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My Dream Aquarium- 55 Gallon - Plans

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MuddyWaters

Fish Crazy
Joined
Oct 5, 2021
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Location
Atlanta, GA, USA
Background:
I have always wanted to have a tank built into a wall in a room with one big easy chair and a high quality stereo. It would be my viewing room- totally dark except for the tank. Well, we downsized after the kids moved out and live in a townhouse, so the room bit is not going to happen, but I do want a nice, big tank with some of my favorite freshwater fish.

Tank:
"Big" is a relative term, I guess. I am going to build a planted 55 gallon tank. I've looked online for brands - they seem to be either reasonably priced with lots of cautionary tales about poor quality or super-mega expensive (Waterbox, anyone?). I'd like something more on the reasonable end, but don't want it to break on me. I've been told the stories I read about Aqueon, or Marineland are overblown (more exception than the rule), but not sure. I did see the brand Seapora the other day, and it looked sturdier than the same size Aqueon (the brace in the middle was much thicker and didn't wiggle). Any thoughts on brand?

Fish:
I want angelfish of some variety, Spotted Chocolate Talking Catfish, Otocinculs, maybe rams, maybe cockatoo dwarf cichlids, maybe some tetras... I want to keep it to fish that are from South America, particularly waterways in Colombia- my wife is from Colombia- she is not excited about this 2nd tank at all, but she loves how pretty my 15 gallon is, and she has enjoyed the 29 gallon I kept for years, so I know she'll like this one too. The fact that the fish will mostly be from Colombia is a convenient accident, if I'm telling the truth, but don't tell her that.

Filtration:
I've done a lot of looking at filtration- right now I think 2 HOT filters that'll pump 275 gallons per hour between them will be best. Was thinking of just getting sponge filters, but I'm sure I'm going to want more mechanical filtration, so HOT it is....I think... Based on what I'm seeing, if the tank cycles right you can even go without filtration or water flow. The other day I was at a LFS and a kid there was telling me all about sumps and top off tanks, etc. and that they could be used for freshwater too. I was seeing $$$$$. I watched a few videos today and learned that the bacteria needed for biological filtration not only live in the filter media, but in the tank, on the plants, on the gravel, etc. and the key is to get the cycle done and then the desire for water clarity is more what would drive more filtration flow rather than the biological filtration. Of course, those with natural tanks are cool too, but I don't think that's the way I want to go right now. Any thoughts of what HOT I should get? Is my logic sound? I guess it'll need a sponge and some of those little ceramic tube looking things for the bacteria in the filter...

Substrate:
Looks like I'll have small natural pebble gravel with sand. I've never done sand, but I see a lot of reference to it, and I know that the Chocolate talking catfish likes to bury in it, so I'll do it. I'm not sure what sand to get. Someone in a video said get "rinsed" sand. Does it need to be sand from an aquarium store or are there cheaper ways that are just as good? Anything about substrate that I should be considering? I will have plants, but I don't want to put dirt in there- I've had plants grow in regular old blue/red/orange/yellow aquarium gravel and do just fine, so I figure what I'm doing will be fine for the plants also, and likely better for the fish (plus look better).

Top:
I'm guessing I'll get a clear plexiglass top of some sort and suspend the light above that? Seems to be common now rather than the old black/brown tops with the flip up lid. What should I consider here that I'm not thinking of?

Lighting:
I did some looking and I think this Hygger 42W 24/7 Lighting Aquarium LED Light might be a good balance between needed strength, functionality and cost? I want to heavily plant and would like to have some red plants, but don't want to mess with CO2 in order to do it. Not sure whether more $$ = better results or am I ok with something more reasonable?

Hardscape:
Some wood and rocks- not sure how I'll put it together, but some kind of cave- preferably in the front where the fish can hide but I can see? I've seen folks mess around with it before putting it in a tank- would love some input on stuff to think about with this- methods of creating a pretty landscape while ensuring it's good for the fish, etc?

Plants:
Not sure- Swords, anubias, ...other stuff....LOL I can't remember names of plants (or most fish, for that matter). Ideas for nice plants would be welcome. Right now I use tablets in the substrate and add a capful of Flourish Excel when I do a 40% water change. I guess that's what I'll do going forward unless there are specific needs for certain plants.

Heater:
I've never paid much attention to what heater I get- I just get one based on size of the tank and make sure it's submersible. Any ideas here or cautions would be welcome.

Aquarium Stand:
I see really expensive stands that are just made of plywood and 2x4s at local fish stores. Chains have the "put it together yourself" stands which I guess are veneered particle board. I'd like to get something that would hold the thing up, provide a place to store equipment out of sight, and make my wife happy (not be ugly and/or look like something I would build). Any thoughts on reasonably priced furniture that is commonly used for tanks? Do I need to get specifically an aquarium stand? Is there a company that makes them that a lot of folks use beyond what I've described above?

What else?
What am I missing?

I'd like to buy as much as I can used or on sale, but not sure I'll have the patience to wait around to find everything. If you've read this far, thank you- I'll post more as I progress.
 
You can use play sand you just have to rinse it first to get the other particle sizes out. If that’s not enough to make it aquarium safe just boil it.
 
If you’re looking for used tanks and stands you could check facebook marketplace or KSL classifieds.
 
Never have fish tanks in a dark room. You can turn the room lights off to watch the fish but the aquarium should be in a brightly lit room where lots of people move around it. If the aquarium is in a dark quiet area, the fish won't tame down and get spooked anytime someone enters the room. This means you never get to see the fish.
 
UPDATE- Changed Tank size I want and (finally) bought some equipment
I've been hunting deals and waffling on equipment -what to get, etc.

Today, I finally bought a heater and a light. I got the heater for 50% off, and the light for 20% off, plus a discount at my LFS for being a member of my local aquarium association.

Light: Fluval Plant Spectrum LED light - 6500K, 59W, 48"-60"
Heater: Fluval T300 (80 gal)

Also, talked to a person at the LFS who explained that 55 can be harder to decorate than 75 because the width is 13" instead of a more expansive 18" for the 75, so ....twist my arm. Had a slight bump in the road when I mentioned the size to my wife. "WHAT? You said 50!" "oh, did I? I think I meant 75, besides, they're pretty much the same size...." :D :D :cool::cool:

So, anyway, I'm gonna get a 75 gallon.

I've been looking at stands too. I found one on Amazon that is part metal and part "wood" (some kind of composite I think ) that I'm leaning toward. It's simple, cheap and can hold the weight. I'd like a nice piece of furniture that I could put the tank on, but man, it is expensive! Anyone with suggestions on stands (or any of it, for that matter) I'd appreciate feedback.

My son is getting married this weekend, so my wife asked...ORDERED me to wait until after to buy the rest. I can hold off a little longer, I reckon....
 
UPDATE- Ordered the stand

My wife told me to wait until after our son got married to get this tank. He was married yesterday. Today I ordered the stand :D :D :D .

I did a lot of looking for the stand, mostly because it'll be in our living room. I can easily get something really nice that will look good, but didn't want to pay a ton. I was vacillating between one that has metal legs or one that is "wood." I ended up getting this one. I found it in a couple of different places with a couple of different brands. I think it looks as good as you can get for furniture of this quality/price and it is dark colored "wood," which matches our décor most effectively.

With a stand like this, I'll need to be careful about spills during water changes, etc. to make sure that water doesn't sit on the stand and affect the integrity, but I'm already doing that with my little 15 gallon tank. I will need to be very careful in general anyway because of where it'll sit in the living room.

I'm super excited!!! Never got excited about a piece of furniture before LOL.

Edit: forgot to add that it was discounted 43%, so ..yay!
 
UPDATE: Tank, filter and some hardscape!

Petco is having their periodic half price sale on Aqueon tanks. I wasn't going to get Aqueon- I wanted a Seapora, but I could not find anyone who had it in stock, so the sale price got me. So, I got the Aqueon 75 gallon tank.

I also got the Fluval FX4 filter. I was going to get 2 HOT filters, but then I read this article ( and a couple of related articles linked from that page) on filtration and media and it changed my mind. I also bought some K1 media to put in all the baskets. So, I'll have foam and k1 media in it- not sure it's enough to get crystal clear water as described in this article, but it'll be much more effective than HOT filters would have been,

I bought one of those little mats to go under the tank to even out how it sits on the stand- not too expensive and seemed to make sense to reduce any points of over-stress on the tank due to whatever bumps and dips are in the top of the stand.

The stand was supposed to arrive today, but didn't, so I went to the LFS and bought some hardscape and substrate. I got Supernatural Peace River substrate- it's very small, but not sand. Again, I changed my mind on what I originally planned. A bunch of reading convinced me I don't need to mess with sand. I'm going to have Spotted Chocolate Raphael catfish. They like to burrow, but they also like snug places to hide. The wood I bought has a perfect little tunnel in it and I'll make a few more as I scape the tank, so they'll be fine.

With the substrate I bought some chunks of wood- I can't remember what kind, but it's something from South America- super expensive- I was going to get a bunch- glad I looked at the price! I got 2 pieces that look like tree trunks and a smaller piece with a cool tunnel in it. I figure I'll get more, but dadgum- I need to find some cheaper wood! I want some big river rocks, but they didn't have any- I think I'll go to a local place where they sell all kinds of rock for landscaping. It'll be MUCH cheaper too.


I'm starting to consider CO2- I tried it with my small 15 gallon tank and it had incredible results, but I used a cheapy method that was very inconsistent. That, coupled with my inconsistent attention to it at the time caused disaster in the tank. I had decided it was not a good idea, but kind of re-thinking. All the absolute gorgeous tanks I see have CO2. It's expensive, but this is, after all, my dream tank. :D:D Not something I'm going to run out and buy, though.

So, that's it for now- so excited to get rolling! I'll put some pictures up when I have something to show. Hopefully I'll get the stand set up, the tank on the stand and at least put some water in it to check for leaks tomorrow.
 
UPDATE: Stand built and tank on top- plus CO2 otw

Well, I got the stand built and the tank on top (see pic below). I put the whole stand together and was showing my wife when I realized I put the bottom on upside down- exposing the raw particle board to the bottom inside of the stand. AAAHHGGGG!!!! At first I was in denial, saying I would just put contact paper down and get some sealant for the edges. My wife gently said, "do it the right way." Next day, I took half of it apart and flipped the bottom. Much happier now LOL.

I was not going to do CO2. I had a bad experience with it in my small tank, but upon reflection, that experience had a lot to do with my inconsistent attention to maintenance at the time- particularly water changes. I've mended my ways since then.

Here's my thought process around CO2 or not. First, I have been reading a ton of articles on David Bogert's blog. This has been incredibly informative and has explained a lot of things that didn't seem to jive with the typical things you read regarding filtration, efficacy of some fertilizer, balance between ph, oxygen and CO2, stocking, planted tank considerations, etc. Specifically regarding the planted tank, I vacillated between low tech tank with lots of easy plants and high tech tank with mostly easy, but some more finicky plants.

I don't like the idea that I have to stock lower in a heavily planted tank where I keep CO2 at 30-40ppm, but I do think that being able to control the CO2 will allow me to more effectively grow beautiful finicky plants AND easy plants and I'm going to try and strike a balance between the CO2 and the oxygen that will allow me to stock the tank as I want. The way David lays out stocking levels, it's more than you would think for smaller fish- I just want to make sure I can keep a few medium fish too, so I'm going to shoot for 20-25ppm and see how it goes. Of course, this will be a long process. I've changed my mind about 20 times already, so my plan will likely alter again as I learn more and get more into actually building the tank.

I did go ahead and order a complete CO2 system from Modern Aquarium that includes an automated controller that turns the CO2 on and off as needed rather than relying on the sunup to sundown method. I like the control and ease of use that will provide.

I'm a bit concerned about redundancy in case of power outage or part failure, but, based on what I'm reading, it looks like the plants take longer to react to a lack of CO2 than the fish would to a lack of oxygen, so I plan to keep waterflow over the surface pretty choppy so I continue to aerate the tank. I'd rather use more CO2 to reach the level I want than risk a plummeting oxygen level. Again, all this is theory at this point- we'll see what happens.

I would love to hear experience of anyone who uses CO2- what level do you shoot for? How well stocked is your planted tank? Do you keep any bigger fish, or all small ones in a CO2 injected tank?

OH! I am also considering getting a UV sterilizer. I'm going to post a question about it in the equipment forum- would appreciate you sharing any experience you have with them here also.
PXL_20231106_120811512.jpg

FINALLY have the tank on the stand. Can't wait to get the cycle going!!!

PXL_20231105_201107258.jpg

Wood I bought at the LFS for the tank. OMG it was crazy expensive. The label didn't say exactly what kind of wood it is. It better be rare or from far away based on what I paid. It does have the exact qualities I was looking for in terms of hidey holes for fish and shape/look, etc, though, so not complaining too much. Also my wife said, " I love it!" (she didn't see the receipt :D :D :D )
 
UPDATE: Stand built and tank on top- plus CO2 otw

Well, I got the stand built and the tank on top (see pic below). I put the whole stand together and was showing my wife when I realized I put the bottom on upside down- exposing the raw particle board to the bottom inside of the stand. AAAHHGGGG!!!! At first I was in denial, saying I would just put contact paper down and get some sealant for the edges. My wife gently said, "do it the right way." Next day, I took half of it apart and flipped the bottom. Much happier now LOL.

I was not going to do CO2. I had a bad experience with it in my small tank, but upon reflection, that experience had a lot to do with my inconsistent attention to maintenance at the time- particularly water changes. I've mended my ways since then.

Here's my thought process around CO2 or not. First, I have been reading a ton of articles on David Bogert's blog. This has been incredibly informative and has explained a lot of things that didn't seem to jive with the typical things you read regarding filtration, efficacy of some fertilizer, balance between ph, oxygen and CO2, stocking, planted tank considerations, etc. Specifically regarding the planted tank, I vacillated between low tech tank with lots of easy plants and high tech tank with mostly easy, but some more finicky plants.

I don't like the idea that I have to stock lower in a heavily planted tank where I keep CO2 at 30-40ppm, but I do think that being able to control the CO2 will allow me to more effectively grow beautiful finicky plants AND easy plants and I'm going to try and strike a balance between the CO2 and the oxygen that will allow me to stock the tank as I want. The way David lays out stocking levels, it's more than you would think for smaller fish- I just want to make sure I can keep a few medium fish too, so I'm going to shoot for 20-25ppm and see how it goes. Of course, this will be a long process. I've changed my mind about 20 times already, so my plan will likely alter again as I learn more and get more into actually building the tank.

I did go ahead and order a complete CO2 system from Modern Aquarium that includes an automated controller that turns the CO2 on and off as needed rather than relying on the sunup to sundown method. I like the control and ease of use that will provide.

I'm a bit concerned about redundancy in case of power outage or part failure, but, based on what I'm reading, it looks like the plants take longer to react to a lack of CO2 than the fish would to a lack of oxygen, so I plan to keep waterflow over the surface pretty choppy so I continue to aerate the tank. I'd rather use more CO2 to reach the level I want than risk a plummeting oxygen level. Again, all this is theory at this point- we'll see what happens.

I would love to hear experience of anyone who uses CO2- what level do you shoot for? How well stocked is your planted tank? Do you keep any bigger fish, or all small ones in a CO2 injected tank?

OH! I am also considering getting a UV sterilizer. I'm going to post a question about it in the equipment forum- would appreciate you sharing any experience you have with them here also.
View attachment 330085
FINALLY have the tank on the stand. Can't wait to get the cycle going!!!

View attachment 330086
Wood I bought at the LFS for the tank. OMG it was crazy expensive. The label didn't say exactly what kind of wood it is. It better be rare or from far away based on what I paid. It does have the exact qualities I was looking for in terms of hidey holes for fish and shape/look, etc, though, so not complaining too much. Also my wife said, " I love it!" (she didn't see the receipt :D :D :D )
Aquarium wood is some of the most overpriced stuff there is.
 
UPDATE: Painted back of tank, added protection to the wall behind, rinsed and added substrate and drift wood
I read some about what to do with the back of the tank. I ordered one of those backgrounds- just black. It wasn't going to get here fast enough for me, so I cancelled the order, went to Home Depot, bought some flat (actually satin is all he had in those little small containers) black paint and just painted it. The paint job is not perfect, but good enough and won't show water stains and crap like something I stick on the back would. Yay! Done.

I also added some 12x17 slightly sticky pieces of ....plastic? to the wall behind the tank to cut down on any spills or splashes (my wife demanded this- happy to comply). Yay! Done.

Then I rinsed all of the substrate and added it to the tank and put the driftwood in to boot. I was planning to add all the water in, but it was late and I didn't want the tank to be full without me there to look at it.

Yeah- I skipped the leak-check. I know, I know, I'm testing fate, but y'all I only have so much dadgum patience! I am doing things much more deliberately this time- I usually just slap crap together and roll- but I just decided I would trust the manufacturer to get it right. We'll see if I end up ok. :)

At any rate, I'll be adding the water, hooking up the filter & heater, adding the gunk**, the food and turning it all on! woo hoo! Oh, and the glass lid.

I considered adding plants, but I read a method of planting that is more likely to avoid a lot of algae (David Bogert). Add one plant every 3 inches- that's a lot of plants in a 75 gallon aquarium, so I'm going to wait until the cycle is done and then do that.

**GUNK: I'm putting a sock with dirt from a potted plant that I feed with aquarium water, some dirt from a creek behind my house, and some gunk from my small aquarium- got this idea from- guess who- David Bogert in this article). He says use ONE of those, but I'm a big fan of "if one is good more is better" so I'm doing all of it LOL.
PXL_20231108_155151537.jpg
 
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UPDATE: Cycling has begun!

Started cycling Wednesday.

I set up the FX4 filter. I removed the red baskets as the suggestion of a setup video I watched, to provide more room for media. I put K1 media in the baskets instead of the ceramic that comes with it. I also found some finer sponge (more like half sponge, half floss) to put around the outside edges of the sponge that comes with the filter.

I also got a little fine mesh bag that came with the filter and added 3 heaping teaspoons of potted plant dirt from a plant we've had 8-10 years (and we water with aquarium water) and 3 heaping teaspoons of mud from the creek behind my house. I also got little packets of bacteria that came with my substrate, so I poured that in too. Why not?

I was worried about hauling all that water in 5 gallon buckets from the kitchen sink to the tank and pouring it in. It wasn't as bad as I thought. I poured the water onto the logs until they started floating, then I poured wherever- doesn't matter at this point.

About halfway up I added some river rocks I got in a bag at Home Depot to weigh down the wood and then poured carefully on the other side the rest of the way to ensure the rocks didn't slide off. I wonder how long it'll take for the wood to get waterlogged?

I turned the filter on, fed the ghost fish and have been doing it every day. This is when I have to be patient. I HATE being patient, but I will endure.

This morning, right after I added the food for the day, I turned the light on for a brief minute just to take a picture. I don't want to give algae a chance to get ahead of me, so I leave the light off all the time, but just couldn't resist getting a quick look.
75Gal-firsttimelighton-12Nov23.jpg

It's currently a desolate landscape, but it's got potential!
 
UPDATE: One week into cycling

Well, I'm one week in and I can't stand it. I want it to be OVER! If wishes and buts were candy and nuts, blah blah.

In the meantime, I've been adding the food every day. I've also added some pee. Yeah....I read that it turns to ammonia way faster than the food, so what the heck. I wasn't going to use it for anything else, anyway. :D :D

I also added an air stone on full blast to keep the oxygen level up while cycling and added baking soda to raise the PH- it was around 6.5 at first, then I added some crushed coral in a bag- that got it to about 7. I added the baking soda too and now it's about 7.8. That's higher than I want it later, but apparently the beneficial bacteria love higher PH and for now they're the only game in town.

I am finding ammonia- about 0.5ppm this morning- hoping it'll rise to around 2ppm or so- we'll see how the food does. I have found no nitrites yet, so I guess the cycle isn't really going. I DO have nitrates- about 10ppm- I read that it can come from the gravel, though, so not getting excited.

Not much else I can do at this point, I think. Patience, patience patience where is my patience? LOL- I find myself just staring at it and then I think I see something move in it. My mind is messing with me....
 
UPDATE: Thoughts on plants and planting
Thinking about what plants I want. I read an approach to planting that helps to keep the algae at bay. It uses "negative allelopathy," kind of warfare of plants on stuff that's bad for them, to keep algae from getting a foothold. It requires one to load the tank with plants. I want to do this anyway, and I think I'll scape it better if I do it in one chunk (at least at first), so I'm excited about getting a bunch of plants at once and planting them. Also, I'm going to use the Estimative Index fertilization method developed by Dr. Tom Barr. It works best if the whole tank is planted, apparently, so yay! - another reason to put a bunch in at once.

The challenge is to get them all in a relatively short period of time (a few days), and get the ones I want (or that I think I want). Looking at different plant selling sites to see what they have- actually using them to find the ones I want.

Also, thinking I'll give the list to the LFS to see how much they have.

I'm very hopeful that folks that belong to my local aquarium association will grow a lot of these plants and sell them to me on the cheap. Plants are SO expensive now- it's crazy.

I purchased a good CO2 setup, and I'll be following the EI fertilization method after the plants settle in and start growing, so I should have what I need to make these things do right.

Anyway, here are the ones I am excited about (please forgive spelling errors):
1. Top: Red Root Floater - phyllanthus fluitans - I'll keep these in a ring- the roots are beautiful!
1700278149895.png


2. Mid: Bucephalandra Dark Skeleton King/Dark Achilles - I'll tie this to some wood- it is so striking!
1700278295061.png


3. Back: Amazon Sword- easy, big, beautiful green
1700278367543.png


4. Back: Water Wisteria - pretty green foliage, big and abundant
1700278482170.png


5. Back: Alternanthera Rosanervig - red - nice blast of red in the back- a lot of the pics show this in the middle, but I think it can grow tall- either way it's purty!
1700278563908.png


6. Cover: Christmas Moss - growing on wood/rocks - I like the "little christmas tree look" of this moss- lovely on the hardscape
1700278772733.png


7. Mid: Alternanthera Reineckii red - another splash of red in the middle
1700278900916.png


8. Front & cover: Micranthemum Monte Carlo- I love the way this looks and it's supposed to be easier than baby tears
1700279043494.png


9. Mid: Pearl Weed - this is prolific grower and can grow in the middle or background. Just a beautiful green
1700279152085.png


That's what I have in mind so far- we'll see how it all turns out. Any thoughts on plants to try?
 
I’ve noticed that before, with my hard water, my red root floaters were pretty red… but today, using RO water, they are pretty green… thinking the iron, in the hard water gave my red colors a boost… think I’ll have to add more iron ( there is some, in the liquid fertilizer I’m adding ) or I may need to add an additional nutrient to the RO water to help the floaters use the the iron???
 
I read about iron for the red in the plants. I'll be interested to see if you get better results adding more. Maybe Seachem Flourish Iron?

It's going to be interesting to see how fertilization goes. I think that EI method just overloads with everything they need everyday except 1 where 50% - 75% water change balances back out. I like that because it's straightforward and blunt. I'm better with a bat than a scalpel, you know? LOL
 

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