Fish Tanks!

Ancient History

After 22+ years, I'm getting back into the aquarium hobby. I had a 10 gallon community tank (danios and otos) for quite a while in college. Before college I had a succession of goldfish and other fish. 

I always wanted a bigger tank in college but never had the money/space/time. And I was pretty burned out with danios by the end. I think the real issue was I wanted a few more types of fish in my tank but could only support the danios in a 10 gallon setup. 

New community tank project

I started by idly looking for a 20 gallon long tank at Petco. Turns out, Petco is having a 50 percent off sale! After looking at all of the different tanks they had, I found one that looked pretty good. Brought it home, and started thinking about what I would put in it. I also realized how big it was and that I would need a custom stand for it. 

The tank is a bare tank with no accessories. I gave away my 10G tank and other accessories back when I left college (gave my tank to my friend, which is a whole other story in and of itself.), so I have to start from scratch.

One of the constraints I'm placing on myself is it has to fit in my established budget for hobbies, which means I can spend roughly 40 dollars every two weeks.

This goal, uh, went out the window when I realized that I could make one large order to Aquarium Co-op and get free shipping. Then I said, well, might as well buy substrate. And a test kit. And some plants. But now I am fishless cycling the tank for the next month at least so in theory I won't need to buy anything.

Stocking ideas

I went in so many directions with this tank, and I'm still not 100 percent settled. At first I was thinking kuhli loaches and neon tetras. After visiting a few fish stores and looking at the neon tetras, they don't hold as much interest for me as they did 30 years ago. Plus after reading up on care instructions, it seems that neon tetras and cardinal tetras both would do well in a black water tank. I'm not interested in setting up a black water tank at this time. I want something simple and easy and fairly foolproof.

I always wanted kuhli loaches, because the aquarium books I had back in the day made it seem like they were fun and easy to keep. Everyone says sand for kuhli loaches. I even got a whole bucket of sand I've been carrying around for the past 22 years with the expectation that I would have kuhli loaches someday. 

But I started reading the forums and watching Youtube videos. I learned that if you have plants, you can't have sand substrate be too deep. The water can't flow through to the bottom of the tank, and anaerobic bacteria start taking over. Many problems ensue.

However, if you have a big thick gravel substrate with lots of plants, you can get away with fewer water changes. Which would be a big win in my book.

I found Father Fish, who advocates for an enriched potting soil (!) layer at the bottom of the tank, followed by 3 inches of sand. The Father Fish method appears to be a modification of the Walstad method, which is a thin layer of potting soil (not enriched with extra fertilizers), followed by a 1.5-2 inch sand cap. I don't know how the Walstad and Father Fish methods avoid the problems of a solid sand layer, but I suspect there's some action of the dirt in keeping the wrong types of bacteria from forming.  

I don't think I want to do a Walstad or Father Fish tank at this time. Sounds interesting, but not right now. 

I went to a few local fish stores and checked out the kuhli loaches. They are smaller than I remember them being. And I think I'm okay with a few of them in a tank but maybe not a whole ton. 

So I found some smaller gravel. Going to go with 3 inches of that. Just about big enough for a loach to pick a rock up and put it down. One thing I thought of is putting in a small dish of sand in the tank and letting the loaches have fun with that for a bit.

So I tried several configurations of Neons + danios + kuhli loaches + otos, just mentally thinking about it. I went to 4 different fish stores to take a look at different fish. It's interesting because in one of the fish stores, the tanks were all clean but there were no decorations or plants. The different neons I was looking at all looked... kinda freaked out. They weren't really shoaling. Or doing much, personality wise. 

The danios looked like danios. I was familiar with those and it all came right back in terms of how they were behaving. My brain went "ah yes proper fish" even though that's kind of a silly thing to think.

I also considered a betta + neons.  

So then I found out about lemon tetras. Turns out they have quite a bit of inter group jostling and territory marking and things like that. Seems a little more, personality wise, than a bunch of fish that just kind of sit around. I have not seen any lemon tetras yet. One LFS said they are getting in a shipment soon, along with some green neons. And this LFS has tanks with decorations and plants and I did notice that these fish seemed a lot more happy and vibrant and less freaked out. 

So the current stocking plan is:  

10 Lemon Tetras

15-20 Green Neon Tetras (I do want another shoal of fish for this slot, not 100 percent sold on the green neons though. Also considering forgoing the shiny tetras entirely, but IDK.)

3-5 Kuhli Loaches (these are on the maybe list)

3 Otos (definitely these)

Update: I saw lemon tetras in person and they look outstanding.

Stuff I have so far

  • Aquarium stand
  • Tank (28 bucks, Petco)
  • a pretty rad looking branch to go in the bottom of the tank (15 bucks, Petsmart)
  • a lid (reviews say that Aqueon's own 20 gallon long lid doesn't fit 20 gallon long tanks due to a manufacturing defect, so I got a 20 gallon long lid at Petsmart instead. (20 dollars, Petsmart)
  • used Aqueon Quiet 10.+ two cartridges. (13 dollars, LFS)
  • Java moss on a piece of coconut (9 bucks, Petsmart)
  • tank heater
  • substrate
  • air pump, air stone
  • sponge filter
  • I had this broken pottery bowl in my old tank that I want to use, but I can't find it. Fortunately, one of the kids just broke another pottery bowl and I now have a piece of that set up as a cave.
  • fish food (I am using it for fishless cycling)
  • Gravel siphon


I got the java moss on a whim. I realized I can start growing the java moss in a separate container. When I build out the stand, I can set up the tank, and the filter, and start cycling the tank, and throw that java moss in there. Then, the next thing I get is probably the substrate. But the tank will have started a fishless cycle before then. 

One thing I am doing with the java moss (literally right now) is running it through something called "Reverse respiration". You take your aquarium plants home. You submerge them in plain carbonated water, and put them in complete darkness for 12 hours. Then you take them out of the carbonated water, and put them in regular light in normal oxygenated water for 30 minutes. 

The CO2 either suffocates larger pests like snails or other parasites, or, in the case of algae, the extra acidity of the carbonic acid denatures the outer protein walls of the algae itself. This reaction happens quicker in darkness, because in the light, the chemical reactions that are going on with the acid can take some energy from the photons. With no photons, it has a quicker algaecidal effect. 

The 30 minutes in oxygenated water kills off any anaerobic bacteria. So you can have your plants treated and ready for your tank, but the only residue is... water! And the plants seem to benefit from the increased CO2 environment.

Checklist of stuff I still need

  • better LED lighting
  • aquascape scissors
  • Actual fish!