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Newbie with Filter, Substrate, and Kuhli Questions


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I am very novice, and picked up a 29 gal tank (30x12x18) to set up over the next few months. I've been researching and having trouble understanding anything/everything about the hobby, and have no mentor so I'm hoping I can ask things here. 

I want to start cycling my tank, but first I need to know the ideal filter. I want to keep Khuli Loaches, I love the look of the little guys and I'm obsessed so id like to keep at least 6, with maybe 6 or so Cherry barbs, Tetras, I'm open to other friends. I don't want to over stock but I do want a bit of a active tank. I definitely don't want them stuck in the filter.

I also want to keep low tech plants, java moss, java ferns, maybe some floaty ones. again hardy. Is it recommended to cycle, plant, ensure parameters are good, then fish? Is fish order of putting in important, does it matter which species goes in first?

The loaches are my priority. The internet is full of info but its so confusing, some say sponge filter which ive never worked with or seen. others say UGF is best for them, Others RUGF which i cant find any good explanation on how to set up or even a product for a 29gal but it was still the one i was leaning towards most. I get the UG is controversial, but I think I understand the biggest issue is care for the filter, and I don't see a difference between vacuuming the gravel for a weekly water change vs vacuuming the gravel for a waterchange AND to clean the filter. 

The other issue I have with the under filter, is I read the loaches need sand? is there a small gravel that wont pass into the filter if i use a screen?  I've only used the normal gravel before. 

I'm open to any filter suggestion set ups, right now I'm completely lost on all the different options so the more info and the more specific the better. I really appreciate the help. 

I'm not in a rush on the tank, I want to do it right so no lives, plant or fish, are lost by my hand simply because I was negligent. Maybe im in over my head and should just do goldfish. 


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Hi @jessi1701. Welcome to the forum! I also have a 29 gallon planted community aquarium, so I'd like to share some of the advice I had for you:

Filters: I understand the confusion coming along with the filters. I struggled with this as well as a novice. An ideal filter for your setup would be the sponge filter like many people suggested. Although stores like PetSmart and PetCo do not carry them, you can find them on the Aquarium Co-Op website here: https://www.aquariumcoop.com/collections/sponge-filters/products/aquarium-co-op-coarse-sponge-filter. In my experience, these filters are great. They provide plenty of space for beneficial bacteria while also not sucking up any fish and also only requiring an airstone and air pump to work. Go with the medium size for the 29 gallon aquarium. But you also might need something more to keep the water clear. Go with a hang-on-back filter as well (any brand will work honestly, but I would recommend AquaClear or Marineland Penguins, just because I've had experience with these kinds of filters), but *IMPORTANT* make sure to cover the intake of filter with an pre-filter/intake filter sponge, also available at Aquarium Co-Op.com here: https://www.aquariumcoop.com/collections/sponge-filters/products/medium-pre-filter-sponge. This sponge will prevent small fish, food, and debris from going up the intake. This would be especially useful for kuhli loaches, as I heard they like to squeeze into every opening they can get into. I would not recommend an undergravel filter, because kuhli loaches could get into the bottom and possibly get stuck (I heard).

Planting: For plants, Java fern, Anubias species, water sprite, water lettuce, guppy grass, dwarf aquarium lily, and Cryptocoryne wendtii are a few of my choice ones for a beginner (I am a beginner with plants too, and these work pretty well for me). They are readily available and easy to grow. I would plant the tank after cycling for a couple of days. After adding the plants, add the fish in a week or so. I'm not too experienced with cycling a tank, so I would wait for a more experienced aquarist to verify what to do before proceeding with my advice.

Substrate: If you are planning on plants, sand might not be the best choice, as gravel provides much more nutriets, but then again, kuhli loaches love sand to bury in. So what I would recommend is a layer of gravel underneath the areas where you want plants, and then a slight covering of sand over the top and in other areas for the loaches to burrow under. The other main difference from gravel (besides the nutrients thing I mentioned earlier) is that waste settles on top of the sand, so gravel vacuuming on sand is basically running the vacuuming just over the top of the sand to suck up the debris that has settled there. It is not necessary to dig into the sand when vacuuming, as you will likely just suck up sand this way.

Maintenence: Gravel vacuuming gets rid of waste in the gravel like uneaten fish food and fish feces. This stuff is actually beneficial for plants, as they use it as food for themselves. Water changing helps to get rid of nitrates, nitrities, and ammonia present in the water. Cleaning the filter is mostly to get rid of all the gunk-y stuff that forms in the filter. The purpose is mainly to un-clog the filter, so that the filter can continue to perform at its best.

Stocking: Your tank would definitely not be overstocked or too busy. I think 6 kuhli loaches and 6 cherry barbs is a great start to building a good planted community aquarium. You could add a lot more fish as your tank gets established. Other fish I would recommend would be smaller tetras (like you mentioned), rasboras (harlequins, espeis, or chilis), endler's livebearers, guppies, or platies. Another choice (my favorite) would be Corydoras catfish. If you haven't heard of them, they are cute little schooling catfish that won't harm a soul. Get a group of around 6 of the same species. For a smaller variety in case you don't want ones that get a tad too large, go for pygmy cories (Corydoras pygmaeus). They are a tiny silver catfish that get only about 1 inch at most. They would go perfectly with your loaches and barbs.

Here are a couple of Corydoras (albino cory, and some peppered cory babies).


Also, I don't think you are over-thinking this. It is perfectly normal for aquarists like us to consider every little detail about what they are going to be doing about their aquariums! Plus, goldfish might even be harder in the 29, as they produce a lot of waste and some can grow over a foot long.

Hope this helps. If you're not interested in buying stuff from the Co-Op, Amazon also carries sponge filters and things, but they don't seem to be up quite near the same level as the Co-Op ones (at least in my experience). Anyway, I look forward to seeing how your tank progresses. Good luck!

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I can only tell my experience with kuhli loaches, sand, gravel and UGFs. I have 15 kuhlis in a 55gal with smaller gravel and an UGF. I've had no problems whatsoever. I have 9 of them in a 40 breeder with two sponge filters and sand, again with no problems whatsoever. I have totally different observations than the general info posted on line. I have never ever had a kuhli bury itself in the sand tank. They move it around a bit as they swim but never do they bury themselves. They have buried themselves into the gravel. I was blown away the first time I saw them do it, fast as lightning, little rocket noodles they disappeared in a nano second. LOL 

My advice would be set your tank up however you like. If you want sand use sand, if you want gravel use gravel, your kuhlis will be fine with both. Same with filtration, use what will work best for you. I like both therefore I use both. Kuhli loaches have a smaller bio load than other fish and since they do best in larger numbers I would get more than 6. Also remember they hide a lot during the day so larger numbers will increase your chances of seeing them.

Edited by Tamitha
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