2.5 gallon stainless framed "pico" aquarium
I used a heat gun and softened the goop holding all the old glass and slate bottom, patiently worked it all free (pics of the cleaned frame here). I cleaned out all the asphaltum/gilsonite goop out of the frame, using a heat gun again, putty knife, and paint stir stick for 97% of it. The rest came out with a 1" wide chip brush, with the bristles cut down to a 1/2", and many liberal squirts of Berryman B-12 carburetor cleaner. Spray, soak a minute, brush, repeat. I thought about reusing the glass but it was pretty scratched up. I measured the old pieces and had some new pieces cut. Slate and silicone don't stick to each other very long, and I also replaced the slate bottom with a piece of 1/4" plate glass.
So, new glass, slate bottom replaced with glass, and back silicone used to seal the tank up. Pretty simple. I cleaned off the old slate bottom, sanded the corners round and set it in the bottom of the tank, under the substrate, to protect the plate glass from any concentrated rock weight.
I was planning on using a small in-tank power head/filter combo. It was only about 1.5" x 1.5" x 5" long, but, considering this tank is only 12" wide x 8" tall, it looked HUGE in the tank. So, I built a pico/nano sized canister filter using a small powerhead, and an airtight food canister with an acrylic top, and some acrylic tubes and bits. The canisters were from Target, Oggi brand, in a box of 4 assorted sizes. They are available in all acrylic, or stainless with an acrylic lid. Total cost of the materials for 4 filters: $22.00 for the 4 canisters, $4.25 for 12 feet of acrylic tube (6' @1/2", 6' @3/8"), $11.50 for the solvent adhesive (enough for -many- filters), $14.50 for 50' of 1/2" vinyl tubing, neoprene sheet $10.00, generic salt .75¢.
Total - $63.00, or $15.75 per filter in build materials. Small powerheads are around $15.00, so about $30.00 for a very nice pico/nano canister filter.
With the lid being acrylic, assembly went very fast, using fast drying acrylic solvent cement. I reinforced the lid with 1/4" thick acrylic scraps where the acrylic pass-through tubes were to be cemented in. The cord was run through a smaller diameter tube which was then filled with epoxy. The only issue was the crappy, thin, hard silicone-like gasket supplied with the canisters. Fine for keeping rice crispies sorta fresh, but absolutely -USELESS- in sealing the containers watertight. I ended up cutting a gasket out of 1/4 neoprene, which worked great... for about two weeks. Then, I picked up some Ecoflex shore 00-10 silicone casting rubber from Reynolds Advanced Materials. I took the lid off the canister, taped a dam around the rim edge, and filled it with about 1/4 inch of silicone. 4 hours later, I had a perfect, thick, extra soft gasket. No problems with this one, and the way it seals, I can't imagine any future issues.
In the shot below the filter is at the same level as the tank for the sake of the picture, but normally it sits out of the way (hidden) about 4 feet below the tank. With a sealed canister filter, you don't really have to worry about "head height", as the weight of the water "falling" down into the filter by syphon effect balances the weight of the water in the return tube for a zero net weight. A tiny pump works fine.
I later put a small, externally controlled heater and a thermometer inside the filter as well, since the more I keep in the filter, the less will be in the tank. You can see the new silicone gasket in the shot below.
The lily pipes are diy, out of 1/2" acrylic tube. I taped closed one end, used a heat gun to soften the acrylic, and then blew the lily bubble, dipping it in water (while under pressure) to set the bulb shape. The tube was then filled with packed salt and softened over the heatgun, bent, and again set with cold water. Salt works about the same as sand when bending tubing, but has the added advantage of disolving away if any crystals get stuck to the acrylic during the bend. Once cool and de-salted, I sanded the bulb opening to the desired shape. Good article on how to diy the lily pipes and make bends on APC.
The substrate is a thin dusting of peat, about a tablespoon of osmocote pellets, 3/4" of mineralized soil, and a 1" cap of black Flourite sand. The hardscape/rocks are red chert, collected from the local creek.
Plants are clippings of dwarf hairgrass (or maybe micro chain sword, I can't remember) in the background, and dwarf water clover in front. Lighting is one 11w, 5500k mini spiral cfl. We'll see what happens over the next few months. With no CO2, and a very low plant density... that probably means algae.
Update -3 1/2 weeks:
A couple grass shrimp are now in the tank. To keep them from ending up in the filter, I replaced open pick-up tube with plastic mesh covered flared tube. I also added a small clump of hygro kompact for a some more plant mass. There's new algae growth on the corner silicone. So I decided to start dosing with excel, 5 drops is about the correct amount for the 3 gallon total volume, 2.5 gallons in the tank plus about a half gallon in the canister filter.
Update - 7 weeks.
White background replaced with a black background. You can't really see it, but the mesh covered tube was replaced with the original plain tube, covered with a small coarse foam pre-filter cube. Hygro kompact trimmed and replanted. Excel has stopped any algae growth, boosted the clover and hairgrass. The grass shrimp that were in the tank were taken out. Rather than let them graze around, I was feeding them a tiny pinch of food. Too much, apparently, as the left over food was contributing to a snail population explosion. There has also been a marked increase in the copopod population.
Update - 10 weeks.
Hygro kompact is filling in around the big rock nicely. Shrimp removed, so the snails now have minimal food sources. Pygmy chain sword is getting taller, clover is still single lobed, despite continued excel dosing.
Update - One year.
One year come and gone. The tank is stable, requiring minimal pruning or maintaining, other than frequent water top-offs. The clover was king, for a while, forming a thick mat and taking over most of the front half of the tank. In the past three months or so the micro sword/hairgrass/whatever is taking over. Could be that the clover burned out the soil substrate with the thick growth, and is giving way to a less demanding plant. The hygro looks the same as a few weeks after planting, just needing an infrequent pruning. The pruned bit go into the big tank where they are no longer "kompact", growing 18"+ in short order.
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