Welcome to a story of preparation and disaster. All tied up into a neat little bundle of "well crap’s" and “omgican'tbelieveijustdidthat’s".
Table of Contents:
20 Gallons Under The Sea
Moby Fish, the Saga Continues
I Can See Clearly Now, the Murk is Gone
Update #1 - Stability Can’t be Bought
Plans for My Tank
Update #2 - Let’s Go Fishin’
Update #3 - I Just Couldn't Leaf it Alone
Update #4 - You're Not Such a Fungi Afterall
Update #4b - They Call Me Mellow YellowUpdate #5 - Let's Shrimplify the Problem
Update #6 - A Herculean Task
Update #7 - A Little Piece of Heaven and Other Nursery Rhymes
Update #8 - Bigger is Better... Right?
Update #9 - A Tank in Need
Update #10 - It's ALIVE
Update #11 - I'll Just Skim Over the Good Bits
I'm a novice fishkeeper, compulsive plant-buyer and amazon aficionado. I have one dog, one cat, one husband and 5 cars. I'm an advanced procrastinator, obsessive researcher and deep end swimmer. I either dive right in or I couldn't care less.
Low-tech planted tanks have given me quite the board to dive off of. I came into a small gift of money, so what is there that is better to waste it on, than a beautiful aquascape.
I have spent the better part of these last couple weeks, researching for at least 4 hours (sometimes 6) a day on different setups, varying views and appropriate processes for creating my own aquatic masterpiece. This is mostly impressive because I have just entered midterms week, and I’m learning so much. Not that any of it has anything to do with my studies, but I’m learning right? (...right?)
Regardless, I was Inspired by images such as this:
It was hard not to feel as though I had finally found something that would be a living representation of all the beauty that is trapped in my mind that cannot adequately be expressed through term papers and legal memos.
It all started with a friend of mine who offered to give me her empty 10 gallon when I showed her some of these inspiring aquascapes a few months ago. I would need to buy the hardware, but she had just moved her fish into a 30 gallon tank, and was looking at a second 20 gallon. Ergo, free tank.
After doing some minor reading on what fish I could stock a 10 gallon tank with, I quickly ran into the word “unstable”. Small changes in water chemistry would imbalance the entirety of the tank more quickly and thereby cause me stress, the fish stress, my dog stress (he’s always stressed) and end up being a lot more work with a lot fewer options.
I read a couple of forum posts (running into this forum) that suggested the best thing for a beginner, would be a 20 gallon unit, for a low tech, planted tank. Creating and maintaining an ecosystem was a lot more intriguing to me than babying and managing a forced containment of life. I love things that are beautiful, and happy things are always more beautiful. So this forum has been an invaluable asset to me and as such, I would like to share my progress here first for feedback, insight and obviously the knowledge you guys have so much of.
From this discovery naturally, the search was on. I scoured craigslist for the perfect 20 gallon tank. Unfortunately I flaked on a guy and lost out on a cycled tank with all the fixins, complete with stand (in my defense I had been awake for 36 hours and sort of… lost track of time).
However I snagged me this nice piece of aquarium driftwood:
(the marbles don’t make an appearance in the finished hardscape, they totally ruin my chi).
Before we move on I think it prudent to say that my last few attempts at fishkeeping have not gone well. Although my last Betta Wanda (I am aware it was a male) lived to the ripe old age of 3. So maybe not terrible, but certainly not well. That may be a story for another post on “what not to do with fish”.
So it is my duty to the memory of Fred the red Betta, multiple neon tetras, a baby pleco and some shrimp (I was a child don’t judge too harshly) and my last betta Wanda, that if I do this, I’m going to do this right.
I must stress that that caring for any animal is about their own welfare and less about your own selfish desires. I passed over a beautiful betta at my local fish store (“LFS”) that was silver with a teal body that melted into the fins. The little guy was so full of spunk, he turned and eyeballed me when I picked up his containment unit. I nearly put him into my cart right then and there. But I was there to purchase a quarantine tank and substrate, not bring home a betta to live in a cup for a few days while I sorted out my crap. As you will see later on, it was a good decision. (I did go back several days later and he was still there, so I bought him since my little tank was all set up. More on him later).
Now onward with my (in progress) Adventure. I hope that this picture journal may help any new aspiring fishkeepers, or at least provide an answer to some question somewhere held by someperson. I will be supplementing this journey with links of what I purchased, as well as the informational links that I found most useful. Not just the ones that told me what I wanted.
This is where my inspiration came from.
After purchasing the driftwood I placed it in a 5 gallon bucket and weighed it down as it was quite buoyant. I left it in the bucket for 3 days, as it had been removed from its previous aquarium 3 months earlier, and had completely dried out. Picture here is on the 3rd day:
, outlined all the necessary steps for determining if your driftwood was safe and what you should do before you put it into your tank. If you want to preserve any soft driftwood that is common in areas like a temperate rainforest (cedar, pine etc.), there are other resources to help with that. But it is not recommended (nearly universally) because of sap and short term rot.
However, the best and safest route is to go with roots (hah, how do you pronounce route?) or branches that are already found near a river or lake that are no longer waterlogged.
- Always clean them when you bring them home with a scrub brush and hot water
- Always store them in a bucket filled with water to let any tannins leech out.
- Tannins may not be harmful to your fish, but may impact the PH level of your water
- Also, brown water? Really?
- Some people recommend boiling new driftwood you have personally collected for at least an hour
- Some people recommend storing driftwood for a year before you consider using it
- Some people recommend baking it in your oven
The point is, at this juncture a lot of the information I found on driftwood was anecdotal. If you have a good source like I did for aquarium driftwood, then save yourself the hassle and go that way.
Otherwise if you find that incredible piece that inspires you to create a beautiful aquascape, clean, boil, and bake that baby before you use it in your tank and DON’T BE HASTY (Master Meriadoc!). Let it sit in a bucket of aquarium quality water to see if it alters the chemistry at all. Give it a couple of days and if the changes are minimal then I would infer that it is safe to use.
That’s just the noggin talking, not experience.
This is just meant to show you all the pieces that I bought, and provide links (where possible). Please don’t do the math. I don’t want to know. I researched at least 7-10 options before deciding on what I purchased online. Price was obviously a factor, but so was the product’s ability to do its job. Mostly what I bought at Petsmart, I bought because it was on sale. (Honesty is always the best policy).
TV Stand from the free section of Craigslist (best impromptu aquarium stand ever. Rear access, wheels and storage, designed to hold a lot of weight.)
Extension cord (6 ft)
Marineland 20 gallon biowheel aquarium kit
Top Fin Imagine Aquarium kit
(quarantine/Interim betta Home, have to purchase a heater with it)
Marina Submersible Heater
(this is one of the few small tank heaters that has an internal thermostat and SHUTS ITSELF OFF)
DO NOT BUY THIS ONE (Heater
) It just keeps going until you unplug it. Nearly fried my betta. Needless to say I returned it the same day
Two 13 litre buckets one white and one blue:
One for treated water the other for the dirty water. Mostly because I don’t trust myself to remember which bucket is which even while I’m pouring water from the tank into the bucket.
: (these things made my life so much easier. Even if you just get the tweezers, get the tweezers)
: (untested thus far)
Magnetic tank cleane
r: (The magnet is so strong, it works so well. I like it. Buy it.)
Python Water Vacuum
: (swish and flick)
API Master Freshwater test kit
: (This is still on its way. Since I’m just cycling anyway it doesn’t matter quite yet)
I got the strips for the interim, to just get an idea of where I'm at.
Two of these thermometers
(my kit came with a strip one, but it doesn’t seem to be working so I picked these up)
Flat pieces of slate (scavenged from back patio)
10L bag of soil (no pesticides and minimal pearlite)
National Geographic Sand
(paying this much for sand really irked me, but I only planned on using a small amount)
: (this isn’t the same packaging, but the specs and price line up)
Rocks from the river by my house
Decorative rocks from the dollar store
(this may have been an impulse purchase but it pulled it all together)
Natural looking plastic Rock den
for betta: (he better like it)
reptile hidey hole. Like 3 bucks. Way cheaper than any aquarium pieces. Just for the quarantine tank, so looks aren't super important.
LED Light Bar
CO2 diffuser: (This arrived broken, so I returned it.)
Bought this 3-in-1 CO2 Diffuser
instead. Check valve, diffuser and bubble counter all in one. With all the great reviews, hard to go wrong.
DIY CO2 System
Luffy Nano Moss Balls
Green Mondo Grass
(I am still in the process of acquiring java and riccia moss, as well as a couple Java ferns)
The very first thing that I did was plan. Before I bought anything, and certainly before I started opening anything, I made sure that I had a clear plan of how everything was going to unfold. The key to writing an A+ paper is all in your outline.
So I drew sketches, I found online tools:
(This online planner
has more of the popular plants)
My idea was all based around the aforementioned piece of driftwood. It’s going to be a tree, and the rest of the tank, the meadow beside a river. It was a picture in my mind that I was making into a reality.
Now it is time to wash my rocks and my ornaments. One ornament came from a box that shipped from Toronto, and the other came from a petsmart shelf. Coupled with the undoubtedly soiled dollar store rocks and slate from my backyard without forgetting about the stones I pulled from my local river… Contamination was not just a likelihood, but distinctly probable.
I have the rocks separated because as I said the slate is quite thin. So I didn’t want it to break. (Please note: dog toys are not necessary to complete this task).
I had decided on a dirt tank for planting. I read this marvelous blog
that answered all concerns in great detail and offered tons of advice. With a username like oldfishlady, it was difficult not to take her word as Gospel. But she did say some awesome stuff.
Naturally, using layers of dirt to build was cheaper than straight substrate, so it is a viable option for building a hardscape.
So after washing the ornaments, next came the dirt:
And more dirt:
Then some separation of dirt:
I watched youtube videos on creating a sustainable raised foundation in substrate And found these guys
. (These guys are incredible. They walk you through splitting plants and building from nothing. Obviously they are selling a product, but they were a great starting point for me).
So I built the foundation:
And here is where the slate comes in:
The slate keeps the dirt from settling into a big mud puddle. There will be some settlement, but overall, it was minimal. The importance is visualizing bands, or rows of support.
Following this I placed in the driftwood:
This is the focal point of the scape, so its position had to maximize its viewing angle. The tall branch will be covered in moss, replicating a tree. I'm cognisant at this point about swimming space too. Remember while you're building, it is a balancing act for the tank, aesthetics and physics.
Next I braced in what was going to be the river and weighed down the driftwood:
Again this is just to keep the dirt in its place as it gets saturated.
Now the clay cap. I decided on fluorite because of its ability to cycle and redistribute nutrients to rooted plants. I like the look of sand better, but for holding down dirt and acting as a cap, fluorite seemed the better call.
Before this however, we wash our substrate:
Always wash your substrate:
((More updates to come, back to the books for me tonight))