First Aquarium: 15G (Pic heavy!) -- Input desired - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-26-2008, 05:14 AM Thread Starter
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First Aquarium: 15G (Pic heavy!) -- Input desired

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.

Last edited by skoorbza; 09-04-2008 at 02:52 AM.
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post #2 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-26-2008, 05:58 AM
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Very nice start.
Looking forward to restart (;
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post #3 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-26-2008, 10:26 AM
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Your learning and it looks like even on a tight budget your making progress.

My planted tank. 55 gallon fluorite substrate over soil, 64 watts of light, excel twice a week. Weekly water changes. Angelfish pair, guppies, BN plecos and otos. Redone 11/13/2012
One non planted tanks. 75 gallon.
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post #4 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-26-2008, 12:44 PM
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That is one handsome cherry barb!
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post #5 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-26-2008, 01:28 PM
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skoorbza -

Thats a sweet little tank. It is going to be interesting watching it take off. Don't feel bad about the plant losses. I can't tell you how many plants I killed before I finally figured things out.

Were you able to keep any of the dwarf sag? Thats a plant I really like, although I don't know how well it will do in a low tech setup.

Your anubias look healthy and big in your tank.

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post #6 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-26-2008, 07:44 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks again for the plants, Biscuit, and your kind replies all.

Not sure if the Sag is going to make it. The big, healthy one you sent has melted 'til it is indistinguishable from the three babies that were attached to it. My real problem right now is ferts and carbon. My wallet is empty, but the plants REALLY need help. The crypts and sword are growing well, but the plants that need nutrients from the water column are suffering. And everything has a very light coating of BBA, since I don't have Excel or co2. I actually had to unscrew one of my CFLs because the algae bloom was too intense.

You'll hear more of these trials as I'm able to get this thread cought up with the present.

Thanks again, and I welcome your comments and laughter as I muck my way through this!!
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post #7 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-26-2008, 10:40 PM
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Originally Posted by skoorbza View Post
And everything has a very light coating of BBA, since I don't have Excel or co2. I actually had to unscrew one of my CFLs because the algae bloom was too intense.

You'll hear more of these trials as I'm able to get this thread cought up with the present.

Thanks again, and I welcome your comments and laughter as I muck my way through this!!

No problem on the plants. Looks like I might have to send some more soon.

What is your lighting like? I saw that you said you had to unscrew a CFL. How many do you have? A carbon source might help. Seeing how small your tank is, I could probably send you some ferts with the next round of plants if you are interested. The three biggest ferts aren't that expensive, although the carbon source can be. Some excel would probably go a long way for you though.

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post #8 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-27-2008, 01:50 AM Thread Starter
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Preparing another rescape

Okay, so, I'll try to keep the chatter to a minimum and show more pictures this time!

I have this idea in my head of a scape with a very deep substrate in the rear, with a cliff that appears to jut out from the substrate 'hill'. I've never had an aquarium before, so am feeling my way through how to accomplish the picture in my head. (I've always wished I could draw.)

I've found that little wet rocks don't make very good hills. So, here I am covering a couple of flowerpots with the gravel that was too large to make it through the 1/4" sieve. My plan is not to use them as caves, but to set one or more upright inside, like a bank, to help with hill height. I'm using aquarium sealant, and trying to mush some sand in the spaces left over. The gravel adds more bulk to the pots than I thought it would, but I think they turned out well.

Even though the fish I have now aren't cave dwellers, I want shy or new fish to have a place to hide if they need one. Here are a couple pics of Cave Building. I did these steps early on, so the sealant would have ample time to cure.




Next, the lighting. I don't have the funds to get all new lighting, and I want to keep the wattage around 2 per gallon so I don't need to go high tech with a co2 injector. But the fixture that came with the hood just wouldn't cut it. So I removed the fixture from the inside of the hood light, and replaced it with 2 standard light sockets. I lined the hood with tin foil, and used broom clamps to secure the sockets.

They weren't the right size, and kept squeezing the sockets out. So, rather than wait and get something else, I just jury-rigged what I had. I bent the clamps around so they would hold the socketes, wired it all together, and duct-taped the wires down. Far from beautiful, but it works! The mini-flourescents like in the pics fit best, but I couldn't find the daylight-color bulbs in this size. I'll start with 2 13w CFLs. Considering the amount of material in the tank, I'll bet that hits right around my 2 WPG goal. I've never rewired anything at home, so am pretty happy that this worked without any shocks or drama! I do wish that the existing screws were a little further apart; the bulbs are closer to center than I wanted... We'll have to see how it works out.

I hate the light color: it's YELLOWYELLOWYELLOW. I changed one of the 13w with a ...mmm... 24w? right around there, daylight CFL. MUCH nicer and better.

July 27, 08
So here we go -- ready to try again. This time I moved the fish into a 10g dark grey plastic bin. I moved a few places for them to hide, their HOB filter, some big rocks from inside the tank, and some floating plants. The loose cover should prevent any more floor surfing.

First layer: a sprinkle of peat moss and 3T of Osmocote fertilizer.

River gravel added to substrate, bubbler and cave in place.

Cave camoflaged, more substrate added.

Waiting for the adhesive to cure.

Basic skeleton in place.

A little more camoflage and driftwood added.



Version 3. Still a little jumbled looking, but closer to what I had imagined. The open space in the back right isn't intentional. The plant that I had intended to go there was too far gone to put in all but a few stems. I don't think they'll make it. The center is too messy too. I was going for a sort of divider that would allow for a small territory on each side of the plant wall. The Sunset Hygro plant is beautiful, but isn't showcased as well as I would like. I do like how my caves turned out, and how there's a little exit door behind the crypt. I am also not happy with the placement of the anubias in the upper left. It is not only close to the light, but just doesn't seem right there. Perhaps if I cut it off its rock and settle it down there in the substrate it would look more organic. I was relying on the Dwarf Sag to cover the front corner where one can see the mechanics of my cliff, but the poor thing had been out of the soil for too long. It is mid-melt. The delicate plant in that location came with some RCS, and I don't know what it is, but it must be some horrible weed, because it's growing well in this tank!! The moss wall at the back right is just stuck there because I didn't have another place for it. Not sure where it might go. I am also unhappy with the HM (Pearl Grass). It is much more tangled and messy than I wanted, and is all tangled up with the anubias. I am thinking that Dwarf Sag or some type of Val would cover that wall better. I want there to be plants all along the back, behind the cliff, but haven't been able to get anything to stick in and grow. Yet.



A couple more angles. Yes, I am overstocked. I didn't have the attrition rate I expected, and the Danios are breeding!!!





That's tonight's update, and we're nearly current. I'll take some pics tonight to process tomorrow. Then you'll be able to see the sad plants trying hard to grow without nutrients they need!!

Thanks for checking out my work so far. I know I have a long way to go. The trick is to get what's in my brain to appear in the tank!
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post #9 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-27-2008, 02:05 AM Thread Starter
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No problem on the plants. Looks like I might have to send some more soon.

What is your lighting like? I saw that you said you had to unscrew a CFL. How many do you have? A carbon source might help. Seeing how small your tank is, I could probably send you some ferts with the next round of plants if you are interested. The three biggest ferts aren't that expensive, although the carbon source can be. Some excel would probably go a long way for you though.
Why, Biscuit! You are just SO kind!

I would, of course, graciously accept whatever you might wish to send. I was talking with Orlando about some Excel, but a wee lil checkie that I was expecting hit a snag, so I'm more than a bit low. I've been getting some housepainting work here lately, though, so perhaps I'll be able to do that soon. My son's fifth birthday is coming in a couple of weeks, so every spare penny has been going to that... [Am I rambling? I think so.]

Did the post above answer your lighting question? Did have 2 13w CFLs over the 15g. Hated the color. Found a 23-ish watt daylight CFL around the house, swapped that over the deeper side of the tank. My first ever troubles with algae began. Lowered photoperiod from 12 to 8. No change, and the kids wanted to see the fish. Unscrewed 13w. I seem to be walking a line now between not bad and utter devastation. If I leave the lights on just an hour longer, the hair algae starts to come back, and something furry and grey grows on the moss. The BBA and RBA aren't furry yet, they just look like a fine coating of black and/or red soot.

I'm just trying to keep it all reasonably in check and keep the plants alive somehow 'til I can get some kind of ferts into the water column. Thank you again for your generosity.
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post #10 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-28-2008, 02:00 AM Thread Starter
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It'll be another day for new updates... not that anyone is champing at the bit, here.

Here's where I was today instead of doing Fish Work:



More tomorrow, and some inhabitants!
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post #11 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-28-2008, 05:04 AM
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Awesome tank!
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post #12 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-29-2008, 03:25 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks, Chrisinator! Don't know that it deserves "awesome" yet, but I hope we'll get there!

----
So here she is as she stands today, 27 AUG:


I like the sword better back over in the corner, I think the Sunset Hygro can fill that central space well.

Ram's Horn snail cleaning the growing moss cliff.

Our Dwarf African Frog. Our son named him Bubby.

Showing moss growth and struggling Wisteria in the rear.

A closer shot of the cliff underside, and Rainier, our female Cherry Barb.

Rainier in all her big, fat glory.

Full tank shot with the aerator on.

A few Red Cherry Shrimp out for a snack.

Ghost atop a Crypt.

Some plant/algae pictures:

What's left of the Dwarf Sag, and my mystery plant. Anyone know what that whispy plant is?

Some of the algae on what I was sold as 'Christmas Moss', but I learn is Java Moss.

Some Danios and what I think is BBA. It looks greenish in the picture, but in person it looks like black and red soot. I took a few other pics of algae on the plants, but none of them were super clear.



So. That's it.

I know that most of you prefer naturalistic scapes (as do I, actually), but I'd be interested to know what you all think of the cliff idea and how it turned out.

Thanks for being patient with me; I know I'm long-winded. Scape ON!
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post #13 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-29-2008, 04:39 AM
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What's left of the Dwarf Sag, and my mystery plant. Anyone know what that whispy plant is?
It looks like E. Tennelus

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post #14 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-29-2008, 04:49 AM
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looks good.


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post #15 of 31 (permalink) Old 08-30-2008, 01:32 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the responses.

ZooTycoonMaster: I think you're looking at the remains of the Dwarf Sag. The plant I don't know is the tall one on the left in that pic. It came with some RCS, and grows well, but I don't know what it is!

Chonzilla: thank you for looking and responding.
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