where it all started…
Aquariums and aquatic life have interested me since I was a little kid. My dad used to take me to the local aquarium hobby shop and I’d be mesmerized by all the different types of fish and other creatures. It was something I really enjoyed but we only ever had one small fish tank and unfortunately, it didn’t stick around for very long. My dad wasn’t interested in keeping an aquarium anymore, but the bug had bit me.
It wasn’t until college when I finally purchased my own aquarium. Amazon hadn’t started selling much other than books and finding information on the Internet was a bit more challenging than it is today. I didn’t know much about the aquarium hobby except for what I could learn from talking to people I knew and the people at the aquarium store. Let’s just say, I wish I had known a lot more… a lot more. Nevertheless, I purchased my first aquarium and all the goodies that go with it. My naive and ignorant self decided to go with African cichlids and my first aquarium was born.
I know what you’re thinking. Hideous, right? Yes, by today’s aquascaping standards (or even for those times), it was pretty bad. Plastic plants and rocks, mismatching, with multi-colored gravel. Yech. The sad thing is had I known what I know today, I could have achieved all of that for a small fraction of what it cost for all the plastic ones. To make matters worse, my selection of fish wasn’t too smart either. There’s a yellow lab cichlid in the picture on the left side, which was my single best choice. But the striped guy near the middle … well, it turns out he would grow to be about 18 inches long and become very, very aggressive. Thanks fish shop worker guy who didn’t even take a second to ask me how big my tank was or anything. Needless to say, this guy ended up attacking all the other inhabitants and I had to take him back to the shop. I kept this tank throughout college and took it with me to my first job.
Fast forward a handful of years and the tank you see above was no more. I decided I needed to upgrade both my aquarium and my knowledge of the hobby. Inspired by a tank I saw while visiting Japan, my research soon led me to the work of Takashi Amano. Amano is singlehandedly responsible for creating the “nature aquarium” style of aquascaping. His creations mimicked scenes from nature and brought them into the home aquarium. My next aquarium was going to be in this style but if it was going to be awesome, I needed to do it right.
I set off and planned my set up. I was going to have a beautiful rimless, glass tank, hanging light fixture, black sand substrate, and epic looking rocks. It would sit on top of my DIY cabinet with modern lines and storage for everything I needed. The result was going to look like all those impressive aquascapes I had seen during my research. I drew up a 3D model of my stand and setup.
Before long, my stand was built, my equipment had all arrived and it was time to begin. My first aquascape was going to mimic a underwater mountain, covered in green foliage. I lay it out and came up with this:
Looks interesting right? Well, it was a complete failure. I started this setup with the intent to get things started using an immersive method. It simply didn’t work (for me) and when I decided to switch to a full submersion, I realized my hardscape wasn’t well planned. Without any retaining walls or plant roots to hold the substrate, the water just made it fall away and roll down my “mountain”. And that marked the end of this iteration of this tank.
Admitting my defeat, I tore the tank apart and designed a new hardscape with plans for a variety of different plants. I wanted lots of stems to feature in the background with a large open area covered in carpeting plants where the fish could swim and be on display. I was determined. This time I was going to succeed.
I went with a more scattered look for the rocks and greatly sloped the substrate toward the back to add depth when viewing the tank from the front. As you can see in the picture, there were some stems planted and dwarf hairgrass as my carpet plant. The tiny fuzzy stuff you see in the water are microbubbles of CO2 released from the air stone in the back left. Now, all I needed to do was wait for the plants to grow. On the bright side, they did … sorta. Unfortunately, I was also hit with an algae bloom.
I added more stem plants and forged ahead, tweaking my parameters and fertilization routine in hopes it would improve plant growth. Day after day, I measured the parameters, observed the results, and tweaked accordingly. Researching and posting on forums to find out what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. After about a month, the fruit of my labor was born. My proudest moment was coming around the corner one night and seeing this:
At last, success was mine. A beautiful tank full of healthy plants and fish. It was what I had dreamed of – what I had worked so hard to achieve and finally, I did it.
After finally achieving what I had dreamed of, the only thing I could think about was what I could do next. I ripped apart that beautiful tank and started anew. I tried a more scattered and open look, influenced by the iwagumi style. I went from this:
which just became an algae mess like this:
Scrapped and tried again. This time, I went with a one-side peninsula like look. It had a lot of promise and I stuck with it for a while.
Eventually, I ended up with this:
At this point in my life, things were changing and I was moving out of state. This tank had developed some issues in the seals and my poor planning made it practically impossible to remove from the stand. The sponge mat I had placed it on to help level the tank had become an adhesive over the years and welded the tank to the stand. There was simply no way to remove the tank and I was forced to throw it out. But, I took my fish with me and off to our new home we went.
After moving, I had to downsize … a lot. There was simply no room for a large-ish tank. But I had fish babies and they needed a home! I purchased a 10 gallon tank and got them set up. I had a lot of knowledge on my side, so I was confident I could make them a happy home. Not too long after moving in, I had their new home well on its way to something beautiful.
and then things grew…
My happy new home for my fish was complete. A luscious carpeted tank with whispy background plants as a perfect canvas for my fish to show their beautiful colors. My fish were happy. My plants were happy and pearled every single day.
But I decided it was time to change things up again. It was just too much green. I needed some color. Also, the HC was beginning to a bit too much high maintenance. So, I switched back to my tried and true favorite carpet plant: dwarf hairgrass.
And then the stems came… lots of them.
and they grew… and grew…
And that’s pretty much where I was until I had to move again. Most of the plants came with me, but without a proper setup and some neglect on my part, the plants suffered and only the hardier of the bunch have survived to now. This well manicured tank with color and variety became a bit of a jungle with poor quality and unruly growth.
But, I decided it was time to put more effort into this tank and give these plants and fish the care and attention they deserve. Posting here will serve as my accountability. I hope to post a weekly update on this tank. It’ll be exciting to see how this tank changes from here on. But the first thing to do is give the plants a trim, clear out old stems, and replant the tops for fresh new growth.
the future …
As I said above, I hope to give weekly updates on this 10 gallon wonder. But I would also like to upgrade to a larger aquarium at some point. That’s the plan anyway. You can be sure that if I do, I’ll be posting about every single step here.
Please let me know what you think of my fish keeping journey. I hope you continue following along and even better if my story inspires you to start your own.