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75 Gallon redo (Jack Dempsey tank)


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I’ve been working on a redo of my 75 gallon tank that has a rescued pair of adult Jack Dempseys and the 2 subadult common plecos that came with them (both male, or course 🙄).  The original owner thought they were jewel cichlids but they are very clearly Jacks.  They were in horrible conditions with mulm piled up so deep the gravel was not visible.  As soon as I could I moved them from the 55 G they came with into the 75 G they’re in now.  I have the temp on the low end of their optimal to inhibit breeding.

I tried to do plants with them, raised on some shelves that held substrate, but no matter how deep I buried them or whether I piled rocks up around them, the Jacks would rearrange and plants would be floating.

Almost 3 weeks ago @Steve A posted about nitrates and emerse grown plants and @dasaltemelosguy posted a picture of his tank that I loved and thought I could make work in my Jack tank.  He had cichlids in the some lucky bamboo and rocks around the bases of the bamboo to hold them in place.

Thus started my redo plans.  Since the tank was just a bunch of yucky, semi-algae coated, plastic plants, it couldn’t possibly be worse no matter what I came up with.  It had the scattered gravel substrate that was *supposed* to stay in the shelves for the live plants but Jacks and plecos had shoveled it out and thrown it around.

First step was ordering the extra tall lucky bamboo and shower caddies to brace the tops of the plants.  Rocks to put in the pots on top of the planting media.  I already had some rounded river rocks from large to small.  The dirt was collected from a farm yard in Oklahoma (with permission from the owner, of course) and is very red, so I’m hoping it’s high in iron.  😆 I’ve got this in several tanks and they always test negative for iron on the strips.  Guess I need to get *another* test kit.

Next step was getting rid of the plastic shelves and the old substrate along with a very thorough cleaning (big fish poop a LOT).  I cut some starts off my marble pothos to get them started on rooting.  Then I separated some spathiphyllum plants, rinsed the roots well, and stuck those in water so they could start adjusting.

I ordered jungle Vallisneria to go in pots - baked, heavy clay dirt with some Osmocote mixed in, then capped with sand, then topped that with the “pebbles” - 1-2” black polished stones around the plants.  I also used a first layer of pebbles that I already had of assorted colors, then used some black over top.  The first bunch of Val melted like crazy but seems to be starting to come back already.  The second batch of Val looked much better when it arrived and I just trimmed the leaves right off and it seems to be doing much better.  I’m glad I’ve got a local source that’s got very good prices on plants!

The first shower caddy shattered when we tried to drill holes in it the size of the lucky bamboo stems.  So I ordered new ones that specifically said they were made of flexible plastic.  Those were easy to drill so they went in the tank today!  Everything is potted, including a couple Crinums I bought today (and I already forgot which species, 🤦🏻‍♀️🤷🏻‍♀️).  I’m pretty sure they’re natans.  And some nice tall “mother” swords - 2 pots gave me 5 big plants, 2 small ones, and a bunch of babies on runners that I’m leaving for now because they’re cute!  Dallas Aquatic Expo!

I have my Spathiphyllum plants and pothos starts tucked into the shower caddies.  I had intended to also use egg crate grid over top of the shower caddies and braced on the tank trim, but I don’t think I’ll need to do that.  The bamboo feels pretty solidly braced right now.

I don’t have any rocks around the pots yet and I’m not sure I will, now.  After seeing all the pots in place (except the Val, it’s not grown in enough to give the fish anywhere to hide, so I’ll wait until it’s growing a little more convincingly).  I still have some plastic plants in here, but they will come out once the Val is actually, you know, plants instead of melted stumps.  I’m crossing my fingers that I have enough rocks bracing the swords and Crinums I bought today.  I don’t have any place else to put these since my Val pots are taking up all the space I had available.

Once I get Vals in, I’ll make a decision on if I add the river rocks.  I bought more big river rocks at the expo today, too!  The pots on their sides will likely stay in depending on how *full* things look once I get Vals in place.

Here’s the “before” pics.

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Next after the clean up.  The first set of Val pots during planting.  The brittle plastic shower caddies and where they were going to go. Then a pic with the bamboo just standing in a pot and the Spath and pothos hanging out in the intact, brittle plastic shower caddy.  Then a pic of the new, softer plastic shower caddies already drilled.

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Posted (edited)

And finally, today’s pic with close to final except still some plastic plants that will be removed once the Val is worth looking at and can add to hiding places.  Then I’ll have to decide on yes or no to rocks to stabilize and hide the pots.  I thought for sure they would need stabilized, but I ended up using larger pots than expected so they take up more territory than anticipated.  Again, those sideways pots will *probably* stay depending somewhat on how well the Val grows.

 

Tell me what you think?  Rocks, yes or no?  I will post again once I get the plastic plants out and the Val pots in place, but it will be at least a couple weeks if not more.  I still need to do another clean up and vacuum the bottom again since some black sand spilled as I was filling around the bamboo.  I had to put that pot in the tank with the dirt layer plus a thin layer of sand, stick the bamboo through the shower caddies and into the pot, fill in with another inch or so of sand, then with the black pebbles.

My goal is to let the pothos grow and dangle down the back of the tank for some shade and a some “hide” effect for the fish from the outside and my cats that sit in the windowsill.  I haven’t decided if I like the Spath in there since it kind of hides the affect of the bamboo stems above the tank.

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Edited by Odd Duck
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On 7/24/2021 at 6:24 PM, xXInkedPhoenixX said:

It looks SO great!!!! The bamboo looks fantastic and I love the pots!!!

Thanks!  I’m liking the pots, too!  I was set on the idea that I would need rocks to keep the pots stable and in place, and hide the pots, but they are heavy enough that I don’t think the Jacks or plecos can move them.  We will see.

The other aspect is the Val pots are not all terra cotta.  They are all different.  But my rocks are all different except the all black pebbles I bought for inside the pots.  I will post a pic once I get the Val pots in place and probably try some rocks in just to see how it looks.  Then decide rocks or no rocks.

An interesting side note:  the Jacks are hiding less and are moving around very casually and comfortably.  I expected them to be a more freaked out from all the changes since that’s their usual MO when I do stuff in the tank.  But they looked far more relaxed than I expected sooner than I expected.

The live plants are obviously much softer and I wonder if they feel better against their skin?  They appear to be swimming through the live plants preferentially.  I can’t wait to get the rest of the plastic out and see how they respond!  I was making these changes for their health and for the appearance to me, so I didn’t have to look at those ugly plastic plants anymore.  Now I’m wondering if they won’t also be happier?  I was concerned they wouldn’t have as much cover, but they may not feel as much need for it.

I’ve tried and tried to give them live plants and they always destroyed them.  But I also never thought to do lucky bamboo like this supported top and bottom, and I never jumped in and bought really tall, mature swords, I’ve always put in smaller plants wanting them to grow.  I got a great deal on these tall ones at the local aquarium expo and I could tell they were tall enough to reach the top and provide lots of cover instantly.  I also hadn’t thought of doing the plants in deeper pots and piling the rocks up deep to hold the plants.  I had only laid pebbles around the roots in a single layer on top of the substrate.  Now the pebbles are stacked 2-3 layers deep and should hold the plants better (I hope!).

I will probably not wait for the Vals to get tall, just wait until they are producing new shoots.  I think they may be anchored well enough to let them grow up in the tank since they are planted so deep in the pots.  If they yank them out, I’ll pull all the pots out and let them grow more in my smaller plant holding tanks.  I’ll just have to do a plant shuffle and move all the shorter stuff to shorter tanks so I can have the Vals in my deepest tanks to get more height.  I’m hoping they react toward taller Vals like they’re reacting to the taller swords.

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On 7/24/2021 at 10:02 PM, xXInkedPhoenixX said:

I'm sure you know that pothos and lucky are poisonous for cats, do yours eat or play with your plants?

They would have to ingest quite a bit to get systemic poisoning and they both tend to cause primarily oral irritation.  My cats don’t tend to chew on anything but the Boston ferns.  They have probably all chewed on the pothos a time or 2.  I’ve seen bite marks when we end up with a new cat, but never missing bits to speak of and nowhere near enough to cause any systemic issue.  But thanks for thinking of my kitties!  The Spath is also slightly toxic, but only minimally but they’ve never chewed that one.

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I figured you would know about the cat thing but one never knows! Some cats only test the waters and sounds like yours do. Mine live with pothos in a pot but it's high up and they don't really bother it, but I've known some cats to eat entire plants! Everybody, like fish, is different! 

I'm so glad the Jacks seem happier, those Plecos! OMG they're pretty and licking the "windows" like happy black labs hehehe. I really like how the pots turned out, it seems since they are so close together they'll have a really hard time pushing them over so I can't imagine you'll have issues (I hope not!). The bamboo turned out so nice! It takes so long to grow Swords so how cool is it that you could buy them that long!

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@xXInkedPhoenixX I knew this local supplier sometimes had these very large plants, but I had given up on being able to have plants in this tank.  When the bamboo triggered my idea of putting the bases of them in deep pots with layers of pebbles supporting them I was like, “Why don’t I do that with Val, too?”

Then I walked in the expo and there these were!  $12.00 a pot and they were full and lush and tall!  When I unpotted them I realized there were three plants in one pot and 2 in the other along with 2 smaller plants.  They also have babies on runners, too, so I got 5 big, tall swords, and at least 8 or so small ones for $24.00!  Can’t beat that anywhere!

I’m really liking the bamboo, too.  I’m shocked at how much I like it.  I was concerned it wouldn’t be enough since I didn’t have room to do that many and it wouldn’t have the impact that @dasaltemelosguy had with his 20 bamboos.  But the big swords make me not miss the extras at all.

I haven’t completely made up my mind about having the Spaths in next to the bamboos up top since they kind of obscure the shape of the bamboo spirals.  I may move the Spaths into the HOB’s.  I have a couple similar size HOB’s that don’t have the wheels and those would work better for holding the Spaths.  I can transfer the sponge in these HOB’s directly into those, so I won’t really lose any filtration from sponges and I’ll still gain the nitrate sink of the Spaths.  I’ll just let the Spaths root directly into the sponges.

I’m definitely keeping the pothos to dangle down the back.  I really like the idea of a whole curtain of pothos down the back of the tank.  I may do more pothos clippings and put some of those into the HOB’s also.

Poor plecos!  They’ve had to put up with so much bad behavior from the Jacks when they were breeding (I didn’t have another tank for them at that point).  Now I’ve stolen all the algae they had on the glass (accumulated from my pure laziness and frustration with not liking this tank).  They didn’t really work that algae much anyway, and they still get fed plenty (I know they poop plenty!) but I need to step up with more frequent Repashy and veggies for them.  I wouldn’t have ever bought common plecos (I’m not getting a 1000 gallon tank for them), but they deserve the chance at the best life I can give them until they completely outgrow my tank.

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Wow! That is incredible deal on those swords, they look amazing. I just know having low tech how long they take to grow, I'm sure your grower has tricks. 

I really like the stalks of bamboo as they are- has a huge visual impact inside and outside the tank, it's like the swords are a theatre curtain opening to the show- a perfect line of dancers. 

I have a huge soft spot for the common pleco- would never have one- cause you know how much space they need- and it's so nice of you to rescue them. I think they are definitely one of the most mistreated fish in the trade. They are so dang cool. They are very likely SO much happier with you as their caretaker. Even the Jacks which I understand can be a bit of a PIA (hence your plant design- but hey it's gorgeous- so thanks Jack!) 

I look forward to your updates with this tank and what you decide to do with the HOBs and other plants!!

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Posted (edited)

OK, I said I was going to wait until the Vals were growing, but I couldn’t stand it!  So there are “empty” pots and pots with little bits of growth starting, and some with stubs that appear to be done melting.  Any pot that *looks* empty will have jungle Val popping up aaaaaannnnny day now.

First pic is with the Val pots in, next pic is with a few rocks in place.  They’re not even the big ones I expected to use, just the darker ones that *go* better with the pots.  Finally pics after moving the Spaths to the HOB’s.  The old HOB’s (non bio wheel) that I was going to use don’t appear to have reliable pumps, so I just took the flat lid off the current ones and kept the front part of the lid since it deflects the water downward.  I also added more pothos trimmings into the HOB’s.

I think the rocks *add* even though they make it more cluttered.

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Edited by Odd Duck
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On 7/26/2021 at 3:18 PM, dasaltemelosguy said:

Wow, Odd Duck, that came out looking amazing!  I really like how you've handled the bamboo stalks with the caddy, practically invisible!  Love the rocks and pots. Really a stunning piece. It's so dramatic it would be gorgeous as a large planter with no fish! But it'll be even better with your JD's!

Thanks so much!  I’m glad you like it!  Your tank was a great inspiration!

The first caddies I picked were completely clear, but they were brittle plastic and the first we tried to drill just shattered.  These are softer and drilled just fine, yet they’re still clear enough and small enough they aren’t too noticeable, so I’m happy.

The Jacks do seem so much happier already.  They are far less stressed by me working in the tank than they usually get.  They really seem to like these big swords.  I just hope they leave the Val alone enough for it to get nice and tall, too.  It really feels good to feel like I’ve finally, *really* improved their lives after they had such a rough first home.

I know they feel better and are healthier than where they were before.  But I was sooooo very frustrated that I couldn’t get them to leave the plants alone long enough to get any size.  I felt my efforts to continue improving their conditions were very under appreciated!  😆 It feels good that they seem more mentally stable, the male especially hid a lot.  That’s already improved far more, and far quicker, than I expected.

I’m really so happy with how it turned out!  Those big swords really do frame the bamboo!  I love how @xXInkedPhoenixX phrased it:

On 7/25/2021 at 12:53 AM, xXInkedPhoenixX said:

it's like the swords are a theatre curtain opening to the show- a perfect line of dancers. 

Made my day to read that!  I was feeling pretty good about it anyway and that just made it even better!

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