I started our first aquarium in early June, and thought I would begin posting notes on my journey.
As it happens, my 4-year-old son and I decided that we would like an aquarium, since he misses helping to care for the goldfish in his pre-school class. I looked around a bit, and settled on what I thought would be a cheap-n-easy solution: a 15 gallon kit from Wal-Mart. Of course, I had neglected to budget for... well, anything else but a few fish. Even though I went with the least-expensive (fish-safe) stuff I could, the costs really did rise quickly. The Boy is quite pleased with it, though.
First, I decided that those glass decorative rocks would make for a beautiful alternative to 'plain old gravel'. I thought that clear and pale blue glass stones (ranging from 1/2-2") would look like a floor covered with bubbles. But I didn't want to see the bottom of the tank, and thought white would give the right 'bubbly' look if placed under the glass rocks, so I bought cheap, coarse rocks to go underneath, and some white aquarium gravel for depth. I poured in the white rocks, added the glass stones on top, and...!!! Hm. Didn't really look right. I went blithely onward, figuring I really needed to see it all put together before making a judgement.
My son lingered over the plastic plants and various skulls, castles, and divers at the store. "Can we put these in my aquarium?" I had to repress a shudder. The thought of looking at plastic plants and cheeseball ornaments every day was...unpleasant to me. So I put in some rocks and a couple of plants I selected (also from Wal-Mart, I have no other choice) because they looked pretty healthy. Only when I belatedly came online to check the needs of the plants did I begin to realize my error(s). From the very brief reading I did, I learned that the plants couldn't grow in substrate so coarse. So, I went out to the "clean sand" in our sandbox, scooped out some sand, and proceeded to put it UNDER my existing gravel/rock while the tank was full of water. I scooped the rocks to one side, and slowly poured the sand onto the tank bottom. Then I scooped the rocks back up on top of the sand area, and poured sand in the rest of it. I did not wash the sand first, and did not have any hoses or buckets to do a water change. The little filter cleared the mud/water in about 3 days.
But now, the white rocks were hopelessly mixed with the glass stones. Really did not look how I imagined. After the tank had been up and running for about a week, we picked up 6 ghost shrimp, three cherry barbs, and a pleco. A fancy male guppy sneaked into the bag with the shrimp, so he came with us for free. I warned my son that these fish might not survive, because the tank was so new. He named the guppy Bobby (he names everything Bobby). He was excited about his aquarium, and loved to watch Bobby swimming around. I found the shrimp fascinating, but noticed that even with their very long arms they could not reach in between the stones deeply enough to get the food that fell down there. Even without research, I knew that that would mean rotting food in the tank. And I really had to face it: it looked ugly. Tacky and loud and messy and ... wrong. So, one by one, I picked the glass stones out. It was less messy, but still wasn't right.
Here is the tank at this point. The horrid white rocks as substrate, some bigger rocks, and two-and-a-half plants (the tall one in the back left was a bulb that started to rot when it reached the surface). The left front plant is crypt wenditii, the one on the right is an amazon sword. You can see the guppy and a cherry barb in this picture. The central slate tower masks a bubbler that is hidden underneath. I turned it off for the pics.
The thing on the filter is a nylon. The ghost shrimp included females with eggs, and I hoped the filter wouldn't suck them up.
Through this time, I was getting serious about research on the web, reading literally hundreds of pages about aquaria and inhabitants. Reading about how many, many mistakes I had made.
I returned the pleco, and purchased 2 Otocinclus catfish instead. There wasn't much for them to eat yet, and I planned to get a few more. I learned that if I wanted to grow plants, the 15W bulb that came with the kit would be insufficient. So, I thought I could just get a larger wattage to put in the same fixture. WRONG! That size fixture only fits a 15W bulb. Great.
I began to plan out how to fix it. I learned that moving the fish around would be stressful for them, so wanted to be certain to do it right. First on my list: the substrate. I read all different recommendations of Eco-this and Aqua-something and Flourite-amajiggy. Turns out it didn't really matter, because none of those options are available locally. None. I could pay to ship 25lbs of premium substrate, but...well, there is no way I am paying to ship a bunch of dirt. As it turns out, I live near the Platte River. Hubby and I went out into the river with buckets and window screen. We sifted the finest sand out, leaving just the larger gravel. Then, I baked the rocks dry and sifted them again through a sieve with 1/4" holes. What remained were all the lovely little rocks in between, all different colors of nature. Good.
My mom had some driftwood that had been sitting in a basket in her house for a decade or so, I asked her for one that looked like an old log, boiled it, and soaked it in a closed jar of tank water 'til it sank (about 4 days). I looked for more, different rocks. I really liked the overhanging shelf of the slate tower above, and want to do something with a cliff...
I got impatient to get the white rocks out of there, so I moved the fish into a bucket of tank water and got to work. I figured I didn't need to get rid of ALL the white rock, I could use some of it in the back to add depth, and just cover it with the river gravel. I had plenty of new gravel, but thought it would be simpler (read: easier) than trying to get every single thing out of the tank. I scooped, and scooped, and poured and molded and placed rocks, and put in the two plants. Filled with water. It just needed a little adjustment there, and there
. Done. CRAP. Now I've got little white rocks poking up into my natural river floor. I'll just pick them out. Double crap. That got more of them up here. Maybe I can just pour in more gravel. There. Ah, but now that rock is buried. I'll just move it up and...CRAP! I stared at the tank for a LONG time. Could I stand it? Or would I cringe every time I looked in the tank? Such tiny white rocks. But so bright white. Sigh. Better to change it now, rather than have to move the fish again. Water back out, plants out, rock out, driftwood out. Completely empty tank. Beautiful river gravel now sullied with cheap white cee-arr-triple-ay-pee. I had some left, so started all over again. Leveled gravel, placed rocks, placed plants. When adding fish back, learned that one ghost shrimp and one male cherry barb had jumped ship and died while I fussed around and didn't notice. Makes me sad. The poor oto cats were so pale I couldn't see their stripes. I hoped they wouldn't die as well. Notes to self: for next time, cover the bucket, find a darker colored bucket to reduce stress, put some floating plants on top.
Next, the plants. A couple of Golden Hearts on this site chipped in and sent me plants free-of-charge. I just paid the shipping expenses, and several beautiful, healthy, plants arrived on my doorstep the day AFTER I completed my re-scape.
So, I began to plant for the very first time in a full, inhabited tank. I don't have any kind of special equipment (no long tweezers or angled scissors), and I found this task exceedingly difficult. I grow plants outdoors and in, and figured this couldn't be too much different. WRONG!!! Whether I am planting into a pot or into the earth, when on dry land the plants do not jump out of the hole I've dug. After I properly bury a plant on land, it does not float in the air if the wind blows on it. It stays, with little exception, IN THE DIRT. Aquatic plants, however, are entirely more fun-loving. They like to float and twirl and squirm away. SUCH fun.
June 25, 2008
Here she is, version two. It doesn't look how I want, but I'm done.
All that stuff is floating because I am beaten.
I cannot fight with these plants any more.
It's really hard the see in this picture, but the big, rectangular, reddish rock in the rear has a curve on its bottom, making a cave, and there is a large piece of slate that goes out from the squarish rock and rests on top of the driftwood, making caves and nice tunnels there. Two large pieces of slate are covered with a "moss sandwich" with Christmas Moss sewn between two pieces of needlepoint plastic. I couldn't get one to stay down on the rock, and couldn't move the rock, so there is a smaller bit of rock there weighing it down.
I learned that some of the plants that were kindly sent to me would be much easier to plant if I take most of the water out of the tank. Ugh. Well, if I'm going to do that, I'm going to start all over again, because my 'cliff' doesn't look like a cliff at all. I was hoping for something more dramatic. I also found out that I had planted some things incorrectly, so it was back to the drawing board.
After all, why do it right when I can just do it over?
A quick, daytime pic right before tearing down the tank. Bleh. Everything that I couldn't get in the gravel went into a bucket. ... ... ... For two-and-a-half weeks. Eek.
You can see Bing and some blurs that are Zebra and Leopard Danios. The one fish that my son cared about, Bobby the Guppy, met his end. I don't know what happened. He started hanging out at the bottom of the tank a lot, but when I fed the fish, he was right up there eating happily. The third day of his acting like this, he didn't come up to eat, and the next morning he was lying dead right in the same spot. Very sad.
-- Next: Planning another re-scape.