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55 Gallon Home Office Bookshelf Community Tank Journal

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In early September 2021, I set up my first ever tank, a ten-gallon big box store kit tank (see my Introductions post here).  The only thing I knew was that I knew nothing, so I started researching.  That tank started off with artificially colored gravel and plastic plants, and is now a (slightly overgrown) community and ecosystem.  Along the way, I've learned a lot and been really bitten by the bug, and now I'm ready to upgrade to a new 55 gallon tank. 

Additionally, we're taking this opportunity to completely revamp the home office where the 10 gallon currently is and where both tanks will eventually be.  Out go the old hand-me-down particle board bookshelves, to be replaced by the built-in bookcases my wife has always wanted, with the new tank the focal point in the center.  Our inspiration was this build we saw on Reddit:


(To be clear: this is not my tank or office; I have just been using it as inspiration!)

I bought a new Top Fin 55 gallon tank all-in-one kit, we moved all the books off of the old shelves, and started buying wood and other assorted hardware.  (I'll respond to this post with pictures.)

My current (and only) tank has four cardinal tetras (down from an initial six) and two honey gouramis (two males after some inaccurate sexing as juveniles at the LFS), along with three Amano shrimp, and a ton of mini ramshorn and bladder snails.  The fish will all be moving on up to the 55, and once it has had a chance to season a bit, the Amanos will join them.  The ten gallon will eventually be re-purposed as a Neocaridina tank.

So now I'm in the planning stages.  In no particular order:

After my current community moves over, my stocking plan is, in order:

  • about 14-16 more cardinal tetras (for 18-20 total);
  • 6-8 Sterbai cories;
  • 2 Apistogramma cacatoides; and
  • either 1 bristlenose pleco or 5-6 otocinclus. 

I had originally thought to get some female honey gouramis to go with the boys, but I am worried that I'd have to add at least four females in order to spread the male attention around, but that seems like more gouramis than I wanted and though I think I'm better at sexing them than I once was, I'm worried that I'll accidentally end up with even more males.

The must-haves here are more cardinal tetras to increase the size of their school and either the pleco or the otos.  My wife has a real soft spot for "sucker fish" and since she's largely building out the tank stand and the bookcases, and she's got the patience of Job with me prattling on about fish, I owe her.  She like the idea of many small otos over a single bristlenose but is open to either.

With all that said, will that community work?  Any incompatibilities there, or things I'm over looking?  Am I overstocking?

In addition to the DIY stand, I bought a Sunsun HW-302 canister filter.  I have some FairmountSantrol AquaQuartz pool filter sand on order at a local pool supply store (@Mmiller2001, that's your brand of PFS, right?) and plan on doing a beachfront/sand path divided substrate, with the other portion being a blend of small gravel and Eco-Complete.  I've got a couple Coop heaters still in my cart.  I'm still doing my research on lighting but I've been happy with the Finnex 24/7 Planted Plus I have on the 10 gallon, so I might go that route.  That said, I'm not planning on running CO2, so I might look into something like a Hygger instead.  Hardscape is to be determined, based on what I find at my awesome LFS.

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On 8/7/2022 at 1:43 AM, Mmiller2001 said:

It is, great stuff.

I was initially bummed out that every hardware store and pool supply store in my area seemed sold out of PFS except for this one, so I did a little research (well, a search here on the forum) and saw how much you like it, so I felt a lot better about using it.

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On 8/6/2022 at 11:50 PM, Rube_Goldfish said:

I was initially bummed out that every hardware store and pool supply store in my area seemed sold out of PFS except for this one, so I did a little research (well, a search here on the forum) and saw how much you like it, so I felt a lot better about using it.

You won't be disappointed. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Not a lot more progress, unfortunately, since both my employer and my kids want my time.  Don't they know I've got an empty aquarium to fill?!  Anyway, my canister filter came in, a Sunsun HW-302, with fine and course filter pads and both bio rings and bio balls.  I'll get some polyfil filter floss from a fabric store for polishing and a large pre-filter sponge from the Coop for the intake.  My wife bought me a bucket with a cool bucket-toolbelt thing for storage of odds and ends for the filter to sit in.  Now I just have to learn how to pack a canister filter, as I've never used one before.  I'm also planning on putting a Coop sponge filter, even though it's undersized as a Small; it'll really be just to keep it cycled for quarantine/hospital tank usage.  The FairmountSantrol AquaQuartz pool filter sand is here, too.  I had to special order it; I guess it's not pool filter season at the moment?

I've now spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to decide on lighting.  I have a Finnex Planted+ 24/7 KLC on my low tech planted ten gallon, and it's been growing plants very nicely.  I wish I could adjust and customize it with a little more granularity (instead of just the eight 3-hour blocks) but I don't wish it enough to spend twice as much on the Fluval 3.0.  (Great though they may be, they're simply not in the budget at the moment.  Maybe someday!)

So mostly I've been trying to decide between a Hygger (either the HG-957* or HG-999) or another Finnex (probably the ALC this time).  I have experience with the Finnex and I like it, I know it's got good build quality.  It's also got a PAR rating at 14 inches water depth of 117, according to that Amazon page, but it's also almost twice as much at $130 instead of ~$70, and every dollar I spend on lighting is less money for everything else.  I know the standard answers to "which light should I get?" is "well, what are you trying to grow?" and "are you running CO2?"  I am not running CO2, and I'm mostly planning fairly easy low and mid-light plants: swords; stems; crypts; anubias; Java ferns; floaters, that sort of thing.  But I also want a few easy red plants here and there.  I'm thinking of scarlet temple, red ludwigia, red rotala, tiger lily.

So my questions are: can red plants grow without infused CO2?  If so, are the Hyggers bright enough to bring out the red?  Is the Finnex?  Even in a 21 inch deep tank?  Also: any suggestions on low tech red plants?

*Or maybe this is the HG-957?  Amazon's listings are a little vague sometimes.

Edited to add picture of the filter in its tool bucket:


Edited by Rube_Goldfish
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  • 5 months later...
On 1/19/2023 at 12:44 PM, Lennie said:

Any updates on this one?

The reddit pic looks amazing. It has been a bit of time since the last update I see.

I'm curious to see what you will end up with or if you made any progress!!

Yes, quite a lot, actually. You know, I was just thinking about this journal this morning. We really got down to brass tacks in October 2022 and I had the tank planted and flooded in early November. I took extensive (excessive, really) photos to try to document everything, and should have just made contemporaneous posts here. Then, about early to mid-December, the micro SD card with practically all my photos (not just of the tank and build, either) suddenly went bad and it's all gone. I took it to a local phone/tech repair shop and they referred me to a forensic data recovery center, but they'll charge me $75 just for a quote, and recovery would likely go in to the hundreds. I'm probably going to do it anyway - I've got a lot of kid and family photos on it - but the whole thing was really discouraging. I really should have used some kind of cloud back up or at least a local back up, but I just didn't.

So that discouragement led me to put off updating, which then made the updating become this big overwhelming thing. Which is ridiculous; this is supposed to be fun, not feel like a term paper.

But inspired by your new tank, I'll just roll up my sleeves and do what I can. I'll include photos that I have and going forward, and if/when I get the other ones recovered, I'll include those, too.

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I'm so sorry to hear what you have gone through even when this was just meant to be a fun project.

I feel you well. I probably would feel discouraged at the time as well.

On 1/19/2023 at 9:02 PM, Rube_Goldfish said:

But inspired by your new tank, I'll just roll up my sleeves and do what I can. I'll include photos that I have and going forward, and if/when I get the other ones recovered, I'll include those, too.

Yay! I'm looking forward to see about the future improvements. And to see if you still go for the same stocking plan 😄 Whenever I visit a store, I fall in love with something new. I always fail to stick with my stocking plans! :'

I love the apistogrammas btw. Definitely in my potential stocking list for my new tank too! Never kept dwarf cichlids before.

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  • 4 months later...

Wow, I haven't been here on the forum (mostly) since March!  And I've really missed this place; it's my favorite part of the internet.  But work and life have been crazy, and then I wasn't sure how to get back in.  Anyway, I'm now up to three tanks: a planted 55, an overgrown jungle of a ten, and another ten that I'm growing out A. cacatuoides fry in.  (I sold my first fish last month: three apisto females and five Corydoras sterbai.  I mean, sure, all that store credit and then some was immediately used up to replace a broken filter, but hey; I successfully raised baby fish!)  Construction on the bookshelves basically totally stopped back around January, but we should have more free time this summer, so with any luck that will be done soon.  Hopefully I can get some photos up soon, but in the meantime, I'm hoping I'll be back to being more active on the forum.

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  • 1 month later...



Construction was delayed because of life, and it's obviously not done, so don't judge the mess too loudly. We still have to trim all the wood out and build the cabinet doors (most of my "stuff" is in what will be the cabinet, sort of hiding there behind the Philadelphia Eagles garbage can.


Full tank shot! The current stocking is about 20 cardinal tetras, nine sterbai corydoras, two honey gourami, five otocinclus, two adult Apistogramma cacatuoides and six juveniles (though not for long; they're going to my LFS this weekend), at least one surviving Amano shrimp, and snails.

I seem to be having trouble uploading anymore pictures, so I'll try again later.

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