The past few years, I have taken apart and rescaped our planted aquarium around the new year. I like getting a fresh start and re-setting the tank occasionally and the holidays are a good time to do this major maintenance.
I experienced some difficulty with our aquarium last year (which was rescaped on January 1st of 2019). Plant growth stalled and algae took over at the beginning of the year. It turns out I had some problems with flow and CO2 distribution. It took many small changes to rectify these problems. I hope that a restart, with these changes, will see better plant growth.
This year’s tank breakdown started on December 30th. I was done the next evening, having completely cleaned out the Spec V and re-aquascaped with new dirt and rock and had finished replanting. As I write this, fish are back in place and are healthy.
Getting Messy – Aquarium Teardown:
I have previously written about how to rescape an aquarium, so I will spare some details, but this is how it went down. I started by getting a quarantine tank setup to house the fish/shrimp/plants while the main aquarium was broken down.
The quarantine tank is a 5 gallon aquarium from PetCo. I had it setup with a sponge filter driven by a trusty Tetra Whisper air pump. I have a spare heater (a 25 watt Eheim Jager) that I control with our old DIY temperature controller. The big needs for a quarantine tank are some aeration and temperature control.
I sucked half of the old water from the Spec and put it in the quarantine tank, then filled the rest of the way up with tap water. I then dechlorinated the entire tank with Seachem Prime. I waited for the quarantine tank to match the main tank temperature to within a degree F before I started the transfer.
Then came the fun of rounding up fish and shrimp – and plants. I hate having the fish hide in the plants when I am trying to capture them, so I took the plants out (other than the HC carpet) first and put them in the quarantine tank. Then I rounded up the fish. One of my kids served as ‘shrimp wrangler’ and got them all moved over (well, almost all of them).
I kept the removed ‘Cuba’ in a separate Tupperware (to keep it from dirtying up the quarantine tank) and floated it to keep the temperature regulated.
After that, the dirty work started – I pumped almost all the water out. The good thing about a nano aquarium is that you can easily move it with some water and substrate left in the tank. I took it out to the yard and rinsed it out with the hose. I used a piece of scotchbrite pad to scrub off all the algae and hard water deposits. Rise out, towel dry the outsides, and the tank was ready to go.
While I had everything apart, I did some other equipment maintenance. Our storage box was filthy so I washed it out. Our CO2 tubing has not been arranged very well; I changed it up so that the CO2 tubing (from the regulator to the tank) is now routed through the box instead of around it. I also tidied up some of the cords with zip-ties.
New Substrate – ADA Amazonia II:
I have used the same planted substrate, Up Aqua Aquasand, for the past 4 years. It has been excellent, but I have always wondered about using substrate from the industry standard: Aqua Design Amano (ADA). I felt like their Aqua Soil Amazonia II would be a good match. It is purported to not leach ammonia (as badly as Amazonia) upon startup.
It is a nice texture – not quite as uniform or black as the Up Aqua Aquasoil that I am used to. I think it’s nice. I can get used to whatever as far as appearance, but I do hope the plants grow fast and healthy with it. (I have written a full review of Amazonia II Substrate).
Putting It All Back Together:
My favorite part of a tank teardown is getting to rearrange the aquascape. The previous layout wasn’t great from a plant maintenance standpoint. I had a hard time getting my hand into position to trim the HC (Cuba). The centerpiece stone was a little too big and was blocking flow.
I played around with several new dragon (ohko) stones – alone; groups of two or three. I love the Spec V but one frustration is that the small size doesn’t give much space for hardscape. Any layout with multiple rocks seemed to take too much space away from the plants.
We ended up with a scape almost exactly like we had last year – one large(ish) stone just off center. I changed the plant groupings slightly. The four plants are (from the back wall to front):
- Rotala Wallichii: I like this stem plant. It’s a little finicky, but the colors are amazing when it reaches up to the top near the higher intensity light. The tips get red and pink.
- Blyxa Japonica: I planted one small bunch in a corner near the CO2 diffuser. When planting, it’s challenging to plan for how big the plants will get – this one can get super full.
- Staurogyne Repens: I replanted about four small stems. This plant spreads quickly, so it is nice that it is bound on one side by the stone.
- Hemianthus Callitrichoides ‘Cuba’ (or HC): Last years layout didn’t have enough space for this beautiful carpet plant. I moved this to the far end of the tank and allocated more room for this to spread.
Planting went pretty well. Everything was very fast except for the HC, as expected. Planting Cuba is always a patience building exercise. It’s amazing how few pieces it takes to cover an area with little plugs.
The next day I tested the water and it showed some ammonia but no nitrites. I suspected (and have confirmed with multiple tests with tap water) that the API freshwater test kit (that has expired – oops) was not accurate. I went ahead and moved the fish and shrimp into their new home. I had a few shrimp die off, but all 7 of our fish are fine.
New Year – Fresh Start:
It’s a great feeling having a new tank look for the new start of the year. I hope the adjustment’s I have made give success in better growth and hopefully not as much algae as I had last year. That’s part of the fun of this hobby – constant challenges, always something to learn, and the enjoyment of a beautiful little box of nature.