20 gallon high blackwater setup

Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! I am turning my 20 gallon high into a blackwater tank. I do not know for sure whether it will be uber-soft and acidic or whether I will simply have it look like a blackwater tank, but it is going to have a substrate of leaves and some driftwood. I built an air powered box filter for it from a food storage container (which I will photograph later) that will have a sponge filter and leaves on the inside. The tank will have a black background covering three sides; it may eventually have floating plants and (if strict blackwater parameters are not followed) some hornwort wrapped around the driftwood. More info will be provided as I develop this tank...thanks for looking :)
 
MacZ
Member
Don't put the leaves in the filter, they are far more effective in the leaf litter bed.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
MacZ said:
Don't put the leaves in the filter, they are far more effective in the leaf litter bed.
I was wondering if adding some of the leaves to the filter would result in a mini refugium developing with lots of little microinverts...was that an unreasonable expectation, or is there some other reason to keep the leaves out of the filter?
 
MacZ
Member
The thing is, the leaves will decompose to mulm and simply clogg your filter, also they take away room for filter media.
The more efficient way of utilising the plant material is a leaf litter bed. The bottom layer should be fine sand, and on top you have the leaf litter. Between leaves and sand a layer of mulm forms that contains a lot of microorganisms and that stabilizes the biological balance of the tank. Also microinverts or infusoria that colonise the leaf material are more useful when accessible to the fish and not caged in the filter.
The bed has to be constantly fueled. I add only a handful of leaves per month, but that's enough to slowly build up that layer.

You can also kickstart the mulm layer by spreading some peat (maybe a handfull for the whole tank) on the sand before adding the leaves.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
MacZ said:
The thing is, the leaves will decompose to mulm and simply clogg your filter, also they take away room for filter media.
The more efficient way of utilising the plant material is a leaf litter bed. The bottom layer should be fine sand, and on top you have the leaf litter. Between leaves and sand a layer of mulm forms that contains a lot of microorganisms and that stabilizes the biological balance of the tank. Also microinverts or infusoria that colonise the leaf material are more useful when accessible to the fish and not caged in the filter.
The bed has to be constantly fueled. I add only a handful of leaves per month, but that's enough to slowly build up that layer.

You can also kickstart the mulm layer by spreading some peat (maybe a handfull for the whole tank) on the sand before adding the leaves.
THERE is the reason! Thanks :) Is the sand strictly required below the leaves? I was just going to have a 2-3 inch thick leaf layer.

Here is the filter, coincidentally;

Box filter.jpeg
 
MacZ
Member
The sand is structurally necessary, even if it's a really thin layer of a mere cm. It helps keeping the leaves in place and the mulm layer, too. If you try to start that on the glas bottom directly it will not accumulate evenly.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi again everyone! The RO buddie I purchased works just as desired, so I am (slowly) filling this tank up with the RODI water thus produced and will be turning it into a 'true' blackwater tank. Waiting on the oak leaves and driftwood currently...
 
MacZ
Member
Nice! :)
Is it actually RO/Di? Unless there is a DI filter on the RO unit, it's just RO.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
It does indeed have a mixed bed cartridge at the end of the unit, so yes.

EDIT; Coincidentally, the driftwood and leaves (all three gallons of them) arrived today, and I purchased some sand from a nearby pet store. I placed the sand in the tank and am currently soaking the leaves and wood (though the driftwood appears to already be sinking...) - the tank should be presentable by tomorrow (though being a botanical tank, it might not stay as such for long).
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! The tank's water level is (as of this morning) now high enough that I was able to set the box filter running, and now I have a full tank shot to share!

5 11 2021 Blackwater setup.jpeg

As you can see, the tank has a long ways to go...but hey! It's progress. I am probably not going to make the water level any higher than this...I am strongly considering having a houseplant or two growing hydroponically in this tank. Many of the leaves have sunk, but the driftwood has yet to do so.

I am still VERY undecided as to what will go in this tank...licorice gouramies (which I have kept and bred before)? Small wild bettas? Apistos/Dicrossus/Nannochromis? A shoal of tetras or pencilfish? Suggestions for stocking this tank would be lovely (and I have plenty of time to receive them, as I am not planning on stocking this tank for at least two months from now). I would like a species tank so that I could breed the occupants.
 
MacZ
Member
I hope you have good aeration in place. That amount of leaves (as great as it looks) will otherwise use up the oxygen within a few days.

Just because I would do it: Dicrossus and some tetras.
Right now I have Apistos and Pencilfish, which is great but for a group of Dicrossus I would completely re-stock my tank. They are hard to come by here, though. Only know one store and that one is a decisive little bit out of my fish transport range.
 
Pfrozen
Member
Agreed, Dicrossus is one of my dream projects. They won't breed unless the pH is VERY low (below 5) but the eggs don't hatch unless the pH is over 5. Easy to spawn in those conditions but very hard to raise the young to maturity. fun project for an extremophile blackwater for sure
 
TClare
Member
Same here, I‘d love to do a set up like this with Dicrossus. But I have never seen them for sale where I live.
 
Catappa
Member
MacZ said:
I hope you have good aeration in place. That amount of leaves (as great as it looks) will otherwise use up the oxygen within a few days.

Just because I would do it: Dicrossus and some tetras.
Right now I have Apistos and Pencilfish, which is great but for a group of Dicrossus I would completely re-stock my tank. They are hard to come by here, though. Only know one store and that one is a decisive little bit out of my fish transport range.
I don't know what the travel time/distance would be for you to Amersfoort in Holland. Utaka (my favorite shop) currently has young, wild-caught Dicrossus for 3,95 euro
 
Pfrozen
Member
Just looking closer at your pic and I'm not entirely sure if 2 months will be enough to achieve the conditions you want... I think 4 months might be more reasonable but I'm not an expert on true blackwater environments. Ask me questions about faux blackwater all day tho

what do you guys think?
 
MacZ
Member
Catappa said:
I don't know what the travel time/distance would be for you to Amersfoort in Holland. Utaka (my favorite shop) currently has young, wild-caught Dicrossus for 3,95 euro
Got no car and right now the position of a cichlid in my tank is taken by a great looking Apistogramma hongsloi. What I meant with "out of my transport range" is: More than 30 min and one line change with public transport. Amersfoort is about 3h by car. Each way. So 6 hours in total.
Thanks, though. ;)
Also there is that thing with crossing borders these days within Europe.
 
Catappa
Member
MacZ said:
Got no car and right now the position of a cichlid in my tank is taken by a great looking Apistogramma hongsloi. What I meant with "out of my transport range" is: More than 30 min and one line change with public transport. Amersfoort is about 3h by car. Each way. So 6 hours in total.
Thanks, though. ;)
Also there is that thing with crossing borders these days within Europe.
Haha. Same boat here. No transportation and I could probably not find anyone to take me there (or I'd have to pay a lot!) and with my health issues, it would be too taxing. I do check their site regularly just to drool. They often have the fish I want that no one else has AND wild-caught. Sigh. You might enjoy looking at their stocklist (changes weekly) and their videos, just for dreaming value.

PS: had to google for an image of Apistogramma hongsloi . WOW! Beautiful fish!
 
StinkyLoaf
Member
Following! I hope it’s all going smoothly for you. I don’t know much about blackwater setups but I would like to fill these gaps in my knowledge.

In the future I would like to try this. I’m growing tired of looking at my sister’s tank, filled with artificial materials. My own tank is looking much better with it’s live plants, wood, rocks and sand but why just stop there? :)

Good luck! Can’t wait to see how it turns out. :happy:
 
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Joshaeus
Member
StinkyLoaf said:
Following! I hope it’s all going smoothly for you. I don’t know much about blackwater setups but I would like to fill these gaps in my knowledge.

In the future I would like to try this. I’m growing tired of looking at my sister’s tank, filled with artificial materials. My own tank is looking much better with it’s live plants, wood, rocks and sand but why just stop there? :)

Good luck! Can’t wait to see how it turns out. :happy:
Thanks! The tank is too young to tell if anything is going wrong...it does have an air line, but time will tell if that is enough. Blackwater tanks need plenty of time to cycle to ensure that there are enough bacteria and microfauna to keep up with the decay of the leaves; said microfauna will also offer a lot of supplementary food to the fish in the setup.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! As MacZ suggested would happen, the tank is going through quite the bacterial bloom right now, looks cloudy, and was beginning to develop a decidedly...off odor, so this morning I followed his suggestion and added an air stone to complement the filter. Yesterday I also added a turtle dock I had lying around and 'planted' some pothos on it, adding a small light on a 5 hour timer to the tank for the pothos and any other plants (perhaps a moss or Utricularia gibba?) that get placed on this turtle dock. Here is the tank as of this morning;

5 13 2021 Blackwater setup.jpeg

On a side note, I tested the tank's PH this morning...the tank's PH is about 6.5, as seems to be typical for me when I set up soft water tanks. It always seems to be very difficult for me to get the PH much below that value for long...hopefully whatever I wind up stocking the tank with will not be too choosy about the exact PH as long as the water is soft (alternately I may resort to dosing CO2 to encourage the desired PH drop).
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! Here's another picture update (I had to shrink the picture a bit because it was not uploading at full size);

5 16 2021 Blackwater setup online.jpg

I did a 16 liter WC today with 1-2 ppm TDS RODI water (this picture was taken AFTER the water change, coincidentally...this tank is really that dark!) and added a 400 watt titanium heater (overkill for sure, but it's the only sufficiently large heater I currently have) that I set to 78 fahrenheit. The TDS of the tank yesterday was 42 ppm...I am not sure whether it's because of the enormous amount of tannins released by the leaves or whether it is because of the ammonium chloride I am adding to cycle the tank.

On a side note, the pothos is already visibly growing...new roots are sprouting and a leaf is currently opening.
 
MacZ
Member
Joshaeus said:
The TDS of the tank yesterday was 42 ppm...I am not sure whether it's because of the enormous amount of tannins released by the leaves or whether it is because of the ammonium chloride I am adding to cycled the tank.
Both. TDS just detects everything solved in the water. What's the EC?

You can stop using the ammonium actually. You have so much rotting biomass in there, cycling works completely different in a tank like this. The pothos is also likely soaking all that stuff up anyway.

Joshaeus said:
(I had to shrink the picture a bit because it was not uploading at full size);
They have turned of the "post full-size" option for the forum a few months ago.
 
TClare
Member
MacZ said:
Both. TDS just detects everything solved in the water. What's the EC?

You can stop using the ammonium actually. You have so much rotting biomass in there, cycling works completely different in a tank like this. The pothos is also likely soaking all that stuff up anyway.



They have turned of the "post full-size" option for the forum a few months ago.
About the full size picture option, I have discovered that if you don’t use the attach photos option but instead drag the photo from the desktop to inside the post, it comes out full size.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
MacZ said:
Both. TDS just detects everything solved in the water. What's the EC?

You can stop using the ammonium actually. You have so much rotting biomass in there, cycling works completely different in a tank like this. The pothos is also likely soaking all that stuff up anyway.



They have turned of the "post full-size" option for the forum a few months ago.
Noted on the ammonium. I have not tested the conductivity specifically...aren't conductivity and TDS basically different ways of testing for the same thing (that is, ions in the water column)? I tried uploading the full sized, 4000 pixel long original picture, but was having issues getting fishlore to do so...I shrank the picture to about 2000 pixels long and that went fine (I would have posted it as a thumbnail either way).
 
MacZ
Member
TClare said:
About the full size picture option, I have discovered that if you don’t use the attach photos option but instead drag the photo from the desktop to inside the post, it comes out full size.
Gets changed by a mod or admin later on. I tried more than once. :)

Joshaeus said:
Noted on the ammonium. I have not tested the conductivity specifically...aren't conductivity and TDS basically different ways of testing for the same thing (that is, ions in the water column)?
Conductivity is basically ions, right, like metals, salts etc. TDS includes bigger molecules as well, like nitrates, ammonia, tannins, acids, carbonates...
 
TClare
Member
MacZ said:
Gets changed by a mod or admin later on. I tried more than once. :)
yes, I just checked some I posted last week, you are quite right, shame. I suppose it is to save space on the forum. They did last full size a couple of days though...
 
MacZ
Member
TClare said:
I suppose it is to save space on the forum.
Exactly, it was announced back then.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! The tank is doing well, but this isn't a picture update...rather, it is a question; how often should I add leaves, and how many should I add at once? I was thinking of adding about a half cup of leaves either weekly or every other week. Thanks :)
 
MacZ
Member
Considering each addition of leaves is going to be followed by a drop in oxygen levels, a handful (5-7 pieces) every other week is enough. You can raise that number depending on how decomposition works in your tank.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
MacZ said:
Considering each addition of leaves is going to be followed by a drop in oxygen levels, a handful (5-7 pieces) every other week is enough. You can raise that number depending on how decomposition works in your tank.
OK! Thanks.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! Time for a long overdue picture update;

6 1 2021 Blackwater setup.jpeg

Just did a water change a few minutes ago. The pothos' rapid growth is still amazing me...clearly this plant likes blackwater setups :) The TDS was 20 ppm and the PH 6.5 a few days ago. Not much new really...

EDIT; I almost forgot! I also did an ammonia test a day before the water change. Total ammonia levels were (unsurprisingly?) 0 ppm.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! Just did a water change...here is the tank as of a few minutes ago;

6 6 2021 Blackwater setup.jpeg

Not much to report...the tank's TDS was 14 ppm before the water change, and I added 10 oak leaves Friday after steeping them for a few hours in hot water from our coffee maker (they sank almost immediately when placed in the tank). I likely won't have much fascinating to report on this tank for a while, as I will be working towards setting a new tank up for my persian killifishes.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! The tank's TDS was 12 ppm before the water change, and I added 10 leaves during the water change a few minutes ago. I also did some calculations and, based on the tank's water level, this tank currently holds about 13-14 gallons (I calculated for a slightly higher water level than the tank is currently at). Substantial biofilms are visible on the driftwood, many of the leaves, and even parts of the tank glass. Anyhow, enough of my blabbering...picture time :)

6 13 2021 Blackwater setup.jpeg

Also, as a bonus, here is a close up of the pothos;

Crazy pothos.jpeg

Thanks for looking :)
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! Here is another one (two, actually) of my crazy questions...I am thinking about adding Riccia to this tank as floating cover for any fry that may be born in this setup in the future. Would Riccia survive in such soft water?

Also, I am thinking of adding a colony of springtails to the turtle dock as a supplementary food source for the fishes. Would that work well long term, or would the colony not last under these conditions (perhaps by jumping off the dock en masse or by being accidentally flushed off during a water change)? I was thinking of feeding them dry fish food. Thanks for your responses :)
 
MacZ
Member
Joshaeus said:
Would Riccia survive in such soft water?
Yes, it works. The mineral content is not that important. Question is rather, how much of the little nutrients in your water the Pothos can drain from the tank. What's your nitrate level? You might have to use ferts.

Joshaeus said:
Also, I am thinking of adding a colony of springtails to the turtle dock as a supplementary food source for the fishes. Would that work well long term, or would the colony not last under these conditions (perhaps by jumping off the dock en masse or by being accidentally flushed off during a water change)? I was thinking of feeding them dry fish food. Thanks for your responses
There are species of springtail-like critters (not actual springtails. forgot what they're called) that colonise floating plants and can walk over the water because they're so light. And I guess actual springtails might be able to not break surface tension as well.
 
YellowGuppy
Member
MacZ said:
Yes, it works. The mineral content is not that important. Question is rather, how much of the little nutrients in your water the Pothos can drain from the tank. What's your nitrate level? You might have to use ferts.



There are species of springtail-like critters (not actual springtails. forgot what they're called) that colonise floating plants and can walk over the water because they're so light. And I guess actual springtails might be able to not break surface tension as well.
I've got some jumpy little critters that live on my frogbit. Sometimes I'll wave my hand over the plants and they all jump onto the water surface where the occasional one gets snatched up by a hungry guppy.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
MacZ said:
Yes, it works. The mineral content is not that important. Question is rather, how much of the little nutrients in your water the Pothos can drain from the tank. What's your nitrate level? You might have to use ferts.



There are species of springtail-like critters (not actual springtails. forgot what they're called) that colonise floating plants and can walk over the water because they're so light. And I guess actual springtails might be able to not break surface tension as well.
Ammonia levels were 0 ppm last I checked...I did not test nitrite or nitrate.
 
MacZ
Member
What were the last numbers? Of everything.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
MacZ said:
What were the last numbers? Of everything.
I am heading to work soon, but I will try to remember to do some testing tonight. PH is consistently 6.5.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Joshaeus said:
I am heading to work soon, but I will try to remember to do some testing tonight. PH is consistently 6.5.
Well...it's a day late, but I DID do some tests on the tank before work today. TDS is 10 ppm, nitrite and nitrate are both zero.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! Picture update;

6 20 2021 Blackwater setup.jpeg

The tank's tint has been getting steadily lighter...I hope that eventually stops. I added 10 oak leaves today. Not much else to report, but I am strongly leaning towards trying Betta dimidiata in this tank, as it is a hardy, attractive betta that does not strictly require blackwater conditions if I have to tear this setup down at some point (or if I am no longer able to provide uber-soft water for it).
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! I missed the picture update last week, so here is the tank as of a few minutes ago;

7 4 2021 Blackwater setup.jpeg

I trimmed the pothos a little (and potted the resulting cutting in a mix of sand and peat moss...we are having a yard sale soon and I would like to sell a cutting or two there), added 15 oak leaves, and did a 16 liter water change. The old tank water had a TDS of 10 ppm, which seems like it is going to be the normal value from the decaying wood and leaves. On a side note...I have most of the money needed for adding fish to this tank, so there will be fish (hopefully Betta dimidiata) in this tank by the end of the month (potentially earlier) so long as nothing goes wrong; in preparation for that, I picked up some frozen mysis yesterday (and got a good scratch from the freezer in the process! ;( ) to supplement the pellets and baby brine shrimp I already have available.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! Last night I performed an experiment to check whether this tank is cycled...around 9:15pm last night I added about 1.65ppm of ammonia (via Dr. Tim's ammonium chloride) and this morning (around 7:10am) I tested the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels in the tank using the respective API test kits. All were 0ppm, so clearly nitrogen is getting processed...though I have no clue whether that is primarily the pothos' 'fault' or whether some of it is due to nitrifying bacteria/archaea in the tank. This also increased the TDS by 5 ppm overnight, likely from the residual chloride ions.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! I don't have a picture update today, but I will say what happened with the tank. I broke my finger last Wednesday (a week ago) and the faucet I make the RODI water with is downstairs (my tank is upstairs), so I only did a 3 gallon WC Sunday. Saturday we had a yard sale, and I successfully sold both of the cuttings of the pothos that I took off the main plant...it's already growing new stems below where I took the cuttings.

I'm feeling a little discouraged...Betta dimidiata does not appear to be available anywhere at the moment and I REALLY want to have this tank stocked by the end of this month (I'm nervous that most other mouthbrooding bettas would breed the males to death in a tank this size).
 
MacZ
Member
Do you absolutely have to breed? Otherwise if that works with these species (not a betta expert) how about an all-male group?
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Maybe! But I really do want a spawning project...I could try a different genus of fish altogether or go with the coccina complex (which are bubblenesters...I am wary of trying splendens complex bettas again).
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! I was not able to use the RODI unit today, but we did get some rain and I was able to collect some reasonably pure (4-5 ppm TDS) water for the 3 gallon water change. Here is the tank as of a few minutes ago (I opted to take the picture without the tank light off, as this is after its normal photoperiod);


7 18 2021 Blackwater setup.jpeg

I rearranged the pothos in the back and gave it some suction cups to support itself on, but I cannot say much else has changed. This tank WILL have fish in it by the end of the month...I just still haven't decided which.
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! Small but significant update...Betta dimidiata is available on aquabid again :) I am planning on purchasing the fish (hopefully this week...it is an auction rather than a 'buy it now') and getting them in this tank the subsequent Thursday. Hooray! :)
 
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Joshaeus
Member
Hi everyone! I did a 3 gallon water change a few minutes ago, but otherwise not much new with the tank itself...however, I won two pairs of F1 Betta dimidiata :) They will hopefully arrive Thursday. Here is a picture of some of the fish he was offering (I hope they look this good for me!);

Betta dimidiata.jpg
 
SouthAmericanCichlids
Member
Joshaeus said:
Hi everyone! I did a 3 gallon water change a few minutes ago, but otherwise not much new with the tank itself...however, I won two pairs of F1 dimidata :) They will hopefully arrive Thursday. Here is a picture of some of the fish he was offering (I hope they look this good for me!);

Betta dimidiata.jpg
What is the scientific name, dimidata wasn't showing anything. They look like Macropodus dayi.

Oh, never mind Betta dimidata, they do look quite similar to Macropodus Dayi though.
 
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