The Wonky 20H Low-Tech Riparium - Work in Progress - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 9 (permalink) Old 03-22-2019, 07:06 PM Thread Starter
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The Wonky 20H Low-Tech Riparium - Work in Progress

So I bought this tank back in October but things happened and I wasn't able to get to it until after the first of the year. It's only my second for realsies planted tank so I've been very diligent with how I go about it. The plan is to keep it as low tech and low maintenance as possible. I'm also on a budget so I've tried to go for options that have both form and function, but are also cost effective. It has most definitely been a labor of love. My boyfriend likes to call it an obsession but I think he's just jealous. I plan on going back through the whole build when I have the time but for now here it is in its current(ish) state. I'm still in the process of moving things around and I just got a new canister filter so that will really help open up more room for emergent plants.

Current tank info:
20 gallon high Aqueon (thanks, Petco $1/gallon sale)
AC50 HOB filter w/ DIY surface skimmer Penn-Plax cascade 700
Lights are clip on shop lights with CFLs
BDBS with osmocote plus
x2 Marina hang on breeder box w/ a Tetra whisper air pump for extra planting space
random river stones harvested from nearby locations
custom manzanita driftwood peices (AKA I glued a bunch of sticks together)
terra cotta hides

Submerged plants I either picked up from my LFS, moved from my 10 gallon, or ordered from Aquarium Plants Factory
Narrow leaf java fern
Java fern (“tropica”)
Java fern
Microsorum pteropus 'Trident'
Anubias nana petite
Anubias frazeri
Anubias congensis
Rosette sword
Bucephalandra Green Wavy
Bucephalandra Red Mini (which has melted/died back liek crazy and may or may not survive)
marimo moss (to hide where the driftwood was put together)
crypt wendtii bronze
Amazon frogbit floaters
java moss (to help hide the shower caddies)

The emergent plants I got from local home improvement stores and the internet
Purple waffle
Prayer plant x2
Dragon tongue
Pilea “dark mystery”
Pilea “pan am”
creeping jenny
polka-dot plant is hanging out waiting for space I did go a little overboard on the live stock, but who doesn't??
2x Otocinclus
8x Neon Tetra
2x adult male Platies
2x juvenile Platy fry (born in my 10 gallon)
1x Panda Cory
1x Mystery Albino Cory

That's it for now! Perhaps this weekend I can add some progress pictures.

Last edited by LadyWonkyMcJankeypants; 04-15-2019 at 05:33 PM. Reason: update
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post #2 of 9 (permalink) Old 04-15-2019, 05:18 PM Thread Starter
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November 2018
When I got this tank I was hoping I could find a piece of solid furniture at one of the thrift stores around me that would be big enough to fit both this tank and my 10 gallon tank. I couldn't find anything that I liked and just don't care for the look of the metal stands so I decided to make my own stand. I'm not an experienced woodworker and just flat out don't have the right tools to make precise enough cuts so I decided to go with the ply wood and cement block approach. It's a little overkill and going to be a pain when we move, but it's customizable, sturdy, and relatively cheap. Home Depot did most of the cutting for me so that also helped. I doubled the ply wood and screwed it together for extra support. I decided to use wood on the bottom to keep it from scratching up the floor as much and to add a few extra inches.

The spaces are the perfect size for those cheap storage bins and most of the small, plastic sterilite containers.

I ended up painting everything so it would fit in a little better. I used a few coats of latex paint on all the wood to make sure the water doesn't cause any issues.

To cover the front I bout a cheap curtain rod and a set of two curtains. I cut the curtains to length and used iron-on hemming tape to keep them from fraying. The bottoms that I cut off had a hem that could be opened and used as a pocket so I hemmed those for a total of 4 "custom" curtains to cover the front. I just used screw in hooks to hold the rod.

Once I got it all together it sat empty for a few months due to reasons. I was able to get back to setting everything In late January 2019.
The driftwood I got was in small pieces, but had really great shapes so I decided to piece it together myself and use moss to cover the joins.

Bump: I decided to go with an eggcrate bottom to help create a slop and help hold things in place since I had orginally planned to ziptie the driftwood to the eggcrate.

Luckily there is a Tractor Supply about 30 minutes from me so I picked up some BDBS and put down some too much osmocote plus. Since the surface of the wood isn't completely flat and I didn't want to fill and sand down everything by hand I just cut a black yoga mat and put both tanks on that.

I also decided just to go with shop lights and shelf brackets for the lighting. I like the look of the lights and it was way cheaper than most other lighting options.
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Last edited by LadyWonkyMcJankeypants; 04-15-2019 at 05:28 PM. Reason: update
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post #3 of 9 (permalink) Old 04-15-2019, 05:43 PM
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I like the setup! Good idea using the Marina boxes to plant in

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post #4 of 9 (permalink) Old 04-15-2019, 06:08 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks @KayakJimW! I got the idea from @hitmanx's The Celestial Swamp build. I added a second one just yesterday. To cut back on hoses and equipment I covered the outflow of the first box and connected the second box with a bulkhead through the side. I'm hoping to get those pictures up soon too.
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post #5 of 9 (permalink) Old 04-23-2019, 05:14 PM Thread Starter
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February 2019
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.

March 19
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!
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Last edited by LadyWonkyMcJankeypants; 04-23-2019 at 05:20 PM. Reason: fix pictures
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post #6 of 9 (permalink) Old 05-22-2019, 04:15 PM Thread Starter
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Work has been super busy and I sort of over extended myself on projects at home, but the build is creeping along. I also suffered a leak in my 10 gallon (which I've only had for just over a year) so I had to deal with that. Thankfully I had recently picked up a free 20 gallon long from my BFs aunt so I was able to move everything into that after a few days waiting in a sterilite container with a sponge filter until I had time to set everything up.

The initial placement of the bulkheads on the breeder boxes started a slow leak after about 24 hours. Initial leak tests were fine, but the long term flexing of the slightly misaligned holes prevented a good seal with the O-rings. To mitigate any further issues and to deal with the holes and equipment I decided to just silicone seal the crap out of everything. I also spray painted everything black with Krylon fusion before adding the pond spray foam.

This was my first foray into spray foam territory for purposes other than sealing a holes around pipes, so I wasn't too sure what to expect. I definitely feel like I should have done mounds of foam instead of lines but I think once I carved it out it looks better. Those pictures have yet to be taken.

After I carved the pond foam it was still a little rough looking so I decided I would use Drylok cement to smooth everything out. It looks much better after some cement and spray paint.

Midway through working on the planter boxes I thought it would be cool to have sort of a "living wall" behind the tanks. I wanted to try and make it look as seamless as possible so I decided to continue with the spray foam and make a fake rock wall like I've seen in vivariums and terrariums.

I started with some scraps of wood I had leftover from my stand. It's a little heavier than what I would ideally like, but it will do and it didn't cost any extra for it. I spray painted the the wood just to make it now so glaringly obvious and proceeded to attach a variety of plastic containers that will serve as planters.

I ended up using a crap load of spray foam to cover everything. Next time I will fill the empty spaces with eggcrate or something else to help reduce the volume of spray foam. Once I was satisfied with carving I ended up reusing some of the cut pieces to fill in any where that I thought needed more foam. I was absolutely done with buying spray foam. On a side note, I did use one can of the loctite brand foam to just see since it was cheap but I should have just stuck to the Great Stuff brand. The loctite didn't expand much so it was sort of a waste of time.

This was before the final carving and reattaching. It really cleaned up though.

After I was satisfied I spray painted the foam. I am in the process of attaching coconut fiber with silicone but I still wanted a little bit of the "rocks" to show through. I also plan on adding some DIY fake vines (burlap, silicone and coconut fiber) as well as some moss to help make it a little more natural looking.

I made some big progress the weekend so I'm hoping that I will have everything up and planted soon!

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post #7 of 9 (permalink) Old 05-24-2019, 04:32 PM Thread Starter
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I finally took some recent pictures of the breeder box planter and the rock wall. I don't think I got any pics of the rock wall pre-coconut fiber though.

I plan on adding some moss and stuff to cover more of the foam gaps and stuff.

The color looks like wet cement in the pictures, but it is more of a gray/brown which is a good base color. I will probably and add some dimension with the other colors of Krylon Fusion that I have.

Bump: Also, here's my betta (Eva Knievel) in the 10 gallon pre-leak jumping through the feeding loop at dinner time. I didn't actually try and get her to start doing this, but she just sort of started doing it on her own and kept it up once she realized food was involved.

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post #8 of 9 (permalink) Old 06-17-2019, 07:12 PM Thread Starter
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I made some decent progress in the last few weeks!

I got the breeder box planter installed and planted. I super glued java moss, some leftover flame moss, and marimo moss in so that they can wick water from the channel or from the tank. I also got the plants into the corner shower caddy. The frogbit was getting out of hand so I decided to corral it into some airline tubing.

The water flows into the larger back portion then out the left side, but I was able to set it up so that there is water flow to the front channel as well. I would like to get some more buce or anubias to fill it in.
Right now I don't plan to keep the pothos roots out but I need a place for it when my 10 gallon went down so I don't know where it will end up.

I also got the fake moss hot glued onto the "rock" wall. I went with fake moss since I figured real moss just wouldn't get enough moisture.

The next step is hanging it and filing it in with plants. I've been slowly collecting plants here and there for this project so I'll be glad to finally get them planted.

And finally a slightly blurry front thank shot.

I really like how the black hides the hoses and equipment but I feel like it makes it really dark, especially now that I've moved both lights up for the emergent plants. I've got a few underwater lights but they are just not right for the feel of this tank so I'm thinking of ways to brighten the tank up.

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post #9 of 9 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 04:05 PM Thread Starter
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I finally got the "rock" wall hung, planted, and lit properly (ish)!

Since moving the lights I had to figure out how to actually light the tank without being too obtrusive. Right now I'm using an underwater LED bar light shoved under the planter box but I'm not completely satisfied with it. I had originally planned to have the branches coming out at more of a natural angle but I realized that I just didn't design it in a way that would facilitate that so I spray painted the existing shelf brackets and attached the branches to those. I plan on adding more moss here and there to cover the cords and brackets. I also painted one of the shop lights and it blends in way better so I plan on painting the other as well.
The 10-gallon is all re-sealed and waiting for its turn. It is currently housing some extra plants that I didn't have the heart to plant in the wall.

Another thing I realized with this build is that I should have angled the planter cups out a little more and spaced them out better vertically. I had to move some plants around to fit but I think with a little bit of pruning/shaping everything will grow out fine.

The 20-gallon long auxiliary tank is plugging along. The platies have dropped fry recently and I still don't know what to do with it yet. My original plan was to stock it out for a small indoor aquaponics set-up but I have had too many projects going on lately that I didn't need another. It's also kind of grown on me so I'm just letting it hang out for now.

I also added a new tank. The boyfriend said no more tanks in the house but he never said anything about my office at work! I moved into a two person office (yay promotions!) a month or two ago so I have way more space. I had been thinking about a sleek Spec V or something but I just didn't want to pay that kind of money for an office fish. I also looked at just building a small set-up but I just couldn't do it in my budget in the way that I wanted. Well, I was at Petsmart and they had most of there tanks on sale. I picked up the Top Fin Bettaflo "Ease" for about $30. It's a 3 gallon all glass tank with a fully covered top, built in lights and nice little filter that is designed specifically for bettas. I had a $5 rewards from Petco so I picked up a small heater for cheap (they keep the offices a little chilly) and added a few decorations.

I went with anubias nana and anubias nana petite because its relatively easy in this kind of set-up. I did go with fake plants in the back corner because I wanted something to hide the cords and didn't want to deal too much with trimming or stem plants. He has settled in nicely and seems to be quite happy. Unfortunately yesterday I noticed some white spots on him and noticed he was flashing and quite restless. He has only been in the tank for just over a week so I'm pretty certain its ich. I didn't want to stain my "fancy" new tank so I picked up a 2.5-gallon tank and small internal Tetra filter for a hospital tank. I started treatment yesterday and he already seems to be feeling a little better. Now on to giving his 3-gallon a good scrub.

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