Newbie planning paludarium - advice welcome :)
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Old 05-09-2013, 03:08 PM   #1
cephalotus
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Newbie planning paludarium - advice welcome :)


Hi all,

My name is Danielle. I'm new to the hobby (haven't actually started, really), and have an ambitious project in mind that I'm trying to get lots of advice about before I make any permanent committments. A little about me: I am a biology MSc student living in Saskatoon SK. Plants are both my hobby and my academic area of interest. Actually, the reason I ever took biology in the first place was because I started keeping carnivorous plants and thought it would be cool to learn more about plants in general. My knowledge of carnivorous plant care is entirely self-taught and I researched and asked questions on CP message boards for weeks/months before I went out and got any. That should demonstrate that although I am planning an ambitious setup for a beginner, I have thought about it lots and think I have a good chance of making it work.

I want to create a paludarium (vivarium with both land and water areas) with tons of terrestrial, epiphytic and aquatic plants and a few fish to live in the water area. My mom is a glass artist and is going to help me build a custom tank. The dimensions I am planning are 36" long by 18" wide by 18" high. This would be a total volume of about 50 gallons. I'm thinking of an 8" high waterline, for a total water volume of ~18-20 gallons (terrestrial part to be built on platforms so that fish can still swim underneath). I am already experimenting with water plants in a spare tank and have Anubias, hornwort, water lettuce, frogbit, java moss, Cryptocoryne wendtii, Bacopa/moneywort, Sagittaria, and Amazon sword, along with some freebie ramshorns that came along with the java moss. So far I have managed to keep duckweed out and am hoping to keep it that way!

I am aiming for a low-tech (but lighted), Walstad-style tank that requires minimal maintenance/upkeep. Light will be provided by 1 or 2 SunBlaster T5HO fixtures. For hardscaping, I am going to do a DIY false-rock background, possibly with a trickle waterfall, and lots of well-soaked driftwood, manzanita, maybe some rocks. Substrate will be aired-out organic plain soil (no perlite or other additives) with a cap of rinsed black play sand.

I have several options for the DIY background; I'd like to go as natural as possible but there are some things I just may not be able to do with wood, rocks, and bentonite/peat moss background (used in vivariums but not suitable for prolonged soaking in water). Considering experimenting with carved foam painted/sealed with Quickrete cement to form the underwater/waterfall elements. I'm expecting that this will fall into place once I decide on the hardware I am going to use.

This is where I could really use the advice of aquarium people. From what I have read, using a second tank as a sump seems to be the easiest way to do water changes, keep water levels constant, and heat/filter water without having a lot of unsightly hardware inside the display tank. But is this overkill for a beginner, and/or a water volume of only ~20 gallons? Would I be better off keeping it simple and just sticking with a canister and submersible heater?

Inhabitants. I have fallen in love, love, LOVE with Celestial Pearl Danios. I know they are hard to find and there have been concerns about depletion of the wild population from wild-caught stock. There is the potential that I could successfully breed them, maybe, which would be cool. I'm thinking if I went with a sump, I could possibly integrate a small "nursery/hatchery", with identical water parameters to the main tank, to keep eggs/fry from getting eaten. The other concern I have with CPDs is that in a fairly wide, heavily planted tank, I may not see much of them! Thoughts?

I would also like to keep a small school of cories (around 6) and some cherry/ghost shrimp. I'd start with the shrimp and cories and make sure I could keep them alive before I went for CPDs If I could get away with it I'd love to add another small, peaceful, schooling fish, but I am so in love with the CPDs that I wouldn't mind leaving them out if it would make the setup overly complicated.

I don't have any plans for terrestrial inhabitants at this time.

Like I said, I am still in the early planning stages, and am going to be quite busy this summer, so the project will be slow going. I would love to hear any feedback about my proposed setup, suggestions, things I've overlooked, etc. I was at my first SAS meeting last month (where I got most of my plants!) and plan to go to the May meeting as well. If there are any SAS members on here I'd love to chat in person before/after the meeting
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Old 05-09-2013, 10:40 PM   #2
lochaber
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The size tank you are thinking of sounds really close to a 40B (36"long, 18"wide, ~16" high)

I don't really know what's available in Canada vs the U.S., or how the pricing differs, but it may be worth just buying a 40B - most tanks here in the U.S. cost about the same or less then it would for an individual to buy all the glass panes to make one.

Also, sometimes the 40B is in the Petco $1/Gallon sale, making it even more likable.

I've done some (smaller) paludariums using EPS type foam, and covering it with a sand/epoxy mix. it was pretty easy to do, and I was fairly happy with how it turned out.
Also, I don't think the background is all that important, as long as you have some other stuff in there (driftwood, rocks, plants, etc.), and it will likely get covered over, or at least obscured by moss and plants and such eventually.

I don't think the CPD's are endangered anymore, but I'm not certain. The store I bought some from a few months back advertised them as captive bred, and I've heard/read quite a few accounts of hobbyists breeding them (sometimes unintentionally).

For what it's worth, I'm sorta planning (started some work, but indefinitely delayed for now...) a paludarium using a 40B. I'm hoping to build an upper canopy part with sliding doors, so I can use the entire aquarium for water, but I'll have to see how things work out once I get a chance to start working on it again. I'm also planning on using a sump, partially to keep the waterline constant, but also to keep heaters and whatnot out of the main tank. It seems like it should work fine, but setting up the overflow and return may take some careful planning and adjustment.
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Old 05-10-2013, 12:35 AM   #3
Hobbes1911
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Dendroboard.com has great advice on how to best go about constructing your tank. Regardless, I would like to say that planning for a sand cap is probably a bad idea. Honestly, I would not go with sand at all since it is very heavy for one, so your false bottom has to support a lot of weight. Furthermore, the sand might compact the soil or trickle through to the bottom and clog up the mesh or simply wash into the water area. I would propose to go with abg (Atlanta botanical garden) mix, you can google that term.
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Old 05-10-2013, 02:55 PM   #4
cephalotus
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@lochaber, thanks, i'll look into the 40B... maybe I can find a $1/gallon sale... but then i might be tempted to go even bigger...!

i'm torn on the sump idea, i've gotten different advice from different people, some people think they're great and wayyy easier in the long term, others think they are too much of a pain to set up and overkill for a 20g water space.

i REALLY like your idea of building a canopy overtop of the tank so that you can use the entire thing for water! hmm...

@Hobbes, i guess i wasn't clear about the sand cap, it is for the bottom of the planted aquarium area, to hold the soil down and give the fishes (cories) something safe to forage about in. the terrestrial part will have a substrate mix much closer to what you're describing... sphag/peat/orchid bark type mix.
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