Part 2: Choosing Your Tank and Getting the Right EquipmentTinyreef's 1.25g sunlight pico is an exceptional custom setup that relies entirely on natural light.
People have been known to use all sorts of containers for picos—betta tanks, goldfish bowls, pickle jars, ant farms—we've seen them all, though most of these are setup strictly for experimental purposes and are not particularly long lived. As mentioned before, the pico tanks that have yielded the most success typically fall within the range of 2.5 to 4 gallons so we'll explore some of the most commonly used tanks in that range.JBJ Picotope
The 3-gallon JBJ Picotope
is perhaps one of the most popular pico setups around and rightly so. It's a sturdy little tank with clean lines and highly resistant to scratches since it's entirely made of glass. The biggest deal breaker with the Picotope is the stock 9W lamp that leaves people wanting more. While the Picotope can support some hardy corals out of the box, chances are that most people will want to upgrade their light to support a majority of the corals they want to keep.Deco Kit Aquarium
For a while the 3-gallon Deco Kit
(and the smaller 2 gallon Deco) was the most popular alternative to the JBJ Picotope. Its 18W stock lamp can support a wide variety of corals right out of the box and comes with a powerful stock filter. On the downside the bulb in the stock fixture is irreplaceable which means that people have to buy a whole new fixture every time the bulb needs to be replace. But the biggest downfall for the Deco Kit is that it's made of acrylic and therefore scratches easily making it rather difficult to clean.Wheels' 4g Finnex pico.Finnex 4 Gallon
Though not nearly as popular, the Finnex 4-gallon
tank makes for a spectacular pico. Like the JBJ Picotope it's made of glass and comes with a 13W lamp. This tank however is deeper than most tanks due to it's awkward dimensions making the stock lighting somewhat inefficient though a simple lighting upgrade can make this tank ready for anything.Sandeep's 5.5g pico with built-in fuge.2.5 Gallon All Glass Aquarium (AGA)
A simple 2.5-gallon AGA is the cheapest option for a pico tank. Although not as pretty as some of the kits out there, its low cost and practicality leaves plenty of room for customization in terms of lighting and filter options. Another popular option is to use a 5.5-gallon AGA and partitioning it into two compartments with the display on one side and a modified fuge on the other. Even though the display portion is less than 3 gallons, the overall water volume is more than 5 gallons which helps keep the tank stable. This is a viable option for people who are particularly good with DIY projects.
Deciding upon which setup to go with is a matter of personal taste, given the positive points and caveats that were presented along with the type of budget you have in mind. Aside from the AGA tank, the aforementioned kits come reef ready and are pretty much good to go with some additional equipment although most people end up upgrading their light fixture. We'll explore different lighting options in the next section.
While a whole slew of tools and equipment exist out there, the goal of this guide is to keep things simple. Below is a short list of basic tools and equipment required to run a pico:
Heater and Thermometer
- Heater and thermometer
- Reliable test kit
- Automatic timer
- Maintenance supplies and tools
A good heater and thermometer are required to maintain a stable range of 78º–80º F. Stability is key in a pico and the more you can maintain a stable temperature, the better off your tank will be in the long run. More importantly, avoiding too much of a swing throughout the day is far more important than focusing too much on a specific temperature.
The room your pico tank is in will determine the type of heater you'll need. If the tank is in a climate controlled room then a small preset heater will suffice. You might even be able to do without one if the ambient temperature stays within the acceptable range. On the other hand, in a room where temperature fluctuates throughout the day, a good heater with a thermostat is an absolute necessity. The smallest Hydor Theo
and Visi-Therm Stealth
available are good reliable heaters and are the perfect size for most picos.
A heater is only as good as a thermometer. Once again a variety of thermometers exist from cheap simple floating types to high-tech digital ones. Since real estate is limited in a pico it's a good idea to keep the thermometer out of the tank. Fortunately there's a whole range of affordable and reliable digital thermometers you can choose from that will give you quick readings and are small enough to keep out of sight.RefractometerA refractometer is the single most indispensable tool for any pico.
As mentioned before (and many times later), stability is key and that applies to salinity as well. The ideal specific gravity range in a reef tank is 1.023–1.025. The less swing there is throughout the day, the better. Hydrometers are a cheaper alternative to refractometers but are far less accurate. Their cumbersome size is also somewhat difficult to work with in a pico resulting in headaches, heartaches and unnecessary frustrations whereas a refractometer can give you quick, painless and highly accurate readings. Given its higher price tag, a refractometer may not be in your initial budget and understandably so, but it's definitely something you should invest in down the line.Test Kit
There are a wide variety of test kits out there to choose from. Some are extremely accurate, others not so much. Some are reasonably priced while some are insanely expensive. It's best to find a good balance of both price and reliability. Salifert
test kits are notorious for their dead-on accuracy but are a bit pricey. On the other hand Red Sea test kits are known to be unreliable and are not worth the money. API test kits are both reliable and affordable and are therefore a happy medium for most people.
To start with you will need to test for pH, alkalinity, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. The API Saltwater Master Test Kit
conveniently includes testers for all those things. Once your tank has fully cycled you will find yourself less concerned with ammonia and nitrite and will need to start testing for calcium and phosphate as you begin stocking your tank. You can buy those testers individually or the Reef Master Test Kit
which bundles the two mentioned plus testers for nitrate and alkalinity.Automatic Timer
An automatic timer is a convenient and invaluable device for maintaining a stable photoperiod in your tank. A range of selection goes from simple inexpensive types to high-tech digital controllers. Deciding which type to get depends on your lighting system. A simple plug-in timer
works fine if you plan to stick with the stock lighting that comes with a kit. If you plan to upgrade your lighting or need lighting customization, the Coralife Power Center
is beneficial in allowing you to control different light settings throughout the day as well as certain devices that you only want to run part of the day such as heaters and powerheads. Lighting automation is a convenient feature that will allow you to step away from your tank with one less thing to worry about. Tools
Some of the most useful tools you can use to maintain a pico are common tools you'll find in and around the kitchen or in hardware stores.2 ½ quart Mixing Container
: these can be found in the paint section in any hardware store. They're usually graduated in liters, ounces and quarts and are great for water changes, dipping corals, acclimating livestock and for general everyday use.5-Gallon Mixing Bucket
: another paint mixing container that comes in handy for mixing saltwater and other heavy-duty use. Make sure to get one with a lid in order to use for storage.Turkey Baster
: a multi-purpose tool that can be use for cleaning by blasting algae and detritus from rocks and sand, overall water maintenance as well as a great tool for feeding.Aquatic Forceps
: a useful tool for feeding, poking, prodding, grabbing, stirring and moving things in and out of the tank.Airline Tubing
: for siphoning water out of the tank during maintenance and for acclimating livestock.Magnet Glass Cleaner
are easy to find and affordable. Nimble Nanos
are even better and make cleaning algae off the glass almost effortless. They're handmade and are not always readily available but are well worth the wait.
TIP: Choose a tank that will work best for you and what you have in mind. Whichever direction you decide to go with, these basic tools and equipment will help get you on the right track. While most of the kits mentioned come reef ready and are simple to setup, a custom AGA tank will require some work. Be sure to browse around the forum for tips and ideas.Part 3: Lighting, Filtration and Flow
Edited by el fabuloso, 03 January 2009 - 01:01 AM.