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Old 09-22-2018, 12:01 AM   #1
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Talking My First Planted Tank Journal (5.5gal by anoobias)

Hey all,

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.

pH 7.6
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.

Day 3


Clearing up over 24 hours

Top of the setup

Let me know what you think.

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Old 09-22-2018, 04:09 PM   #2
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What a beautiful little tank.

I think I would nix the idea of a betta for a few reasons. A HOB filter isn't ideal for them because of the current. It will also add a little too much surface agitation for any floating plants, which bettas really love.

As for stocking, go with nano fish. Pygmy gourami, endlers, neo. shrimp, snails, etc.

For gourami, you could do maybe 2, so it wouldn't be as "exciting".

I, personally, really like the endlers. I'd probably do 3-5 endlers and 5 neo. shrimp. Do only male endlers. They are smaller and otherwise you will be way over loaded with endlers in very short order. A single female can produce enough fry to crash your tank in one month. And they have to be in a 2/3:1 female/male ratio to avoid harassment issues. The females will also get too big for a 5.5. It's just way easier to keep to males.

You could do snails and shrimps and they'd be quite happy. Just keep in mind that you'd have to regularly cull the population without any fish to eat shrimplets and snails can get out of hand pretty quickly. So long as you have a plan for the excess, a shrimp and snail tank would work fine and not be too difficult to maintain.

If you want something challenging and interesting, you could do a single pea puffer and feeder snails. They require more specialized care, but they are intelligent and fun to watch. It would enjoy the planting in this tank. It is, however, too small for more than one. Which is fine as they are not a social species. Without enough space, they can get quite aggressive with each other.

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Old 09-23-2018, 04:43 PM   #3
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Terrific suggestions, thanks. I am going to read up on endlers and that pea puffer in particular. The puffer sounds like a real joy to watch and I think you're right based on some articles--the tank style would give good areas to explore. The endlers look like they come in a variety of colors and if paired with shrimp vs snails might give flexibility to exchange plants with any future tanks without introducing snails. How hard is it to get rid of the boogers once they are introduced to a tank?
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Old 09-23-2018, 07:25 PM   #4
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It really depends on the species. Almost all snails can reproduce asexually.

Mystery snails are larger and easier to get rid of. They reproduce much slower. They can also be very unique and colorful. Mysteries get big enough that you could do only one in a 5.5 as they produce a lot of waste. Make sure you do not live in a state where they are restricted as they are invasive in many lakes.

Nerite are good sized, but not huge, so you could do a few. Nerites also don't often breed in freshwater, so you wouldn't end up with more than you can handle. It's likely they'd never breed.

Ramshorn snails would be a bit of a pain. They are a good choice for the pea puffer as they are smaller and breed quickly, but if you don't have something in there to eat them, you'll be constantly battling their numbers. Same with plain 'ol pond snails.

Avoid trumpets for any reason. They are an absolute nightmare to get rid of and some pea puffers won't eat them as their shells are cumbersome and harder.
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Old 10-13-2018, 10:29 PM   #5
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Update - Week 1

After a week, there was a little bit of melting, but overall the plants took pretty well. Just did a couple partial water changes.

The anacharis leaves near the bottom back of the tank turned translucent and began to wither and fall off. Some of the micro sword and echinodorus leaves started to yellow on the edges. More visible from certain angles.

Tank at end of week 1

The Crypt Ninjas

Java Fern

The Anacharis Jungle

Micro Sword

Micro Sword

Melting Anacharis

Melting Echinodorus

Melting Micro Sword

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Old 10-13-2018, 10:47 PM   #6
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Update - Week 2

Really been enjoying watching this tank. There's not a whole lot going on, except for that crazy anacharis. The leaves are still wilting? Mostly towards the bottom of the stems, and I've noticed some of them turning red. Not sure exactly why. I expected most melting to have passed by now. My water is testing hard at 8.2. It floats along the top of the tank so it scoops up a ton of the light. The leaves at the top of the stems are mostly doing fine. And it has started to sprout roots from the floating stems. The roots grew really long really quick.

The Java Fern isn't all super thrilled about things either. Some of the leaves look to be damaged or decaying.

I've noticed a little bit of algae popping up. I originally thought it was settled dirt, but I'm noticing more. It brushes off the leaves really easy, so I'm not too worried about it. Need to figure out what kind of clean up crew I want to add.

The echinodorus is very buoyant. It kept floating loose from the substrate. I eventually wrapped a metal band around the rootball, added some more dirt to that area of the tank, and buried it as deep as I could. I think it finally took.

The Micro Sword doesn't seem thrilled about the environment either. Doing some reading, my guess is it would like some more light, CO2, and ferts. Many blades have died off completely. If you look close at the last picture you can see some that are basically clear.

Tank after Week 2

Anacharis roots

Algae on Java Fern

Decay on Java Fern

Micro Sword melting

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Old 10-14-2018, 01:44 PM   #7
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Don't worry about the java fern. It does that. As it gets older, it'll start growing plantlings on leaves that are "dying". Really, what it's doing is focusing energy on new plants instead of on that specific leaf. Keep an eye out for little tiny growths on the tips or undersides of leaves.

If the decay gets to over 25% of the leaf with no growths, then you can be concerned.

Also; that doesn't look like algae to me. It looks like mulm.

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