Noob in a Fish Shop

gray_

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28 Apr 2019
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7
Location
Wolverhampton, UK
"Can you put a shelf up so I can put some plants on it?" the missus asked me, gesturing at the alcove next to the chimney breast in our typical 1930's West Midlands house. This was sometime in February 2019.

Looking back, I should have just said, "Yes Dear, no problem." If I'd known then what I know now, I likely would have had that shelf up in ten minutes flat. But I didn't, instead in a halfhearted attempt to avoid yet another DIY project from the missus I found myself deflecting with, "What about a fish tank with some plants?" I don't even know where that idea came from.

"What do you know about fish?" she asked?

"Nothing."

"What you know about plants underwater?"

"Nothing." I blathered on then about how ambiently lit colourful underwater plants gently swaying in an unseen breeze would look cool. My mouth ran away without my brain and I found myself selling the idea.

I sold the idea. I sold the dream. To her and to myself.

Before I knew it we were in the local fish shop without a clue. What I did know is the alcove was 83cm wide, so a tank would have to fit that space. I saw this:
image6.jpg

The Fluval Roma 125, complete with everything I would need in one simple, single purchase. Just add fish! At 80cm it would fit in the alcove perfectly. £310 did seem a tad expensive, at the top end of what I wanted to spend on this entire venture, but what the hell, fish are cheap and wouldn't have to pay out any more money because this had everything right? Everything I would need. After much gnawing of fingers and pacing around the shop, I brought it. Even the missus signed-off on the stand colour. There was some mumbling about the cost.

When I got home I started reading up about planted tanks on the Internet. I read for the next month.

First thing I learned was that the design of the Fluval Roma is, by today's standards, very 1980's. Stunning aquascapes on the Internet seemed to be most often presented in rimless and braceless tanks, with in-tank glassware and artfully designed lighting attachments. No bother, I had to work with what I had, and in any case, this Fluval package had everything I needed. It seemed I would need a lot more knowledge to correctly pick out all the components required for a modern looking aquascape. Fluval had me covered and had done all that hard work for me. I was in safe hands I was sure.

The second thing I learned was that this Fluval package did not contain everything I needed. Not even close.

Lush colourful swathes of plants are more quickly achieved with the addition of CO2 I discovered. I'd sold the dream to the missus. If I was to avoid her complaining that a "shelf with plant pots" would have been better, I needed to deliver that dream. I needed CO2.

I grasped the nettle and resigned myself to the fact that budgeting was now out of the window. I brought a CO2art Pro-SE kit and a couple of 2kg fire extinguishers.

The CO2art kit came with tubing, drop checker, inline diffuser and regulator with integrated check value and bubble counter, all for around £135. It seemed to have favourable reviews from many corners of the Internet.
image3.jpg

I picked up a couple of fire extinguishers off ebay for £20 each. Connected it up in the kitchen:

image2.jpg

The missus did raise an eyebrow when she walked in on me doing, what appeared to be, plugging a fire extinguisher into the mains electricity. "Do you know what you're doing?" she asked.

"I think so" I said, twiddling the dial of the needle value.

She just walked off. No doubt to shield herself from the expected explosion.

The co2art kit came with an inline diffuser. A what now? The internal filter that came with the Fluval tank didn't have any pipes to connect this diffuser too. I ordered a Fluval 206 external canister filter for £88.50 off Amazon immediately to rectify the situation.

With newfound knowledge I had begun to suspect that the light that came with the Fluval tank was pretty much only good for growing mushrooms, it certainly wasn't going to cut it with my new high-tech vision. I ordered a Fluval Plant 3.0 LED at an eye watering cost for a few LEDs in a plastic box, £170 from Amazon. A telescopic thing supporting 61-85 cm tanks, great.
image5.jpg

By this point I had begun to perfect the art of not thinking about the mounting cost. It was horrendous.

Gravel, I needed gravel. I wasn't surprised to learn that the gravel I had decided on also cost a fortune. I ordered two 20kg bags of Caribsea Eco-Complete, £63.90. I know. For gravel.
image8.jpg

Rocks. I went to the local fish shop and checked out the rocks. No. Just no. Although I'd given up counting the cost, the price of rocks from the fish shop was simply offensive. The prize was crazy when I thought it was per rock, when I realised the price was per kilogram I went immediately to the local garden centre and brought 25kg of rocks for around £15 instead.

Plants. This seemed more complicated, I needed to give this some more thought. However, keen to get water in the tank at least, I popped to the local fish shop and brought a plant. Cryptocoryne Willisii. It was something like £5. For one small plant. I shuddered at the thought of a fully planted tank, but that was a problem for the future.

By the time I got around to considering how exactly I was going to connect everything up I realised I had totally overlooked the fact that different products can have different specifications for the required tubing. By sheer luck the Fluval 206 supports 16/22 tubing, which I’d learned means 16mm inner diameter and 22mm outer diameter, and so did everything else I had ordered. I ordered 4 meters of 16/22 tubing off Amazon for £15.

Lastly, a tank background. I went with some generic black background from ebay for £9.95.

Tank, filter, light, heater, gravel, rocks, CO2 and a plant. I was set. I was in aquascape Nirvana, Takashi Amano would be proud. On 27th March 2019 the tank was launched! Tada!
image4.jpg

Even this embarrassingly bad setup wasn’t without two fundamental problems.

The first problem was that I discovered that the Fluval Roma tank doesn’t support the use of the Fluval 206 external filter, nor any external filter for that matter. If it wasn’t clear to me before, it was certainly clear to me now, this tank is very firmly aimed at people who want to buy a tank, drop in some fish and leave it there. I had the wrong tank for the job. By now I was going to make it work if it killed me, I was in too deep, had forked out too much cash, I just couldn’t face buying a new tank on top of everything else. I got the blowtorch and some metal pipe...

The problem with the tank and an external filter is that the tank has a fully enclosed lid and that lid does not have space to feed the external filter tubes through into the tank. It does have a couple of gaps between the rim and the lid at the back, but these are sized to fit power cables and such, no good for 16/22 tubing.

I heated up some metal pipe and melted the existing power cable holes to enlarge them. Brutal? Yes. A bad idea and a messy finish? Yes.
image7.jpg

image1.jpg

(photos taken at a later date)

After some melting and complaining from the missus about the smell, the tubes fit flush.

The second problem was that there wasn’t enough gravel. After spending over £60 on gravel this made me want to cry a bit. I chose to defer this particular problem, giving myself time to forget the cost of the first batch of gravel.

So, tank launched! Me and the missus stood back to assess the work thus far.

“What are those ugly plastic pipes?” she asked.

OK, they had to go. I ordered glass lily pipes from Amazon for £20.

“What’s that shiny tube?” she asked.

The heater. For some no doubt good reason Fluval had coloured the heater metallic silver. It reflected the lights and shone like a beacon of failure blinding her to my vision of aquascape perfection. I ordered a 300 watt inline Hydor external heater for £50.

I had now replaced everything that came with the Fluval tank package, except the tank, by the day I even first filled the tank with water. Even the tank I had to brutally modify. Lesson learned.

The missus wasn't impressed. I get it. It wasn't pretty. Not only was it not pretty but I had a sneaking suspicion that I couldn't be far off £1000 by now. The missus also had a sneaking suspicion. I was trying not to think about it. She had an expression on her face which wouldn’t have been out of place if I was a puppy who had just dragged a half chewed cabbage into the living room.

“Honestly,” I said, “it’s going to get a lot better.”

Bless her, she didn’t say anything about plant pots on a shelf.
 
Last edited:
Joined
25 Dec 2018
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230
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United Kingdom
Amazing, that made me chuckle. It took me around a year to buy anything once I decided I wanted a tank. The thing is, I knew what I was going to be spending at the beginning and I still went through with it.
Good luck with it, I reckon you're going to have fun whatever happens!
 

19Lee81

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31 Oct 2018
Messages
39
Location
Derbyshire
This is an absolutely brilliant read!!!!.. I’ve just been crying .. I can relate to so many issues and to top it all off, I’ve just got my tank to more or less how I envisaged it and am now planning on getting a bigger one


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

ian_m

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Eastleigh
You haven't approached the maintaince bit yet, the fact with a high tech tank you will need to spend at least a couple of hours a week tank fiddling, getting volumes of water out the tank to dump somewhere as well as adding large amounts of fresh water !!!.

I still get raised eyebrows each week I unwind the hose pipe from the kitchen to the lounge to change 90litres of water.

You need to think how to make your at least 50% water changes as easy as possible, see forum DIY section for ideas, that won't raise to many eyebrows and generate any "mutters".

Don't think you mentioned fertilisers any where, another cost to get past your "budget controller" I fear.
 

richard brown

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4 Apr 2016
Messages
311
Location
scotland
You haven't approached the maintaince bit yet, the fact with a high tech tank you will need to spend at least a couple of hours a week tank fiddling, getting volumes of water out the tank to dump somewhere as well as adding large amounts of fresh water !!!.

I still get raised eyebrows each week I unwind the hose pipe from the kitchen to the lounge to change 90litres of water.

You need to think how to make your at least 50% water changes as easy as possible, see forum DIY section for ideas, that won't raise to many eyebrows and generate any "mutters".

Don't think you mentioned fertilisers any where, another cost to get past your "budget controller" I fear.

And cleaning the piping, The one part of having an internal that I like haha
 

Jayefc1

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Joined
2 Sep 2017
Messages
2,160
Location
Swadlincote
Oh that has made my day remembering that look the missus gives you when its cost a grand to set up and it's still nowhere near what the dream you sold her is

Brilliant good look keep us posted

Cheers
Jay
 

Ed Wiser

Member
Joined
22 Apr 2018
Messages
355
Location
Louisville,Kentucky
I have been dealing with this for years now. the wife doesn’t like HER HOUSE TURN INTO A FISH STORE.
So the tank must pass her approval to be allowed in the living room. This does allow for me to buy nice equipment. No junk in her living room. So I don’t waste time or money on budget set up equipment. As failure is not an option we the wife is no amused with a tank with algae in HER LIVING ROOM.
So the pressure is on good luck. You will need it.
 

DianeC

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Joined
1 Dec 2018
Messages
52
Location
High Peak
You gentlemen are not the only ones with a 'challenging ' otherhalf. Mine can spend unlimited amounts on his boats(plural!)/concerts/football but low and behold if I dare to spend a mere few pennies on my (okay now plural) tanks and the remarks about ' money doesn't grow on trees ' and ' do you really need more' followed by exasperated sighs cometh forth!
 

gray_

New Member
Joined
28 Apr 2019
Messages
7
Location
Wolverhampton, UK
"I'll sort out the aquascape next. Some more gravel to add depth, some wood, some plants. It's going to be great," I said gesturing my hands over the tank as if I was some TV gardening personality. I think I was trying to convince myself as much as the missus. I risked a glance over in her direction.

"It just looks like a bunch of rocks," she said.

She was right, it was an accurate observation, it was just a bunch of rocks. I felt a brief flicker of anxiety, the enormous cost, the underwhelming result. "Well, there's a plant."

She just stared.

What I needed to do was to make progress. This is just the start I reminded myself, I needed to build on this foundation. I'd learnt the lessons about rushing in without proper planning and consideration. I'd fully understood that rushing in unprepared led to mistakes and spiralling costs. No one needed to warn me anymore about...

"What wood?" the missus asked.

I'd forgotten the wood. I'd got carried away with rushing to get the tank filled with water as soon as I had all the bits and bobs to hand. Water. There was water in the tank. I needed to get the nitrogen cycle going, I needed wood, I needed more gravel and I needed a whole bunch of other stuff. Now.

"I'm going to the fish shop," I said and rushed out of the house.

Driving to fish shop I tried to create a mental shopping list of all the things I needed. I couldn't really get past the wood. Wood was where the magic happened. I imagined a hauntingly beautiful series of gnarled branches stretching the entire length of the tank. My head was full of the awesome aquascape photos I'd seen online from various aquascaping competition winning entries. Wood. It was all about the wood.

At the fish shop I held up a spindly bit of what appeared to be some form of root, not much bigger than my fist. £15. I checked a few more bits thinking that must be some sort of pricing mistake. Nope. It was the rocks story all over again. Worthless chunks of debris that no one would even notice out in the real world seemed to become imbued with enormous value when carried over the threshold of an aquatic shop.

No problem, I could collect my own wood. The river Severn wasn't too far away.

From the fish shop I grabbed an API Freshwater Master Test Kit for £30. It seemed expensive but it contained every water test I would ever need in one simple, single purchase. Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate and two different pH tests, high and low.

api.jpg


I looked around the shop for some more gravel. The fish shop didn't have any Caribsea Eco-Complete. I could order some off the Internet again and wait for it to be delivered. Wait though. I needed it now. The only black gravel they had was Fluval Stratum. It said on the bag, "Stimulates plant growth". Sold. I grabbed two bags. It didn't have price stickers, but the bags were tiny, only 2kg each.

image5.jpg


I noticed, but tried hard not to notice, the stock of brand new Fluval 07 series external canister filters in the shop. Newly released. Newly released just a few weeks after I'd invested in a, now obsolete, Fluval 206. I moved on.

I picked up some 250ml bottles of Fluval Cycle and Fluval Aqua Plus water conditioner for £15. Beneficial bacteria in Fluval Cycle would speed things along and the Aqua Plus would remove Chlorine and heavy metals from my tap water. Essential stuff I'd read.

I eyed the large selection of plants. I wasn't ready for that yet, but maybe I should grab something? I looked around. Hemianthus callitrichoides, "HC Cuba", hard to grow, for high tech tanks and capable aquarists. That was me now right? I grabbed a 1-2-Grow pot of the stuff for £5.

At the checkout I tried to maintain a calm, self-assured expression, as if I had expected the guy to say, "£80 please, sir." Looking down at what I had, basically a tiny bit of gravel and a plant, I briefly considered asking the guy if he'd made a mistake. There was a queue behind me and I didn’t want to look silly, I silently glared at him instead and said nothing. I took my stuff and strolled out of the shop.

In the car I dived into the bag hunting for the receipt. This guy had made a mistake, of course he had, the idiot. Plant, check. Fluval Cycle, check. Gravel... Oh. In the shop I had done a quick mental calculation, I'd brought 40kg of gravel for £60 off the Internet so 2kg bags would be around, well, some number so low it wasn't worth figuring out. But no. This Fluval Stratum stuff was £15 for a 2kg bag! Oh well, it was done now, it was the last gravel I had to buy anyway. I tried to ignore the passing thought that I had now spent almost £100 on gravel.

£100. Gravel.

Back at home I threw the HC Cuba into the tank along with some Fluval Cycle and Aqua Plus.

image3.jpg


I called for the missus. "I got some more plants."

"I can see," is all she said.

"We're going on a day trip tomorrow," I said, "we need to collect some wood."

The next day we jumped in the car and headed to Hampton Loade, a small picturesque village on the river Severn, a few miles south of Bridgnorth. The brief was simple, walk along the river and collect some driftwood. This was successful, if tiring. We collected and carried a bunch of driftwood a few miles back to the car and took it home. We had some great looking wood. This was going to be awesome.

Taking the wood out of the car and piling it onto the patio it unexpectedly became much larger than it was before. I looked at the tank. I looked at the wood. I looked at the missus. "It's not going fit is it?" I asked.

"No," she said.

"I'm going to the fish shop." I jumped in the car.

On the way to fish shop I reflected on how much smaller things seemed when outside in the great outdoors. Should have taken a tape measure of course. Lesson learned. Could I perhaps cut up the wood we had collected? No, I hadn't seen any Aquascape competition winners with sawn off logs. I'd buy some.

At the fish shop I wandered around browsing, perhaps there was something I had forgotten I needed? They had a lot of plants. I had almost none. I had however now mastered HC Cuba, why wait? Before I knew it I had a bag full of great looking plants:
  1. Hemigraphis colorata
  2. Ophiopogon kyoto (3 of)
  3. Chlorophytum bichetii (2 of)
  4. Alternanthera reineckii “Mini”
  5. Lobelia cardinalis “dwarf” (2 of)
  6. Microsorum Pteropus (a bunch of)
  7. Anubias Heterophylla
  8. Hygrophila Corymbosa “Kompact” (4 of)
  9. Vesicularia Ferriei “Weeping” (1 pot)
I took a look at the large bits of wood that the fish shop had. I stood for a while staring at wood. A long while. I hadn't brought a tape measure. I reflected on the individual characteristics of each knot and branch, the twists and turns and imagining various arrangements of colourful plants and ways I could arrange the tank. I paced back and forth. I reflected some more. In the end I reasoned that, out of the collection of large bits of wood, there was only one that actually stood any chance of fitting in the tank. I grabbed it.

Looking back, I was trying so hard not to think about the ever increasing cost of this venture that I successfully managed to strike the cost of this particular trip to the fish shop from my memory. Maybe it didn't cost much? Maybe.

Back at home I prepared for some aquascaping. Putting the Fluval Stratum into the tank I realised something terrible. There wasn't enough gravel. The solution was obviously to throw more cash at the problem. I jumped on Amazon and went to order some more Eco-Complete.

They were out of stock.

No way I was buying any more diamond encrusted Fluval Stratum at £7.50 per kilogram. No way. I saw some Seachem Flourite Black, 7 kg bag for £30. This was ridiculous, but it was next day delivery and I needed it. I brought it.

Next day the last of my gravel arrived. Glass lily pipes too. Into the tank everything went.

image8.jpg

image6.jpg (numbered image)

I called the missus over.

She raised her eyebrows, "Oh, ok,".

That was a good sign. Not scorn or pity, things were looking up.

"It's a bit foggy," she added.

The Fluval Stratum. Or perhaps the Flourite Black. Hard to tell I now had such a mixed bag of substrate. "Yeah, that will settle," I assured her.

"There's a lot of bubbles," she said.

She was right. There was a whole mess of bubbles. The photos of the Aquascape master's tanks didn't have bubbles. Or fog for that matter. "That's the inline co2 diffuser," I said, confident she'd be impressed with my technical knowledge. She walked off, leaving me to contemplate bubbles.

Bubbles. It just wouldn't do. Crystal clear water, that was what was called for. The solution to this I had learned was an inline co2 reactor. A device that dissolved the co2 gas in the water before it got to the tank. I jumped online and ordered a Sera Flore Carbon-dioxide Aktiv Reactor 500 for £30.

image1.jpg


I decided it was about time to do some research on my new plants, I needed to know some basics, like what they were and how to care for them. I discovered a new term in relation to plants, "non-aquatic".

Non-aquatic. I had to think this through over and over again to get it straight in my head. From the aquatic shop, from the aquatic plants section, I had managed to obtain a bunch of plants that were non-aquatic. This meant that they could not, and would not, survive in my tank.

Bastards.

Hemigraphis colorata, Ophiopogon kyoto (3 of), Chlorophytum bichetii (2 of). I ripped them out of the tank and gave them to the missus.

For the plants that were left I needed to prune them and I needed to feed them. Pruning them I could understand, no problem, I jumped on ebay and ordered a bunch of scissors and tweezers for around £20 total.

Feeding the plants. That appeared to be a far more complicated. Something called "EI" seemed to be all the rage. Estimative Index. An approach to plant fertilisation based on ensuring there are always surplus nutrients in the water. I did some reading up on it. And did some more reading up on it. It was taking me down a rabbit hole of chemical formulas, parts per million measurements, heated arguments over the minutiae of trace element balances and methods of chelation.

I had foggy water, too many bubbles, non-aquatic plants and a newly developed maniacal devil-may-care attitude to spending money. It was all too much.

I ordered a litre of "TNC Complete" from Amazon for £15. It was plant food. It was complete. It was everything I needed in one simple, single purchase. Just like the Fluval tank and the API test kit.

image4.jpg


I ordered some more plants to fill the empty spaces. Not from the aquatic shop that sold me non-aquatic plants. No, I wasn't falling for that again. I jumped online and ordered a bunch of plants:
  1. Nymphoides Aquatica (2 of)
  2. Echinodorus Tenellus (a bunch of)
  3. Pogostemon Erectus (a bunch of)
  4. Anubias Nana “Golden”
  5. Juncus Repens
  6. Ludwigia arcuata (a bunch of)
The tank fog had lifted by the time I planted them.

image2.jpg

image7.jpg (numbered image)

"It looks good," the missus said. I wasn’t sure if she was just humouring me. I was feeling better about the whole thing though, I thought it was starting to look reasonable.

"What's that horrible stuff on the wood?" she asked.

"Some sort of bacteria," I said, "apparently quite common, it will go away on its own."

"There's still a lot of bubbles."

She was right. My co2 reactor seemed to be on the slow boat from China. Frustrating.

"What happened to the glass thing?" she asked.

The lily pipe outlet. "It broke," I said. In fact I had dropped the tank lid on the lily pipe outlet whilst attempting to plant plants. It had lasted all of a few days. No bother, I'd already ordered another set from Amazon for £20. I would be more careful with them now I had learned they are super fragile.

She walked off. At least the noises were positive. Progress. She’d seen the cost of plants in the fish shop, she probably suspected there must be close to £100 worth in the tank now. I suspected there must be close to £100 worth in the tank now, but I was trying not to think about it.

Now I just needed to ride it out and get the tank cycled. I grabbed some Household Ammonia from the local hardware store, set the co2 to 2 bubbles per second and rode onward towards aquascaping greatness with a 2ml daily dose of ammonia, a 5ml weekly dose of TNC Complete and a generous dose of Fluval Cycle.

What could possibly go wrong?
 
Last edited:

Jayefc1

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Joined
2 Sep 2017
Messages
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Location
Swadlincote
I'm sure there will be a happy ending but have a feeling it's not going to happen just yet

Your not alone grey at some point or another most of us have been down this rabbit hole whether we admit it or not

Keep it coming its fantastically written and so worth the read to any other noobs I think it should be made a sticky when its finished

Cheers
Jay
 

Harry H

Member
Joined
10 Jul 2018
Messages
239
Location
Emsworth Hampshire
I think this thread should be pinned as a fair warning to all who wishes to embrace the challenge!

Hilarious to read, but have huge amounts of information, that a newbie would need, before making decisions about keeping a planted tank, the equipment to choose, steps to complete to setup a high tech tank.

I believe this share experience is what brings us together, makes us brothers (sisters) in arms together, to endure the pain and the pleasure, experience the highs and lows, with epic battles with algae and lighting, CO2, pH, water hardness/softness etc etc etc....

@gray_ I send you a warm welcome, and looking forward to watch your progress on your first journal!
 
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