Adding Rock and Live Sand
Now we can order something alive. (This is getting exciting isn't it?) Now that everything is working properly and the saltwater is in the tank, go ahead and order your live rock and live sand. To have done so before we knew that everything would work would risk $300 worth of rock and sand dying in the garage while we waited on the replacement tank to arrive.
While you wait for the rock and sand to arrive, if you have decided to use a PVC support frame, go ahead and build it now and fit it to the tank, making sure to make it a lot smaller than you want the rock pile to be.
Add the Rock
When the rock arrives, take a clean stiff toothbrush and scrub off any sponges that might be left on the rock. These will die during the cycle anyway and only help to foul the water further.
If you are wondering why you are putting the rock in before the sand, I've got an answer for you. If the rock rests on the bottom, the sand helps to hold it in place, and burrowing animals are less likely to cause a mini reef avalanche.
Mix up a 5-gallon bucket of high specific gravity saltwater ( 1.0350) and set it near the tank. Before you add a piece of rock to the tank, drop it in the bucket for about a minute. This will cause undesirable mantis shrimp, if any, to evacuate the rock, saving you the trouble of trying to trap them later.
First, turn off your powerheads and skimmer. Then, using the larger pieces of rock first, arrange your tank according to the aquascaping plan you decided on earlier. Use the plastic zip ties to hold the wayward rocks in place. Make sure you allow for caves and hiding places.
Note: Any water that is displaced by adding the rock and sand should be set aside to use for a water change later.
Adding the Sand
Pour a good measure of the Aragamax oolitic sand into a 5-gallon bucket; about 6" or so. Using the garden hose or the bathtub faucet, run freshwater through the sand while stirring it by hand to rinse out dust and dirt. The water will never run clear so don't even try. Just get the obvious dirt and foreign matter out. Then drain the sand, set aside, and repeat until all of the sand is done.
Now, take a large ZipLoc bag, >= 1-gallon, and fill it with the clean sand. Lower the bag to the bottom of the tank and open it, slowly dumping out the contents evenly over the bottom of the tank, making sure to fill in completely around the base of the rocks.
Repeat the rinsing procedure on the larger reef sand until the water runs semi-clear. Using a large ZipLoc again, slowly add the rinsed sand to the tank. Do not pour the sand in, lower the ZipLoc slowly to the bottom of the tank and then release the sand. Otherwise you will not be able to see into the tank after the first bag full.
By now, the tank just looks like one big fog bank. It's OK. This is normal. It will subside in three or four days, maybe sooner.
Now, open the bags of live sand you bought and pour off most of the water. DO NOT RINSE. Like you did with the ZipLoc earlier, lower the bags of live sand, one at the time, to the bottom of the tank and empty them evenly over the existing sand. Now you dead sand below has been seeded and will grow into the $2-per-pound live sand like you just added.
Now restart all of your pumps.
Add your lights and put them on one of the timers. Adjust them so they will be on roughly 10-12 hours a day. You pick the 12, just make sure they are all in a row. Also, put you powerheads on the timers as well, setting them up to cause psuedo-random water movement. Cycle them on or off every 1/2 hour to several hour periods, in an overlapping fashion.
The Fun Part
Now come the most intense part of the entire "setting up a new tank" experience. The part where you really can't do anything but wait for 4-8 weeks for the tank to become cycled. The real excitement here is testing the water to see how far the cycle has progressed. Actually testing once a week will allow you to track the cycle's progress, but if you get real excited like I do, you will probably test once a day in some spurts. Other than that, drain the skimmer cup once or twice a day, depending on output.
Once ammonia and nitrite have both peaked and zeroed and nitrate is on the rise, the tank is fully cycled. Now is a good time to do a 50% water change before adding any animals.
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