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Starting a New Tank- the 2Hr Way

January 14, 2023 3 min read

Starting a New Tank- the 2Hr Way

A new aquarium is always lovely but can quickly become frustrating. These 5 steps would help:

Step #1: Start Slow

A new aquarium is like a young earth billions of years ago. It might look clean and peaceful, but it is actually incredibly hostile and unstable.

In that environment, algae and smaller life forms have a huge advantage. Volatile organic matter, including poisonous Ammonia, is often present (even if not detected by hobbyist test kits).

It is tremendously helpful to cycle a tank before planting. A simple approach is to let the filter run, with hardscape and substrate in, without lights. We let our tanks cycle for at least 2 weeks, and add APT Start to accelerate the cycling. We test for Ammonia (a few times) before adding plants.

Tank Cycling

Step #2: Start with 70

When adding plants, we always get enough plants to immediately cover at least 70% of the tank substrate with plants. Plants are like trees in a forest. A sparse forest is very prone to weeds (algae) while a filled forest is alot more resilient.

Many tanks start off sparsely planted, which is a big invitation for algae to take hold.

New Tank Diatoms

Step #3: Hold Steady

It is common for tanks to look great for the first 2 weeks, then get invaded by diatoms (above).

In CO2 tanks, this is generally a temporary 1-2 week phase if we keep other parameters stable! It is unhelpful to have irregularity in lighting, CO2 and multiple changes in water parameters at this stage. These prolong the path to stability considerably.

In tanks without CO2, this phase can take much longer - often 4- 6 weeks easily. This is because plant growth and adaption is much slower without CO2 injection. Nature isn’t too bothered with algae (they are plants too) but this is a major test of patience for most people.

The important thing- refrain from adding a cocktail of strong algicides or changing your fertiliser dosage or adding other additives at this phase. All these tend to prolong rather than hasten the path to stability.

Below we see the same tank after the diatoms disappeared:

Tank Cycling 2Hr Way

Step #4: Fertilisation

We add fertilisers immediately upon planting. This helps plants adapt faster. In the first 2-3 months, we recommend  using APT 1, in combination with aquasoil.  Adding APT Jazz gives a good extra boost, but the basic is APT1. We switch to APT 3 after that for long term maintenance, and if fishload is low. 

Dosage should be consistent, and regular. If you are growing more demanding plants, go for aquasoil.

Fish should only be added 1 or preferably 2 weeks after planting. If you have a lot of fish, you can continue with APT1 beyond 3 months. 

2Hr Way Cutting and Replanting

Step #5: Replant Tops

All plants go through an adaptation phase to fit your tank environment. As a rule, plants channel their energy towards new leaves, rather than try to preserve old ones. So it is normal for old leaves to be shed.

For stem plants, always replant the healthy tops after they grow tall, as the new tops are adapted to the tank. Discard old stems and roots. Don’t worry- new roots will grow easily. Aquatic plants are not perennial and losing their roots isn’t an issue at all.

Instead of simply trimming the first cycle after initial planting, take the effort to cut and replant.

For most stem plants, you can trim in the second cycle (after having replanted the healthy tops the first time) and maybe the 3rd cycle. But by the 5th cycle (the 5th time they grow to hit the water surface) it is often the time to trim and replant again.

Stem plants require a lot more work in that sense.

What else?

1. More frequent and larger water changes are generally helpful, as they remove volatile organics and waste (even if the water looks clear). Remember to use a dechlorinator to avoid inadvertently killing off the good bacteria that is so important at this stage.

2. For the first month, it is also good to tune down lights slightly and lower lighting hours to 6 or less.