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40G Planted Ecosystem with Refugium

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Falun Dafa Hao!
Nov 26, 2023
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Huntsville, Alabama
This is going to be a slowly and probably rarely updated thread in the near term, but I wanted to get it out there and see what kind of feedback I get. I laid out a little background in my intro, but FWIW, I used to do freshwater using UG filtration and an ecosystem approach. I had very stable and clean tanks (usually just one or two), with little maintenance required. I just tried to select plants and fish that fill different niches in the ecosystem and not stress too much about testing and whatnot. I left the FW world for a while and had a 120G reef, but wound up moving after a few years and just haven't had the time to get back into anything.

It's been about 13 years since I had a tank, but my 8 year old daughter is wanting "a fish" and that has led to "let's do a project together". I am doing my very best to let her research, make some decisions, and learn while I gently guide the big picture a bit and spend $$.

My current approach/plan is to do a 40G breeder display tank and 20G long custom sump/fuge. I have a pretty good understanding of the biology and ecology of natural filtration, refugium benefits, etc., so I am pretty comfortable doing some things "my way", but also leveraging everyone else's experience.

At this point, I literally have no equipment, but plan on getting tanks and whatnot after Christmas. I haven't decided whether to just get a reef-ready drilled tank, or just drill and add overflows etc. to a 40G breeder. Fuge will be custom baffled with (probably) all filtration, heating et. down there.

The display tank plan is loam soil under sand with a few rock and wood formations, lots of small fish (Otos for algae, corys for snurfling, and tetras, barbs, hatchets etc. up top, no big fish except maybe an Apistogramma pair or something like that). Sump/fuge will be catered to pod growth and filtration.

One somewhat experimental/controversial thing I intend to do is both fill and top off the tank from the creek behind my house. I live in AL and have a medium-sized creek back there with loads of pods and critters. I know this can add all kinds of wildcards to the system, but I am willing to risk it I may even add some mud into the substrate. My feeling is the benefits are probably more likely than the risks.

Anyway, fire away. I am very interested in good lighting options as well as anyone running a fuge as far as filter media etc. Nothing is set yet, but there is a general size/scope. Thanks in advance.
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Since we are considering moving nearby in the next year, I am thinking the smart plan is to do a dmall display in the 20G long, and use the time and experience to build up some source plants and give my daughter some time to figure things out. Once we move, then get the 40G up (or larger) and convert the 20 to the sump. Going to peruse the local resources for a used 20G (ish) tank over the next weeks.

We started reading Walstad's Ecology of the Planted Aquarium. My first undergrad was horticulture science, so it's fun to see her liking the science of it all.
Well, after much back and forth about getting a 20G first in case we move and just moving forward with the 40G, my better judgement actually prevailed and we wound up getting a 20 standard/tall. I am not in love with the size/shape, but honestly after looking around, when we move I think We will do a 75G display with a 40G sump, so bigger and better all around. The 20 tall gives a bit more room for height, but is limited with overall footprint. All in all, it's the smarter choice than moving a 40G established setup in 6-12 months.

First I had to build a stand, so I went with simple and sturdy with some camo to cover up the ugly insides. There is a saying "Caulk and paint make a carpenter what he ain't".

Now with a little pretty coat. There will be doors matching the top theme (painted frame, birch ply panel), but priorities are obviously getting a tank full of water, so who has time for that stuff.

Also, we have plants coming tomorrow, so next pics should be of something more interesting. I would up going with an ACO 24" light and will control with a smart plug. Also got a Seachem HOB to assist with filtering.
Sounds like you know your shiznit! Very interesting tank setup. What plants are you planning on getting?
I wouldn't go that far, lol, but I do have a pretty good background in ecology and I'm not afraid to try things -- plus I have a resource in my backyard that not everyone gets. Going reef for a while was a good experience as well -- really appreciated the value of sump and refuge area for the microfauna and nutrient cycling. I really wanted to do the whole setup (fuge and all), but reality is sometimes a good thing to pay attention to. This will probably be better for my daughter to get her feet wet anyway. Big can be overwhelming when you just wanted "a fish". That said, I may take a few more experimental liberties than I originially intended.

Here's my plant list -- I ordered it from buceplant (I couldn't tell you what landed me there):
Fissidens Fontanus
Cryptocoryne Parva
Ludwigia Natans Super Red
Cryptocoryne Wendtii Green
Rotala Indica
Eleocharis Pusillis
Micranthemum 'Monte Carlo'
Bucephalandra Belindae
Alternanthera Reineckii 'Mini'

Hopefully there is room for it all in the 20 with hardscape.

I am probably going to shift this build into a new and properly named thread since I am not doing the 40G or sump/fuge in this one. Look for something today or tomorrow. I'm not big on documenting everything, but I realize that's the stuff that keeps forums going. I can't just take everyone else's experience and not give a little back, so I will try and put some effort into that.

Here is the link to the new 20G thread. Hope you enjoy.
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