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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hello everyone! I got this 30cm ADA Cube Garden back in April with the intention of making a no-tech paludarium. This journal is a slow-motion story of failure and adaptation, like many beginner planted tank journals. :)

How it all began:



My original plants were ludwigia arcuata, rotala macrandra mini, and hygrophila difformis. They actually did pretty well for awhile! I was hoping they would grow up to the surface and then keep going, and by having them emersed I could keep the tank in balance and avoid algae. However, 1) I didn't plant nearly densely enough, and 2) my water was too deep, so this didn't happen, and the tank started to grow hair algae. I responded by putting in some dwarf water lettuce and a philodendron (unknown species, a cutting from the owner of my LFS, which is Aquarium Zen in Seattle).



I was able to keep it under control for awhile, but I kept losing ludwigia and rotala stems. The hygrophila was doing fine, but the scale felt off, so I took it out and replaced it with staurogyne repens (I know it's more of a foreground plant, but I thought it would work fine as a mid-background bush if I just let it grow without pruning it for awhile). I also replaced the sand with more ADA Amazonia, which I planted with cryptocoryne affinis and cryptocoryne parva to try and get enough plants to outcompete the algae. I added a nerite snail.



After a few weeks I added some amano shrimp. I sloooooowly won my battle with algae, but I was down to four or five stems of ludwigia and rotala each. The crypts grew really well, but the s. repens was getting too much light and carpeting (normally what I would want!) in the back. The philodendron grew enormous roots, and the dwarf water lettuce gradually rotted. I scooped out the water lettuce and threw it in a low light bowl, and it recovered. I added an eheim filter, an inline heater, and a spin outflow.

To try and get the s. repens more shade and to make the top half of the tank more interesting, I decided to build a marginal plant island out of a suction cup shower caddie. I planted creeping myrtle, creeping jenny, and some ludwigia and rotala stems I had been growing in jars by the window. My first attempt used hot glue to hold everything together and sphagnum moss to hide the plastic, and it came apart fantastically after a week in the tank. I also threw a peace lily cutting in at first, but it was hilariously out of scale.



I pulled the whole island out of the tank and let it dry all the way out. I got rid of all the sphagnum moss and filled nylon pouches with aquasoil, which I hotglued shut and stuck to the caddy. I used GE silicone 1 on the sticks and let them cure for about a week. I superglued some anubias and bucephelandra (nana and wavy green respectively) to the wood and wrapped the nylon bags in java moss. I put the island back in the tank. I replaced the peace lily with mondo grass. This last week I planted nymphoides hydrophylla in the back corner of the tank where the rotala used to be.



My next steps for this tank are to keep adding various stems to the floating marginal plant area, with the hope that it will eventually go in a pondy direction. So far I've been able to coax my few remaining ludwigia stems into emergent growth, and s. repens is happy up there too. I'll be adding a betta soon, also. I'm really enjoying the tank now, even though it looks nothing like I thought it would when I planned its layout! I feel very relieved that it has finally settled into something like stability. I'll update the thread as I continue to make tweaks and changes. Thanks for reading!
 

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Very cool to see the different stages of your tank. Planted aquariums have a tendency to go off on a tangent of their own, unlike what one had initially and carefully planned out.

I did something similar (half full, low tech) for a while and it was very interesting to see how the various plants grew emersed over time.

Lots of unexpected things happening... no algae issues, but had to deal with various air-breeding pests (aphids and spider mites and stuff).
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Very cool to see the different stages of your tank. Planted aquariums have a tendency to go off on a tangent of their own, unlike what one had initially and carefully planned out.

I did something similar (half full, low tech) for a while and it was very interesting to see how the various plants grew emersed over time.

Lots of unexpected things happening... no algae issues, but had to deal with various air-breeding pests (aphids and spider mites and stuff).
I love your tank! The shadows make it so mysterious, and I am definitely adding another moss species to my (ever lengthening) wishlist.

The most unexpected thing that happened to me with this tank so far was the accidental introduction of mosquito larvae when I grabbed the creeping jenny and creeping myrtle out of the garden. I was very fascinated by them until I figured out what they were! I was able to net out most of them, and I'm sure the others made the spiders in our house very happy.

I just noticed today that I have new, emergent growth from my fussiest stems, the rotala macrandra mini. When I cleared out the last of the algae I cut most of them down and only kept the tops, which I just threw into the marginal area to see if they would make it. Very excited to see that they are transitioning! They are very delicate. I have a lot more that I've been growing in dirted jars in the window, leftovers from a tissue culture cup that I didn't have room to plant (at first) and was too demoralized to use (later).
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Disheartening news: I have lost two amano shrimp in the past few days. Not sure what is going on. I checked the water immediately and there isn't any ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate (I know there should be SOME nitrate but I do have a lot of floating plants, so maybe that explains it). ph is 7. The only thing that is weird about my water is that it has a pretty high gh (like 13 drops??) but low kh (3). But it's possible I'm running the test wrong; I just started testing gh and kh and I don't know much about it. For water changes I am conditioning tap water and letting it stand in a bucket until it is at room temperature, for top offs I am using distilled water. I'm changing water once a week, like 15%. I need to test my tap water to see what I'm working with, and maybe the distilled water I'm using (just buying it from the store).

It might be bad luck, but I have had a difficult time keeping shrimp long-term before? Like they will be fine for months and then I will have a mysterious crash, and no obvious water parameter REASON for it. I've tried cherries and amanos, but never in a dedicated tank, so maybe I should do that to learn more about how to keep them. I don't think they're running out of food, because there's still visible green algae on the rocks that they are gradually working on.

I know that every tank has setbacks, but I'm feeling very discouraged right now. I have a plan to move forward, but it's a bad feeling. I have one shrimp left at the moment. The nerite appears to be doing fine.

Recent shot of the tank, at least the nymphoides hydrophila seems to be settling in nicely (I got a new phone, which has a better camera):

 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I didn't end up losing any other shrimp, and the tank seems to be settling in. After a lot of fussing, I've almost got the emergent plants looking the way I want them to, and I've finally added the betta. The kids named him "Wildflower" and he seems very happy.



The floating plants are growing readily, and I increased the photoperiod by one hour (it was still on a five-hours-per-day light fast after I went through my algae woes). I have noticed a new kind of algae seems to be slowly growing in the tank and the amanos and snail don't touch it: it's like a hair algae but single strands, quite long and green, and anchored strongly to the glass and a few plants? Trying to remove as much as I can with water changes (once a week), but also trying not to change my water too much because I want my shrimp to be happy, so I'm keeping changes to something like 10-15%.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
A LOT has happened with this tank these past few months.

1. Wildflower the betta ate every single shrimp in the tank over the course of two weeks.

2. The suction cups holding the emergent plant dish onto the back of the tank started detaching, at first just once a week, and then with increasing frequency until the silicone holding the driftwood together failed and the whole thing collapsed into the tank. This coincided with the busiest two weeks ever at work, so I wasn't really able to do anything about it for awhile. Wildflower enjoyed lounging on the ruins, mocking me. I discovered that creeping jenny can grow underwater, and creeping myrtle cannot. Eventually I was able to pull the wreckage out of the tank and save most of the plants, which are now waiting in a bucket for my next project, and it was refreshing to have a bunch of empty space in the tank again.

3. I planted bacopa monnieri in the back where the island used to be, pruned the hell out of crypts and philodendron roots, pulled a bunch of slime and dead moss out, and put in a co2 system. The stringy green algae appears to be cladophora and I HATE it, but it does seem to take awhile to grow.

Will post a picture later today. I'm feeling a little bummed about the cladophora (I've been fighting it for months) but hopefully starting co2, keeping up with water changes, and keeping the photoperiod what it has been will help the plants out-compete it.
 
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