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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Background: This is Foo the Flowerhorn's fault. Let me back up: I had a fish-only aquarium as a kid and have considered getting another one at various points in my life, but never pulled the trigger, usually because I couldn't convince myself I had the time or money to do it right. This was probably a good call.

Foo's videos reignited my interest again, and now I have a stable adult life. I also have an advance degree in horticulture, so doing a planted tank was obvious. I bought "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium" on advice from a friend, did a bunch of internet research and decided that a tank like Foo's would be too hard for a first tank, so I set up a 20 long dirted tank with a filter in early April. It looks like this:



The system is working well overall and I've learned a whole bunch. One of the things I learned is that I still wanted to try a tiny Foo tank. I thought my spouse would take the reasonable approach and tell me that I just got one aquarium and getting a second was overboard, but instead he said I could put it right on the kitchen counter and then got me a UNS 5N tank for Mother's Day. (I know!) So here we are.

Specs
Tank: UNS 5N, 4.65 gallons (I'm going to call it 5, but it's not quite)

Lighting: NICREW clip on, 7 watts

Substrate: Miracle Grow Organic topsoil + some of my native red clay, sifted together

Cap: mostly Caribsea Peace River, with a little Gemstone Creek

Hardscape: a small manzanita branch, very simple

Filter/heater/CO2/ferts: none. I'll add something to circulate the water if I have to, but I'm trying to not have anything to plug in other than the light if I can get away with it

Plants
Definite:
  • Eleocharis pusilla, harigrass - using DSM to start this as a carpet.
  • Egeria densa, anacharis
  • Hemianthus micranthemoides, pearl weed
  • Bacopa caroliniana
  • Vesicularia sp., mini Christmas moss - glued to the hardscape
  • Salvinia nutans (floating plant)

Except for the hairgrass, these are all beasts in my 20 gallon and should be able to hit the ground running in this tank.

Possible:
  • Microsorum pteropus, java fern 'Windelov', possibly another cultivar I have
  • Cryptocoyne wendtii 'Green Gecko'
  • Vallisneria spiralis
  • Marino moss ball

Again, I have all the plants already in my 20 gallon and they are all converted and growing great, but I'm not sure if the slower growing plants (java fern, crypt, moss ball) are going to be overwhelmed with algae in the new tank. I would love to have the crypt and java fern to be more prevalent in the long term if they can just hang on in the initial months. I have heard that val grows much shorter in low tech setups, but enough to fit in a tank this size? I love the texture and look of it, so I may just try a single plantlet and see how it goes.

Livestock
Definite:
  • Zebra nerite snail
  • Amano shrimp x 2

Possible (but not all together):
  • Some flavor of Neocaridinia shrimp
  • Male endlers or some other teeny nano fish
  • A betta, if I get a heater

Tomorrow is 2 weeks into DSM and here's what it looks like (yes, that's the manzanita right next to it on the right):


Here's a close up comparison of the hairgrass at day 6 (top) vs. day 13 (bottom):


It's not on the kitchen counter yet, but I'll move it when it gets flooded. I would like to keep growing this carpet for about 6 more weeks, but if mold shows up to the party tomorrow at least the root system has grown enough to anchor the plants into the substrate. In the meantime, I'm focusing on keeping everything in my 20 gallon healthy so I can cut as much as I want to get the new tank the beefiest plant mass from day 1. Wish me luck!
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Day 24 update (6/4/2020)

24 days into DSM and here we are:



It's a little hard to see, but the hairgrass carpet is shooting runners everywhere, but the new nodes only have a single leaf blade so far. I've been trimming the established patches to encourage side shoots, but they are much thicker as well. I think it's going to take another 4 weeks at a bare minimum to carpet, but that's as expected. So far, so good.

I've done some thinking and have revised my plan and added a few crypts to my DSM:
Cryptocoyrne parva TC - Three chunks on the left, one on the right. I'm a bit concerned about the material I received because it was a mass of crazy shoot growth and very little roots. If the plants fail, it will likely be for this reason, but there is nothing I can do at this point other than keep them moist and hope they figure it out.

Cyrptocoyrne x purpurea TC - I couldn't find a whole lot of information about this species in the aquarium, but it seems like it should be fairly small and I'm a sucker for a leaf with a dark reticulated pattern. The tissue culture cup was ideal - 6 separate plantlets with good roots and shoots. I only planted one in this tank on the right and the rest went into my main tank. I'll let you guys know how they grow.

Cryptocoyrne beckettii - I would have preferred the more compact 'Petchii' cultivar, but it wasn't available. This came as a potted plant that I split in half, one for the back of this tank and one for my main tank.

I haven't seen a lot of crypts in DSM tanks, but they don't sound very difficult to grow emersed and this is basically the same thing. I'll chop the leaves off the C. beckettii and C. x purpurea when I fill the tank and hopefully they will use their established root system to send up new leaves much quicker than if I had just planted them. I'm not in a rush for them to establish per se, I'm just trying to give them a leg up and I'm curious to see how it works out.

I am going to leave the manzanita in the tank for now, but at some point I'm going to need to soak it so I can get through the tannin leaching/white slime phase before I fill it. I had originally planned on covering it with mini Christmas moss and I still might, but I've got some java moss now and that might do better even if it's not as good looking. The moss is just sitting in water on my counter for now.

My plants for the plants are firming up. I probably won't have a lot of room for very much of any particular stem plant, but I figure some are going to fail.

Definite:
  • Eleocharis pusilla, harigrass
  • Egeria densa, anacharis
  • Hemianthus micranthemoides, pearl weed
  • Bacopa caroliniana
  • Salvinia nutans
  • Ceratopteris thalictroides, water sprite - I accidentally left this off the list before, but it's the fastest grower in my main tank.
  • Cryptocoyrne parva
  • Cyrptocoyrne x purpurea
  • Cryptocoyrne beckettii
  • Microsorum pteropus, java fern 'Windelov' - I wasn't sure about this, but I have so many baby plants I might as well try one.
  • marimo moss ball - again, I have them, so I might as well try it out

Maybe:
  • Vesicularia sp., mini Christmas moss or java moss - definitely one or the other
  • Ludwegia repens - just got it for the big tank, gotta see how it does
  • Nomaphila stricta (syn. Hygrophila corymbosa 'Siamensis') - just got it for the big tank, gotta see how it does

Other than nerite and amano shrimp that I already own, I'm not worrying about deciding the livestock right now. I had some unexpected white cloud fry show up in my main tank, so I might want a dedicated spot to raise up future babies, who knows.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Quick update: keeping the driftwood in the tank was a bad idea, as it's getting spots of mold or algae or something. In hindsight this was a pretty obvious outcome, oops. I removed it immediately and went ahead and started soaking it. It doesn't look like anything is growing on the plants or the substrate, but I'm letting the tank air out a lot and will be light handed with the water spraying for a day or two and see if that keeps them clean. If the mold spreads I'll obviously have to flood the tank early.

Other than that, everything looks good. I had one leaf go yellow on the C. beckettii so I removed it, but other than that the new editions seem like they are settling in ok fine and the hair grass continues to fill in.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
6 week update

I was hoping to have the end of DSM in sight, but my hairgrass just hasn't filled in enough. My hope of flooding at 8 weeks just isn't going to happen unless a sudden mildew attack forces my hand. The good news is that the hairgrass is still spreading, but it's very easy to make out the original plants, though they are a lot bigger. I am replaning any runners that go outside the "lawn" area, so that is helping to thicken it faster.

As of right now, I am not sold on crypts in DSM. The potted C. beckettii is doing fine - the leaves have grown and it's got a few new leaves developing. But I would it's doing about the same as the one that went directly into my other tank, so it's not clear why you would plant it before flooding unless you had it on hand and needed to put it somewhere.

TC C. x purpurea looks exactly the same as when I planted it above the soil, so hopefully it's putting down roots. It is lacking behind the submerged plants though. Those did not melt at all and have substantial growth in the 4 weeks.

Which brings me to C. parva - two of my four clumps were looking rough. Leaves were turning yellow and there was clearly some rot happening, so I pulled them to take a look. If you remember, they came out of the cup with a crowded mass of leaves and little root, and big chunks of the mass were going foul, but the parts that were still good easily separated and revealed themselves to be little plantlets with root and shoot systems:



This is what I would have liked to have when I planted! Obviously some of the shoots from the mass were able to organize themselves into a proper plant and the rest started rotting. Now that I removed the decaying material they have a chance of surviving, plus replanting them individually let me space them out evenly.

My driftwood is soaking, but unfortunately is going to have some mildew stains. That is a shame, but I want it to be covered in moss anyway. I have decided to grow both moss varieties: xmas moss is going to get the driftwood and and the java moss grow off a small rock.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Flood day!

I decided to flood the tank today, just short of 10 weeks from starting. I could have waited for my carpet to fill in even more, but my Cryptocoryne parva was really having a tough time and I was getting impatient. Last week I realized that my hairgrass was both too spread out and took up too large a footprint, so I moved the clumps in the back to thin spots.

Here's the final outcome of the DSM:



I'm in the process of filling and draining the tank twice to flush the substrate. You'll notice that the C. beckettii has added tons of new leaves in the last few weeks, which is kind of too bad since I cut most them off right after I took this picture. (They were almost certainly destined to melt, so why wait?)

Here's after planting:



Some of the stems haven't straightened out yet, but trust me that the area behind the driftwood is fairly crowded. I ended up including all the plants I have previously mentioned except for Nomaphila stricta. It hasn't been a strong grower in my regular tank, and I'm not sure I have room for it anyway.

I am letting things settle for a day before I check water parameters, but I am planning on doing a couple 50% WC in the next week regardless to help flush the soil.

Things I have learned so far from my DSM experiment:
  • Planting DHG clumps about an 1" apart is too wide. 3/4" or even 1/2" would fill in much faster
  • Most people recommend a very modest 10 to 15 minutes a day to open the tank to air out. I had no problem with at least twice that. I also never had so much water that I needed to remove it and I had no mold issues. I live somewhere with fairly humid ambient air though - I would be much less cavalier about this in an arid place.
  • I am not sold on using TC crypts with DSM - I have had a better experience adding them directly to a flooded tank, though perhaps the C. parva I got would have been trouble in a tank too due to the lack of roots.
  • I suspect that with potted crypts it doesn't make a big difference if you start with with DSM or not. I certainly found them easy to manage in DSM, but I anticipate having to deal with typical crypt melt and the associated stall anyway. We'll see - maybe it will bounce back super fast?
 

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You might try giving the dhg a haircut, to encourage more spreading and thickening of the carpet....

Doug

Bump: You might try giving the dhg a haircut, to encourage more spreading and thickening of the carpet....

Doug
 

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Discussion Starter #8
You might try giving the dhg a haircut, to encourage more spreading and thickening of the carpet....

Doug
I have been trimming it and it has been spreading, but with only a single blade at most nodes it was going to take forever to get growth so dense you'd be unable to discern the original clumps. I'm ok with how it ended up in the end. I know the character of the tank is going to change a lot in the next couple weeks as the stems fill in too.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Day 9 update

Here we are 9 days after flooding:



I was anticipating the hairgrass to slow down on growth as soon as it was submerged, but that hasn't happened! The lawn as really beefed up and I might need to actually trim it back in a week.

I think most of the Cryptocoryne parva is going to pull through, but it's still really small. That said, I haven't experienced any crypt melt in any of the three species I'm growing yet.

C. x purpurea looks so much better submerged. Before it was just kind of splayed on the substrate, but now it's upright and the webbed leaves are really neat. I think people should definitely use this species more!



There's some algae starting to show up , but the tank isn't cycled yet. There was a little ammonia spike right off the bat that I attribute to the soil (~1 ppm, nothing too crazy) and I've done a few 50% WC that seemed to take care of it. Now if I dose ammonia, the level drops by 0.25 to 0.5 ppm a day, but there's no rising nitrite of nitrate, so I think that's just what the plants are taking up. I added a little Tetra Safestart to help the bacteria get going, because I don't want to wait too long to add my cleanup crew (1 nerite, 1 or 2 amano shrimp).

I think ultimately I'm going to add 3 male endlers and cherry shrimp of some flavor.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I should probably post a quick update. After a promising start, things are not looking great in the tank! The driftwood got all funky smelling and I removed it and all the Ludwegia started melting. Most of the Cryptocoryne parva is gone. Overall plant growth has slowed and BGA is starting to be an issue. The tank is way less attractive without the driftwood and it all just looks messy and a bit sad.

It's not all bad - the nerite is doing fine and the water parameters have been stable. The other two crypts have not really melted at all! They have lost a couple leaves, but otherwise look great. I added a little more water sprite since it was growing the best, though I don't prefer it. I also added more crypts (C. wendtii 'Green Gecko') from another tank and they have melted back, but I am hoping they are able to rebound long term. I am removing fistfuls of Salvinia all the time.

I need to think about if I think my tank needs more or less light and adjust the density of my floating plants accordingly. I'm also looking at adding an AZOO Mignon Filter 60, because I think the lack of flow is the root cause of my BGA problem at minimum. I really wanted to just have the light and nothing else on the tank, but I don't know if I can pull it off right now.

I have endler's in my quarantine tank. I ordered 3 and got 4, but one is super huge and might be actually guppy? They look great, but unfortunately the chili rasbora I got at the same time arrived with ich. Everybody is being treated with Ich-X and are being monitored for any other problems, so I've got weeks before they will be ready to move into the nano. Hopefully in a few weeks the tank will be looking better and the fish will be ready to go.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
I added the filter on Saturday and have been doing 60% WC every couple of days, each time clearing out more algae and otherwise dodgy plant material. I've got quite a mess on my hands! I'm not to the point of tearing everything down because I think I can still turn the ship around, but it makes me very, very glad I played it safe in the choices I made setting up my 20 gal! If I had to deal with this my first go round I would have been very discouraged.

I have a theory about what led to this - I think that my ammonia/nitrite/nitrate seemed better than they actually were because I was pulling water from the top of my tank by the floaters, all the while I had an issue brewing at the substrate level. I had nothing to circulate the water, so a significant gradient between the substrate and the surface seems plausible to me. This led to me to do fewer water changes than I should have. When things started to go south, I blamed the driftwood and removed it. That may have been a smart move anyway, but it was not sufficient to turn the tank around and more plants melted and algae became a problem and I had a typical bad new planted tank spiral.

I anticipate more time and work is required before I am happy with the progress, but I'm not counting the tank out yet.

Over in the QT I still have 7 of 9 chili rasbora and the ich seems to be subsiding. I'm a little suspicious of the endler's though - they never got ich, but they don't seem to eat very much at all. Their behavior seems lively and they don't look thin, so I'm keeping an eye on them. I dewormed the tank in case there was a parasite issue.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Do you plan on adding driftwood back in at some point? Either same piece or new?
I would like to add some hardscape back in eventually, but I haven't decided exactly how to do that yet.

The original driftwood in the quarantine tank providing a place for fish to hide and the moss is actually doing ok, so it hasn't gone to waste, but I doubt that it will find ever its way back into this tank. I really liked how it looked, but at minimum it needed to be glued to an inert base or something so it doesn't come into contact with the soil layer and it doesn't get knocked around so easily. I have more manzanita sitting around than I could ever use in this tiny tank, but I am wary about combining soil and wood now and will be very careful about adding it back in. A small stone or two is also a possibility.

My first priority is to pull the tank out of its current nosedive and get the plants looking ok, then I'll revisit the hardscape.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Rescape in progress

Ok, things have really turned a corner! The plants in this tank finally started growing and I waged a battle with blue green algae and I took some time in the interim to this about what I really wanted from this tank.

The original intent was to not have a filter and that didn't work. I had to remove the only element that gave it visual organization, the driftwood. I wasn't into what was left and it's in a prominent space in my kitchen. The trajectory of my main tank has been solidly upward. I look back on the picture of it at the start of this thread and it's... well, I don't want to say laughable, because I was proud of it, but it's come a long way. My expectations are a bit higher now, even as I've had to deal with some failure.

So I committed to a bit of a rescape. I decided leave my substrate intact and not move my crypts, but everything else, including the hairgrass lawn I worked so hard to grow, was up in the air. I bought a bit of dragon stone and as soon as I situated it in the tank I felt confident that I had made the right decision to change things up.

I don't have time to replant everything tonight, but the stone is in:



I'm not an aquascaper, but I quite like it! I still have some smaller pieces of stone I might add, but it's time to go to bed. Tomorrow I'll finish and then I'll see what my water parameters are like over the next week. The livestock for this tank is ready, but I need to confirm that everything is stable before I start to migrate them over.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Ok, the rescape is finished!



I ended up adding another small rock and pulling up the majority of the carpet and sprigging the healthiest bits back in place. I left a bit intact on the right side, so we'll see how that does compared to the replanted bits. I added some buce to the rocks, but otherwise I don't think I have any other new plants.
 

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Discussion Starter #18


There's no sign of BGA since I treated for it, but hair algae is a problem. The hairgrass is still clogged with algae and detritus, so I pulled out a big patch and replaced it with some Sagittaria subulata. Even though I still don't have the balance of the tank right, I'm getting enough growth to require a few trims. This feels like progress.

The tank has fully cycled, so I have slowly added a nerite, an amano shrimp, and now I have two juvenile white clouds beefing up the BB for me. I had a small, brief ammonia spike after adding the first one, but my parameters have been stable since. I'll add a third one, give it a few weeks and then swap them out for the endler's. The tank is a lot more fun with some activity though!
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Quick update: algae is still an issue, but I think it's slowing improving. I've been doing 50% WC twice a week and probably need to cut the photoperiod a bit more and add some more plants to account for the hairgrass I've removed. I haven't taken it all out yet, but I suspect that I will by the time this is over.

But the biggest change is that I've put the white clouds back in the main tank, but instead of moving endler's in I've gone with chili rasboras. I was planning to have a bunch of chili rasbora in my main tank, but ich claimed quite a few of my initial group leaving me with 4. They have not been happy in my QT - the ich is long gone, but they were stressed and hiding. I had attributed this to their tiny school, but that was wrong. I moved them to the 5 gallon and their behavior changed immediately! They don't hide, their color is good, the males are even hassling each other a bit. I still want to add a couple more, but I am delighted to see this turnaround! It definitely feels like this tank is supposed to be their home.

I'm not totally sure what was bothering them about the quarantine tank - it had low lights and lots of java moss and anacharis, but maybe the flow was too much? Maybe they were menaced by the existence of male endler's that didn't seem to even know they existed? Unclear.
 
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