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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I promised my daughters an aquarium. Too allergic to cats and dogs and don't want the noise of birds, so they have to settle for fish.

Several weeks of research, youtube videos, and forum lurking later I settled on going with a low-tech planted freshwater community tank, and have finally gotten enough materials together to actually start the build.

The last time I had an aquarium was as a teenager in the 90's and it was a small thing, and certainly wasn't planted. Yet I've done the entirely crazy thing of going large and diving into doing a dirted tank which I've never done before. you can either watch me succeed or crash and burn. Because I am well aware this might totally fail I am at least trying to be reasonable with my budget yet it's already added up.

Here is a pic of my (currently) completely empty tank on its stand, a 55g rimmed Aqueon I got for $81.18 w/ tax from petco. It is sitting on a stand I got from Walmart for $115.16. That cost includes the cost of some lumber I bought to build in additional internal support. While the thing was cheap and the packaging said it was rated for 550lbs, I just didn't trust it. Its "engineered" wood looked flimsy though it still held together well. Still, a 55g could supposedly get up to 625lbs so that was enough reason for me to add in five lengths of 2x6" between two 5/8" plywood on the inside as seen in the second pic.

I'm going with an inexpensive substrate so that meant hitting the home improvement stores. I have 2, 50 lbs of beige pool filter sand, 50 lbs of pea gravel, a bag of Red Lava rocks, and 1.5 cubic feet of Miracle Gro Raised Bed Potting Soil. No I don't expect to use all of the above, but do plan on having 2-4 inches of substrate in there.

The ingredients listed on the Miracle Gro Raised Bed Potting Soil is listed as (for Texas):
compost, processed forest products, sphagnum peat moss, poultry litter, alfalfa meal, bone meal, kelp meal, and earthworm castings.
2 bags of pool filter sand was $27.98, soil, gravel, and rocks was $20.50.
Throw in buckets, tools, test kits, water conditioner, and $50 of resin castle, mermaid, and treasure chest decorations (It's for my daughters remember?) and I've spent $359.34 total so far, and I haven't even gotten the plants or the fish yet. That will be a ways off still.
The not yet running tidal 55 HOB filter in the pic was a well-timed birthday gift so it didn't contribute to the cost.

I have only cleaned one bag of sand so far, it turned out to be surprisingly clean already, I am well aware I need to sift and clean everything else. That's going my next set of steps, cleaning the substrate and getting it into the tank. (Yes, I am going to sand and gravel cap it) I may also buy clays to mix into the soil as well ahead of time.

Wish me luck, open to any advice.

P.S. My local tap water is ph 7.5, KH 180, GH 180.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
First post here and it's in the wrong spot. Probably needs to be moved to Tank Journals which I only noticed the existence of after I posted this.
 

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Good call on the plywood and 2x6s. Particle board always weirds me out. Any bit of moisture in it and it swells up. I don't understand why it is used for this particular application.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
2 weeks later and all I've done is buy more supplies and prepare gravel and dirt. I spent last weekend sifting garden soil, which was far more annoying than I planned for. I was supposed to be all set to construct my substrate this weekend after some powdered red clay came in from Amazon. Damn Amazon now tells me it is delayed until Wednesday.

I did just set up a tiny future quarantine/hospital tank into a fishless cycle. It is a 3.5 gallon but after all the crap I put in there, it is actually at 2.75.

I put in some Aqueon water conditioner (adjusted for lower gallons), a double dose of API quick start (I wanted it to get started faster other places I've read and watch often recommend doubling it)

When I tested the straight tap water before conditioning, It read just under 2ppm ammonia. I assuming this was reading the presence of chloramines? (my municipal water said they do use them)

After adding water conditioner and quick start, I retested and it still had about the same level, just under 2 ppm. I waited maybe only 5 to 10 minutes before testing. Perhaps I didn't wait long enough but it does not sound like "add fish instantly" would have been a smart thing to do. We'll I was going to do fishless anyway so I actually added 3 eyedropper drops of 10% ammonia hydroxide courtesy of Ace Hardware. Got my ammonia PPM to at or maybe just below 4 ppm. Put a heater in the water and set it to 81 degrees F.

Pic below: the rest of the crap in the tank is some driftwood a few lava rocks and the sponge filter and media bag of rocks that will eventually go into the Tidal 55 on my 55g. I figured I might as well get them seeded at the same time.

Now I just have to wait, and test, and wait and test... I was hoping I can cycle the tiny tank while dry-starting the 55 with some plants but now that's getting delayed several days.

I knew this would be an expensive hobby going in, but I'm at ~$680 now and have no fish or plants yet. However, 90% of that is first-time cost tools and equipment.

(My daughter wanted the shells in the little tank. I'm keeping shells out of the 55g when it is ready, I don't want them to impact the water chemistry. However, will having shells in this little tank have a negative impact on getting it cycled effectively?)
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
My clay came in early.
Substrate build:
Miracle Grow Organic Raised Bed soil, sifted to remove bark pieces, and anything else larger than 1/8th inch.
Dry powdered iron rich red clay: 9:1 soil: clay mixture
Garden Lime (powdered Dolomite, Ca Mg source) - will only add a tbsp at most mixed into the soil clay mix that will cover a 55g at about 2 inches.
Muriate of Potash (Potassium Chloride) again less than a tbsp.

The rest in the pic is washed Pool Filter sand and washed pea gravel sifted to 1/4" and smaller for the cap, and rinsed red lava rock to fill and reinforce slopes.

In the other pic is the 1/4" and larger pieces of gravel filled into media bags to support under slopes, and an assortment of small flag stones I pulled out of my yard, and gave them a hydrogen peroxide soak and scrub before leaving out to dry.
 

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Thanks for sharing. I havent kept aquatic plants since the 90s and am about to be planting a 55g as well. "For my kids." Lookin good!
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Got my initial plants in on new years eve and spend the weekend planting and setting them up. A cup of tissue cultures monte carle, cryptocoryne parva and Staurogyne repens. Also got some christmas moss to tie to the moss walls.

Monto carlo is in the front left of the tank, the repens is on the right side, and the parva (7 tiny plants) in a few spots on both sides and in the middle at the back.

I tied chrismas moss to the plastic canvas using green 100% polyester thread. Doing so was a major pain in the ass which took up way too much time, which I hope to never do again. The left side panel has alot more zip ties than on the corner to provide a place for the black nylon mesh to hook onto as stretched it over the plastic canvas to sandwhich the moss inside. This was much easier to do. I got the nylon mesh at Joann's fabric. their website said they had green color but when I got there they only had black.

It was difficult to judge how loose vs taut to keep the mesh fabric. Too loose and the moss will fall down when vertical, too tight and it will start bending the plastic and interfere with the suction cups staying in place. I had to space the zip ties about every 2.5-3 inches to get good coverage for the mesh fabric to hook onto across the entire border. doing on the corners didn't stay in place well enough. The fabric is only secured by tension around the zip tie heads, so it can easily be removed to adjust or add more moss inside. I had to cut a piece larger than the canvas on all sides to get it hooked in place well then trimmed off the excess. The canvas itself had the corner cut out to allow the edges to be folded at a 90 degree angle so a one square row of the canvas functioned as the border to stop future fish from getting behind the wall. This was also the height of the suction cups. Having extra zip ties spaced out along the edge also helped greatly in keeping the 90 degree bend in shape, but you have to make sure the zip tie heads are on the outside edge for the mesh to be hooked onto. Have to put the suction cups far enough away from the bent edges so that they can flatten and adhere to the glass without putting tension on the bent edge of the canvas otherwise the bend will eventually pull the suction cup up off the glass.

The other pic is of some polycarbonate lids I cut for the tank, made from Sun-lite greenhouse panels. They are not fully trimmed as I will have to cut more out to make room for the filter and other things going into the tank. I got 8 feet of U-channel trim to clean up and seal off the edges when the time comes to make the lids finalized and neater. I'll probably cut them again and get some kind of clear hinges and handles to make them more user-friendly also.

The light is programmable finnex 24/7 ALC 48".

Not pictured is the aerator I made. Its hose is poking into the tank on the left backside. Saved an old juice bottle, drilled two holes in the cap, inserted and hot-glued in place two airline tubes, added an air stone to one left the other open to lead to the tank, filled the bottle up with dechlorinated water, and plug in the air pump. Moist bubbles/air rises and goes into the tank which is sealed by the lids and escapes through a small hole in the lid on the opposite side. This should (theoretically), significantly save on the amount of daily misting that needs to be done.

I'll probably let the dry-start run for two months. While I wait for the small tank to finish cycling and/or quarantine the first critters.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
And about thank Fishless cycle in my small tank.
My Untreated Tapwater is:
pH: 7.5 (API Master Test Kit)
GH: 180 (API Teststrip)
KH: 180 (API Teststrip)
Nitrite: 0 (API Master Test Kit)
Nitrate: 5 (API Master Test Kit)

Unless otherwise indicated, all tests were done using API Master test kit (liquid tests) (whose expiration date isn't until some time in 2026)
The cycle Began on Dec 17th. 2.75 gallons of dechlorinated water.
Heater set to 81 degrees F. (though the actual temperature has consistently run 83-85 F.
Tank contents include a piece of driftwood (that was leaching tannins before water change) and a couple of seashells, the rest is normal gravel and filter material.
Added a double dose (5.5ml) of vigorously shaken API quick start (doubled in hope of starting faster, water is fresh not salt).
Fed 10% Ammonia Hydroxide solution until Test kit read 4.0 ppm

Dec 19th:
Ammonia: maybe slightly less than 1.5 dosed to about 3.0
Nitrite: 0 - 0.25
Nitrate: 5
pH: 8.0

Dec 20th, near midnight:
Ammonia: ~4.0 (my prior dosing was probably higher than I thought - did not dose/feed ammonia.)
Nitrite: 0 - 0.25
Nitrate: no test
pH: ~8.1

Dec 21st, near midnight:
Ammonia: ~1.5 (did not dose/feed ammonia).
Nitrite: 0 - 0.25
Nitrate: no test
pH: ~8.1

Dec 22, 12:20pm:
Ammonia: ~1.5 (did not dose/feed ammonia).
Nitrite: 0 - 0.25
Nitrate: no test
pH: no test

Dec 23, 12:30am:
Ammonia: ~1.0 (dosed ammonia to ~3.0).
Nitrite: no test
Nitrate: no test
pH: no test

Dec 23, 7:30pm:
Ammonia: ~2.0 (did not dose/feed ammonia).
Nitrite: 0 - 0.25
Nitrate: 5.0
pH: 8.2

Dec 24, 11:57am:
Ammonia: ~1.5 (did not dose/feed ammonia)
Nitrite: 0.25
Nitrate: slightly more than 5.0
pH: 8.0

Dec 26, 1:34am:
Ammonia: 1.0 (dosed ammonia to 4.0).
Nitrite: 0.25-0.5
Nitrate: no test
pH: no test

Dec 27, 9:25pm:
Ammonia: slightly below 2.0 (did not dose/feed ammonia)
Nitrite: slighty above 0.5
Nitrate: no test
pH: no test

Dec 28, 7:32pm:
Ammonia: 1.0 (dosed ammonia to 2.0).
Nitrite: 0.5 - 1.0
Nitrate: slightly above 10
pH: 8.0

Dec 29, 8:43pm:
Ammonia: slightly below 1.0 (did not dose/feed ammonia)
Nitrite: slightly above 1.0
Nitrate: no test
pH: no test

Dec 30, 6:30pm:
Ammonia: 0 (dosed ammonia to ~1.5).
Nitrite: 0.5 - 1.0 (why did this appear to drop?)
Nitrate: slightly above 5.0 (why did this appear to drop?)
pH: no test

API Test strip test was done immediately after the above test on Dec 30
Nitrate: ~10 (why such a drastically different reading?)
Nitrate: ~80 (why such a drastically different reading?)
pH: 7.5 - 8.0
GH: 120-180
KH: 180+

Dec 31 9:04pm
Ammonia: 0 (dosed ammonia to 2.0).
Nitrite: slightly above 0.5
Nitrate: 5 - 10
pH: no test

Jan 1st 10:44pm
Ammonia: 0 (did not dose/feed ammonia)
Nitrite: 0.5 - 1.0
Nitrate: 160+ (tested twice, test water was dark brown! This should not have jump that high)
pH: no test

Performed a 75% water change with dechlorinated tap water right after the above test and retested.
Ammonia: 0.5 -1.0 (did not dose/feed ammonia) (why did a water change make this go up?)
Nitrite: slightly below 1.0 (why did this appear to go up?)
Nitrate: slightly above 20
pH: no test

Jan 2nd 6:11pm
Ammonia: 0 (dosed ammonia to 2.0).
Nitrite: 1.0
Nitrate: slightly above 5.0 (tested twice, 2nd time after ammonia dosing. but had the same value. Why did this go down so much?)
pH: slightly above 8.0

API Test strip immediately after above test on Jan 2nd
Nitrate: 5 - 10 (why so drastically different?)
Nitrate: 40 - 80 (why so drastically different?)
pH: 7.5 - 8.0
GH: 180+
KH: 120

The ammonia eating bacteria appear to be well established, not sure about the nitrate eaters, maybe some? But why the heck are my nitrate tests so all over the place?
 
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