Automated Water Changing

Anyone who changes water in a fish room with hoses and buckets dreams of automating water changes.  I wanted one for years, and when I moved the fish room to its current building two years ago I finally installed one…. and it is a real game changer.  If it were not for the water changer, I would not have enough time in a day to maintain all the aquariums that I have.  An automated system is well worth the effort to install, and they are not very expensive.  The hardest part is drilling all the tanks, but there are ways to do it without drilling.

 

Here is a transcript of the video:

Water changes are the most labor intensive job in a fish room. The larger the room, the more time it takes. Most of us want to automate as much of the task as possible. I would not have the time to keep up with water changes in my fish room if I had to do them all by hand. This video will show you how I manage the task in my fish room.

 

Water Softener

Before we get to changing water, take a look at these two sponge filters. The filter on the left has been calcified but high general hardness in my tap water. The filter on the right is what a clean filter with no calcification looks like. The calcium and magnesium content of my tap water is so high, that when I opened the fish room all of my filters looked worse than this in less than two months. Huge problem!

I had to solve this problem by installing this 98,000 grain water softener onto the main water line into the bulding, which removes most (but not all) of the general hardness from the water.

This water softener exchanges most of the Mg and Ca general hardness for sodium chloride. Using water parameter terms, before the water softener the GH of the tap water is 18 – 20 degrees of hardness and about 480 parts per million total dissolved solids. The KH before softening is 14-16, and the pH is about 8.2. After passing through the water softener, my tap water parameters are GH 6-7, KH 5-6, pH 7.4-7.6 and about 300 parts per million TDS.

But most of those dissolved solid particles are sodium chloride, which does not bother fish in such low amounts. When you treat your tank with aquarium salt at a rate of one tablespoon per ten gallons, you are putting a higher concentration of salt in the water than I get out of my water softener. That salt has the added benefit of discouraging parasites like velvet and ich… salt is not a cure for those diseases… but the salt can help prevent the parasites from getting a start. That is a topic for a future video.

Another advantage to the water softener is that it removes the chlorine from the water, so I do not need to add water conditioner when filling tanks. My water utility does not add chloramines, and I am not sure if the water softener would remove that molecule.

Most homes are not using a water softener on the main line coming into the building like mine is. Typical water softeners are only plumbed to the hot water line, and the cold water is not being softened. Keep that in mind if you have a water softener in your home… only a portion of the water you are running to your tanks will be conditioned.

Automated Water Changer

My fish room is divided into two areas. The main section contains 176 aquariums that are connected to an automated water changing system. The other 52 aquariums are not connected to the water changer.

Water flowing to the automated water changer comes through this dedicated tap, which has both hot and cold water spigots so I can adjust the temperature of the water. My cold tap is far too cold in the Winter, and I have to add hot water to the flow.

The water passes from the tap through these prefilters: two sediment filters and one carbon filter. Note the discoloration on this prefilter. Even with my 98,000 grain water softener, a lot of crap, especially iron, is making it to this point in the system. I need to change these prefilters once a week, and you can really hear the difference between the water flow through filters that are new and those that need to be changed.

The manifold for the water changer itself has a solenoid control valve at the back end. These valves are sold for lawn and garden irrigation systems. The valves are controlled by a lawn and garden sprinkler system control panel, in this case a Rain Bird unit. Each valve feeds a separate zone in my fish room, which I will describe in a moment.

Here is a tip for planning your fish room… buy two times the number of valves you will need for your system. Valves can go bad, and finding one that will fit your manifold may be impossible 2 or 3 years after you set the system up. If you buy them in the Fall, most stores that sell them will have them on sale. I bought mine on sale at a large hardware store for about $10 per valve.

After the solenoid valve, the water passes through a check valve, which prevents water from flowing backwards through the system. This is not a big problem for my changer because path of the piping goes from the manifold to the ceiling, so there is really no way that water can flow via gravity past this point anyway. The check valves are making sure that there is no fluid backpressure on the solenoid valves, which can shorten the life span of the rubber seal in the valve.

After the check valve, the water passes through a pressure regulator, which reduces the tap water pressure to 30 psi. The pressure regulator is absolutely required if you are going to be using small emitters over the tanks. Without the reduced pressure, you risk breaks and leaks in the system.

Above the pressure regulator is a disconnect where I can separate the valve assembly from the line. Do not forget to use this connector. You do not want to have to cut your water lines to replace a bad valve.

My fish room has four zones that are separated by the size tank on each zone. All of these 30-gallon breeder tanks are on zone 1.

Zone 2 has all 10-gallon tanks. Zone 3 has all 15-gallon tanks. Zone 4 has all 20 gallon tanks. I set it up this way so that each aquarium in a zone will get the same percentage water change when the system is running.

Each aquarium has a 10-gallon per hour valve overhead that flows water into the aquarium, and an overflow bulkhead through which water will leave the tank. The overflow drains through flexible tubing to a drain pipe at the bottom of the rack. The pipes run around the perimeter of the room and into a floor drain in my tap room.

All of these tanks get 1/3 of their volume in new water three days each week. The 30-gallons in zone 1 will get 10 gallons of new water through the 10-gph emitter, so the timer on the system will run for one hour on the days that this zone gets a water change. But one hour is too long, and I will run out of hot water, so I break that one hour up into four 15-minute periods separated by two hours. The amount of water changed is small and spread out over 8 hours. All of the zones are set up this way.

The Other Aquariums

The tanks that are not on the automated water change system cannot be plumbed easily to the water changer. Someday I will come up with a way to get this side of the room more automated, but it is not a priority. These tanks have been shifted around three times since opening the fish room, and I am still not 100% happy with how the space is being used.

Water changes on these tanks require siphons, hoses and time, but they are not so many tanks that this is a big problem. I also try to use these tanks more for breeding than the tanks on the water changer, because breeding tanks contain fewer fish and do not need water changes as frequently.

One difference on this side of the room is that I plumbed these aquariums for drain and fill water changes. I can turn this valve and walk away as the tank empties, close the valve when the water level is at the amount of water change I desire, and then refill the tank.

Drain and fill is better for breeding fish and raising fry than a flow through water changer, because drain and fill is perfectly efficient. 100% of the water leaving the tank is old. The water changer is less efficient, because some of the new water entering during a water change will also leave the tank during the same water change. Those larger, 100% efficient water changes are better for breeding and raising fry, because the growth inhibiting chemicals which accumulate in old water are more completely removed.

Special Water Parameters

Keeping fish healthy and breeding them are often two different issues. Most fish can happily live in most tap water conditions, but require more specific parameters to successfully reproduce. Soft, acidic water is the most common type of water that we need to recreate. If your tap water is as hard and alkaline as mine is, the only way to truly drop the hardness and pH is to use reverse osmosis.

My r/o unit has two membranes and is rated at 180-gallons per day. I am not going to go into the details of my R/O machine in this video, as that is a topic for another time. I store reverse osmosis water in these 250-gallon carboys, and distribute it to the aquariums with a hose and a pump.

Access to Drain Pipes

When you design your fish room you will probably want to put all of the pipe for your water changer behind the racks. You should also build in a way to access the drain system from the front of the racks. These pipes at the bottom front drain into the same system as the automated water changer, and I use them to siphon water from the tanks for special maintenance tasks. The fewer buckets you need to carry the better.

Closing

My fish room still has a lot of hoses and buckets, and even with the water changer I spend a couple hours every day on general maintenance, manual water changes and solving problems in the fish room. The automated water changer provides that time. Without it, just doing the water changes would be a full time job.

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Breeding Fish Series: Panaqolus albivermis – Part 1

I am starting a new video series on breeding fish.  This will be a very ambitious project.  Over the next few weeks I will start video series on several species.  I am also going to start publishing a written transcript for each video here in the blog.  A few people have commented that it is hard to search through a video for the information.  I cannot promise that the video voice over and the script I publish will be exactly the same, but it will be close…. and the pertinent information will be the same.

The first species in the series will be a loricariid catfish:  Panaqolus albivermis – L204 – the flash pleco.  I have been getting some nice specimens of these this year, so I thought I should give spawning them a try.  I have never spawned any pleco other than tank-strain Ancistrus sp.  Enjoy….

Video Transcript:

I have made an early New Year’s resolution to step up with the video posts in 2016. I am going to try very hard to post at least once each week. The biggest challenge is coming up with video ideas. I know… I still have a lot to finish on the fish room itself, and I will be getting to those sooner rather than later.

But I also want to start posting a lot more videos about the fish that I keep. After all, that is what my blog is all about… keeping fish. I have gotten away from breeding fish in the past two years, but my other early New Years resolution is to actually work with some of these really cool species I have been importing.

This video is the first in a series showcasing the fish I am actually working with. The plan is to introduce each species in an initial video that describes setting up an aquarium for a that species, and outlining the plan of action for successfully spawning them. Followed a few weeks later by a video of the fish settled in and, hopefully, spawning. The series for each species would end with a video showing the rearing of the fry. This is an ambitious project, but I should be able to keep up if I build some momentum.

First up… a pleco… Panaqolus albivermis, which is also known by it’s L-number designation: L204, and by the common name Flash Pleco. I am told that the common name refers to the bright white to orange thin stripes that resemble lighting on a jet black fish. Gotta love common names.

Panaqolus is a genus of loricariid catfish from South America. Panaqolus albivermis comes from Peru. Specifically the San Alajandro river, which is a relatively small flowage in the upper Ucayali River system. Most notable about that stream… it is not a soft water habitat. The relatively short San Alejandro drains water from the Andes into the Ucayali, and the pH alkaline… some measurements as high as 8.4! That is one reason I chose to work with this catfish. The water that comes into my aquariums through my automated water changing system is within the correct parameters for the species. No need for reverse osmosis for this pretty pleco!

Panaqolus belong to the group of sucker mouth catfish that like to dine on soft wood. In fact, just about everything they plecos like is associated with wood. So the aquarium will need to include a lot of driftwood for them to chew on and hide in.

The aquarium itself is a 30-gallon breeder aquarium located on the top shelf of my racks. The temperature will stay warmer up there, but I will also use a 200 watt heater in the tank to keep the water at a toasty 82F.

The tank is going to be filtered by a Poret foam 5” cube filter that is powered by a cube lifter lift tube that moves a lot of water. This will be plenty of mechanical and biological filtration for the amount of biomass I will keep in this tank.

The filter will not provide enough current, which the plecos need, so I am also including an Aqueon circulation pump at the end of the tank opposite the filter. The position of the pump is very important. Loricariid breeders have told me that the flow needs to run perpendicular to the openings of the spawning caves. So that is what I have done. The caves are all lines up with the opening facing the front of the aquarium (so I can see into them easily), and the circulation pump pushes water past the openings. You can see that flow when I drop some sand into the current.

The tank will receive a minimum of three small water changes each week through the auto-drip system. Once each week I will also use a siphon to remove detritus from the bottom of the tank. Wood-eating catfish are notoriously messy. The cube filter will also clog with wood dust very quickly, and I will need to pull it regularly to knock it out. That is one reason the filter is not deeply buried in the pile of wood.

The tank is set up. Wood… check. Caves… check. Current…. Check. Heater and filter…. Check. Ready for fish.

One of the negatives to keeping plecos is that they hide a lot, so if you want to have some action in the tank you should include a school of tetras or other fish that will stay out in the open. I have a lot of these Hyphessobrycon sp. ‘junior’ tetras that are also from Peru, so I added a school to the tank. This is another species I have not spawned, so maybe I will be able to use this tank to collect some eggs from them as well.

The catfish will come from this group of young adult wild fish that were imported a few months ago and are well quarantined. I have pulled them out of the tank they are in and put them into this tray so I can get a better look at them.

Panaqolus males that are in their full breeding glory are easy to see. They grow odontodes…. Hair-like filaments… all over their body. These fish are not in breeding condition, however, so I cannot use odontodes to sex them.

Body shape is not much of a help either with the flash pleco. Females may be a little rounder or a little wider, but that is not a sure thing. Most pleco males have broader heads and narrower bodies, but that turns out to be not so sure a thing in this species either.

When in doubt, look for differences. I am going to choose six fish. When I look at the group, I see some that are broader in the head and brighter in color, compared to some that have smaller heads, round sides and are not as bright in color…. And I think these are the females.

Male loricariids can be evil bastards, so I am only going to choose two of the ones I think are males. I will also pick four that I think are females. Six fish may eventually be too many in a 30-gallon once they are full grown and spawning, but I like to start a group a little larger than what I think it will eventually become. Adding new fish to an established group may not be a good idea.

Here are the six fish I chose going into the aquarium, and now this breeding project has officially begun!

The flash plecos will eat the driftwood in the aquarium, but it cannot be the only thing in their diet. Animal protein is not a great idea for these fish, although a little can help to bring females into breeding condition. I feed the tank something every day. Loricariids that live in warm water have a high metabolism, and need a lot of food.

Vegetables are excellent… here I am feeding the tank some zucchini, which they like a lot. Other vegetables they like include fresh green beans, any squash, cucumber and even watermelon. The trick to feeding fresh vegetables and fruits is moderation. Feed small amounts so that the water is not fouled, and do not leave the food in the tank until it rots.

I also feed Repashy Morning Wood, a gel food diet designed for wood-eating catfish. The gel contains a lot of cellulose, so it is like wood, but it also contains more nutrients, vitamins and minerals. I feed Morning Wood at least three days a week, and I like to feed it on these ceramic disc feeders, which are heavy and stay in one place in the tank.

The last thing that I like to feed the flash plecos is hard wood stems with the bark. I like oak, ash, maple or fruit trees the best. I stay away from any conifer, hickory or walnut, all of which contain a lot of alkali chemicals I am not sure are safe for fish. I leave the stems in the tank until the plecos have stripped them of the bark and underlying tissues they are after.

Now my small colony of Panaqolus albivermis are in their new home, but it will take a few weeks until they are truly settled and comfortable. I will be back with an update about them just as soon as I see some breeding behavior.

If you would like more information about the flash pleco, or any catfish, I encourage you to visit planetcatfish.com . This website contains a huge amount of information about all types of catfish. If you are looking to breed catfish, spend some time in the Catfish of the Month articles, which are mostly breeding accounts, and there is one in there on the flash pleco.

For more information about sponge filters, take a look at the video linked right here. If you want to buy some Poret foam filters, you can go directly to the source at www.swisstropicals.com .

Repashy gel foods, including Morning Wood, and the disc feeders that I use, are available in my Stock Shop. The address for that website is www.tedsfishroom.com/catalog.   I may also have some flash plecos for sale, but not all of the time.

If you are keeping this species and want to share your experiences with it, please let us know in the comment section for this video, or in a comment on my blog. The entire transcript from this video is available on my blog site: www.tedsfishroom.com   Reading the details may be easier than trying to find a moment in the video.

Thanks for watching TedsFishroom…

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Installing a Corner Matten Filter

No secret that I am a huge fan of Poret foam wall filters (matten filters).  Here is a video that will take you through the step of installing a corner matten filter kit from Swiss Tropicals (the link will go to the site where you can buy the kit).  I really like the corner filter set up, which looks nicer in a display tank than a wall that blocks one end of the tank.  The corner filter basically ends up looking like an overflow box on a bottom-drilled reef-ready tank.  The whole project will take a couple days because you need to let the silicone dry on one brace before you can install the other.  Here is a list of the things you will need:

  • corner matten filter kit from Swiss Tropicals (foam wall, braces, jet lifter)
  • something to measure with and a straight edge
  • marker that will write on glass (a Sharpie will do)
  • paper towels
  • rubbing alcohol
  • heavy objects to support the braces while the silicone dries (I use books)
  • masking tape
  • 100% silicone sealant (I use the product made by Dap)

You can use a hand-squeeze tube of silicone, but a caulk-gun style tube is a lot easier to use.  That will be a lot more silicone than you will need, but it is not expensive stuff.  Sorry for the not-so-great video editing.  I will do better next time…

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Aquatic Experience – Nov. 6-8

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The Aquatic Experience show starts soon!  It is an event well worth checking out.  (www.aquaticexperience.org)  I will have a booth, so please stop by and say hello.  I will be promoting the Stock Shop website, and will have four display aquariums set up with some cool rare fish to see.  I will be selling the Repashy and Ted’s Most Excellent gel foods, and the Paradigm freeze dried foods while I am there.  But I will not be bringing a lot of fish for sale.  The display fish can be purchased, but not taken home until Sunday afternoon.  I will bring pre-sold fish for pick up, however, so if you want me to bring something for you, I will!  Just place an order through the Stock Shop, choose the ‘pick up’ shipping option, and let me know in a message with the order to bring the fish to the show.  Please note that I will be packing fish on Thursday morning, so plan to pick the fish up on Friday afternoon if possible… or Saturday at the latest.

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‘Out of the Closet’ with Todd!

My friend Todd is a gifted aquarist who has proven that you do not need a lot of space to breed a bunch of different fish.  Here is the first video on his video channel.  I hope we get to see many more!  Todd has bred all kinds of fish in plastic bins… including Lake Malawi mbuna!

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Paradigm Fish Food!!!!

New in the Stock Shop…  Paradigm Fish Food

Dehydrated foods are becoming very popular, and with good reason.  Unlike flake and pellet foods, dehydrated foods are not subjected to extremely high temperatures that degrade the nutritional value.  Paradigm is one of the first thoughtfully produces dehydrated diets that is being distributed for retail sales.  I like the food.  The fish eat it, and appear to be in good health.  I feed a lot of different foods, and I still feed gel diets as the staple in my fish room.  But sometimes it is just easier to sprinkle a dry food in the tank.  I also like for my fish to see a wide range of foods, so that they are apt to eat anything, so adding a dehydrated food to the line up was going to happen at some point.  And Paradigm Fish Foods meet the quality ingredient standards are require.  Here is a link to the Stock Shop page with the food:  Paradigm Fish Food

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TedsFishroom Difference

I was very nervous about making this video…  Some friends of mine were sitting around the fish room talking about fish, and the discussion took turn towards all the things that I do associated with selling fish.  Two of my guests were customers from out of state who drove up for a visit.  They were really grilling me on quarantine, sources, my trips to meet suppliers, packing, feeding…  I started to wonder if I had done something wrong!  After about two hours one of them said to me, ‘why aren’t you telling people all of this?’  I did not have a good answer.

They started to make a list of all the things that they called the ‘TedsFishroom Difference’, and encouraged me to make a video.  So I did.  I also sat on this video for a while, because talking about myself in such a direct manner is uncomfortable to me.  I showed it to the guys who were pushing me to make this video, and they said, ‘perfect!’  So here it is… The TedsFishroom Difference.

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Air in the Fish Room

Here is the next installment on the video series of systems in the fish room.  The last video was about the filters.  This video is about providing the air to run the filters.  If you go way way way way back in the video archives (there is an index page link at the top of the homepage), you will find a video about air in my previous, much smaller, fish room.  That system was run with a linear piston air pump.  My current fish room is set up with a 3/4 horse power regenerative blower.  Most hobbyists will not need that much air, and a linear piston is the better way to go.  So I did not dwell a lot on the blower, and talked more about the delivery pipes and valves.  Hope you find this one helpful….

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Georgia Aquarium – Ocean Voyager

The Ocean Voyager display at the Georgia Aquarium is the largest single aquarium tank at a public aquarium or zoo in the world.  Maybe there is some private aquarium out there somewhere that is larger, but it is hard to believe.  This tank has 6.3 million gallons of water and a filtration system that turns it all over in 2 hours….  TWO HOURS!!!!!  That is incredible.  And it needs a filtration system that strong.  There is a part in the video showing a protein skimmer that is literally flowing the foam.  Enjoy….

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The Georgia Aquarium – Tropical Diver

The Georgia Aquarium is one of the premier public aquariums in the country… probably the world.  The tenth anniversary of the aquarium’s opening is coming up in November.  I was last there 9 years ago, just after it had opened.  My family and I were in Atlanta on our way to a family event, and built a few hours into our day to visit.  We chose to take the ‘all access backstage tour’, which is worth every dollar.  I highly encourage anyone visiting the Georgia Aquarium to do it.

This video is the first in a series from this visit, and it shows the Tropical Diver gallery, which is dedicated to tropical reefs.  The main aquarium is impressive, and even more so when you see behind (and above) the scenes.  Enjoy….

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