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Conversion of 4-foot tank

3067 Views 12 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  Bunbury
G'day everyone

Completely draining my 500L (130 gallons?) tank in order to install a soil underlayer proved a bit too much of an ask, so I just took out all the gravel and rocks refurbished it with plants in trays and a couple of terracotta pots. I hope this isn't cheating! Do I still get to call it an NPT?

Each tray is 40cm in diameter and has about 2 inches of potting mix on the bottom, covered with another inch or so of fine gravel. The tank is lit by 80W high-efficiency fluorescent tubes and the right-hand side gets a few hours of sunlight filtered through a stained-glass door. I'm working on getting more light into it.

The photo is of the tank after 2 weeks.

Any suggestions for making the aquascaping look prettier and more natural would be much appreciated. I tried to select trays that wouldn't look too obtrusive, but having been a high-tech person for so long I'm still suffering from aquascaping-withdrawal!

The water's a bit cloudy (whitish) and there is some green algae growing on the glass. But no brown algae, which surprises me because brown algae grows in the water here like you wouldn't believe. If you leave a full glass of tapwater alone for two days, the inside will be covered in a thin layer of it. That's why we installed an RO unit for our drinking water....

The plants are Ambulia (lots of it), Ceratopteris thalictroides, Elodea densa, Anubias, water wisteria, banana lilies, small Amazon swords, Riccia, and a common species of Hygrophila. There are a couple of bits of duckweed floating about but the platies keep eating it.

The Ambulia has grown every time I look at it, and the Elodea has grown 40cm in the past week (I measured it).

However, the Amazon swords are not particularly happy. They are just sitting there sulking and one of them has developed brown spots and staining through some of its veins. Could this be iron toxicity?

The Hygrophila is growing much faster than in my high-tech tank, but not as quickly as the Ambulia and Elodea. The Ceratopteris and wisteria are also only growing slowly and are beginning to be overshadowed by the Ambulia.

The fancy guppies are doing very well and are eating like they've never eaten before. The platies are fine health-wise but have been a bit nervous when I approach the tank. It seems rearranging the tank frightened them. The baby fish LOVE the Riccia and the bits of Ceratopteris that have detached and are floating.

I'm very impressed with the growth of the plants and cautiously optimistic about this tank! :D


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It's looking good. I think it does qualify as an NPT since you're using soil. The swords may just be adjusting to the new conditions. I've lost most of the old leaves on my swords when moving them to significantly different conditions. They eventually come back and start growing well.

For the scaping, you can still trim to shape the plants. Add a shallower pot for foreground plants. Some of the crypts might be a nice contrast to the greens you have.
to hide some of the pots place drift wood and rocks that will be alot more natural
I hope that your pots and planters are resting directly on the glass. If they're sitting on a gravel layer more than 1 cm deep, the gravel underneathe might go severely anaerobic over time.

I think your tank looks great! It has an "Italian Patio" look.

With this kind of overall robust plant growth, I wouldn't worry too much about those species that aren't doing well. They may not be able to adjust to this tank's ecosystem.
Thanks for all the replies! :D I'll start referring to this as my "Italian Patio" tank!

The pots are resting on bare glass and there is a good flow of water over the fine layer of gravel I placed between them. I'll probably have to vacuum that occasionally, and around the rocks I've added to disguise the pots.

The banana lily has sent up enormous lily pads that are providing welcome shade to the Anubias, however I had to slide one of the pots of Ambulia along to get more light - it stopped growing as soon as it became shaded. I've added another 2x36W fluorescent tubes and both the plants, and the algae, are growing amazingly fast. I haven't trimmed anything yet in the hope of getting some good emergent growth, but I'll have to start soon or the fish won't have any room to swim!

The plants that were looking at little bit crook during the first few days have started to perk up. The Ceratopteris is growing new fronds and new leaf buds are appearing at the base of the Amazon Swords. Every time I look at the tank, the Ambulia and Elodea have grown another inch....

I've been a bit wary of cleaning the algae (greenish, with a powdery texture) off the glass in case it's helping to absorb nasties in the water. Would it be a good idea to get rid of it, or leave it alone?
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I've been a bit wary of cleaning the algae (greenish, with a powdery texture) off the glass in case it's helping to absorb nasties in the water. Would it be a good idea to get rid of it, or leave it alone?
The way your plants are growing, I think that a small amount of algae is probably okay. However, I would get rid of it-- when you have time. The algae is removing CO2 from the water with more efficiency than the plants. Some plant species that depend on water CO2 may do better when they don't have to compete with this algae.

The plants in this tank should take care of any nasties. You don't need the algae.
That is good news on the algae, thank you. I don't like the appearance of it, it'll be good to remove it.

Here are two comparative photos so you can see the growth and development since I converted to NPT a few weeks ago.

The platies still take cover every time I approach the tank, so there are a few more fish in this tank than you can see in the pictures.



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You've gotten some very nice growth in a little time.
Hello everyone

After a few weeks I'm happy with the progress of the tank and the health of the fish. A sickly female guppy has actually managed to fight off some sort of fungal or bacterial infection attacking her head and a platy injured by kribensis-attack in one of my other tanks is clearly enjoying convalescing in the NPT.

However, the algae is starting to grow over the Ambulia's leaves and its growth is slowing right down, it's almost stalled completely. I cannot remove the algae without damaging the Ambulia, it is completely stuck to the surface. I was able to wipe it off the Anubias easily, but their leaves are waxy and strong, in contrast to the Ambulia.

Is this going to be a problem? The Ambulia doesn't have to grow much higher to become emergent, in which case I'm hoping the algae won't grow above the waterline, but the algae is affecting its growth to such an extent I doubt it will make it to the surface anytime soon.

I've attached a photo to help with identifying the algae (and there's a cute little baby platy in the photo as well).

All advice appreciated! :D


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Your Platies should not be cowering. I do not know if your H2OQ is not right or you have some stray juice in your tank but they probsbly should be out looking for food everytime you approach. Check for reasons why.
Thanks for the advice, Cliff! Ammonia and nitrite levels were not registering on the test, nitrates were less than 20ppm. In case there's something toxic that I can't measure, I vacuumed the gravel between the pots, ran carbon in the filter overnight, and did a 25% water change. No change in the platies' behaviour today.

I can't refresh the water again because we are on restrictions. We are allocated 140 litres, or 36 gallons, per person per day - to give some perspective, the World Health Organisation recommends a supply of no less than 50 gallons per person per day just to maintain adequate health and sanitation, i.e. no fishkeeping! If plants can't keep things healthy with minimal water changes, I will have to give up my tank altogether.

It's only the adult rainbow wagtail platies that are spooked when I'm near the tank. The baby wagtails, the gold platies and the guppies swarm at the front where the food goes in.

I have lowered the water column to try to get the Ambulia to grow emergent to combat the algae. Hope it works.... :)
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Seems to me you're in good company mate. I noticed in her book photos of Diana's tanks complete with pots. Took me by surprise for sure. I like my aquascapes a bit more elegant than that, but whatever floats yer boat I always say!

Tough about the water restrictions. Drought?
Yeah, I'm mostly using the pots for convenience but am starting to think I'll spend some time aquascaping around them soon.

As for the drought, yes we didn't have much rain for 10 years or so but you expect that here. The main problem was that the government brought in huge numbers of people from the southern states to work in the mines and industry, without building any new infrastructure to support the population increase....
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