as some of you might already know, im one of the cheapest and poorest members of fishtanktv.com. despite this fact, ive managed to set up a pretty decent 120gal tank. you can see my tank here
what i'll discuss is that this setup is easily obtainable with very little money!!! it will take time and ALOT of patience but i personally believe that spending almost nothing and achieving the same level of aquarium awesomeness as those that've spent 5x what u spent.
first step is to find a tank. this is by far the hardest process because you have to get it used to save money. many of you wont ever touch a used tank but many tanks on craigslist are still being used when they are posted! another way to check how good the tank/stand is is to ask the owner to fill it up and let the water sit a bit before buying it. usually used tanks and equipment will be sold dirt cheap! i got my tank, canister filter, and stand for an xbox 360 with the red ring from craigslist.
second step is substrate. manure will usually be composted before being sold and is one of the cheapest dirt products out there!! you cant really beat $1.25 per 25lb bag....if you have some money then go buy the miracle grow organic potting mix but it doesnt get more organic then manure.
since you're at lowes scout around for the gravel of your choice. they should have everything from fine sand to VERY course gravel. once you find the gravel/sand of your choice....look for the bag thats torn. you can usually get a managers discount at like 50-90% off a half open/torn bag. so a $20 bag of 50lb gravel might cost you less then $5. the pic is a pic of a torn bag of ferts but look for bags that are in the same condition and you'll get HUGE discounts.
the next step are lights! seeing how you're still at lowes(or comparable home improvement store) go to the lights section. they have light strips ranging from 12 inches to 48 inches. they dont have great value T5HO lighting but they do have VERY good priced T8 strips. the two 48inch 2 bulb strips cost me about $18 each. gets me about 0.7-0.8WPG.
if you want higher watts per gallon and have a smaller tank then get more smaller strips. like such...20gal tank with 4x 10w lights. want high light? buy two more! costs aprox $10 each AND comes with a bulb =)
this tank is where i load up on the DIY co2 and ferts. being a smaller tank it requires WAY less ferts and co2 for great plant growth. if im ferting this tank, a $10 of ferts will last 5x longer then if i used it in my 120g. once you have a good colony of what ever plant you want, transplant it to your main tank. to poor to have a small tank like this? or maybe a 20gal is your main? no problem! use an even SMALLER tank. this can be achieved by using a 2liter bottle with the top cut off or if you want to be fancier something like this
i would HIGHLY recommend using a 2liter bottle so that planting/harvesting is alot easier. these bottle aquariums can be kept on the window sill where they get MASSIVE amounts of light and guess what? will need less ferts. win win! throw in a small 12oz bottle of DIY co2 and you're ready to rock and roll! chopsticks have TINY TINY holes in them so just buy some chopsticks and stick it in the end of a DIY co2 tube. u can get these at the local oriental market for like $4 for 50...or ask an asian friend. make sure you buy the bamboo types if u use this method of DIY co2.
as you can see all it takes is just the small end of the chopstick and jam that stick in the tube! it will take a while for the co2 to push through the chopstick so just give it time and be patient.
lets recap - you now have a tank/stand, substrate, lights, and a method of growing plants at a very fast rate to plant in your main tank.
the next step is to grow yourself some plants! some plants the grow and spread very fast are jungle vals, dwarf sag, and java fern.
some may argue that java fern grows slow....but they ALWAYS have baby plants on their leaves and THATS where the money is. throw those babies javas into your mini aquarium and they'll grow like wild fire.
vals will grow so fast you can throw them into your main tank and they'll grow like weeds in no time.
this pic is of 6 vals and a bunch of italian val aprox 6 months ago. vid also with date on it
you might be lucky and have a built in overflow box in your tank if its bigger or hell just build it yourself! 2 pieces of acrylic and some silicone and you can have an overflow box =D the purpose of this is that you can make it sort of like an aquarium refugium or even a sump that will NEVER overflow if the power goes out. if you look closely i have A TON of java moss back there that serves like a prefilter for your actual filter by collecting all the big chunks of crap from your aquarium as well as house MASSIVE amounts of beneficial bacteria for natural filtration. that large plant mass will also filter ammonia and nitrates from the water if the plants in your main tank cant do so. i put my heaters and filter intake in this area.
with plants, plant in clusters to give the effect that you have one BIG healthy plant.
the only thing that is missing is your filter and heater. the heater is the ONLY thing i paid full price for because this aquarium equipment is SO IMPORTANT!! if it breaks, your fish freeze and if it sticks, you cook them. save the money and buy a good heater.
with the filter, DONT BUY THE FILTER MATERIAL FROM THE PET STORE!!! that stuff will cost you like $8 a chamber if you have canister filters or like a $10 for a 3 pack for smaller filters. go to walmart's craft isle and buy something like this
this bag of pillow stuffing will last you FOREVER! once your biological filter is up and running you wont need any of that fancy carbon/floss/bio balls stuff. the pillow stuffing will cost you $6 and usually has enough floss to fill 2-3 pillows worth.
if im missing anything please feel free to ask!! oh and fish...you're on your own there because i havent discovered a dirt cheap way to obtain beautiful fish. sorry...my cheapness can only go so far.
what is that tube on the top right of your tank, CO2?
spray bar and i have an air tube connected to it that siphons in ambient air...so a diy spray bar + a diy aerator
How often do you change out the pillow stuffing in you filter?
every 2-3 weeks. or hell if you have time/energy you can change it every week with your waterchanges if you want! its so cheap that you can afford to do so as often as you wish =)