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Brian Cass - Beginner


  1. Beginner plant tank story
    by Bryan Cass (Tue, 18 Oct 94)

Beginner plant tank story

by (Bryan Cass)
Date: Tue, 18 Oct 94

This is a description of the experimental plant tank that I have started.
It is "experimental" because I want to 1) see if I can *do* it, 2) see
which gadgets have the "most bang for the buck", and 3) do all of this
in a low-cost way.

Beginning at the beginning :-), here's what I did.  I bought a 10 gallon
tank at a local pet store for $6.99.  This was one of the few
out-of-pocket expenses.  Actually, I used store credit from some
Angelfish I sold, so it really wasn't money out of my pocket.  I was 
determined not to spend much money on this experiment, so I scrounged 
around for the materials I needed.  This is what I found:

- A 2'x3' piece of 3/4" plywood for the hood (1/2" would be better).
- A sheet of 1/8" glass for the top.
- Some "All-purpose Sand" I had for projects like this.
- Some peat moss from a bag I bought for the garden.
- A sponge filter, airline and cheap air pump.
- A 25W heater (only because I wanted to keep fish in there).
- Some rain water (about 10 gallons :-)
- An unused strip light from another tank.

The Tank

I spray-painted the back of the tank flat black to 1) keep down the
algae, 2) hide the airline tubing and equipment behind the tank, and
3) make the fish and plants look better.  I cut a piece
out of the glass that fit the top of the tank, and then made another cut
through it about 1/3 of the way in from the front.  I cut a 2" triangle
out of a back corner for the airlines and heater and used silicone as
a hinge to connect the "door" to the rest of the top.  Some more
silicone was used to glue a piece of wood to the door for a handle.

The hood was next, and I made a three-sided box that is 3" deep to hold
the light fixtures.  The box is the same size as the top of the tank and
lifts off for maintenance.  I wanted to put two 15W flourescent lights
in it, so there wasn't room to put a hinge on it (and I was too lazy to
figure out a better design ;-).  I mounted two 15W fixtures in the box
that I stole from the strip light on my 125 gallon tank.  I'm planning on
building a hood for that one too, so I didn't need the fixture any more.
The two Sylvania "Gro-Lux" bulbs were $3.99 each at a local hardware

I put the lights on a 12-hour cycle with a timer I had for growing
garden seedlings.

The Inanimate Contents

After boiling the peat for a few minutes to get it water-logged, I put
about 1 1/2" to 2" in the bottom of the tank.  Then I rinsed the sand 
thoroughly and layered about 1" on top of the peat.  That is all I did for
the substrate.  I chose this Dutch-type method mainly because I didn't
want to spend money on Dupla's red dirt ;-).  If I have enough money
someday, I think I would buy the laterite because it's probably cleaner
and won't decompose like peat.

In went the rain water, mixed with some established tank water to reduce
cycle time.  I also seeded the small sponge filter in an established
tank.  It was being used for an Anglefish "grow-out" tank, which was 
empty at the time.  I installed and set the heater for 70F.

I set up a DIY yeast CO2 generator and bubble the CO2 through an airstone.
With the soft rain water, this keeps the pH at around 6.5.  I measured
the CO2 content of the water one day and it was about 30 ppm, which is
enough so that I'm not worried about setting up a reactor or about the
sponge filter bubbling the CO2 out of the water.  I have not measured
the water hardness lately, but it was about 3.0 KH after adding a some
hard tap water.

The Living Contents

The plants I chose were those that were languishing in my other under-
lighted, nutrient-free tanks.  There is one Amazon Sword, one piece of
Java Fern, one Banana Plant, a couple Hygrophila Polysperma, and two
plants that I don't know the name of.  For fish, I put in a couple Neon
Tetras, hoping they would breed.  I also bought an Otocinclus to keep 
algae in check.

Results So Far

It has been about 2 months since I started the tank.  The first 2 weeks
everything went fine.  Then an algae bloom covered all the plants, sand
and tank.  The little Oto couldn't possibly keep up with the growth, so
I helped him out and scraped the algae off of everything.  So far, the
algae has not returned with the same vigor.

The plants revived almost immediately, despite the algae covering.  The
Amazon Sword has already outgrown the tank and its 18" leaves lay
across the top of the water.  The Hygro and Banana Plant sent out
numerous roots and have turned red near the tops.  I have already pruned
the Hygro and replanted the cuttings.  The Java Fern, normally a slow
grower, put out 3 new leaves at first and has since slowed down a bit.
The other two plants are growing as well, and their color has darkened.
Every plant is almost always covered with or streaming small oxygen

After the initial 6-week growth spurt, plant growth seems to have slowed
down.  Since I don't add any fertilizers or trace elements, I assume
that the plants have used up most of what was initially in there.  I
don't know if the peat substrate will provide that much food for the 
plants, especially those that do not feed from the roots, so I think
my next step is to try some plant food.

The fish seem to be very content in this tank.  The Neons' color has
become more vivid and they have spawned a few times already.  Since  
part of raising the fry includes a period of darkness, I haven't tried
to raise the fish yet.  I have been feeding them mosquito larvae and
white worms, which I assume has helped them get into breeding condition
as much as the tank environment has.

So, it's off to the pet store with credit voucher in hand to pick up
some plant food and trace elements.  I just may be convinced to try this
"experiment" on a larger tank in the near future.  It sure is fun to
watch plants *grow* rather than melt for a change!

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