Another Old Fishkeeper Returning To The Hobby

JayH

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Hello everyone. New member here. I've gone through several periods of fish keeping, eventually getting to a 55 gallon, five 20 gallons, and a very small hex tank. I've been away from the hobby for quite a few years but am now returning. I've kept typical community fish, African cichlids, and discus. I had a spawning pair of discus, which is why I ended up with five 20 gallon tanks. That was a lot of fun.

I initially wanted to make a big return, getting a 100+ gallon and starting again with discus, but that idea met with some resistance so I've decided to work my way up to that. I'm currently setting up a 20 long, planning to do my best at aquascaping and maintaining plants in the hopes that a very pretty smaller tank will ease the way toward something a bit larger.

My plan is to get the tank hardscaped and planted, giving the plants time to settle in. Then I'm going to start with shrimp. I've never kept them before and will be following the advice to start cheap until you develop some skill at not killing off the livestock. So red cherry shrimp. Once the shrimp have established a healthy colony and the filter is well populated with bacteria, I'll add a couple small shoals of dwarf fish. I'm thinking dwarf rasbora and maybe neon tetras. Plenty of time to make that decision though.

For filtration I'm going with a Swiss Tropicals corner Matten filter using a large JetLifter. I bought a Whisper AP40 air pump but my initial washing tub tests of the JetLifter suggested the AP40 didn't provide enough pressure to properly drive it so I got a AP150. Clearly this is about twice the pump I need, but I figure that gives me room for expansion. I also have one kilo of Biohome Ultimate that I'm going to put behind the CMF. I'm pretty sure the JetLifter will provide enough flow for the Biohome.

The neocaridina shrimp prefer slightly alkaline water, so I got Seachem Fluorite as a substrate since it's inert and won't pull down the pH. I also picked up a couple bags of cheap, inert sand to use under the Fluorite. It's just to raise the level toward the back of the tank. The inert substrate puts me in a more difficult position with the plants but I figure I'll just have to use plant tabs to make up for it.

I also bought too many stacking rocks from Universal Rocks. I've been trying to position them in the dry aquarium but I think I'm going to have to wait until I get the substrate in to see how it's really going to look. In such a short tank three inches of substrate is going to make a big difference in appearance.

I'm going to try painting the back and one side of the tank since these will be up against walls. Early in retirement my father did a lot of craftsy stuff -- decoy ducks, whirly-gigs, cut-out Santas -- and had a lot of artist paints that I inherited when he passed. I want to try a technique I saw online where plastic wrap is laid over the wet paint and slightly smushed. When the plastic wrap is removed it leaves a pattern that somewhat resembles light reflecting off water. I thought I could use various shades of greens and blues in different random areas and it would give the perception of depth. If any artsy types have made it this far in this epic introduction and are familiar with this technique, I've been wondering if it would be better to do each color separately, waiting for it to dry before moving to the next, or if I should put in an additive to slow the drying and do all the colors at once. I was also planning on doing a couple top coats to fill in any missing spots but am not sure if I should use black or if white would be better for making the patterns visible. Thoughts on this are welcome.

Thanks for reading this far.
 

Wraithen

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One suggestion I will add if you want an easy planted tank is start with co2. It sounds counterintuitive but it really makes a planted tank easy. Those people that have no problems, no algae in a low tech tank? They are either gurus or lucky. I equate it to something my local (colorado) plant nursery told me:

"When I lived in Florida, I could grow anything! I didn't understand how people could possibly kill a houseplant! Then I moved here and had to learn how to actually do everything!"

This is similar to the aquarium plants hobby. If you have amazing water, you can be really lucky. Aside from that, co2 is your friend.
 
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JayH

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One suggestion I will add if you want an easy planted tank is start with co2.
It's funny... When I was thinking of getting back into fish keeping I thought the tank would be one of the more expensive items. I believe it may actually be the cheapest thing I've purchased so far.

I've been wanting to avoid CO2 because it's yet another expense and, frankly, I find the whole thing very confusing. I've seen it in a bunch of videos but it's just someone pointing to something that resembles an IV drip tube and saying, "There's my CO2 system." I've tried to shop for a system, but not knowing what I need or even what I'm looking at makes it rather confusing. I think the most concrete advice I've read so far is to find some place that sells keg beer and get your CO2 canisters from them because they'll just swap them out when they need to be re-certified. So I know where to go to get the CO2, but the rest of it is a mystery.

I would very much like to do some carpet plants that apparently require CO2. I was going to try to just work around that by sticking with "low tech" plants. But if I'm going to do it eventually I suppose it's best to just start with it.
 

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It's funny... When I was thinking of getting back into fish keeping I thought the tank would be one of the more expensive items. I believe it may actually be the cheapest thing I've purchased so far.

I've been wanting to avoid CO2 because it's yet another expense and, frankly, I find the whole thing very confusing. I've seen it in a bunch of videos but it's just someone pointing to something that resembles an IV drip tube and saying, "There's my CO2 system." I've tried to shop for a system, but not knowing what I need or even what I'm looking at makes it rather confusing. I think the most concrete advice I've read so far is to find some place that sells keg beer and get your CO2 canisters from them because they'll just swap them out when they need to be re-certified. So I know where to go to get the CO2, but the rest of it is a mystery.

I would very much like to do some carpet plants that apparently require CO2. I was going to try to just work around that by sticking with "low tech" plants. But if I'm going to do it eventually I suppose it's best to just start with it.
If you've got the dough, the absolute simplest route is to get a co2 reactor from nilocg aquatics. Hardest part is figuring out what size connections you need. Many canisters run 3/4 for the bigger sizes. Get the full kit from him so it comes with a stainless check valve and mounting hardware. Then buy a carbondoser regulator and co2 tubing. Connect it all, put the lights and carbondoser on a timer, and set the bubble rate and pressure.

Most of us use a drop checker to make quick visual checks at what the co2 was. I say was because it has an hour or two delay. Once you dive in head first, most people come out of the other side wondering why they were so intimidated at first.
 
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JayH

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If you've got the dough, the absolute simplest route is to get a co2 reactor from nilocg aquatics. Hardest part is figuring out what size connections you need. Many canisters run 3/4 for the bigger sizes. Get the full kit from him so it comes with a stainless check valve and mounting hardware. Then buy a carbondoser regulator and co2 tubing. Connect it all, put the lights and carbondoser on a timer, and set the bubble rate and pressure.
I appreciate the pointer. I had looked at nilocg root tabs and fertilizers before. Unfortunately, I don't see anything that's obviously a "kit" on their web site and what I do see looks to me like muffler bearings and retro encabulators. I'm afraid this is a situation where a hand waving couple of sentences isn't going to do the job. Not that I expect you to fill in all the gaps in my CO2 dosing education. Just saying, it still looks like low tech plants are probably the best way for me to go.
 

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I'll be interested in seeing the back of your tank after you do your artsy painting to it. I can visualize depth and reflection as you described. I have both a low and high tech tank. Love them both. I actually posted photo's today of them. I'm only 4 months new with co2 and I was so intimidated too. I watched a lot of YouTube video's and received help from some of my IG followers. It wasn't bad at all. Start off with a dual stage regulator and I'd purchase all the accessories that go with it. Tubing, diffuser... . I'd get your tank, plants, (co2 if using it) all established for at least a month before adding any shrimp. Shrimp will thank you for going into their new home with hopefully a well balanced home with biofilm and microorganisms. A a natural food source along with moss.
 

Wraithen

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I appreciate the pointer. I had looked at nilocg root tabs and fertilizers before. Unfortunately, I don't see anything that's obviously a "kit" on their web site and what I do see looks to me like muffler bearings and retro encabulators. I'm afraid this is a situation where a hand waving couple of sentences isn't going to do the job. Not that I expect you to fill in all the gaps in my CO2 dosing education. Just saying, it still looks like low tech plants are probably the best way for me to go.
No worries. I only brought it up because you said low maintenance planted tank. He also makes custom dosing spoons for dry fertilizers if you decide to go that route.


Also, with the shrimp. You increase your odds immensely if you drip acclimate.
 
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JayH

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I'm going to have to do some more research on the whole CO2 thing. I like to at least think I have a fair grasp on the basics before jumping into something, and this is something I'd never even heard of until a couple weeks ago. I'd also like to find some way of doing it that there isn't a lot of stuff visible in the tank. The equipment would also need to fit behind the tank as there's no other place for me to hide anything. I'll keep reading and see if I can find a workable solution since I know adding CO2 would open up a path to a much greater variety of plants.
 

Wraithen

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I'm going to have to do some more research on the whole CO2 thing. I like to at least think I have a fair grasp on the basics before jumping into something, and this is something I'd never even heard of until a couple weeks ago. I'd also like to find some way of doing it that there isn't a lot of stuff visible in the tank. The equipment would also need to fit behind the tank as there's no other place for me to hide anything. I'll keep reading and see if I can find a workable solution since I know adding CO2 would open up a path to a much greater variety of plants.
I need to hide my tank as well. Both for tip over protection and to keep my daughter from messing with it. I will eventually build a box for it and paint or stain it to make it look nice, and then secure the box to my tank. Unfortunately I centered my 180 gallon on the wall so the tank wont quite fit beside it, and definitely not behind it.

Co2 tanks come in sizes starting at 5 lbs and then go up from there. I would think a 5 lb tank would fit anywhere, and a 10 lb may fit in your stand. I have so much junk in my stand that between foods and tools, filters, and various other things, I couldn't easily add even a 5 lb tank.(I have a 20.)

I researched it endlessly for about 6 months. Then waited another year before I got the stones to just do it. I understand completely.

The scariest thing is gassing your fish. Most people know enough not to do that. The next hardest part is adding enough co2. This part is where some people struggle. I would say as a whole, most people figure it out the first weekend they have it setup. With the lights and co2 on timers, we spend 0 time on that other than exchanging or refilling co2 tanks. With dry ferts, I spend more time feeding my fish than I do fertilizing, and trimming plants doesn't count because you kind of zen out like when just watching a nice tank. Not trying to sell you on it, but people build it up too much in their heads, like a child standing at the top of the high dive for more than 10 seconds. Once you step off the platform, there's not a whole lot to do!
 

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Hi Jay! Welcome to the forum

I'm currently in the process of setting up a low tech nano tank (have been away from the hobby for a few years too and am feeling extremely rusty lol). I'm very interested in following your journey and seeing what you end up doing!

There's some tanks our there that are truly spectacular without having any picky and hard to keep plants in them. I have a veggie garden at home and I learned that if a plant is not made for my climate and watering regime, it won't thrive no matter how hard I try. So now I go by "If it doesn't wanna be here, I don't want it here ", and it has saved me a lot of headaches lol.

For my case in particular, I planned on just decorating my tank with a bunch of very pretty and dramatic looking rocks (I used dragonstone) and the typical carpet to cover the whole ground. I really want to go for that "wild" and natural look. I originally ordered riccia fluitans (which I really wanted to have in my tank - I LOVE the look of this plant) but I later learned that, while this plant thrives if left floating in a low tech tank, it won't do very well submerged unless you inject a bunch of CO2 and provide plenty of light. So I sadly had to push that aside for now and stick to an easier carpeting plant.

The truth is that CO2 will always help your plants thrive, but I don't have the financial means for it at the moment and I rather not complicate myself too much. I study full time, work full time, and study music on my time off. I also have two cats and a very needy chameleon, so my hands are pretty full at the moment! Since I too am trying to keep it simple, I'm just starting with christmas moss and flame moss as suggested by some people here in the forum (which I intend on carpeting. I should be getting them in the mail tomorrow) and anubias petite for a little extra detail and variety here and there. I heard that crypts and some ferns are very good for low tech tanks as well, but I'd do some extra research.
 

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One suggestion I will add if you want an easy planted tank is start with co2. It sounds counterintuitive but it really makes a planted tank easy. Those people that have no problems, no algae in a low tech tank? They are either gurus or lucky. I equate it to something my local (colorado) plant nursery told me:

"When I lived in Florida, I could grow anything! I didn't understand how people could possibly kill a houseplant! Then I moved here and had to learn how to actually do everything!"
Grinning because I live in Florida, and before that I was 5 years in Hawaii - and I'm sure I suffer from that exact same blindness as a result (I stick stuff in the ground/in a pot and it grows, what's the big deal?)

But oddly I (mostly) have had the same sort of luck with low-tech planted tanks as well. My shrimp tank that I've posted a few times - I've had to go in and pull plants out because it was getting so overgrown. The Amazon sword on the left side of this pic is now gone, it got moved over to my sword tank:
20190424_164023.jpg


Sword tank, can see the transplanted Amazon sword in the back left corner - it wasn't completely happy with the move, but is recovering now. The dwarf sag are transplants from the shrimp tank as well.

20190607_161231.jpg


And, even a glass canister that I'd originally set up for a sparkling gourami that I thought I was going to have to isolate (others were picking on it to the point that it wasn't getting to eat), but when that situation got resolved before this setup was ready for an occupant, I used it to hatch out some cory eggs instead. Currently it's only got a couple of cherry shrimp in it. The only light is from a fluorescent desk lamp, that is on the same timer with the sword's tank light; and all the plants in it were daughters/trimmings from the sword and shrimp tanks (that is the shrimp tank in the background.)

20190423_164229.jpg


I'd love to take credit for these, but honestly - I have really done very little, other than keeping the water parameters in line. The substrate is Eco-Complete, there may also be a little Fluval soil in the shrimp tank. The water is Prime-treated tap water. Don't routinely add any liquid ferts; I do have a bottle of Flourish in my fridge, and will add a little at water changes now and then. Will add a root tab if/when a stem plant is looking a little wilty. And that's basically it - other than choosing plants that don't need a lot of care/attention (same with the terrestrial plants in the pic...nearly all succulents...).

On the other side, I can also say that I have one tank at home that has been problematic plant-wise from the start. I used a different substrate in it (can't recall now what it was, but it wasn't Eco-Complete, Flourite, or Fluval. Activ-Flora, maybe...) It has the same light as all the rest of the tanks do, but the plants just don't thrive in that tank, except the java moss (which as far as I can tell, is nearly bulletproof).

I also have one small tank at home that has a Limnophila Aromatica completely taking over the tank. It grows so fast/much that I pull handfuls of it out every month or two. But yet I cannot get cuttings or free-floating offspring from that Limnophila established in any other tank I have. It died even in the shrimp tank. Couldn't even begin to explain why it grows like mad in that one tank, and nowhere else (for me).

And I can absolutely kill some Anacharis/Elodea, in any tank. I have a completely brown thumb when it comes to what is supposed to be one of the easiest aquatic plants there is.

Like the OP, I'm also an oldster who has only recently gotten back into fishkeeping, and I too have felt a little intimidated by the idea of CO2. Coming back in from a time when aeration was the thing, and CO2 the enemy to be vanquished...I think it's not just the knobs and tubes that are intimidating. It's a little unlearning the old gospel, as well. (I still have my Innes Bible around somewhere, too, I'm sure...)
 

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Please post pics throughout your tank build journey! I cannot manage to pull off a lovely planted tank, but I love looking at people's and seeing their journeys.

Maybe someday...
 
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JayH

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I've done a bit more reading and I think I have a handle on what's needed for CO2 -- a tank of CO2, some way to regulate the flow, and some way to get the CO2 into the water column. The rest -- bubble counter, drop checker, solenoid valve, etc. -- are just accessories that make life with CO2 easier.

The methods of mixing the CO2 into the water column are many, but appear to break down into inline methods or what amount to fancy air stones that are placed in the tank.

I don't have a water pump or a canister filter, so the inline methods are out for me. Based on something I saw elsewhere online I think I could probably add a diffuser in a way I wouldn't find aesthetically objectionable. Since I have the corner Matten filter, I could run the CO2 line behind and under the foam, putting the diffuser just on the main tank side of the foam. Put a rock in front of it and all you'd see is a column of tiny bubbles rising in front of the filter foam. The flow of water coming from the filter uplift might even keep the CO2 bubbles in the water a bit longer.

My quick search didn't turn up any diffusers that would work out of the package for this type of installation, but I didn't look extensively and it would be a simple mod to make one of the others work.

The big stumbling block at this point is the price. From what I can see I'd be looking at a minimum of $150 of gear just to expand my selection of plants and make growing them a bit less challenging. Given oriongal's post above, I'm thinking maybe CO2 will be a later add-on or something to consider for aquarium #2.
 

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I've done a bit more reading and I think I have a handle on what's needed for CO2 -- a tank of CO2, some way to regulate the flow, and some way to get the CO2 into the water column. The rest -- bubble counter, drop checker, solenoid valve, etc. -- are just accessories that make life with CO2 easier.

The methods of mixing the CO2 into the water column are many, but appear to break down into inline methods or what amount to fancy air stones that are placed in the tank.

I don't have a water pump or a canister filter, so the inline methods are out for me. Based on something I saw elsewhere online I think I could probably add a diffuser in a way I wouldn't find aesthetically objectionable. Since I have the corner Matten filter, I could run the CO2 line behind and under the foam, putting the diffuser just on the main tank side of the foam. Put a rock in front of it and all you'd see is a column of tiny bubbles rising in front of the filter foam. The flow of water coming from the filter uplift might even keep the CO2 bubbles in the water a bit longer.

My quick search didn't turn up any diffusers that would work out of the package for this type of installation, but I didn't look extensively and it would be a simple mod to make one of the others work.

The big stumbling block at this point is the price. From what I can see I'd be looking at a minimum of $150 of gear just to expand my selection of plants and make growing them a bit less challenging. Given oriongal's post above, I'm thinking maybe CO2 will be a later add-on or something to consider for aquarium #2.
The expense side is daunting.

You want to look for co2 atomizers. The bubbles they produce are smaller and dont rise. They float around in the aquarium until they hit plants, the surface, or disappear.
 
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