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El Fab's Simple Guide to Pico Tanks


el fabuloso

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Fab, welcome back! I'm brand spanking new, but reading this thread has created a level of serious excitement in me and my plans for the Spec V I bought.

 

thank you for your efforts and everyone for keeping this thread current.

 

you mentioned being away for a while...but I hope you will still get to finish this guide. :D

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Friendly is not the only one Fab. I been reading this thread and re-reading posts I didn't understand for two days now. The last few pages where so "WTF happened to Fab?" And then here you are again. I'll take that as a sign.

 

Thanks so much for the time you spent writing this. It really really taught me a lot.

 

BTW would love to hear your thoughts on what you would change if you were to do.it again with newer equipment.

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Thanks! I'm glad to hear that people still find this guide helpful. After reading it again I noticed that some parts are dated. Mostly the parts relating to products and equipment but otherwise I feel that it's still relevant as far as the basics of it and the overall approach. What it definitely captured is the excitement of it and even now it takes me back to that feeling of starting a new tank and the thrill of it all so I'm glad that still comes through after all this time. Having been away from the hobby for some time It's gonna take me a bit to catch up but I'd like to get back to updating it and building on top of it so we'll see how that goes. :)

BTW would love to hear your thoughts on what you would change if you were to do.it again with newer equipment.

 

Towards the end of my pico the one thing I told people that I would do differently is ditch the sand completely. I found that having a healthy sand bed to be an integral part of the setup and it served my tank well as it matured but when it started to get old and go bad, I felt kinda betrayed by it. And I probably should've have gotten rid of it and changed it out at some point instead of trying to hold on to it till the end. So if I were to do it now all over again, I would still do it with live sand. I just wouldn't be so attached to it. ;)

 

As far as equipment, I don't know. A lot of cool new things have come out since I was in the hobby that I honestly don't know what I would use if I were to set one up now.

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Towards the end of my pico the one thing I told people that I would do differently is ditch the sand completely. I found that having a healthy sand bed to be an integral part of the setup and it served my tank well as it matured but when it started to get old and go bad, I felt kinda betrayed by it. And I probably should've have gotten rid of it and changed it out at some point instead of trying to hold on to it till the end. So if I were to do it now all over again, I would still do it with live sand. I just wouldn't be so attached to it. ;)

 

Swap sand out? Man that sounds like a big to do :wacko:

 

What would the most efficient and least stressful way to go about that? Also how often?

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yeah, swapping the sand out of a tank sounds like quite the chore,

 

do you just 'scoop' it out and then replace or what?

 

why does the sand need to be changed? with maintenance and using a vac on it and keeping it clean not be enough? you'd be losing quite the collection of beneficial bacteria.

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After four straight years my sand bed was just too old and no amount of maintenance was going to revive it. I would think swapping out a portion every now and then would probably do the trick.

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yeah, swapping the sand out of a tank sounds like quite the chore,

 

do you just 'scoop' it out and then replace or what?

 

why does the sand need to be changed? with maintenance and using a vac on it and keeping it clean not be enough? you'd be losing quite the collection of beneficial bacteria.

 

Sometimes the sand just gets too cruddy, especially if the tank is totally packed with organisms making it too difficult to remove detritus regularly.

 

For what it's worth, my 12g nano has an 18 year old sand bed (~80% originally from my previous 55g).

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why does the sand need to be changed? with maintenance and using a vac on it and keeping it clean not be enough? you'd be losing quite the collection of beneficial bacteria.

 

To summarize the bio:

 

there's different layers in the sandbed. Maintenance/disturbance is going to hurt non-beneficial bacteria more than it hurts the beneficial ones. Fab didn't have enough sand to get deep sand-bed biological filtration (microbes in different oxygen rich/poor zones work in "assembly line"). Changing or mixing the sand without negatively impacting the Pico ecosystem would be a huge hassle.

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So can someone explain how to properly swap out portions of sand?

 

I can just remove let's say 1/3 of the sand and replace it with sand bought online. Perhaps rinse the sand first then simply add it? Or would it need to cycle first? I rather not buy LS from the LFS.

 

Also, what would a recommended sand bed be? 4" or pounds per gallon? I'm thinking a vase jar and since it's a small base 4" wouldn't be much, perhaps in that case go by weight.

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To summarize the bio:

 

there's different layers in the sandbed. Maintenance/disturbance is going to hurt non-beneficial bacteria more than it hurts the beneficial ones. Fab didn't have enough sand to get deep sand-bed biological filtration (microbes in different oxygen rich/poor zones work in "assembly line"). Changing or mixing the sand without negatively impacting the Pico ecosystem would be a huge hassle.

 

1. Maintenance/disturbance of the sand bed effects all bacteria living therein. Some are quicker to multiply and replace their removed bretheren and some are more shielded from the process (especially those anoxic/anerobic bacteria living in the sand grain micropores known as 'denitrifers'). I would be very interested in any source material you have that indicates that 'non beneficial' bacteria are depleted more rapidly than 'beneficial' ones.

 

2. Contrary to standard belief, a shallow 1" sand bed is plenty for both nitrification and denitrification. Aerobic and anoxic/anerobic bacteria reside both on the substrate surface and interiorly in the sand grains themselves....which provides a very substantial surface area and provides for a very efficient nitrification cycle (the term for this arrangemnt is 'coupling'). The caveat is that if the substrate becomes clogged with detrital material, the process can't proceed efficiently and the result is typically a steadily increasing nitrate level (see 'The Reef Aquarium' Delbeek/Sprung, Vol 3, pg 260 for a more detailed explanation of the process).

 

From personal experience, I maintain a 3/4" - 1" sand bed in my 8+ year old nano and I rigorously vacuum at least a part of it with each bi-weekly water change. Without any other filtration other than some live rock, the system consistently registers 'undetectable' NO3 (nitrate) and PO4 (inorganic phosphate) using Salifert and ELOS test kits, even with 2x/day feedings. The 'clean' substrate allows the water circulation to efficiently bring nutrients to the sand bed bacteria and the periodic removal of detritus/bacteria removes organics/phosphates while also allowing the resident bacteria to repopulate in the sand bed...which then sequesters these products until the next round of sand bed cleaning. This is why a prefer a more 'open' aquascape in a reef tank (besides the aesthetic of using more 'negative' space), but I also realize the space limitations inherent in a Pico aquarium do not lend themselves well to this approach.

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From personal experience, I maintain a 3/4" - 1" sand bed in my 8+ year old nano and I rigorously vacuum at least a part of it with each bi-weekly water change. Without any other filtration other than some live rock, the system consistently registers 'undetectable' NO3 (nitrate) and PO4 (inorganic phosphate) using Salifert and ELOS test kits, even with 2x/day feedings. The 'clean' substrate allows the water circulation to efficiently bring nutrients to the sand bed bacteria and the periodic removal of detritus/bacteria removes organics/phosphates while also allowing the resident bacteria to repopulate in the sand bed...which then sequesters these products until the next round of sand bed cleaning. This is why a prefer a more 'open' aquascape in a reef tank (besides the aesthetic of using more 'negative' space), but I also realize the space limitations inherent in a Pico aquarium do not lend themselves well to this approach.

Forgive my ignorance, I just want to confirm that I understand this correctly.

 

Let's say on a Pico take 2-5 gallons (vase/jar) with a 100% water change done weekly. You would recommend gravel clean twice a month on partial sand bed.

 

Am I understanding this correctly? Also when I had FW fish I had a gravel cleaner but I think it would not be effective in a Pico. I think it would suck too much water out too quickly. Am I wrong or is there a different system to use for gravel cleaning?

 

Thanks so much!

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Forgive my ignorance, I just want to confirm that I understand this correctly.

 

Let's say on a Pico take 2-5 gallons (vase/jar) with a 100% water change done weekly. You would recommend gravel clean twice a month on partial sand bed.

 

Am I understanding this correctly? Also when I had FW fish I had a gravel cleaner but I think it would not be effective in a Pico. I think it would suck too much water out too quickly. Am I wrong or is there a different system to use for gravel cleaning?

 

Thanks so much!

 

A really small Pico is typically handled differently from a larger nano, yes. Brandon, Maritza (and a few others) have small pico 'vases' and whenn they do a water change they also stir up the bottom sediments (don't know how often they both do this, though).

 

http://www.nano-reef.com/topic/336169-8-yr-old-reefbowl-1-gallon-vase-update/

 

http://www.nano-reef.com/topic/336169-8-yr-old-reefbowl-1-gallon-vase-update/

 

I have never kept a 2 - 5g pico, but if I wanted one to last a good long time I'd find some way to export detritus on a regular basis, so doing this with either a small gravel vac, a turkey baster or a forceful dump of water to dislodge the detritus for removal would work (hooking up a small external filtration temporarily to remove the dislodged material is an idea). alternately, one can change sand every so often (frequency depends on the tank's setup, amount fed, how packed, etc.), as El Fab mentioned,

 

Look up some of the successful long tern Picos to get an idea of the methods used.

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1. Maintenance/disturbance of the sand bed effects all bacteria living therein. Some are quicker to multiply and replace their removed bretheren and some are more shielded from the process (especially those anoxic/anerobic bacteria living in the sand grain micropores known as 'denitrifers'). I would be very interested in any source material you have that indicates that 'non beneficial' bacteria are depleted more rapidly than 'beneficial' ones.

 

2. Contrary to standard belief, a shallow 1" sand bed is plenty for both nitrification and denitrification. Aerobic and anoxic/anerobic bacteria reside both on the substrate surface and interiorly in the sand grains themselves....which provides a very substantial surface area and provides for a very efficient nitrification cycle (the term for this arrangemnt is 'coupling'). The caveat is that if the substrate becomes clogged with detrital material, the process can't proceed efficiently and the result is typically a steadily increasing nitrate level (see 'The Reef Aquarium' Delbeek/Sprung, Vol 3, pg 260 for a more detailed explanation of the process).

 

From personal experience, I maintain a 3/4" - 1" sand bed in my 8+ year old nano...... but I also realize the space limitations inherent in a Pico aquarium do not lend themselves well to this approach.

 

I said summarize. You want to talk about the nitrogen cycle and mixotrophic bacteria elsewhere, where newbies for Picos won't get distracted I'm game.

 

You have misconceptions:

 

  1. That isn't really how they are affected at all. Their reproduction is dependent first on whether the water chemistry isn't killing them and second on if they can metabolically function. Population sizes of different bacteria in your community will be dictated by resources (especially any that are shared). If you mess with the environment, you're going to disrupt the ongoing balance and allow any and all advantages to be exploited. Not all of your bacteria contribute to "biological filtration", but they are still a part of the biological system when it comes to competition (space and nutrients) and predation. Not all of your nutrient cycling microbes function the same ways (in our discussion: the presence or absence of oxygen). This is what cycling your tank is - getting specific microbial populations to functional levels.
  2. there was no popular opinion that those sand beds don't serve as biological filtration, it's a function of the type of microbial organisms populating it. a 1" sandbed is too shallow to contain true anoxic bacteria. This is because it is too shallow to have stratified layers of different oxygen levels, with the very bottom one(s) never being disturbed or mixed in a way that introduces oxygen. that is like 2.5" at the very least (with a lea-way still given). Check out the Winogradsky Column. To get anaerobic bacteria working, you need anaerobic areas.

 

I can dig up (more specific) sources from scientific journals if needed. I know a thing or two about bacteria, they pay my bills :D

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I said summarize. You want to talk about the nitrogen cycle and mixotrophic bacteria elsewhere, where newbies for Picos won't get distracted I'm game.

 

You have misconceptions:

 

  1. That isn't really how they are affected at all. Their reproduction is dependent first on whether the water chemistry isn't killing them and second on if they can metabolically function. Population sizes of different bacteria in your community will be dictated by resources (especially any that are shared). If you mess with the environment, you're going to disrupt the ongoing balance and allow any and all advantages to be exploited. Not all of your bacteria contribute to "biological filtration", but they are still a part of the biological system when it comes to competition (space and nutrients) and predation. Not all of your nutrient cycling microbes function the same ways (in our discussion: the presence or absence of oxygen). This is what cycling your tank is - getting specific microbial populations to functional levels.
  2. there was no popular opinion that those sand beds don't serve as biological filtration, it's a function of the type of microbial organisms populating it. a 1" sandbed is too shallow to contain true anoxic bacteria. This is because it is too shallow to have stratified layers of different oxygen levels, with the very bottom one(s) never being disturbed or mixed in a way that introduces oxygen. that is like 2.5" at the very least (with a lea-way still given). Check out the Winogradsky Column. To get anaerobic bacteria working, you need anaerobic areas.

 

I can dig up (more specific) sources from scientific journals if needed. I know a thing or two about bacteria, they pay my bills :D

 

You are correct that this thread is not really the place to go into the more detailed nuances of biological processes occuring in our reef tanks, so I won't clog it up further by diving deeper into this here.

 

However, I think it is important that people move away from the concept that ONLY deep sand beds provide adequate denitrification and realize that properly maintained shallow sand beds can, too.

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I would first like to thank @a-t-m and @nano sapiens for sharing their knowledge. @El Fab I hope I'm not hijacking your thread, but you put so much work and detail into this thread for it to die like that.

 

From the few threads mentioned here and from what I found it seems a good combination is:

 

  • Feed 3 hours before WC
  • Turkey Blast the gravel, and anything else in that tank (corals, rocks)
  • drain
  • H2O2 any crap (let it sit dry for 10 min., wipe clean)
  • 100% to (200% if you H2O2) water change
  • Sit back and smile
  • Twice a year place your tank in the kitchen sink and forcefully "drop" 20 gallons of saltwater
  • Perhaps every 12-18 months swap out a good amount of sand (1/4-1/3 of the sand)
    • I just don't know (haven't researched it) what process I would have to do yet for the new sand to replace the old sand
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