I overhauled my established 36g tank this weekend. This is the result.
New to the hobby, I setup my first tank with virtually no subject matter knowledge in February 2017. Tank was a Craigstlist find, and the initial setup featured white gravel substrate and a purple-painted fake coral from Petco, stocked with Black Skirt Tetras the same day as tank purchase on the sales person's advice to cycle my tank with a hardy fish. Cycling... what's that?
Spent the next several weeks & months obsessively learning about this hobby that I basically dove into without knowing anything. Did a successful fish-in-cycling with no casualties, but with a lot of regular water changes & Prime dosing. Also began to plant the tank. Once the tank was cycled, I slowly began adding more creatures. Eventually, I had 7 Black Skirt Tetras, 2 Siamese Algae Eaters, 2 Dwarf Gourami, 1 Pearl Gourami, 2 Mystery Snails, 4 Amano Shrimp, 5 Ghost Shrimp, and 100 pond snails (via hitchhiking). Thanks to countless hours of researching and learning, all of the creatures were thriving.
Last week, I noticed my first baby Black Skirt Tetra. Which came as a surprise because it never occurred to me that I might get fry. My tank is well stocked. When the fish grow to their max size, I might be right on the edge of being overstocked, so I don't really have wiggle room for any more. Below is a photo of little fry. He's really cute. Notice the amano shrimp in the foreground, for perspective. Little fry is wee indeed.
I've been feeling unsatisfied with my tank for a while now, day dreaming about getting more tanks so that I could set one up with more skill and expertise than my first setup. Also, while my fish, shrimp, and snails were thriving, my plants certainly were not. I hypothesize that the gravel substrate, despite my use of ferts and root tabs, was not providing the plants with a good solid foundation. Further, I finally decided that I needed to install some kind of CO2 system. So, with the factors of not really liking the way I had setup the tank as well as wanting to replace the substrate and add CO2, I decided to completely overhaul my well established tank. I also realized this might be an opportunity to get rid of the invasive pond snails.
And here is my overhauled tank. It looks so much better.
From a design perspective, I tried using the rule of three (though, I'm not sure if I was successful), and creating depth with layers. The new substrate is Eco Complete, which I found to be easy to mound up and retain its integrity. I used some of my initial substrate mixed with river pebbles to create a stream. I actually boiled the previously used substrate because I wanted to get rid of any and all pond snails. For decorations, I got rid of the tacky fake coral but kept the fake rock because the fish and shrimp really seem to like it. I also don’t find it hideous. Though I also tried to ensure there were no pond snails or eggs on it before adding it to the tank. I added the piece of wood near to the front and wanted to create a cave that would be easily viewable from the front of the tank. So I have it set back into the substrate a bit, but with sort of a cavern underneath it. The shrimp seem to have claimed this space as their territory, but I have seen all of the fish (even the pearl gourami) wander in and out of it.
For the plants, I had to severely prune them because they really were not looking good. I also tried to do a much better job planting them. Previously, I had grouped the Cabomba together with the Hornwort, which was a travesty. The Water Sprite and Wisteria were in particularly bad shape, with the Wisteria being almost unsalvageable (it’s not really even visible because there was so little of it left).
Perhaps most impressive is that I successfully installed a DIY CO2 system. I used the yeast, sugar, & baking soda method and am just shocked – SHOCKED – that it worked. I used a power drill and drilled the correct size hole into the bottle lid, adding sealant, and then hooking it up to the tubing, one way valve, bubble counter, and diffuser. I hope that my plants begin to thrive now that they have an improved environment.