5 ft Malawi Tank -


Fish Crazy
Oct 29, 2020
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Hi all



I thought its about time I posted my new tank build thread.
I’ve had a number of tanks since the 90’s, mainly tropical with a brief foray into marine.

I always end up going back to freshwater and I have a nasty habit of buying ‘L number’ plecs for exorbitant prices and never see the damn things as they’re always hiding.

So here we go – I hope you like the tank, there’s still a lot to do but I’ve got it to a place where at least I can sit back and enjoy it…It’s not as good as some I’ve seen and one day I’ll go back to marine but I think it looks good, the parameters are stable and that’s all anyone can ask for isn’t it?

3rd September 2020 – ‘James Vs the crocodile’

Well todays the day, my usual browsing of eBay and debating whether to go the full monty – sell a kidney and buy a custom build or find a 2nd hand one has come to a head.

A bid was placed on a 5ft Rena Aqua-life 450 and 2 days later I was the proud owner.

Van hired from Enterprise, friend bribed to help and were off to Leicester to pick it up…
Now what you need to understand is that I’m only 5’ 10 and 60kg – I am not what you would describe as ‘well built’…up until now in my life it hasn’t posed much of a problem - imagine me as being ‘whippet’ like and you get the picture…

So we arrived at the owner of the tank and there’s a monstrosity of glass and MDF on the lawn. I know how big 5 foot is – I’ve spent countless nights with a tape measure trying to see what size tank I can squeeze in my bedroom. But when your faced with a 5ft tank on the lawn that you have to wrestle into a van it may just have been a 5ft crocodile.


The next half hour was a strange mix of the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ and a ‘Carry on Film’. After much straining and pretending it wasn’t killing us, we got it in the van and set off back to sunny Birmingham.

Well, if getting the ‘glass crocodile’ into the van was hard, then getting it out was even worse. It somehow seemed to have gained mass since we last engaged in battle, but with a 3rd person we manhandled it into my bedroom.

Mid September

After a furious bout of online shopping I had the majority of equipment needed for my tank.

My little 2 ft tank with a few Malawi Cichlids was going to be my bio donor, I’ve always had a tank in my bedroom but I knew at some point the juvenile Cichlids were going to need a bigger tank and you cant do much with a small tank.

The plan was to fill the 5ft up and get it up to temperature, then kick off the filters with some water and filter media from the old tank to do a quick cycle.

I’d throw in ‘Geoffrey’ the plec (L240 - Galaxy Vampire for those who are interested ) to brave the new tank and produce some waste and see how we looked.

Strangely enough, halfway through preparing the equipment I ended up buying a new puppy (Shar pei X Neapolitan Bull Mastiff) so after a brief break, me and my new furry friend ‘Trevor’ began the fill process.

My equipment is –
Rena Aqua-life 450 (5ft)
Eheim Classic 600
Fluval U4
X2 Air pumps (1 for a small air stone and 1 for a ceramic diffuser)
Chinese LED’s for the main day and moonlight
Fluval Eco Bright LED’s
X2 Eheim 300w heater
STC100 Heater Controller
TCP LED Smart LED Strip (3m)

For the decor -
Caribbsea ’South Seas’ Base Rock
Terracotta pots
Misc artificial plants ( Ikea )



The build continues…

With what had now became my trusty sidekick – Trevor and myself set about putting everything together.

Trevor, bless him, was eating more than a small rhino each day so I had to rein in my grandiose-plans of GHL Profiliuxes and a custom tablet display. (There still on the cards but later on this year)

I had to try and save a bit of money and anything aquarium related has always had a premium added to it. Trevor and myself put our heads together and came up with a few cunning plans…
  • Buy the artificial plants from Ikea – there half the price of ‘aquarium’ plants and as long as you check there’s no metal in it you’re good to go…
  • Buy some cheap LED strips and use them for my ‘spotlight’ plan rather than the Fluval Prism…
  • Park the custom rock work idea and commandeer some terracotta pots from my mom’s back garden…
  • Rather than buy the more expensive remote LED’s – buy a cheap Smart plug and use my Logitech Harmony to control it all.
Trevor was thoroughly pleased with himself for coming up with such good ideas and went to have a nap.

So with the tank filled, décor in and the Eheim chugging along quite happily I was ready to start the cycle.


At this point I popped over to a friend who was breaking his tank down and ended up being given half a dozen boxes of ‘Prodibio startup & maintain’ vials. I was planning to cycle the usual way – maybe throw in some ‘Dr Tims’ to speed it up, but after reading the blurb on the boxes, these vials seemed to suggest it would cycle in less than 24 hours. I was very suspicious, Ive used these sort of ‘quick cycle’ products before and ended up with a cloudy mess of a tank. But these things a) looked completely cool being in a little glass vial and b) cost £13 a pop so I ended up giving it a go.

Each box contains 5 vials and had a price sticker of £13 on – so after the initial shock that my mate must have paid not far off £100 for them I snapped of the ends and chucked them in..

After 4 hours I added the ammonia vial, after an hour dipped a test and another one 4 hours later. I’ve always used strip tests – hopefully Santa will bring me a Neptune or Profilux at Xmas but until that point I’m stuck with the 6 in 1 tests. I use a ‘Tetra’ app on my IPad that takes a photo of the strip and saves the results - I then type them into my ‘Aquarimate’ app. I’m a bit suspicious of the strips and colour matching but it was pretty clear that the ammonia had been eaten up and the cycle was well on its way. I moved over my STC box and one of the smaller internal filters from my old tank and left it all alone.


The following day and another test showing 0 ammonia & nitrite with a low reading of nitrate and it looked at least that the initial ammonia vial was all cleared up. The packaging says you can now add a small amount of livestock and continue supplementing the bio every 4 days for a month.

Bravely, I tool a deep breath – transferred a few buckets of water from the old tank and half the filter media into the Eheim, dropped a few plecs, a snail and a plucky plucky Powder blue cichlid into the new tank and watched them swim and tumble into the depths

After a few hours of fiddling with the decor and coming to the stark realisation that my arms weren’t long enough to reach the bottom of the tank without precariously balancing on a chair and risking drowning. I even stopped for a moment and thought what the ambulance crew would think when they had to pull me out of a fish tank before starting CPR.

The brief thought of tying Trevor up with some rope and dangling him in the tank – a la ‘Mission Impossible’ passed and I utilised a ‘prodding’ stick to get the job done.

So the first night passed with me wondering :

Would the fancy new vials would work?
Would the plucky Cichlid end up floating lifeless in the new tank?
Have I gone too far and should I have stuck with my little tank?
Have I just p***sed a good £500 away that I could have spent on toys for Trevor?

I woke up as usual – Trevor eagerly licking my face and wanting his breakfast.

My fancy new ‘Logitech Harmony’ was programmed to switch everything on about 7am - so whilst I was elbow deep in dog food and putting a Latte in the pod machine, I heard the BBC news jingle and a bright glow began to emit from my bedroom. Now either I was going to be visited by aliens - (not that a brief probing in the morning ever hurt anyone) or the program i stuck in the Harmony last night had actually worked.

I poked my head round the corner and it looked great. Everyone was happy – a quick strip test showed the numbers were all in the green.

I loaded the numbers into ‘Aquarimate’ and the new tank seems to be more stable then the smaller one - I presume its due to the larger volume of water being more able to deal with any issues.


Over the next few days I slowly added the remainder of the old stock and began to add new Mbuna and plecs. I even dropped in 2 Dwarf African frogs I rescued from a friend who was closing his tank.

So Ill leave you here – hoping you haven’t been bored and please don’t be too hard if I’ve made any mistakes.

Everyone is happy, Bert continues to eat me out of house and home and I havent lost any fishes yet – so all in all the new tank adventure must be concluded as a success.


I mentioned a few things I couldn’t afford to do, these are on my shopping list -
  • GHL Profilux or a Apex
  • Add a sump
  • Look into the requirements of a freshwater stingray
  • More Cichlids.
  • Build a custom power centre and mount a tablet on the door


Ill continue to edit my thread with any updates or exciting purchases.

Thank-you for taking the time to read my adventure, I hoped you enjoyed it..

James & Bert


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1st November 2020

Amazon delivery today with my Smart Plug Sockets - So now with my Logitech remote thingy and the TCP plugs I’ve set up some routines that allow me to auto switch the lights of and on along with the bedroom lights and tv etc.

Altogether its building into a nice little home automation setup that when I eventually buy my GHL or Apex will be a nice little setup

** Edit**

Also ordered x2 Cheap Powerheads - I’ve had a niggling feeling that I need a bit more water movement, so hopefully these 2 cheap ones should get rid of any dead spots.
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Just a couple of pics after a water change -

Kermit The frog has made an appearance :


And some colourful fishes :

Powerheads arrived today along with a Seachem Ammonia Alert..

Also wired in some more leds to the moonlight so i can blend the colours
**3rd November Update**

My 2 cheap new powerheads seemed to have solved the fish gasping issue.

Ive wired in some Smart LEDS as well to give me the following >

Daylight 8am till 8 pm
Blue Moonlight 8pm till midnight
Weird Green Dusk effect midnight till 4am

Ive also setup the TCP Smart plugs to automate it - with one of the powerheads turning off to make a bit of a ’quiet zone’.

So next for me is to start buying the components to make my Raspberry Pi Reef controller.



*** Just so you know what I’m aiming for **

This is basically what Im going to try and replicate using a raspberry pi as the controller.
It will control the lights, powerheads, PH and temp. But I’m going to add a digital flow display for the external filter and power usage meter.

Pretty cool..

That was a pleasure to read, I felt like I was the third person helping you unload the tank lol.
Tanks looking great, look forward to more updates.
It is wonderful of you to share this experience. Now, if Trevor could take the Raspberry Pi and control the iRobot to pick up the laundry and run the wash, I could skip the LED light show:banana:
Absolutely - sadly Ive came to realise Trevor does very little throughout the day yet seems to look exhausted when its bedtime.

Saturday is the big build day so either ill be posting some lovely photos of a raspberry pi managed aquarium or there will be some sort of electrical incident and ill be in A and E
Being a former dog parent and a current toddler parent, I've come to realize that despite their similarities, toddlers and dogs are the exact opposite when it comes to bedtime. Dogs will happily fall asleep even though they've done nothing all day just to get an excuse to cuddle with you and stick to a routine, whereas toddlers will fight sleep with every ounce of their small size, despite being incoherently overtired. I love both, but best to count your blessings that Trevor is up for bedtime every evening! lol
Update 9th November 2020


Had a bit of a move round last night when i tried out Project Flipper and did a big 50% water change.

Parameters are stable but had a bit of an ammonia spike - i think due to disturbing the gravel a bit more than i planned to.

Ive bought a fancy electric gravel cleaner so im going to try and give it the gravel a good clean out today.

Also bought a Seachem Ammonia alert sticker thing.

Tried to create a bit of an island effect. The smaller Cichlids seem to enjoy darting in and out of the caves more now whilst Fernando the Flaveoulous is floating around more and seems to be a lot more confident. He’s also eating well which is good.

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