20G Planted Tank Build

Cinabar

At the beginning of the year, I had this sad-looking 20G long tank lying around, so I thought "Hey. Maybe it's time to get off my butt and do something productive for once." It had been running for about six months at this point and held nothing but gravel, botanicals, and some corydoras. The result Didn't even have a light or a lid on it lol, just an old desk lamp on a piece of styrofoam. At least the fishies were happy, so at least there's that.


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BAm two months later, I've changed out the substrate for sand and bought a bunch of plants. Boy that was a process. In reality, I could've finished the build much faster if I had bought everything brand new and all at once, but it's very important to me that all my tanks are low-budget and low-maintenance. I went for a dirted bottom (more like a scattering, it was a very thin layer) covered by coarse gravel, then capped with an inch of sand. I got all of that at Lowe's for like $15. The light I got new, but honestly, that's probably the most expensive component of this whole build. The sticks and leaves I picked up from my backyard, and the plants I slowly collected over the months. I usually get them when they're on sale, or bought from fellow hobbyists' trimmings. Now that's the good stuff.


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You know what, it wasn't too bad. A little naked looking, but not bad at all. For a little while, everything was good. The sun was shining, the sky was clear - my plants were growing nicely... but then... when it was least expected, the algae came! Alright, it was technically diatoms, and it wasn't that bad at first. A light sprinkling, if you will. Nothing a quick water change couldn't fix. But it soon got worse. So, so much worse. Now there was a thick layer covering every single surface in the tank. I kid you not, I could swipe my finger across a leaf and there would be a big wad of algae paste in my hands. My plants were brown on top and green on the underside.


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This was after a water change where I wiped off as much of the gunk as possible. Oh man, that rock was originally blue-gray. But hey, at least the fishies are happy. They were having a grand ol' time swimming around in brown water lol. After some months of battling diatoms, I was so completely fed up. I'd do a water change and everything would be covered again in 3 days. I finally gave in and called for reinforcements: the snail army. I searched around and settled on ramshorns, specifically the blue morph. Why? because they look like if someone spilled a bowl of blueberries and just I think that's super cute.


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I've decided I love snails. Within the week, my plants were no longer brown. Two more weeks, even the glass was completely spotless. The minor problem? In the following month, I had hundreds of little babies. Honestly, I didn't mind too much, as long as they keep on doing their job, I'm more than happy to provide them a comfy life. The reason I call it a minor problem is because there's not enough food in the tank to sustain that population anyway. As of today, there are probably a dozen or so total. I tried giving them more food, but the corys are absolute hogs. Overall, I'm very happy with this tank. The plants are thriving now that they're no longer being choked by diatoms. The big sword's butting out 2-3 new leaves every week, the vals are going nuts. I've got a little jungle on my hands and I'm very pleased. Very luscious, very green.


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Some interesting happenings:

- I started with four corydoras, I now have 18, of various ages and sizes. These things just won't stop breeding.
- I slightly regret using dirt. The decaying matter caused a lot of gas buildup underneath the sand, and big patches of anaerobic substrate, where the sand was dark gray and sickly looking with an unpleasant smell. Usually, I wouldn't mind, as a few pokes would release the gas anyway, but in these areas, no plants would grow. The roots of crypts I planted here turned black and withered away, with a rotting smell. Kudos to my amazon sword though, that thing put out roots quicker than it could rot.
- A segment of an unknown stem plant appeared. It was about 1 cm long and bright red. I forgot about it and it grew leaves and roots. Still have no idea what it is lol.
 

RedOnion

At the beginning of the year, I had this sad-looking 20G long tank lying around, so I thought "Hey. Maybe it's time to get off my butt and do something productive for once." It had been running for about six months at this point and held nothing but gravel, botanicals, and some corydoras. The result Didn't even have a light or a lid on it lol, just an old desk lamp on a piece of styrofoam. At least the fishies were happy, so at least there's that.


IMG_5025.JPG
IMG_5029.JPG

BAm two months later, I've changed out the substrate for sand and bought a bunch of plants. Boy that was a process. In reality, I could've finished the build much faster if I had bought everything brand new and all at once, but it's very important to me that all my tanks are low-budget and low-maintenance. I went for a dirted bottom (more like a scattering, it was a very thin layer) covered by coarse gravel, then capped with an inch of sand. I got all of that at Lowe's for like $15. The light I got new, but honestly, that's probably the most expensive component of this whole build. The sticks and leaves I picked up from my backyard, and the plants I slowly collected over the months. I usually get them when they're on sale, or bought from fellow hobbyists' trimmings. Now that's the good stuff.


IMG_5229.JPG
IMG_5235.JPG

You know what, it wasn't too bad. A little naked looking, but not bad at all. For a little while, everything was good. The sun was shining, the sky was clear - my plants were growing nicely... but then... when it was least expected, the algae came! Alright, it was technically diatoms, and it wasn't that bad at first. A light sprinkling, if you will. Nothing a quick water change couldn't fix. But it soon got worse. So, so much worse. Now there was a thick layer covering every single surface in the tank. I kid you not, I could swipe my finger across a leaf and there would be a big wad of algae paste in my hands. My plants were brown on top and green on the underside.


IMG_5245.JPG
IMG_5306.JPG
IMG_5309.JPG

This was after a water change where I wiped off as much of the gunk as possible. Oh man, that rock was originally blue-gray. But hey, at least the fishies are happy. They were having a grand ol' time swimming around in brown water lol. After some months of battling diatoms, I was so completely fed up. I'd do a water change and everything would be covered again in 3 days. I finally gave in and called for reinforcements: the snail army. I searched around and settled on ramshorns, specifically the blue morph. Why? because they look like if someone spilled a bowl of blueberries and just I think that's super cute.


IMG_5483.JPG
IMG_5424.JPG

I've decided I love snails. Within the week, my plants were no longer brown. Two more weeks, even the glass was completely spotless. The minor problem? In the following month, I had hundreds of little babies. Honestly, I didn't mind too much, as long as they keep on doing their job, I'm more than happy to provide them a comfy life. The reason I call it a minor problem is because there's not enough food in the tank to sustain that population anyway. As of today, there are probably a dozen or so total. I tried giving them more food, but the corys are absolute hogs. Overall, I'm very happy with this tank. The plants are thriving now that they're no longer being choked by diatoms. The big sword's butting out 2-3 new leaves every week, the vals are going nuts. I've got a little jungle on my hands and I'm very pleased. Very luscious, very green.


IMG_E5603.JPG
IMG_E5560.JPG
IMG_E5561.JPG
IMG_E5576.JPG

Some interesting happenings:

- I started with four corydoras, I now have 18, of various ages and sizes. These things just won't stop breeding.
- I slightly regret using dirt. The decaying matter caused a lot of gas buildup underneath the sand, and big patches of anaerobic substrate, where the sand was dark gray and sickly looking with an unpleasant smell. Usually, I wouldn't mind, as a few pokes would release the gas anyway, but in these areas, no plants would grow. The roots of crypts I planted here turned black and withered away, with a rotting smell. Kudos to my amazon sword though, that thing put out roots quicker than it could rot.
- A segment of an unknown stem plant appeared. It was about 1 cm long and bright red. I forgot about it and it grew leaves and roots. Still have no idea what it is lol.
wow those vals look great, as well as the rest of the plants! your tank really changed and its become really pretty! the cories must love living in there if you have 18 now lol
 

Cinabar

Gave the sword some extra root tabs (as a treat) and it seems very happy. Still consistently putting out 2-3 new leaves every week and takes up nearly half the tank despite trimming. It’s definitely shadowing the poor patch of rotala lol. Val forest has grown even denser, might need to add an air stone to the corner to get water flow to reach there. Tank is now 80% plants but hey I’m absolutely not complaining.

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New problem: I estimate I now have about 30 corydoras, majority under a month old. Adults are still spawning weekly- most eggs get eaten but plenty are hidden in the jungle. Well at least this is the perfect excuse to set up another tank.

Update on the piece of unknow stem plant: I threw it into a jar of dirt and left it on a window, didn’t expect it to grow but here we are. It’s lost its bright red color but the underside is still very vivid.

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If anyone could identify this plant that would be very helpful. Crazy to think that this grew from a 1cm piece of stem with no leaves or roots.
 

Marlene327

That's amazing! I have a 40 gallon and had to put all my fish from a 20 into it because of BBA. I'm completely doing away with that tank and everything in it. I'm getting a new 29 gallon very soon. I considered a dirt base, but know little, except what I read here. You have tipped the scale for me, it will be all sand, as my 40 is. And you've answered a question I have about cories. I had 10 in my 40 and 7 in the 20, and wondered if 17 would be too many to leave in the 40. There are 5 varieties. Meanwhile in a 10 gallon shrimp tank where I had 3 Peppered, there are 5 babies now. I hate to dig thru my heavily planted 40 to try and move them again. So is it okay to have so many??

I'll definitely be putting the 5 young ones into my new 29 at some point.

Algae is really a problem I hope to avoid with heavy planting like yours, mystery snails and shrimp. It's hard with a new tank to avoid it, but you did great! Thanks for sharing that you regret the dirt... I'll just learn from that!
 

Cinabar

Big mama depositing eggs than immediately having a snack...

Feeding time with the whole family
That's amazing! I have a 40 gallon and had to put all my fish from a 20 into it because of BBA. I'm completely doing away with that tank and everything in it. I'm getting a new 29 gallon very soon. I considered a dirt base, but know little, except what I read here. You have tipped the scale for me, it will be all sand, as my 40 is. And you've answered a question I have about cories. I had 10 in my 40 and 7 in the 20, and wondered if 17 would be too many to leave in the 40. There are 5 varieties. Meanwhile in a 10 gallon shrimp tank where I had 3 Peppered, there are 5 babies now. I hate to dig thru my heavily planted 40 to try and move them again. So is it okay to have so many??

I'll definitely be putting the 5 young ones into my new 29 at some point.

Algae is really a problem I hope to avoid with heavy planting like yours, mystery snails and shrimp. It's hard with a new tank to avoid it, but you did great! Thanks for sharing that you regret the dirt... I'll just learn from that!
Oh haha, the tank is definitely massively overstocked. Luckily for me, the plants do much of the heavy lifting and a 50% water change weekly is enough to keep things in check (considering that my tap also has 1pmm ammonia and 10ppm nitrates). I'll be splitting the group into my 29G as soon as it's sep up. I see no problems with keeping large groups of corys, as long as you keep up on water quality.

Funny you should mention the dirt! It comes with its own set of challenges, but I can't deny that it's given me amazing results! I'm actually setting up a new low-tech 10G soon, this time I'm making a few modifications- I've been reading up on the Walstad method and I'm going to pull some tips and tricks from there. I think a 1cm layer is plenty for my needs. I'm also going to cut back on organic matter, looking for more of a mineral or clay-based soil. This should help reduce gas buildup from decaying matter. Also, plant extremely densely from the start, the roots should oxygenate the soil and prevent anaerobic conditions. We'll see how this goes. Hearing about your tank plans made me super excited to work on mine!
 

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