Rob's adventure converting to planted tank
I'm trying to do some research before diving head first in to converting my FW tank to a planted tank. A little background info, I started with a 10 gallon tank about a year ago and initially I just caught some small fish in the creek next to my house and put them in it. I had a small channel catfish (about 3-4") and several shiners in it until the catfish started eating all of the shiners so I got rid of the catfish and put more shiners in that I caught in a minnow net in the river. I added a couple crayfish and then noticed the crayfish were eating shiners too if they could catch them... so I ended up emptying everything out of my tank and it sat empty for a month or two (still running) until my dad was visiting and gave me a hard time about having a fish tank with nothing in it... so I went to the store and bought some fancy guppies to put in it. Back in about April of this year they guppies had been breeding and overpopulating the tank like crazy so I decided to upgrade to a bigger tank.
I bought a 55 gallon tank and stand from a guy on craigslist and he had an angel fish that he gave me with it, tank had been set up and cycled before I bought it, but looking back I wish I had got rid of the angel and broke the tank down completely and scrubbed it out good because he let it get out of control with thick algae growing in it. I washed it out the best I could but I had left the stone and a couple inches of water in it and looking back it has caused me a lot of grief fighting algae since then, but I think I have it under control (although my phosphates are still really high).
I've since set my 10 gallon tank back up and have it running as a nano reef tank that I'm slowly adding corals to and have a yellow watchman goby, tiger pistol shrimp, and a peppermint shrimp in. But I'm not here for advice on that so back to the 55 gallon FW tank...
-55 gallon tank
-Penguin 200 HOB filter w/bio wheel (currently no filter media in it, but I did just buy a new carbon filter to toss in after water changes, probably undersized for the tank but I mostly use it just for water flow)
-currently running an airstone in it, but don't plan on using it long term - thought about buying a powerhead to add more flow to the tank and surface disruption...
-Hydor theo 300W heater set so tank is normally 74F (although looking now its up to 77F)
-4 ft T12 (I think its T12 anyhow) light - not sure exactly what it is, was included with the tank when I bought it
-0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, 20 nitrate, 10+ phosphate (API test kit)
-Stock consists of (3) cory cats, (2) dalmation mollies, (2) silver mollies, (1) tetra of some kind (just added yesterday that was given to me), (1) betta (also given to me yesterday), and a bunch of fancy guppies in all different stages of life, (1) Chinese algae eater, as well as someplace between (6 - 12) ghost shrimp (started with 12 but I know a couple died that I took out and others might have died and been eaten by the other shrimp, I can only ever count about 6 at a time but others could be hiding elsewhere) and a bunch of snails that hitchhiked in from my previous attempt at adding some plants and have now reproduced in to large quantities (not plague like proportions yet, but they do a good job of keeping most algae under control so I haven't attempted removing them yet, but I know some do get sucked out every time I siphon the gravel...
Now on to the problem... I currently have several fake plants for cover as well as a little tiki hut and a shipwreck. My fiancé hates the look of the tank currently with the fake stuff in it and wants me to make it more natural looking... we scavenged the beach and found some driftwood which I brought home and let it dry out, and now have it soaking in totes and a trash barrel for the past week or two, keep changing the water to try and get all the tannins out. I haven't decided what pieces to use yet but will see how it all looks once its done soaking. We also gathered a bunch of bigger rocks (not huge, but stuff that I could make some rock piles out of) out of the creek that I need to scrub off still.
So now I need to start researching what I need to do to convert my FW tank to a planted tank. I'm thinking I am going to remove my gravel because its pinkish rocks that don't look very natural and replace them with something better for a planted tank, any suggestions?
I plan on replacing the T12 light with a grow light (think I saw Wal-Mart carried them, or I have a Petco, Petsmart, or last resort due to highest price on lights would be Preuss Pets in Lansing) - anything specific I need to consider?
What else do I need to do to prepare for a successful planted tank? I think once I gather everything up to do it I would probably remove the gravel from my tank then siphon everything out good, leaving enough water so I don't have to transfer my fish out, then put the new substrate in (might need to do it in phases so I don't get rid of all of my bacteria, although I do have the biowheel in my filter (not sure if it really houses the bacteria it claims to or not?).