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beginner looking for experienced help


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hi, my name is matt.


i've recently decided that i would like to try a nano reef tank. i have no experience with saltwater.


i understand that nano tanks are not easier than larger tanks, and are challenging for beginners. i am responsible and willing to dedicate time and money, and this hobby really fascinates me, so i think that i am up for the challenge.


i've been reading forums here on nano-reef.com, as well as on saltwaterfish.com, for the past couple of weeks in an effort to learn as much as i can about nano tanks. i have also been reading "the reef tank owners manual" by john tullock and "you and your aquarium" by dick mills. unfortunetely, these books have not been too helpful to me because it seems that the rules and practices for nano tanks differ greatly from larger tanks, which is what these books primarily cover. i have learned quite a bit from reading forums and articles but still have a lot to learn before i will feel confident enough to take responsibility for some living organisms.


so, what i am looking for is someone who is serious about offering help to a beginner to the hobby, someone who is willing to answer many questions and not only answer, but explain why, so that i understand what it is that i will (hopefully) be doing.


so, if you're willing to help me out, i would GREATLY appreciate it.


i've decided on a 5.5 gallon tank, for many reasons, including lack of space, need for a certain degree of portability, and simple preference. i'm not planning on keeping any fish, i would like a low bioload. just going to try a few soft corals and some inverts. my goal is to make the system as natural as possible, so that the benefits of an established eco-system can be obtained.


i have selected some equipment for the tank. it is listed below in sections. i have included links to the products i have chosen. feedback on my selections is appreciated, as well as possible alternatives. further sections are included, with my respective questions for each.


thank you.






JBJ 36 watt. what would be a good lighting cycle?








Hagen Tronic 50 watt. what would be a good temperature?








Aquaglobe Micro Pump








in my quest to make my system as natural as possible, i would like to try natural filtration as much as possible. i would like to get about 7-8 pounds of live rock, let that seed my sand (1-1.5" bed, i imagine), and do water changes of about 1 gallon every two weeks. no filter, no skimmer. is this reasonable?






see above.






what is involved in mixing saltwater? what mix would you recommend? what salinity level do i need to be at, and how do you make sure that level is reached?






is testing necessary in a nano? how often? and what for? what testing kit would you recommend? i found a kit online for about $20, the "fasTesT master kit" which was suggested to me and looks pretty good.








this is the area where most of my confusion lies. is it always necessary to dose? ideally, i would like to have my system self-sustained as far as things like this go, but i'm totally willing to put the work into it if that is not reasonable (i have read of a guy with a tank that stays perfectly balanced, he hadn't done a water change in 8 months and life in his tank was thriving!). so if it is at all possible to get to this point, i would love that, and am willing to choose corals and inverts that work well together to be as close as i can, but if i need to dose, that is fine. i just don't understand what, and how often, and how necessary it is. will it be necessary without a skimmer and filter? it seems like elements would just stay stable.






i'm totally willing to top-off every day, but i've read that liquid has no used a plexiglass cover to seal his tank and that it is no longer necessary to top-off. is this a reasonable thing to do? would it be better to wait until the tank is well-established to try this? what are the advantages and disadvantages?






what are two or three good beginner corals that will live well together and grow a bit? i was thinking xenia and polyps, maybe some mushrooms. with my setup, are these reasonable?






what should i use for a cleanup crew? what other inverts could i have without throwing the tank out of balance? i would like some snails, hermit crabs, maybe an emerald crab (is this reasonable?), a shrimp or two (peppermint?), and possibly a star (but if that is not reasonale, i'm totally willing to go without). i'm open to suggestions here.






no fish. keep the bioload low. don't make things to challenging for myself at the beginning.






how often can inverts be added? corals? do they need to be eased into the tank or do you just put them straight in? i'm not interested in packing my tank right away, i'd like to watch things grow and the system evolve.






i'm not sure if there is anything that i forgot, but if you think of something else that i should know, please tell me!




THANK YOU SO MUCH TO ANYONE WHO HELPS ME OUT. i understand that i have a lot to learn, which is why i am here, and why i am asking these questions. i know it will take time to answer these questions and assist me, but i think it would be worth the while of an experienced reef keeper to invest in someone new to the hobby. THANKS AGAIN.



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start by ceasing all attempts to post the same thread in every damned section.


these articles should answer many of your questions.

Planning the tank is a long and patience requiring process. Figure out what animals you want to keep before buying anything. Many animals have different needs and it is important that you plan in advance. Otherwise you will be the proud owner of two sets of lights etc.


The articles I linked will give you the basics on salinity and other water parameters. With regards to testing, I think testing in nanos is more important than in larger tanks as a smaller change can cause more of a reaction and things happen fast in a tank, faster in a nano.


What some people find to be a beginner coral, others cannot get to live in their tank so all you can do is go by the general consensus on many corals. Xenia have been hard as hell for me to keep in my 180 yet it grows like wild in the 72 and hopefully the 26. Not sure why. Each tank is different.


However, many will agree that shrooms, zoanthus and other polyps are the easiest to keep.


Hope this all helps

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Click the Information link at the top of the page. Many people have attested to the conciseness and accuracy of these articles. Even if you have read similar articles elsewhere, reading from the nano point of view will help you understand what is different and what is the same between nanos and big tanks.


Good luck.

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Hey matt...


You sound like you have done a great deal of research on this topic, and are off to an incredible start. I'm a beginner as well, but have been hanging out on the forum for quite a while, and just started my own nano a few weeks ago...so whatever questions I know I can answer, I would be happy to.


In regards to lighting:

The JBJ 36 watt clamp on light will most likely be too long for a 5.5. You want a light that will directly fit over your tank so no light can escape (it just makes that extra wattage unnceccessary). Look at some of the members reefs, under the heading 'information' at the top, and look at some of the lights that other members have for a 5.5g.


Your heater and powerhead sound great...as well as your idea on natural filtration. The majority of people here with smaller nanos use that method, and because you arent going to add fish, you will have no problem using this.


Because you wont have any fish, you can cram as much LR as will fit (more room for corals ;) ). You would be surprised about how much rock you can fit in a small tank. I have a 7g minibow with about 13 lbs of LR and it barely fills up half. But it really is up to you and what you think looks better aesthetically.


When it comes to water, RODI is the only way to go. You can either purchase your own unit, which usually runs somewhere around the range of 200+ dollars, or buy it by the gallon at your LFS (like .40 a gallon). I personally find it easier, and less expensive, to go buy it by the gallon being such a small tank, but its really up to you on that. Salt mix is really a preference, but a lot of people here, including myself, use Instant Ocean mix. Its cheap, buffers your water to par (in most cases), and easy to find. As far as a specific gravity, a range of 1.021-1.025 is acceptable, but once you start to add inverts, you really need to keep it stable. There are two ways to measure this, a hydrometer and refractometer. The first of which works decently, and is what a lot of people use, and is less expensive (deep six is a good brand), and a refractometer is almost flawless. Take your pick.




As far as I'm concerned, the cheaper the test kit, the less reliable it is. I messed up and went out and bought a red sea test kit for about 60 bucks for ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, Ph and alkalinity...I thought it was a good deal until the tests turned up the same for the first three weeks of my cycle, turns out I got a bum kit. IMO, get the best of the best, or nothing. ITs one of the most important things because it helps you monitor your levels, so go with salifert (one of the best brands that I know of).



Depending on what corals you want to keep, this area differs. You said softies, which would mean dosing with Iodine and trace elements. I myself use salifert brand (I know I know, its just my opinion), but my corals have doubled in size since I started dosing this. I use DT's phytoplankton 3 times a week to feed my corals in addition to the supplements, and this method works great for my xenia, hairy mushroom and purple shrooms...


Top offs;

tricky subject for me. Right now, I do it manually, which really isnt that hard, but if I were to go away for a weekend, my salinity would be off the charts. My water evaporates about 20 oz daily, enough to change my SG from 1.021 to 1.026...a huge change. I am going to leave it for the experts to explain this one.


For corals, you pretty much have it down. green star polyps, yellow polyps, zoos, mushrooms, xenia (a little more touchy to a new tank)...


For inverts/clean up crew...

You really only need one shrimp, otherwise fighting *will* break out in such a small environment. I have a cleaner shrimp just because of their docile nature and tendencies not to eat my corals. Peppermints are good at eating pesky aiptasia anemones (anyone want mine?), but sometimes are known to eat polyps. Emerald crabs are known for eating bubble algae, but arent really good at cleaning up other than that. Just an example of a clean up crew (that I am extremely happy with): cleaner shrimp, turbo snail, fighting conch (probably too large for your tank, borderline on mine), and 4 mexican hermits. My mexican hermits have diminished my hair algae in a matter of days...very active little guys!



thats all for now, feel free to ask any other questions.

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This is actualy a decent thread that is well posted







Considering I rarely EVER reply in Beginners forum, consider yerself honored ;)


Just once per topic posting will surfice in the future ;)


Welcome to nano-reefing.


The Dick Mills Y&Y A is a great general knowledge book. Particularly the health section.

I would suggest Coral Propigation by Anthony Calfo for more specific info.


Oh and of course, research before posting and add to threads that are existing on a topic here.


Also, do it right from the start and have a plan BEFORE buying anything ;)

This is an expensive hobby regardless of the size of the water holding transparent cube :D

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Just a couple things here too:


while not the seasoned veteren, maybe I can add something.


Corals. IMO I would stay away from shrooms unless you really want shrooms. They are the fastest growing coral in my tank, and in a 5 they will fill it up pretty fast, realitivly speaking.


I wouldn't rush on Xenia either. That's just me talking, as I have a black thumb with the stuff. I've tried it twice now with no avail.


But with softies you can't go wrong. Easy)er) to care for and make a really pretty tank.



side thought:


anyone ever use the screw in PC bulbs? I was thinking 3 of them mounted back to front would fit great over a 5 gallon. seeing as I have sapre 5 I was curious. Maybe 2 actinic and 1 6,500k or 10,000k. Seeing how you can buy them for like $10 and the hardware for like $10 thats a pretty easy $40 light option.

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thank you for all of your replies. any help is appreciated and i encourage anyone else who is willing to answer my questions share their thoughts and opinions.






i will read the articles on this site tonight. if i have further questions after i finish reading them i will post them in this thread. thanks for the reference.






thank you for your response. i have actually already purchased the light and it fits perfectly with a 5.5 gallon aga tank, so wasting light will not be a problem. i also got a great deal on it, it was only 49.99 marked down from 79.99. i was advised by several different people that it was a great lighting system so i took their word for it and went ahead and purchased.


thank you for your approval of the heater and powerhead. i tried to look for quality stuff. i picked the heater myself and the powerhead was the suggestion of a guy at the lfs.


as far as natural filtration goes, if you, or anyone else, could explain to me how it works i would really appreciate it. i'd feel more confident relying on it if i knew exactly why it works instead of just knowing that it does.


i will see if the lfs sells the water that you are referring to. is that water pre-mixed with salt or do you buy a salt mix and add it yourself? perhaps the articles i am about to read will shed some light on the subject.


also, do testing kits come with a way to test salinity or is it only with a hydrometer/refractometer? and how do these work? and how often should i check?


thank you for your advice on testing and dosing. if i have any further questions after reading the articles on this site, i will post them in this thread.


thank you for the rest of your response, as well. i will do more research on corals and inverts so that i find what will work best with my tank.


thanks again.






my apologies for the multiple posts. i am new to the boards and i was not sure if people with experience visited the beginner forum, and not to be a jerk, i was hoping to get advice from people who have been established in the hobby, so that it was not the blind leading the blind. i will not make that mistake again. thank you for your book suggestions.






thank you for your response and your coral suggestions. i will take them into consideration.




thanks again to everyone. and my appreciation for any further help.

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okay, i read every article in the information section of this website, but i still have some questions. most of these pertain to dosing.


in the article on natural filtration, the author (christopher marks) says the following:


"The natural method of filtration consists of only liverock and livesand. No protein skimmers are used and no additives are dosed. The nutrient export is provided by frequent partial water changes of 10-15% about every week. Trace elements are replenished through water changes.


As you go about purchasing all of the supplies for your new nano reef, you're going to have to make a decision on which salt mix you should use. Because no additional dosing is usually done with this method, you will want to be using a good reef salt mix...


...With this natural method, no protein skimmers or dosing is used. Studies of skimmers have shown that they remove various trace elements, along with pods and plankton. When people run protein skimmers, they dose trace elements to replenish them after their corals and skimmers use them. Because the skimmer removes most of the elements, such as iodine, it is dosed back in causing almost an endless cycle. The main problem this holds in nano reefing is that many of the trace elements cannot be easily tested for, so no one ever knows where their level is. This can lead to overdosing which will crash a nano reef in a matter of hours. The skimmer also begins to starve your corals by removing their food source. It's simply too risky. "


furthermore, in the maintenance article (by the same author), there is no mention of dosing trace elements, or using a buffer (which i still don't understand).


so i guess that my questions for this post are... is dosing necessary with a natural filtration system? what needs to be dosed and how often? and what the heck is a buffer?


thanks to anyone willing to respond. your support is very much appreciated.

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People just love to add stuff to the water. Makes you feel like you are doing something.


Good salt mix comes with trace elements, buffer, and everything you need. At least for the soft corals that you should be starting with.


The reason people mess with skimmers, trace elements, etc. is to try to avoid the chore of changing their water, which is not such a chore with a very small tank.

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The SEARCH Button is your friend. There will be many many questoins that are going to pop into your head just as they have others who are new to the hobby. Chances are with a little bit of utelization of this sites resources, you can find all the answers quickly and quietly.


As to the buffers, B- Ionic is a 2 part system made by ESV. It is great when used in combination with the magnessium supplement.

Salt of quality : Tropic Marin, Biosea.......and Instint Ocean (albeit Grudgingly I say IO is "quality").


since you are going to have a low bioload, a skimmer will not be a super important item, and unneeded expense.



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Wow all the big guns coming out for this one, I am impressed!


I am new to this hobby also, My 5 gal minibow is now 15 days old


ESPI is correct that the search button is your friend. I use it multiplr times a day. I am amazed at how many different ways people do things. There is no set directions. Just soak it in and go for it.


Just an example of my tank.


7# LR

5# silica

Just in this weekend 4x13w 50/50 in existing hood


My latest tests were

Ammonia .006

Nitrite 0.00

Nitrate 7

SG 1.022 (Hardest thing for me to keep at a constant so far)


Added blue legged hermit last week

and 3 Nass snails this week.


Tank is crystal


Can't wait for the corals, another few weeks to make sure I got the top off thing right.


Hey KATYDIDIT, how is the tank

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well i am sorry but if you did your research you would see that a silica based sand is baddddd.as it disolves it will introduce silicates into your water you need a calcium based sand such as aragonite or maybe i am wrong

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Originally posted by Vistabald

well i am sorry but if you did your research you would see that a silica based sand is baddddd.as it disolves it will introduce silicates into your water you need a calcium based sand such as aragonite      or maybe i am wrong


Wrong. :)


I have used silica sand with no problems.


That said I prefer aragonite sand. IMO it is purtier.

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matt, the idea behind the water changes is not only to remove waste but to replenish the system of depleted elements.


If you stick to weekly water changes you won't have to deal with dosing unless you have a heavy calcium depleting tank (lots of hard corals - not a worry for you yet). Buffers, so that you understand them, are used to counter the effect that calcium additives have on the water. I think it is safe to say that most people that dose calcium use a two part solution that raises calciuim and keeps alkalinity stable. (c-balance and b-ionic). Others use kalkwasser and need to use a buffer to maintain a steady alk.

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okay, i did some searching and after reading through about 3 pages of results, still have not come to a clear concensus on dosing. even within this thread there is disagreement, so this leaves me very confused.


i've decided to use natural filtration, and i feel confident in that. but can i feel confident that my water will have everything that it needs with only frequent water changes (we'll say gallon/week)? or does it just come down to frequent testing to determine what i need?


thanks for any response.


also, i was wondering what everyone used to store their water change water. in the water changing article on this website it suggests storing it in a bucket with a powerhead and a heater. any other methods?


thanks again.



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I've been reading for a long, long time and gearing up for a Thanksgiving tank start up. Dosing comes up again and again and I agree the topic gets very confusing. Here is one noob's dosing plan:


1) Rely on water changes.


2) Have Bionic on hand and decide if I need it by testing tank parameters over and over before the creatures come. (I suspect I will use it, as it is very popular.)


3) Ignore all other dosing UNLESS:


a) There is good evidence that a specific creature in my tank will do much better with stuff x.


B) There is good evidence that some kind of dosing will help fix problem x that I am having in my tank.


So basically, I'm saying you can delay your decisions about trace element dosing with little risk.


This advice may fall into your "blind leading the blind" category. B)


NOTE: espi's reference to Bionic with Magnesium is a wrinkle I haven't read up on. The research never ends. X)

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^^ THAT is a great plan Fishy.

Thanks for that great reply.


Saved my fingers some unneeded exercise :D



LIZBETH, yoy are not 100% correct, NOR is that other d00d WRONG as you say.

Silica sand CAN be used, but not recomended as it has a potential to release ions and breakdown into an algal promoting susbstrate in the proper conditions. It also does NOTHING for PH buffering capacity when the Alk drops. I have used "Play Sand" in a tank just for comparison. I had no bad results with a light bioload, and low light. Once it aged, and when I added some intense light.. WOAH NELLIE ! BAH BLAM ! brown algae like crazy.


FISHIE, check a post I made on Magnesium in Advanced around a year ago or so ;) HTH.

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Originally posted by Bikelock



Hey KATYDIDIT, how is the tank



Heh, I am amazed at all the life in my new tank...the 7" bristleworm, hair algae galore, not to mention my bastard of an aiptasia that is killing my xenia...


LMAO, other than that, its great. And I do mean that. I never would have thought just a couple corals, a few hermits and a clown could bring hours of entertainment to me. Thanks for asking...

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Originally posted by mattbryant2


also, i was wondering what everyone used to store their water change water. in the water changing article on this website it suggests storing it in a bucket with a powerhead and a heater. any other methods?


thanks again.





honestly, its the best and easiest method. Just go to a lowes or home depot, pick up a couple 5g plastic buckets with lids, and you have yourself a storage container for freshwater topoffs, and aerating saltwater for weekly water changes. Its the least expensive/most effective way to get the job done IMO.


And about the dosing...

it isnt *necessary* to dose, honestly. It may help your corals grow a bit, but like I said in my original post, if you go with softies just go with an iodine supplement as well as a supplement called 'trace soft'. All the levels are perfect (knock on wood) in my tank, and thats all I use.

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