We’ve kept the water garden going for two whole months and only 1 fish has died, possibly from old age. I’d count that as a good record, seeing as we put about 45 fish in the tank last month. The plants are doing wonderfully and I’m glad to see my green thumb extends below the water line as well.
We did, however, run into a couple of problems. For one, algae came to visit and made viewing the fish rather difficult. I started reading again and found out this was an expected occurence in new tanks. It still didn’t make me or the kids very happy. There were only a few things we could do to get rid of it. Take out some fish, add more plants, block so much sunlight from getting to the water, or wait it out.
Since we can’t do much about the sun at this point (and I am sometimes the most impatient person on the planet), I opted for taking out some fish (the five largest ones) and getting more plants. I purchased another sword plant and some creeping Golden Jenny. This sword plant had sent up a runner with two more plants with tiny roots beginning to form. I snipped those and floated them along the top of the water. I should have left them form a few more roots, but I’ll do that next time.
Also, as much as I liked the tank in the garden, it was too crowded to get more than 2 people around it at a time. Since our fire pit now stood too close to the garden to be of use in actually lighting fires, we cleaned up the area and moved the tank there. This involved first removing the plants, the fish, and as much water as we could.
After my sons and I moved the tank, I got a crazy idea. I wondered if, instead of planting in buckets, I could just plant the whole tank. You know, put soil down and put the plants directly into the soil so their root system could go through out the entire tank. Clay holds clear water when it isn’t disturbed and gambusia normally live with our clay soils, but I didn’t know if that would work in a tank.
So while the plants and fish were floating about in a temporary container, I went online to read some more (seriously, there’s been a ton of reading with this project). Most of what I found was either planted aquarium tanks or ponds. So I decided to try a larger version of a planted indoor tank.
First, we had to re-level the tank. We used play sand, as that was all we had on hand and it is fairly cheap ($4 a bag). It took a bit of back and forth to get it level across all sides, but this is an important step. Water puts a lot of stress on the sides of the container and I didn’t want a failure point to cause a leak.
Once I was happy with the leveling, I layered the bottom with a couple inches of 100% (no fertilizers) compost.
Then, I placed the plants where I thought they would have room to grow. Next step was the clay. I dug up the cleanest soil I could find, without roots or worms and placed that around the plants, tapping it down to form a solid barrier over the lighter compost. After that came a layer of aquarium sand I had thought might be helpful in keeping the clay undisturbed. I’m still not sure if I actually needed it, but I thought, Why not?
Final layer was aquarium rocks. This is my one big mistake I could kick myself for making. From my reading, the river rocks I had originally gone with were too large for our tank size. Aquarium gravel was recommended, so I purchased a 20 lb bag for $20. They only had black and I wasn’t crazy about it, but I didn’t want to leave the fish and plants out too long.
In hindsight, I should have gone with pea gravel (and I did go and purchase a bag from Lowe’s afterwards). The pea gravel came in a much larger bag (50 lb) and it was only $3.50. Sigh. Live and learn.
I placed the bricks and the marginals at slightly different locations because the tank would now be running east-west instead of north-south. I still laid the bricks with the holes sideways to allow the fish to swim through.
After a few days had passed, I put the fish and the old water we had saved into the tank. After poking around their new layout, the fish seemed to settle in just fine. My husband mention he liked the sound of water falling and asked if we could have something like that in the water garden. I didn’t see why not, so I bought a small filter, meant for a 5 – 15 gal tank. I didn’t want one powerful enough to pull all the nutrients out of the water, as I needed the plants to take them in for food. I ran an extension cord to the filter and everything started right up. It was a little hard to get it to stay on, as the tank side is wider than your average aquarium, but we managed. To complete the setting, I poured mulch and found a small bench on sale for us to sit on while we watched the fish. Plus, with the tank open all around, we could all watch the fish without sitting on one another. Hurrah!