I've been lurking around here for quite a while (due to the goodness of RSS feeds) but this is my first post. And, as is usually the case with first posts, I'm looking for your expertise.
I bought my first aquarium, almost on a whim, about a year and a half ago now. I came across a sale at a Big Al's up here in Canada (Oakville, if you must know) and walked away with a 60 gallon show tank and the conviction that I had to have my own planted tank. Had I known then what I know now, I would not have purchased a tank with these dimensions--48" long, 12" wide and 24" high. But it's a good-looking tank, complete with a base and a hood, at my wife lets me keep it in the living room. I have fallen in love with the hobby.
During the past year I've encountered all of the blessings and curses of this hobby. I love the fish but am amazed at how often fish turn into fish food. I love the plants but have seen almost as much algae as plant growth. But as time has gone on, I've started to figure things out and now have a pretty stable tank--healthy plants, healthy fish, relatively little algae. The pH is a bit high (7.6 or a tad higher) but every other level is good (though the temperature stubbornly stays at around 84 or even higher). Once I start with CO2 I'm expecting the pH to fall a bit.
I love finding new plants and new, cool fish. As it stands now the tank is moderately planted and has quite a few different fish. In both cases I've been buying different things and just experimenting with what works well. Right now I've got a few gouramis, a bunch of ottos, a school of neons, a school of glass cats, and a handful of algae eaters. There are also a couple of zebras I used to cycle the tank that haven't died and that I haven't been able to catch! But for one grumpy gold gourami and one insane yoyo loach who just swims in circles all day, the fish all seem to get along and seem to be doing well.
The plants are also pretty healthy, I think. I've got onion grass and hornwort along the back (the hornwort mostly as a temporary measure to compete with algae and to provide quick and easy background plants that are easy to replace later on). There are a few other plants here and there including some very large leafy thing I need to keep pruning or I'm pretty sure it would just take over the entire tank. I have been dosing with Flourish Excel and just recently began with Flourish as well. I'm about to buy my first CO2 system (CO2 Pro by Red Sea). I don't run into much algae except for some slime algae that grows in the occasional plant leaf (it's kind of odd--five of the leaves of the onion grass will be perfect and the other will be totally coated with algae).
The reason I'm posting here is to ask for advice on aquascaping with a tank that only offers a foot of room to work with. I'd love to get advice on how it can be successfully aquascaped. Surely someone here must have worked with a similar tank! I'd love to get some ideas and maybe some visual inspiration. Particularly, I've found it tough to find good background plants that will get 2 feet high (and maintain their good looks).
Secondly, I'd love to know if there are some good threads around here about "re-aquascaping" an existing tank. I'd love to tear down the tank and start from scratch, or nearly so, but I don't have a second tank into which I can put all of my existing fish while I do so. I do have a neighbor who has a couple of tanks and maybe I could bump my fish over there for a bit. But I don't quite know where to begin with tearing things apart. If my tank has just gotten stable would I want to drain it and have to begin again? Also, right now I have a high-quality substrate, but it makes an awful mess when I shovel it around. Immediately the water gets filthy. So how do I move that around without turning the tank into a mudbath and killing everything? Over the substrate I've got some fairly fine gravel (that I hate--blame my brother-in-law) and on the very top a fairly thin coating of some much nicer coarse gravel that is a light color. So maybe you can tell me what you'd do in this situation. Work with what I've got and just move things around? Or pull the fish out, recycle the tank, etc?
Your thoughts and wisdom would be much appreciated!