So I got the tank filled up, got some plants in, added my driftwood and put a few platy fry from my other tank in to help with cycling.
I added some of the filter media from my 10 gallon and started checking the water parameters a day or two later. I only had strips at the time and the nitrates and nitrites would just not go down even after substantial water changes. I even made sure to check the validity of the strips against my other thank and tap water and everything else was coming out fine. I decided to just wait it out and keep checking but no matter what I did the water parameters were just not right. I did some digging around and decided that the only thing that could be causing my issues was the Osmocote. I was still a little in denial because when I added it I didn't think that I had put THAT much in, but I was tired of this tank not cycling so I decided that my only option was to pull out the substrate and start over. Well, when I started scooping it out and I hit the Osmocote layer all that denial left. I had put waaay too much and the substrate was not nearly as deep as I thought so stuff was leaching out into the water column at way higher quantities than needed. I eventually got everything pulled out and re-done, this time with a fraction of the osmocote.
Everything was trucking along nicely so I put in an order with Aquarium Plants Factory since Buce Plant was out of stock of a few things I wanted. It all arrived well packaged and looking healthy.
I added more rocks and bits of terracotta pots to make more space for plants. I also switched out the clear air tubing for the external box for black which looks much better (I eventually painted all the tubes black to hide everything more). A side note about the design of this airlift if anyone actually reads this and decides to try it: use an air stone instead of the provided air line attachment. The biggest complaint about this box is that it makes a very loud and disruptive gurgling noise because of the large bubbles, which is a problem since it is in our living room. The air "stone" I'm using is actually a soft bubble wall (from PetSmart) cut short enough to fit into the tube. The smaller bubbles from the air stone still provided lift but it is much much quieter. I also tried using a small submerged pump which worked really well, but it kept getting clogged and the flow would slow to a trickle and needed to be cleaned every few days so instead of finding a work around for that I just stick to the air lift.
I also used a small shower caddy temporarily to slow the flow from the AC50 and to keep my frogbit from getting pushed under. I found that even on low the flow was also a little too strong for the fish. I replaced the small caddy with a larger, corner caddy which will eventually be planted as well. I added some java moss between some black craft mesh to cover the caddy and attached it with suction cups since everything is still in transition. The drawback to this set-up is the lack of surface agitation and so I was noticing a build up of surface gunk. And here enters the DIY surface skimmer.
I just used old parts from other filters and some PVC pipe fittings. I thought I had pictures but I don't, so I'll explain the best I can. I drilled a hole through the side of an extra intake tube from my AC50 then lined up the elbow so that it was pulling from the top of the PVC tube down into the side of the AC intake tube. I used a bottom guard from another type if filter and put it on tip to keep the plants at bay. The hole thing was glued together but it wasn't perfect but worked OK enough to just leave it. One day I heard a weird suction and noticed it was malfunctioning and affecting the filter flow so I decided it was time to just remove it. Overall though it was a decent design, I think I just needed to refine it a little better and secure it with silicone instead of super glue.
The emergent growth is looking good at this point but I ended up losing a few random anubias and nearly all of the red mini buce to melt and some rhizome rot. One small rhizome of red mini survived and looked healthy enough so I left it in. The trident java moss also looked a little bad so I decided that it was time to start dosing ThriveC. I was also dealing with a good bit of the dreaded driftwood fungus. So instead of a full tank shot of sad plants and fungus, here is a cute picture of the 2 otos hanging out on a leaf.
April 2019 (nearly all caught up!)
I lost nearly all the mature leaves on my trident java fern, but it is slowly producing new growth. From what I've read they can be temperamental when moved so I'm optimistic it will bounce back. I'm also seeing new growth popping up on the red mini rhizome. The frogbit is going strong and the java moss is starting to make an appearance.
The plant roots in the upper right corner belong to a cutting of a prayer plant that I just attached with an airline suction cup until I can get it fully planted somewhere. I also added in some crypt wendtii "green gecko" to sort of even the middle out a little. Buce Plant finally got flame moss back in stock so I got that with my new crypts. I absolutely love the look of flame moss and was dying to have some so when I got the back in stock e-mail I bought it right away. It was a really good sized portion as well. I tied some to one of the pieces of driftwood with fishing line. I may end up replacing the java moss on the caddy with it but we'll see.
My canister filter had been sitting on the sidelines waiting for me to have the time to pull everything off the tank so I could make room for the new tubes. I finally had a Sunday free recently so I got to work. I decided to go with a slightly larger filter capacity so that way I have room to grow in the future when we're in a more permanent living situation. My boyfriend is in grad school so we're just renting a house right now. This was also the perfect time to get the the two breeder boxes connected and cut to fit around the shower caddy. I covered the out flow of the first box with a piece of acrylic and added in some plastic report binding bars so I could add a bit of craft mesh to keep the planting substrate back from the incoming water. I found previously it works a little better to have just a space for water. I used a dremel to cut the box where I needed and I also drilled holes in the corner of the shower caddy so I could fit all the intake tubes. I used a hole saw to cut the holes for the bulkhead.
The boxes taper inwards slightly and have a small lip on the top so they don't fit perfectly side by side on the sides and I wanted to keep the boxes as close together as possible. I also wanted to make sure I got a good seal without causing the boxes to be angled too much so I used an extra nut from a second bulkhead that I had to make a spacer.
The initial leak test was promising, but I came home from work the next day and there was a small leak where the bulkhead connected to the first box. The holes are just slightly off so it was enough flex to not get a good seal so I had to adjust fire. Last week I took everything apart and siliconed the crap out of everything and left to let cure. I also spray painted both boxes and all tubing black. I let that air out for a few days and tried for leak test #2. This time I put it on the front of the tank with a bucket under it. It has now been on the tank for about 3 days with no drips so I think I sealed it up pretty well.
My next step is to use spray foam, silicone, and coconut fiber to make the planters look less like plastic boxes and more like a rocky/muddy shoreline. I also plan to carve out additional small spots to plant lower growing emergent plants and moss but I haven't exactly decided how I'm going to get water flow to those areas without making a mess of it all.
Stay tuned for more action and adventure from a newb determined to make this work!