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SLAG - 1

[F] Here I Go Again (Waaay long)

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Date: 5 Jul 1994
Newsgroup: rec.aquaria,alt.aquaria

Oy Vay, what a weekend. We've had the pieces-parts to set up our latest aquarium and have been waiting for an opportunity to get around to it. With vacations, business trips, training seminars and what all, we've just not had the opportunity. But at long last, that elusive Round Toit finally showed up. We thank our lucky stars that it coincided with a long weekend.

The latest in a long line of Boothian Optimum Aquariums, the Slightly Larger Aquatic Garden (SLAG) is a "120 gallon" (48" x 24" x 24") glass tank patterned after Dupla's "The Optimum Aquarium" with modifications in the direction of Dennerle's "System for a Problem Free Aquarium".

It has all the standard features of our other high tech plant tanks; trickle filter, substrate heating coils, laterite, automated CO2 injection, suspended MH+FL combo light hood and Dupla fertilizers. I don't know why, but this one seemed much more difficult to set up. Perhaps I've gotten a little cocky and figured it would all just fall into place. Perhaps I've forgotten how much work the 90 gallon SST was to setup. What ever the cause, it sure was a bear.

Other Tanks

The assembly of the new SLAG has completed a renewal cycle for all of our plant tanks. Six weeks ago we complelety tore down the 100 gallon discus tank to refresh the substrate and install substrate heating coils. This takes that tank from its Almost Optimum Aquarium (AOA) status to Yet Another Optimum Aquarium (YAOA). The plants, which were declining in robustness, have sprung to life and look better than we remember them ever looking.

We reduced the amount of plants in the tank (as in the other tanks) to give a better balance between fish and plants. It is still heavily planted by most standards, but not quite as dense as some Dutch tanks we have seen in pictures. This tank features a large Echinodorus bleheri (Amazon Sword), a group of Barclaya longifolia, some Nomaphila stricta, a bunch of Mexican Oak Leaf and assorted accent plants. The discus have responded to the new planting (or better water or ???) by becoming much more colorful and a new pair has formed and are spawning.

Two weeks ago we ripped out all the plants in the 90 gallon Super Show Tank (SST) since it was entirely overgrown. I've already posted about that previously but, as an update, all the plants have taken off exceptionally well. The new arrangement is very attractive and the angelfish are very happy. The only downside was that our older Siamese Algae Eater, Sam, apparently didn't like the new SAE we added (Sam, Jr.) and thought the algae was greener on the other side of the glass. El Morte. These fish aren't good in an open top tank. We knew that, took a chance and lost.

To get enough plants for the 120, we trimmed the 100 g YAOA and the 85 g Rainbow tank. One of the main reasons for doing the SLAG was to provide a home for a rather large Echinodorus hormani (the "rare and expensive" red variant, according to Dennerle). It has been occupying the left side of the Rainbow tank for quite a while now and was cramped due to the 18" height and width of the tank. With that gone, we are transitioning the tank to a home for Crytocoryne species. We have had a stand of some common crypts for quite some time (can't kill them, actually). We have two other types doing well that we have acquired over time which I can't ID right now (I need to bone up on their names). Finally, we obtained some C. retrospiralis 6 months ago as part of a growth contest for the local society and they have done great. They are replacing the E. hormani. Crypts seem to like the UGF. Coincidentally, a recent article in AFM mentioned the same thing.

Our final tank, the 55 gallon, low-tech POS, is being replaced by the SLAG. The POS has defeated our efforts to grow plants without CO2 injection and we are finally giving up. About the only plants that seemed happy were Corkscrew Val and Java Moss. But of course, growing val and Java Moss is not the crowning achievement for a black belt Aquatic Gardener.

If anyone in the Northern Colorado region is interested in buying a used 55 g setup on the cheap, let me know. We will have it running for another six weeks while the SLAG is stabilizing but then it's toast.


The SLAG is an "all-Glass" brand 120 gallon tank. We are using an Oceanic pine stand that we have stained to match the decor in the house. Since the tank is 48" long by 24" wide, the stand has a bunch of room inside. The top and bottom are an open frame of 2x4 pine. We added a 3/4" plywood insert on the bottom, spaced level with the top of the lower frame, making a nice flush floor. The stand was stained and varnished prior to this weekend so it was ready to go.

The filter is an Amiracle SL-250 trickle filter run with a Rainbow Quiet One pump. The SL-250 is larger than we really need but we felt that the extra sump capacity would be nice. There was plenty of space in the cabinet for it. One rather annoying thing was that the skimmer/prefilter is the same size as the smaller Amiracle trickle filters and prevents us from running a much higher water flow. We are flowing more water than the YAOA and the SST, but not very much. The water flow, as well as other measureable parameters, has not yet been determined. I must be getting jaded.

The plumbing is mostly 3/4" PVC with ball valves. A 3/4" valve set vertically controls the return to the tank and a 1/2" valve going horizontally from a reducing tee controls the flow to the CO2 reactor. I had the 3/4" valve installed vertically to allow the highest possible flow through the system. The 1/2" valve sits at the same level as the top of the trickle filter.

But, like a butt-head, I didn't measure the vertical space inside the cabinet. With the 3/4" ball valve above the CO2 tee, and a threaded adapter after the valve to accept a 3/4" hose barb, there was not enough clearance. So I sawed off the 3/4" valve and spliced it between the pump and the CO2 tee. Then, of course, the 1/2" valve was too low so I sawed it off and spliced two 45 degree elbows in to get back up the the top of the trickle filter. When I was all done, the top of the 3/4" hose barb (tank return) was too short to allow the 3/4" vinyl tube to make an "S" turn to exit the cabinet. So now I have two 3/4" elbows to jog around the top of the cabinet and the flow is reduced quite a bit. <sigh> "Measure twice, cut once".

Before installing the hood, we needed to drain, move and re-setup the 55 gallon POS that is being replaced. This only took a bit longer than our normal water changing since we change 100 liters every two weeks anyway, accompanied by vigorous gravel vacuuming. This time we removed all the river rock and plants, put the 10 Rainbows and 10 other assorted fish into buckets and sucked the thing dry. We popped the gravel tube off the Python and ran the hose down one of the UGF uplifts to get the last few gallons out. Surprisingly, no mulm came out from under the plates. We also removed about 25 pounds of gravel to put on top of the gravel in the SLAG to help the biofilter start.

We slid the tank and stand across the floor and refilled it with just about 100% fresh tap water. The 'Bows seemed to like that since they have been "flashing" and spawning for the last two days.

Installing the metal halide hood was also a labor of love ... NOT. We bought a used Coralife hood a couple of years ago from a guy in Boulder who was getting rid of his reef setup. Paid $200 for it thinking there might be a need for it sometime in the future. Man, isn't it great how predictions come true? Anyway, it's a older hood made from 1/2" and 3/4" oak. One Heavy Mother. We wanted to suspend it over the tank so we could raise it up for maintenance, etc. Decorative swag lamp chain was the hot setup.

Since it was so heavy (no, I don't know how heavy, but it's heavy enough to make me break into a light sweat trying to hold it at an awkward height), I wanted to connect it to wall studs and not just the drywall. Luckily, there were two stubs right behind the tank at appropriate spacings. To hang it, I would put eyebolts into the studs at about 9 feet from the floor. From there the chain would go out at a 45 degree angle and be propped away from the wall by two horizontal 15" long "props". From the props, it would drop straight down to the hood. By making the props removable, we could also swing the hood up against the wall for tank maintenance.

The wall the tank is against is the end wall of a vaulted ceiling, i.e., the top of the wall is angled upwards. Well, guess what? At about 8 feet, there must be a horizontal stud and on top of that, the vertical stud spacing goes from 18" to 24". So at the 9 foot level, the stud spacings are all wrong. Arrrrgh.

So I have to get a 1x4 (nice clear pine, of course), bevel the edges with the trusty table saw and put it up first. Then I have to paint it. Now, the room walls are a funny dark almond color and we were going to paint the swag chain with Rustoleum "Almond" which is pretty close. But since I've already mounted the board and I didn't want to use a spray can in the house, I painted it with an off-white latex we had laying around. *That* stood out like a sore thumb!

That evening, I began to build the wiring for the cabinet. I built a receptacle panel in lieu of a couple of power strips. The panel has a 4 socket receptacle that can be switched on and off for pumps and such. There are three two socket receptacles that will be on all the time. The lower socket of each plate will have a timer; one for the MH lights, one for the FL lights and one for he heating coils. The upper socket of each will be powered all the time for whatever. I also added a cabinet light so the inside is nicely lighted. The final thing was to replace the wall outlet with a GFI unit.

The next morning, we had a quart of paint custom mixed to match the Rustoleum and repainted the damned board. I also sprayed the swag chain almond and installed some eyebolts on the hood. Things began to go better at that point.

With the hood installed we moved the cabinet in place, plugged the lights in and admired the work so far. All we needed now was the tank. <sigh>

With the tank on the floor, I started to place the 100 w Dupla heating cables. For once, the cables fit perfectly. I got 6 nice rows spaced 3 1/4" apart, just perfect for a Dennerle type system. Dupla now supplies cable anchors with the cables but the anchors are designed for 1 3/4" spacing. No problem. I just turned them sideways and used nylon cable ties to hold the cable to the anchor. TA-DA. No muss, no fuss. Finally.

With the cables in place, it was time to get the tank on the cabinet. UNNGH! I don't know what it weighs, etc, etc, but it sure is heavy. At least my self and my father-in-law didn't hurt any critical body parts moving it. I'm glad we didn't have to carry it up or down any stairs.

Drat! Forgot to attach the backdrop to the back of the tank. Slide the stand away from the wall and attach the $%-at-&$$ backdrop. Push the stand back and line everything up. Fine.

Things are progressing rapidly now. Karla is changing water and trimming plants in the 85 and 100 g tanks, building up a stock of transferees. My job is to wash 250 pounds of gravel and mix up 500g of Duplarit into 75 pounds of it.

With the laterite/gravel mixture on hand (literally :-), the bottom layer goes into the tank. The first bit goes in and is carefully arranged in a 1/4" thick layer below the heating cables. I am being very careful at this point to get an even layer and to make sure the cables are neatly on top of it. Just to prove how careful I am, I get the camera out to record my masterpiece for prosperity (and for a magazine article with appropriate rewards).

With the camera loaded with Kodachrome 64 film and with the MH lights blazing away, I discover the camera batteries are dead. This being July 4th and all, I can only shrug my shoulders, grin and bear it and chase the cats around the house while screaming at them until Karla tells me to knock it off.

After a brief rest, the rest of the laterite was neatly layered on top of the now undocumented Heating Coil Arrangement Masterpiece and made perfectly level. After this, the other 150 pounds of clean gravel was cerefully added and made perfectly level, sealing in the laterite. The final touch was the 25 pounds of "live" gravel from the POS that was tucked away the day before, layered on top and made perfectly level. And just how "live" might that gravel be after sitting in a bucket for 24 hours? Not very, I suspect. But it didn't smell bad. So it was vigorously washed and added to the tank anyway. If we see rather low peaks during the nitrogen cycle, we'll know that the tough little bacterial critters managed to survive this ordeal.

OK, the gravel is in and perfectly level. This is a test. How would *you* go about making sure the gravel was perfectly level?

Water sports! Karla hooks up the Python to the kitchen faucet, checks the temperature with the Second Nature liquid crystal thermometer permanently stuck on the faucet and lets the water fly. I'm running the active end of the Pyhton, making sure none of my perfectly level gravel is disturbed. We filled the tank about 3/4 of the way full and then it was Karla's turn. Aquascaping at it's finest.

When she extracted the E. hormani from the 85 g tank, she found the rhizome was about 12" long and firmly woven into the UGF plate by it's roots. We tugged and shook and pried but it just wasn't going to come loose. We finally used a paring knife to sever the roots and pulled it free. Awesome. Karla trimmed up the roots and rhizome and placed it in it's new home, just about taking up 1/3 of the 120 g SLAG. Dat's one big plant!

While Karla was putting in the rest of the plants, I was finalizing the filter hookups. I tried something special with the water return from the filter.

The inlet to the tank is a Lee's 3/4" siphon tube connected to a 3/4" PVC tee hose barb in the tank. The tee spits the water into two streams, one along the bottom and one in the middle, using Lee's 1" siphon tubes connected to the tee. Something like this:


    /  __  \
   /  /  \  \
  /  /    \  \
  |  |    |   |
          |   |
   ^      |   |                 __
 from     |   |                /  /
 pump      | |____------------/  / <- flow across midle
           |  ____              /
           | |    -------------- 
          |   |  
          |   | __  
          |   |/  /  <- flow across bottom
          |   |  /
          |   | /

Back to the plants.

The horemani is on the left 1/3 of the tank, about 2/3 af the way to the back. Along the side and back of it are Mexican Oak Leaf to provide a fast growing plant at first and block in the sides and rear. Along the middle rear is Rotala macrandra for a splash of color. Next to that is a stand of Nomaphila stricta. In the right rear corner are two huge Anubias barteri removed from the 85 g tank. In the right front are 6 Samolus Parviflorus with a bunch of Needle Leaf Ludwigia next to them. In the middle foreground are three bunches of Amoracea aquatica. Some Bacopa caroliniana are used int he rear to fill in open spaces and Echinodorus quadricostatus is used as foreground plants in the front. This is just the initial planting; I'm sure it will change.

Once the plans were in, we topped of the tank and started the filters. NO LEAKS! Yeah!

About the water inlets: remember the theory - current across the bottom, current across the middle? HAH! Surprise, surprise, the water has no reason to turn 90 degrees at the tee and go out the middle outlet. It all comes out the bottom outlet. Back to the drawing board. Or, as Norm the Master Carpenter sez, "Drawring board".

Now for a little clean work on the details. Get the CO2 hooked up. Ooops, forgot the solenoid for the controller. OK, connect the fine control valve to the bottle and trickle a bubble per second stream into the Dupla Reactor S (pronounced "Reactor Dollar-sign" :-).

Program all the timers for the right times. The MH lights will be one for 8 hours per day at first, with a 3 hour break in the afternoon (the old afternnon thunderstorm, you know). The FL lights (2 40w PennPlax Ultra Trilux) are on for two hours before and two hours after the MH. The hood is 8" above the water, so the FL lights won't have much biological effect.

Now connect a 24v, 5a transformer to the heating coils. The heating coils are set to be on for one hour and off for one hour. That's the only heat in the tank except for the Quiet One pump and the MH lights. The house is kept at 75 F by the air conditioner, so we'll see how the tank temperature goes. We're shooting for 78 F.

Still need to hook up the pH controller (just to monitor pH until we get a solenoid). Need to figure out a way to mount the pH electrode.

Also need to work out a way to cover the tank to keep the Rainbows and SAE inside. Probably a couple of pieces of tempered glass.

We have 6 black Sailfin Mollies to control algae during the initial breakin period (4-6 weeks). We'll add them tonight if pH and all check out. Once the nitrogen cycle is complete, we will transfer 3 Siameae Algae Eaters and 2 Farlowellas from the POS to the SLAG. After 5-6 weeks, we will add the Rainbows. We're going to have just M. lacustris (turquoise) and M. bosemani (orange and blue) in the SLAG with mostly G. incisus and wanamensis in the 85 g along with the other assorted 'Bows.

I'm sure glad to get back to work today so I can rest.

George Booth                 | Specialist in Freshwater Plant Tank Technology     | Keeper of Discus, Angelfish and Rainbowfish
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