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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
This is my first fully planted tank and I have immensely enjoyed researching and learning over the last 3 months in preparation of setting it up. I believe I have set myself up for success but time will tell.

Relevant specs:
  • Tank: 29 gal; 30"x12" base, 18" height
  • Substrate: Topsoil capped with Fluorite Black (1-2mm particles)
  • Lighting: Single 24" Aqueon full spectrum T8, 17 watts; supplemented with 2 13 watt spiral CFLs over the left half of the tank
  • CO2: none

Plants are listed in a picture below, but here they are in text:
  • Limnophila indica
  • Hygrophila difformis (Water Wisteria)
  • Crytptocoryne, Wendtii (Bronze)
  • Nymphaea zenkeri (Red Tiger Lotus)
  • Vesiculario Dubyana (Java Moss)
  • Microsorium pteropus v. Windelov (Lace Java Fern)
  • Hemianthus Callitrichoides (Dwarf Baby Tears)


Build:
I started the setup with a single piece of Malaysian driftwood that had been the center-piece in an old 10-gallon, but was too small to be used this way in the 29g:


I knew what I wanted for a piece of larger driftwood but was reluctant to drop the $30-60 it would have cost. I kept my eyes on the ground for a few weeks and eventually came across this branch of London Plane (Platanus × acerifolia) in a brush pile:

I loved the arches and knew I could make it work in the tank. I brought it home, exposed it for about 6 weeks, stripped the bark, cut it, and started soaking.

With everything else ready to go, I ordered the plants from aquariumplants dot com. The day before they arrived I poured in the substrate and set the hardscape:


Friday Jan 17 the plants arrived and I got to planting! I was quite surprised at how many plants I received. I purposefully ordered a jungle's worth, but I got bonus specimens of many of the plants, including 2 Red Tiger Lotus bulbs when I'd only ordered one. The Crypts were massive. I shouldn't have any algae problems for a while, and I should be able to easily weather the melt back that happens in every new tank.

The main risk I'm taking with this tank is attempting to grow HC without CO2. Forum user i4x4nMore provided me with fantastic advice for growing HC without CO2 in this thread, which I am following faithfully (except: I believe my lighting may still be too low, and I've not added a powerhead since the HC is positioned directly under the filter output. We'll see)
I weighed my options and decided to take the risk, knowing full well I may fail. I do NOT want to inject CO2 into this tank because I don't want the plants to grow fast and do all the maintenance that comes with it. Also, HC is literally the only carpeting plant I like, so I owed it to myself to make the attempt. The other common foreground plants in the hobby really don't appeal to me and if the HC dies I'll probably just leave the substrate bare.

Here is the tank just after set-up:

The green netting is holding the moss in place.
There is some white string holding the Java ferns to various spots on the wood.
There are 2 bricks in the tank holding the wood down. It still floats and I would have soaked it longer but the plants arrived so what was I gonna do? I hope to take them out in a month.

Here is a view from the left panel, showing the HC and Lotus:


I'm really excited/nervous for the next 4 weeks to see how everything does. I plan to post weekly pictures and keep everyone updated.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Update 1-26-14

TonyK: Thanks. It does kind of look like a rainforest scene.

The tank is cycling, currently 4ppm Ammonia, 5ppm Nitrite, and 5-10 ppm Nitrate.

Current look:


I added two CFL "Daylight" bulbs from a floor lamp that was not being used to up the PAR for the HC carpet. This is a temporary arrangement until I can mod the light hood to put in a second T8 bulb.

The wood stayed put even after lifting the bricks so I will take them out in another week (just to be sure).

Water is a tea-colored, presumably due to tannins, though I soaked the wood in hot water before putting it in the tank and the water remained clear. So it may be part of the bacteria bloom. Not worried about it for now.

The Limnophila indica and Hygropdila difformis are showing fast new growth.
The Crypts and Tiger Lotus lost some leaves due to melt but otherwise look fine.

Left panel showing detail of Red Tiger Lotus and HC:


And a closeup of the carpet:


The HC turned more yellow immediately after placing it in the tank but over the last two days has regained some green. There is slight new growth on some of the tips, I have not seen any roots along the glass. It is definitely benefitting from the added light.

There is a lot of detritus on the carpet, mainly from melted Limnophila indica leaves. BUT I'm not willing to vacuum on the HC until the roots are more grown in.

Any comments or criticisms welcome.
 

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Looks like a good start to me! Can't wait for the carpet to thicken up and spread and also to be a nice colour. Hopefully it should grow without co2
Good luck...
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Update 1-31-14

horsedude: Thanks! Still minimal growth, but also minimal die off...

Tank is still cycling, Ammonia dropped to 0 but Nitrite still at 5ppm. Water still tea colored - I figured out the tannins are from the dirt, not the branches. I suppose if I were to do this again I'd rinse the dirt once, though I'm not sure how to rinse dirt without just making mud!



Removed the Bricks! The tank is much roomier now and looks more the way I want it. The Java moss is attached to the wood as well (did a little tug test), so I'll remove the green netting next week and the tank will be completely au natural :icon_wink.

The Nymphaea zenkeri must've hit the dirt because it's doubled it's leaf spread since last week. Some red, some green.
.
I'm quite happy with this.

I began noticing a few stowaways shortly after my last update and had been removing them from the tank as I saw them. Apparently I noticed them too late though as they have already propagated.
Aquarium Pond Snail on the glass:

I was wary of snails after an infestation of MTS took over my last tank. These guys, though, don't seem so bad. I'll leave them for now...but a school of Zebra Loaches will in the first batch of added Fauna, if I can find them.

I'm seeing at least one new leaf in the crypts and the melting seems to have stopped. Oddly the plant that is fairing worst is Limnophila indica, a supposed weed regulated in many states. The back of the tank is supposed to be covered with it but I've only got <10 stems that haven't melted away. Also, they will not stay in the substrate so I'm going to leave them floating and see if I can't get some stronger growth before I try to plant them again (or just anchor them somehow).
Here you can see the few healthy stems suspended near the moss on the main branch:


To Do this week:
  • Get a sponge to place over the filter intake in preparation for shrimp.
  • Mod the hood and install a second T8 bulb and better reflector
  • If the water doesn't begin to clear up on its own, get some Purigen.

When the tank cycles, these are the initial fauna I'm considering:
  • Cherry Red Shrimp (hopefully clean up all the melted Limno needles)
  • 4-5 Zebra loaches
  • 3 Oto's (depending on algae buildup)
  • Endlers guppies (male & female, if I can get them)
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Update 2-23-14

The tank today, 5 weeks after startup:


All the netting is out, just natural stuff in there now (except a scrap of pantyhose over the filter intake). The Limnophila indica is barely hanging on with only 5 stems left and will probably die out. I'll have to figure out a better lowlight, tall and bushy plant to replace it in the large black gap under the main wooden arch.
The HC carpet is growing slowly. All the initial plants I've put in have turned somewhat yellow but new growth is bright green. Here you can see it along with a male Red Cherry shrimp:

I bought 12 of these from a local guy (found on Craigslist but I'm pretty sure he's a member here).
A female on Java fern:


Also in the tank are 4 black bar Endlers guppies (2 male, 2 female). They are constantly moving and this was the best of 10 shots:

Female on the left, male on the right. I probably won't try photographing them again.

I successfully modded the hood to make it a dual T8 fixture. I had to buy a new ballast and end-caps, total cost around $17 (not including 2nd bulb).
Original fixture and new parts:


Disassembled:


Testing new ballast:


It ended up being more work than I planned because the 2nd bulb did not fit in the white reflector/ballast cover. I had to remove it completely, attach the new endcaps directly to the black hood, and screw the new ballast into place. Because I couldn't use the white reflector I rigged up my own with tinfoil.


Not the best solution but it works for my set up, and it's cheaper than any commercial fixture I could have gotten. The bulbs are intentionally offset to provide better coverage (24" bulbs on a 30" tank).

Next steps:
  • buy more fish
  • research alternate background plants
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Jungle Val would grow very well in the tank so I am considering it. I'd like a more bush-like plant, so I'm also looking at Rotala indica and Ceratophyllum demersum (hornwort).
The problem is the location in the tank I want to plant it - very shaded. May have to just go with a couple anubias.
 
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