DPH Tank of the Month
With Don Moyle
How did you get into keeping a
Planted Discus Tank?
I started with planted tanks as I’ve always enjoyed aquascaping but tired of
replacing dead or dying plants. About 2 years after I’d learned how to drive
a planted tank and make it work, a friend’s Discus spawned and he
successfully reared the youngsters. He gave me half a dozen juvenile Discus.
I had some doubts about this as I was primarily focusing on the plants and I
was aware of all the horror stories surrounding Discus but they were cute as
babies and displayed quite a bit of personality – by fish standards anyway.
I never seriously considered taking them out for a pizza or anything. To my
surprise, the Discus not only survived in my planted tank, but truly thrived
and fairly soon outperformed their parents in size and colouration. This had
the additional advantage of irritating the friend who had given them to me
in the half-expectation that I would kill them and he would then be able to
say something condescending
What do you feel has been the most rewarding
aspect of keeping such a tank?
I often wonder how many months or years of my life I have spent sprawled
on the comfy couch in my living room staring vacantly at the fish as they
float serenely in and out of their private forest for my entertainment and
generally chilling out. I have found that beer is an excellent accompaniment
to this activity and I have banished the television to another part of the
A close second is the “wow!” factor you get from people who walk into my
living room and are immediately captivated by the tank. After a while you
can get a little immune to the thing and it’s other peoples reaction that
remind you how truly beautiful your time-consuming submarine money pit truly
is. There is a fair percentage of friends, relatives and even visiting
tradespeople who will spend the entire duration of their visit seated in
front of your tank staring intently into it which is probably just as well
since all of the time you have spent working on the tank has caused your
conversational ability to atrophy anyway.
What has been the hardest challenge for you in
keeping a Planted Discus tank and have you overcome it?
I’ve had some issues with phosphates and surface scum (protein)
due to the high volume, beefheart based diet demanded by those weird, flat
fish and I wish they liked cooler weather. The higher tank temperatures
demanded by these can limit plant performance for some species and
accelerate algae growth. Most likely as a consequence of this and their rich
diet, I started to have minor algae issues. The Discus bio-load “footprint”
is much greater than the few tetras and algae eaters that used to hide
amongst my plants. I’ve had to switch to a surface-skimmer intake on my
Fluval and also to be a little more aggressive on water changes than
previously which seems to have brought things back into some sort of balance.
What kind of approach do you take in maintaining
your tank the High Tech way or a more natural way?
I would say that I have used “appropriate tech” to drive a natural
process. It’s been necessary to synthesize with technology the lighting and
fertilization environment to drive the plants but I have opted for low cost,
available technology and adapted it to my needs rather than throwing
unlimited amounts of money at custom-designed aquarium solutions. Once the
plant environment was thriving, I use this as a “natural” way of
supplementing nutrient conversion and water filtration. I don’t use many
chemicals and I’ve avoided the “scorched earth” policy of ultra-violet
sterilization and bare tanks
What piece of advice can you give to others who
are thinking about setting up a tank like this?
In the interests of not only meeting but exceeding the expectations of
our dear readers, I’m going to give not one, but three crucial pieces of
advice to those considering tanks like these:
- Art is a lie and planted tanks are art. The “natural” environment with
its lush foliage is actually pretty artificial (take a look at a biotope
one day) and highly dependent on your monitoring, managing and maintenance.
So the first part of my advice would be to understand and accept that
getting there and staying there can be time and resource intensive (although
these demands can be moderated with a little adaptation and modification)
and there will be many Sunday afternoons where, as you stand in damp
clothing in your living room amongst hoses, buckets, spilled water and
suspicious stains on the carpet when you will wonder to yourself why you
didn’t just decide to collect stamps instead.
- Get the “planted” bit right before introducing the “Discus” bit and
not the other way around. I believe the success of your Discus in a
planted tank is due in a large part to the success of the plants with the
consequential soft, oxygenated and nutrient-absorbent environment. If you’ve
gotten the hang of running a planted tank and want to move Discus into it,
I say “go for it” but if planted tank technology is new to you, expect to
make some mistakes and as a consequence, have some pretty interesting
water chemistry along the way. It might be best to do this without fish
that are so expensive they deserve proper funerals trying to make it
through your learning curve.
- If you are married, never make the mistake of applying kitchen
utensils to any aspect of tank maintenance. Divorce is messy, expensive
and can interfere with valuable tank-maintenance time.
Everything else I have by way of advice would qualify as “detail”..
- 48" x 25" x 24" tank (~450 litres)
- 2 x 150 watt metal halide lights (colour temp 5200K)
- 2 x 200w Hagen heaters
- 1 x Fluval 404 canister filter with ceramic noodles
- CO2 injection via modified CO2 fire extinguisher and gas solenoid,
Nupro metering valve injected into canister filter
- Pinpoint PH probe (for monitoring only)
- Soil substrate
- PMDD supplements (every 3rd day or so)
- Fern sticks every 6 months
- 20 x cardinal tetras
- 8 x discus
- 2 x Siamese Algae Eaters
- 4 x Clown loach
- Echinodorus Tenellus
- Anubia bart. v. nana
- Echinodorus Bleheri
- Limnophilia sessiliflora
- Rotala Macrandra
- Hygrophila Stricta
- Nymphaea Lotus
- Ludwigia (not sure of the sub-species)