My Own Aquaria: Part 1 of 3 (The Big Tank)

Posted by on Jul 27, 2011 in All Categories, My Aquaria | 0 comments

My Own Aquaria: Part 1 of 3 (The Big Tank)

I get frequent requests by my customers to show my own tanks and I have decided to present each of them here in a continuing three-part series. I will update each post as the tanks change over time until the day when they will finally get replaced.

I am starting this series with my oldest and biggest tank. It is in no way an ideal setup but then again it could be worse. This is perhaps the one aquarium that has taught me most of what I know both technically and as a submerged gardener. So, without further ado and with the objective to keep you reading on, here is a picture of the tank featuring a Dutch layout. Read on for the technical low-down after the break:

Dutch Style Tank

Dutch Style Tank


This pic is probably about three years old and I seem to remember I took it with a simple point-and-shoot camera.


Size: 230 x 55 x 55 cm.


When I ran this as a Dutch tank, I used half rainwater and half tap water but since I started with Discus, I had to switch to reverse osmosis because the rain water has too much Nitrate in it due to bird droppings on the roof. I make the RO in the cellar, where I catch it in a 1000l tank. I had it hooked up to the tap that fills my tank so that makes changing the water a breeze. Got to make these things easy for yourself so you don’t get too much slack into your maintenance…
Temp: 23°C. I kept Hottonia palustris successfully for over a year but also plants such as Rotala macrandra which I had considered warmth-loving until then. (See image at the bottom)


Now I use what used to be called DuplaPlant 24. It is now made by someone else but under a different name. Only available locally, I think. At the time I used FerrDrakon with FerrDrakonK. None of them are absolutely satisfying so I’m currently looking into buying components and mixing my own. (I’ll report).

Hotonia palustris

Hotonia palustris


So, how does it work? You’ll notice two columns either side of the cabinet. The tank doesn’t actually stop there but it stretches out to the end of each column. My reason for designing it like this is that I despise canister filters. They are a nightmare to clean, they are hopelessly inadequate for a tank this size and they are designed to work below the water level, meaning they usually sit underneath the tank [read: in an unaccessible corner]. Bottom line: I’ll definitely clean it next week. Not that a filter in a planted tank needs frequent cleaning but still… canister filters suck when you have to. So, each of the columns contains half a filter. It sounds a bit complicated but it turn out that it is quite practical: I can have one filter running slowly and the other one fast enough to be used for heating, chilling, CO2 diffusion etc.

Here’s the left side:

Filter left

Filter left (slow filter)

The whole column can be opened up for easy access to the filter. It is part of the main tank and just separated by an extra side. This side is for slow filtration. The pump is submersed in the filter. Underneath, there are timers for lighting and night-aeration (with Discus, it is recommended to aerate during the night because of oxygen depletion) as well as switches for pumps, light to manual, auto and off, heating and chilling. It is a bit more technical extravagance but pulling plugs is obviously a thing of the past. This setup saves me valuable time in maintenance and water changes.

This is the right side:

Filter right

Filter right

This side has the fast filter with CO2, chiller, Temp gauge and water tap for convenient water changes. The temperature controller is an ancient Dennerle device, the CO2 dosing unit is JBL, equally antique but fully functional.


I use 4 rows of (recycled) non-dimmable T5 Fittings in a custom made lid. They are still the first generation of T5 fittings which cost a fortune 8 years ago. They broke down intermittently (I think it was the transformers) and had to be replaced on warranty a few times. They have been running flawlessly for the past 6 or so years though. The bottom of the lid can be detached from the top for cleaning and maintenance. Reflectors are real mirrors. You can squeeze every bit of light out of your T5s with mirrors. My estimate is their efficiency is easily twice that of run-of-the-mill metal sheet reflectors and they are much more durable and basically last a lifetime. The down side is, they are heavy. The whole lid would normally weigh too much to be lifted by one person so I have spring-loaded it. Now it moves easily, even one-handedly. You can just about see the wire cable connecting with the springs in the above images.




I used to think that a heated substrate is beneficial to plant growth and I am still not sure whether it is or not. It certainly isn’t detrimental but is it necessary? I don’t know. Anyway, as this aquarium comprises a vast selection of equipment I’ve had knocking about for years, I thought I might as well use it, so this tank has substrate heating.

Substrate heating and water heating is co-ordinated by the old Dennerle controller I’ve mentioned. The substrate cable always takes precedence over the water heating. Chilling is a difficult topic. I tried to use an Arcadia chiller without an external controller and failed miserably. The temp sensor in the chiller is a bit unreliable and does funny things so that was no use. Well, since I am keeping discus in this tank now, no chilling is necessary anyway. I’ll use it for my third tank, then attached to a GHL computer – a marvelous device.


I don’t like to see equipment in my tanks. It looks alien to the scene and you have to remove it for photos anyway. That’s why I installed the CO2 diffuser outside of the tank. I use a “Hörmann” diffuser. It is made from standard fittings and PVC piping and used to be made by one guy in Bavaria who has recently sold his business. You can still get these diffuser but at a considerably higher price. CO2 input is governed by a pH measuring electrode attached to the JBL dosing unit.


"Hörmann" Diffuser


Here’s a series of pictures taken from this tank over the last three years.

Next week I’ll be talking about my “Small Tank” which, despite its 400l is a technological highlight and a perfectionist’s dream.


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