Alright; really this should be lumped in with Stage 1 – Basic Layout, but I was tired, so I didn’t get around to mentioning this.

Substrate, the soil or gravel or sand at the bottom of the tank that you plant your plants in to, will determine a great amount on how your plants grow, and subsequently affect how the tank itself matures. There are plenty of types of substrate, but some are better than others…

Let’s start with the bad, shall we? The worst of the worst is sadly the most common. It is the gravel. Gravel is made up of rocks, and who knows what these rocks can be. There could be cuprous (that is, containing copper) rocks that can leach out and wreak havoc on your invertebrates (shrimp, lobster, crayfish, etc), or the stones could be limestone (as was my case once) and react with any carbonic acid formed from CO2 diffusion in to the water. There isn’t really any engineering that goes in to your run of the mill Walmart gravel, and they will contain little, if any, usable nutrients for the plants to use. Now, I’m not saying that if you are a beginner in aquariums that you cannot use gravel. There are benefits to using gravel as a beginner. For one, if you are using an undergravel filter then this is actually probably one of the better choices, seeing as deitrus (fish crap) can make its way through the cracks in the gravel and in to the filter. It’s also cheap. Well, there are its positive aspects for you. Cheap and fish crap passes through it.

One step up and we have nothing more than playground sand. Sand rarely contains nutrients as well (though it can) and your average tube/bag of sand you can pick up at a hardware store has the potential of carrying some funky insects/parasites/bacteria/diatoms (not sure about that, if diatoms can lay dormant in sand). However, sand is just as cheap as gravel. Not only that, but sand is much easier to plant in. A tiny plant with tiny roots is more likely to take hold in sand than with 100x larger particulate gravel. Not only that, but sand has much more area. What I mean by this is that the surface area is greater in 1oz of sand than 1oz of gravel. This allows more area for bacteria to dwell in, and this is important for a healthy aquarium. Bacteria are an important part of cycling an aquarium, which is one thing that most eager new fish keepers don’t know/care about and thus incur fish loss. Why do you need to cycle an aquarium?

  • Fish poop has ammonia in it. Ammonia can kill fish.
  • As ammonia builds up, ammonia-digesting bacteria thrive and grow. These turn the ammonia (NH3) in to nitrite (NO2). NitrIte.
  • Nitrite is also not good for fish or other fauna. As ammonia dwindles and nitrites soar, ammonia-digesting bacteria begin to reduce in number, giving way to nitrite-digesting bacteria. These newcomers change nitrIte (NO2) in to safe nitrAte (NO3).
  • After a while, all the hazardous ammonia and nitrite will be gone, leaving only safe, plant-beneficent nitrate. Without letting the aquarium cycle, all the fish would be dead or in pretty bad shape (less a miracle).

So why does this mean sand is better than gravel when it comes to cycling? To put it simply, there is going to be more bacteria in sand than gravel and thus cycling will go much quicker. Also, if you want to see a helpful diagram of the cycle, see here.

Back on topic now…substrates…

Coming up next we have kitty litter. Yup. Kitty litter. I don’t know how or why this works, but apparently kitty litter can be used as a substrate in an aquarium with no ill effects and have some outstanding results with the plants. However, common sense must prevail. Come kitty litter has chemicals in it for various reasons (clumping, antibacterial, odor, etc) and therefore only certain brands and varieties should be used. One such brand I have recently (see above link) heard of is SpecialKitty. Can’t say if these are truly better than ordinary sand with fertilizer tabs or not, but it’s an option.

Before we get to the good good stuff, I will briefly mention Soilmaster Select (SMS). The stuff works like the good stuff, but not quite as well (experiences differ) and is cheaper. It’s made for fields.

Finally, we get to the commercially made, purpose engineered substrates.Ā  A quick look at a retailer’s site shows just a few of the many options. These substrates are sharp looking, relatively easy to plant in, contain good amounts of nutrients right out of the bag, and some even have beneficial bacteria already in contained liquid to boost cycling. A few brands have gained notoriety, and you will often hear of Aquasoil, Flourite, and EcoComplete. I prefer the EcoComplete, though it is a bit more expensive. I just like the black look it has. If I could find the Black Flourite I would go with that, but I highly doubt I will find it. The other problem I run in to is that if I go with Flourite, I would need to strain and rinse it a bit before tanking it; a step that, though not too hard, I prefer to skip. Rinsing is a bit tedious and time consuming, but it does lead to a clearer tank once the water is put in.

Then there’s the entire fertilizer/supplement dosing deal. That’s later…

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I’ve come to that point in the night where instead of sleeping I start to read up on my hobbies. Last night, I was reading on how to record things using my Line 6 setup. Tonight, it is on aquatic plants.

Choosing plants is one of the more difficult aspects of an aquarium to me. I can raise fish perfectly fine, but my plants tend to burn rapidly. I have had luck with some Hornwort and Anachris, but those are essentially filler plants, used to get the tank going until everything starts to grow in. However, I am not going to be using hornwort anymore. When a plant begins to die, the leaves, which are very much like needles of a pine tree, fall and decompose rapidly. This can lead to ammonia spikes, and all sorts of nasties that can lead to a chain reaction of frustration.

There are several main types of plants you want to choose. To begin with, you have to choose a ground cover, like grass for your aquarium. Then you have your background plants; the plants that will be in the back of the tank. Foreground plants: plants that are in the front of the tank, typically shorter than the background plants. And then you have your mosses, which can be used on driftwood and rocks, or set up in vines or walls.

I’m going to keep my tank relatively simple. For my own records, and to let you all kinda see where I am going with my tank, I’ll break it down here.

Ground cover
Ground cover is one of the things I suck at the most (not to say I have any expertise in any type of plant). I just simply cannot get the dang plants to shoot off runners (the roots that spread horizontally to lead to more plants, resulting in a carpet of grass/plants). I was close with my native dwarf hairgrass last time I had it in there, but there were problems with the entire tank that ultimately led to the death of all living things in it (read: Walmart goldfish of death).

There are some really cool plants that can be used for ground cover. Glossostigma elatinoides is one. It isn’t too terribly hard to maintain, and can have a neat, almost clover field style look to it. However, easy to maintain does not mean easy to grow. There’s also hemianthus micranthemoides, or HM. I might go with HM. It isn’t that appealing to me though, which is a bit of a setback. I would much prefer its cousin, hemianthus callitrichoides. HC, unlike HM, is a pain to grow, and even more of a pain to plant.

Which leaves me with a plant that I have already hit on: Eleocharis acicularis or dwarf hairgrass. It doesn’t require a lot of CO2, but the light requirements are a bit above what I have. I do plan on getting up to about 4 watts per gallon, and this should definitely make these suckers thrive in my tank. I am worried a bit about algae in the grass, as it did tend to pop up in it last time I had the plant. The hairgrass can grow to be a bit taller than most cover plants, but trimming should keep it reasonable, and keep it spreading horizontally.

Background plants

I really like rotala. I don’t know why, I just do. So, rotala will be along the sides of the tank. Cabomba should hide the heater nicely. A couple of cryptocorynes to fill out the middle should pretty much finish that off.

Foreground plants
I’ll be going with some smaller crypts and and swords for these plants. I will also have some anachris as a fast growing nutrient sponge. I love that stuff!

Mosses
I eventually want to have some mosses but that’s gonna wait until I can get the rest of the tank growing.

There were going to be more specifics for the plants, but I got tired after ground cover, and wussed out. I know what I want, just didn’t want to find links to them.

Biggest barrier to my plan: actually finding the plants. I’ll be scouring the Midland fish shops for these, and buying any I can find the day before I head up to Houghton (probably leaving Midland the Saturday before class starts).

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Going in to a quick “week ahead” mode for a second.

  • Thursday-Saturday: Hang out with family. Saturday I will pack for Kiln, MS mission trip
  • Sunday: Driving to Toomsuba, MS to visit grandparents night before mission starts
  • Next Monday-Saturday: Work with Samaritan’s Purse to rebuild houses, or whatever they assign us
  • Saturday or Sunday: Drive back to Liberty
  • Following Wednesday: Drive to Midland
  • Thursday-Friday: Hang out with Jill
  • Saturday: Drive to Houghton
  • Sunday: Relax. Stay far away from cars for a while. Get to bed early so I can get to class at 8am the next morning.

Last point is important. It is 4:30am EST, which is about the time I have been going to bed lately. Going to force myself in to getting up earlier, and getting to bed around 1am EST for the rest of the week. Working with Samaritan’s Purse ensures that I will be waking at 6:30am EST or earlier each day. Obviously, something needs to change šŸ™‚

I’m thinking a lot about my aquarium lately. I wonder if I will have any fish left in the end? When I return the tank will have gone almost a full month without any care at all. The reason I am not fully worried is that there are 30+ fish in there, many of them still fry. They should act as food (harsh as that sounds) in dire situations. Not only that, but there is also algae and a few remaining plants (maybe about 3 inches total worth of them).

My goal this semester is to build that tank up from a standard rockscape in to a fullfledged planted tank. I’ve tried this before, but I failed in some regards; most notably the fact that all my plants died.

Reasons for this happening? Well, CO2 plays a factor. I also didn’t have sufficient nutrients in the substrate (sand, for all intents and purposes). And my tank wasn’t fully cycled. Today, the water quality is amazing. I don’t have numbers for you, but I can plop in fish and take out fish and there seem to be no problems. They thrive in there for no good reason. It’s a guppy factory I tell you!

That’s all I have been raising lately. Guppies. I could go out and catch a bluegill, true, but guppies reproduce so fast that it’s easy to start breeding very amazing fish. They are also quite hardy: I’ve swung the temperature on them from low 70s to upper 80s and now I am sitting at about 74 degrees.

My goals for the tank are pretty simple: spend little money, use lots of DIY, and get an underwater jungle growing!

I’ll be getting my plants in Midland most likely. They actually have a number of fish stores (at least two) and said stores sell plants. The store in Painesdale, while amazing, doesn’t sell that many plants that I trust. They are typically covered in thread algae or sickly looking, not to mention the fact that they are ridiculously expensive.

What I really need is a bag of Soil Master Select. I can’t find any around Houghton, so I’ll have to check out stores around here. This stuff will be my substrate. I might find some peat to put under it for nutrients, as I have heard that works well.

Looking to spend no more (originally) than 50 bucks to get things started. Also, if anyone has a free tank they want to get off their hands…I’m always up for adding to my collection (of one)

On my list of upgrades:

  • Substrate. From crappy no-nutrient sand to Soil Master Select
  • Plants. Get some. Still figuring out what I can do
  • CO2 setup. Gonna be a DIY setup (2L bottles with sugar-water-yeast mixture) but I want to have it be changeableĀ  and I want to be able to adjust CO2 output at will. There’s gonna be some plumbing for this one.
  • Lighting. Currently have a single fluorescent bulb hood that gives off 15 watts. The rule is you need 2-3 watts per gallon for good growth. 15/10=1.5. Close but I want more. Might use an old hood if we have them here still with some CF grow bulbs.
  • Filter. It’s fine how it is, but I think I can tweak the impeller a little to make it get more flow. It should be getting more than it is right now, but for some reason it doesn’t.
  • Natural cleaning. Read: corydora/pleco/SAE (Siamese algae eater). Fish that will clean up the bottom of the tank, and sometimes even the sides.
  • CO2 diffuser. Not gonna be just an airstone this time. An actuall diffusion setup.
  • Out with the rocks, in with the driftwood.

And maybe some more. Who knows?