Building a Planted Tank
So I picked out my tank setup and paid some folks to help carry it in place, just plop in some water and add fish! Bye!
Not quite. You actually can do that with certain kinds of fish. Some of them are notorious for digging up plants and hardscape, so some folks just forgo the substrate (fancy term for bottom stuff like gravel or sand). Seriously. It's a legit approach to take for certain fish. Setup filter, add water, dechlorinate, add starter bacteria, and add fish the same day. I know a bunch of fish nerds are screaming about cycles right now, but that's not something you need to worry about with a substrate-less approach.
That said, I'm using a substrate. I'll be setting up a planted tank so I need something to keep the bottom plants in place. I could go with floating only plants (again a legit thing!), but my fishies will want something nice on the bottom. That and I planned on adding shrimp. For my substrate base layer, I went with the Seachem Flourite Dark. I could have gone with any of the colors since it's underneath everything and will never be seen. But I went with dark because I have other plans on the horizon...
I added some Flourite to the bottom, took this picture, then started spraying it with water from a pump sprayer. Nothing fancy, just a basic hand pump sprayer to water things and keep from drying out. A lot of these new "soils" and substrates are active and have beneficial organisms in them. If they dry out, you're wasting money. So use a sprayer to keep things wet.
I added more Flourite then started to play around with the various bits of rock and wood I had. It's best to tinker around a bit with stuff now rather than later. For example, I took a handtool saw to some branches of the wood in order to fit better. It fit OK at first, but I trimmed things back so I could get scrubbers and pads in between the glass and wood. Gotta think ahead about cleaning and maintenance. Getting it right the first time pays off.
For certain things like larger rocks or stones, you might want to put them directly on the aquarium bottom. Or maybe on a rubber pad if you're worried about scratching the bottom of the glass....yeah whatever. It makes sense to not bother putting expensive substrates underneath...a rock. That and fish/shrimp will always like to rearrange things for you. Putting that rock on the bottom reduces that. The next steps I added Aquasolum on top of the Flourite and ADA La Plata sand at the edges and in between my two islands. Aquasolum is a great soil substrate to work with for keeping plants in place. It's much softer than the Flourite; helpful for shrimp and corydoras catfish! The sand at the edges was...eh I dunno. I'm just going for a tropical isle look. Maybe it's a mistake, but I didn't want to see Flourite and soil right at the edges of the tank. Thought some sand would help mellow it out a bit.
I didn't take many pictures during this part of the process. Remy was starting to get antsy and not very helpful. He's not quite at the point where he could take pictures yet, so I just plowed ahead.
With a setup like this, you can't just dump water in and expect it to stay in place. Put down paper towels in the tank, then add a small saucer or plate on top of it. Next slowly add the water by splashing it down to the saucer. Doing this helps keep things in place. Speaking of keeping things in place, you'll probably need to weigh down any woods with a stone if you don't want them floating away. It takes a few days for it to get water logged and stay in place. If you go with something like moor wood, soak it weeks in advance if possible. Woods like this will (inevitably) harbor some fungus that starts growing after a week or so. It's harmless white jelly slime, it just looks bad. Pre-soak for two weeks and clean it off outside. Pre-soaking also helps reduce the amount of tannins leeched into the water(if you're trying to avoid that -- some folks want the tannins).
Speaking of soaking. do not pre-rinse active soils! You should only pre-rinse inert substrates like sand! (and for sand you really really really should) Things like Flourite and Aquasoil have beneficial goodies that are washed away by rinsing. I've laughed reading various forums as people bad-mouth these products ("I had to rinse it for half an hour before the color went out!"). They're washing away what you pay extra for.
As for the "aqua scape", I went with two islands. The left one has a mound sloping rear to front with a few rocks around. The right island is dominated by this great piece of wood I picked up at a local fish store (Albany Aquarium). There's a bad attempt at a stream in between. We'll see how long the stream lasts. I planted some Marsilea Hirsuta for carpeting on the left island. My plan was to add one or two large plants up on the mound to dominate and take focus there.
On the right island, I planted some Rotala sp Bangladesh around the tree and Anubias Barteri var nana petite on the tree roots. I used superglue to adhere the Anubias to the roots. It's a thing; people do it. It's safe and inert, and about the only bad thing is that it dries white. If you use too much, it will stick out until your plants grow over it (and Anubias are slow growing plants).
All of these plants were lab grown plants bought in cups from Aqua Forest Aquarium in San Francisco. You can buy plants from LFS, but they run the risk of harboring pests like snails (or snail eggs). Some plants you can buy at bigbox stores like Home Depot. I went the lab route to start off on the right foot. It's more expensive, but it seems worthwhile when starting. I used this kit from Marine Depot for the basic aquascaping tools. Nothing fancy but they are well made. Some of this shit is ridiculously overpriced (ADA) and you'll pay $150 for a damn tiny spatula. I know why it exists and who buys it; I'm just not that person.
I filled the tank with a little bit of water, then started to plant the Marsilea and Rotala using the tweezers. In hindsight, I should have bought more Marsilea as it propagates and spreads slowly. The Rotala is a weed and grows like one. As mentioned before, I superglued the Anubias to the tree roots. I didn't initially go wild with plants because: a) I feared everything would die b) I wanted to actually grow some things and watch it spread rather than just buy everything on day one.
It sat this way for about a week as I waited for all the plants to die...but they didn't! To my surprise, things stayed alive and well. No fish or shrimp at this point, as I waited for some of the starter bacteria to take hold in my filters. Use the starter bacteria. It's good now. It works.
If you look at the two previous pictures, you'll see some changes. I'll talk about those in the next post...
Getting A Tank
In my last post, I wrote about why I was getting back into fish keeping and entering aquascaping. The decision was made, now time for the action. How does one acquire an aquarium in the middle of a pandemic? Normally, I'd visit a few local fish stores (LFS) and find one that had a nice tank/stand/filter combo. During the pandemic that was, a little hard, to say the least. First, I didn't know of many local LFS. I recently moved from SF to Orinda, and this whole landscape was new to me. Second, this wasn't going to be an average, kid's-on-the-bookshelf tank or a basement-room-tank. It was going to reside in my living room. If not a focal piece, a definite point of attention. So I had to find something that looked good, was available during a pandemic, and would somehow arrive without requiring a crew of people.
I'm no longer 13, and aesthetics mean as much to me know as function did back then. To be fair, most of the aquarium stands out there are cheap (bad MDF or not even waterpoof) and don't look great. I didn't want that in my living room. The good looking stands are...well, good fucking luck finding them in stock. As is well documented, anything good pet-related in the pandemic is massively backordered or out of stock.
I found a decent Marineland 75 gallon setup at a LFS, but it only had the cornerflow setup (good for marine, bad for tropical) as well as the old stand. I did manage to find the 75 gallon Marineland high def ensemble kit at a local store (Concord Petsmart). I have a vehicle large enough to fit it (Allroad -- wagons rule), but it can't fit the stand, too. And even then how am I going to get it in there by myself? Staff won't help me carry it in there and hang on to the stand while I make a 45 minute round trip. Should I bring a friend to get it? With COVID19 and a 2 month old newborn? Yeah no probably not a great idea.
I did find a very nice all-in-one setup from Current USA called the Serene aquarium. In short, it's a great offering. Right off the bat, I'll admit that it's not cheap. But that doesn't mean it's a ripoff bad deal. You get a 65 gallon starfire rimless tank (blue/clear glass -- not green and no black corner braces), tested canister and heater circuit, RGB LED background lights, speakers with soothing tracks, a nice but not overpowering LED light, and a fantastic hardwood stand. Oh and freight shipping with everything assembled to your doorstep. TAKE MY MONEY! I know a lot of hobbyists will hate the price tag, but honestly, it's not a bad deal and Current has a hit on their hands. I have finite free time and I prefer to spend it with my family rather than getting everything right the first time. I could spend endless hours dicking with everything to make it just right and drilling shit in all the wrong places....or I could just pay a few hundred dollars for labor and have someone else do it. The fun part of fishkeeping is the fish -- not setting up your damn filter loop. Also, did I mention the doorstep shipping? Well, they're only obligated to bring it to your driveway curbside, but a decent tip helps them bring it down a steep driveway and look what shows up on my doorstep.
There are a few unboxing videos on the net about taking delivery of this setup, so I'll skip that. I'll just say that it's pretty easy to open up with a simple screwdriver. Steph and I were able to get the stand inside pretty easily. It's not light, but it's not bulky nor overly weighty. I got the stand into place and leveled out. I then went out and gave the tank a lift to judge the weight. No fucking way. At this point, I did some quick math on what a 65 gallon 11mm starfire aquarium would weigh -- over 200 lbs. A friend and I could possibly get it in, but man I'm too old for that shit. I punched up Lugg on my phone, and they got it in place an hour later for $40. Seriously some of the best money I spent. The tank was set down perfectly on its self-leveling mat with nary a half mm out of plumb.
In the next post, I'll write up my first foray into aquascaping and a few tips on getting started with this new field.
I got (back) into aquariums
Like the title says, I got back into aquariums and fish keeping recently. One could say it started with our recent move to Orinda. Going from roughly 950 square feet in our San Francisco condo to almost 3000 sq ft in our new home had a large say in the matter. Our living room had an odd corner that we were not quite sure what to do with. The space laid largely bare for months as we thought about several options.
I reflected back on my youth and my fish/amphibian/reptile-keeping hobby and remembered how much joy it brought. I really was into those critters. I could just zone out (sans medication) and watch fish for hours. I could watch turtles pop around and slowly watch newts change into true amphibians. I remembered how much it relaxed me and what a stress reliever they were. Seems like a great idea during a stay-at-home, always with your family 24x7 pandemic!
Don't get me wrong, it aint all roses. I still freak out when a fish swims a little sideways and instantly dread, "Does it have swim bladder problem? Could it be fungal? Oh crap is it bacterial?" And that's just the first 30 seconds. These critters are my babies. And in this latest round, I've amped up my game. I've added live plants and shrimp. First things first, back to the start.
In case you have been living in a hole or hate animals, you probably know that everything pet related is massively sold out or in short supply during COVID19. People need companionship, and if we can't fill that with a human being, we'll fill it with a dog/cat/bird/snake/turtle/guineapig/fish/snail/etc. I dove into research on trying to find something that would work for the the space and fill my needs. One of the biggest things was how much things have changed since I was 15 years old. Virtually no one sells undergravel filters any more. Hang-on-back (HOB) filters are almost looked down upon and canister filters are almost the bare minimum. Technology and productivity advances have jumped ahead so much. The gear you get now is incredibly better than what we had back in the 80's. And cheaper! Massively cheaper! Sure, you can still nerd out on Euro gear or go super paying-for-the-badge-ADA stuff, but your run-of-the-mill stuff from Petco/Petsmart is really good and very well priced.
I'll follow up with another post about my setup and all that, but I wanted to write this: fish keeping is better than ever and you should look into joining the hobby. You'll be better off. I know that I am.
A NOLA native just trying to get by. I live in San Francisco and work as a digital plumber for the joint that runs this thing. (Square/Weebly) Thoughts are mine, not my company's.