Thursday, May 2, 2019

Merlot's New Digs

About 5 weeks ago I bought a Betta. It had been a really long time since I had a betta and I had since given away all of my fish stuff, so I got him a small temporary tank and the bare essentials to go with it. It turned out to be a good choice at the time because I had to buy several types of food until I found one he liked. I was glad that I hadn't made a huge initial investment since we were wasting food left and right.

His small 1-gallon acrylic cube was an upgrade from the little cup he came in and he was very happy for a while, but I was feeling pretty sorry for him only having enough room for one good kickoff before he got to the far end of the tank. I was also having to do half water changes about every other day, which was not a big deal for me but was upsetting to Merlot. It was time to go bigger and cleaner.

I never do anything without over-researching it, so I set out watching every single video on Youtube that I could find on Betta tanks, Nano* tanks, Planted tanks, Low-tech tanks, and a lot of product reviews. I really wanted to plant a low-tech Nano tank and maybe put a snail in there to eat the fish shit. I was going to need a tank, a heater, plants, substrate, and good lighting.

*Nano is Greek for 'small' and is used to describe tanks under 20?gallons. I think they say 'nano' and we are supposed to hear 'I got a small tank on purpose and not because I'm poor'.

It looked like I was going to have to spend at least $75 on just the tank if I was going to get anything pretty. I am way too cheap for that. I wouldn't want to spend more than $75 for the entire project. I also wasn't too sure about hang-in-back filters they came with. I'd had this kind of filter before and ended up with a dead betta. Nothing I could do would slow the flow down enough not to rip their poor fins up. Even though I am sure there are some very nice filters that are better suited to bettas, nice means expensive. Again... I'm cheap.
It was killing me waiting for the glue to cure.

Still not sure which direction I was going to go, I was watching Aquarium Co-op videos one day when I saw a review for Nano air pump. It was supposed to be really good and was a crazy low price.  I immediately ordered one and the adjustable air stone and some black tubing they had for cheap. I had already seen videos on how to DIY a filter and this was all I was missing to do so.

By chance I found a 5 gallon kit at Walmart for $30. It was one of those traditional glass in the black metal frame with the hood and hang-in-back filter system. I bought it. And then I thought about it over the weekend, never getting it out of the car, and then took it back. I just didn't want it. Those things are not the pretty I was looking for. It was too big of a compromise. It came with the filter I couldn't use and it was going to take up a lot of space. Merlot didn't necessarily need five gallons. Three gallons seemed ideal, really. So I set out trying to find a three gallon tank CHEAPER than this 5gallon had been. Because seriously. They shouldn't cost MORE.

During my search on Amazon for anything that was 3gallons, I finally came across this really big jar. It was only 2 1/2 gallons, which was a compromise. But it was also only $20, which was a HUGE SCORE! I could not click that buy now button fast enough. I held my breath for 2 days that it would get to me in 1 piece.

Filter and heater hidden in the back
So, besides the 5 gallon tank, I bought other things that I took back. Black gravel. A huge java rock that had a cool hole in the middle that Merlot would love, but I worried it would take up most of the room. I also bought some organic potting soil, getting ready to put all this together and buy some plants.

I researched the FOOEY out of plants. Which ones needed low light. Which ones did okay without CO2 injections. Which one grew slowly and didn't get too big. I had a short list of plants that would work and went out full of hope. SURELY I would find two or three of these.

I found one. $12 for a tiny bit of dwarf hair grass at Petsmart. They didn't have any of the other plants I had decided would work. I stood there in the store googling every plant they had that didn't look too big and none of them would work. Not to mention... at that price it was going to cost me another $50 for just a few plants. This was not going to work.

So... I bought a package of fake plants. I was a little sick about it. I really wanted a planted tank, believing this was best. And maybe someday we will have this (a 2nd upgrade?) but for now I couldn't justify spending any more money. This was compounded by the knowledge that I have killed every houseplant I ever had and would likely be throwing my money away. It was a good time to remind myself that standards that are set by strangers on the internet are not necessarily the best thing for everyone.

And here you may be asking why didn't I just order plants online. Aquarium co-op has seriously cheap plants and my shopping experience with them had been beyond satisfactory. And the answer is that by this time I had convinced myself that I would just kill them or poison the fish or had bought the wrong soil or light or SOMETHING. I had lost confidence in the live plant scheme. It maybe needed more research STILL and I didn't want to wait because poor Merlot's little tank looked yuck this morning and I just did a water change yesterday. 

So... fake plants. It was an economy package with 2 big bunches and 4 individual little tufts of grass. I can't find the exact ones on Petsmart's website). I took the big bunches apart and combined them into one (Super Glue Gel- as was recommended by many youtubers.) I then cut up some of the smaller ones that I had pulled out and glued them onto small river rocks I had on hand. I made a kind of vine across the largest new rock and then glued some of the medium-high grasses and broad-leaf plants to small rocks that would weigh them down. This left the small tufts that already had the weights attached to use up front.

I found several types of homemade filters on Youtube, but I went with the one that I had all the supplies for already. If it doesn't do a good job then I will try a different kind. At any rate, Merlot had no filter before so anything is going to be an improvement.

I used some gravel from his small tank- thinking it would have some bacteria already established (not sure why that's a good thing but e'body be sayin' bacteria this and that). I used some stuffing from my hoard of stuffing and then weighed it down into the jar (rescued from the recycling- it once held capers) with the smallest river stones I had. The airstone is sandwiched inside this, btw. I tightened the air stone as much as I could to keep the bubbles small. Merlot doesn't seem to mind it too much. In fact, his sleep spot seems to be on top of the fake ferns about 4 inches away from where the bubbles bubble up. If he can sleep there I think that probably means he's okay with bubbles.

I hung the nano tank heater right beside the filter as you're suppose to put it where the warmed water will cycle throughout the tank. I haven't actually plugged the heater in yet as the thermostat stayed at 79-80 without the heating despite the fact there's a large fan blowing in the room. We have it, though, if the temp drops on a rainy night and hopefully it is still working by November- when it's cold again in Alabama.

Yes. I did take enough pictures to animate them. Like you wouldn't. 

So... I guess I will keep the organic potting soil. I have some herb seeds I will try to grow just big enough to kill. I need to get my friend to cut a notch in the lid for the tubes/cords to run out. I tried to cut it with my tin snips but they are rusty and dull (I'm not very good for tools, either). It SORT of fits as is- enough to keep Merlot in and cat paws out- but will be happy when it's more fitted on rather than just propped. At any rate, removing the lid and putting the lamp above makes for much better pictures.

I got a low-watt LED bulb to go into one of the many directional lights I have around here and it works just fine but it looks a bit tacky. I may get a better light eventually, but it will work for now. And I think maybe I need a check valve but not exactly sure why. I think it keeps all the water from draining out of your tank if the air pump goes crazy and starts working in reverse.

All in all I spent $90 (plus tax), which was about $15 over my goal, but not bad really. Merlot loves his new tank- it is just the right size for him. He was very funny to watch at first. You could almost see the amazement that it took him so much longer to reach the top. He swam in huge loops from bottom to top over and over. And the he swam back and forth, back and forth like a big horseshoe shape. Below are the essentials. The only other thing I bought was a $3 LED bulb and a $2 thermostat that sticks onto the tank. I already had some small river stone and gravel from the old tank (as well as water conditioner), and the things to make the filter.

All the parts with some links...
Jar $20 
USB Nano Air Pump $8
Fluval Black Airline Tubing $3
Never Clog Air Stone $2
Large River Stones $2/$4
Assorted Plants $15
(Petsmart - not these exact ones)
Heater $15
(Petco - cheaper online!)
5lb black sand $5
Super Glue Gel $3

May 30 Update on the tank:
1. The superglue doesn't last for plants that aren't going to eventually attach themselves (ie. fake). I've removed some of those or switched them out.
2. The homemade filter is working really well. I've replaced 2/3 of the floss every 2 weeks (as it begins to look dirty).
3. I've  done one full vacuum, but have mostly just suctioned up what poos or wasted food I can see with a pipette. It's a bit of an adjustment learning to feed him with the water flow. Some foods that float well in a static tank sink immediate in a current. And of course this is the food he likes best.
4. I do a 1/4 water change about every 5 days. I've added an ammonia indicator, so go by that. Not sure it's accurate, tbh, but he seems happy with the water changes so I will keep it up.
5. I still want to do a planted tank. I think I am going to set up a new jar, plant it, move Merlot in, then redo the old jar for maybe a 2nd betta or some nanos.
6. I may have to get into serious fish eventually. I have fallen in love with cichlids during my many pet store runs.

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