My Setup: Only Semi-Dutch
This project violates a number of the Dutch conventions/rules outlined in the previous post, so it’s really only ‘semi-Dutch.’ The tank is much smaller than standard at only two feet. I’d rather be working with a four foot, but the 32 gallon is the biggest tank I’ve got for now. I also don’t have a hood or cabinet, and the stand is an open design on the bottom, which means I am completely failing in terms of hiding all external equipment. Lights, CO2, filter, heater are all exposed. I may eventually put some doors on the lower part of the stand to at least hide the filter and CO2.
As far as the inside of the tank goes, the back wall is covered in moss, but the side walls will not be planted. Because the tank is viewable from three sides and I don’t have a cabinet, I am opting to leave the sides open for viewing for now. Concealment of the substrate at the front glass is obviously not possible with a frameless tank and no cabinet (in a true Dutch tank the substrate is ideally so low at the front of the tank that it’s not visible above the frame or cabinet). I will maintain the substrate as low as I can at the front, but this still means a couple of inches of depth for foreground plants. Another standard I am breaking is that I will not be using light colored sand or gravel, but instead Aqua Soil. The reason for this is that it’s what I already had in the tank from the previous scape, and I wasn’t up for switching out the substrate this summer. Plus we know Aqua Soil is a great planted tank substrate and may be the best out there. I’d say using the Aqua Soil gives me some extra margin for error in terms of growing plants over an inert substrate, but is probably a disadvantage in terms aesthetics and aquascaping. The Dutch tank involves lots of uprooting, replanting, and re-arranging, and Aqua Soil is not forgiving in that regard.
Where the tank will be the most ‘Dutch’ is in the arrangement of the plants, with the exception of one rule (and it’s a major one), which is the number of species. In a two foot tank, I really shouldn’t have more than about six different species according to the three per foot rule. However, I don’t think I would be able to achieve the look I am after with only six species, nor would the tank be as much fun to keep. A relatively large variety of species is part of what makes Dutch tanks so interesting. Now too many species on the other hand isn’t good either – even highly ordered groupings will look like noise if enough species are packed into a small enough space. Four feet seems to be a pretty standard length for a Dutch aquarium, and I like the look of Dutch tanks around that size, so I used a four foot tank as a benchmark and gave myself a generous 12-14 plant allotment (not including the mosses on the back wall), with the possibility of reducing the number of species as the scape progresses. Regarding all other aspects of scaping – focal points, contrast, spacing, framing, streets, and minimal hardscape – I will try to emulate the Dutch style as closely as possible.
Finally, there are the fish. Here’s where the lack of a cabinet or hood presents another obstacle. A school of ember tetras and a handful of cardinals provide good mid-level activity. The bottom has the bristlenose pleco, panda corydoras and otos, along with a bunch of inverts – shrimp, snails, and a dwarf crayfish. But what fish are true top-level swimmers, will fit in a two foot tank, and won’t jump out of the open top? I haven’t been able to come up with any. I have been tempted to add some marbled hatchets or some smaller species of pencilfish and see how it goes, but I doubt it would end well. So as of now, the upper stratum remains vacant.