My Reefkeeping Journey
by, 08-27-2012 at 04:28 AM (906 Views)
First off my name is Aaron and I am a reefer in DFW, TX; today marks my 11month anniversary in the hobby, I probably would have done this on my 1 year anniversary but Ill be at MACNA and after speaking with some guy in our club named Marc I decided no time like the present.
***DISCLAIMER*** This first post will be long as it details the last 11 months. I have read numerous build logs and have learned alot from them, but one thing I see often (and have done) is that people dont tend to post their mistakes/failures. In this post I will detail every failure and mistake that I can remember and hopefully someone can read this and learn as I have from so many others.
For my birthday last year my wife decided to buy me a 14g Biocube, little did she know what she had just done! We visited the closest LFS to us bought some sand/rock/water were told to place it in the tank and the cycle will take place. I was given test kits by a friend along with some other parts etc. I began testing the tank daily, I saw a small ammonia spike, no nitrite spike and a small nitrate spike so I began to add livestock(total time 2 weeks). I added a clownfish and a colony of texas trash palys; the clown died in about 4 days and the palys looked bad so off I went to the LFS. They told me there were probably still small amounts of ammonia/nitrite and to wait another 2 weeks then add fish. I followed their instructions and then added another clown... 2 days later dead clown and dead palys (yes I killed Texas trash if you want to know how keep reading!) To make a long story short I did this for about 45 days just to discover that test kits expire and mine were 2 years out of date; I had readings of ammonia, nitrite, and over 100 nitrates and had killed multiple fish and corals.
I began reading on the DFWMAS boards extensively and decided that bigger is better and easier so I found a 70g Oceanic Tech Tank and the wife agreed to the upgrade. This was probably the best decision we made in the hobby at this point. We decided to cycle this tank from scratch and I bought rock/sand/water then threw some deli shrimp in and began the wait. Roughly 45 days went by and the cycle was complete so I began moving over the remaining livestock from the 14g that I had gotten semi-stable. I bought a used 20g sump, got a DAS BX1 skimmer from the above friend along with a Mag9 pump, and a CF light fixture. I ended up buying a 48 LED kit from RapidLED and began to fill the tank with fish and coral. In January of 2012 I started getting the upgrade bug again because a 70g 36" tank just didnt allow for some of the fish I wanted to have, this is where the BIG problems began. The 70g tank was very stable had 3 starphire sides and was thriving.
I found a steal on our forums for a 120g tank with stand, canopy, sump, return pump and (4) T5s. The wife reluctantly agreed because I conviced myself and her that the maintenance on it would only be about another $10-15/month for water(we dont pay for electricity in our apartment) So the process began: I transferred all the equipment and livestock over. The skimmer wasnt enough so I bought a bigger(not better) one, kept my LEDs and the T5s, added 4 more koralias to the (2) K3s that I had for flow, 2 phosban reactors and since it was laying around I added a 20g frag tank. At this point I was really happy with my setup, but I was spending so much time trying to piece meal my equipment together to keep up with the rest of the tank that I had started neglecting the regular maintenance. My 10-15 a month turned into 1000s and this included trying to fill it. No one told me that the setup is the cheap part, filling a 120g tank is HARD unless you buy colonies which mean $$$$$$. I began buying fish left and right and because I am stubborn I chose not to listen to anyone and didnt QT anything. I ended up with Marine Ich and lost roughly $800 in fish over the course of 7 days. We decided to leave the tank fallow for 8 weeks and let our corals grow and then add more fish. Mounting school bills combined with always being behind the gun with equipment and trying to fill this tank I decided to quit. So the sales began!
The sale didnt work very well as I was already addicted to the hobby and couldnt get out. Someone offered to trade me a 34g solana for some corals and I jumped on it. Tank #4 in about 7 months. The process began all over again because this tank required different equipment for its size and we kept 3 of our prized corals. These are large pieces (10" elegance, 8-10" toadstool, 8" RBTA) these corals barely left any room in the tank for other corals let alone rock but we refused to part with them. Within about a month of setting this tank up it was totally full and I still had more livestock, so we purchased a 34g Neo Nano...Tank #5 in 8 months. Somehow I convinced the wife that 2 nanos is way different than 1 big tank! I now had about 90g of tank volume again! Before the neo nano ever finished cycling my wife and decided that these 2 tanks were really just putting a bandaid on the problem and we wouldnt be happy so we made the decision to get a tank in the 70g range and consolidate all the livestock and do it right this time.
We found a DSA 60g with a 20g sump. We moved over all the livestock, threw the LEDs from the solana over it and were off the ground running again. Tank #6 in about 9 months. I also setup a 20g QT tank for all fish that would be entering this system. I made 3 decisions the night I finished setting up this tank and it is my belief that they have been the key to my TRUE enjoyment of the hobby since then.
1. No rush decisions will be made on equipment and it must not need to be upgraded.
2. No equipment will be added that will not transfer to a 180g tank (exception being return pump)
3. Plan your livestock beforehand to try and avoid potential problems
Im sure you are wondering why I chose 180g tank for my standard and honestly I dont totally know. It was basically the next logical step that I could see us making WAY in the future. I have had a 120 and I dont find it to be enough of a real upgrade for what I want to accomplish as a hobbyist that we have decided 180 is the most logical step. As you read at the beginning Im from Texas and bigger is better so 400+g will be nice but we will have to see how things are when that time comes. I doubt that my Mag 9 will transfer to a 180 and I will probably want a bigger skimmer as Im currently using the Reef Octo NWB150, but that is all my sump would hold.
The first equipment purchase was a BRS dual reactor for carbon/gfo this is plumbed into a manifold off my return pump and can transfer to any size tank. Next the LEDs for the solana werent cutting it for me so I went searching for a lighting solution, while I think LEDs are great and will be the lighting of the future I wanted a guarenteed solution so I went with metal halide. I think I have spent more time researching lighting than any other topic in this hobby. I finally decided on Lumenbright Mini pendants with Lumatek switchable ballasts and a mogul socket. These ballasts will go up to 250w and all I would need to do for a 180g tank is add 1-2 more of these setups. Next was an Apex controller, this was something that I had wanted on my other tanks but was never able to get because of other problems. I dont know if I will ever run another tank without a controller. Neptune/Digital Aquatics needs to start a marketing campaign selling their product as "Reef Insurance"!! I need more flow in the tank right now and so I began looking for powerheads. I like the Vortech flow patterns but they recommended 2xMP10s for my tank, I dont like this plan because Im not certain they will move to the next tank so I am going to go with an MP40 and if I need more flow then Ill add in one of my current Koralias for the time being. Looking back now I wish we would have just stuck with the 70g Oceanic tank, I cant even begin to imagine how much money I would have "saved" or been able to spend on livestock had I just been content.
Here is a FTS from about a month ago:
For those who looked at this and skimmed over it as I do alot here are the highlights!
1. Check your test kits expiration dates
2. The LFS is a great resource but they dont live in your tank, verify the info and make an educated decision
3. Start with the biggest tank you can afford (this includes setup, maintenance, and livestock)
4. Plan every detail you can think of beforehand and then have it verified by a more experienced hobbyist
5. Buy it right the first time you will thank yourself later
6. You think you want to upgrade...DONT
7. Quarantine every fish you buy no matter the source
8. Dip every coral
9. Read, read, read and then read some more
10. Go slow
A member of our club always says: "Learning from your own mistakes is good. Learning from other peoples mistakes is even better.....and a whole lot cheaper!!"
There is alot to enjoy in this hobby and even more to learn and I have learned alot in the last 11 months most the hard way, but it has only been in the last few months that have really been able to enjoy the hobby as I wasnt concerned with the next tank/equipment upgrade. I can finally begin to focus on the husbandry side of the hobby which is so much more fun than the logistics. I hope that someone who reads this can avoid at least one of the mistakes I made.