• You are viewing the forum as a Guest, please login (you can use your Facebook, Twitter, Google or Microsoft account to login) or register using this link: Log in or Sign Up

170L/40g, medium energy, dragonstone + spiderwood, island meadow


6 May 2020
Markham, Ontario, Canada
I started posting this journal on two other sites and later decided to focus my time on ukaps. This is a full recap, rewrite, and up-to-the-minute report.

Let's start with constraints. I decided on a "40 Gallon Breeder", ie. 95x45x40cm, and got a stand with only a small storage cupboard and open space underneath, as this all looked well in the space (a living room with a piano at the front of our house). To greatly reduce the chance of flooding the hardwood, I chose an internal filter. I bought a load of dragon stone cheap, with no chance to pick bits that go together, and a lot of it had flat edges from the stone cutter. The price was worth the artistic constraint. I found a huge piece of red lava rock at a landscape yard and crushed it up and put it in mesh bags for the bottom substrate. And I shopped around and found a piece of spiderwood that I thought would work in the roots-side-down position.

I added Tropica soil and some leftover ADA Amazonia on top, and some inert sand. I ran the filter for a couple weeks, adding Seachem Stability for the first week. The tank was cycled. I planted on August 29th, and everything was tissue cultures, plus some potted stems and bucephelandra and bolbitis heudelotii. I started with about 15ppm CO2 and 2 mL of Tropica Specialized per day. This is Aug 31: notice the Sicce Pro 700 filter on the right glass, held on by magnet. The lights are Nicrew SkyLED Plus.

Below is Sept 13. I had just added more bolbitis at the front of the top of the wood, and moved narrow-leaved java fern around the back and left side of it. Limnophila Sessiflora and Ludwigia Palustris were standout stem growers. Eleocharis Acicularis in the "meadow" looked ok even though the roots were all rotten in the tissue cup. I increased CO2 gradually each week. By now my pH is around 7.4-7.6 un-gassed. kH 3, GH 7. pH 6.6-6.8 by the early part of lights-on. Other plants I'll mention now: anubias barteria nana and glabra and buce wavy green and kedagang on the rocks at the front of the tank.


The lighting period has been kept below 6 hr. The back light is on a higher setting than the front. They are both set about 20% brighter in the middle of the photo period. Below is a closeup from Sept 24, showing that the added bolbitis heudelotii, which came with a lot of blackened leaves, has only gotten worse (other bolbitis heudelotii from the first planting was fine and continues fine till this day). Eventually I had to trim all of the leaves right off.
Here you can also see that I've added weeping moss on the branch. I used cotton thread to tie it on. Also added anubias dragon minima (TC) on another branch.

Below we have Sept 29. Notice the nice red alternanthera reineckii mini and staurogyne repens (red and green "shrubs" on the edge of the "meadow"). Speaking of the meadow, the DHG has been damaged because I added too much ammonia trying to boost the bacteria population to get ready for adding shrimp. Had one day of about 4ppm ammonia before it all turned into nitrates. The S. Repens got holes in it, probably from the same thing. I'm sure the bolbitis heudelotii situation wasn't helped. Oops! btw you'll see I added an Oase Crystalskim on the upper back left.


Below I think I see on Oct 2 some iron deficiency - green-veined pale almost yellowish leaves on anubias/buce, and yellow tips on Lillaeopsis Mauritiana. The more brightly lit anubias and buce were the ones showing it. I got some help on APC forum. Tropica Specialized was already at 3mL/day. I added to that Tropica Premium 1 mL/day, and 1/64 tsp of 11% DTPA chelated iron. The first week I added one dry 1/64 tsp at water change (I've done 30-40% water changes weekly). Starting the second week I split that into daily liquid doses.

Oct 5, view from the side. Rotala Mexicana Bangladesh is grown well.

Oct 22nd, a bunch of brown cloudy algae at the back, right behind the upper wood and blocked from flow by the thick Limnophila Sessiflora.

Also Oct 22, the iron deficiency symptoms seem to have subsided.

Oct 31: a Halloween Ghost!
IMGP4787 (1).jpeg

Also Oct 31:
DHG has grown back from just a few shoots to an encouraging level. Even the bolbitis heudelotii on the front, that I completely cut off, has a few shoots. A second week showed the same trouble spot for algae at the back, but less, with some attention to trimming the limnophila. Definitely diatoms came around and they seem to be hard to get off of some of the brightly lit anubias and buce. Have had a whole bunch of juvenile amanos, both white and regular, patrolling the grounds, for the last few weeks. Will add a photo of some of those to close it off.




Here ends the first chapter. Soon... fish! Any requests for more details, or tips, critiques, etc are very welcome.


  • IMGP4787.jpeg
    428.1 KB · Views: 101
From past experience the best approach to diatoms is mostly to stay the course and check on circulation. The approach seems to have worked again. Had a good crop of seed shrimp going all of a sudden this month, all munching on the diatoms, something I've never seen before. And, everything seemed balanced, so, time to stir things up and start adding fish. Picked up some cute little (false) julii corys at Finatics Aquarium in Mississauga. In less than a day, all of the seed shrimp had disappeared :) A second green wavy buce has flowered. Once I introduced the fish, I've changed from 3:1 ratio Tropica Specialized : Tropica Premium, to a 2:2 ratio thinking the fish will provide enough NP to cover some of the difference, hopefully enough. There was some nitrate build up over the week, each week, up to that point. So far, nitrate is holding steady, roughly, day to day. I've gone down from 15 gallon water change to 12. Bolbitis Heudelotii on the front continues to develop, and java ferns as well - quite happy with the java fern growth, as I had trouble with it in past tanks and when you have trouble with supposedly easy plants, it's hard to take. Here are some photos.


  • IMG_2823.jpeg
    300.1 KB · Views: 82
  • IMG_2824.jpeg
    317.4 KB · Views: 77
  • IMG_2829.jpeg
    257.7 KB · Views: 80
  • IMG_2827.jpeg
    381.8 KB · Views: 76
Hi all,
The approach seems to have worked again. Had a good crop of seed shrimp going all of a sudden this month, all munching on the diatoms, ...........picked up some cute little (false) julii corys at Finatics Aquarium in Mississauga. In less than a day, all of the seed shrimp had disappeared
It is funny with Ostracod (Seed Shrimps), some fish mainly ignore them, but <"others really like them">.

They are known to be browsers on Diatoms <"Ostracods"> (and on other forms of algae).

cheers Darrel
So far so good, the corys seem to be well. I imagine some dither fish will bring more of them out more often. I usually see 2 or 3 all the time, and these days will see all 7 in a focused feeding area. They seem to get used to us over time, as well.


The moss on the wood branch at front came right off one day. I wrapped it back on with the same thread and better knots. The result is looking more random so far. The corys definitely appreciate the cave and the stand of stem plants at the back, as well as all the free space and length of sandy space. The calmest place to feed is under the filter. I really love how the narrow leaf java fern is putting out leaves in the direction of the flow - this was one of my favourite design points of the tank.


This is a diagonal view of my low tech 20 gallon tank, full of snails and crypts, where I have several amanos, 3 kuhlis and 7 cardinal tetras. I was thinking of cherry barbs for the big tank, now I'm thinking of moving these cardinals to the big tank and enlarging the school, instead. It would mean adapting them to a lower pH (theoretically a more natural pH for them), as well as a lower temperature by about 1 degree Celsius. I thought of moving the kuhlis and expanding their numbers to 5 as well. What do you think?


The dwarf hairgrass carpet has come right along, especially in the highest lit area. It sent runners to the front, which I like. The Lillaeopsis Mauritiana did that, as well.


One of the concepts of the tank is that larger anubias are placed only at the front - this is to help the sense of scale. These anubias are continuing to make bigger and bigger leaves. I like how this is adding more cover to the cave entrance. If you look into the darkness above the cave, you'll find crypt lucens, which I placed in the darkest areas of the tank and it has indeed survived - something to appreciate when looking closely. See how the wood branches are just not getting super dark? Well, I think the wood is getting dark and soaked, but then the amanos just eat that layer.


The ludwigia palustris, rotala mexicana bangladesh, bacopa caroliniana, and limnophila sessiflora, all have similar but different growth rates. I actually find this fun - you never know what you're going to be trimming the most. This is a whole new journey for me, as I never managed to grow a real forest of stems before. All of these stems survive in various levels of CO2 and light which I can find even in this one aquarium - this is a view of the highest energy spot.

I've seen a couple of 1.5 cm "trees" of staghorn algae in a small high light, lower flow spot - new these last couple weeks. Trimmed some moss at the top of the main wood section due to small accumulations of brown stringy algae on high light, high flow bits.

I've added more small stones to fill in gaps, to reduce soil migration onto sand.

Weekly: 12 gallon water change - took tips from 2hraquarist.com on the method, remove any/all algae (about 45 min)
Bi-weekly: wipe the diffuser, clean filter and skimmer, tidy up soil off of the sand with a magnet, trimming (about 15 min on top of that)
CO2 will have to be refilled every 4-6 months I think, based on consumption so far.
Last edited:
Lighting schedule (hasn't changed in a few weeks):

10:00 45%
11:15 60%
03:15 45%
04:30 3%
08:00PM 0%

10:00AM 60%
11:15AM 80%
03:30PM 60%
04:30PM 4%
08:00PM 0%
Keeping with the "warts and all" theme of this forum section ... here's an update on an ordinary day, after getting through the Christmas season, sickness, adjusting to having all those fish in there longterm, and letting the meticulousness of maintenance find its place in life's priorities.

Lessons learned here: the steep hill and vigorous corys have made for quite a lot of settling of sand every week and rolling of soil down on top, which I haven't managed to keep up with. But I'm resolved not to just "let it go".

Reducing nitrates and phosphorus in the ferts when the bulk of the fish stock increase happened was in retrospect probably being too stingy - I probably should have kept up the full nutrients and cut back gradually if needed. There has been slower growth at times and algae with it, and in the end I've adjusted most of the way back to where I was.

Light loving plants in high light and shade loving plants in low light areas continue to be fine, it's middle ground that's really a challenge.

Moss grows like crazy. Thread disintegrates before moss can attach. Glue is the only way, at least for high flow areas.

Anyway, lots of challenges as a gardener. But at the same time, we all enjoy the tank and it's beautiful. And we enjoy the fish, and I think they like the tank, too. The corys have had a few offspring who are in various super cute stages of growing up. There might be a doubling every 18 months (coincidentally?) in line with Moore's law ;)

I'd say the bones of the aquascape design have now shown their pros and cons.





Last edited:

Three original corys and one born in the tank, here. We started with seven and now have about 12, I think. You can see the poor state of the AR Mini on the right; the tops of other AR Mini in the back are looking in better colour these days since I brought ferts back up and I look forward to spreading it as it gets in better shape. Similarly with the grasses, there's still a chance to repropagate if I keep up the maintenance now.


The cardinal tetras mostly love to stick all around the main stone under the moss, and you usually see about half of them at a time. You get to see the full group school at water change time.


I brought over two dwarf sagittaria from the old tank to give us a large grass for foreground. Crypt lucens just behind, is from the first planting and just now find its niche. The anubias barteri (left, on foreground rock) is getting into the stage where it has larger leaf size but I still expect to see that leaf size at least double eventually. During water change, I pick up soil and sand and filter out the sand using a sink drain plug, at the same time replacing the sand further up the hill, and then dropping the filtered soil right up agains the back glass.

The corys congregate in the right foreground corner often, as that's where I like to feed them, near the filter intake.

My 2.5lb CO2 tank required its first refill a couple of weeks ago.

All the fish and shrimp from the old tank are in this one now. Including 5 kuhli loaches. Once in a while you do see a kuhli in the forest. They are big! Sometime, I'll try to get a photo. To capture all of the kuhlis and shrimp in the old tank, I had to pull up all of the plants and then replant them afterwards. The old tank is just a little crypt/sag farm now and not very interesting but not very annoying either.
Last edited:

Three weeks later, and things continue to improve, with no changes to any of the maintenance. I transferred some mauritiana grass from forest, and some hair grass that was floating by a rock into the meadow and it hasn't died after a week or so, and perhaps there's some growth. BBA on buce kedagang and anubias nana on the left set of rocks stopped growing a few weeks ago and seems entirely gone now and the plants are growing healthy again. The sagittaria is spreading. The bucephelandra wavy green is blossoming.

The anubias is quite curly at the front. Even the one on the right, which is pretty low in the tank. Also found a bit of black brushy algae on the edges of one leaf on the big one on the left.
Reducing light on the front fixture from 45/60 to 40/55.
Cut tops of AR Mini and replanted. Narrow java ferns are putting out a lot of leaves lately.
My bubble counter has already evaporated since the last CO2 tank refill. I wish oil was ok but they don't recommend it. I think I could use a bit more CO2. Time to do a pH profile and refill the bubble counter next.
Ordered a new type of bucephelandra for fun - stay tuned!
As always, interested in what you notice, and your ideas for improvement.
Last edited:
Tested nitrates - they were at 40ppm :oops:. Based on my drop checker, I'm probably not going to be increasing CO2, but I'll do a profile soon anyway. Did a small early water change, decreased the macros in the fertilizer schedule a bit. Put some APT Fix Lite on some algae - found a bunch of BBA on the underside (yep!) of a large wood branch. Will increase the amount of water in the weekly water change a little. Thinking of extending the time at highest intensity of the rear fixture somewhat. That's a lot of tweaks, not sure if it is too much overall.