Monday, May 16, 2011

Cycling and Waiting!

OK, What do I do Now?

For one thing, take a breather. I'm glad I put a tarp down on the floor because that was sort of messy. Some points to ponder now that the rock is in:


Ok, the tank is now cycling. If you used uncured like me, this could take 2-6 weeks. If cured, you could be cycled in 1-2 weeks or less if lucky. Parameters to follow are the usual: pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate. How frequently...there are different opinions. I'm going to test daily.


Again...some different opinions here. If you don't supply light to the coralline algae on the LR, you will have more die off. Some recommend 10-12 hours per day for cured. Some say start 2 hours per day in the beginning and increase daily, uncured. If your rock is cured, I'd start light up right away.

Water Changes

Popular posts say to avoid water changes during the cycle to prevent delaying it. Others recommend a change if you have a very high spike in ammonia. If you do do a water change, most recommend a 10% one

Specific Gravity

As the week goes on, you will have some evaporation from the tank. Remember that in a marine tank, salt does not evaporate and the s.g. will slowly rise. This is when one will 'top off' with pure water. If your s.g. needs to be gently raised, eg, you need to go from s.g. 1.023 to 1.025, you can carefully topoff with SW. If you are at the s.g. you want to maintain, you will top off with pure water.


As water evaporates, it will leave crusted salt on the top of the tank. This should be wiped off with a clean moist cloth. Make sure you don't use any chemicals or a cloth that was used elsewhere.

Algae's coming and hopefully not overwhelming. This when to add ( and I love this term) The Cleanup be discussed.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Live Rock Arrival

I underestimated the amount of time I needed to make RO water but snuck in under the wire. I liked using the refractometer and feel more confident about it. I compared it with the plastic hydrometer and they were off by .003. However, both were in the 'safe zone'. So, my water parameters were (tested all of 'em for practice):

pH 8.2
s.g. 1.024 , salinity 30
ammonia, nitrite, nitrate 0 (obviously)
Calcium 500 ppm
Alkalinity 3 meq/l

In summary, I ordered 20lbs of the premium LR, uncured, nano package from They were very friendly, very professional, answered all my questions and shipped that day. Took exactly 48 hours to arrive. Here are some pix.
Sorry if the pix are boring, but, for any of you who never ordered live rock like me, here is how it arrived:

The shipment arrived with wet paper but no water. Didn't really have an odor.

As you can see below, my LR rubble was separately packaged. Notice the good red and green coralline algae.

I removed 1/3rd of the seawater, placed some of my live sand towards the back and then I tried to arrange the rock as an atoll, or C-shaped. It wasn't easy with the rock pieces and small tank size. I wish I spent more time as a kid doing building blocks. It wasn't easy trying to get the rock to lock...I may even try a rearrange. I then added live sand, leaving room for a bit more when the live sand from a live tank arrives (around 5lbs). After most of the dust cleared...and trust me it was pea soup, I turned the lights on to take a pic for the thread:

I have a cave on the right, a reasonable C (indentation in the front), an open hole in the top back, lots of crevices. I might adjust the rock on the left.

Here is another shot that shows good green coralline algae and directly below it, pink coralline algae. None of the lfs's where I live had rock with this color:

So, time to cycle. Then we await a little algae growth, then it will be time for the 'cleanup crew'. I'll leave the lights off for now and let things settle. Supposedly, this thing can get quite rank. We'll see. And.....I'm not going to torture everyone with daily water parameters.


Just a few thoughts before the LR arrives. A few important rules about setting up the LR in your tank.

1) Be very careful not to drop the rock on the bottom glass. Examine the rock. If it appears to have a side with coralline algae and one side that doesn't, that side was probably 'sun-up' and should be placed that way, color up.
2) Keep the rock open so there is good flow between crevices. Caves, overhangs, etc can provide shelter for fish and are cool. Avoid the classic ROCK CLUMP. Be creative.
3) Make sure the rock is stable. Some people use aquarium safe silicone or epoxies to hold rocks together. Some drill holes and use all plastic ties to hold it together (the plastic will become encrusted with coralline algae
4) Leave room for additions in the future, eg, if you want to add a coral that is attached to a piece of rock, or, a 'frag', you may want to leave a spot or area open for later placement.
5) Leave room around the periphery for maintenance, ie, should you need to scrape algae off the glass

Some people add their sand first, then the rock. This may risk shifting of the rock if the sand shifts or if burrowing animals disturb the bed underneath it. Putting a plate or dish over the sand may prevent disturbing the bed.

The best way I think is to add the rock then add the sand. Since the cube will have seawater circulating at a high level, near the grate,( if you premixed it before in the tank), make sure you remove about 1/3rd the water so it doesn't overflow. You can gently put the sand in by cups. Every tank will have some sort of clouding that should settle. Refill with SW.

Some people have used the following:
a) electrical eggcrate--they claim it distributes the weight of the LR on the bottom of the tank. IMO, I think it creates dead areas by preventing movement and circulation.

b ) PVC tubing, 1/2", shaped into small square frames--supposedly, by placing the LR around this frame, it reduces the amount necessary by creating a scaffold with a hollow interior. Personally, I think this is better on larger tanks and having more LR provides better filtration.

Live Rock

Live Rock (or where did THAT come from)

Live rock (LR) is the main filtration system for your cube. It is the remains or pieces of coral reef that contain the beneficial bacteria for your tank. It also provides shelter, attachment for corals and contains coralline algae and small critters. You can read tons on LR, which I'll leave for you to do. Live rock is added to your cube when ready for startup and your SW is mixed and ready. After cycling, you may see corals arise, critters (copepods, amphipods) and also pests (later talk).

Cured vs. Uncured

Sounds like a ham, right? Uncured rock is LR that comes right out of the water and has sat for awhile. Some of the organisms die off and when put in a tank, a large ammonia spike can occur. Cured rock is that which comes from your lfs and has already gone thru this dieoff process. Cured LR can have miinimal dieoff if it is rapidly shipped or shipped in waterf. Uncured rock should never be put in a cycled tank with livestock/corals. The ammonia spike will kill them. Truly cured rock could. So, which should you buy? Your call. Uncured rock may take longer to cycle, have an odor, require more work and have more die off, but, it also may arrive with more coralline algae, beneficial life (and pests). Cured rock cycles quicker, but, may lose some of the good stuff. If you are like me, with an empty new tank, you may want to go with uncured, which is what I ordered.

What do I do when it arrives?

Depends on what you are getting. Talk to the dealer before buying it. Many recommend scrubbing the rock with a toothbrush. My dealer did not recommend it. I think it's safe to say that rinsing it in SW and picking off grossly dead material and sponges (if they are there) are wise.

How do I cure my LR? do it in your tank when you're ready to go. Never add uncured rock to an already established tank. If you chose to do it separately, you will need:
1) SW
2) a large bucket or one of those Tupperware like storage containers that you can buy at WalMart or Target
3) heater
4) Powerhead
Here is one of many links to give you a guide:


1) Your lfs: The easiest source is your lfs. Check out prices; look for good color; ask how long they've had it for. I was unhappy at 4 of my local shops.

2) Internet: I did a lot of research on this. Four of the most popular internet sources for LR were:


I decided to go with (a). You'll see how my choice worked out when it arrives

3) Make your own: some people do this and although I never reseached it, apparently it is made with concrete and particles that later dissolve to make porosity. One website that has a DIY manual is This might be an option for those people who are on a strict budget.

How much?

In general, the estimate is 1.5 lbs of LR per gallon of water in your tank. This is just an estimate. For my 24, I ordered 20lbs since the rock is light. If the rock is dense, you may need more. If it is very pourous, you may need less. Ask the dealer.

Types of LR

Just a few examples of the most popular types:

1) Marshall Islands

2) Fiji

3) Kaelini

4) Tonga branch rock

5) Atlantic base rock..generally a very dense rock and used to as a base rock to save on the cost or add support to the live rock.
6) Aquacultured LR.....farmed LR.....see Tampa Bay link above. They actually 'grow' live rock off of Florida.

Live Sand and Substrate

There are many types of substrate to use in your tank. Unlike a FW tank but similar to a cichlid tank, the pH of a SW tank needs to be higher, around 8.2. Calcium carbonate, the component of seashells, provides that buffering capacity. The average recommendation is 1 lb of substrate/ gallon of water. Depth should be 1- 4 inches deep. Some types of fish need a deep bed (eg, jawfish). However, the deeper it is there may be dead areas which can have a negative effect on the tank. Choices for substrate include:

1)Live Sand: this is sand that contains beneficial bacteria. There is some controversy here. Many say that your sand will seed anyway. Others say that it will 'jump start' your tank. The best live sand is that which you can get from someone elses tanks that contains live organims such as copepods, etc. Some people sell this on Ebay. The other source is store bought.

2) AragAlive: this is a store bought aragonite sand that has beneficial bacteria. It comes in a 20lb bag. Many feel it is the best substrate in the 2-5mm size. Perfect blend of buffering capacity (that crushed coral lacks), porous biolgical capacity, and compatibility with sand loving organisms.

3) Florida crushed coral: Crushed coral has been pretty much avoided in recent years, being a poor biological medium and not very friendly to sand loving organisms.
4) Other types including Fiji pink sand, black sand, Tahitian Moon,etc
5) No substrate: some people go 'barebottom'. Not my cup of tea.

DSB or Deep Sand Bed

A deep sand bed is one that is built up to a layer of 4 inches. This creates dead areas where anaerobic breakdown of nitrates occurs releasing nitrogen gas. It works very well in keeping nitrates reduced, however, most feel that in a nano system, the area is so small that it is not worth it. If not done well, the DSB couild also work as a trap. This is an area for you to read up on to make y our own decision on


A plenum works on the the same principal as a deep sand base,however,people create this using electrical eggcrate and PVC tubing. It creates a dead layer of undisturbed sand and water where anaerobic metabolism breaks down nitrates into nitrogen gas which bubbles up and out of the tank.

Refugium Mod

As mentioned above, one of the mods of the Nano Cube is to make a refugium out of the back middle chamber. For other newbies here, a refugium is a 'refuge' or protected area away from the main tank. One desirable reason to have a refugium is that you can keep macroalgae back there. Macroalgae do wonderful things for a SW aquarium, mostly remove phosphates and NITRATES. However, macroalgae can take over your live rock and become a nuisance. Hence, people like to keep it in a refugium. Macroalgae require light, so, if you keep it in the back, you have to figure a way to get light back there. Many people wire small 13Watt CF lights over the back. I was looking for a way to avoid all this 'retrofit' biz. experiment is:

Placing a submersible 10W quartz halogen light in the back over the middle chamber. Requires no rewiring.
a) advantages..ease of placement; waterproof
cool.gif disadvantages...heat, low wattage, light spectrum (3000K), unknown right now if it will support the macroalgae is the light:

Here is the mod:

I've run the cube most of the day today with the hood lights on and the 'fuge' light on. There was no heat rise. Looks like this is a go for testing.

Another refugium DIY that some people use is to actually cutout part of the back hood and they put an AquaClear 70 (300) outside powerfilter on the back with some modifications of the plastic media holder. Man..this stuff gets complicated, doesn't it?? Now you know where I was not too long ago.

Well....I think the test run is just about done and I'm ready for live rock and live sand. Moving along.


Ok, while the tank is in it's test phase, we're leaving FW behind and now to saltwater. I'm leaving all the details for you to read re: mineral content and the history of the ocean and it's reefs. Unlike FW, one needs to be concerned about specific gravity (s.g.) and salinity. Salts dissolved in water increase it's weight and density. Now when we add livestock, we have to be concerned about acclimatizing to s.g., pH, water temp, etc.

We need to make sea water to fill our tanks. Hence,the big pre-seawater comment, "I heard it's a lot more work". Anyway, some stuff you'll need (this is what I have):

1) bucket for mixing sea water
2) Storage container
3)El cheapo heater
4) Powerhead to mix the salt (that is the stock pump I removed in the photo)
5) Hydrometer or refractometer
6) Sea salt

Popular consensus:
1) Sea water should be mixed up the day or two before (aged). It should be heated,mixed with a powerhead, s.g. gravity checked...1.021-1.026. pH about 8.2. A recent poll here showed the majority between 1.023-1.025.
2) SW can be stored for several months if kept well-sealed and in a cool place
3) For brands, Oceanic, Instant Ocean and Reef Crystals got most of the highest reviews. However, you may think differently after reading this article:

Retroedit 06/01/2005 Since starting this thread, Oceanic Sea Salt may have some problems with low alkalinity. Many are switching to Tropic Marin and others are now raving about Catalina Natural Sea Water (bottled ocean water that is purified). If you don't mind lugging a 2 five gallon jugs home monthly, this may be the route to go.

4) The hydrometer is plastic and many of the 'reefers' posted that it 'works when it wants to'. So...I bought a of the corners I elected not to cut.
5) Now...water. The big heated question. SW fish are extremely sensitive to nitrates and excess phophates can cause algae blooms. So....what to do about water? Options discussed include:
a) tap water filter
cool.gif buy distilled water
c) buy premixed sea water either at your lfs or in a plastic bottle on the shelf
d) buy an RO/DI filter ...reverse osmosis/de-ionized..which removes virtually all minerals and contaminants from the water.

What I did: throughout all my FW tank changes, my tap water contained 5-20 ppm nitrates even with a PUR water filter. This is totally unacceptable for a SW tank. Many homes have copper pipes...copper can be toxic. Since I would have to do weekly 10% water changes (2.5 gallons/week), I did the math and figured that my own filter made sense. Again, I think they are cheapest on Ebay.


At the supermarket, you can buy the store brand container of steam distilled water for $2.25 for 2.5 gallons, priced here in NY. Here are some calculations if you do not want to foot the cost of buying a filter to make RO water:

--adding water to the 24 gallon cube will require 10 containers at a cost of $22.50
--a weekly 10% water change will cost you $2.25
--minimal water requirements for your 1st year will cost you $22.50 + $117.00 (52 x 2.25) =$139.50.
That already exceeds the price of a RO/DI unit. Just food for thought. For some people who don't wish to mess with this stuff, this may be an option.

You can buy premixed SW at some of your lfs' for cheaper, so I hear, but, you have to rely on THEM for mixing and adding PURE water.

Point of Information for Converting FW'ers

New piece of info for us FW aquarists...when there is evaporation of water from a SW tank, the specific gravity will progressively increase since salts do not evaporate. Replacing the water with sea water is a no-no as this will cause a progressive rise in s.g. You must constantly top off the tank with pure water. Therefore, you must always have pure water stored or on hand.

And now..tank update. My tank temp warmed up to 78.9 degrees and held steady. So..I cut the lights now to see what the setpoint on my heater is doing. It cooled to about 77 degrees, so, I know the heater is set below this temp. SO...I've now added my first DIY ....a fuge light, but not one of the ones seen before and it may or may not work.Now I will put on all lights to see how the temp goes with the fuge light going. More pix on this mod to follow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Beginning - Nano Cube 24 Gallons

I spent weeks reading and lurking in so many forums. This is how I've chosen to do my setup. Nano Cubes are an art. I'm new to this, I may be wrong. Do your own research. I will mention brand names to help as a start. Pick your own brands. Read. I will post my fumbles, foibles, etc. Although I'm not Donald Trump, I decided not to cut corners in certain areas, eg, a water filter. There is a pretty consistent theory that SW tanks are not cheap and a little investment and time in the beginning may pay dividends in the long run with respect to not losing livestock. So...feel free to post and add/critique. Go easy, I'm only trying to help.
The Nano Cube (for those just starting out)

The Nano Cube is sold by JBJ. It comes in several sizes, 6G, 12G and 24G. I chose the 24G DX with Moonlight LEDs thinking that slightly more volume would 'buffer' any insults. The actual volume once filled will be much less (some posts say that the real volume is 19G's). Bottom line..nano-reefs need meticulous care. My version has the following specs:

1) 24 Gallons 18"x 19.6 x 19.7, glass, seamless corners
2) 72 ( 2 x 36 )watts of compact fluorescent light, 50/50 actinic, two cooling fans
3)Three stage filtration with three rear chambers; comes with 3 sponges, bioballs, ceramic rings, activated charcoal, 290 GPH stock pump (one sponge not's in my tank in the test run)

4)Flip top canopy
5) Moonlight LEDs

I found the cheapest place to purchase mine was on Ebay. The LFS was more than $120 higher.

This is a view of my cube during my dry run, testing for temp, leaks, filtration. Note the intake grill on the left and powerhead outlet on the right.

Here is a view of the chambers in the back. One regular size sponge is in the first chamber.Temp probe is in the middle and heater is in the third chamber

Advantages of the Cube

1) Appearance...just looks cool
2) Mostly self contained. For some of us, it's just easier to have a 'package deal'
3) Width and depth allow for interesting aquascaping of your live rock


1) Total lighting supplied is inadequate for certain types of corals, thus, may limit what you have in your tank (eg, certain hard corals and clams)
2)Retrofitting takes some skill and, with this model, may lead to overheating
3)Stock pump is weak
4) No skimmer,either surface or protein, although, probably unnecessary for a protein skimmer (to follow).
5) When put on a timer, the fans turn off with the lights and the moonlight LEDs can't turn on, ie, must turn the lights off manually to use the LEDS
6) Must be very creative to have a sump with the cube

So, in some hands, creating your nano-reef from regular tanks may leave more doors open to you for better lighting, plumbing and refugium placement( see Parker313's thread at TFF). This leads to the next discussion.

Modifications to the Nano Cube (or mods)

Many nano-reefers modify their tanks. The main mods are:

1) Swap out the stock pump for a better one, either the Maxijet 1200 or Rio 1400. Some move the stock pump into the first chamber for more water movement
2) Lighting....add more compact fluorescent lighting
3) Modify the middle chamber into a refugium
4) Remove the sponges, bioballs and ceramic rings (some feel they are nirate factories)
5) Add a skimmer, either surface or protein. Most people feel that regular weekly water changes will obviate the need for a protein skimmer. Skimming my remove valuable nutrients. Most protein skimmers won't fit into a NanoCube. There is one interesting post on about using a cassette tape cover over the intake grate as a surface skimmer. If used, tho', you can't use the stock pump in the first chamber since the inward water flow holds the cassette cover in place.

Shopping List

Planning on what you are going to have in your tank first, ie, READING, will help you to figure out what you need to buy. This is a list of my equipment (hey..I may forget one or two things, so, keep on your toes):

1) Heater....Ebo Jager for me. They're in all my tanks. 100W. Solid as a rock.
2) Thermometer. I used a digital one from Drs. Foster and Smith
3) Hydrometer ( I opted to get a refractometer)
4) Marine test kit: pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate...extra is calcium and kH. I went with Aquarium Pharmaceuticals to start. Most rave about Salifert, but, check out the prices on it (it's in the hundreds)
5) Sea salt, popular ones are Oceanic, Instant Ocean and Reef Crystals ( I went with Oceanic)
6) Salt mixing equipment...5 gallon bucket (Home Depot), heater, powerhead, storage container
7) Source of pure water, I purchased an RO/DI unit on Ebay from Aquasafe Systems.
You can buy premixed seawater at most lfs'...either on the shelf or that they can also buy distilled water at the store if you want and mix the salt yourself.
8 ), small gravel vac for siphoning, gloves, algae scraper
9) Last and not least..when rock, live sand and/or other substrate (crushed coral, aragonite, etc.)
10) Surge protector and don't forget to setup a GFI circuit near water
11) If you are going to acclimate livestock with the drip method, you'll need tubing and a gang valve.
12) Last but not least, A DIGITAL CAMERA (retro-addition (01/23/06); it's an invaluable tool for when you'll need help (eg, "what is this growing in my it good or bad?")


I won't go into all the 'find a good location for your tank' stuff. I decided to go with the Maxijet 1200.

So...I removed the stock pump from the last chamber. I had to cut the plastic ties on the tubing to get the tube off the pump. I had extra Eheim tubing and replaced the tubing that came with the Nano and also reapplied the ties. The stock pump I will either add to the first chamber or use it for mixing sea water for water changes.

Clean the tank. I used vinegar to help remove some stuck on tape. Rinse.

Set up your tank where you chose the good location and on your stand

My planned live run setup:
1) First chamber: One sponge and possibly the stock pump, facing out of the left side of the intake grate
2) Second chamber: In the future, I will probably add live rock rubble for additional filtration and later on macroalgae as a refugium if I can successfully get light into the middle chamber (this is an area where you have to do some reading and research). Temp probe is in here
3) Third chamber: Maxijet pump, heater

Do a test run. I can't overemphasize this. There are many horror stories of unseen cracks because of the seamless glass. I am presently running mine with FW since I plan to try a refugium modification to see how the temps go. This is where I am for now. SH