View Full Version : Planted tank, in the making

01-27-2014, 11:19 PM
I am not new to fishkeeping, having had experience with coral reef tanks and breeding dwarf cichlids, as well as keeping many aquatic and terrestrial plants and pets, over the years. I am not an expert, by any means and this will be my first attempt at keeping discus. I have been doing my reading and joined several forums, to learn all I can. I noticed that this forum is pretty well dedicated to the keeping of discus and while I am committed to providing healthy, happy conditions, for my fish, I am not aiming to show or breed my fish. I will outline my plans, below and invite any feedback.

The tank will be 120 gal, 48''X24"X24''. I have very hard well water, with a pH of 7.2, so a mix of RO water and tap will be used. I plant to establish the tank, in a Diana Walstad hybrid method, that is with using actual soil, capped with sand and minimal or no dosing of fertilizers. I plant to plant the tank with plants native to South America and that require medium light, no high light bunch plants. I plan to use HO T5 lighting, and include other fish, in the display. The tank mates would include a gold nugget pleco, corydoras, a few smaller tetras, such as cardinals and rummynosed, some otocinclus and banjo cats, and some rams. I plan to have a tank with an open foreground, with a few swords and some vallisneria, towards the back, with aged roots and wood, as well as almond leaves, on the bottom. I am intending this to be a South American tank, though not a true biotope, as some of the fish would never meet, in the wild. I plant to use a HOB sponge filter, rated at 200 gallons and a fluidized bed filter, powered by a sponge covered power head. I am researching and considering both a UV sterilizer and freshwater protein skimming, but am undecided, as of now. I plan to heat the water to 82-83F. I plant to run peat in my filters and also keep peat soaking in the water stored for water changes. I plant to start with 3.5-4'' fish, picked in person, from Hans Discus. I plan to feed a variety of high quality flake and frozen foods, plus homemade foods, featuring venison heart, seafood, greens, fish oil, and vitamins.
Before adding the discus, I plan to set it up, with plants, let it cycle, add the other fish, 10 at a time, allowing it stabilize, after each time, and be sure I am able to maintain the water quality and get a feel for the stability of the pH and the system in general. I plan to ad the discus, once everything has proven to be consistent and flourishing. I will add the rams last, after quarantine, so hopefully the discus are well established and will not be intimidated by them.
I am going to be honest about my ability to do regular water changes and this is where I could use advice. I can deal with being told the discus are not a good idea, if that's the case, because I am not here to reinvent the wheel, prove anything, or beat the system. If what I can commit to, doesn't fit with keeping discus healthy, than I can and will accept that.
I will not even consider adding discus, if with the other fish and plants, I am unable to maintain the ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites at acceptable levels. I also plan to grow frog bit, on the top to reduce the light, for the fish and to harvest for nutrient reduction. I do not plan to dose with CO2. I do plan to utilize wonder shells, to keep the correct dissolved mineral balance and assure stable pH, but no adjusters/buffers will be used, other than peat.
The water change schedule I can commit to is 40 gallons weekly, which may, when we travel or life gets busy with other commitments, extend to 40 gallons every 2 weeks, and worst, once a month, though rarely, if ever. During these times, when water changes are infrequent, the fish will be fed less often, also. I plan to feed 3 times a day, when I am home and have the fish fed twice daily, with an autofeeder of flake food and a family member offering some portioned frozen foods, once daily, if we travel.
As I stated, I am currently in the planning phase and am doing my best to take all things into consideration and be realistic about my resources of time and money to maintain things. I want to keep healthy, happy fish, with good shape and color, though they don't have to be 12'' monsters. I plan to keep 5 discus, though I would have preferred only 3. I understand having 5 will reduce bullying. I plan to add all of them at the same time, if the future shows discus are an option. I also want to add, that I may be able to do weekly water changes of a larger volume, but I want to give the worst case scenario.
I thank all of you in advance, for your thoughts.

01-27-2014, 11:56 PM
Hi Drew-

Several things: It sounds like a very nice tank overall, but discus have very specific water requirements. You could not get away with only 17% weekly water changes with adult discus, much less with juveniles. The reason is that juvies are very sensitive to water parameters and will not grow another millimeter without frequent (usually daily) water changes, normally around 50% per day. So unless you plan to buy a group of fully grown adults and do larger weekly water changes, I'd stay away from discus. Also, discus are not compatible with plecos, as the plecos will sometimes eat the slime coat of discus and leave some nasty injuries that can easily get infected. Also, your cardinals would end up as discus snacks. I don't mean to sound negative, and I mean this as constructive feedback.

01-28-2014, 12:14 AM
I will not get defensive. I am planning and researching now, so I do things right and make substitutions, if discus are not possible. I appreciate the time you have given in your reply. I would like to add, that once the tank is in place and going, I will know better what I can commit to, in terms of frequency and volume of water changes. I also am keen on automating the water changes, but until I figure things out, I don't know that it's possible. I have to get my water from downstairs, and make sure the tap water comes from the bypass to the softener and that the RO water is mixed at the appropriate ratio. I may very well be able to do that, down the road, but for now, I though it best to start with my current plans and let them evolve as new information and an established routine dictates.
I also forgot to mention that I will have an ongoing quarantine tank and fish will be quarantined, before being added to the display tank.
I also wanted to comment on your statement regarding plecos and cardinals. Cardinals are one of the few fish I have seen, recommended as dither fish, for discus tanks. I am sure that the discus can and do eat them, sometimes, but I was under the impression, having the discus with them, when they are 4'' and growing into adulthood, reduces this likelihood? I have heard of problematic plecos and indeed all sucker-mouthed fish have been implicated in some bad behavior. It is similar to some fish in saltwater that are usually safe around corals and invertebrates, but there are always the few of that species that are not. It is something to be aware of, certainly, but I wouldn't rule them out as bedfellows. Most plecos like cooler water, though, that I know.
Dang it! I just realized, I said 20 gallons a week and I meant to say 40, with occasional exceptions of every two weeks or worst, even monthly, in extreme cases. I know this may not change much, but 40 gallons a week is much better than 20. I guess I fear commitment, but realistically, there is no reason, we could not do 40 gallons a week, 85% of the time and I can't think of a time when only once a month would have been our only option. I am going to edit my post to account for 40 gallon and not 20.

01-28-2014, 12:19 AM
I'd step up those water changes to at least 50% a week. Or 25% twice or thrice a week. This would probably be enough to keep them healthy, but they probably will only reach 6-7 inches max and take some time to do so. If you want them to get 8 inches or more, consider 50% water changes twice or thrice a week. Also with your size of tank you should just go for 6 discus as this seems to be the best number to keep them if you cant keep a large school. Consider bristlenose pleco as they are usually safe with discus. You CAN keep the tetras in with the discus, just make sure they reach a good size before you introduce the discus, and be prepared to lose one or two as discus food anyway. but if you get 1.5 inch tetras in with 2.5 inch discus they should be fine by the time they all grow up.

01-28-2014, 12:21 AM
How big is your QT tank? You might consider growing out the discus there for awhile. keep it downstairs where frequent water changes will be possible then just let them grow there for a few months while your planted tank settles then move them in after

01-28-2014, 12:53 AM
I wasn't planning on starting with fish smaller than 3.5-4'', since I am new to them. I was going to have a 30 gallon or 40 gallon as a quarantine tank. I see no reason, if everything goes off, without a hitch; that is my RO water and tap water mixture is stable and the tank environment is stable, with the other fish and plants (before discus), why I couldn't change as much as of tank water, once weekly, as I wanted. Honestly, we figured on using a pump to drain the tank and refill it with aged, RO/tap water, that was heated to the tank temperature and had a stocking of peat soaking in it. I just don't want to make statements of how much I can do, until the tank is here and I try things out. I have other hobbies and work, that take my weekends; usually 2 of them, a month, at least. We also travel for a week at a time, 2-4 times a year, and when we come back, we have 100s of plants to water and catch up on (we grow tropical plants for exhibition). I don't see pumping water in and out of the tank, taking more than an hour, each week, so I am sure it can be done, but I want to have an enjoyable tank and not be overwhelmed by it. That is why I approach things from a minimalistic commitment and build on it, as things progress. I run water up and down the stairs to change the water, every 2 days, in my MIL's 10 gallon, overstocked tank. She is 91 and blind, so it takes a lot of small, colorful fish, for her to see them. So far, I have kept up with it and frankly, platys and guppies aren't worth the effort, to me, be I can't have living things suffering, under my roof and I do it for her.
I may consider starting with smaller fish and keeping them in the basement. It will get me familiar with the fish, in a good routine of changing the water, and save me some bucks on fish. I do know that daily water changes would not be possible, but in a 30-40 gallon tank, I could do 100% every 2nd or 3rd day, with a pump to drain and replace the water. I like planning things out and having discussions; it keeps my mind busy and guarantees a satisfactory end result.

01-28-2014, 11:17 AM
If you get a Python for water changes you can probably do 50% changes in less than a hour. To decrease the time use two pythons to drain your tank and if you have two faucets that will half the time! While the Python is working you can do something else. You do not have to watch it for the whole time but I would check it regularly.

01-28-2014, 12:24 PM
I have done Diane Walstad tanks since I was a kid. CO2 and soil and peat do not mix, stability being an issue. Ro and peat may also cause some stability issues so you will have to be on top of it, pH stability is what you are looking for. A new tank will need to be mineralized. So you will need a lot of fast growing nutrient hogs growing for the first couple of months. Low heat and high nitrates will stress your discus out. Cardinals will be fine if QTed for a good length of time. They along with tetras are known carriers of gill flukes. Snails will be an issue they are an intermediate stage for both flukes and nematodes. Once introduced to your planted tank they will be very hard to eliminate. Gravel cleaning a must. You will need feeding areas, and more then one because if you get any aggression it will be over the food. Those areas will need to be vacuumed daily if feeding BH or other protein based foods. You can use an aging tank while the python is draining. A pump in the aging tank can be filling while the python is draining to save you time. If your tank becomes well balanced and your water quality is good, even though your nitrates remain low I recommend water changes every day. This would keep free swimming pathogens from multiplying and becoming a health risk. In a planted tank that is well balanced the need for water changes will be to add gases and minerals back into the tank, along with keeping parasites from multiplying. I recommend at least an eighth of the tank everyday. That way if you miss for a week or two the pathogens will build up but not an over population problem as you would have by waiting a week to do WC.

01-28-2014, 12:26 PM
The problem with the pythons, is that I can't use straight tap water. I have to mix it with RO water, so more than likely, my refill water will be stored in 30 gallon drums, heated and aerated, with a stone. I figure, if I use a simple pump, with a gauze over it, to avoid sucking up fish, I can drain the water, right into the sink, while another pump can be used to pump the fresh water, into the tank, from downstairs. Shouldn't take more than 30 mins, I would imagine.

01-28-2014, 12:35 PM
I'm onmy phone, killing time while waiting on my grandson to see a doctor for a check up, so sorry if this comes across as blunt. It's not intended that way.

They've covered most of what I noticed, but here's potential issues that I saw.
You really don't need the RO or peat for domestics (hans is a good choice).
The otto is not a good tankmate.
If doing a planted tank, you really need to go with 5" or larger discus, and at least 5 of them.
Your planned water changes are not enough for discus of any age or size.

01-28-2014, 12:56 PM
RO is only needed for breeding. Peat and ro will send down you pH which you will then need to keep at a constant. Ph variations will weaken you discus and allow for pathogens to attack. So forget about the ro for now just check you pH from the tap and then 24hours after it has been gassed out to see if you have a major pH difference.

01-28-2014, 02:35 PM
Our GH is 12, from the tap and the pH is stable, at 7.2. I get that I am going to have to commit to more water changes. What is recommended, as the minimum, if the Nitrogen products are where they need to be?
I do not want to sound argumentative, but I need to ask what the caution against otos is about? I kept otos before, in 83F temps, in a South American set-up and had no problems. Admittedly, I did not house them with discus. In other words, I am not arguing, but asking why they are contraindicated.
I see the point about using peat. I guess I was more concerned about the wild caught tetras. I know people are keeping discus in medium hard water, with pH above 8. I suppose, rather than running it through the filters and having a continuous run of it, soaking a satchel of it, in the replacement water would be better and prevent a continuing plunge in pH. In using peat, in the past, it did not lower my pH and assumed with harder water, the minerals would buffer the water against these swings. I am learning, so I could be wrong, but that was my line of thought, anyway.
So far what I have gathered, from the comments, is that I need to:
Be VERY cautious, regarding the evaluation of potential tank mates, meaning some I have mentioned may not be advisable.
More water changes ( A suggested minimum would be helpful, such as 30 gallons twice a week )
It might be ill advised to bother with my water, other than 25% RO and tap water (from a well, so no chlorine or chloramine)
If I am not growing out in a smaller tank, then 5'' fish and at least 5 are recommended, if I am putting them in the planted tank.

The good news is I think I am fairly well able to make good decisions about the concerns above and they aren't hard to tweak.
The other good news is that no one has any concerns with my basic plan, in terms of filtration and general care.

As I have stated, I will have to see, once the aquarium is here and has cycled through all of the fish additions, if I can maintain the water quality and what amount of water changes I can commit to and this will all be before I consider purchasing the discus. I am not interested in starting out the wrong way and trying to fix it, as I go. The more I think about the ease of using pumps, the more comfortable I feel about more and larger water changes. Of course, if by having a planted aquarium and having other fish, I can't keep the parameters where they need to be, with water changes, it still won't be possible to keep the discus, at least as I had intended.
In that vein, I am also open to suggestions for larger, peaceful, South American fish, that would make a good substitute. Angels were considered, but the Altums are probably many times harder than captive bred discus and the strains, though beautiful are just too unnatural for my liking. I was considering geophagus cichlids, but have no experience with their impact on plants, with their rooting through the substrate.
Thanks everyone, for the feedback.

01-28-2014, 03:25 PM
Dirtyplants, I must have missed your post, about the gill flukes and the Diana Walstad method. I was not planning on using CO2 and I would have the tank mineralized and cycled, before even adding tetras. I think, for the long-term health of my system, I should consider treating all the tetras and wild caught fish, for gill flukes, while in quarantine. Are gill flukes something I would see, while the fish were quarantined? How long do you recommend watching new fish, before adding them to the display, Are gill flukes able to be eradicated with salt? Why would the use of RO water, aged with peat, if it were the only water and was the always the water I used, cause shifts, in pH or other parameters? I am not arguing that it wouldn't I am asking for information, so that I can understand. In my mind, aerating, heating and using peat, in the refill water, will mean that the water entering my tank is always the same and if I leave the peat out of the display, it can't continue to lower the pH. I also plant to mix very hard tap water, with the RO water, so there are lots of buffers, already present, that prevent pH swings. I can tell you that I have 100s of plants, that I grow over grids and the grids are over trays of fertilized water. The plants have wicks that soak up the water from the trays. This water maintains a stable pH, unless I use an acidifying fertilizer and this with algae growing in them and water flowing through the acidic peat, in the plant pots, collecting in the trays. The pH simply doesn't budge.
You mentioned snails being a part of the gill flukes life cycle and I had planned to use Malaysian Trumpet Snails to keep the substrate aerated. Is there a way to ensure they are clear of flukes?
I also wanted to say that their would be no gravel for food to collect in. The soil and substrate will be capped with very fine sand, so uneaten food will simply stay on the surface or get caught in the plants, where it can me removed or eaten by the snails, corys, and tetras. I understand that having food eaten, means it will still result in waste products, from the fish, but I have taken the issue of substrate holding food into account.
I will make it a goal to change 30% of the water, twice a week and make sure I can be consistent with it, before I get any discus. Of course, that is also contingent on healthy, consistent water parameters, in general. I know discus are long ways away, because I will take at least 8-9 months to reach stability and routine, with a newer tank. I have to add the other fish and recycle the tank, each time and they will be quarantined before that. This is a journey, not something I plan to do over a weekend.

01-28-2014, 03:50 PM
Cardinals are one of the few fish I have seen, recommended as dither fish, for discus tanks. I am sure that the discus can and do eat them, sometimes, but I was under the impression, having the discus with them, when they are 4'' and growing into adulthood, reduces this likelihood?

I personally love cardinal tetras! I'm sure if something is small enough to fit in the discus' mouths, it is a potential chow for the discus. But, the 4" discus are probably not going to be fast enough or big enough to eat them. From my super limited, newbie experience with discus, I haven't seen any problems with discus chasing or eating the wild caught cardinals that I've kept for >1yr. They're too fast for the discus, and if there is adequate hiding space (e.g. amongst plants/foliage) when they sense danger/predation, the cardinals will probably be fine. I have also read in other texts/people's experiences that cardinals make logical and compatible companions for discus, and I'm sure some people have also seen their discus eat cardinals. Why not give it a try?

What I have noticed is that one of my wild blue discus (adult) was curious about albino corys. I noticed the discus would try to nudge the cory with its mouth, but the cory always was too fast and knew how to navigate the foliage and stems where the discus couldn't reach. I'm not sure if it's a curiosity thing, but the discus no longer tries to nudge (or eat?) the cory. I think they learn pretty fast which occupants are not preys...or that they suck at predation. Probably why they survive mostly on detritus in the wild.

01-28-2014, 09:10 PM
otos aren't considered a good choice because some individuals have been known to suck on discus slime coats, and you can never be sure about the ones you buy. Siamese algae eaters and BN plecos are the suggested algae eaters for discus tanks. I don't see any reason you shoudnt keeo discus, if you go with adult fish and do 30% water changes 2x weekly

01-28-2014, 09:29 PM
6 to 8 weeks for qt on tetras. They have their own problems, and are susceptible to fungus.
RO and peat may bring about pH swings, bounce back. RO takes out the minerals that stabilize your pH. Many people on this site combine RO and tap to bring down the mineral content for breeding. If you remove minerals by using RO then add tap you can regulate your water. Peat is unpredictable in the way it leaches acidity out, stronger when new and weaker as time goes by. That plus acidity reacting to the RO along with less minerals will cause the pH to swing. Best to check out the forum discussions on pH. Basically you will not need the RO for the discus you just need a stable ph unless you want to breed them. The plants you intend on keeping should do fine in your pH and with soil should take off. Snails or any crustaceans can an may harbor eggs of flukes and worms. And no, medications will not kill the eggs, you will need them to be at the larvae stage to kill them with medications.
It seems you have a pretty good handle on things, I would be careful of the pH though.

01-29-2014, 11:39 AM
Thank you, dirtyplants. I did do some reading about flukes, last night. You know, it's so funny, that when keeping fish, years ago, before the internet was so full of information, I knew nothing about these things. Sure, I saw ick and fungus, but ignorance was/is bliss. It's like with my plants...I grew for years, not really researching beyond how to keep them alive, then I got bitten by the bug and researched everything and ever since, I have met every problem I have read about, from mites, to pH problems, and water woes. Life is funny, that way. I think I will likely treat all incoming fish. I have experience, as a vet tech and from working with wild caught reptiles, how to use many of the dewormers and such, in the hobby. Apparently, Droncit, which we used for tapeworms, will take care of flukes and some worms, so some medicated food, in quarantine, might be a good idea.
It isn't my goal, right now, to breed discus, but who knows? After committing oneself to all those water changes and making yourself a student of the fish, the natural progression is to breed them, right? I have been researching other, peaceful cichlids, in case discus turn out not to be something I have the abilities for, but at this point, I am conditioning my brain for what it will take to do well with them and finding a lot of good information, here.

01-29-2014, 01:04 PM
You do the research, you will figure out a system to do your needed water changes, whether automated or semi auto. You should have a first aid kit: metro, levamisole, aquarium salt, epson salt, anti bacteria of sorts, like furan 2, and some form of formalin, based med. Forget about lowering the pH it will be easier just to do the water changes necessary, learn to keep them healthy, the breeding will come when the discus are healthy and comfortable. I worked as a naturalist for a while so am well experienced with wild life issues, and I spent a lot of time around reptiles.

01-29-2014, 02:15 PM
Thanks for all of your advice and words of encouragement. I used to breed chameleons, anoles, and keep dart frogs, tortoises, tarantulas, and all sorts of other things, over the years. As life got busier, I got more involved with plants, because they were easier to keep up with, financially and time wise. I kept saltwater fish, years ago, native fish ( fresh, salt, and brackish), and bred rams, while keeping other, softwater fish. I have wanted discus for many years, but always dismissed them as too much work. I came close to setting up another aquarium, about 5 years ago, but it wasn't to be. I am finally ready for another one and one this one to really be the vision of the perfect community tank, I had for all these years and those visions always included discus.