiable plant that came with a mixed bundle - there aren't enough leaves on it yet to tell what it is.
These are all still fairly new plants, and (as you can see in the pictures) they have lots of work to do to fill in the gaps. We're hoping the dwarf hairgrass will spread out better than it has.

The 20 just has some floating Ceratopteris for any upcoming babies to hide in. We don't want to have to chase babies around live plants. The 5 has a new stand of Myriophyllum, and we're thinking about maybe some Echinodorus tenellus in both the big tank and the 5.

I've already learned quite a bit wandering around in the forums here, and look forward to being able to contribute at some point.

Glen
 

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Glen, glad to have you join us here at APC :)

Looks like you are headed in the right direction already. You are correct in saying to use your plants as nutrient indicators, however having test kits around is a good idea (just in case).

Your tank looks good, I like the driftwood. As plants fill in keep us updated with photos.
 
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