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Old 06-11-2009, 05:22 AM   #1
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125g paludarium (river tank) build

June 11th - Entry #1

* Intro:

I am a novice with DIY and aquariums, but I want to create something nice given my skill level, and with your help. Please comment!

I have been brainstorming this for a few days already. I have other unrelated projects I am busy with too, so we will see how much time I end up having to spend on this.

I am hoping this project won't take a long time. It might be embarassing if I give up on parts or the entire thing, or mess up on parts, but I'll have to risk that. Hopefully this thread will help keep me on track.

I have some general pictures in my head of what this would be like, but I tend to make weird mistakes when it comes to judging sizes, etc. Sadly, I think that as a girl I am just not as good at spatial planning. I don't consider myself to have artistic skill, and I am jealous of people who can design and layout things so beautifully. But I am certainly creative.

No pics right now, but I plan to add them as I go along.


* Overall:

I want a paludarium / river tank that would be relatively easy to maintain, but is unique and not too simplistic. I want it to have plenty of variety with different little nooks and areas. I am not going to try to make it totally authentic, but want it natural looking.

I would like to have 50-75 gallons of water in there.

The higher levels are going to be on the left side of the tank, because the right side is near my entryway.


* Ideas:

It would be very cool to have one pretty big 'main pool' and then 2 or 3 or more additional pools that the fish might jump to? I saw someone had a river tank where the fish would jump up to the higher pools. I don't mind setting my sights lower though, and having the other pools be mostly separate. I could move/place the fish manually. Obviously they should not be totally separate so that they get filtered, etc. I think I may want to use some kind of bowls (hard plastic should be okay) to help create the pools.

I'm thinking that to help create some of the levels, and make them sturdy, I should place an entire 5 gallon glass aquarium in there and then hide it with rocks, etc. I'm thinking that maybe I should also place a 10 gallon in there on its side, etc. Actually I am thinking if I could acquire cheap acrylic tanks / boxes / forms that would be better than glass. I don't know though.

Whatever platforms I build, I am really wanting to not 'waste' that space by filling it in. I want to make it "land", but still have caves underneath (supported) to utilize most of the space.

I like that grotto cave DIY that a lot of aquarists like, and I am really thinking of using the overall concept for the background for my tank. But with most of it being flatter against the wall of my tank, and only one small side section having the caves. I want one side of my tank covered in addition to the background being covered. So for this, I would get a bag of small chunks of black lava rock, which is supposed to be pretty cheap, if I can find it. Lowe's only had red. Then I would silicone it onto some kind of backing, and I already have an idea for what I would use for backing. And then silicone the backing to the tank a little bit, leaving room behind it for the filters. Of course I plan to have levels, etc and so a lot of the tank background will already be covered up.

However, to save me some work, I am thinking of trying to buy something for the background rather than siliconing hundreds of small pieces of lava rock. I am thinking of buying 3-10 large flat pieces of black lava rock. I saw a place that will custom carve whatever sizes you want, so I could possibly get them to make it flat, and make it so the pieces would fill up the back of my tank (and the one side that I want covered up too). Or, I am thinking of trying to buy one of those flat molded plastic where it's a sheet of realistic rock. Most of those are expensive it seems, and a lot of them don't have the right kind of pattern/look. (Or there are ones where it's actual rock, but thinner than rock would normally be, but then it's so heavy!) I might still look and buy one, but I am leaning towards not doing so.

I want tunnels that aren't really short. And some that are kind of 'hidden' and interesting.

I would really like to have a decoration of a realistic tree trunk with thick roots branching out. But I don't know if they will look realistic enough. And the better ones would likely be expensive. But I am going to keep this in mind in case I find a good deal on one, or find one that just looks so perfect. I know that inexpensive ones can be purchased and then epoxied up for the tank, and I might do that. Or I may skip this idea. Also maybe there would be a way to have vines or branches draped across near the top. I don't want it to look too messy or haphazard though.


* Limitations:

Part of why I want to place tanks and other large items in there is because I am trying to avoid doing anything that would need me to coat with paints and epoxy, because I don't want to wait weeks and weeks and don't want to deal with the fumes. I know that generally large pieces of styrofoam are used and/or Great Stuff. I think there are ways that are better suited to me. (I will have to deal with the silicone fumes.)

Handyman work: I am also hoping that I won't have to drill holes, cut materials with a saw/tools myself (I don't mind getting some cut items from the hardware store), etc as I am not very handy and don't have many tools here.

Money: I already spent a bunch on substrate, etc. I want to spend less on materials, without skimping, so that I can put the money towards aquaria when the tank is ready for them. When the tank is ready, I will also try to trade for some of the plants and fish. On the other hand, I am willing to spend if it's something I feel would be GREAT for the tank design, because these are one-time expenses and I am not wanting to be less than happy with the result (and therefore wanting to redesign soon). I feel I already have quite a lot to work with here. I may want to put off certain expenses IF they are things I can add on later on (in 3-6 mo) easily.

Materials: I love the carved cork bark stuff that other people have done, but I am thinking I'll skip it because I think that would need redoing every year or two. I don't want to put string or fabrics in the tank either. Or metal.


* Materials I have to work with (and some thoughts/plans):

The Tank: I have an empty cleaned out used 125g glass tank on a homemade stand. (I didn't make the stand, I just improved it this week by staining the wood.) It is located near two windows, but the windows are blocked out with aluminum foil and blinds. Since I think it makes too much glare in the room.

Hood: I have a folding glass top for it which I think I want to use. I read that with a top on, the plants will have a higher humidity which will be good for them. Depending on what types of plants are in there, obviously. My glass top leaves a couple inches gap in the back, or I could attach the plastic strip that came with it.

Substrates: I have 40 lbs of black Tahitian Moon Sand, 5 lbs green and 5 lbs blue Aqua Terra sand which I had planned to mix with the TMS to create a dark blue and dark green, 10.5 lbs of black Estes Spectra Stone, many lbs of pebble gravel (natural looking river pebbles). The pebble gravel I don't plan to actually lay down anywhere "loose" -- I plan to affix it with silicone to make caves / cover up "walls", etc. Have 70 lbs of pool filter sand (a type that others have used). I am planning to use none of the pool filter sand, or only use it in one small area of the tank for variety. I know this sand would get discolored pretty fast and I don't want it mixing with my good black substrates. I don't like a speckled/peppered color. I have some standard gravel as well but don't want that color to show much or at all. I am willing to buy 1 or 2, maybe more, bags of black Flourite if I decide that would be a good place to spend some money. Maybe Eco-Complete but I believe I would choose Flourite over Eco.

Rocks: I have a red lava rock that is cabbage sized. I might possibly skip using this, or I might cut it up into multiple smaller pieces. I have a piece of reddish slate rock that is squarish that I love for this tank. In general the tank will have lots of black and then obviously plenty of green and then some natural rock colors. I think it may be nice to have that red platform as an accent color. (Or maybe it will look too out of place?) I have various large pieces of slate rock or rock that is flatter. I also have smooth stones that are an inch or so. I have various other rocks that are a few inches. I have a whole bunch of that typical saltwater live rock, but I believe that's bad to use in freshwater, and these other rocks seem better anyway.

Filters: I read that most paludariums don't even need a filter?! But I'll use what I have. Marineland BioWheel 400. Also I have 2 used Magnum H.O.T. 250 canisters, haven't tried them to see if they work. I have other other inferior hang on filters that I don't plan to use for this. And I have a used Eheim 2026 Pro II which I might use on this tank, I would have to learn how to use it and try this one out, and mine has some makeshift or missing parts.

Air related: I have a couple double air pumps and a couple regular basic ones. I purchased two new 12" black air stones, and wonder if that may be enough on that front. I like the idea of having one or a few areas with big bubbles coming up. Sort of like a mini "hot springs". I don't know how to do this. Maybe even a mist device? I wouldn't want a lot of mist, just mist in one small area.

Other decor: I have a large piece of aquarium driftwood that I'll likely use. (It might almost be too big for what I want? Probably it's fine.) I also have this fake multi-level slate rock piece with mini pump that they sell as a tabletop fountain -- I think it will be perfect for the type of tank I want, mounted up kind of high. This might be the only waterfall / flowing water source of the tank. The other decorations I have don't look natural enough.

Water Pumps: Only the one that came with the little tabletop fountain. And I could steal another out of another tabletop fountain. These are not expensive to buy so if needed, I would definitely buy one.

Lighting: I have a 6 foot long strip with two 15W bulbs. I don't know much about light. I know that's pretty low because that is only a little under .25 watts per gallon. I think it looks pretty nice already. Unsure of what I'll want/need for this tank. I know some people set up those little clip on lamps or floor lamps. Doing that seems okay to me so far. Oh! I have a grow lamp type of thing that I could somehow hang up near one area of the tank. It is two 36W bulbs, daylight balanced. I have some stick-on LED and regular lights that I could possibly attach to the glass top, shining down into the tank. Might look unnatural. Mini lights that go inside the tank, underwater or not, could be interesting if done right so they are not too tacky or unnatural. I am certainly willing to buy some lighting stuff.

Heating related: I don't mind having to buy another heater, especially if it can be more hidden. I have one where you can set the temp, another with temp dial that was in my old saltwater tank that I could clean, and some others that adjust but they bother me since you can't see the temp numbers.

Water related: I use RO/DI water. My unit doesn't do a high volume which is a pain, but it's been okay for this size tank so far. I have the test kits.

Plant related: I would want to use liquid nutrients on my plants. Probably I need a CO2 generator?

Adhesives: I have a tube of clear GE Silicone I and can buy more. I also have a small tube of marine putty that can be applied underwater.

Other tanks: I already have a 10 gal and 5 gal, currently empty. I have a 20 gal that I've recently started up and it is temp housing for all my fish. I plan to keep that tank running as my quarantine tank and maybe use it for breeding / feeder. I have a 29 gal which I plan to get rid of instead of cleaning it and setting it up, but I might change my mind.

Other items that could add structure/support: I have a clear acrylic tube that is maybe 6 inches in diameter and 12 inches long that I may use in this project. Also have a large PVC pipe joint and a small one. I have some plastic little storage shoebox type of things. I do want to avoid using plastic a lot, but I think it's fine to use it a little especially if it's not underwater. And especially if it's a thicker harder plastic. I have some colored plastic cone shaped pieces too, with holes on each end, hopefully these can become caves or something even better. I have some typical orangy clay flower pots in a couple sizes, I think I don't want to use the ones with broken sharp edges. I also have some small plastic flower pots, and one large one. I have a sheet of plexiglass and another large odd shaped piece. Am not really wanting to cut it myself, but I might. I have some small rectangular plexiglass pieces too. Empty plastic bottles. Also. I have planned to get black vinyl strips by buying a mini blind and cut it apart to get a lot of slats. Mainly to divide substrate and 'pools'. I came up with this idea after much consideration and think it would be much more cost effective than most others. Plus it is somewhat flexible, yet probably decently sturdy. I have a large white vinyl strip that is great and sturdy, but I am wanting black. Still, I might end up going with the white strip for some areas. I believe it's 6 ft long. Possibly I should just use cut up pieces of clear plastic bottles instead.

Cleaning: I don't have much for this. I want to buy the Eheim battery gravel vac or something similar (the Penn Plax one?)

Power: Filters and pumps will be on a small battery backup. The rest on surge protectors. Lights will be on a timer. Heaters will not be on battery backup, as they draw too much power. I have a gas generator as a backup in cases where it's really needed.

Aquaria: I currently have nothing else live besides the fish mentioned below.


* What aquaria this tank will contain:

Mostly, I haven't decided. I have some knowledge about this, but not a lot. I know that I don't want anything that is harder than average to maintain.

I currently have 4 giant danios (want other danios), 3 cory cats (want 3 more), a small rosy barb (want more), and a gourami. It would be nice if they could all go into this new tank, but I am willing to rehome them if needed - the gourami might not be a good fit? I read that danios and cories are good for this sort of tank, and I believe a barb is too. I think this barb will stay small.

Generally I prefer fish that are under 2 inches anyway, unless they are skinny, then maybe 3 inches. I figure I want swordtails, platys, fantail guppies, tetra. But maybe I will have those fish in another tank and go with something more unique for this one.

I feel like Hachets and other fish that are uglier/plainer/stranger look very earthy/wild/real.

I would like to have 1 or 2 schools of loaches, especially colorful ones. I hope they can go in this tank. And/or I am interested in other fish that are sort of eel or shark like, but I wasn't too into those catfish that just look like sharks, but maybe on those (can't remember the names). Prefer small, so I don't think there are any others that fit besides loaches (I asked on another forum about this).

My research led me to the conclusion that in a freshwater tank, I should not have any inverts at all, partly due to being a beginner at this. Except for that one type of algae eating snail seemed not risky. But I am hoping with the paludarium I can have some inverts.

I would especially like to have freshwater crabs. I know very little about them. I'd like crabs that are small, preferrably 1-2 inches. I believe they could be compatible with small fish, in this environment?

Whatever is not compatible (out of the aquaria I really like), I'll want to put in my next tank (if compatible there).

I am thinking I don't want frog(s) or newts/salamanders, but maybe -- if these are even an option. There are probably no feasible turtles. I would love if there were mini ones that were okay.

Obviously it will have a bunch of land plants and water plants. Ferns would be nice if any are easy enough. Probably some java moss. Well, I don't know what other mosses are available. I saw a thread about using a mini bonsai in there, which seems really cool, but I'm not sure if a compatible one exists. When it comes to land plants (potted house plants), I am really bad with them. Hopefully these plants will be better off since they'll at least have plenty of water constantly! And dedicated stationary lighting, etc.


* Current Concerns:

Mainly I feel like I am forgetting something.

I think one of the next steps is to just start trying to physically arrange some of the items in the tank, to get a better feel for the sizes of everything.

I don't want to think about the livestock and plants much yet, but I should have a little more idea, so that I can design partly for *those* breeds/types.

I need to not plan something too complicated that it gets me overwhelmed. I tend to need to just start working, without trying to get it all figured out. Then I'll sometimes have to undo a portion I just did, and rearrange. Luckily with these tanks, what looks natural doesn't have to look as organized or 'perfect'.
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:24 AM   #2
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:24 AM   #3
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Old 10-15-2009, 03:58 PM   #4
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Hey underwater,
Read your post and I am not 100% sure what you are asking, however I have some ideas for livestock that would work for fresh water. You could try some fiddler crabs as they are great cleaners, hilarious to watch, and need land and water, so they would be quiet happy in your tank. With my tank I always like to have lots of small fish instead on a few big fish, so what would you think about doing a community tank. As for structures that work fairly well I used rocks in mine, which I siliconed together, this allowed some flexibility, and spaces for plants to reach through. They are also perfect for making something look natural, while still can be exactly what you would like.
For you filters the only thing I would watch is crabs tend to be escape artists so make sure that they cannot jump/climb or reach the filter tubes because they will climb out. I have mine with a beta and they all get along pretty well, nobody has been hurt, and it is pretty funny to watch them case eachother. I think frogs would be very fun to watch in a tank like that too depending on how much space there is for them to jump around.
I am not sure about fish jumping from pond to pond, as I don't know if they will know how to jump and land in the right spot, you might just end up with a whole bunch of fish all over the place, but I think if you were able to connect everything using your idea of underwater caves, it would look really cool and the fish would be happy.
What about having the water linked by a system of caves, and then cover most of that with land and have only small openings, that would look link ponds from looking above, however all the water would be connected? I think that would look amazing if you did it right! anyways let me know if you want any other of my ideas, I think your design is amazing, and I love the ideas you have for livestock. Good luck let me now how it goes.
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Old 10-16-2009, 10:38 AM   #5
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All I can say is this sounds like a fantastic idea, assuming I am picturing the same thing in my head as yours, and I totally agree about the turtles, dont set this up without one!

Now I want one...
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Old 10-16-2009, 11:18 AM   #6
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does sound like an interesting concept and something I don't think I have ever seen before.
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Old 10-16-2009, 01:30 PM   #7
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I am building this exact same thing on a smaller scale, like a 30 gallon.
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Old 10-16-2009, 02:01 PM   #8
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Pictures?
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Old 10-27-2009, 04:16 PM   #9
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You inspired me, I am now building a nano river tank, to eventually house Fire belly toads only. So far I have finished the land part and got everything cycled and stable. It is a ten gallon tank that has about 5 gallons of water in it. the only thing I haven't figured out yet is how to do the waterfall structure. I picked up a
$20 filter that is perfect for in tank waterfalls, however I need some ideas on how you would hide it. What is a good structure for hiding filters and can be shaped easy enough into a waterfall? I tried the Great Stuff foam, but I am very hesitant to put any more time into that as it is very messy, a lot of work, and chances are it isn't going to look very nice when finished. Anybody else have any good ideas?
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Old 10-27-2009, 05:52 PM   #10
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Not quite sure about much of this, but I'm thinking, that if you want multiple pools they would have to be all in a row, like siliconed plexiglass windows. Starting with the side with your waterfall, the p.glass windows would be the tallest and getting shorter from there, as you would want water flowing over the glass, so the fishies can jump..
Just thinking outloud....
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