Over a year and a half later, far too much research and not enough water here we are... and the plans have all changed.
I was partially embracing my hard water 'problems' with this tank but not fully a lot of the fish I've looked at would do ok (better than most species in the hobby) in my super hard water but not perfect... so I started to wonder what perfect was and I landed in Africa and Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika. I contemplated a variety of options, Tropheus and Moshi from Tanganyika but not sure I'm ready for 1-2 species only. Then in Malawi I entertained either an Mbuna tank or an all male Haps and Peacocks tank and I still may do both at some point...
I've always been put off Malawi, they've seemed too daunting but also quite a muddy area of the hobby, from the outside in it felt full of hybrids, it seemed to attract a type of keeper that do not seem to put welfare in the number 1 spot... and too much conflicting info around. Plus 3-4 words in a latin name! Madness!
But I think I've figured out some parameters to exist within to do what I think will be a stunning Mbuna tank in this 75 gallon tank. I've figured out the meaning of all the hybrid species, started to understand the gender ratios, the different species within the lake (though seemingly no one is 100% on that bit...). I've half got to the bottom of understanding what OB fish are, which is super interesting. OB markings in Mbuna species are a genetic throwback to a previous evolutionary phase, more common in females but can be passed to males for more intense colours.
There are still parts of this side of the hobby I'm uncomfortable with and quite a few things I need to figure out but there is a great deal I'm happy with on this side. Knowing the fish will thrive in my tap water is an excellent feeling after struggling with it for so long.
So what are the plans.
I've got a bit of a working list of species I want to keep, I've found it really interesting how you can work out what species and strains to keep together. A lot of it seems to be based on how close they appear to each other and I've sort of broken it down in my head into things like 'Vertical black and blue stripes' 'Horizontal black and blue stripes' 'Blue male, yellow female' 'Blue male, OB female' 'Purple body white/yellow fins' 'Bright Blue' 'Orange' etc. There are others that I've barely looked into that fit into other visual groups though.
- Labeotropheus Trewavasae Thumbi West
- Chindongo Socolofi
- Chindongo Saulosi
- Pseudotropheus Cyaneorhabdos Maingano
- Metriaclima Estherae 'Minos Reef'
- Metriaclima Msobo Magunga
- Metriaclima Callainos
- Pseudotropheus Acei 'Itungi'
- Pseudotropheus Acei 'Ngara'
- Iodotropheus Sprengerae
The aim is to end up with 4 (maybe 5 if I stuck to the 'dwarf' species) with most of them 1:4 but some 1:7 (like the Maingano). I want a small group of Synodontis like Petricola (but maybe Polli sp.White if I can find them) as well.
In theory it could look a bit like this
Which I think looks pretty awesome! I am slightly preferring the Msobo Mgunga to the Saulosi so I might need to swap the Callianos for the Socolofi - think part of it is I just like saying Msobo Mgunga...
Then onto the next bit of fun... the scape. Another part of the Malawi life that I find daunting is all the rocks... I'm far too clumsy anyway and it seems like a recipe for disaster haha! I've looked into loads of options, I went to aquascaping shops and nearly spent £500 to get the right selection for a tank this size, I've trawled around garden centres looking at various kinds of slate and neither route is what I wanted. I did find a good mix of black limestones at good sizes but it was hard to track down locally and by the time I had I found a variety of artificial rocks which is what I've ultimately decided to go with.
I've bought these so far which are a range called Coober Rocks from a brand called Hobby. They are really life like, very light weight and while heavily textured they are not sharp or rough so I'm not worried about fish going into them, I am worried about them being hollow and the water that could stagnate within them. So the plan is to fill them up with a mixture of sand and pond foam which I think will do the trick.
I've got a total of 6 rocks at the moment 3 of 2 types, one of them arrived smashed which I was going to return but I can use the pond foam to make them safe and usable and it gives more variety of shapes which will make it more natural. I am impressed how different the same rock looks on all 4 sides and each way up. I think you can see in the piles I've made so far you can't really tell its 2 rocks repeated over and over.
So far I've made a left, centre and a right to get an idea of how many more I need to order to make something suitable for the fish I want to keep. I've also combined all three in photoshop to get a better idea.
I've also got 2 Oase Stacked Slate artificial rocks on order too, which are really wide and I think will serve as a good base for the Hobby rocks, I'm hoping the different texture will be ok and I think they will be similar colours over all. The artificial rocks are much more expensive than the landscaping limestone would have worked out, I think all in all somewhere between £50-£90 for the limestone is realistic for this size tank. I think I've spent about £120 on these rocks (one more in the post), the 2 Oase ones were £22 each and the pond foam is £20. I suspect I'll need an other £100 worth of these artificial rocks so a budget of about £250 which is about what I was expecting to pay from the aquascaping store... and I suppose that lands in the middle of the landscaping and the aquascaping and has some benefits over both options (lightness) - so while not cheap, I think good value.
With my rock hard water, I'm quite lucky in the sense I dont have to use a limestone rock or coral substrate to get there (for once) so I'm going to use a decorative sand as well not sure which one yet but I really like the Hugo Kamishi ranges, really good natural stuff and a good price as well - not far off the ever popular play sand prices really and a few more options. You can't really see it in the photos here so far but I quite like how the light is playing through the rocks so I think I'm going to do a frosted background rather than a black one but time will tell...
One other factor I have in my tank due to the tap water is my nitrate level, approx 25ppm out of the tap it is a problem! In one of my other tanks I've got that running at 0ppm week to week through a variety of methods which I want to do in this tank on a larger scale. This will include using a nitrate removing resin (possibly in an additional internal filter, that I can hide behind the rocks), terrestrial plants and also emergent growing stem plants either aquatic or pond marginal plants I want to make some kind of trough that can sit behind the tank in the back quarter, filled with a substrate for the roots, with a filter nozzle pointed through it to feed them and circulate the water to help soak up the nitrates.
One thing I'd like to do is find terrestrial plants that grow around Lake Malawi to feature in the above water area - not started this research yet but looking forward to it!
My initial plan is to use mature media from my other tanks to get started and slowly add in the group of Synodontis catfish and once I've got my emerged plant growth stable and established and I see my nitrates in tank at close to 0 I'll start adding the Mbuna.
Now I know what your thinking... Wills its been over 18 months when are you actually putting water in this thing... well I've got some quotes in from builders to knock the wall down as planned and we've saved some pennies together to pay for it. Once the building work starts we've been told to allow 2 weeks from start to dust free finish but it could be a few months before they can start so my guess is I won't have water in here until August at the earliest. Which is fine... I've told Mrs Wills I'm stealing her sewing machine pedal until I have water in this tank...
Ahh thats a bit of a ramble, but very therapeutic to finally get everything down in one place, its been clogging up my brain for quite a while.