An easy guide into assembling a nano nature aquarium cube

Updated photo of the tank 2 months after the setup


Its been a while since I assembled an aquascape. 
Because I am preparing to move back to Portugal later this year I have already teared down all my aquariums and shipped them home.
All but one.

My aqua one aquanano 30 was kept as a betta tank, and also for me to still be able to enjoy the hobby.
The tank is a 22 litre cube aquarium with an built-in filtration system at the back that also houses the heater.
I purchased this two years ago second hand at the festival of fishkeeping in London.
Since then I used it mostly for Low-tech aquariums for my betta.

This was the last scape I assembled in this tank


Because I have no tanks left apart from this one I have been desperate to create something on it. So last week I finally went for it.
The first think I decided was that this time I wanted to go high-tech, second that I wanted a scape with a lot of plants and to use them as  the main  focus, instead of the previous one that was more hardscape driven.

The style I choose for this scape is a nature aquarium using a triangular layout.  because the tank's cube shape it is not ideal, and island shaped design would probably suit it better, but still I want to give it a go.

My first trip was to my local maidenhead aquatics to pick up some hardscape and substrate.
I wanted it to be mostly made of wood, with maybe a few rocks to add detail. The one I choose was Mopani wood, they had a huge selection of it, its cheap and it has the added benefit of being very dense which means it sinks in immediately without the need to soak it.

Because of the small size of the tank , I took my time  playing around with what was available to get a shape that would fit and was also pleasing to my eye.
Some shops have practice boxes where you can play around with the hardscape to get a design you  like before buying, this is a great way to get what you need.
In this case I just played around with them on the shelf as they didn't have one.

If you can't play around in the shop it is better to get more wood than actually needed, this is to make sure that your design choices are not gonna be limited by the lack of hardscape materials, this is even more important in larger tanks.
So in the end I got five pieces of wood that would be enough to achieve something nice.

For the substrate I went with a JBL proscape brown, it is a complete substrate similar to aquasoil.
A small 3 litre bag is more than enough in this case. 
For those wandering what a complete substrate is, it is a substrate that provides nutrients to the plants in your aquarium, but can be used on its own without needing to be capped by gravel or sand.
Most of them also have the ability to absorb nutrients out of the water column to recharge themselves trough cation exchange.
Most notable example of this is ADA's aquasoil.

JBL also sells a line of volcano mineral, which is basically crushed lava rocks that can be used underneath their soil. This can be used for a few reasons, to help when one wants to bank the substrate up, to prevent anaerobic pockets by using a larger grain size substrate in the lower stratums or just to cut costs as the amount of soil needed will be lower this way.

I decided against using it this time as I was not planning to bank it up  high, so there was no danger of collapse or anaerobic pockets forming.
So on the day of the assembly this is what I had available.
The Mopani wood, Lava rocks that I already had at home previous scapes and the substrate.


Thank after the previous scape was teared down
So it was finally time to start assembling the hardscape.
Below are some pictures of the layout design.

Adding and shaping the substrate
Substrate should be banked up slightly from front to back, this adds depth into the scape and makes the tank look bigger than it is.
However in this case because it is a triangular layout shape I am also banking it up to the left side of the tank to add into the feeling that the scape flows down from the jungle on the left to the open negative space on the right.

It's important to add negative space when you are designing an aquascape, it allows the fish a swimming area and also provides contrast to the planted areas and adds another level of detail into the overall composition.
This is normally an area with no rocks or wood and in most cases just an open sand area.
As I wanted an all green aquarium the negative space will be filled with foreground plants.

To work with the substrate you can use an aquascaping flattening tool or just use a brush.
I prefer to use the brush.

Main piece of wood. This is actually two smaller pieces put in together

Third piece added at the back. This piece is barely visible but it adds depth in the layout and makes it look less flat

A smaller fourth piece is added in the front left, it complements the main structure. Overall the rules for  building this hardscape seems very similar to building an iwagumi rockwork, except for the fact that I am using wood and its not an iwagumi scape

Final piece at the back adds depth and spreads the layout front to back changing the design dramatically

Finally the brush is used to ensure the hardscape and substrate blend in. Hardscape should not be left standing on top of the substrate as this does not blend the composition well and takes way from the feel that we are looking to something both natural and old. The brush should be used to ensure the wood is partially buried.

Final hardscape. I am not an expert aquascaper, Definitely no Amano, but something I learned, if it's pleasing to your eyes than it's fine. In the end beauty is in the eyes of the viewer and you are the one that will view your scape the most.
Now its time for the planting stage. The plants were picked up from a local shop, the selection was limited as its not a planted aquarium focused shop, but overall I found enough to have a go at it.
I wanted easy to grow plants, to create a nature aquarium that a beginner would find it easy to keep.

The plants were all from tropica and here is the list:

Lobelia cardinalis
Hygrophila siamensis
Cryptocoryne Becketii "Petchii"
Microsorum pteropus narrow (java fern narrow)
Bacopa caroliniana
Bacopa compact
Anubias petite (from previous scape)
Anubias nana (from previous scape)
Bucephalandra wavy leaf green (from previous scape)
Java moss
Mix of hemianthus cuba and monte carlo (grown emersed in my window)

So this is my list of plants, apart from the cuba, they are rated by tropica as easy to keep.
The Cuba and monte carlo are a special case though as I only used them due to a lack of options. I was looking into buying either eleocharis sp. mini or monte carlo for the carpet as they are relatively easy to keep. However the shop had none available, so the solution was to go for a batch of HC and monte carlo I had growing in a wabikusa bowl for months now.
When I say a mix is because it was grown out of cuttings so there is some monte carlo in between, but most of it is HC.
Not most beginner friendly plant, but if you want to achieve a similar look with an easier plant just use monte carlo.

Hemianthus cuba came out this bowl


So these are the first plants in, there is no right or wrong way of planting a tank.
I generally like to do foreground first, followed by midground, background and finally plants like java moss or anubias glued to rocks or woods to add details.
But like I said there is no right or wrong and I tend to adapt my method to the scape at hand.

The carpet plant will be mostly  located in the foreground, however to create negative space in the right hand side some will also be located in the midground.
I  started by adding the foreground areas first, the  midground as only added after all the other plants were in place.

Before planting the carpet I always suggest getting the substrate moist, with a small layer of water on it, the reason for this is that if you plant dry, the plants won't hold very well as opposed to when wet, because the water makes it so that the substrate closes on itself after you put the plant in and this helps keeping it in place.

It is also recommended  to plant  it in the shape of a dice number five and has heavy as possible , this increases the area covered and helps the carpet closing faster. It also gives it a boost in fighting off algae in the early stages of the scape.







The second plant in is Microsorum pteropus narrow, also known as java fern.
This is an epiphyte plant and a smaller version of the regular java fern.  This type of plant has a rhizome from which the leaves grow, they should be planted attached to wood, or rocks instead of being planted on the substrate.
In this case I am attaching it on the cracks and crevices of the wood, but it can also be glued using superglue or attached using plastic cable ties.
This plant is not demanding and it grows slow, but its a nice and easy way to add a lot of green into a an aquarium, especially low-techs.



Next we go to the crytpocoryne Beckettii, this plant is known as petchii in some parts of the world.
It is a smaller type of crypt growing roughly from 10 to 15cm . It is not a very demanding plant and its a rosette plant, as in the leaves grow from the rosette.
This was planted in the front left side to provide a nice transition between the carpet and the wood.


Next up is hygrophila siamensis, this is an easy to keep fast growing stem plant, it will require some work maintenance with regular trimmings, but at the same time it will suck up any extra nutrients and help keep algae at bay. I placed this at the back behind the Java fern, it grows quite tall and as you can see in the following picture it has a similar leaf size and shape, which means they blend in well.


Next plant is Lobelia cardinalis, I have never tried this plant but tropica rates it as an easy to keep plant that can grow up to 40 cm. I take this chance to learn about this plant. I placed it in the background on the left side.

Moving on, next bacopa compact, this is a fast growing stem plant, however it does not grow very high and with regular pruning of the tops it stays close to the ground almost like a carpet. It can also be shaped to form a dense bush, due to its smaller size it is a suitable midground plant.


And in the background right hand side I added Bacopa caroliniana, another bacopa species, this one however is a stem plant that grows taller, has a larger leaf size and grows slower than the compact version.
It will be easier to keep than the hygrophila as it will require less trimmings, its also lighter in colour than the java fern so it will provide some contrast between them.


Then I added some more carpet.



And finally I added more detail to the scape by attaching some anubias petite, nana, bucephalandra wavy green and java moss into the wood.
They add more detail and the moss gives an aged look into the scape.
I used superglue for this, I recommend the gel version to be used as the liquid is harder to avoid going where you don't want it to go.
All you have to do is put a drop of glue and press the plant against it for a few seconds, it stays stuck in no time.

Using superglue is simple, a drop where you want your plant to stay

And just press it against the glue to get it stuck in


After all the anubias, moss and bucephalandra were glued this is how the tank looked.

Final layout already fully planted, now just needs filling up
Tank full


Tank after 3 days, its not obvious in the picture, but some of the plants already show signs of growth. The carpet plant,the two bacopas and the hygrophila show clear signs of being growing.
Overall assembling this tank was very fun and I hope that it will grow well. The plants used are relatively easy to keep and the design is simple.
I am doing small daily water changes to help until the tank stabilizes and I will dose this tank using the tropica specialized liquid fertilizer line.
My betta has been loving it, the media was already cycled so I was able to add him back to his home soon after the tank was filled.
I will post updates on how this assembly goes. Also below there are two videos from my youtube channel, one of them is the assembly of this scape, the other one is the assembly of the previous one.

Video of the assembly of this this aquascape

Video of the assembly of this tanks previous aquascape


Video of this scape 2 months after 



Video of the tank after trim


Some of the equipment used





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