A little bit of history. About a year ago my wife and I decided to set up a small aquarium. Neither of us had ever kept any fish, aside from a goldfish in a bowl my family had when I was about 8. I was about to deploy to Afghanistan and we thought it would give her something to do while I was away. We headed to the local Petsmart and picked up a cheap 10g, set it up for about 3 days, and added some Buenos Aires Tetras, a cheap aquarium castle a rock and some plants. While we were setting everything up and I was doing what i could to research fish care and what not, I decided there was just not enough room in the aquarium to have a really awesome fish tank, but really couldn't afford to buy anything bigger.
Alas, about 1 week before I deployed I found a used aquarium and stand on Craigslist for $55. I thought this deal was too good to be passed up so i called the guy and headed out to pick it up. I made the measurements before I left to be sure it would fit in my Hyundai Accent, I found if my measurements were correct I would have about 2 inches to spare but I wasn't sure if I would have to make 2 trips to grab the stand.
When I arrived we loaded the aquarium in in first, and then somehow managed to get the stand in as well. It took some doing with pillows and blankets to be sure it wouldn't crack during the drive home, but I made it safe and sound.
My wife wasn't too happy with the stand and neither was I, but we knew had 9 months to come up with a solution.The tank itself was very old with a few minor scratches, but not to much of a consern, it holds water that's what we cared about.
During my deployment I did some browsing and came across plantedtank.net and started delving into all the information contained within. I decided I wanted to do a full blown planted community aquarium, to the best of my ability. I researched cycling, filtation, lighting, substrate, Co2, fertilization and water flow among other things. At one point I came across a thread here on all the DIY aquarium stands plantedtank members have made. I thought I could at least try to come up with a design and possibly build it when i got home. I began messing around in blender (free 3d design software) to come up with a simple design even I could probably put together.
I made this design for the frame. Really just a copy of some of the others I had seen here and around the internet but it helped me to visualize what it would entail to build it.
In January of this year, after returning home I started purchasing the items I thought I would need for the aquarium itself. I had made a list of most of the components during the deployment.
Odyssea CFS 500 Cannister Filter - a whopping 500gph filter, which i now regret having so much flow, but for $60 I can live with it
Hydor Koralia Nano Circulation Pump/Powerhead
48" Finnex Ray II - my most expensive purchase
5 bags of Eco-Complete - for sale off Petco online i think i payed 16.99 a bag.
I also looked online and at the local petstores for 3 nice pieces of driftwood.
While I waited for everything to arrive I began working on the stand. I had a time table in mind to have the tank filled some time in early February and let it cycle until after we left on vacation at the end of March. I purchased some lumber from Lowe's, and had them cut it down enough to fit in my car. This was somewhat complicated as i had to preemptively decide where all the cuts could be made so i wouldnt waste to much wood, but it all worked out, I actually ended up buying to much as once I started building it and seeing how sturdy it was I realized I didn't need as much on the frame as i had originally planned.
I took over the kitchen as I constructed our new stand.
I installed all the equipment below
I made this little case for the surge protector/Timer unit to protect it from any water that may come its way during its life
I didn't end up staining or sealing the stand, it was just too wet outside and i really didn't want to try to do it in the apartment. I may try this summer when things warm up, but it will be quite a project just to get the aquarium off the stand even with very little water in it.
While I was building the stand a co-worker of mine mentioned another option for substrate, which ended up being a whole lot cheaper and maybe better overall for the plants. Earth worm castings capped with black blasting sand. I wasn't too sure about the blasting sand at first, but after doing a bit of testing and seeing that the local aquarium stores were actually selling the same exact product as "black sand" I decided to go with it. I took back 4 bags of Eco-Complete to Petco and the manager was happy to take it, he was even more ecstatic that i had bought it online. I got a full refund and I think he ended up giving me a refund for the 5th bag as well. I had opened it previously so I ended up just mixing it in with the blasting sand.
Pic of the layout before fill up.
The Ray II has blue acitinic LEDs. When I purchased the light I thought i would have the option to individually turn those on or off. I don't really like the blue as it really gives an odd color, but the fixture as a whole puts out an awesome amount of light.
Well. The driftwood piece on the right, the only piece I did not soak prior to the fillup, decided to float, even with the rock glued to the base and covered in sand.
After a few days the weight of the rock was enough to somewhat hold down the driftwood, but a few more problems appeared. The glue broke free on 3 of the 4 corners of the rock so its barely held down. I don't think there's much I can do at this point with the rock buried in the sand again and the wood as wet as it is. I really don't want to move the rock if i can help it, the more i dig in the sand the more chances i have of uncovering the substrate which would just make a big mess. The second problem is that piece is also leeching alot of tannins. I wasn't too worried because in my mind the tank wouldn't really be finished for a few months. But it is dimming the light to the shortest plants which is causing some die off I think.
Sorry for the crappy photo and bad photoshop work on the flashspot, this photo is taken probably at the beginning of march. You can see there has been some growth. The leaves on the sword on the left are dying but im told this is normal for what appears to be a emerge grown plant. The leaves should grow back quickly after the old leaves fade away.
Also at this point there has been the typical algae outbreak as well as a huge outbreak of snails that hitched rides on the plants.
I've done some water changes of about 40% but the tannins are still leaking so theres not much point, im just letting it cycle.
About midway through March I decided to purchase a few otto's. 4 to be exact. As well as an Assassin snail. After a few days 1 of the otto's passed and was quickly devoured by snails, but the others are doing fine.
I should also mention at this point that I've been having lots of troubles getting a diffuser that works effectively with my DIY Co2 setup. either the bubbles are too big or none at all. I tried a little tube with a sponge in it but it was just to eratic and usually all the bubbles seemed to follow the path of least resistance and come out in spurts about every 6 seconds. next I used an air stone but I didn't like the looks of it and it seemed the bubbles were to big and just collected on the surface. I setup the airstone below the powerhead and that seemed to help disperse the bubbles effectively but it creates alot of flow in an already very hard flowing aquarium. After a week or so of the airstone I purchased a Glass diffuser which I thought would be the final solution but either pressure would build enough that the hose would burst off letting all the pressure out, or it would leak through the hose. At the time of this post I've just gone all out and super-glued the hose to the glass diffuser, now I'm just waiting for the pressure to build again.
The tank is almost completely cycled now with very little Ammonia now. The snails are breeding faster than rabbits. I have witnessed snails crawl over, under and around my single assassin snail and he or she hasn't seemed to care. Either the snails are too big or he only hunts very rarely. I have noticed a few empty shells here and there so either he or some other unknown force is killing off a snail here and there, possibly the blasting sand? Not sure. the blasting sand showed no no traces of copper even a few weeks after putting it in the aquarium. Anyways, fear has set in and I've decided that rather than have a tank full of snails and no room for anything else. I'm investing in some black kuhli loaches. I went ahead and bought 2 for starters. I originally didn't plan to add loaches for fear that they would dig too deep in the substrate and uncover the soil, or uproot plants, but im going to risk it, for science. So far they have not caused any trouble at all. After this I left for a week on vacation.
I returned to find all went well while I was gone, and Surprise! There are almost no snails anywhere to be found, but what looks to be a graveyard of snail shells in one particular area of the substrate, really odd. Also of note, before I left I had a small invasion of duckweed from one of the batches of plants I bought. Well when I returned after 1 week more than half the surface of the aquarium was covered in dense duckweed. I wouldn't mind it except for two things, it cuts down the light of everything beneath and is really annoying when reaching in the aquarium and having your arm covered in tiny plants. Anyone have experience with this? is it safe to wash it off in the sink? I wouldn't think it is, but I'm really not sure.
The time has come to start stocking the fish. I first purchased 6 peppered cory cats and 3 German Blue Rams. The GBR's are so small its hard to tell the sex but i think at least 1 male and 1 female and the 3rd I'm really not sure. I'll post pics soon.
Woke up and found a dead Cory, one of the smaller ones. He was half devoured by... Oh! I forgot to mention. Also, just before leaving on vacation I added 3 red cherry shrimp and 1 Amano? shrimp. They are all doing well and the Amano has shed his skin at least once. He's really fun to watch, he likes to force his way in past all the other fish and steal an algae wafer, then take it to some unknown secure location in the driftwood.
Today I've added 8 neon tetras to the community. These fish have added some of much needed color to the aquarium. At this point my biggest concerne is the water temperature. The Ray II is hot enough to raise the surface temperature of the water to 84 degrees F during the day. I don't think I've ever seen the aquarium heater on, day or night. its set to 75 degrees. I've thought of trying to add a small clip on fan to skim the surface and hopefully reduce the temp a little.
Sometime soon I want to add a school of rasboras but I need to do a little more research before I make any more purchases. I also plan to add a few angelfish but those will probably be the last thing I add. I want to make this work by hopefully introducing them into the community and raising them alongside the smaller fish. everything is subject to change at this point.