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30 cm planted tank

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A friend has asked me to put together a small tank for her office. She wants it to house a Red halfmoon. I'm at the researching prices and gathering ideas stage.

The brief is as follows:

  • Width of the tank must be about 30 cm but the depth can also be 30 cm
  • All equipment must be hidden
  • The featured fish will be a Red halfmoon
  • Needs to be quiet, so no airpumps
  • Needs to be low maintenance but she knows she needs to do water changes
  • Needs to be attractive

Based on the brief my thinking is:

  • Design - My friend seems to be attracted to bright, flashy things and was immediately attracted to the Red halfmoon in my fishroom. And when we flicked through my book of Amano tanks didn't seem too keen on the monochrome zen like designs. So maybe a heavily planted riverbank with driftwood.
  • Tank - 30 cm cube with a false back made of perspex, black or maybe gray/blue (since it's all the rage). The false back would be about 10 cm away from the back wall of the tank, giving sufficient room for hiding equipment and getting your hand in there for maintenance. The remaining area would be approximately the same as a standard 12 inch in width and depth but a lot taller. I should check with her about the height because she was looking at a standard 12 inch in my fishroom. If she's ok with it the tank will hold about 25 litres. I was thinking of getting the tank custom made but I'm worried that my source for custom built tanks won't do a sufficiently nice job, so I'm going to look for a ready made one. I haven't really been paying any attention to the different types of tanks that are available now.
  • Plants - Nothing that will grow too fast and need to be trimmed every 5 minutes. I'm thinking anubias, java fern, java moss, several varieties of crypts, maybe some dwarf swords and I need to find something red to act as an accent. I'm trying to avoid stem plants that will go bald down the bottom and become uprooted or just look unsightly but the only reddish plants I can think of are stem plants. Or maybe I should just keep the plants green and rely on the fish to provide colour. I'm hoping to find a cheap supplier of plants so that I can buy sufficient quantities so that the tank looks good straight away rather than having to wait 6 months for everything to grow.
  • Filtration - I'm hoping that the plants will do the bulk of the filtration as in a natural planted tank so I thought an internal power filter hidden behind the false back with it's spout poking through the perspex would be sufficient. I'll drill a line of holes in the perspex at about substrate level for water to flow from the main part of the tank to the filter and heater at the back.
  • Lighting - Really don't know enough about lighting, either in terms of what's available or brightness, spectrum etc. I read somewhere that 1.5 watts per gallon is sufficient for plants only requiring low light levels. So I'm thinking 10-15 watts of T5 high output should be enough for this tank. But I don't really know what's available. Are there 1 foot lights that will sit nicely over a tank? Or should I go for a tank that already comes with hood and light?
  • Fish - 1 red halfmoon male betta, 3-4 corydoras for the bottom, and something schooling, 6-8 rummy nosed tetras perhaps. I'm thinking of restricting the colours on the fish to red, white/silver and black so the cories would have to be something like arcuatus or sterbai or pandas. Don't really know how available these are.
  • Substrate - Not sure. I haven't tried top soil so I don't think I should experiment on a tank that I won't be able to monitor daily. I'm thinking some kind of ADA substrate.
  • CO2 - is this really necessary with the plants I've picked?

All suggestions welcome. And if eBay King wants to work his magic I'd be delighted. :)

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Sounds good to me! i love cube tanks

I agree with keeping similar colours and also limiting the number of types of fish, making it simple always looks better and having to many species of fish always looks crowded and unnatural.

The black/grey fine ADA substrate is what i would prefer

Some low ground spreading plant would be good for a lawn. I know these can be a pain though!

Do you remember that cube i showed you on that other forum with white perspex with holes in the top right corner to let water go down the back into a sump like system? It had a pump in it though to pump water back up. Not sure if this will create noise.

I think you may need C02 if you would like your plants to thrive. However if you can get plants that fit well in the tank and are the right size and you have a good light source and the plants dont need much light then you should be able to get away with C02. C02 just adds to the cost and maintenance.

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anubias, java fern, java moss, several varieties of crypts

All this plant above don't need too much light and Co2.

I would suggest you to use white sand instead of ada amazonia because ada soil contain alot of nutrition for plant that might cause algae problem and most of the plant u use is gonna be attached on rocks, wood or pots so the Substrate might not help the plant that much.

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* Design - Does she definitely want a natural design or would she like something like planted office supplies or with more sculptural plants?

* Tank - The Aquaone cubes are quite nice. They have a 30cm cube which would be perfect.

* Plants - I'd stick with 3 types max because of the space. given the light requirements I'd probably just go with crypts and anubias or a tank full of java fern. Avoid red, it needs a much higher light to stay red. Use glazed terracotta, red pebbles or ornaments to get your colour if you want it. I'd be tempted to get chunks of red agate to sprinkle over the substrate. It is a small tank so you can splurge a bit

* Filtration - The plan here sounds good. I'd consider a filter that has the motor at the base if you have a choice, just in case she gets slack and doesn't top up/change it. It'll save the motor and keep things circulating.

* Lighting - You can get 1' lights and clip on tank lights with compact fluros. The watts per gallon rule falls apart under 10 gallons (30L) and becomes pretty unreliable, which is unhelpful. Even so, you only really need about 0.8-1.0WPG for those plants, and assuming there is room lighting and possibly a window, you should be right if you just grab a suitably sized light. I'm not sure of Aquaglo has a CF, but if they do I'd get that and a clip-on setup. Aquaglos really make the red and green pop and are gentle on the eyes (which is important for a desk tank)

* Fish - Ack! on the overstocking :rolleyes: The aim seems to be for a good looking low care tank, but that level of stocking is asking for instability. Even if you chucked on a decent-sized HOB you'd still have to watch it very carefully. The betta is fine, and you could probably crowbar in another 3 or 4 smaller ones for additional colour and movement, but I'd really leave the cories out. Even leaving the maintenance concerns aside, they are very active and 30cm is going to be quite squishy for them, especially if they have to share it. *thinks* What about a handful of white clouds or something? They are the right colour range. Really, I know that you have to stock it as much as possible to prevent 'just adding a goldfish for a friend' but the less stock you put in, the easier it'll be for the tank to survive will minimal intervention and overzealous office feeding (there is always a helpful secretary somewhere that'll be feeding them on the sly)

* Substrate - Given the size, I think an ADA one would be good, but will you have enough plants to use what is in it or will you get pea soup? I haven't used the ADA ones so not sure how 'growy' they are. Maybe use Dinosaur Dung and standard gravel or sand?

* CO2 - Nup, and you'd probably blow it off with the water movement anyway. Plus you'd have to be very careful about accidental overnight suffocation if it was DIY. If you want carbon, use Excel.

:) I'm looking forward to seeing this, it sounds great!

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  • 2 weeks later...

OK... thanks guys. Here's where I'm at.

Design - She hasn't really been specific. She wants it to look nice.

Tank - I ordered a 30 cm AquaOne cube. Did you know that the shop has to order a set of five different sized ones just because I want the 30 cm one? I thought that was rude of AquaOne but the shop didn't seem to mind. But now she's saying she'd love to have two males side by side so she can uncard them to watch them flare. I was going to give her a mirror to make the single male flare. She hasn't got her heart set on two. She's kinda leaving it up to me. I feel that smaller tanks are more difficult for beginners to maintain. So I'm going to suggest we just stick to the 30 cm cube.

Plants - I'm now narrowing down to Java fern 'Windelov' tied to driftwood, crypts at the base of the driftwood and spreading forward, then some Willow moss that I'm hoping will be less straggly than java moss, slow growing and creep in the foreground and act lawn-like. Bit harder to find the Willow moss. I've got a little bit but not enough for this tank I don't think. And I'm worried about the price of plants since I'll need quite a lot to get an instant effect. Anyone know a good supplier? I had a look at AquaGreen but they don't have everything I need in stock.

Lighting - ok, looking for a clip on light

Fish - I thought I might get a caning for overstocking. :lol: Ok, ditching the cories and maybe reducing the school to about 5-6 rummy nosed or harlequins. Thinking of the harlequins now because she's seen a gorgeous chocolate bodied, orange finned (massive fins) halfmoon and has put him on hold. I've got him in a 20 cm cube with about 6 L of water with lots of Betta SPA and praying he doesn't get finrot before the tank is ready. :)

Substrate - I think the crypts will be the only plants using the substrate so how much nutrient should be in there? Maybe I could use ADA soil just where the crypts are and gravel elsewhere although I'm wondering what that will look like on exposed areas. I suppose the gravel could cover the whole surface with the ADA soil underneath to give a more uniform look. Although it irks me that the expensive stuff will be hidden. :)

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  • 3 weeks later...

I've made a fair bit of progress.

This is the tank, an AquaOne 30 cm cube. Using a Tom 11w perch light, AquarWorld 25w heater, Rena Filstar i1 internal power filter.

Took me awhile to get the driftwood to fit into the tank and hide the equipment. Had to keep sawing bits off it and turning it upside down and round about.

Took me awhile... ok it was an age.... to tie the plants on. Brett told me that most people could have planted a 6 footer with HC in the time I took to tie the plants on. Most of the time went on the moss. I wanted it to look like it had been growing there for a ages so I only secured it in a few spots then kinda wove the rest strand by strand through itself.

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Driftwood in the tank with ADA soil Malaya.

Most of the planting done. Not happy with the crypts on the right. I'm going to remove it and replace with some others I have growing elsewhere.

This is where I've stopped for now. Not really happy with it. I think I need more plants. But I've already spent close to $200 just on the plants! Plus I raided a planted 3 foot to supplement the plants I bought.

I think I'm going to have to pull the driftwood out to redo the moss. The filter blew a tornado through the tank and some of the moss detached itself. I knew that I was attaching it in a very loose fashion but I hadn't counted on that little filter being quite as powerful as it is. And the plants don't look that good billowing around in the current. Really kills the serenity I was aiming for. I've changed the position of the filter now which has improved things a little bit. Hopefully the betta won't hate the water movement too much.

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I think it might look better if you move the wood angled towards the front. So moving from the blue dotted line to the red line. You should still be able to hide the filter and heater behind the wood.

and moving back the taller planted behind the driftwood once it has been moved.

The tank will look alot better when the water clears and there has been some growth.

If you dont want to move the driftwood them maybe adding a rock in the front where the yellow is ....will give it some more depth. Depth is the real problem i think... as its looking abit flat... or maybe thats because my screens flat :lol:

These are only thoughts.. might not work out lol.


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I've changed the position of the filter now which has improved things a little bit. Hopefully the betta won't hate the water movement too much.

Im sure he will be fine with the filter, some bettas acutally like current! (even though a lot of sources say its not good) I know when i had my 2ft tank first setup my very first HM male loved to get in the path of the current and charge up it lol it was quite amusing.

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I'm not sure about moving the driftwood at this stage. Wouldn't it disturb the substrate too much? Maybe that's not going to matter. Maybe a rock or another small piece of driftwood in where Brett's marked in yellow might be a good idea. I'm going to lower the water level and try to fix the moss without taking the driftwood entirely out of the tank. I'm also wondering if I was ok to use the Aqua soil on it's own without any other products. Maybe I was supposed to use power sand as well. Dunno.

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I heard that Aquasoil was full of nutrients and sometimes actually has too much so when you say "products" I’m assuming fertilizer etc. Im thinking if what i heard about Aquasoil having a high nutrients content is true you might need to worry about fertilizers just yet.

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I read a description of Amano setting up a tank and he used Bacter 100 and Power Sand as well. The Bacter I think adds beneficial bacteria. Not sure what the Power Sand does. I'm wondering now if I should have used the ADA soil over the whole tank. Maybe I should only have used in areas that were definitely going to have rooted plants. I realise that eventually the rooted plants will send roots across the whole substrate but at the moment the plants are only rooted in about a quarter of the substrate. Changing it now though will mean completely redoing the tank. And I'm not sure if ADA soil is reusable once it's wet. Aaaarrrrrgggghhh! I wish I never experimented on a tank that needed to be delivered to someone else.

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lol... nice work Mike haha

I got some course river sand from my local landscaping supplies.... you have to give it a good washing as there is a lot of silt in it.

I took a 55 litre storage container down and i said how much to fill it and he said $5... sweet. Got the sand in my outdoor tank.

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