A tale of woe!!! Hope you've got time for a long story, because I'm very discouraged right now! I don't have a lot of money to spend on this hobby like most of these reefers seem to have - they talk about $500 - $1,000 like it's peanuts.
I had a successful 75g FO tank for 8 or 10 years - no LR to begin with except what became "live" over time, and some lava rock I hung off the dock (at the marina of all places) for 3 mo. one summer to colonize. When I did buy about 20# LR it came colonized with all kinds of critters, zoathids, leather corals, and feather duster worms. I used all the old technology at various times - whisper filters, undergravel filter, trickle filter w/bio balls, canister filter. I never had a protein skimmer or RO/DI. I did have 4 VHO lights. And I broke all the rules - I live on the NC coast and used natural seawater usually collected a mile offshore at the top of incoming tide in the summer and Instant Ocean in the winter, my tap water was city water that I just airated for 24 hours to get rid of the chlorine. I caught all kinds of things, blennies, cling fish, seahorses, star fish, octopus, pipe fish, lookdowns, and various other fish that I'd keep for varying lengths of time and then release back into the sea. These were never quarantined - just acclimated and dumped in with my permanent residents - a pair of blennies that spawned regularly, a royal gamma, and 2 pajama cardinals. Occasionally I'd have some algae problems and once a bad outbreak of ick, but never a crash or anything drastic. I caught baby fish, several kinds of tiny shrimps, etc. to feed to my fish along with flake food and sometimes blood worms. I even had warty anemonies that I collected locally.. Thing is, I was totally ignorant of most of the rules and parameters I now read about on RC and my fish (and corals) lived 7 1/2 years (I lost them when we moved). Maybe I just had dumb luck. But that tank was FUN, FUN, FUN!!!
That tank was broken down 6 years ago and now I'm ready to set up again - a 65g this time (don't have room for my 75g) and I thought I'd try having a reef tank. My neighbor has a beautiful reef tank so I was taking advice (and buying used equipment)from him. Set my tank up with 1" aragonite and LS from a bag on the LFS shelf that didn't have anything alive in it that I could ever determine. Ordered premium figi rock expecting it to be colonized, but the only thing it had on it was coraline algae. Found out my tap water (from a well) is .2ppm phosphate so I was having algae problems. A friend gave me some calerpa and it has thrived and now covers all my rock, but I still have the diatom and hair algae. This tank has been set up about 8 mo. and houses a pair of local caught blennies that have spawned, but nothing else. My neighbor sold me what I now realize was his mistakes and outdated equipment - outdated, inadequate Jalli 72w PC which I bought new lamps for and now only one side works because one starter went bad and I can't find a replacement starter. So that money was wasted!!! And an xcaliber HOT protein skimmer (because he had upgraded to a stand in sump type). The xcaliber works fine, and I can use it, I just wish I had known I really needed a stand in sump type.
THEN I FOUND RC! Wow what a well spring of info - but often confusing and contradictory (different opinions). So I've been reading, reading, reading and sometimes asking questions. As for my tank, it's been pretty well neglected all these mo. - just adding top off water when it got very low! At one point I decided to chuck it all because I couldn't afford all the equipment that it seems is considered necessary. Took my LR to LFS, but they did a bait and switch on me - told me they'd give me 3.99 store credit then changed it to 1.99 after I unloaded all my LR (they sell it for 6.99). So I loaded it all back up and brought it back home - set the tank up again but this time with natural seawater. I have finally got the money and bought a RO/DI unit from ARS. And I built a sump/fuge out of a 20g long. And I've started building a hood to house the lights. But that's the big question: lights! I've been reading everything and I'm confused and discouraged. I wanted PCs but can't afford $358. plus shipping for 4 - 96w. So I figured VHOs, but read one thread that said they didn't give off as much light (even when same or higher watts) and the lamps needed replacing every 8 mo. or so - so they weren't that much cheaper in the long run. Then I read about the new T5s, but believe they are even more expensive. Then today read a thread where the guy made up his own lights out of shop lights from Lowe's for $75, and said he's keeping soft corals and leathers just fine. My husband's company uses MH lights, so he brought home a M58 ballast, socket, and 250w bulb - BUT the bulb is only 4200K (hundreds not thousands) and althought it's very bright I don't know that I could use it. And I have 2 sets of end caps and a ballast that powers reg. 30w lamps. I don't have much money and I'm confused and discouraged and really need a mentor who won't just scoff at me trying to get into some kind of reef for the least $ output as possible. Incidentially, my tank gets some afternoon sun on one side through the sliding glass doors. I don't plan on attempting SPS or more demanding corals or anemones. I loved my FO for many, many years and I can be quite content with softies and leather corals (low light). One of the tank of the month winners was all softies and it was beautiful. Even though I'm confused about some things, I love RC and appreciate to no end all you who are so willing to give of your time and experience to those of us who are just learning. If I'd discovered RC before, I'd not have wasted my money buying inadequate stuff from my neighbor. Live and learn! And I know that MH are all the rage and they are the best - but not everyone can afford the best - and I am still hopeful that I can have a modest reef for a modest amount of money. The way I'll stock my tank in all likelihood is one fish/coral at a time over a long period of time - or hopefully some frags from some kind soul. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Carolyn