WALL OF TEXT WARNING!
FINALLY managed to assemble a post on the set-up of this thing. Iím writing this mostly for my own sake, so Iíll have an account of what I did for future reference. But also Iíve found that reading about other peopleís set-up process can be really useful and inspiring, so Iím hoping at least some of you find this useful!
Planning the scape
At first I spent some time playing around with my collection of driftwood in the spot where the aquarium would be, using the box the aquarium came in with one side cut out. I have a whole bunch of driftwood that I got with another big tank I bought used (not set up yet), and settled for four of the pieces that I felt were similar in aspect and could be used for an interesting, sort of dramatic hardscape.
Along with these I decided to use anthracite, which I know thereís mixed opinions of as to whether itís suitable for fish tanks, but Iíve never had an issue with it and itís a common enough sight in Swedish pet shops. As long as you scrub the coal thoroughly before you stick it in the tank, it wonít even stain the water. I wanted anthracite partly because I already had some at home, and partly because I think it looks really cool and would go well with the dramatically spiky driftwood.
Here's a few iterations of the scape:
I fetched dirt from my garden (well, technically my parentsí garden, but Iím the chief gardener), aiming for mostly clay. This I put in a bucket and filled with water, dissolving the clumps and getting rid of various organics that floated to the top, as well as a bunch of small rocks. Then I let it sit for a couple of days so most of the clay would sink, and poured off the water.
The clay was mixed with aquarium gravel (5-10 mm), to add some height, and spread over the back two-thirds of the tank, banked up slightly against the back. In retrospect, I wish I had used more gravel.
For the organic portion of the substrate, I used a mix of composted bark fines and two brands of potting mix. One is a peat-based mix for cactuses (i.e. only lightly fertilised), the other a peat-free mix with coir. I wanted some
nutrients to start off with, but not a lot, so I didnít want to use just the coir mix. The cactus mix had the issue that peat tends to float, so using only that would have been impractical. So I used a bit of each and diluted the mix further with bark fines, because itís awesome and I have a truck-load of the stuff. (Literally!) I mixed all of this in a bucket of water, skimmed off the stuff that wouldnít sink, and removed chips of wood I found too large.
I wanted to avoid the soil getting compacted by the sand cap, so I mixed it with LECA, which I boiled until it sunk and then crushed a bit (because I couldnít get hold of the small kind, only the 8-15mm stuff). I also mixed in some gravel for good measure. My idea is that the non-organic components form pores where decomposition can happen without getting squashed.
After spreading the organic mix on top of the clay, I went to work on the hardscape. Here I made one mistake that I regret: I wanted to raise the large piece of wood on the right up a bit without piling up substrate underneath the rock that itís resting on, and decided to use pieces of an old bedroll. The mistake was not gluing it to anything. I suspect that if I remove the driftwood, which isnít anchored to anything and hence a bit wobbly, the rock underneath it is going to get shifted as the bedroll tries (and maybe succeeds) to float to the top. Definitely going to fix this if/when I rescape. For other parts where I wanted to raise the hardscape and not use up all the substrate, I just added a few handfuls of gravel. Far more stable, and easily adjustable to boot.
Anyway, now it was time to cap the substrate with sand. For some reason, I donít remember why, I ended up pouring some water into the tank before I did this; just enough to get the substrate wet. This was kind of silly. I wanted the front and center of the tank to be free of substrate (sand only), but now obviously a whole bunch of dirt flowed into it, which I couldnít really do anything about when I capped the rest. I donít know if this made the tank even murkier than it otherwise might have been, though - I suspect it would have looked pretty dirty either way, due to clay escaping into the water column when I filled it up.
I had originally planned to get the plants in place before filling the tank up, but I was worried Iíd get interrupted and plants would dry up an die on me. So I filled it, and quickly realised it would be impossible to plant now because the water was pretty much opaque - I wouldnít be able to see what I was doing at all. xD
Because I was running out of time and didnít feel like emptying and refilling the whole thing repeatedly, I decided to set up my Fluval 306 canister filter. Only it broke on me! So I ran to one of the local shops and bought an internal filter instead. (I did not have the best afternoon that dayÖ) This I rigged to pump the water through a half litre bottle filled with LECA and then through a couple of bags of activated carbon, to speed up the process.
The day after - monday the 13th of November - the water was a fair bit clearer, so I removed about half of it and put the plants (many of which had been sitting in a bucket for almost a week now) in place. My mystery crypt dried up a little during the planting process, but otherwise it went smoothly. Obviously a whole lot of clay and debris got stirred up, so I let the filter rig stay in place for another day or so after I filled up the tank again.
Chessie (one of my ragdolls) certainly didn't mind that the water was cloudy!
Water cleared up fairly quickly. The wood piece on the left quickly grew a thick layer of bacteria for inverts to graze on. Over the first few days I added some oak and beech leaves, and put in a few more floating plants.
Here's what it looked like on day 4:
I checked water parameters every other day or so in the beginning, though I was lacking a nitrate test for the first while. I got some ammonia and nitrites during the first couple of days but since then levels have been undetectable. I got a nitrate test around day 9, and levels are very low (liquid remains yellow with the slightest hint of orange).
On the 19th (day 6) I moved some shrimp over from my little tub in the kitchen. Initially I had intended to watch them for a while before moving the rest, but then I learned that the flatworms I'd observed in the shrimp tub can actually attack and kill adult shrimp, so I moved the rest the day after. One of my juvenile YNS died within a day, but the rest seem to be thriving.
Plants are doing well. The faster growers started off immediately, but even the Pogostemon
- which looked really battered after planting, and which I'm really not expecting to survive, considering the low light - straightened up after a day or so. The dried-up parts of that one crypt are obviously dying, making the shrimp happy.
More photos coming soon! I hope.