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Mark Martin on Setting-Up a Grow-Out Tank
Establishing a Tank for Frags to Grow

After our article about FragStock 2009 in the Collector’s Choice Newsletter, I got a bunch of questions about setting up a fragging station and grow-out tank for newly fragged corals. As a result, I thought I’d use my “Ask Mark” column this week to address the question of how the advanced reefer, who wants to get into serious fragging, gets started.

The Right Fragging Tools

For starters, you need the right tools, and luckily we have a section of our website dedicated to coral propagation tools. Check it out, and if you’re just getting started, consider buying a kit such as the Coral Propagation Starter Kit from Boston Aqua Farms. These starter kits are great and have just about everything you need to get started.

Once you have the tools, a clean work area and the proper environmental conditions (see our article on Fragging 101), you are ready to actually start cutting and gluing. We have many books and other resources to get you going in this regard, but, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume you are fragging an easy to frag coral such as a Montipora digita, and I am therefore going to explain the set-up to grow-out SPS coral frags.

Ideal Grow-Out Tank for Frags

To me, the ideal home grow-out tank is either 4'x2'x18" (90 gallons) for a small system or 8'x2'x18" (180 gallons) for a relatively large system. Stability is important, which is why I like to use 90-gallon or larger tanks. The grow-out tank should be a bare bottom tank with some system for holding plugs, disks or whatever other substrate to which you plan to attach the frag. Many people use eggcrate or PVC for this.

Because we are dealing with SPS coral here, and because ultra-clean, ultra-stable water is critical, the best grow-out tank will be set-up like most reef tanks with robust sump-based filtration including an excellent skimmer. Use a return pump that turns the tank over completely at least 10 times per hour, and be sure you are set-up to keep the temperature in a very narrow range. Depending on where you live and what the room in which the tank is housed is like, you may need a heater, chiller and a quality controller.

Random, Chaotic Flow is Essential!

The controller will also be essential to create random chaotic flow in the tank. As I’ve said before, everyone thinks lights when they think coral, but I’m going to tell you that flow is even more important! Don’t skimp here. This doesn’t mean you need to go out and buy the most expensive, most powerful smart powerheads on the market (although we won’t be mad at you if you do!). In reality, you will be fine with four Maxi Jet 1200 powerheads in the 90 gallon tank and six or eight in the 180 gallon tank. Set these up through the controller to create the random, chaotic flow your growing frags will love.

Metal Halide Lights

While flow is king in my book, light will also be critical to the success of your new frags. Because we are talking SPS corals here, you will want the light to be metal halide. I prefer HQI, and the best growth comes from 6500K lights, but growth is not everything. If you keep all the coral under 6500K lighting, then you will have a hard time seeing when the colors start to shift because of poor water, for example. So I suggest you go with 10K lights. You will sacrifice growth rate, but you will be able to see the color of the coral is staying strong.

Your best bet it to get a really good reflector for your 10k metal halide bulbs—something like the Spiderlight Metal Halide Reflectors that we carry. These require some assembly, however, and if you’re looking for plug-and-play, try the Hamilton Reefstar pendants. We don’t carry them right now, but they are the way to go if you want ease of installation. With the Hamiltons, you get one for every two feet of tank, and they are cheap and easy to hang.

Get Fragging!

That’s about it. Set up this tank and let it stabilize and then get to fragging and growing out your frags! With a little luck, you might even be able to pay for the grow-out set-up by selling your frags or simply using them to stock your own show tank. Have fun and be safe (the cutters are sharp!).

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