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TheBigSleep 09-13-2012 08:12 PM

Evolve 8 - Life Soup
Well hello!
And thanks for taking a look at my Aqueon Evolve 8 planted dirt tank journal!

Teaser shot taken on Day 20:

My name is Matt, I’m a new-ish member on here who’s been creeping/researching for the past few months. I’m not new to aquariums, but have taken a few years away from the hobby (except for raising a young snapping turtle) and for a long time I’ve wanted to get into growing things underwater. I went through many months of research and several idea phases, and finally have settled on the notion of a small, easy to manage planted dirt tank. On a side note, I unearthed my digital camera to document this build and found it contained old pictures of the 20-Long my snapper was housed in as a baby:

-I can be incredibly longwinded, and although I will make a sincere effort to stay on point I apologize in advance for any digression into randomness (such as posting pictures of a snapping turtle on a planted tank thread!)
-Any links to other forum posts and/or external websites may or may not be used with permission, and should the author(s) of said links wish them to be removed please PM me and I’d be happy to take them down.
-I’m somewhat odd and from here on out will be referring to myself in the third person as “Mr. TBS”
-Progress updates will be inhibited by my crappy digital camera (a many-years old Nikon Coolpix) and by a lack of internet at home ('unplugged' living is where it's at!)

Project Goals
-Small, beginner-friendly planted dirt tank as a learning experiment in keeping live plants
-“Low Tech” tank – what the heck do you mean by this, Mr. TBS? Well, I mean I want a tank that’s low light, non-CO2 injected, lower cost (but not necessarily cheap!), low on fertilizer dosing and capable of being left unattended for several days at a time
-Aesthetically pleasing. Duh, right? I’m obviously no Takashi Amano but I’d like to try my hand at an appealing aquascape – something jungly and lush looking similar to this tank

Intended Plant List
-Anubias, I’ll be using whatever I can find at the local store
-Cryptocoryne, again I’ll be using what I can find locally
-Water Lettuce as my “floater”
-Duck Weed, it’s sure to hitchhike on the Lettuce and I’ll let it grow in (call me crazy but I love the stuff!)
-Banana Plant, I like the look and will try to incorporate it as a background plant
-Java Fern, probably attached to wood
-Java Moss in “foreground clumps”

Intended Stock List
-2 Nerite Snails
-2 Fancy Guppies (male)
-2 Otocinclus
-1 "Centerpiece" fish??

Materials Gathered for Initial Setup
[Note from Mr. TBS: This tank has been running since Labor Day weekend of 2012, and the materials listed were gathered before the setup or in the days immediately after the fact]

-Aqueon Evolve 8 aquarium kit including: 13”x13”x14” acrylic tank & lid, small LED light unit, filter cartridge, small filter pump, water conditioner & Aqueon flake food
-75W heater left over from an old turtle tank, I set the tank up assuming it would be too powerful but so far it’s maintained the temp well (80F)
-50lb bag 1mm clear Silica pool filter sand
-5lb bag Petco-brand white aquarium sand
-8qt bag Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Potting Mix
-Various quartz stones gathered from my yard
-Pre-used piece of Mopani wood from an old turtle tank (incidentally the piece I ended up using is pictured above)
-Small suction-cup thermometer
-Aquaclear filter media including foam blocks and pouches of ceramic rings
-API Root Tabs
-Seachem Flourish & Flourish Excel (I know, I know, I’m already breaking my “low dosing” goal…)
-Nets, buckets, thread, scissors, rubber tubing, clamps, silicone, plastic silverware & cups, drill, extension cord, chainsaw, small-caliber Glock and all the random supplies I could foresee needing with this project

Initial Construction Phase
Now I bought this tank some weeks ago on impulse and filled it immediately. This allowed me a few weeks to play with the hardscape (without using dirt), and to pre-cycle some of the tank components. It also let me see the tank in action, and I noticed a few areas that needed slight modification before the final setup.
[Note from Mr. TBS: The brave & noble Cardinal Tetra pictured above is no longer for this earth; he was placed in a cup while I planted, pulled a jumper and ended up as a snack for Mr. Snapper. RIP Mr. Cardinal Tetra!]

First of all, the stock filter cartridge is one of those “activated carbon wrapped in a flossy sleeve” deals, and I don’t plan to use any carbon with this tank. Instead I went out and got replacement media in the form of Aquaclear foam blocks & bags of ceramic rings.

Secondly, I noticed that the flow through the “filter chamber” at the rear of the tank was rather poor – due to the intake for both chambers being at surface level & very close to each other, water flowed over the filter media instead of through it. To remedy this I had fun with power tools and drilled an additional intake into the first media chamber:

After the drilling I placed the filter media like so, with ceramic rings in the lower portion and several blocks of foam in the upper portion:

Media, wood & LED light in place

And then I started playing with dirt! It went very, very slowly – I used a plastic spoon to shovel the Miracle-Gro one cubic inch at a time. API Root Tabs were spaced out evenly as I went with a total of 6 used. I pulled it off without making a mess but man was it tedious! Plastic silverware & an old plastic credit card were invaluable tools in placing/shaping the dirt.

Once the soil was more or less fully in place I started planting Crypts and slowly spooned Silica sand over the roots. The reason I did this is that I’ve found Silica to be hard to plant in once it's in place, and I wanted to have the roots start out fairly deep without running the risk of crushing them with my giant monkey fingers. I didn’t take nearly as many pictures of this as I should have because I rushed so the plants wouldn’t dry out too much. A few chronological shots:

Somewhere along the line I attached a few Anubias to the wood & placed a Banana Plant in the rear left corner.

With everything finally in place I was very eager to fill it up... so I did!

So that's the first 24 hours. I let the tank sit overnight and the next day started having fun with Java Moss. I have pictures to document it but will probably not get around to writing another long post until tomorrow. Thanks for reading so far & stay tuned!

TheBigSleep 09-13-2012 08:35 PM

Day Two

I let the tank sit overnight and by the next morning everything was still green & in the same place. Party!


I also did a small water change and as you can see there was some funk to the water & a few melted leaves

Plants Added on Day 2
-3 more Water Lettuce, for a total of 4
-I replanted a small hitchhiker that came in on a Crypt, which I've since identified as Cardamine

Fauna to Date

At this point the tank has 2 Nerite Snails and 1 male Fancy Guppy as my cycling crew. I'd already pre-cycled the tank for a few weeks with a brave & valiant Cardinal Tetra (whose story is outlined above), and decided to add these other critters in an effort to finish off the cycle as quickly as possible.

* * * *

I spent some time wrapping small pieces of quartz in Java Moss for use in the foreground

Since these pictures were taken I've slightly changed the foreground arrangement, and will post updated pictures when I have a chance.

At the end of day 2 this is how the tank looked:

TheBigSleep 09-13-2012 08:44 PM

Shots of my 'Assistant Tank Maintenance Technician', Wilson the Green Cheek Conure:

zoo minsi 09-13-2012 10:33 PM

hmmmm i see no pics?

tryank 09-14-2012 05:06 AM

TBS - can't wait to see pics! And I wouldn't call you long winded, just thorough. Nothing wrong with a tangent now and then.

Smart idea cycling it while deciding on how you were gonna scape it.

TheBigSleep 09-14-2012 12:39 PM


Originally Posted by tryank (Post 2010894)
TBS - can't wait to see pics! And I wouldn't call you long winded, just thorough. Nothing wrong with a tangent now and then.

Smart idea cycling it while deciding on how you were gonna scape it.

Whoops, I guess I accidentally made the album 'private' when I uploaded all the photos - problem should be solved, can you view them now? Also, thanks! The timeline worked out well; I already had some supplies lying around from old setups (Mopani wood, Silica, rocks, etc) so it seemed to make sense to just fill her up instead of playing in the tank dry.

TheBigSleep 09-14-2012 01:05 PM

Day 14

I went to the LFS last night to pick up a second Banana Plant (the existing one is growing like gangbusters, but still seems to be too "vertical" for the space so I placed a second plant behind the Mopani wood, near the new filter holes) and came home with a Bumblebee Goby.

It was a spur of the moment thing which I'm half kicking myself for - generally I like to research things first, but the little guy was only $1.99 and after watching the store owner successfully feed it frozen food (Cyclops) I brought the fish & some food home. So far he seems to be doing well - he likes the spot behind the wood, hidden from view, although he comes out every 5 or so minutes to cruise around before disappearing again.

I'm contemplating removing the guppy to another tank (probably a bowl for the near future until I get this old 40g B tank setup) and making this Evolve a Bumblebee Goby tank. Jeez, I've had it home for less than 16 hours and I'm already hooked! :flick:

EDIT: Went home for lunch to check on the Goby, he's still alive & well - a bit skittish, but alive & swimming. I resisted the urge to try feeding it (did so last night), but will attempt to feed it again tonight. I did see this fish eating Cyclops in the store but didn't see it eat upon feeding last night - hopefully the 24hrs will have settled it down enough to be hungry tonight!

acitydweller 09-14-2012 01:24 PM

Very nice work!

TheBigSleep 09-14-2012 06:44 PM


Originally Posted by acitydweller (Post 2011100)
Very nice work!

Thanks! The fact that everything is still alive and I didn't cause myself to bleed even once during the build makes this project a huge success :)

tiggity 09-15-2012 02:18 AM

Looks great! Just set up an Evolve 8 today and pretty happy with this tank :)

TheBigSleep 09-18-2012 09:03 PM

Day 18

Tank is still going strong. I'll try to take some pics tonight & post them while at work tomorrow.

All of the Crypts have finished dying back and all have between 1-3 new leaves growing in, and the Anubias are all starting to adhere to the driftwood and are putting out teeny tiny shoots as well.

I've played with the stone arrangement several times and am still not quite happy with the middle / left-side foreground, although it's less awkward looking than the initial design.

I've identified a "mystery plant" that came in on the roots of one of my Crypts as Cardamine, which is growing like crazy. I placed it in the foreground late last week and over the weekend it's almost doubled in size. I'm planning to cut it into several pieces tonight & start spreading it around the left-side of the foreground - Will post pics of what I come up with!

I'm starting to see some algae growth; specifically a flat, dark green algae on the driftwood (which is starting to look awesome) and some lighter green "dots" growing on the quartz stones. I'm probably going to invest in a pair of Oto's at some point before the week ends, and then call my stock list complete for the time being.

Stock List as of Now
-1 (male) Fancy Guppy
-1 Bumblebee Goby
-2 Nerite Snails
[Soon to come: 2 Otocinclus]

Plant List as of Now [As best I can identify]
-2 Cryptocoryne Wendtii "Green Gecko"
-1 Cryptocoryne Wendtii "Bronze"
-5 Cryptocoryne Aponogetifolia
-2 Anubias Barteri
-1 Anubias Nana
-2 Nymphoides Aquatica (Banana Plant)
-6 Pistia Stratiotes (Water Lettuce)
-Taxiphyllum Barbieri (Java Moss)
-Small amounts of Lemna Minor (Duckweed)
-Cardamine Lyrata [soon to be several small pieces in multiple foreground locations]

TheBigSleep 09-19-2012 04:37 PM

Quick Update:

I utterly failed at taking pictures last night, apologies for that. The lady is turning 21 so the festivities have distracted me [can you say hangover?! Bahaha]

Anywho, I did get a chance to cut up / replant the Cardamine & do a quick ~50% WC but that's all I got to last night. Assuming tonight doesn't kill me I'll try to have pics posted in the next day or two. There isn't any crazy growth but the plants are establishing & look pretty alright!

Speaking of plants, one of the Banana Plants has put up a floating 'lily pad'!!! Woohoo! The pad has been rising for a few days but when I got home yesterday it had surfaced & spread, and looks awesome. So psyched!!!

As an additional note, the Bumblebee Goby appears to be settling in finally. The first 24 hours it was fairly active, and then for the past few days I've seen very little of it except for when I walk into the room and scare it away. Last night I spent a few minutes observing the tank after the WC and the Goby ventured out a few times - not for very long, but it was good to see it active. And it still has a fat little stomach so apparently it's eating!!! Very relieved to see that.

Thus far my maintenance schedule has been a bit "make it up as I go", but I've consistently done:
Days 1-14: 50% water change daily at the end of each photo period (timer initially set for 6hrs week 1, 7hrs week 2, 8hrs week 3)
Days 14-19(today): 50% WC every other day, also at the end of the photo period

Question: I've been dosing a very small amount of Flourish Excel upon each WC, something to the tune of ~6 drops per ~4gallons. Should I be upping the dose a bit over time?

sessionthree 09-19-2012 08:02 PM

Looking really nice. Man, I wouldn't mind setting one of these up at work! Is it quiet?

TheBigSleep 09-19-2012 08:42 PM


Originally Posted by sessionthree (Post 2016367)
Looking really nice. Man, I wouldn't mind setting one of these up at work! Is it quiet?


Mine is very quiet. The stock setup can be a bit loud if the filter pump vibrates against the sides of the back chamber, although I've set mine up with bits of foam crammed around the pump to eliminate vibrations & reduce flow. It's now so quiet I can't even tell if it's running and have to look at the current waving through the plants to make sure :flick:

I can honestly say my only complaint with this kit is the lid - it's a cheesy, flimsy little thing that I've never used but if you like the rimless/lidless acrylic look this tank is pretty alright! Best of luck with whatever you end up doing

TheBigSleep 09-20-2012 07:06 PM

Day 20
Here's a picture update as promised... Please excuse the poor picture quality, between my crappy Nikon Coolpix, too much whiskey & very poor lighting the pictures leave a bit to be desired. Not only are they blurry but the lighting makes the tank look yellow & gross :(

Tank in situ: [See what I mean about the lighting?! Haha]

Banana Plants
The first Banana has put up several leaves since being introduced to the tank, most exciting of which is a bona fide 'lily pad'. The stem took about 3 days to go from 1" to a little over 1' long, and the pad has doubled in size in about 24 hours.

The stem starts at the rear corner & wraps around to the front:

Floating pad:

Wow, the water looks so nasty in that last shot... I promise it's the lighting and not the water itself :icon_evil

Chopped up the Cardamine the other night & spread it around a bit - this stuff is growing like mad! Less than three weeks ago it was a little 3-leaf hitchhiker and has grown like someone's paying it to.


Side-shot shows the dirt layer - I didn't bother trying to camouflage it on this side. Also visible are several new roots on the Banana Plant:

This is hands down my favorite shot of the tank thus far. Right side, as close up as my camera will allow. New growth on the C. Aponogetifolia & A. Barteri is visible, as well as algae growth on the wood:

The LED light is pretty cool. It's not the strongest thing in the world but the "moonlight" blue setting is fun to play with, especially at night:

New Plants Today
-Dwarf Sagittaria
-More Java Fern

Browsed the LFS during my lunch break today, they just got a new order and (miraculously) have some decent looking potted plants. I picked up a little pot of Dwarf Sagittaria & some tiny Java Ferns. The plan is to break up the Dwarf Sag into individual leaves & spread it amongst the Crypts. Not sure if I'm going to have it only on the right side, or possibly both - going to play around with it & find out. As for the Java Fern I'm not quite sure about placement either - picked up three little guys that may end up somewhere on the wood and may end up somewhere amongst the moss stones. We shall see!

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Added more moss stones to the front & it's starting to look closer to what I've been envisioning. The aquascape still looks a tad awkward but it's getting there! I hadn't realized how green & bushy the original moss stones have gotten until I added the new batch - unfortunately the Java Moss from my LFS isn't the healthiest looking stuff. The original batch looks much better than when first added so I'm very hopeful for the new additions.

The Water Lettuce has been, in a word, prolific. I have to trim the root-danglers every day or two and I have approximately 8-9 free floating plants [It was 8 this morning but might very well be 9 by now! One of the bigger plants is in the process of producing three other little guys], grown from the 4 I started with.

I've been flipflopping about the white substrate. On one hand I like the contrast against the dark wood & black background, but the plants are still sparse enough that it looks a bit too bright. Additionally, the quartz is starting to grow a fine algae film and although I like the look of the algae, it makes the tank look dirty. I do like the "beach" bit in the front, although if I were to do this again I'd probably use a darker substrate in the rear portion.

I've also been flipflopping about the stock list. One day I want to dedicate the tank to the Bumblebee Goby, another day I consider buying a female guppy and starting a guppy farm. Note to self: just don't rush into anything.

Speaking of the Goby I'm starting to really dislike having to dose the tank with Cyclops. No matter how little of it I use [Think less than 1 cubic mm per day] it's still a scattershot method that bothers me greatly - the water doesn't seem to be polluted because of it, but I still don't like it!

So... I guess that's about it for this update. I'll plant the Sag either tonight or tomorrow and try to post an update early next week. Hope everyone has a great weekend and thanks for reading!!!

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