As I mentioned in my last post, I moved a long-established tank at the end of July. At the new place, I housed my fish and plants in a 27-gallon tank temporarily until I had time to set up my 55-gallon tank properly. That ended up being a 3-week hiatus, while my driftwood and gravel sat outside on the back porch. Last weekend, I was finally able to set things up. It was an experience worth writing about.
The first challenge of the set-up was cleaning my gravel. In a planted tank, vacuuming the gravel is impractical, so the tank probably contained about 7 years of organic matter. Securely buried, that probably created a nice anaerobic layer where denitrification might have been occurring. Dig it up and you have a house that smells of rotten eggs. I thought a few weeks in the sun might help things, but in reality the gravel was still quite wet. And very smelly. Washing all that gravel took me about half a day, and in the end I did a less than perfect job. To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure I wanted perfectly clean gravel - organic matter in the substrate not only provides nutrients for the plants, it also provides a small amount of carbon dioxide (which can be a plus for photosynthesis).
Gravel in, I got to work on the decor. Fairly simple - some slate and a large piece of driftwood. The the plants. Most people recommend doing the planting before you add water, and I found that works pretty well; if nothing else, it lets you did holes to plant without raising debris (the gravel was cleaner, not clean). My budget wasn't that large, so I didn't buy a lot of new plants, but I was hoping what I had (and what I bought) might spread out as things progressed. Then it came time to fill it. I usually use a plate in the bottom of the aquarium to break the stream of water, so as not to disturb the sediment too much, but lacking enough open space for a plate, I used a small bowl. It worked great. While a plate dissipates the energy of the water stream, the water still flows out over the sides with some force. Using a small bowl prevented this.
Now - the problems. Leaving a large piece of driftwood out in the sun for three weeks is a bad idea. As I finished filling the tank, it started to float. I ended up lowering the water level a little so that it wasn't buoyant enough to leave the ground. After almost a week I slowly topped off the tank, and things looked fine. Until today when I had to reattach some plants that had floated up and bumped into the driftwood. To my surprise, I noticed that although the wood is resting on the bottom of the tank, it's still fairly buoyant. Hopefully it will be completely waterlogged in a short while.