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Fun with plants...

I thought you might like to hear about a typical (?) newbie experience.

I have had a 55-gal discus tank for several years.  On the advice of some discus 
'pros', I have always kept the tank totally bare, except for some overturned 
flower pots and the like.  The fish have never been very healthy, but they 
survived.  I never checked nitrate levels, assuming that changing out 10-20% of 
the water every week would keep it down.  The recent purchase of a nitrate test 
kit, however, proved that even changing it out twice per week could barely keep 
it down below 60 ppm

Plants had to be the answer.  In my usual over-eager manner, I did just enough 
reading to be dangerous and ran to the pet store.

First I shoved 50 lbs of Monterey beach gravel into the tank.  I probably should 
have rinsed it better because the water immediately started to look like..., 
well, Monterey Beach water.

Next, I shoved one of every kind of plant I could find in there.  This included 
samples of hornwort, ambulia, cabomba, crytocoryne, anacharis, isoetes, Amazon 
Swordplant, dwarf sagittarius, lobelia cardinalis, pennywort, Green Hedge, 
hygrophelia Tropic Sun, and Corkscrew Valisneria.  I am a famous plant killer, 
and I knew some of these might not be compatable and might not even be aquatic, 
but what the hell.  Let God sort 'em out, whoever lives, wins!

I built myself a yeast CO2 generator and started blasting bubbles into the 
intake of my power filter.  I turned of ALL other aeration.

Now, the clerk at the pet store told me that the 30 Watts of light coming out of 
my light fixture was PLENTY... and he should know right?  After all, he works at 
a pet store.  Nonetheless, I went to Home Depot and bought as many light 
fixtures as could possibly fit over the top of my tank, and hooked them up.

Soooo.  At this point I have dumped impressive amounts of beach silt into my 
discus's environment, crowded their tank with huge numbers of macro- and micro- 
organisms (including a bunch of baby zebra danios that somehow came in with the 
plants).  I'm pumping their water full of alcohol-laden carbon dioxide, and am 
blinding them with so many watts of light that my neighbor's porch light dims 
when I turn them on.

And guess what?  They LOVED it.  A few days later, even before I noticed a 
change in nitrate levels, I could see their appetites had improved, their eyes 
cleared up, their complexion and colors brightened... UNTIL...

... I kicked over my CO2 generator.  I caught it pretty quickly, but not before 
about a teaspoon of the slurry entered the tube, and the pressure pushed it into 
the tank.

At first I was relieved that the fish didn't seem to notice.  Over the next few 
hours, however, the water became cloudier and cloudier as the yeast multiplied.  
I awoke the next morning to find them all at the top, gasping like a bunch of 
asthmatic children in a schoolbus full of cat dander.  

I immediately disconnected the CO2, cranked my bubblers up to maximum, and 
changed out half the water.  The addition of a clarifying agent about 2 hours 
later, and my tank was gorgeous once again -- I suspect the plants helped with 
the quick rebound.

Everything is happy and growing now.  The tank doesn't exactly 'repel algae' 
yet, though, so I bought some Apple Snails.

Did I tell you about my 6 inch Clown Loaches?  And do you think the helpful 
people at the pet store told me that plants are the favorite food of all but one 
species of Apple Snail?  

A quick search of the mailing list archives showed that I had put my foot in it 
again.  I went home expecting to find a massive feeding frenzy going on in my 

By some miracle, however, a week has passed without a single plant or snail 
casualty.  Either my loaches don't have a taste for French food, or these are 
some mean, botia-butt kicking snails!

My nitrate is now LTD, and the tank is beautiful.  I added some chelated iron, 
and the plants are growing so fast I'm already thinning them out.  The discus 
are in paradise.

I wonder what I can break next?  I'm thinking of adding a piranha...