• You are viewing the forum as a Guest, please login (you can use your Facebook, Twitter, Google or Microsoft account to login) or register using this link: Log in or Sign Up
  • You can now follow UKAPS on Instagram.

"Fish Food" Perpetual High Tech


15 Mar 2016
Hong Kong
Hi Everyone!!!

About Me
Although I have been a member for a long time I don't think I have ever posted a journal. I live in Hong Kong and started scaping around 10 years ago when I first came across IAPLC articles on the web. Since then I have had several tanks following different approaches. I have had a range of dirted low techs and variety of high techs over the years. My most recent tank was an ADA style tank which switched to EI after the substrate ran out. I love tinkering and have always experimented with different techniques for layouts, flows, co2 etc. so I have never repeated the same type of tank. However I have always maintained a love of technology - especially CO2, and been fascinated by the notion of a perpetual substrate - i.e. a substrate which remains active indefinitely and replenishes itself from waste products generated by plants and fish. I have reared most of types of freshwater fish and plants bought from LFS. I have also grown most plants, again bought from LFS. I was born in Malaysia and have also been lucky enough to visit Indonesia and East Malaysia to see how wild buces and see how aquatic plants and freshwater fish do in the wild.


tank at its busiest - maybe around 6 months in. it could grow anything I put in there

Why The Journal?
To be honest I was never a huge fan of UKAPS and have always been more active over at BarrReport and TPT, where I have posted journals. I think it's because I was not a big user of powerheads or spraybars and never held the view that co2 and flow were all that important.

Anyway two years ago I came across some videos about deep substrates and decided to try one for my next build, which I have posted about also in the other forums. The purpose of such a build would be to try to get the plants to derive most of their nutrients from the substrate and fish instead of dosing ferts in the water column. At the same time I also decided to buy some discus for my daughters, one of whom loves fish and never owned one. So the idea was to set up a tank which would get almost everything from discus feed and substrate. Initially I found this topic quite difficult to discuss because most readers couldn't understand why I would bother with something like this, as opposed to just EI / aquasoil. However eventually I found a bunch of threads and members who shared a similar interest, but under the general nomenclature of 'lean dosing'. Unfortunately this was over at TPT. Long story short, the moderators there didn't understand and didn't approve of this kind of talk and started censoring my posts and questions to other members. So I made my way back here and to my surprise found the same bunch of people who had also been similarly censored, banned or chastised.

So I am creating this journal mainly as thanks to UKAPS for hosting our crazy talk. And sorry for the crappy photos as I am not a photographer and hardly post photos on the web so I don't know how to edit them to look good. The thread which inspired me to create the journal can be found here: Lean dosing pros and cons. Be warned that you will need 5 cups of coffee to make it through in one piece.

Same tank most recently with a different layout and big haircut. It was starting to become a bit too dutch style so I cleared most of it to make it more nature style

Last edited:
About This Tank

Tank: Dimensions are 160cmX45cmX60cm and now about 1.5 years old as I write this.
Substrate: Manure, potting soil, osmocote, solid clay, diatomaceous earth, iron oxide, mgso4, k2so4 topped off with sand. The whole substrate is 4 inches at the front and 10 inches at the back. Since substrate is key to the tank, I post a picture of how I made it. damn the thing smelt bad even before I put the water in.

20200913_101203 (2).jpg

the recipe for this is from Father Fish - look him up on youtube if you're interested


I pay real close attention to the substrate - the black parts you see apparently is because parts of the substrate have gone anaerobic. but that doesn't seem to bother the plants which you can see have white healthy roots going right to the bottom

Water Params: Temperature is 26 - 27 constant control by a chiller. In the winter I let it drop to around 23 and if there's ich I will raise it around 30. GH is around 5 or 6 and KH is around 1 out of the tap. NO3 is usually between 10 - 20 ppm and is all derived from food which I feed twice a day. Over the life of the tank I have dosed Urea, K2SO4, MGSO4 + micros but I have never measured them. The most I have ever dosed is 2 teaspoons of K2SO4 and 4 teaspoons of MGSO4 a week but that was for the first year because I was too chicken to quit dosing at first as all my plants were newly added and I didn't want them all to die, but now they are established I have not dosed now for several months. My buces and moss are not rooted in substrate so I do have to dose micros once or twice a month (which includes Fe) otherwise the leaves do go pale on some of them.
Pump and Filtration: I have a sump with wet dry trickle filter. turnover maybe around 4-5 times an hour at most.
Maintenance: Water change 60 - 70% weekly. Clean glass with melamine sponge. Spray h202 where I see algae. Use turkey baster to clean plants (I have maintained tanks where all dead matter is left alone and would actually prefer to do this to be truer to the perpetual philosophy if I weren't feeding the discus so much). No touching of any bare substrate. I try to fit all cleaning and water changes to 1 hour a week (trimming and fussing about with plants not included as that can range a lot more depending on how fussy I am).
Lighting and CO2: I have mars hydro sp3000 which puts out 300W at its most brightest and a red LED cluster which is about 90W I think - for optics. CO2 ranges from medium to insane depending on what I'm trying to fix. At most I can only get a 0.7 ph drop - probably due to my sump, or maybe my levels are not insane enough. I do not use a reactor and my CO2 goes straight into my pump


for those who are interested in my frame - here it is. All 2020 tslots. You can see my outflows and inflows are drilled in. This is because I love sumps but hate overflow boxes or weirs. Its a bit more difficult to dial in but when done successfully if is just as quiet as a bean animal

Plants: I have rotalas, pogostemmons, buces, java ferns, crypts, ammanias, mosses, dwarf hair grass, pinnafatida, anubias, stauraugyne repens & nymphoides. I have pothos growing out of the back and a few floaters which help to diagnose the condition of the water. I think most stem plants would do well in this tank.
Last edited:
What I Hope To Get Out Of This Journal
I guess the mods here like journals because it helps people learn through our the poster's experience so I hope that you will be encouraged to try something similar if you like this tank.

The assumptions which this tank is set up mainly to test are 1. whether you need to dose a high tech if you have fish food and a good substrate 2. whether anaerobic substrate is good for plants and fish health

Here are more lessons I have learnt from this tank:
1. Cleanliness and pristine mechanical filtration really helped to keep algae at bay. I clean the filter floss out of my trickle compartment daily
2. Fish don't mind hydrogen sulphide (I don't have a lot but every now and then when I uproot a crypt a huge jet of bubbles gets released like an underwater volcano)
3. Corys are much more active in deep dirted sand than I have ever experienced - which I think is due to high amounts of critters the substrate generates - even after several years
4. Even high light plants like pogostemmon don't seem to suffer too much if I switch to low light. I think it's because strong roots compensate
5. High GH doesn't matter. When I dosed MGSO4 my GH has gone as high as 12 and that didn't seem to affect the plants. Some like pogostemmon didn't grow as well but nothing died.
6. The older the plant and the longer it has been in the substrate the more variations in co2, ferts and temp changes it can tolerate
7. Siamese algae eaters love beefheart more than algae (who'd have thunk)
Last edited:
Livestock: German blue rams, convict rams, pea puffer, discus, albino corys, denison barbs, siamese algae eaters, glass catfish

Food: beefheart, spinach, egg yolk, garlic, krill all minced, frozen and fed twice a day. Saturday and Sundays are fasting days with no feeding
Last edited:
So I made my way back here and to my surprise found the same bunch of people who had also been similarly censored, banned or chastised
It's been wonderful how many "lean dosing" exiles have taken an interest in UKAPS and a great privilege to get read their journals. It never occurred to me that there were other places where people treated each-other with so much distain. But it doesn't exactly surprise me if people are desperate to sell products.
the black parts you see apparently is because parts of the substrate have gone anaerobic
I wouldn't have thought algae like anaerobic conditions. Sand seems pretty permeable to me. The brown colour looks more like ferric compounds as opposed to ferrous ones. I would have thought you are looking at an aerobic microbial horizon.
I don't think it matters because there could be all sorts of microbes and your tank looks wonderful.

I love your substrate and fish foods. I really want to see how the fish eat these things because it's something I used to read about and never had the brass to try. My old university used to feed all of their guppies solely on beef heart. I could never understand how they gobbled it down.
I wouldn't have thought algae like anaerobic conditions. Sand seems pretty permeable to me. The brown colour looks more like ferric compounds as opposed to ferrous ones. I would have thought you are looking at an aerobic microbial horizon.
The green on the glass I think is actually cyanobacteria because it comes and goes quickly. But you may be right that there is aerobic activity going on especially where there are roots. But I still believe there are pockets of anaerobic activity especially at the dirt level which is 1 inch high from the bottom - as I put fresh manure and potting soil in without any mineralisation and cement sand. If that doesn't go anaerobic then I don't know what will
I don't think you mentioned the tank dimensions. Looking at the first pic on my phone, thought your tank was absolutely massive. But then spotted the drop checkers... the discus must have been juveniles?
Yes you're right! those are juveniles. This tank's dimension is 160*45*60cm - around 76 gallons. Have just added it
Last edited:
I use pothos and floating nymphonides hydrophilla as a check on water health. Some of the leaves have been singed by the grow light but you can see a bit of chlorosis which I think is due to insufficient Fe

i put plants in to hide ugly pothos roots

Here's another shot of the pothos and led in action. Even though my grow light is more than enough, a red led cluster looks more flattering for the plants and I highly recommend it
Last edited:

In the early days I used multiple drop checkers to measure co2 dispersion and you can see the differences in readings. plants didn't seem to care but it did provide food for quite a few debates
Some more woo-woo
Aquascaping for me is a hobby and not a job or scientific experiment. This means I like to be free to chase and talk about unicorns. So in this post I would like to share with you some biased, unsubstantiated and unverified beliefs in the set up of this tank. I do this to because I believe it will help to provide a clearer idea into why things are set up this way. I am not trying to convince anyone anything. It is purely background information to support the journal. If you disagree strongly then at least it will mean that you don't end up wasting your time trying to copy this tank and chasing the same unicorns as me. So here goes:

People think that in a heavily planted tank the biggest thing is plants. Actually substrate and water is 95% of what we keep. Water is not just a medium for transferring nutrients around. It is like air to humans. Fish and plants like / hate different things about it - not all of which are supposed to be essential to their survival. But they do. Substrate affects water in more ways than we suppose. A substrate with diverse microbes and chemical action creates water that plants and fish like. Water and substrate has memory. If it were not for undesired organics, the same water in the same substrate will create a type of environment which plants and fish just feel more comfortable in. To achieve diversity its better to bring in foreign objects (e.g sand or rocks picked up from rivers outside). This is why we also need aerobic, anoxyic, anaerobic and whatever, it's all good for the tank. The more '-ics' there are the better. A deep sand cap stops most things from leaching into the water column and can keep the water extremely clean even though the dirt below is filthy. It can also hold nutrients for carpeting plants. An ideal system would not need water changes. Plants grow better in old substrates. A diverse setup does not need cycling. Fish develop stronger immunities and new livestock does not need quarantining.

Tank stability is not as important as diversity. With sufficient diversity you can change CO2 levels, light levels, O2 levels, dosing levels and even fishload levels and your plants will still adapt because the diversity presents more ways to adapt.
Last edited:
A few weeks ago I planted rotala wallichi, monte carlo and utricularia and turned up the lights. I don't have a dimmer so am manually dialling them in. My rough guesstimation is I am getting between 70 and 120 par at the surface. Plants seem to be doing fine except the utricularia which keep getting uprooted by bottom feeders. I am down to one clump which I hope will survive.

I have also removed as many seryu stones and added kattapa leaves in order to reduce kh which is hovering around 2-3.
Since the last post:

- I am still intrigued by the idea of few water changes. This is the end of the second week without changes and the only thing I have dosed is a pinch of iron for my buces. Kh is now up to 5 and nitrate is measuring around 15ppm. I dosed K and Mg in week one but not in week two. For week 3 I plan not to dose.

Lighting has been on the high side. Around 100 par at the surface would be my guess.

I've learnt that no water changes doesn't mean no cleaning so I am still cleaning the glass, trimming and using a turkey baster to loosen up mulm and detritus. But without a hose to suck it all up like I would normally do during water changes, I just hope they make their way to the intake.

To keep things relatively clean, I have increased flow to help remove waste and other unwanted stuff and may buy a small wavemaker to help.

-Wallichi and rotalia are growing but slower than I'd like, probably due to insufficient light and maybe insufficient co2.

- I am also experiencing a bit of aggression from my convict cichlids so had to put some wood on the right which looks out of proportion but I plan to remove or cut it down once everything settles.

-These photos are taken from my evening lighting which consists of room lighting accentuated by a spot red. Levels are quite low maybe 30 par and no co2. Looks better in real life than the photos I think. I have just placed a new filter on the intake which is not noticeable but comes up bright blue for some reason.


So I went on holiday for around 4 weeks in may during which time I did not do any water changes and my co2 regualtor failed. As a result I lost the helferi and wallichi (which wasn't doing so well anyway).

I came back in July and replenished my co2 but decided not to do any water changes. It is now November and I have not had a single fish death (except for one jumper). Fish look healthy and behaving normally, and plants seem to be doing okay. No fertilisation except iron. As you can see the monte carlo is carpeting very well and did not die off without the co2.
Last edited:
So I decided to leave this tank for a whole month without any cleaning or fertilisation but full co2 and lights.

As you can see my glass has algae and my plants are starting to crowd each other out. My micransothorum is literally taking everything over.

Algae is also starting to appear more aggressively due to high plant loads

Glass algae


Algae growing on leaves
My cleaning regime involves removing all the weeds.. by hand if possible so there are no more roots

However there was just too much so I graduated to scissors.

It’s time my HC got a trim anyway. If it gets too thick there will be too much organically growing underneath and it will eventually lift off the substrate so I patted and mowed it with a proper pair of scissors

Fistfuls of weed and bits I cut floating on the surface



Glass cleaning with my favourite sponge

Then a 30% water change. Some people ask me why I don’t drain the tank before cleaning as it’s easier with less water getting in the way. I do this because I find water helps to get stuff off glass easier and I can also suck out a lot of debris and trimmings when siphoning. So..

Last edited:
Last week I decided to remove my crinum because it got too big.

In doing so I noticed this particular root structure is something I never got using aquasoil - even with EI.

Root feeders are typically slow growers but with established roots they grow faster than anything else in the tank.

I have planted a few buces in the sand to see if I can get this kind of performance…

2 months with no water changes or ferts and 0 fish deaths. Measured ammonia yesterday and it was the same as tap. Still 0.