Fire Belly Newts Dirty Tank Journal - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources
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post #1 of 13 Old 04-24-2012, 06:35 PM Thread Starter
Fire Belly Newts Dirty Tank Journal

Alrighty, since I'm constantly spending money on other things instead of the DIY LED light for my El Natural Beverage Dispenser Shrimp Tank that I want... :pokey: I've decided I'm going to put the dirt I bought to other purposes...

Sprucing up my Fire Belly Newts' Tank.

I've always thought it looked boring and bland. I mean... it's just some gravel with a mesh container to provide land level, mesh caves, a sponge filter, Java Ferns, some badly-off Anacharis, Java Moss, Red Cherry Shrimp, and three Fire Belly Newts... The mesh was a novelty at first, but I've become used to it and I've always wanted a natural-looking paludarium... At some point in the future, I'd like to add a school of small nano coldwater fish, such as Dwarf Emerald Rasboras or something similar.

I read on another forum about how to grow Java Moss emersed (that is, part in water, part out of water), and it said that it grows best when it has thick substrate such as gravel to reach into rather than a more compact substrate like dirt or clay. I thought, "That would most definitely work with the land portion..." which I'd always wanted to have moss and some sort of small plant. I'm not sure what would work as an emersed plant but still stay small. I would use the Java Ferns, but I can't bury the rhizome... Ideas?

Anyway, here's what the tank looked like before -

And now. Don't mind the water, I had just been messing with the tank. If you notice that the mesh had been sticking up before, I cut a section off to provide easier access for the newts and the moss to reach down into the water. -

The emersed Java Moss that I hope will grow into a full mat. Here, a Fire Belly Newt makes an appearance. -

This is the dirt I'm going to use for the submerged part. I'm going to take all of the gravel out of the water area, remove the RCS and FBNs, then put in the soil after it's been rinsed out, dried on a tarp in sunlight and microbes will begin to mineralize the soil as I do this repeatedly, exposing the soil to oxygen, helping bring the minerals in the soil out. I don't plan on adding potash or pottery clay, since the soil already has a small amount in it. All I'm going to do is expose the soil and rinse it then use it. This should take a couple of days to do. This will help cut down on the possible ammonia spikes that I MIGHT or MIGHT NOT have if I'd just put the dirt straight in then covered it with a gravel cap. The goal of this tank is to one day be able to remove my sponge filter as I've always considered it an eyesore, although the aeration is a good thing as it oxygenates the water and newts need oxygenated water... If the newts have trouble with no current, then I suppose I can put in an airstone or something...

Anyway, here's the soil -

And here it is soaking in a tote. I'll update after 24 hours after the dirt's been soaked.

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post #2 of 13 Old 04-25-2012, 09:25 AM
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I <3 FBNs. :)
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post #3 of 13 Old 04-25-2012, 10:19 PM Thread Starter
Glad you do. :)

Well, I didn't have much time today to do much except pour off the excess and lay the leftover dirt on the tarp in direct sunlight. I didn't even have enough time to get it properly drained, but I plan on waking up tomorrow morning early and repeating this process until the dirt's been properly microbe-d out then hopefully I can have the tank ready by tomorrow evening... Cross your fingers!

Dumped the excess out -

A lot of it is gone. I didn't' realize how much wood chips there were in the bag.

Up-close shot of the excess that was poured off. Definitely nothing but wood chips.

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post #4 of 13 Old 04-27-2012, 08:02 PM Thread Starter
Well, I've been working on the soil since my last post, of course. However, I do think I may have made a couple of mistakes. After the initial 24 hour soak, I poured off what was floating, and it took the soil forever to dry because the weather wasn't warm and there wasn't much sunlight, plus the soil was way too wet. Once the soil was FINALLY dry, I put it back into the tote and resoaked it, leaving it to soak for a couple of hours.

When I went back to check, there were floating bits so I poured the water out. However, I must've not let it soak long enough because I lost a ton of soil that had been stirred up and floating around in the water. Now I'm left with maybe barely 1/4 of the soil that I initially started out with. So now, the remainder of the soil is spread out on the bottom of the tote and drying indoors since it's too dark to do any good. Now I'm concerned I don't have enough to do what I want...

I think the next time I do this, I'm going to use something like pantyhose to drain the water out of the soil and still keep the dirt particles. Pantyhose also would get most of the water out and the drying time wouldn't be as long as my first attempt. Most of the larger particles that float like the wood bits, etc, would be skimmed off. Then once I'm ready to put it in the tank, I'll use a screen to screen out the larger bits I don't want like sticks or bits, et cetera.

Well, that's all for now. Hopefully I'll be able to finally do the tank in a couple of days after it's been dried a couple more times.
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post #5 of 13 Old 04-28-2012, 11:43 AM
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Originally Posted by ZeeZ View Post

I think the next time I do this, I'm going to use something like pantyhose to drain the water out of the soil and still keep the dirt particles. Pantyhose also would get most of the water out and the drying time wouldn't be as long as my first attempt. Most of the larger particles that float like the wood bits, etc, would be skimmed off. Then once I'm ready to put it in the tank, I'll use a screen to screen out the larger bits I don't want like sticks or bits, et cetera.
I wish I had done this with my playsand.
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post #6 of 13 Old 05-05-2012, 06:49 PM Thread Starter
Ugh. Well, I'm unhappy with this tank... The dirt is in, but... not enough... and I pretty much destroyed the mesh slope in order to get it lower, but that's made the gravel slope very precarious and actually reduced the land area.

I'm going to have to figure out something better... I may have to scrap the whole thing and redo everything. I wish I had a longer tank.

Here are the photos of what I've done... I'm still unhappy with this tank even after sleeping on it.

First I took everybody out-

Then took most of the gravel out. You can see the tupperware containers I used in the mesh slope to help reduce weight and take up space. I created a gravel border between the dirt area and the mesh slope so dirt wouldn't flow under the mesh -

Dirt put in. It's mayyybe 1/2 inch... not enough to be a real dirty tank, I think... The black trim at the bottom of the tank is an inch tall, but only about 1/2 from the inside. The dirt barely covers that. I really messed up the dirt...

I used a misting bottle to get the top portion of dirt wet so dirt wouldn't fly up or float once I added water -

Plants added. The Wisteria was all twisted up from being in a tight space in my betta's 10 gallon so it's a mess... and I don't think this is enough plants to make it a true dirty tank to the point where I could eliminate the sponge filter entirely -

I put in the wisteria that had been growing out of the water in my betta's tank into the land portion hoping that that part of the wisteria would be used to the air. Alas, they look horrid -

And the entire tank -

The gravel on the slope is fragile, especially with portions of the mesh slope gone. Before, I would pour fresh water directly into the mesh to help dispel trapped debris and eliminate the "dead zone" inside the mesh. But now I cannot do this without destroying the fragile balance that the slope has...

I'm thinking about just scrapping the whole current slope and creating another slope. This time by siliconing new mesh into the slope and land shape with no gravel on the inside. The silicone would serve as support. The mesh would be siliconed directly to the glass. However, I don't know if the silicone would adhere to both the glass and the plastic mesh. If I did this, then I would have to keep the shrimp and Fire Belly Newts in the bucket for a couple of days while the silicone cured. I could then put Java Moss on the mesh slope and tie another mesh on top of the Java Moss and create a sloped Moss Wall and Land area.

Ideas? Thoughts? I need feedback on this...
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post #7 of 13 Old 05-05-2012, 11:08 PM Thread Starter
Well, I do believe I've come up with a solution -

Eggcrate grates. I don't know how big the holes are on the eggcrate grates, but if they're the same size holes as the mesh is, then I wouldn't need the window screening. The grate would be rigid which would support itself and wouldn't need further support more than the silicone like the mesh would. I like the idea of open water behind it. I could put Java Ferns in there since they're so hardy and wouldn't need much light.

I could have half of the bottom grate be siliconed to the bottom of the tank and cut an opening on the other half facing the room to allow the newts and shrimp to go under the slope.

I could create a "rim" for the land area so that I could use something like a tupperware container with holes drilled into it to allow water flow and use something like gravel or akadama for succulent/hydroponics plants. That way, I could just take out the container to get easy access to that part of the tank should I need to work there.
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post #8 of 13 Old 05-12-2012, 01:44 PM Thread Starter
I noticed that the jar of dirt from my original bag of topsoil had cleared somewhat, so I decided to try the dirt. The dirt was outside with the top wide open. It's been raining off and on and the dirt has become wet and dry naturally, so I dumped the whole thing into the tote and soaked it with water for two-three days. I dumped the excess water and wood bits out then spread it all out on the tarp with a broom. Within hours it was dry but there were still wet patches, so I let it dry out overnight and in the sun for two days.

I took the tote and broke up the clumps then used my reptile screen top as a screen. I screened and rubbed the clumps through, leaving me with nice light gray colored dirt and clay. I decided to do a test run in a half gallon that I have from my childhood.

The jar -

Here it is, one inch -

A inch, inch and half of gravel -

Filled it up by putting a container top and gently pouring water in. -

Perfect clarity! Success!

I'm going out today to try and find the eggcrate grate and buy some sand since I read that newts prefer sand, then redoing the tank! Keep an eye on this thread for further updates.
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post #9 of 13 Old 05-13-2012, 01:47 PM Thread Starter
Update! Boy, what a pain this was! First, here's the wonderful light gray mineralized topsoil. I definitely still have plenty left for my Beverage Dispenser El Natural Shrimp Tank when I get around to that project. -

I took out everything, including the old dirt. When I took out the plants, I could tell that it wasn't really working since the dirt layer was so thin. I could see the bottom of plant roots trying to reach into the dirt when I pulled the plants out. I used a colander to rinse the dirt out from the gravel. That worked well except for the larger bits. Here's the fresh dirt in the tank, just a little bit over an inch of depth -

I went out and bought pool filter sand. $6.24 for 50 pounds! I also like the natural color. I think it'll really make the newts pop. Shrimp, maybe... The sand was FILTHY. I had to rinse out the sand in a bucket at least six times each. I put a really thick layer of sand on, over an inch as well. I fear I may have put in too much for the plants... but we'll see... -

Found the eggcrate grate at Home Depot. This thing is HUGE, though... I hadn't realized that it's actually a light fixture. o.O Paid about $13-$14 for it. I used wire cutters to cut it up into what I wanted. This photo is the edge of the ramp, I was cutting the sharp corners off at an angle then sanding it down smooth.

This was my first ever time attempting silicone. Needless to say, I made a gigantic mess... There are definitely air bubbles in the bead, but whatever. It will suit this purpose fine since this isn't supposed to hold an aquarium together, which in that case, has to be absolutely perfect. No air bubbles in those seams. Once the silicone is fully cured, I'll use a razor to trim away the excess. Anyway, here's the ramp siliconed in -

It's a bit too long, though. You can see warping here. I didn't want to cut the edge off since that would take away almost all surface area for the silicone to adhere to. -

Solution? What is the absolute best thing in the entire world? Answer:

That's right, zip ties! Here you finally see what the holes are for. I found these absolutely perfect containers at AC Moore for only $2.50. These came in a pack of three. These will serve as my aquaponics containers.

Right now I'm in the process of making these containers more water-flow friendly. I'm thinking about putting a bubble wand underneath each aquaponics container so that there's constant flow up into the gravel to prevent a "dead zone" from occurring there. It'd also have the benefit of oxygenating the roots. My next update will show my modifications.
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post #10 of 13 Old 05-13-2012, 10:19 PM Thread Starter
If you look closely at one of the last pictures, you can see the former water line from the water deposits on the glass. This water line will actually be lower, but I did that for a reason. I wanted to give the aquaponics plants some height should they need it. I also intend on allowing the aquatic plants grow out of the water if they can. Anacharis won't, but Wisteria will.

Photos of the modified containers/baskets. It seems that no matter what I do, mesh STILL finds its way into my projects! At least I like the green/black combo. Too bad the eggcrate isn't black as well. They're not pretty, but they should get the job done -

For the first basket, I used zip ties. For the second, I tried fishing line then I got fustrated and just gave up on that and used silicone instead. I'm glad I used silicone instead. I know that one will be much stronger than the zip tied one. It was messy but quicker.
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