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119 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
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This is my first attempt at a serious aquascape. I'm certain I will make every mistake. But let's just go for it and learn by doing!

I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of scene I wanted to make. I ultimately decided to make a forest, inspired by the wet and beautiful old growth forests in my area. This kind of habitat is my happy place.

Here's the initial sketch for what I'm trying to shoot for.

Then I spent about three weeks collecting sticks and stones. It turns out awesome, gnarly branches are hard to find around here, so most of the ones I found were just big straight sticks. One day while walking I found a tree that had broken in half and fallen over. The stump had an awesome core that slipped right out when I pulled on it. It was a really cool looking piece of wood so I decided to make it my centerpiece even though it's gigantic.

Boiling wood to get the tannins out!


I got more than I needed so I could have some options to work with.

I cut about a 1" point off the bottom of the huge stick so it would be flat, then I zip-tied it to eggcrate/light diffusers that I had cut a basket shape into.

I roughed out the big mounds with lava rock that I bought from Home Depot.

I covered the mounds with cheap fish tank gravel. I figured if stuff was going to fall into the cracks of the rock it may be something less expensive than nice substrate. I also jammed these sticks in really firmly, then poured hot glue into the base where the stick met the rocks. Hopefully this will keep the rocks from shifting around so much.

Then I capped everything with a few inches of Fluorite.

Fortunately this step roughly coincided with a meeting of a local fish club that I attend. I was able to get a lot of plants from other members by either buying or trading some of my shrimp. One member gave me a completely ridiculous amount of plants. He's on this website, too. Maybe he'll see this post (hi Norman!)

The stuff in the bucket is stuff from my 10 gallon tank. The stuff in jars is stuff that grew OUT of my 10 gallon tank, which I just kept in the jars on the kitchen table. Now is the time for harvest!

After many hours here's what it looks like. I decided against the manzanita sprig on the left because it made that corner too dark. I like where it is now, though.

Things are coming along but I still think it needs a lot of work, both compositionally and horticulturally. The space to the left of the main branch seems empty and without focus, and it's throwing off the whole composition. I keep trying to put stuff there but nothing is working for me so far. I think what I need is a very small but nicely shaped stick or two to awaken that space. A piece of hardscape that is tiny enough that I can put it in the extreme foreground without blocking the view.

From here I really want to cover the parts of sticks that are coming out of the water with some crazy riparium-type plants. I'm going to try and find a bright LED or two to hang over the whole affair. If I'm lucky maybe I can illuminate that back left corner some more... The light I'm using is 30" long but only has lights in the center 24". With these branches it really casts some deep shadows back there.

Anyway, now to get cycling!!

Lists updated July 15, 2013

fissidens fontanus
peacock moss
willow moss
christmas moss
java fern
java fern windelov/lace
java fern needle
java fern trident
bolbitis heudelotii
anubias nana
anubias nana gold
anubias nana petite
dwarf hairgrass
dwarf baby's tears/HC
giant baby's tears
marsilea minutia
marsilea crinata
staurogyne repens
Lindernia rotundifolia 'variegated'
Hydrocotyle Tripartita 'Japan'
dwarf amazon sword
jungle val
tanganyika val
blyxa japonica
Ludwigia repens
erio mini
+so many mystery plants.

Let's see how many of these plants I can keep alive

4x otocinclus
6x rummy-nose tetra
~20 Taiwan fire red shrimp

29 gallon tall tank (30"x19"x12")
Finnex Ray 2 LED
5000K CFL clamp light
Fluval 405 canister filter

170 Posts
Gorgeous! I love tanks where the hardscape extends out of the tank like this! Great placement of the smaller pieces to look like roots and trees in the background. Will you put any plants on the branches above the waterline?

IMHO, my only suggestion would be to take a chisel or Dremel to the end of the branches. You have such a well laid out scape and I'd love to see what's happening above the waterline balance everything below.

A lot of bonsai artists will carve the deadwood of trees to make them look older. Since your wood is all deadwood, there is no limit what you can do with it! If you want any inspiration, here is one of my favorite examples:

But then again, your scape is pretty awesome already! Well done!

119 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks for all the encouragement, everyone! It means a lot to me.

whats the dark oozy looking thing in the pot?..
The thing in the square glass? It's a tuft of erio minis! Someone gave this to me but I'll be honest, I'm scared to put it in my tank because I'm afraid of killing it. D: I heard they need CO2 and my tank isn't set up for that yet.

This makes me want to rip my tank apart and start over, but I'm out of money! Maybe next year! I think this will look fantastic. It already looks great!
Your tanks all look amazing. Shhh.

Will you put any plants on the branches above the waterline?
Yes! That's the plan, anyway. Here's a mockup I made earlier when I was still planning stuff out:

I don't know what kind of plants I'll use because I've never done anything like this before. Gonna see if Hydrophite can hook me up with something cool!

Thanks for the video! I watched the whole thing and it was really inspiring. The thing with the fire and the wire brush was amazing. I never would have thought of that.

Anyway, you read my mind -- the flat tops of these branches are driving me crazy. Unfortunately I can't pull them out without the whole scape falling apart, so I'd have to carve them in the tank. I'm not sure how well I would be able to isolate all the sawdust if I carved it where it was... I think my best bet now might be to just cover up the ends with plants at this point. I wish I had thought of carving the ends earlier when it would have been easy, but that's what I get for having no idea what I'm doing! Hindsight is 20/20.

Thanks a lot for the suggestions! I appreciate it.

119 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Like magic, the tank is cycled.

I got most of this setup from a friend who was getting it ready for goldfish. She'd only had everything running for a month or so and she said she didn't know the status of the cycle yet when she gave it to me. It also took me an entire month to get the tank set back up again. I kept the filter full of water but I was sure that all the bacteria in there would have died without food.

Anyway, on the first try the filter processed 4 ppm of ammonia in 24 hours, and there were no nitrites.

Despite that, I'm going to wait for a bit before adding any fish. I want to try futzing with a new fertilizer regimen and maybe try setting up some DIY CO2, and right now there aren't any fish to kill so it's a good time to experiment.

One thing I did notice is a problem is evaporation. It has been warm and the tank lost like a gallon and a half of water in one day. The office is like a swamp. I'm going to try making a custom acrylic lid but in the meantime it's getting saran wrapped.

2,103 Posts
A lot of bonsai artists will carve the deadwood of trees to make them look older. Since your wood is all deadwood, there is no limit what you can do with it! If you want any inspiration, here is one of my favorite examples:
Oh wow! That was an amazing video! I've looked into the "basics" portion of the bonsai info available. It is so inspiring to see what some people do with bonsai!

This is my first attempt at a serious aquascape.
This tank is so awesome! The amount of thought that went into this project is great! I look forward to seeing how it develops.

119 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Very interesting!!
Where did you get the idea from. The spiral ends where you want something bold to catch the eye?
The spiral is called the Fibonacci Spiral or Golden Spiral and the grid is the rule of thirds. These are both tools for planning artistic compositions. You can use it for paintings or photography or, as you found out, even aquascapes. I liked the article that you found! Thanks for the link. :)

I was thinking for the for the plants curving over on top vals or crypt spiral.
I agree! In the back I planted jungle vals and chain swords.

119 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 ·
are you not running co2?
Not yet, though I'd like to as soon as possible. I have a tight budget right now so I'm probably going to put together a DIY CO2 system when I can. In the meantime I'm using some Flourish Excel that I found in the basement. The plants are growing aggressively so I guess something is working...? No pearling anywhere but the giant baby's breath is growing about an inch per day. I'm seeing a lot of new growth even on the moss. Meanwhile some other things are melting. I don't even know. Plants.
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