March 4, 2015

We obtained a free 108 gallon aquarium from a co-worker more than a decade ago and it's been sitting empty waiting for a proper basement in order to set it up. We were nervous about setting it up anywhere other than the basement because it weighs 1600 pounds (give or take) when full needing extra thought about structural support. Also, it needed a perfectly level surface on which to rest in order to avoid stress cracks and catastrophic failure at an inopportune time.

Anyway, the time came and we built it into a wall, took a deep breath and started filling it with water, crossing our fingers for no leaks. I've had a few aquariums in my day and we figured we knew more or less what we were getting into, though the technology has changed an incredible amount in the last fifteen years (who knew?) and we decided we wanted to try a planted aquarium (cue ominous music).

Brendan and I had a lot of fun researching what kind of equipment we needed. It didn't take long before we realized that our tank size put us into unknown territory, but at least there was a lot of conflicting advice to read on the internet. I was primarily anxious to get some fish!

I was a little worried that my water tests weren't working properly at first - they had not been stored in the best conditions ever. Turns out that the city of Ottawa has massively changed the pH of the water in the last decade as well. Supposedly this is to reduce pipe corrosion which is strangely important when your city is full of aging century old piping... Also turns out we have softer water now.

My Uncle Carl and Aunt Judy's amazing neighbour gave us a whole pile of starter plants at Christmas time which we duly planted. We acquired a few assorted tetras and hoped for the best. This did not come to pass. Instead we realized our water cycle wasn't working due to insufficient ammonia and that we were battling an algal bloom. We'd opted not to buy a CO2 system because it sounded expensive and complicated. Turns out that it's really a necessary component for the kind of heavily planted tank we want to cultivate. My cupboards started rapidly filling with fertilizer, CO2 tanks, and pH monitors. It was about here that it became clear that the fish wall was going to be completely fish related. Fond hopes about extra storage withered, but despite a leaky CO2 check valve and a lot of trial and error eventually the plants started to recover.

We started compulsively testing the water for all kinds of stuff - I don't think I've done this much chemistry since grade 11. I also bought a couple of large snails and some algae eaters (two different kinds of corys) for good measure. I wasn't sure about the snails, but it turns out that they are really mesmerizing to watch. I think they might be my favourite aquarium creatures.

Then, disaster. We bought a bunch of new fish for Matthew's birthday and it turned out they had tail and fin rot. Sadly, I didn't watch the fish long enough at the store (something to do with two over-excited children pulling me around the store while Brendan was chatting about plants and skimmer systems with one of the employees). They looked more or less normal while I was releasing them into the tank, but there were two with slightly ragged fins. I would have quarantined those fish, but we had decided that a quarantine tank was not a priority so into the main tank they went. By the next morning, the ragged fin fish had no tails and all of the other new fish of that kind were raggedy and covered in spots. We spent the next two hours chasing fish.

The store did give us a refund on their diseased fish but when some of the other fish started developing spots we panicked and decided to treat the whole tank. Turns out that antibiotics for fish are very expensive for a 108 gallon tank, especially if you can't wait for the cheap online drugs. Of course they have cheaper online drugs for fish. We now have a quarantine tank. And special filter inserts to remove the antibiotic coloration from the water. And a very elaborate water change mechanism. Turns out 25% of 108 gallons by bucket also takes about two hours to complete and Brendan was going to do that exactly once. Of course he spent at least a couple of hours at Home Depot engineering his solution but I'm told that was great fun. Two fish died, but the others that were looking a little raggedy started to look healthy again and thankfully none of "Elizabeth's" fish were affected.

Then some of my peppered corys started gasping at the surface. The antibiotic destroyed any bacteria. Our ammonia levels were up a bit and this plus maybe some variant of the tail rot was too much. Three more fish died. It was very depressing, especially since the kids were on antibiotics at the same time - thankfully with a less lethal ailment...

Quite a few weeks and water changes later, things appear to be back to normal. The fish and the plants seem happy. I guess it is time to try acquiring some new fish...

Equipment list for the curious.

Main tank

-108 gallon 1/2" glass aquarium 60"x18"x24"

-Seachem flourite substrate (42kg)

-Eheim G160 canister filter

-Tom's aquatics surface skimmer

-Marineland 48" aquatic plant LED light

-JBJ True Temp temperature controller

-Hydor 300 watt inline heater

-10 lbs CO2 canister (x2)

-American Marine CO2 regulator

-American Marine PH controller

-UpAqua inline CO2 atomizer

-Custom lid made out of plexiglass, aluminium channel and real glass

-Frosted (pinhead) glass insert in two pieces

-1/2" PVC valves and fittings mixed with brass fittings to make suction and pressure side control valves with input and output connections for a hose which can be attached to the sink faucet or reach to the tub for water changes

Hospital tank

-5 gallon Fluval Spec V

-Hydor Theo 25 watt heater

-Random bits of PVC pipe for fish to hide in (but still easy to clean)

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