First planted tank: A story of dirt, chagrin, and humility - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-03-2013, 11:42 PM Thread Starter
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First planted tank: A story of dirt, chagrin, and humility

I have been asking questions for a couple of weeks around here, and am very grateful for the answers so far received. I decided to jump in, and start a tank journal.

DISCLAIMER: This is my first try. Mistakes will doubtless be made (I've made a few already!)...Feel free to advise, but please don't be offended if I take a wrong turn.

What I got: A 37 gallon tall, with wood stand. It was given to me with a non-working Aqueon 50, some gravel, and some other junk.

What I've bought, so far:

Two 20lb bags of EcoComplete. Trying to support the LFS, since I know the kid, and he's new in business. $60. YES, I have learned my lesson.
A honking big chunk of driftwood from a garden center, that I have already cut into two pieces. $25
A bag of Scott's topsoil at Walmart $5
A Bag of play sand $4
A bag of red lava landscape rock $5
A clamp on shop light fixture $7, and a HUGE cfl bulb $8. (had NO idea how big this bulb was when I bought it...It is a temp, so I have light to work. A more decorative light plan is in the works.


A few pics:



The tank, as received, with two pieces of driftwood (testing for fit)



The driftwood piece I will be using. It was a saltwater piece...There are remains of small oysters on it. However, it was harvested over five years ago from brackish/fresh water, in the Withlacoochee River, and has been weathering outdoors in a garden center ever since. I then soaked and rinsed it in dechlorinated water for a week.



I made 'sausages' to bank the back of the tank. I took rinsed red lava rock, and packed it into old knee high nylon stockings, which I then tied off and trimmed. Next pic shows how I used them:



The four lava sausages long the back edge of the aquarium. I filled in any space around them, and about an inch over the rest of the tank bottom with play sand.



Driftwood placed on top of the lava. This was tricky: I was not confident that the wood would stay down. So, I used fishing line to attach a lava bag to the driftwood...However, I had to fill the sand in around the driftwood, since I couldn't think of a better way.



So...This could have gone better. I decided not to rinse the topsoil. I KNOW. Had no good way to dry it out after rinsing, no real good way to rinse and strain it. I had read some people had good success with this soil, by basically just chucking it in, and straining wood matter off the top. Sooo, I did that. It was HORRIFYING

Two problems: 1)As I added water, the sand and topsoil ran down hill, so the bottom of the tank is now pretty level (so much for my elevation changes).
2) The gift Aqueon does not work, correctly. It only works intermittently, and not at all with the long pick up tube shown. I had intended to let it run to clarify the water, but cannot do that, now. I also can't buy a pump for another ten days.

I am going to try to rescape the soil once the tank is in place...But I know it is going to turn back into chocolate soup.

That's okay...In the pic, the soil had only been settling for a few hours. It is looking clearer, today. But there is more to do:

Tomorrow, the wall where the tank will be is being painted. I do not want to add any more weight to it before that. So, once in place, I plan to try and 're-scape' the soil levels...THEN add the Eco Complete.

Lessons learned:

Maybe I should have rinsed the dirt
PRETEST THE EQUIPMENT BEFORE YOU NEED IT
Learn more about elevations in substrate

I expect no further updates before the weekend. I am pretty humble, so don't be afraid to say so if you see me driving off a cliff.
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post #2 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-03-2013, 11:52 PM
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another thing that might have happened is that you started running the filter before the big heavy bits in the water from your substrate settled down. If you didn't wait and didn't have a prefilter sponge on your intake tube, odds are some big rock chunks of gravel made it up your tube, blocked your filter's impeller, and maybe even burnt out the motor. don't ask me how I know that this is a possibility, haha.

for now, take the filter apart and check the impeller. if you have a bunch of gravel in there with the impeller, there's your answer. clean that out and try running it in a bucket of clean tap water to see if the filter's ok. if so, stick a sponge on the end of that intake tube for now before sticking it back in the tank.

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post #3 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-03-2013, 11:55 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks, Jahn. In fact, I did exactly that, today...Ran it in clean water on a five gallon bucket. The impeller was clear, and in fact ran fine. It just would not take up water, sometimes. Especially not through the long tube. I tried priming it, and even starting it with the clear tube filled with water. It would sometimes pump long enough to fill the filter reservoir, but then quit, with motor still running. I am just going to have to get another...
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post #4 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-04-2013, 05:03 PM Thread Starter
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Mini-Update: Hey! I can actually SEE through the tank, front to back, today. I am a little more confident that once I cover the top soil with the Eco Complete, it will settle down. Moving the tank to the permanent location should happen tonight or tomorrow, and I will post pics once I have the Eco Complete in.

I also now have a list of plants, and later fish...Will try to post those up for input later tonight.
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post #5 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-04-2013, 05:54 PM
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yea i've had similar problems with soil going everywhere, i always make sure to put the sand cap on before addding water it helps to have a plate or something in there to prevent the water from punching right down through the sand and stiring up the dirt. it will eventually settle your wood will be a little crudy from all the sediment but you can just sorta brush it off. it's a nice peice of wood though, it fills the space well.
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post #6 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-05-2013, 04:24 AM Thread Starter
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Progress! Son of a friend has taken an interest in my tank, stopped by tonight with an Aqua Tech 30-60 filter that he is not using, anymore. Did not take any money for it.

It is actually MUCH larger than the non working Aqueon. Too late to mess with it, tonight. I was going to try a little sand over the topsoil, and the Eco Complete, before work tomorrow. But I don't want to start the filter untested while I will be away from home.

SEE??! I AM learning!

I said I wasn't going to rush things...This is a test.
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post #7 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-05-2013, 05:06 AM
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Seems like a good start so far. My 10g is dirted with miracle grow organic potting mix.

I started by soaking the soil in a 5g bucket with de chlorinated water and removed the larger wood chunks with my hand. If you stir the dirt a bit the wood will float and the soil will sink to the bottom and form a pretty soft mud that you can scoop out and apply directly to your tank.

First time I tried I had waaaaaay too much dirt and too much cap. All together it was probably around 4inches of substrate. I ended up removing it all and using about 1.5inch of dirt and 1.5inch of gravel cap. Its better to get things right for the longrun before you have plants grown in everywhere :O. In reality anything is fine as long as you are satisfied with how it looks.

Looks like you started well with soil that looks ok(looked it up on google) and eco complete. I'd probably cap with eco complete if I did another dirted tank because gravel is a bit harder to plant in.

As a guess to the filter.. When you were doing the tests in the 5g bucket was the water level up to the top of the bucket and the filter hanging directly on the rim? Basically the part where the water comes out should be at the height of the water level. Then fill the filter completely with water and fill the clear tube part.

Could be the motor is dying or could be clogged. On most of the hang on the back type filters you can actually remove the impeller completely and check if there is dirt etc on it and just wipe that off. I have this issue with one of my filters and after a couple months the filter will sometimes make a stuttering noise and continues.

Sounds like it could just be an old filter that doesn't work though, just running through the checklist :P.

After a couple large water changes the tank will clear up but will leak tannins from the peat for quite some time. The water turns a bit brownish but its ok its beneficial.

+1 to prefilter on your filter. If you don't want to buy a sponge type(they only run about $2.99) you can use stockings as long as they don't have any chemicals on them. I do recommend the sponge prefilter though because it will sift out some of the dirt particles before they make it into your filter(saves you some effort when cleaning).

Good luck
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post #8 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-07-2013, 05:45 AM Thread Starter
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Okay, I didn't make it to the weekend...HAD to get my arms wet.

The water had settled, a bit, without any filtration. I sat and stared at the tank for half an hour, really loathe to stir it up, again. I decided to try and cap with sprinkled sand, and then the Eco Complete. My thinking was that the sand might keep it from silting up when I put in the Eco.

Of course, I made a hash of it, hehehe!

I poured the Eco Complete direct from the bags, and punched a few holes through sand...Stirring up the silt. Then, the GIFT pump didn't work, after water fill. Got a replacement, because my girl is awesome, and hates to see me sad. (Also, I think she wanted the 'mud puddle' phase over as quickly as possible.

The filter is an Aqua Tech 30-50, same as the one that was given to me. It has been running for about an hour, and water is somewhat clearer. It generates a LOT of water movement!

A few pics follow...


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Front shot...You can see my attempted sand cap, the thin white line. You can also see that it did not do what I hoped.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

End view, showing substrate layering



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Front view, after 45 minutes of filtration...LOOK! You can SEE the driftwood! Sort of.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

End view, and I can now see THREE WHOLE inches into the tank!



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I bought one of those cheap bulb packages at WalMart...These are Hardy Aponogeton. Three of the four have come up already.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Front of the glass, because it has my family name, AND it is World Cup related!

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post #9 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-07-2013, 01:40 PM Thread Starter
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Much better this morning! I can at least see WHY it was so murky: A few sport where the topsoil is still 'sticking out' through the sand and Eco Complete. Will fix after work, this evening.

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post #10 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-07-2013, 02:13 PM
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personally I wouldn't have put a filter in that tank until the substrate settled out of the water. as said above, by using the filter to clear the water, what you're doing is basically sucking up substrate en masse into your impeller. if you water is "dusty," it means you probably didn't rinse your substrate before putting it into the tank - don't use your filter as the rinser. it also looks like you didn't put a prefilter over your intake tube as suggested - odds are that bits bigger than just dust made its way up the tube and gunked up your filter.

take your new filter apart and check the impeller. really rinse out everything that's there. it only takes a little grime to gunk up the mechanism and make your filter stutter or run slower, or even so slow that it doesn't suck water up the tube anymore.

---

you also have to think about how deep you're making that substrate. if you make it too deep, there is a good chance that some nasty pockets of anaerobic toxic gas are going to eventually build up in there, and not be able to escape from the substrate until one day it all rushes out, gasses your tank, and kills your fish. 1-2 inches? sure. 4-5 inches? problem. if you keep it that deep, make certain you get plants that reach all the way down there with a strong root structure, and/or get a bunch of burrowing fauna like malaysian trumpet snails. otherwise, just never disturb the substrate in fear that a pocket lurks...

--

in the future if you ever do want to add even more substrate (not recommended), you can rise a cup of say eco-complete, then add that wet substrate by lowering it in a cup down to the existing substrate and gently pouring it out right on the substrate. that way you don't scatter it all over the water column. other people have tried funnelling it down a tube, but i find the cup approach to be more controllable.

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post #11 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-07-2013, 02:26 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks, Jahn. I realized last night that I had WAY too much substrate. Unwilling to start over from scratch, so I am just going to have to be extra vigilant. You are correct, I did not pre-rinse the substrate soil...Had no good way to wet it, spread it, etc.

Will take the filter down this afternoon, and give it a good going over. A very few bits of woody material were, indeed, on the intake screen this morning.

I also meant to add, above: I am THRILLED with the driftwood...It really has a great 'presence' in the tank, there are spaces under it, that make little caves and passages, and it STAYED DOWN! I was a little worried that it would, well...Drift.

Question: Are Anaerobic pockets a problem in non-fertilized top soil? For some reason, I thought that was only a problem using the potting soils that had ferts in them...Though, I am probably wrong. Will follow your advice about deep planting and trumpet snails.
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post #12 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-07-2013, 02:34 PM
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A bit too late of a comment, but that's a lot of substrate: volume and types... Planting and replanting will be tricky, you might want to invest ~$10 into long stainless steel tweezers.
The driftwood is a real gem, even much so for the price.

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post #13 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-07-2013, 04:17 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks OVT...As I said, first attempt. Bound to be mistakes.

In a way, I kind of wish the girlfriend (Anita) hadn't been excited to have it in the living room. I would feel better making mistakes in the dank confines of my den. There is a bit of pressure to get past the "Glass cube of muddy hell" phase in the living room.

Next time around:

1) Less substrate, probably potting soil and sand
2) Better lighting plan
3) Cannister filtration instead of HOB
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post #14 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-07-2013, 07:07 PM
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Mistakes are one of the most effective ways to learn...keep at it.

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post #15 of 54 (permalink) Old 06-07-2013, 08:14 PM Thread Starter
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Update

Took Jahn's advice, came home, took filter off and cleaned it. Not much wood, but the blue filters were verrry dusty. Put it back together, and now, it looks like this:

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dirt cycle, eco complete, saltwater driftwood

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