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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been out of the hobby for about 20 years, but hopped back in this fall. I've been teleworking through Covid and it now looks like I'll continue to telework from my basement 80% of the time. What better to do on work breaks and boring conference calls then tend to a couple tanks? Last month this old AGA 125 + stand came up on FB Marketplace for $100. I wasn't quite ready to go for a 6' tank, but it was too good of a deal, and it was my birthday, so we hopped in the truck, drove an hour and loaded it up. I fully refinished the stand, which was actually in pretty good shape, added some 2x4 reinforcement because I'm paranoid, and a birch plywood backing because I thought I was going to set it up as a peninsula/room divider. Painted the oak frame black, resealed the tank with black silicone, started filling it, and realized our concrete slab was wildly uneven in the planned location. Re-thought some things, moved the tank against a wall, added gray window film as a background, and here we go!

This is a bit of a winter project for me, since, as a gardener and a horse person, I'm really busy spring/summer/fall. As such, and as a perpetually cash-poor horseperson, I'm trying to do this tank on a budget using little DIY projects.

Filtration: I saw some YouTube videos on making small internal filters with an airstone and a water bottle filled with media. I thought I might be able to do something on a larger scale using 1/2 gallon canning jars. Then I saw the beverage dispenser jars I used to use for kombucha brewing. They are already drilled in the bottom and 1/2" tubing fit perfectly so I made a nice DIY internal filter using a powerhead to push water in the bottom, it rises through four kinds of filter media and trickles out the top. I might add a canister filter later, but maybe not. This seems pretty functional. I'm also rooting some pothos seedlings and hoping to get ahold of a peace lily so I can have these plants growing out of the right side of the tank to help with nutrients. The pothos vines will cover up the end of the tank with the bulky internal filter as well.

Lighting: I happened to have a 2' and 4' T5 fixture that I used to use to start vegetable seedlings. Spray painted these black. All the tubes are still working. This should be good at least for the present, though I'm considering upgrading to LED. The 2' fixture will be up higher over the house plants on the right side of the tank. Still figuring out how I want to support the 4' fixture over the main tank area.

Substrate: 60# of CaribSea EcoComplete is the base. On top of this I have a mixture of sand and very fine gravel. I'm adding root tabs to this for nutrients.

Hardscape: a few nice looking lava rocks gleaned from our front yard. Some poor snails will be canaries in the coal mine to make sure these aren't leaching toxins. My ~15 year old Japanese maple generously donated a nice branch that I'm hoping will hold up for a while. It did happen to wedge in perfectly, so no problems with floating!

Plants: I bought a good chunk of plants from Canton Aquatics, but probably need more. So far there are a couple kinds of swords, ludwigia, anubias, crypts and wysteria. I have some microsword that I'll add once it develops some better roots. There is a tiny bit of Christmas moss on the tree branch. Hoping I can get some decent val from the LFS. Otherwise, ordering plants will have to wait for spring.

CO2: A CO2 generator system has been ordered and should be set up this week. I know it's probably inadequate for a tank of this size, but I thought it would be a good starter as I've never done CO2 other than some DIY yeast in a soda bottle contraption. Eventually I'll probably get a proper pressurized CO2 system for this tank and use the CO2 generator for my 32g, or any other smaller thank that might materialize in my basement. Some has to be better than none, anyway, right?!

Fish plans: I'm most dead-set on a big school of rummy nose tetras and a nice shoal of cories. I have threepanda cories so far, so I'll probably bring that up to at least 10, but I've always liked the C. sterbai as well. I'd love to have a nice group of Congo tetras, but on the other hand, I might keep it South American and go with angel fish if I can find some I like. I'm partial to marble sailfin plecos, but might go for something a little smaller. Still thinking on it. There is only one decent LFS here, so I have some limitations unless I want to get fish shipped when it warms up in the spring.

So that's it! Here is what I brought home a month ago and how it's looking today. Hope all the cloudiness is gone in the morning.
Wheel Wood Tire Gas Composite material
Plant Water Rectangle Grass Wood
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Things have cleared up pretty well. I spotted a little hitchhiker snail motoring around today, so the water chemistry can't be too inhospitable!

CO2 kit arrives tomorrow. I picked up some heavy duty shelf brackets and a 4' pine board last night, so I'll mount that on the wall and suspend the 4' light from underneath and put the 2' light higher up and to the side. There is some interesting biofilm developing on the freshly cut ends of the branch, but otherwise no algae so far, knock wood. The overall look is too yellowish for my taste, but I'm wondering if I should give the plants some time to grow in before I try to muck around with different light spectrums. I'd guess so far I've spent around $500 on this tank, with the biggest expenses being plants and substrate (that is before the C02). Not bad for this size tank!



 

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There is some interesting biofilm developing on the freshly cut ends of the branch, but otherwise no algae so far, knock wood. The overall look is too yellowish for my taste...
That is going to be a great tank. What a deal you got! My only question is using what looks like green wood for hardscape. My guess is that it will do a lot of decomposing before it settles down. Most folks seem to use driftwood that has already gone through major decomp. You may have to make friends with that yellow tinge as the tannins leach out for quite a while, as in many months, not days. Also the decomp with encourage our old nemesis, the Algae Monster!
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
We will see! It is a branch that needed to be pruned from my Japanese maple. I don't think it will sprout under water. From what I've read, maple is more inert in terms of changing color or water chemistry as compared to some other types of wood. The nice thing about a tank this cheap is that I'm not afraid to experiment. Certainly fresh wood falls in natural ponds and streams all the time as branches break off or beaver build dams... for what it's worth, I had another tank setup (had to break it down when I realized the 125 needed to be relocated) with piece of Mopani wood from the pet store that was generating tons of biofilm for weeks, eve with scraping it off and 50% water changes every other day.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Getting closer to having everything set up! I don't usually go for artificial decorations, but I had a good chunk of microsword and got it in my head to plant it in a Tiki or Mo'ai head pot. I couldn't find exactly what I had in mind, but happy enough with how this one is blending in, and it puts the microsword that much closer to the lights. My Ludwigia is growing great, so I already topped it and replanted some stems and expect it will be back at the top of the tank in a week or so. Also added about 20# more of the fine gravel to the sides and back yesterday.

I transferred the few fish I did have 3 ottos, 3 panda cories and 4 rummynose (well, had 6, lost two in the move) to the big tank last weekend. They promptly went into hiding and the rummies looked like they were about to keel over from stress for a few days. However, no one seemed sick on account of a problem with the tank, so I decided to get started on adding a cleaning crew and a few more tetras to hopefully make the rummies feel better about their new environment. Current fish:

9 Silvertip tetras (I've read about them being aggressive, bot so far, if they do anything, it's pick at each other), and adding these worked like a charm to get the rummies colored back up and out of hiding.
6 panda cories (loving these guys, will for sure add at least 5 more, or go for a shoal of 20 and forget the C. sterbai)
4 rummy nose tetras - It's been hard to find healthy ones, so I'm not sure if I'll go for the big school I originally had in mind.
8 otocinclus
5 mystery snails
2 bushy nose plecos

Also grabbed 5 more crypts while I was there.
I also got my lights hung up, with shelves above for fish food and ferts. Really happy with how that came out, and will probably replicate this setup for my other tanks, even though they'll have LED lights. Ordered a Giesemann Super Flora and ATI Purple Plus for the 4' fixture. I'm anxious to see how those change the look of the tank, and will probably replace more of the tubes once I have a chance to play with these.

I also decided to add a HOB filter, mostly for surface movement and additional water flow. Went with a SeaChem Tidal 110, which is huge, and has a handy dial to adjust the flow. I'm rooting some peace lilies in water and will put them in the back of the filter in a few weeks. Also rooting some pothos cuttings and plan to have that growing at both ends. I also ordered

Don't mind the wood on the right with the Java ferns. That is just waiting to go into my 32 gallon. My plan is to get a nice stand of stem plants over there to hide the internal filter.

For anyone curious about the CO2 generator, I'm guessing it will need to be refilled about every 2-3 weeks on this tank. I'm not seeing much change on the indicator solution, but the ludwigia that is planted closest to the diffuser is growing really fast, as are the red flame swords that are a little more downstream, so I think it's having a positive effect. It seems like it will be good long-term for one of my smaller tanks, but I'll probably go with a pressurized system on this tank in the next 6 months or so. It is CO2 beginner friendly and helped me get familiar with the workings of a CO2 system before forking out too much money.




 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
It's amazing how well the stem plants are filling in after less than three weeks! I added the new T-5 bulbs a few days ago and am much happier with the appearance. Glad I didn't go with two of the Super Floras as they are very pink. I'm planning to add a strip of dimmable multi color LED tape right at the back for evening fish viewing, and will probably upgrade the rest of the tubes in the next couple months.

The fish are doing great. I did lose one otto the day after they were introduced, and another yesterday, but the others all look fat and sassy. I'm going to try to get ahold of some Botia striata next week. They're one of my favorite fish, and I'm hoping they'll help with the pest snails that are thriving. Thinking I'll also add 1-2 Siamese algae eaters. Finally got the substrate for my 32 Fluval Flex, so I'll steal some stem plant cuttings and get that one set up as a quarantine tank for the loaches and algae eaters. So far very little algae, but the Christmas moss is suffering from some hair algae that my existing cleanup crew isn't going to go after. I'll have to get the loaches from the dodgy LFS, and don't want to add any of their stock directly to my main tank. Still going back and forth on what exactly to do with that tank, but it won't hurt to get it up and cycling. I've got some leaves and cones on the way for shrimp/bettas as well, so I should be able to get a little bio action happening.

I decided I didn't want the Java ferns on the wood for my other tank, so I took them off, and split off all the little plantlets, and created two large java fern rocks to fill in some empty spots on this tank.

Bought some glass cutting bits on eBay, and that has opened up some DIY possibilities! I've been eyeballing the big beverage dispensers after watching lots of videos on planted jars and vases. Also found that pulling that almost 2 gallon jar out of the tank was fairly awkward as it's heavy and drains a lot of water. So I replaced that with two linked 2-quart jars. The water pumps in through the top of the first jar that is mostly polishing media, then there's a tube at the bottom going to the second jar, which is mostly biomedia, and water exits through a screened 1" hole on the lid of the 2nd jar. I was able to put all of the bio media from the original filter into this setup plus the HOB. This setup also has a little slimmer form factor, so it should be pretty well hidden once the stem plants grow in more. Now I have a couple big jars to play with planting. Yeah, in under 4 months I've gone from zero tanks to 4 tanks and 3 jars. Yeah, I have an obsessive personality just a bit!


 

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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
I've got some cloudy water going - I think it's a single-cell algae bloom. Otherwise all is going well. Added a few fish today:

7 Venezuelan cories. These look awesome with my panda cories and have been really active right out of the gate. Looking forward to seeing them mature and color up. I was going to get C. sterbai, but I'm happy that these caught my eye as they're a little more unusual.
2 Yoyo loaches. I'll try to get 3 more or so, but hopefully these guys can munch on some baby pest snails.
2 Siamese algae eaters to hopefully graze on some of the hair algae that is plaguing my Christmas moss.

Also bought a few bunches of cabomba, but I'm floating them in another tank until the get some roots. My microsword in the Tiki mug don't seem to be growing, so I think I might try moving that over under the bigger fixture with the new tubes. Not sure why it seems stagnant with the other plants are thriving?

I'm cutting back on lighting and ferts for the week to hopefully clear up the water. I'll do a water change later this week as well, once the new fish get a few days to settle in.

 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Adjusted the scape just a bit. Mostly moving the rapidly growing Ludwigia ovalis over to the far right to obscure the internal filter. I was seriously considering ordering a Fluval FX4 yesterday, so this will hopefully delay making such a purchase. Some of the ~$100 canisters on Amazon look pretty good until you get to the one star reviews that say the thing shorted out and almost caused a fire. Now I have ads for $400 Oase filters following me around the interwebz.

I got a ZooMed T4 for the 24" fixture and it does indeed seem to be identical to the Geisemann SuperFlora. Box says made in Germany, and the color it is putting out is identical to the 48" Geisemann, so I'll probably replace my old 6,500K tubes with the ZooMeds in the near future.

Fish are thriving except for one poor otto who got its tail stuck in the circulation pump :( . I'm really happy with the Venzuelan cories. They swim up to the middle and top of the tank and are really active, which is making my panda cories come out more as well.

 
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