So over the last month, roughly, we’ve been thinking about and investigating the idea of getting the freshwater fishtank going again, and under a strict budget.

We’re making a go of it. We got the tank out of the garage. The first challenge was getting it cleaned up. We were actually somewhat worried. When the tank was “decommissioned”, it had been sitting with water and detritus in it, for near on a year. The level of “grit” on it was … troubling. Into the garage it went, ignored until now. The outside of the tank and stand cleaned up fairly easily. I think it had, for some short amount of time, a mouse-like denizen. Some of the papers and plastic sheeting and whatnot that was underneath the tank had been shredded into what looked like a nice little nest. No worries with any of that.

We threw a nice squirt of dish soap into the bottom of the tank, and gave it a slow fill. No leaks! I wasn’t *really* worried about leaks, but you never know. I suppose even the silicon goop they use in the seams could deteriorate over sufficient time. It hadn’t, and we’re nicely sealed. We did some good scrubbing and several rinses and refills. The tank is now *spotless*. Awesome. Oh, and for reference… if you undertake such an effort yourself after not having done any aquariuming for a while… learn a lesson from me: carefully watch your tank as it is filling with water. Do not let your attention waver. Do not go off and read a book. Do not turn on the tv too loud. The subsequent cleanup of many gallons of water out of the rug and floor was… well, time consuming and arduous. Learn the lesson. Save yourself the work.

Next thing up, filter! I’ve always been a big fan of Eheim filters. They adhere strongly to my philosophy of buying a (in theory anyway) more expensive quality product ONCE, and having it last for-freaking-ever. I have two of them, one I had used with the freshwater tank (model 2215) and one we had (for a time) used for the salt water tank, a 2217. Additionally, both of the filters had been “put away wet”. Again, learn a lesson here, since I apparently was too lazy. When you retire a canister filter, even for a short time…. empty it out. In a canister filter, the intent is to send all the water through several layers of “media”, which is a fancy name for “sponges” (ok, I over-simplify). that will capture particulate matter. Different filters and different experts will recommend different kinds of media, but suffice to say that you generally have several layers, each of which serves a slightly different purpose, but ultimately, the clean the water.

Ok, so … when you “clean the water”, the stuff that it cleans out of the water… uh … stays in the filter. If you run for a long while without cleaning the filter, it will become this stinky mass of media + the goop you’re cleaning out of the water. Which, in a fishtank, is, essentially, dirt and poop. Yummy. So now fast forward a bit, and put that stinking canister (sealed, of course), into storage. And then let it sit there for … lets just call it a few years. Let’s just pause right there for a minute, and I’ll let your imagination conjure a bit of imagery of what moistened dirt and poop, left to rot in a canister for a couple years in a nice warm garage, might turn into. Go ahead… close your eyes. Imagine… I’ll be here when you’re done.

Back? Ok. So yeah, it wasn’t pretty. Realistically, you do want *some* of that goop (which for aquariasts, btw, is called “mulm”), that contains some nice, rich bacteria in your tank’s ecosystem. A balanced tank requires it, in fact. But you know what? I’ll start fresh. So I spent a few evenings cleaning out the various media and separating it all out to re-use. A couple of the actual sponges were … useless and had to be thrown out, but the two primary media, called Ehfimech and Substrat Pro, once cleaned up, were in great shape. I tried first to get the 2215 back up and running. Unfortunately, after cleaning it out thoroughly, it turned out that the main canister had a nice big crack in the base, making it (albeit slowly) leak. Not gonna work. One other nice thing about EHEIM is that for any of their products, you can replace every single part in them singly, right down to the little tiny clips that hold the top on. The canister? $87. Ugh. Ok, so lets look at the 2217 and see if its serviceable. Same process, cleaned out thoroughly. Looking good. Get it hooked up fully with the in/out tubes, got it full of water, and let it run for awhile. EHEIM filters have to be “primed”, which is sometimes a bit of a whacky process, but it essentially is just a matter of waiting until the air remaining in it has been expelled and you’re just pumping water. It took a bit, I had a couple kinks in tubing that were making it slower than it should have been, but after about an hour, it was running perfectly. And, as their filters are well known for, COMPLETELY SILENTLY. To the extent that, when my wife came downstairs the next day and saw the canister all set up (out in the open air mind you, sitting on a chair and not inside the tank stand), she couldn’t even tell it was running. They’re seriously quiet. Awesome. Ok, so fast forward a couple days and the filter’s been running, and I’ve been meticulously cleaning the media (the filter was just running empty of media). I get it all set, detach the filter, empty it out, last quick cleanout of gunk, and put the newly cleaned media all in there. Now, since I know its all in good working order, I want to get it inside the tank stand in its final resting place. That all took most of an evening.

On a whim, I figured I’d check out the light to see how well it had faired. Let me see if I can find the model we have…

This is pretty close. It contains 2 bulbs, each on its own power cord (so you can have the two bulbs on/off cycles on different timers, and a separate power cord for the fan that keeps the bulb chamber cool. Plugged it in, and only one of the two bulbs worked. I’m hoping its just the bulb, and not some weird power issue. We’ll see.

I spent a fair amount of time analyzing substrate. Since I want to do a planted tank, the substrate needs are much different than just “throw pea gravel on the bottom”. What I decided on is a very thin later of peat moss (just enough to coat the bottom of the tank with a thin layer. Ideally, you should still be able to see glass through the bits of it. Second layer (roughly 2″ thick) of a combination of Laterite and ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia. Finally, a top layer (varying height, 2 inches to 4 (or more) inches in the back of a mix of black and red Activ-Flora. All of it has been ordered, and I suspect that this will be the biggest ticket items we’ll need.

And that, for the moment, is that. I will have more details as the ordered items arrive and we get more into it. I’ll also get some pictures of stuff as I get time. This weekend, I hope.