Getting started

> My goals are quite modest.  My available funds are even more modest.  I
> would love to keep some plants alive to complement my fish.  I'm not after
> a heavily planted tank.  In fact, at the moment, I'd settle for keeping one
> sword alive to keep my struggling Java Fern company.  I've even killed
> anacharis.
  It's hard to tell what's wrong without knowing the symptoms your plants 
are suffering from.  Here are some tips for starting.  Start with easy 
plants.  Java Fern and Amazon Sword are not as easy as green hygro, 
valisneria, or some Aponogetens like A. Crispus.
  You will need good lighting.  It sounds like you should be ok for easy plants 
with two 20W bulbs.  Be sure you have wide spectrum or grow bulbs.  This 
is more important than the age of the bulbs.  Two widely available bulbs 
are the Vita-lite brand and the GE plant and aquarium bulb.
  You will 
need to add fertilizer to the water periodically to account for potassium 
and other trace elements that the plants need.  Tetra's Flora Pride is 
  I have had good luck with Valisneria, hygro, Amazon Sword and A. 
crispus with a 
UGF.  Despite what you may hear or read, a UGF is not the kiss of death.  
Unless you have plenty of cash, I would hold off on the Magnum, as the 
benefits may be dubious.  I don't see how it could be a miracle cure for 
basic problems like bad lighting, lack of fertilizer, etc.
  Try the easy plants first, then move up as you learn more about keeping 
them alive.  There is also good information at the Krib and in the plant 
FAQ web pages.  URL on request (I don't have them on hand). Good luck.

 > Here are my questions:
> 1)  Do I need to buy iron and CO2 test kits?
  Not at first.  You can guess at your CO2 by knowing the pH and 
alkalinity of your tanks.  There is an article in the Krib's web page 
regarding this CO2-pH-alkalinity relation.  Iron test kits are pretty 
spendy, so I would be sure I needed one before I got one.

> 2)  When I bought my 29gal it came with a beat up, undersized, cheapo
> backfilter.  To that I have added an UG filter with two powerheads.  I want
> to replace the backfilter.  Ideally, I would like one that will also work
> with the 55 or 75 gal. tank I'm hoping to buy some day.  (Unless one of you
> kicks or screams, I'll be going with an undergravel then too, because it's
> so much cheaper than cable heating).  One person told me to buy a Magnum
> 350 and hook its output up to my UG filter (thus make it reverse flow).
> Another person told me that the M350 would produce way too much current in
> the tank.  I've now received two opposing opinions, and am, thus, back
> where I started.

One experiment is worth a thousand expert opinions, or I guess a million 
non-expert opinions :->.  If you think it might be reasonable in YOUR 
tank, YOU will have to try it to find out for sure.  If everyone thinks 
something is stupid, like dumping Tide (R) into your tank, it's a 
different matter.

> 3)  My 29 gal has two single fl. bulb fixtures--one that came with the
> hood, the other I rigged up with a cheap 24" fixture I bought at the
> hardware store.  Both bulbs are about 6mos old now, and from what I read, I
> should be replacing them about now.  Any brand name suggestions?
  See above.  Be sure not to get Cool WHite bulbs, whatever you do.
> Any thoughts would be appreciated.
> Dirk 
> Department of History
> University of Iowa
> "I'm from Iowa, I just work in outer space."  J.T. Kirk