This thread is going to be both a place for me to organize my thoughts about the planning and setup of this tank, and then once I have all the pieces it will become a journal of the build and hopefully long, lush life of this tank.
For this tank we have 2 goals:
1) Create an aesthetically pleasing display tank for my living room with a natural looking underwater area, aquatic plants, and emersed growing plants. This should attempt to be a faithful recreation of a scene we might likely encounter in one of the many coastal streams or billabongs of Australia and New Guinea that our target fish species, Pseudomugil Gertrudae
2) Set up the tank in a way that mixes lush planting with the ability to either breed the fish in-situ, add a breeding mop, or else easily catch trios to breed ex-situ in a seperate tank without destroying the aquascape. (and these are fast, small fish)
I absolutely want some emergent growth, and some mangrove-style roots in the underwater portion for the fish to swim between, ideally with a nice growth of biofilm. I also plan to create a plenum on one side to create a raised shallow area representing the riparian zone with my marginal plants, and then a deeper river zone with aquatic plants. Here is my plan for materials, equipment, plants, and livestock.
Top soil with bentonite clay powder sprinkled on top in the areas I want to have heavy plantings and especially the riparian zone
Safe-T-Sorb cap mixed with a small amount of crushed coral
Sand mixed with seasoned river gravel(from my other tank) in the deepest riverbed portions
The plan is quick and lush plant growth, especially of emergent plants and algae biofilms in the underwater portion that will support a rich micro-biota to supplement the fish's diet. The other goal is a natural looking substrate that mimics the transition in subtrates from the muddy riparian zone to the stony river bed.
This is where I will need some help. I was thinking of just using an Aquaclear with bio and mechanical filtration all in one. Or else maybe installing a corner matten filter? Does anyone have any experience with these in heavily planted tanks? I'm worried that removing the sponge to clean it might just destroy the whole tank.... I want it to be unobtrusive but also easy to maintain. I haven't thought of canister filters because, well, I've never actually used one and I don't know what would work here and be in my budget.
This tank will be going in my living room in front of either an east or west facing window so it will get indirect sunlight and possibly an hour or so of direct sunlight. This is the main draw of this tank and I purposefully want to set it up to take advantage of the natural light available in my apartment. Natural light should assist in growing plants and algae (with some control, guidance) and also, in my opinion, fish and plants look the BEST when viewed in daylight. I also have theories that they display better colors when given access to *some* sunlight and that it is probably beneficial for many fish (not all obviously, probably not nocturnal fish).
It will also have 1 or 2 homeless despot LED shoplights hung over it for supplemental lighting. I have used these for a lot of my tanks and they are cheap, bright, and effective at growing plants. They may not have the perfect spectrum or fancy features but hey, they're $14 for a 3' light and I have some that have been running for over a year now.
As I mentioned earlier, I am planning on contructing a plenum, or a raised platform, for the riparian zone of the tank, similar to a many paludariums. I will likely make this by piling up lava rock, cutting pieces of egg-crate lighting diffuser, zip tying them together to create a platform, placing that over the lava rock, and then covering the whole thing in nylon window screen mesh to stop substrate and root intrusion. The tank is 17" high so this platform should be about 9" tall to allow 2 inches of substrate, creating a marginal zone that is 5-6" deep, which is shallow enough for many marginal plants that do not do well when submerged too deeply. I have already created a proof-of-concept of this in my 55 gallon and the substrate has not rolled down the hill, provided I created a few retaining walls to hold it, and also don't use too steep of an angle. I think I will paint the front of the tank to hide this, or perhaps allow a thin layer of substrate to obscure it, though I worry about detritus collecting there.
In addition to the uneven elevation, I also plan to have some mangrove-root style driftwood. Possibly spiderwood which my LFS has an affordable selection of. (though I'm not a fan of the two-toned look) they also have manzanita so I may get lucky and find some good pieces. I may just buy a mangrove root online, I believe tannin aquatics sells them. I will also have algae-covered river stones from my 55 gallon tank that have been seasoned with aufwuchs and bacteria. This in addition to sand and mulm from the same long-established tank, and the dirted subtrate, will help start the cycle and get this tank growing.
My hope is to have all of the marginal planting actually in the raised substrate of the riparian zone, but I may have to utilize hanging riparium planters from riparium supply (aquaverdi now i guess?). I will also probably arrange some house plants near the tank to emphasize the jungle-y look.
That brings us to
I already have most of what I want to grow in the underwater portion.
Multiple Valisneria Species (though I am still looking for Val. nana)
I want some water weed type plant and I already have Cabomba and Mayaca Sellowiniana which both look the part but neither are even plausibly Australian. I can easily get Ceratophyllum and maybe get Myriophyllum which are both more faithful to the biotope.
I am looking to get some type of lilly or lotus for the deepest water portion, suggestions here would be helpful. I can easily get red tiger lotus at the LFS but any others i would have to special order.
Marginal plants I also need more help.
I know the aesthetic that I want, I'm just not sure which plants would work in my setup. I want plants that grow in constant standing 5-6" of water and emerge with rigid above-water growth. Some species I was thinking of were:
Parlor Date Palm
Some kind of rush or grass? Eleocharis? What would work here and not topple the tank with 6' foliage?
If anyone knows of anything available that is endemic to australia or at least naturalized.
At least this one is simple
That's all. I hope to breed the rainbows and have a large group playing aorund in between the plants and roots, that's the goal here.
Anyway It's 3am and I've been researching plants too long so I think it's time to end with an inspiration photograph and sign off. Thank you if you read this far and if you leave a comment or suggestion!