need advice: planted tank for a kid? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 9 (permalink) Old 08-05-2020, 03:45 PM Thread Starter
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need advice: planted tank for a kid?

I have a 10 year old family member who is setting up his first aquarium and is asking me for advice. I feel very comfortable walking him through most aspects, but I can't decide if I should discourage him from trying a planted tank in some form or not. He likes the plants in my tanks, but is it just too much for a child to learn?

He's pretty responsible for his age and has parents that will make sure any fish he gets will have the basic care they need, but they aren't experienced and plants add a lot of complexity and possible failure points. In non-Covid times I could help him a lot more in person and could hand hold him through the tribulations of a new planted tank, but that's not going to be possible right now, so I'm asking myself what is the most simple and bulletproof way to do plants? Is it even worth the hassle?

If he sticks to a list of the most low light, undemanding plants (java fern, anubias, java moss - anything else?) can they do ok in a regular "fish only" kind of set up? Or should he do something like an all-in-one fertilizer with a measured pump and lighting appropriate for a planted tank no matter what? In that case, go ahead and try other "easy" plants too?

The last I heard he hasn't decided much about his tank - he may do a 5 gallon betta fish or a 10 or 20 gallon community tank. I think we can assume a gravel substrate and other typical beginner hardware, but I can influence what he gets a lot. I'm trying to keep my recommendations simple, functional, and affordable, but obviously the kid's desires matter a lot too.
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post #2 of 9 (permalink) Old 08-05-2020, 04:11 PM
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My honest opinion would be to try and encourage him to hold up until COVID is under control and you can help hands on. What you have in mind can be done, but can take some time to dial in and get everything right. For example I have a 20 gallon in my office at work. It has an amazon sword, java moss, dwarf sag, subwassertang, some floating plants. It's been on autopilot for years now. It's got a decent light, a finnex that does a 24 hour cycle, unfortunately don't remember the name/model. Full of livebearers at this time. I've got it to the point where all I've done for the last 2-3 years is a small water change once a week, feed the fish 5 days a week and very occasionally clean out overgrowth. i let it grow wild and while it will never been confused for a carefully aquascape it's pretty cool and gets compliments all of the time and the fish seem to love it. It took years of trying different things to get everything dialed right where I got everything right and didn't have plants struggling or algae growing though. I should note that the tank has capped soil as substrate and has been running for 6-8 years now.

As long as it's kept simple I don't see any reason why the kid can't keep a planted tank but having you available to help will be invaluable and help with a lot of issues that might pop up early on. i think it also helps for him to decide what he wants to do, a 5 gallon and a 20 gallon are two very different things.
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post #3 of 9 (permalink) Old 08-05-2020, 05:42 PM
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Success will be up to the child (failure is a good teacher, too), but it can be done if the child is interested and willing. I was running my own, simple, planted tank when I was ten and, obviously, did well enough to continue the hobby. I even succeeded with simple plants using dirt from my backyard (after all, don't plants grow in dirt?). As you've all said, just start it with simplicity in mind. It can be expanded with expanding interest and understanding.
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post #4 of 9 (permalink) Old 08-06-2020, 12:39 AM Thread Starter
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This has been really helpful, thanks!

I think taking a phased approach is the obvious answer. We'll get a fish-only set up going and he can learn the ropes and get an understanding of what normal maintenance looks like. If he's still enthusiastic about the tank in a few months and wants to try plants, we can try a new set up and hopefully I can help him more in person. I can point him towards versatile equipment that will work with either path. I'm still not totally sure how involved to get with plants, but I'd be helping a more kid with a little experience who has shown some dedication. (I'm sympathetic to kids who start something new with lots of enthusiasm, only to have it peter out pretty quickly - that's how I was!)
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post #5 of 9 (permalink) Old 08-06-2020, 05:16 AM
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There are pros and cons. I have a 9 year old who is into my hobby with me. He started with spending time with me feeding the fishes. Then when I was out for a couple to weeks he also helped on dosing. During maintenance he would volunteer to clean the filter media. Now he helps me with all the maintenance. Planted tanks are both an art and science package put together which is very educating for a kid to grow up on.

Water chemistry, plant biology, fertilisation, substrate are all topics of interest to him at this point. He has started reading up on these topics. He has an ambition to aquascape and watches vids of pros, he talks about golden ratios, plant placement and has started to visualise and draw up. There is a lot that a kid can grow up on planted tanks.

There are few things which is an no no. I donít let him handle scissors or blades (maintenance), I donít allow him to handle the co2 equipment. He understands the boundaries and he himself does not handle the test kits or reagents. I have coached him to always switch off the power before he starts on any in tank maintenance activity.

Sometimes itís a terrible distraction to academics but so is every hobby for kids. So need to evaluate if the kid can be guided to balance it out.

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post #6 of 9 (permalink) Old 08-06-2020, 06:51 AM
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I mean...if it becomes a "distraction" if the kid ever applies to college, they can write about their aquarium in the application essays. I think one of my acceptance letters specifically mentioned how I made the administrator get interested in fish tanks...

You could always get the kid started on floating plants. Did the kid ever point out which plants he liked? Or was it kind of an "everything" vibe? As an example, if an enormous lily got his attention, then maybe starting out with banana lilies would work; Blyxa japonica would analogue well to Echinodorus swords; so on and so forth.
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post #7 of 9 (permalink) Old 08-06-2020, 10:17 AM
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I started to help my dad with my first tank at 8 years old and have been doing it ever since. As long as he/she has help, they should do just fine. This story reminds me of how I got into the hobby in the first place! Admittedly, though, a planted tank may be a bit much for a 10 year old's first tank. Maybe start with the basic goldfish or guppy and if they do well with that then move on up the ladder? Just a thought, good luck!
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post #8 of 9 (permalink) Old 08-06-2020, 12:54 PM
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Two of my projects with my 5 year old son during circuit breaker here in Singapore were to setup a planted fish tank and build a home indoor hydroponics system to grow herbs and leafy greens. I didn't intend it this way, but the two very separate projects became so inter-related because there are no many cross-overs. Now obviously my 5 yr old is a very willing assistant, well sometimes anyway, and your 10 year old will obviously need to be much more in control himself. But here's what I'm getting to...

My son obviously wanted to know why we couldn't add fish on day one, why I kept having to test the water and use funny chemicals, etc, etc and so I began to explain about bacteria and the nitrogen cycle. It starts with poo, so that clearly got gets any 5 year old's attention! You go round through ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates and then what do you need to complete the cycle? Plants of course! It just makes more sense to have plants 'eating' the waste and then fish eating the plants to produce more poo and start everything over again.

To properly succeed with a fish tank you need to understand the basic chemistry - it's not hard, my 5 year old got the basic idea so I don't think an interested 10 yr old would struggle. Having both plants and fish makes sense and I would suggest that having some sort of plants (really easy to care for floaters, mosses, something that doesn't need constant maintenance) will help him/her to understand that whole interconnectedness of all things. Fish does poo and we change water is boring. Fish does poo, bacteria convert it step by step to plant food, plants eat it, fish eat plants (although hopefully they don't too much!) and fish does more poo is just so much more interesting! Perhaps much more hard work in the beginning to teach him/her all this, but long term, I would suggest more likely to keep them interested in the hobby.

Just a (very long winded I know!) thought....
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post #9 of 9 (permalink) Old 08-06-2020, 01:13 PM
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I think 10 is plenty old enough to do a planted tank, given that their interest initiates the set up! I'd ask them what aspects of fish keeping they're most interested in and go from there. As in, is their heart set on giant goldfish? Livebearers? Oscars? Florescent pink and yellow gravel with Spongebob decorations? In my opinion, smaller tanks are actually a little more tricky to start with than say, a 10 gallon, due to accessibility of the hardware, ease of maintenance, system stability, etc. I feel like we here on this forum have a lot of preconceived notions of what success looks like, but kids are blessed with not having fully formed their addiction to perfection yet. All of life is an experiment!

I have [an overstocked] community tank that I don't fertilize or dose with CO2, and it's full of plants. It would never be mistaken for a fine art Igwami style tank, but I enjoy the bustling, natural aesthetic. I would bet that a kid is going to be more into a wild aesthetic with a lot of fish activity than a formal scape anyway.

To the list of plant suggestions, I'd add dwarf lily bulbs. Watching the bulbs sprout and grow is very cool and rewarding. I recently added a bundle of Temple plant to my 5 gallon, and it seems to be a very undemanding and luscious plant thus far, though I don't see much talk about that plant here, so maybe there's a downside I'm ignorant to. I've had great luck with Eco-Complete in my low tech tanks. If I was was advising a new fishkeeper, honestly of any age, I'd suggest a 10 gallon tank with Eco-Complete and definitely trying some undemanding plants.

That's exciting and sweet that you get to usher in a new generation to this hobby. I hope they, and you, enjoy the process!
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