Jump to content

Progress on my 20 Gallon Betta Aquarium


Recommended Posts

I decided to dedicate a journal to my new twenty gallon high! I’m excited to post updates as it progresses in the future!

 The past few days have been pretty tedious, with a lot of cumbersome lifting, back and forth spray painting, and plenty of adjustments.. with some occasional amounts of frustration and tons of determination in addition. 
Most of the work lately has entailed building up the rock structure. I originally had it set lower, but realized that the height needed to be increased; I used mesh bags full of rock to add to it. Unfortunately, that had offset the half of the structure I had built (the right side was almost completely bare at the time). So, I spent well over four hours trying to get it all back into place, which finally resulted in the placement I was looking for.
Afterwards, I added the rest of the structure and stabilized it all into large sections with spray foam. Following that, once the spray foam had dried, I had to remove the sections to take them up to the attic to spray paint them. It was a little frustrating at times, and a mesh bag was stuck to some foam and pulled off a small section before I could remove it in time. But, it was a small error, and I moved on to spray painting them all as thoroughly as I could before calling it a night on the brunt of the work. Though, I did clean the glass to try and remove all of the gunk and dried spray foam aftermath. There are some spots I still might need to touch up on, but a vinegar and water mix seems to be taking care of most of it. 

Today, I was mostly spray painting everything every few hours, rotating all of the rocks every time I did so. I did leave the bottommost structure in the aquarium to try and keep the placement of the other structures more consistent, as they all have to fit in place. In order to spray paint that one, I tore up some old newspaper and used that to block the glass on the sides and bottom, then I applied the spray paint. To try and minimize the fumes, since I sleep in the living room and right next to the tank (and my betta fish, Samphan, is in a holding tank on the table tray close by), I covered the top of the aquarium with a blanket and a pillow from off of the couch. It seemed to do the trick well, but I made sure to monitor my fish just in case, as well as fan out the area by him with a magazine, since the ceiling fan doesn’t work and it was too cold and snowy to open a window. I spent a couple hours over half the day on it all, and once the spray paint was up to my liking and the touch ups were completed, I took all of the rock structures back down and added them back into the tank. I made the mistake of adding them out of order and managed to offset everything, so it was maybe two hours of adjusting them all back into how they were originally placed, though not completely the same. The friction from the adjustments chipped a little paint away, so I added the newspaper back in and touched up the spots. A paper moved without me noticing, and some spray paint got on the glass. But it shouldn’t be too difficult to remove. 

This is the resulting product, and I’m pretty satisfied with it. This is my first attempt at a hardscape, and I made my own sketch of how I would maybe envision the scape to be prior to doing this all. So, that is what I would go back and forth referencing at. 
The rocks were collected years ago from Oklahoma when I visited family and spent a few hours in the insanely hot weather collecting rocks and driving a car for the first time, although that was the only time I was ever able to drive. I remember seeing a lot of scorpions, snakes, and frogs while collecting them all. They were much bigger than this, and filled the entire space of the trunk, but my mom and I hammered them down to make some interesting, but decently sized, pieces for this tank. 

Here is the rough sketch of the hardscape, although the driftwood is included on it, it has yet to arrive. So, I will add it later on to the aquarium. I really enjoy sharp angles and curves, so I tried to implement some of that into my original concept. I didn’t reference any photos, so it probably isn’t accurate to nature, but this is what I had fun coming up with. 


I tried to pick rocks that matched this, and I’ll add some smaller ones to the bottom once I add all of the substrate (I plan on using organic potting soil and Seachem fluorite dark, capping it all in black sand). I like heavy contrast and black is a great color for it, especially when mixed with plants and a brightly colored betta, so that is the color I chose for the rocks, though they were originally a rusty orange color. The spray paint hopefully will prevent the rocks from eroding much in the tank, as it has a primer in it as well, and I applied a lot of layers (though the spray paint is aquarium safe). I think it worked out well, and I’m surprised I was able to match it pretty close to my concept sketch, though I did change some things, like bulking out the left side, and bringing the other down a little lower. It is definitely a little more sizable in person though. 


The next steps are to add substrate, and hopefully the driftwood, once it arrives. All of the mesh bags and spray foam will be covered, and I’ll have to add smaller rocks in some spots afterwards. Following that, I will add my plants. I do plan on purchasing more tomorrow, as I have a case of ‘Plant Collectoritis’, which I’m thinking will be some tissue cultured and sustainable Bucephalandra, Bolbitis (I’m thinking maybe Bolbitis heudelotii or maybe something smaller), Java Fern Trident Leaf, potentially something else.
I have a holding tank full of plants that will also be apart of this scape, and I will try to implement the majority, as I enjoy a bit of a jungle. 

Edited by Sapere_Ceta
  • Like 8
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Happy New Year, everyone! Most of the day, I spent resting, as this aquarium project has been flaring up a lot of my symptoms. But, earlier tonight, I washed the fluorite dark substrate. I had originally intended to add dirt along with it, but I decided that one substrate was enough (and probably less potential work in the future). While washing it, it flared up a lot of my vertigo and head pain and pressure, so I had to stop early, and waited a couple hours until it didn’t feel as overwhelmingly apparent. I finished up after my break, and washed the majority of the substrate. 

Adding the substrate took some additional deliberation, because I have so many plants that I want to include. Although I do enjoy really clean and designed aquascapes, I’ve never wanted it to look exactly that way. I enjoy a lot of plants, especially when they can tower over the hardscape in the aquarium. I plan on making the right sloped portion very dominant with substantially sized plants, with some red coloration in addition.
There will be plants nearly everywhere around the tank, but probably not as emphasized. 

I’m still waiting on the driftwood, understandably from what’s been going on as of late, shipping wise. I also have more sand arriving soon; Luckily I ordered more, since the front of the tank required so much. The cap is pretty thin, that way the plants don’t have significant trouble from it. I will do the back once the sand arrives. 

Here is what the aquarium is looking like so far: 


The substrate is a lot less yellow in person, especially when it’s dampened. But, I’m enjoying how it’s turning out. Its larger looking in person as well, but I’ve never been able to capture the size of it better on my phone’s camera. 

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The driftwood and more sand arrived yesterday! Depending on how this day goes, I’ll try and add both later on.
Yesterday, I upgraded Samphan’s holding tank to the around seven gallon plant tank, where I was originally cycling all of my media. It has been fully cycled for a while, but I waited on transferring him to it, since I had to take everything down, swap to a less intense filter (though the media in it is the same), move it up onto a table tray, and set it all back up again. The work on the aquarium has been keeping things really flared up, and this definitely added to it. So, I’m going to try and rest consistently, and hope that everything will lessen, since all of the rock structures, spray painting, and stand building is complete. 

The new filter turned out to have some issues, and I will contact the third party seller to try and replace it, if possible. It makes about five terribly loud noises nonstop, and troubleshooting for hours resulted in nothing successful. But I have it running regardless until I can hopefully get another one, since it does seem to at least work as it should, minus all of the somewhat scary noises.


I’ve slowly been adding tannins to his holding tank. 

On a cool note, I have a lot of plants arriving soon: Bucephalandra Biblis, Bucephalandra Dark Skeleton King, Bucephalandra Red Mini, Java Fern Trident Leaf, Cryptocoryne Crispatula Tokinensis, Pearl Moss, Cryptocoryne Nurii, Cryptocoryne Undulatus ‘Red’, Anubias Nana Pinto, Red Root Floater, and Cryptocoryne Spiralis ‘Red’.

I wanted to invest the remaining of what I had saved for a long time into some really exciting, and some rare, plants. I sleep in the living room and don’t have much room for house plants, so aquarium plants are a great compromise to this problem. I also never was able to complete the aquascapes I was in the process of setting up and finishing on the previous aquariums I had, so this will hopefully fulfill those lost experiences. 

I’ll post an update on the 20 gallon aquarium when I hopefully feel a little better and get around to working back on it (hopefully a little bit throughout the day if possible). 

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I’ve been working on the driftwood. I decided I wanted to go for a more root-like look, maybe something you’d see in a shallow area by a bank of vegetation.. something like that I guess. I’ve superglued it all together, so it’s currently drying.  

I’m really enjoying the deep substrate, and I think the driftwood helped take up some of the height the twenty gallon high offers. Most of them were way too big, so I broke them down into small twigs and individual pieces, added the base pieces first, and then glued the small pieces on to those. 


I can’t wait til they are waterlogged and darken in coloration. The next step is waiting for the remaining plants to arrive and add them all afterwards. The goal is to make it really plant heavy, and I am pretty confident that I’ll be adding tannins and possibly leaf litter to the scape, since I adore the look. 

Also, here is a photo I took of Samphan tonight.


  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I constructed a quick and affordable lid today, using black egg crate and some cable ties. I wouldn’t be able to break down that portion of driftwood sticking out, so I cut around it. I’ll eventually cut a section out for the filter as well! 


On another note, one shipment of my plants will be arriving early today! I’m excited to get them! 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I’ve been at a standstill with the aquarium for now. My Chiari and my endometriosis have been extremely flared up, so I’ve been trying to rest up as much as I can, though sleeping has been pretty difficult to achieve. 

I thought I would share some photos of Samphan, who has been doing much better since yesterday, after being on six days so far of treatment (he’s been battling some really resilient gill flukes). 


He’s back to preforming lots of wiggle-dances and exploration, and it’s enjoyable to observe. 


  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 minutes ago, Koi said:

The cave you made with the rocks looks awesome. Your hardscape has a really good sense of scale I definitely couldn't tell what size tank you had. 

Are all those plants going in that tank? I'm looking forward to see how you plant it, cause I can't even imagine how you'll be able to fit that all in the tank haha.

Thanks! I’m hoping to be able to fit a lot of them in, but I might not be able to use all of them. It depends on what I can fit in without it being overcrowded. I do want them to be able to grow in and maybe overwhelm the tank a bit, so we’ll see.
A lot of the plants I have are very slow growing, so if I am able to fit them in the scape without it being unsightly, I won’t necessarily have to stress about them outgrowing the tank for a while. When that starts to happen, I most likely will take the mother plant out and only keep the plantlets produced, allowing them to grow in once again. Or, alternatively, I could break the plant down into smaller plants and replant those in the spot the large plant once was. I do want the plants to take over the top half of the aquarium space. It would hide some of the driftwood at the front angle (from the side it would be visible), but I like seeing that change and growth occur in the tank. It makes the scape a little more interesting. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Koi said:

Do you have any ideas what kind of plants you plan to put in that pathway/slope in the middle? My worry is that slope will fall if you ever have to uproot anything from there

I’d like to add a crypt or two and a red melon sword. I’m not 100% certain if it will completely hold upon uprooting plants if it was done underwater. But that is a section I was aiming to be pretty taken over by plants. So I most likely wouldn’t be uprooting it anytime soon. Once it would get to the point where I wouldn’t want more plants, I’d probably have to stay on top of maintenance and uproot them while they’re still very small. In the case that I would have to uproot larger plants, I might be able to drain the tank extremely low for that area to keep the sand pretty compact while I uproot the plants. I’d probably have to set up a holding bin for all of the equipment and for the fish (but only one is living there). Keep 50-60% of the water in heated buckets to add back when it’s finished.. So I guess that is another option if I really was concerned about it falling. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sounds like you have a pretty good plan or at least an idea of how to approach it. A trick I like to use when removing plants if I'm not trying to disturb my substrate is slowly pulling the plant up just enough so I can see a little bit of the roots above the substrate and cut it at the roots. Whatever roots that are left under the substrate I leave for either for my snails to eat or it will eventually rot and become fertilizer for the rest of the plants in that area. You could probably still reuse the plant but when I go about this method, I usually throw it out.

I'm a little jealous how you are able to fit everything in a relatively small tank so nicely. I'm so clumsy I would never be able to maneuver my hands in a 20 gallon without knocking out half the hardscape haha. It reminds me of how people make ships in glass bottles.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 minutes ago, Koi said:

Sounds like you have a pretty good plan or at least an idea of how to approach it. A trick I like to use when removing plants if I'm not trying to disturb my substrate is slowly pulling the plant up just enough so I can see a little bit of the roots above the substrate and cut it at the roots. Whatever roots that are left under the substrate I leave for either for my snails to eat or it will eventually rot and become fertilizer for the rest of the plants in that area. You could probably still reuse the plant but when I go about this method, I usually throw it out.

I'm a little jealous how you are able to fit everything in a relatively small tank so nicely. I'm so clumsy I would never be able to maneuver my hands in a 20 gallon without knocking out half the hardscape haha. It reminds me of how people make ships in glass bottles.

Thanks! That’s a very clever method! I’ll have to try that out when the opportunity arises! 

I was dropping and knocking over so much of the hardscape. My only saving grace is that I spray foamed them together in sections so I could take them out and add them back together without too much hassle. But when the spray foam was drying, my hands were covered in it for weeks (I somehow completely missed the label of it being necessary to use gloves), and I was using mesh bags to hold it all together. Though there were sometimes where I’d have to hold it for around 45 minutes until it wouldn’t dry, which luckily only happened two or three times total. All of the driftwood is hot glued to the sections so I can take them off with the rocks. All in all, I believe there’s five or six sections total, but a few rocks came off on the structure on the right side when I had to take it out to spray paint and seal it all. 
It’s a little easier to get in small spots sometimes, as I’m pretty petite (5’1) so my hands can usually fit in the trickier places. But having to move them and set them up was the real challenge because they are heavy for me. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Morning, everyone. The past week has been extremely chaotic, as well as a downer. Samphan’s Gill flukes did not respond to the multiple treatments I tried, and worsened to the point where his gills wouldn’t work and he faced extreme fatigue. I transferred him to a smaller shallow setup to try and give him access to the surface, which seemed to help. But hour by hour, he got worse until finally passing away by Friday morning. I buried him in my oldest Succulent’s pot. I believe he had these when I got him (since December 18th), and they didn’t respond to any of the treatment that was done in quarantine. By the time he showed symptoms after Quarantine was finished, it was probably when they were getting much worse. I finally got hold of a strong medication to use on anything that was in the tanks Samphan ever went in, and completed treatment yesterday. My plants took a bit of a beating from all of the various treatments, but they’ll recover. 

I was really sad and still am, especially since Samphan was the first fish I had gotten in six years after I had to take all of my aquariums down. But I tried everything I could get access to and constantly monitored him and the water. A hard lesson of the hobby is that sometimes you just can’t help to the extent you imagine you can, and that doing your best might not always be enough to save them. But what matters is how well you try to help or save them. 

Two days ago, I ordered fish to quarantine, as everything has been treated and disinfected (though I need to finish disinfecting some equipment today). I ordered a male betta, six Indian ricefish, and (for another setup) a male bronze turmeric crayfish. The crayfish will be in a large bin until my mom and I move out of my grandpa’s home, then he will have his own aquarium. 

The rare plants still have not shipped, when I ordered them on the 4th, and I have reached out to the company but they still have yet to respond to me. I tried to contact the seller who sold me Samphan to notify them on what occurred and to keep an eye out on their fish, if they might have them too, but their entire store, email, and stock is gone. 

Yesterday, I added the plants I have to the 20 gallon and filled it up. They’re a little ratty and the tank is foggy, but once it all settles in, I will trim them down. 






I will take a better photo of the aquarium filled up eventually, one where you can see it from the front, so all of the plants are visible, but the glare is very bad until it gets dark out. I also need to clean it up a bit and let the fog reduce. I also might have to adjust the lighting, and I’ll have to add a new filter and heater to the tank. The filter I had replaced is too large (they sent me a different one from what I ordered). I have it hooked up to maintain the bacteria still though, and added an old heater, as my small one is currently running on one of the QT bins.

I also just want to thank you all for being really kind and supportive. It’s nice to be apart of a community I have long since missed, especially with a collection of people this awesome. 

  • Like 5
  • Sad 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...