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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Background

I haven't kept a fish tank in many, many years. In 2005, I setup an Eclipse 6 gallon curved tank in my office. Gave that to a co-worker a year later when I changed jobs. I stocked it with some neon tetras, a zebra danio, an oto, sparse plants like crypts and anubias, blue gravel, low light, no CO2. I had no time for maintenance between work and law school. Our office services guy used to feed the fish when I was out and he always dumped so much food in there. In 2009, I also kept a Betta and some floating plants in a repurposed 3 gallon glass food container. After a year, I had my now-wife take care of it since I was traveling all the time. Now I have a much more stable situation and I (like many other people) are working from home. We also have a toddler, who would love a fish tank. I've admired high tech tanks for many years, starting with Amano's works and had always wanted to try it out for myself.

Selecting and Installing the Tank

First, I had to decide how big of a tank to get and where to put it. I was coming from small tanks and wanted to get a relatively bigger tank. We have a built-in cabinet area that I thought would make a good place for a tank. Here's a picture of the area before.

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The top is 36 inches wide and 24 inches deep; and there's 19 inches to the bottom of the upper cabinet. I thought a 24" wide tank would be a good starting point, either a 17.1 gallon like an ADA 60p (or equivalent) or a 20 gallon like a UNS 60U. There weren't many options in stock so I ordered a Landen 60p.

The cabinet construction is pretty typical 3/4" plywood over MDF. I was concerned about whether the top could hold the weight of the tank so I decided to retrofit a torsion box to support the weight of the tank without any deflection.

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I had to buy a brad nailer for this project. I bought 24 feet of 1x2 and glued/nailed it to the bottom of the plywood. Then I used 1/2" plywood as the bottom skin of the torsion box.

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According to the Sagulator, a calculator to determine the amount of deflection on a shelf surface, I shouldn't have any sag for even a 300 lb load.

I also used a hole saw to drill holes for grommets. I will use the left hole for filter connections and the right hole for power.

Here's a pic of the tank sitting on its leveling mat and the new reinforced cabinet top. I also added frosted white film to the back and one side.

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I also replaced the outlet with a GFCI outlet and added a smart power strip in the cabinet.

Hardscaping Is Hard

I put in my substrate (ADA Power Sand Advance) and soil (ADA Amazonia II). I found hardscaping very difficult. I bought most of my hardscaping materials sight unseen. I originally wanted seiryu, but then heard it hardens water. Instead, I got 20 lbs of Ohko (dragonstone) but had a heck of a time putting it together. I looked online for inspiration, but they were either over the top or just didn't appeal to me. This is my initial hardscape.

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But I felt this lacked height. I went to my LFS and bought some driftwood I thought could look like roots embracing the stones, but they didn't fit quite that way.

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In the end, I removed the driftwood and rearranged the stones more vertically. The smaller rocks also helped add a sense of detail, although I wonder if they will be more of a hassle when I have to trim the foreground plants.

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Starting the Dry Start

Ever since first seeing Mr. Amano's work, I've wanted to have a nice lush carpet. I was sick of the giant leaf look from my prior tanks. I decided to get the smallest leaf I knew about -- hemianthus cuba (dwarf baby tears). I figured I could handle it even though I read later it is tough to cultivate.

I bought 4 containers of lab grown HC from my LFS. I think I broke them up too small though. Here's how it looked on the first day:

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Almost immediately, I had fungus/mold growing on the smaller pieces that were dying off. Three days later, I already had bare spots.

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A little while later I started to spot treat with a 3-1 ratio of water and 3% hydrogen peroxide using a 5 ml syringe. After a while I had defeated the mold. But I got nervous about adding moisture to the tank and I think the HC suffered because the big leaves turned brown. I started misting more and airing out more. I even changed to distilled water. So there have been changes that might have caused a little more die off. There is a lot of new growth and some spreading, but it's not uniformly green.

This is what the dry start looks like today, about 30 days in.

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It's not an amazing transformation like you see in other people's tanks. But the roots seem well established. I'm waiting a few more weeks for Black Friday to get an RO/DI system since we have hard, alkaline tap water.

The Gear

As I wait for the dry start, there's a lot of gear collecting in the cabinet underneath the tank. Here's what I have so far:

Tank
Landen 60p

Filtration
UNS Delta 60 w/ 2 doubletap valves

Lighting
Twinstar 600E
S2 Pro LED lighting controller (to provide ramp up and ramp down of light)

CO2 Injection
CO2art regulator, solenoid, check valve, bubble counter, inline diffuser
2.5lb tank -- this barely fits in the cabinet once the regulator + hose are attached

Substrate
ADA Power Sand Advance
ADA Amazonia II

Accessories
ADA hang on thermometer 6 mm
Twinstar Nano+ w/ Aquacradle
JARDLI lily pipe outflow and skimmer inflow

Questions
Should I use RO or RO/DI water? As I mentioned above, our tap water is hard ~13 dGH, 7 or 8 dKH, and slightly alkaline (7.9 pH). If I don't use DI resin, then I assume the KH will stay the same. Some people say the aquasoil is a good buffer, but what about when it runs out? Is our KH too high? Will it deplete the buffering capability of the aquasoil? I asked Green Aqua via YouTube and they said to use RO water, but I don't know what KH levels they have in their tap.

EDIT -- I have figured out this question. RO also removes KH and no need for DI. I will use another carbon stage instead of the DI resin stage.

Should I be removing dead leaves? They are tiny and there are a lot of them. It would be a challenge for even a surgeon.

I'm looking forward to getting this tank fully planted, flooded, cycled, and stocked!
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Here's a photo showing the growth of my HC.

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There are a lot of brown leaves, but also a lot of new lush growth. I vent for 30 minutes to an hour every day and mist the planted areas once a day. Does anyone see any issues with the growth or have any suggestions to improve the health of the carpet?

I am waiting for Black Friday to purchase a Bulk Reef Supply 200GPD Saver Kit, and will likely flood the tank after I get my hands on RO water. I will plan to cut back on the light to 6 hours and jack up the CO2 until the drop checker turns yellow.

As for cycling the tank, I assume the Amazonia has high levels of ammonia so I should perform water tests until I have zero ammonia and nitrites? Will high ammonia levels hurt additional plants I want to add prior to flooding?
 

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As for cycling the tank, I assume the Amazonia has high levels of ammonia so I should perform water tests until I have zero ammonia and nitrites? Will high ammonia levels hurt additional plants I want to add prior to flooding?
Amazonia II does not have high ammonia compared to the original Amazonia. Unless you plan on sensitive plants like some eriocaulon and syngonanthus then it shouldn't hurt additional plants. You should wait until you have no ammonia and nitrites to add fish, but you should still change water to get rid of melting plants (your carpet will almost certainly melt at least a little).

Sent from my Pixel 3 using Tapatalk
 

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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
Amazonia II does not have high ammonia compared to the original Amazonia. Unless you plan on sensitive plants like some eriocaulon and syngonanthus then it shouldn't hurt additional plants. You should wait until you have no ammonia and nitrites to add fish, but you should still change water to get rid of melting plants (your carpet will almost certainly melt at least a little).

Sent from my Pixel 3 using Tapatalk
Thanks! That's reassuring. I actually got impatient and ordered some additional plants to do a second stage dry start. Then once all the plants have rooted, then I will try to do a transition at the same time. Will probably do 2-3 weeks. The HC has stabilized quite a bit and it's getting greener every day instead of yellower. The trick was airing the tank out twice a day and misting with distilled water each time before covering the tank.

I'm going to add:

  • S. Repens around the rocks as a transition to midground
  • Two groups of AR mini in the midground
  • Lobelia Cardinalis Mini as a transition / contrasting plant for the AR Mini
  • Pearl weed for a spot that's in the shade of the big rock
  • Rotala green in the background

Possibly another reddish plant next to the rotalas.

Hope it will all look OK.

Here are a recent shot of the tank. I added some more Amazonia at the back to create a little more height for the background plants.

PXL_20201123_163212458 (1).jpg
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I received my order of additional plants today from BucePlant.com. They were out of stock of tissue culture H'ra but that's a good thing as I don't think I can fit many more plants in my tank. As I stated in my last post, I want to these tissue culture plants to establish roots before I submerge them. So maybe 2-3 more weeks.

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
I was getting a little frustrated with the top-mount light. Every time I take the saran wrap off, I have to put the light down and it doesn't shine in the tank. I decided to see if I could figure out a way to mount the light on the cabinet above when I'm doing maintenance on the tank. I started to look at various clamps and suspension cables, but ended up going with a simple cantilever mount utilizing the face frame of my cabinet. There is a horizontal back piece that contacts the vertical divider and two vertical pieces that contact the front of the frame. When a weight is placed on the arms, the vertical pieces press against the front of the frame while pulling the horizontal piece against the vertical divider.

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My design required a lot of gluing, two pocket holes and four screws. I somehow only had scraps of 5/8" thick wood which didn't match up well with the 3/4" wood of the cabinet so I had to rebate the horizontal piece with a chisel. My sloppy chiseling meant I had to use wood filler and I used it all over. Then in my haste, I sanded and lacquered the whole thing, and of course the wood filler didn't blend with wood. I might paint over the lacquer and re-lacquer to make it look better. But at least it fits like a glove. Here it is in action with the light.

PXL_20201129_030314441.jpg
 

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Very creative! Do you notice any shadows from the two pieces that suspend the light? Is there a way to remove the feet that previously supported the light?
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Very creative! Do you notice any shadows from the two pieces that suspend the light? Is there a way to remove the feet that previously supported the light?
It's definitely much dimmer due to the increased distance, but the shadows are not that noticeable. I think you can probably remove the acrylic feet, but I only use the mount when I'm working in the tank. The rest of the time, the light sits on the tank and the mount goes into the cabinet.
 

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Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
I flooded the tank yesterday! I got a 4 stage RODI filter from Bulk Reef Supply. I swapped out the DI resin for a 1 micron carbon filter so it's producing RO water. The pH initially was 8.8 (using the API test kit and confirmed with a digital pH meter), but the GH was 0 and KH was 1. I only dumped the first 3 gallons so the RO membrane is probably still getting primed.

I poured water over a rock, but it still moved the aquasoil around a lot. I had trouble planting the lobelia cardinalis mini and there are roots everywhere. Trying to replant in water was not easy due to the buoyancy.

I jacked up the CO2 and the drop checker fluid is yellow. I also turned the photoperiod down to 6 hours (8 am to 2 pm). It took a little fiddling to get the skimmer intake to bob properly. I also added some starter bacteria to add to the ADA Bacter in the Power Sand.

This morning I measured ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate and basically all three are zero. The aquasoil should have contained ammonia. I have been dry starting for over 7 weeks. I wonder if this means I am cycled and the plants have consumed all the nitrates? I would have been more comfortable seeing trace amounts of any of the three in the water...pH came in at 5 something due to the aquasoil + CO2. I was also planning a water change today, but decided to skip due to the water parameters and the fact the water is clear.

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This morning I measured ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate and basically all three are zero. The aquasoil should have contained ammonia. I have been dry starting for over 7 weeks. I wonder if this means I am cycled and the plants have consumed all the nitrates? I would have been more comfortable seeing trace amounts of any of the three in the water...pH came in at 5 something due to the aquasoil + CO2.
The soil is probably cycled, but that doesn't necessarily mean the tank is cycled if that makes sense. There are nitrifying bacteria now living in the aquasoil, but you probably want to give it a week or two to let the bacteria colonize the filter before adding fish.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
The soil is probably cycled, but that doesn't necessarily mean the tank is cycled if that makes sense. There are nitrifying bacteria now living in the aquasoil, but you probably want to give it a week or two to let the bacteria colonize the filter before adding fish.
Thanks! That does make sense! Looking forward to adding fish and shrimp :)
 

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Discussion Starter #12
First water change -- n00b doing n00b things...

I just did my first water change. I had thought in my last post that my ammonia levels were zero. Well either I did the test wrong, or ammonia levels rose significantly over the past week. Ammonia is either 2 or 4 ppm. Nitrites are 0.25 ppm and nitrates are 0 ppm. So my cycle has barely started.

The other thing I did wrong was I didn't add enough starter bacteria. I misread the instructions that said put in a capful for 14 days. I just did a single capful.

So I trimmed some of the HC and replanted some of the lobelia cardinalis due to exposed roots. That went OK. I scooped out 90% of the water and that went fine too. I made enough RO water in about an hour.

Where I royally screwed up was trying to clean the skimmer intake. I noticed it had gotten pretty dirty so I put the intake in my bucket. Well instead of cleaning the intake, I poured the bucket in the toilet. The skimmer went right down the drain just like Luke Skywalker's torpedo slipped right down the Death Star's exhaust vent. The good news is that the toilet flushes normally so I don't think there is a blockage. The bad news, obviously is I need a new skimmer.

I also added a squirt of fertilizer and turned down the CO2 a little bit to 2-3 bps. I increased the light to 6 1/2 hours a day.

Here is a picture of the tank (before I remineralized) that looks like I didn't make a ton of mistakes, save the missing skimmer piece.

PXL_20201212_183401184.jpg
 

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Don’t be afraid to blast that CO2, especially without livestock. The HC will certainly appreciate it!
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Don’t be afraid to blast that CO2, especially without livestock. The HC will certainly appreciate it!
I just turned it up :). I also realized that after I did changed the water, I forgot to turn on the Twinstar Nano again so there's been no activity. Add that to my list of dumb mistakes. At least Jardli said they'd send me a new skimmer top.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Minor update. I skipped the water change this week. Getting 0/0/0 on NH3, NO2, NO3. I'm dosing about half the recommended dose of Niloc Thrive. Adding beneficial bacteria every day or every other day. I ordered some Amano shrimp online after learning that all my local shops were out of stock or only had "microscopic" sized shrimp. I also received a replacement skimmer after I flushed the last one down the toilet by accident during a water change. I ordered a sheet of 3/4" thick coarse filter material and cut a piece for the skimmer to prevent access by shrimp.

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Here's the current state of the tank. Still some areas where I'd like the HC to grow in more then will do a trim.

PXL_20201221_162557226.jpg
 

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Discussion Starter #16
The amanos I ordered came today. Only took a day despite the holiday rush. I tried to do my best to acclimate the shrimp, but probably rushed the process. I first floated the bag in the tank for 15 minutes or so then transferred the shrimp to a hang on convalescent tank and put a few drops of Seachem Prime in there. My tester said the temperature between the shrimp water and tank water had equalized.

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Then I started to drip acclimate, but I could barely get a siphon going even with sucking on the airline and I kept interrupting the flow by accident. I probably only added 2-3x the amount of bag water. The KH differential was probably around 3 by the time I decided to just add them to the tank about 3 hours later.

The shrimp seemed to be acting fine after I added them to the tank. I'm starting to get some algae in the tank so the amanos arrived just in time. Planning on ordering ten or so glowlight danios in January.
 

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Nice tank. I have a Landen 60P also. They are really well made and incredibly clear.

How well is the black filter material working in your skimmer?

I tried a couple of things to keep shrimp out of mine and they all really cut down on the ability of the skimmer to pull in surface scum.

So I am getting adept at rescuing shrimp from my Oase prefilter tube.

They survive but it takes a bit to separate them from the detritus for reintroduction to the tank...
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Nice tank. I have a Landen 60P also. They are really well made and incredibly clear.

How well is the black filter material working in your skimmer?

I tried a couple of things to keep shrimp out of mine and they all really cut down on the ability of the skimmer to pull in surface scum.

So I am getting adept at rescuing shrimp from my Oase prefilter tube.

They survive but it takes a bit to separate them from the detritus for reintroduction to the tank...
Thanks! I've only had the coarse filter material in the skimmer for a few days, but the surface is totally clean. It's a little harder to control the bobbing of the skimmer because of the added weight, but even when weighted down it seems to work OK.

LOL I'm dreading shrimp escapes. One started crawling up the wire for the Twinstar right after we put them in. That's basically the main escape route right now.
 

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Just wanted to say great job on the tank setup! I really enjoyed reading about your various DIY workarounds, and your success with the HC carpet is really impressive. Looking forward to seeing where things go next.

Been a little worried about shrimp (8x Amano) escapes on a 20g long myself. There's a lid, but with big gaps. For now it seems they've got too much algae to keep them occupied! But something they also took a real liking to as soon as they were in the tank, and which may have limited escapes for now, was the underside of a piece of driftwood. They basically all congregated there for days on end, just doing there thing. I'm sure there are lots of going theories about shrimp retention, but maybe as your scape starts growing nooks and crannies that twinstar cord won't look so enticing!
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Just wanted to say great job on the tank setup! I really enjoyed reading about your various DIY workarounds, and your success with the HC carpet is really impressive. Looking forward to seeing where things go next.

Been a little worried about shrimp (8x Amano) escapes on a 20g long myself. There's a lid, but with big gaps. For now it seems they've got too much algae to keep them occupied! But something they also took a real liking to as soon as they were in the tank, and which may have limited escapes for now, was the underside of a piece of driftwood. They basically all congregated there for days on end, just doing there thing. I'm sure there are lots of going theories about shrimp retention, but maybe as your scape starts growing nooks and crannies that twinstar cord won't look so enticing!
Thanks for following along! They've taken a liking to the nooks in the big dragonstone. I counted 8 on there yesterday. One also molted. I wonder if that's due to osmotic shock or something. I bought a feeding dish and tube so hopefully can get an updated headcount in a few days (assuming they like the food)...
 
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