After almost 2 years of on and off research, I finally setup my first planted tank.
* Goal *
Get an economical start in the hobby with a forgiving, low-tech setup.
* Setup *
Initially I had wanted a 20 long, but I'm temporarily in an apartment so I went with something more in the nano territory. Here's what I got so far:
Tank: ($109 total)
• 5.5 gallon ($14 @ Petco)
• Hinged glass top ($18 @ Petco) pricey!
• Tetra 50W heater ($10 @ Amazon) https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000OQO69Q
• Finnex StingRAY Clip-on LED
4w ($24 @ Amazon) https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00LMH10HC
• Marina Slip S10 HOB
filter ($14 @ Amazon) https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0032G8TPW
• Zacro Digital Thermometer ($7 @ Amazon) https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01A0TMS6Y
• TP-link smart plug for light timer ($10 @ Amazon) https://www.amazon.com/Kasa-Smart-Wi.../dp/B01K1JVZOE
• Driftwood ($12 @ Petco)
Substrate: ($5 total)
• 1-2" Topsoil ($2 @ Home Depot)
• .5"-1" Sand ($3 @ Home Depot)
Plants: ($32 total)
• Starter pack via eBay: https://www.ebay.com/itm/30-Stems-Li...r/192356615998
• Micro Sword (Lilaeopsis Novaezelandiae)
• Java Fern (Microsorum Pteropus)
• Anacharis Elodea Densa
• Echinodorus Paviflorus
• Cryptocoryne Wendtii Brown
• I also got one Anubias Barteri Broad Leaf in the pack, but it was way too big for my tank
I wanted to stay under $100 and while I went over the budget, I'm pretty happy with the setup I was able to get for just under $150.
I did have a few accessories like an API Freshwater Master Test Kit and a short python siphon that set me back another $30, so while a startup cost, I don't really view them as tank specific.
I went with a plant pack from eBay because I was having a difficult time deciding on what assortment of plants I wanted and it was about the same price or cheaper if I tried to purchase them individually from other sites.
I chose soil/sand as a substrate because I wanted something cheap and while I won't be adhering strictly to a Walstad Method approach, it seems like it has worked for some.
There were cheaper/higher power LEDs but I actually liked the idea the Finnex clip light wasn't super high power since I am not planning to do CO2
at this point. I also liked the spectrum of LEDs it offers. A weird "feature" for me was that the clip on clamp doesn't work with my glass top on the aquarium. I knew this from a YouTube review, but I really like the slim, low-reflective look of laying it across the top of the glass. It fits perfectly in the center of my 5.5 gallon.
I had a smart plug I had ordered on sale at Amazon. It was on a living room lamp, but I moved it to control the LED
. The ability to set a schedule makes it function great as a timer.
I wanted a canister filter for my 20 gallon, but a HOB
seemed sufficient for a 5.5 gallon. So far I'm very happy with the one I picked. I'm not sure the size of others, but the slim model fits perfectly in the small gap left behind my glass top.
I was pleasantly surprised to find my local Petco had decent driftwood pre-soaked. Yea, I know, Petco's water is clearly the best.
I didn't want to bother my first go around with trying to get an appealing piece online (hard to find an actual picture of what you are buying) and trying to get out all the tannins and such.
* Challenges *
Tools - I definitely need to purchase some better tools. I thought I could forgo tweezers, but planting was somewhat difficult, especially getting the micro sword to stay put. I ended up using needle nose pliers and that kinda worked, but it was hard to get them pointing the direction I wanted.
Substrate - Managing the substrate may have been easier with a different choice. The soil and sand obviously get mixed easily. I had a uniform slope up towards the back in mind. Planting and water changes has completely destroyed that. I think I might actually like the natural look better, but if I had wanted to adhere to a specific artistic look, I think I would need to switch to either just sand or maybe I just need practice.
That's really the only 2 challenges I've had so far.
I've made minor adjustments to the plants, mostly just replanting some that came loose or repositioning orientation of the java fern once the water cleared up.
* Cycling *
I'm trying to cycle the tank now. I run the light for 4 hours in the morning and 5 hours in the late-afternoon and into the evening. The tank is located in a dark section of the apartment so it doesn't get a whole lot of natural light when the light is off.
I'm running the heater and the filter all day and will start adding a little bit of fish food as an attempt to help cycling progress. My initial water tests showed just a little ammonia buildup. I'll check again in the next day or 2.
High pH 7.9
Ammonia ~0.1225 ppm
Nitrite 0 ppm
Nitrate 0 ppm
* Livestock *
As soon as the tank cycles, I plan to add some fish. Initially I was thinking this would be a betta tank, but I think I have over-planted it for that. I'm not sure at this point what I'll get. I'd like to have a variety of residents. Maybe some shrimp or snails or something with a fish or two. I'm open to ideas.
What livestock would you add?
* Inspiration *
I, as maybe many of you, got hooked on the idea of aquascaping after seeing the results of the term on google images for the first time.
I did a lot of research online initially, on this forum and others. But honestly after a while I felt like it was consuming too much time and became overwhelming as a beginner that didn't even have a tank yet.
Thankfully, I found two podcasts that really helped distill the basics for me and gave me a consistent opinion on things. I spent a lot of my driving time listening to almost every episode of these 2 podcasts:
ScapeFu by Art Pennom Podcast - ScapeFu
The Aquascaping Podcast by J and Shawn The Aquascaping Podcast – Aquascaping & planted aquarium online radio show & podcast
I really enjoyed (and still do enjoy) listening to these. They are a lot of fun.
The other source of my inspiration and learning has been some of the channels on YouTube. Particularly I enjoy watching:
I definitely have all those guys (and you all too!) to thank for getting me into the hobby.
* Summary *
Overall I am very happy with the initial look. I'm very pleased with the 5.5 gallon size. It required just the right amount of effort to plant for my first try at this. I think I would have been overwhelmed with a 20 gallon. I obviously have a lot to learn. I'm excited about that and plan to move up to a 20 long in the future.
I'm waiting for some melting to start. I think I'm starting to see some already in the micro sword and Echinodorus and perhaps in the anacharis too. But I'll wait and watch over the next couple weeks to see how things go before I try changing anything up. I'll be interested to see if I need to add ferts in order to keep things growing well.
On a final note, the kids--especially my 5 year old--have been absolutely fascinated with the tank. I constantly catch them just sitting and looking at the plants. You can see they obviously requested additions to the tank: how could I not let the ninjas battle it out??
Here's some initial pictures. I'll post more over the upcoming weeks.
Clearing up over 24 hours
Top of the setup
Let me know what you think.