The History of Pico Reef Biology

Pico Reefs | 25th February 2010 | Article by Brandon Mason | View comments (136)

The ‘tank’ as of 24th February 2010

The idea for a truly long term micro/pico reef (for this article, one gallon or less) came to me as I was graduating college and searching the early internet forums for ideas on small reef aquaria in 2000-2001 to see what was possible and establish the current limitations of small marine aquaria. The smallest I could find, in the history of reef aquarium work altogether and in a lot of searching online, were 2.5 gallon tanks- some ranging back into the 1970’s (Thaler Puddle, Dr. Ellen Thaler for example) and an article on interviewing DC Potts about his successful pico tank from the late 90’s.

Feb 20th 2013:

In 2001, even pictures of quickly-assembled gallon and half-gallon experimental aquariums (now common) were not available across the web, especially those using synthetic saltwater, so it was truly untested waters to work with half gallon aquaria that had to meet strict criteria to be valid in my opinion: they had to develop and sustain a diverse population of stony corals, benthic organisms and coralline algae, meet all water support needs with reasonable care (for example, no daily water changes) and they had to last-as long or longer than large aquaria without going eutrophic (high nutrient/algae dominated) relying on biology, not mechanical devices, to run the micro ecosystem. In hindsight they would break every rule the current establishment held against ultra micro aquaria, using simple science anyone could replicate, and the vast resources of the web had the friends I’d need to do it.

Lastly, they had to stand the test of master aquarists across the internet when reviewed-the technophiles like the guy at the rock concert who can tell when the guitarist messes up a single note. Emerging from all that scrutiny and time in preparation should be a new way keeping corals in the home…it’s still evolving as we all exchange ideas and new designs on blogs like this one.

The Reefbowl

One day when walking through Wal-Mart and thinking about design options, I noticed the curved 1.5 gallon vases for a few dollars and thought that would be a neat trial run, a seven dollar reef aquarium. When looking at the vase and thinking about substrates, pumps, etc it dawned on me the little plastic dishes I was using in the lab to keep pothos vines watered seemed the exact diameter of these large vases, maybe it would function like a lid if inverted? So I took the vase home, filled 1/3rd of it with oolitic substrate and saltwater and decided to bubble it instead of a pump, primarily I wanted to use gear I already had and the old aquarium pump happened to be there.

I knew not to add animals; this was just to test heating and salinity control. Well in four days the salinity had only increased from 1.023 to 1.024, the water line dropped only a quarter inch, and that was it-the design was lucky and worked perfectly with no further modifications. For the first time, a gallon reef aquarium had surpassed the top off requirements of a 100-gallon aquarium without complex equipment, and it was easily repeatable to anyone who wanted to try with common Wal-Mart supplies. The air stone met all the circulation requirements of the tank, it kept CO2 from accumulating so it lent strong pH support, it is the absolute ideal way to run a vase reef for these reasons, above any water pump. No animals in situ mind the air bubbles whatsoever… Normally, this combination of gear would be frowned upon in the established reef circles, so this presents another way to bend the rules unique to pico reefs.

The vase continued to evolve and it can be found by searching for anything with vase reef or reefbowl (non spaced) in the wording, there are thousands of threads about it all over the web because I spend a lot of time promoting, discussing and helping others replicate the art. My current vase reef is 4 years old and I expect it to run much longer barring hardware failures (knock on wood). Recently my friend Mark K. (Warlion) developed the vase even further by drilling the line access into the vase, rather than over the lip. This has added two more days between top offs, an unheard of maintenance schedule for any reef aquarium.

Additional pico reef photos can be found here.

The 1/2-gallon PalmTop Reef-No Evaporation

As the reefbowl sat and inspired me further, collecting simple corals that got along well, other ideas such as complete sealing came into mind and one day it snapped in my head to simply include a refugium as a rear subdivision in a tank, obscured by a false reef wall, to use photosynthesis to pump out oxygen under a sealed lid. This would bind respiratory waste CO2, stop evaporation altogether, it would bind up nitrogen and phosphates in the macro algae to some degree, and combined with weekly water changes (something not procrastinated if only one gallon and three minutes) the Palmtop Reef was assembled out of a special beta tank available at the time.

The first long term half gallon reef aquarium documented on the internet, and still the only fully documented sealed reef aquarium (non evaporating) of any size, this helped pico reef keepers find a unique niche among large-tank husbands who were once sure such a thing was impossible I could see in the web forums. Together online we worked out a carbonate dosing system for the micro tank which produced miniature acropora tabular growth and copious coralline algae, this indicated the ion support was spot-on even with no testing of any water parameters outside of salinity! My simplicity requirements had been met–no exceeded.

There was so much helpful input from other posters along the way to help me further my cause, Lunchbucket (Eric Peterson) is a fine example, he and I go way back in the reef forums (before 2003) and his tanks were a source of wonder for me as well along with many other board regulars who chimed in with support and help as needed …all the help needed was on the internet and for that I am so grateful.

Chemical/Physical Changes

Over the years in discussing forum threads about keeping marine aquaria in odd shaped containers, we are starting to see how shapes beyond the standard open square aquarium greatly change, and assist, the keeper if they are willing to make tradeoffs. The first tradeoff is fish, don’t use them in any pico reef is my best advice. I have experimented with fish like gobies before, and don’t agree they should be kept in ultra small aquariums. By excluding fish in the design, there are no size restrictions for aquaria that can grow scleractinian corals.

For example, the fluted vase reef design is an absolutely critical shape for many reasons. The slant of the neck above the water line and under the lid forms a catch surface where the popping bubbles eject various fragments and wastes from the water column; this can be wiped periodically and is essentially a functioning skimmer. The lid rests on the inner diameter of the vase neck, something not possible in square tanks, and this directs the splatter back down into the bowl and away from the edges where salt creep would form in the usual situation around a lid, and it also seals the tank, taking it from a 2x daily top off opened to a twice weekly top off with a lid!

Continuing the ways container shapes change the physicality of a reef aquarium, Orb-type nano reef aquaria reveal an ever-increasing surface area for evaporation to occur as the water level drops (small surface area when full, large surface area approaching the equator of the orb or bowl) so the salinity increase is on an apparent log-scale just like pH, it’s not a consistent evaporation rate when compared to a square tank. Evaporation rates between days 3-4 are markedly faster than on days 1-2 on a globe/orb saltwater aquarium after a top off because as the water level drops more surface area is exposed to amplify water loss.

For total salinity control, small containers that can be sealed, and subdivided for plant growth, are the right size to use small lights and pumps that would otherwise overheat a larger sealed reef attempt and these small containers are also dwarfed by a basic desk fan when cooling needs arise during summer months. Knowing these variables ahead of time greatly hastens reef work in odd or small containers; this is helpful to keep in mind.

Just to mention a few final observations, which are better left as subject material for expert marine biologists, pico reefs are also changing what we observe as allelopathy or “war mechanisms” in scleractinian or “stony” corals because of the concentration ratios seen in these tiny tanks. How is it possible for 15 genera of coral, plus assorted invertebrates and mollusks, to share a gallon of water day after day in between servicing for years and not nettle the water into a mucus-laden soup?

These answers can be found in the further study of pico reef biology, there should be lots more to come over the new year as others make their observations known and we all continue to create a collective knowledge pool for the matter.

In closing, some people feel the micro reef designation will soon become the most popular in the hobby for a number of reasons listed in common nano reef articles (cost/footprint etc). A keeper or a future keeper of pico reef aquaria will have done much online research to get where they want to be since that is the only material available on the matter, so this networking combined with the use of maricultured corals and tempered experimentation should continue to bring our hobby into new homes at an astounding, and ethically sustainable rate.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss pico reef biology even further, be sure to leave a comment below.

About the author:

a unique passion for the smallest reefs since 2001... Discovering new techniques to forward coral husbandry and aquarium science is not size restricted, it's creativity restricted.

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136 Responses on The History of Pico Reef Biology

  1. […] ısıdan, kışın ise aşırı soğuktan korumak gerekir. Ortalama ısı aralığı 26 derecedir. Kavanoz akvaryum çeşitleri bir anlamda büro masa başı veya evdeki ince bir uğraş anlamına gelir. Bu konuda size destek […]

  2. Brandon Mason says:

    I believe our friend is from a Turkish aquarium forum Ive visited before, nice to meet you on our nano reef blog!

    the temps are maintained in the winter time by the 50w heater, in the summer the home ac keeps my house at 74ish and that makes the reefbowl run at 80 degrees constant

    post translated through google:

    From the heat, extreme cold in the winter you need to maintain. Average temperature range 26 degrees. Types of aquarium jar in a sense means that an attempt of fine office desk or at home. Support you in this matter

  3. Roel says:

    Hi Brandon, After admiring your Reef Vase for some time, I finally took the plunge and set one up yesterday. I spent $20 on the vase, pump, airline, lid and airstone at Walmart. I had some clean dry sand and 18 watt odyssea florescent lamp and some pieces of oystercrete aka "artificial rock". I set up the vase using water from my 15 gallon nano which has been up for over a year. I was wondering if I made a good choice in using the oystercrete rock? Should I use live rock instead? How long before I can add some corals like zoa's and shrums? Would I have to wait a full month or will the " live water" speed things up? Thanks in advance, Roel

  4. brandon mason says:

    Hi Roel! Sometimes I don't get email updates sorry for delay. That water does transmit bacteria, it will seed fast. The only negative thing I've ever heard about artificial rock is some of them might have inherent phosphate stores but I've not heard that about the kind you have…we'll know in a few months and even so there are ways to deal with it

    If that was my tank id simply add a chunk of live rock to the mix. Corals are almost undetectable bioload…so even one small chunk given good tank circulation will take care of oxidative filtration, plus its cross seeding the other rock

    If not, id still recommend the weekly water changes using aged water for two weeks then stock those easy corals.

    Stop using aged water after cycle is done, switch to all new change water after this seeding, aged water has wastes we don't need after the cycle

    The way you know the cycle is done is by adding a little frozen cyclopeeze to the water as a test. just a little. Test for ammonia in two days

    If none, cycle done! If you get some, do a full water change with aged water and it will certainly be ready in another week

    When the system will handle a tiny feeding without ammonia 24 hours after its ready for some fun

  5. brandon mason says:

    Id like to post my email address for you all to shoot me a heads up message but a web spammer will get it and flood me lol

    I'll ask Cerven if there's a way for members to get my email. All permission given if so

    Then I'll never miss posts!

  6. Kybx says:

    Brandon, I really enjoyed reading about your reef in a Walmart vase. Some years ago, without knowing anyone else was doing it, I set up a reef in a 5.5g for my first saltwater experience. It was my way to celebrate the coming of Y2K while all the nuts around me were losing their minds over the impending end of the world. I ran that tank a year and a half before someone in my family inadvertently caused the room temperature to go way up when I was not home. For three days things came out to die. I hope nobody here has to go through that kind of heartbreak.

    Last week I had the urge to do it again and pressed into service a 2.5g I had lying around. I went to the store for some rock, and there I saw a Deep Blue 5 compartment Betta tank, 2.3g. You never really believe in love at first sight until you experience it. I looked at that empty glass box in cardboard, and I really saw the reef it could become. I told myself it was better to use the free tank I had at home over the $35 new tank in the store, but you probably already know I'm planning to go back for it sooner or later. Who in their right mind would pay 35 bucks for a plain 2.3g tank?? ; )

    Since it's been so long, and I'm so old and feeble minded, I've forgotten how to run a reef tank. I'm so glad your site is here, because last time I learned it all from books. Now I will be able to just pick up answers instead of building them myself. Maybe this time around, too, the fish store staff has heard of Nano Reefs and they won't look so panicked when they ask about my tank. I really look forward to exploring more of your site.


  7. brandon mason says:


    Very nice to meet you

    I welcome you to link us to any build pics or threads!

    If there was a summary of 5 solid ways to run a 2.3 long term drawn from our collection of pico reefs it would say:

    1. The more water you change at each water change, preferably weekly, the better-including all of it for the max lifespan. It doesn't work in long term pico reefs to avoid large water changes out of fear of stress. That works for short term pico reefs. Pico reefs adapt in many beneficial ways to the energy of full changes. Match temp and specific gravity to old water, no other params need to match (like pH)

    2. Don't stock fish in tanks less than 3, and even 3 gallon tanks are only for highly specialized situations using fish. We see fish in pico reefs all the time, but you don't see them in old pico reefs less than 3g, in my opinion the goal of the ideal pico reef is to preserve each stocked organism to its maximum lifespan. We can do that with small inverts and coral-through fragging. It is the usual case that not keeping fish in a sub-3 makes the tank far more stable. You find a way to grow sps in a pico and everyone will be happy…motile inverts put on quite a show and work great as fish stand ins

    3 Change the tank feeding away from light, daily feedings common to large tanks and shift your feeding to much heavier feedings right before the weekly big water change where you remove back out any uneaten waste

    Feed todays quality frozen feeds or refrigerated feeds, not pellets or flakes in my opinion. I'm currently using a mix of cyclopeeze, oyster eggs and roti feast its the best mix ever on my tank

    4. Dose the tank with c balance using the right dose for the tank we use, not off the directions. Other two part dosers will work but have to be retested. So we are both changing huge volumes of water, and dosing…that's supposed to be frowned on but not in the realm of the longest lived pico reefs. If you dose correctly, you get less headaches. We can dose without calcium or alk testing, sounds taboo I know but remember there are full water changes and specific ways we dose that are soundly repeatable…no snake oil science here, just extreme simplification, using c balance because its dynamics are very familiar in the pico reef. I have several people doing this online I can link to if needed.

    5. Most important-don't view algae or various reef growths as parts of a cycle or any justification for their allowance from day 1 until the end of your tank. If you see a problem growth, remove it instantly by hand, tool, or peroxide. Clean up crews aren't meant to fix our problems with algae, they are preventative. So if you get algae or any other reef tank invader, you are the remover, nothing else. If at any stage of your tank there is a single time you can see cyano, diatoms, algae of any kind, then rule 5 is broken. There are ways to lessen algae growth and they have nothing to do with removing it, keep the two actions separate.

    That's what I use to make my gallon reefs live so long, hope that gives at least a solid direction to start your own findings and adventure. It took me a decade to find out how many more ways other than volume that pico reefs are opposite of large tanks, the list above is the big 5

  8. brandon mason says:

    Wanted to touch base again about no-test dosing…this is ultra taboo in reefing circles and I don't want the reef chemists out there to feel let down or that I'm making a crazy leap…its been done for years now this is not new and I only recommend this for pico reefs we design here. our tanks are reset weekly…this is a critical difference. Big water changes are a cheat to success and allow much variation in care during the interim.

    The way we dose c balance is timed to diurnal pH cycles in the pico reef. It is dosed in such a way as to be below the precipitation threshold of most major salt brands without testing… We use it to accelerate coralline growth through small additions and provide flash phosphate binding mostly….the big water changes do the bulk of ion balancing for calcium and alk, c balance is a crucial touch however. If anyone thinks otherwise, feel free to set up a seven year pico reef and we'll compare notes :)

  9. Kybx says:

    Thanks Brandon,

    That was awfully nice. I promise, no fish! Even though people keep Bettas in those tiny tanks, I think it's abuse. I'll try to send some pics once I get that fancy little glass box!


  10. Bobina says:

    Hi, I was going to set up a 2.5 gallon sps dominated tank and stumbled over your site. Your 1 gallon sps is amazing! Do you dose it or are water changes enough to keep up with calc/alk levels?

  11. Brandon Mason says:

    Bobina Hi nice to meet you

    I do dose, its the lifeblood of the system. I do not believe a one gallon reef can be kept truly long term without it, and you can see from web threads over the last decade there are no shortages of attempts.

    My reasoning is this: there is a point at which daily water changes of 100% would keep params stable. But we don't want that much water change work…so, a system of specific and careful addition of C Balance two part additive has been shows to meet the systemic demands along with -weekly- full water changes in the gallon reef.

    If one sets up the usual gallon reef and treats it well, it will live a year without dosing no problem. But at 12-18 mos, the undosed gallon pico reef will start having marked cyano and algae problems and dosing is the only way Ive found to offset that, after having kept so many one gallon reefs. Ive found no alternative better than this method

    some of the reasons I think dosing makes the critical difference in 1-2 gallon tanks:

    -nobody has ever kept sps in them past 3 years without it. If you get told otherwise, ask to see the thread and link it here. Ive been verifying this for years and have yet to see proof otherwise

    -adding the calcium portion of c balance or any other two part is instant flash precipitation of phosphate from the water column, it lowers phosphates, I think this is key in a small volume of water

    -the specialized timing system we have invented for dosing the gallon reef is all centered around am dosing, when the ph is lowest. This makes the pH more stabilized and this is also critical in long term algae control.

    lastly, the acidic cycles are different (more concentrated) in the gallon pico reef, and the alk portion of the two part system is a direct balancer to that condition. The condition of higher CO2 levels and acidic conditions increases vastly with age in the gallon reef, or two gallon reef, especially with a sandbed, so these are some of the reasons I say heck yes to do a pico reef right you need to dose.

    The smallest undosed pico reef Ive seen was 3 gallons, el fab's pico reef on

    apparently that gallonage is sufficient to last on 50% weekly water changes, he got it out to 3 years. There is a certain time range a 3 gallon can go without dosing, so far we know its been 3 yrs if that helps to set some lifespan ranges in undosed/dosed tanks

  12. Bobina says:

    Thanks for replying!

    So how much would I dose / water change weekly?

    Thanks again,


  13. Brandon Mason says:

    One ideal approach requires very little to no testing of calcium and alk, its been replicated so much we already know what ranges your calcium and alk will be in so you just dose and go.

    the reason we can dose pico reefs without testing for calcium and alk is because of huge water changes (weekly reset of params) and the years we've used c balance have revealed quite an easy pattern in how to add it. I think I mentioned it in the above comments, and to amend it for a two gallon reef there isn't much difference.

    Weekly you should change out as much water as you are willing to do. Nothing beats 100% changes in the pico reef, and few are willing to expend the effort to do it. We shouldn't be using delicate fish that would mind, our inverts do not mind….its the fringing reef model lots of animals in nature adapt just fine if you start out like that. It was wrong information from the past to claim it stresses a tank, it invigorates one, it lives longer than on partial water changes. it stresses fish, we don't use them, we pack our tanks with coral. even if you do have a fish like a clown goby for example, lots of people change 50% no problem or even more.

    So if you aren't going to change nearly all of it out (match temp and specific gravity only don't bother matching pH etc) then do as close to 100% as you are willing to do every week the pico is alive. The more you change, the longer it will live and the tougher your corals will be, pretty simple equation.

    You'll read online that others change 20% every two weeks. This is why you cant find pics or video of 5+ yr pico reefs even though its commonly claimed in internet threads. That old method of partial water changes kills pico reefs within 12-18 mos almost every time. Thats helpful to know when planning a long term, stable tank.

    water change time is your feeding time, don't feed unless you are about to do a water change about an hour after

    Something totally ideal for your system, that will allow a -huge- amount of coral growth as well as maintain several shrimp/crabs etc is to change out one gallon on Wed and one gallon on Sunday of every week, feeding with a mixture of high quality refrigerated/frozen feeds meant for a reef tank an hour before each water change. Don't feed a lot, target feed the proper corals that eat in that manner. Dont use pellet feed or flake feed, use high quality refrigerated reef feeds like roti pods#1, cyclopeeze #2, reef ova/eggs #3 for example, thats a master combination for coral growth I can assure you.

    You are feeding right before a water change in order to reset the water table soon after, and not leave as much waste in the system continually degrading. This is opposite of the current standard of pico reef design where we mimic the feeding of large tanks and as such cause waste buildup in the pico reef (both water column and substrate level buildup) and typically underfeeds the reef anyway because we feed such small amounts to avoid pollution.

    The paired feed/water change method is among the most important things you can do for a long term, +2 yr reef. Feeding twice a week is really a great plan for your tank and a gallon change every few days, or a good sized one+ feed on the weekends, isn't too much work. You just keep it going consistently every week

    The dosing:

    for your two gallon its simple. Use reefcrystals salt since those levels of calcium and alk are factored into the dosing schedule. if you use another salt its usually not a big deal, you may want to test for calcium and alk just to perfect the amounts but you should always dose a two part/2 gallon tank as mentioned below. I still employ this dosing regimen across several different mixes of salt just fine, even though each has different starting levels of calcium and alk, mg, sr etc.

    The reason that doesn't matter is because this amount of c balance won't trip a precipitation threshhold in any salt mix Ive ever used, its too small an amount but just enough to provide a notable difference in outcome after several months of application.

    like gremlins, dosed pico reefs are on a daylight/night schedule and if you don't follow death is highly likely due to massive pH spikes. If you follow it well, the pico lives a very long time with a little hardware and user error luck, simple equation remains.

    -never dose after lights on or after lights out in evening, #1 rule. The dosing of two part is timed to diurnal pH swings in a pico reef and the only time of the day you can dose safely is in the morning before the lights come on

    -other rule is add the two parts of C Balance (you can buy this from 20 mins apart, never at the same time. 20 mins apart, you input it very slowly in a high flow part of your tank in the morning, before lights on.

    Monday add 1/4 capfull of each part A and B 20 mins apart in the morning before lights on. dribble in slowly into tank.

    tuesday no dose

    wed dose, change out some/all water at night after the corals close up. the dosing occured in the am.

    thursday no dose

    friday dose

    sat no dose

    sunday dose, then change out all the water at night. repeat for about 360 weeks and our systems will look very similar!

  14. What a clever project. Thanks for the step-by-step too. I know this is an older post but a very active comments section. Very cool pico indeed.

  15. James Henson says:

    I am in the process of building a 2 1/2 gallon tank. It is round and about 14 inches tall. Has a double wall overflow .area behind over flow will have , pump,filter media . Very small skimmer.LED lighting. Live rock will be drilled and stacked in a rod that will allow removal of rock assembly . Looking for in put.

    • Brandon Mason says:

      Hi James nice to meet you, thank you for stopping by.

      first post in a while…was hoping pico reef energy has not been lost. You have the bases covered on that setup for sure, wish someone would invent a small skimmer I could put in the vase somehow and lessen my water change work~

      post the build here as a link if you like, just like I did the peroxide threads and update vids. anything pico goes here, 2.5 is good to go.

      Just brainstorming off other 2.5 threads and pm’s we discuss my two offers would be to never allow any algae at any phase of the new tank and to take proaction vs inaction at every step. make the reef do exactly what you want it to do, assertiveness right off the bat.

      we are commonly told nowadays that a cycle involves ebb and flow of algae as a natural consequence, and based on the sheer size of the peroxide threads shown above Id beg to differ. that was optional, as bacteria are why we are cycling and those who had algae go away just got lucky.

      those in the thread had the chance to prevent every invasion, but followed current procedure of ‘hands off’ its supposed to be this way.

      if someone wants a totally hands off, no interaction cycle (which is meant for bacteria, not algae) they they very well are likely to get algae. You can see by the peroxide threads that it doesnt always go away as planned :) so my offer is to just not risk this in a pico and hand clean it as needed.

      use clean up crews as preventers, or strange little carapaced show creatures, but never trust them to stop an invasion. nearly all the tanks we are fixing in the peroxide threads already have cuc’s where we must plan action around. some cuc’s will get lucky and clean everything for you, but if not, take manual action.

      my second offer involves direct and decisive action for this and all pico reefs being started. if you want to use cured live rock, bring some home and drill a hole through it and mount it on the poles and begin reefing. this isn’t going to mini cycle anything, it just changes the shape of existing cured live rock that has all the bacteria you will ever need on it. Sure if the inside of the rock is black crud then test for ammonia, but if its just rock inside, rinse out the cut and mount and go.

      do not let test kit interpretations such as API that tends to read high cause you to debate this and that of the cycling process. live rock that was cured means good to go, if you are using that I wouldnt even purchase an ammonia test kit which will just make you second guess at a later stage.

      if your goal is ultra eco friendly reefing and you want to cycle dry rock into cured, and control all inputs into the tank (which you will also have to consider when adding frags and animal shells etc, places for vectoring) then by all means buy a high quality ammonia test kit like salifert and begin your hard cycling.

      Its not that I think this is the best way to run a pico, its just a mode we can have total control over. Many picos run with algae scrubbers, where they include- not exclude- algae and I wont down that approach. my prefered mode is to simply attack it every day the reef runs :) and be ready to trust biology over testing where needed.

      We have spent an inordinant amount of time in threads recently at reefcentral and nano-reef dealing with ghost ammonia readings and the backup it is causing to otherwise normal reefing is something I hope you will avoid.

      I love discussing and tracing the steps for ammonia in the pico reef with just pictures alone, we dont need test kits. so if you ever want to pose an ammonia challenge for any aspect of pico reefing, pls post here!


  16. yolanda says:

    hi, i just posted regarding my cookie jar pico at asking you questions, but got many of them answered here (guess that’s why you should always read the comments, section, haha). one question, though…do i need to buy a test kit? you mentioned the api reef test kit isn’t accurate. i have ammonia strips and then the 6 (or is it 7?) in 1 which i’ve been using. it sounds like you’re not a big proponent of micromanaging levels, which pleases me to no end. :) do i need a test kit for calcium or phosphate, though? sorry, new to saltwater an especially picos, so forgive my ignorance. thanks for this post and all your help!

  17. Brandon Mason says:

    Hi! thanks for posting and keeping our discussion going here, try to post up a link to your thread here so we can read it and check for details.

    Some people enjoy the technicality of testing for ammonia and calcium/alk and thats fine if you want to do so. I however opt out of testing and run just the pure biology route, using clues and details in the tank pictures to assess the chemistry at hand. it works very well and is just another way of getting things done.

    You do not need test kits for anything but temp and salt levels for your change water. we employ certain tricks to make this work, the biggest one is the full water change.

    When you change out all the water from your pico reef, not some of it, you reset it completely to the values of your change water and no it doesnt hurt the corals, if done right.

    all salt makers have variances in their mixes where a given tank may not match exactly the parameters of another tank using different mixes. That doesnt matter however, as Ive yet to find any brand of salt mix that will instantly kill your tank with these variances. You need to be changing as much water -weekly-, not bi weekly like the old ways, that you can stand to do. make it a habit now. I change 100% of my tanks water each week, and thats the only time its fed per the discussion above.

    We can discuss the details about your tank and rocks and cycling process as soon as we get pics, try to post us a thread if you can

  18. yolanda says:

    thanks for the reply! here’s the link:

    is it ok if i just buy the lfs saltwater? they’re so nice and i don’t plan on buying much more livestock and i want to support them. also, i keep it in a tightly sealed 5 gallon home depot bucket, which they said will keep for 2 weeks as long as i stir it before adding. is this correct?

    one of the guys at the lfs freaked out when i told him about the 100% water change and said it didn’t make sense to him bc he said i’d be losing the beneficial bacteria or whatever, but isn’t that stuff already on the rock and in the sand? i’m pretty sure he has no nano/pico experience, but i just thought i’d ask so i could explain to him the next time i see him. i remembered you said 100% wc, but couldn’t remember why or how to respond to his reasoning against it.

    i’m trying to stay as low maintenance as possible (which is ridiculous w/reefkeeping, i know), so i’m all for not testing! p.s. what do you think about the most recent comment made in the thread i posted above? response #7 by rondo. can i eventually get away w/50% wc’s? why no macroalgae? i thought it would keep nitrates down and therefore mean less wc’s eventually. and if i do 100% wc, i know i need to get a siphon so i just ordered this on amazon:
    is it ok? and is it ok if there’s a tiny bit of water left still? i’m afraid of sucking up all the sand. thank you for all your help! and if all my questions get annoying, you only have yourself to blame, b/c it was your video that started it all, haha!! :)

  19. Brandon Mason says:

    All, notice to pico reefers here do not store your LFS or pre made change water capped, it must be stored open capped and you top off as needed.

    keep it in a pantry where sprays will not get in it. mine simply sits in the laundry room off to the side.

    If you need to mix up your own change water before use, just wait about 20-45 mins after mixing that is long enough before use. match salinity and temp before the water change, that is all that needs to be matched.

    By changing weekly in a dedicated manner, your params have not shifted profoundly such that other params need to be tinkered with and potentially placed out of balance by doing so.

    This system is a non tedious approach for max lifespan.

    capping your changewater is dangerous and I almost killed this reefbowl a few years ago doing so.

    Various processes can change the chemistry of the water in the sealed vessel such that the o2 levels are dropped substantially, then with a full water change the tank can be placed in distress.
    one of -several- causes can be water stored in vats at the LFS that have not been cleared of surface scum layers for potentially years or decades, these biofilms are oxygen consumptive, not productive, and if you are getting the last gallon or three from the reservoir it can be far lower in O2, or higher in waste materials, than all the others gallons from that vat.

    You simply store the change water open topped.

    its not that full water changes are bad (post us up a pico reef older than 3 yrs old doing less, challenge) its that you need to employ certain care methods for your water to allow them.

    • yolanda says:

      ok, so on your last post, i have 4 gallons of premade water left in my home depot bucket from my LFS that is about a week old. should i just throw it away then? it has been tightly sealed.

      also, if i store it open, then won’t it evaporate and increase the salinity?

      i think i have a bit of a diatom breakout…there’s a rusty brown and orange color to the back rock on the right, mostly on top. do i just let that ride out?

      also the peppermint shrimp finally reigned victorious today and annihilated the giant aptasia. but he hasn’t been out all day ever since, so maybe he has a tummy ache. what does this do to my various levels? i assume it increases nitrates from dying pieces of aptasia and waste of shrimp?

  20. Brandon Mason says:

    Yes that’s true the salinity will increase as the topoff water sits, handle accordingly. whether or not you use the current water is all part of the constant risk assessment involved in small reef care things can go either way.

    The diatoms i removed by siphoning and doing extra water changes and others choose to leave them either way is fine. I’m not sure how the shrimp and aiptasia will affect waste

    Comments aren’t posting correctly for me for some reason i wrote three replies that didn’t post…i replied to you at nano as a private message with more info

  21. yolanda says:

    hooray, i did my very first 100% (well ok, it was like 85% b/c i accidentally broke the seal while siphoning and there was too little water in the tank to get going again) wc all by myself! we’ll see if everything is ok tomorrow morning…

    what brand salt mix do you use?

  22. Brandon Mason says:

    I currently buy lfs premade water too, currently they use kent and at any moment it can change to any mix. That means sometimes I do a full change into a different mix without knowing it…harmless

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