By: Augusta Hosmer
How I Got Here and Where We’re Going
I’d ordered from Dustin in the past and always thought it was cool we were in the same area. And obviously, the plants I got from him were epic. Never thought I’d end up working for him one day. As usual, though, some of the best things come from coincidences. I answered an ad for a greenhouse job and went out to work with the Dustin’s Fishtanks crew for a couple of days. Dustin mentioned offhand when I was out there that he wanted to start a blog. I’ve written personally and professionally for years. We struck up a conversation, and the rest is history. We can’t wait to dig into some of the most common questions people ask about tanks and aquarium plants and keep the tank conversations flowing. Got a topic you want us to cover? Don’t be shy. We’d love to hear from you.
My Creds, My Background, and How an Underpaid Dorm Worker Started a Lifelong Obsession
I have a B.S. in animal science and a ton of hands-on experience with species from axolotls to racehorses. I’ve got a veterinary and animal husbandry background and am excited to use it in a different way. It was only a matter of time before the person whose friends joked “owned a zoo” would get an aquarium to go with it.
I got into tanks freshman year of undergrad - the perfect time to delve into an expensive hobby that’s hard to do in a dorm room. I unexpectedly rescued two African dwarf frogs from a gross, tiny cube tank in a toy store and built a better habitat for them. And I was hooked.
The only pets allowed in the dorms were small fish, though. When the resident advisor came around to surprise inspect, I froze and told her they were “African walking fish.” I was an honor grad. I swear. Luckily, I was allowed to keep the tank despite the fact she was a bio major who could in fact recognize frogs when she saw them. So we can thank an RA’s ignoring my obvious nonsense for getting me to this point in the hobby.
Animals, Plants, and Taking Care of a Criminal Mastermind
I have three active aquariums, two cycling, and two on my to-do list while I shop for another tank I’ll have to hide when my landlord comes over wondering why my water usage is so high. I also have two terrariums. For the running ones, I have a 30 gallon tall tank with some schooling fish, a 10 gallon for a betta named Nightcrawler who is smarter than me, and another 10 gallon for two African dwarf frogs and a moss ball that’s going to survive the apocalypse. The first terrarium is a 55 gallon mansion for a crested gecko named Xenomorph (Xeno) whose only thoughts are “jump” and “bug.” The second is a 30 gallon for a group of hermit crabs plotting world domination.
If the crabs win, it wasn’t my fault, Your Honor. Someone advertised a free empty 10 gallon tank. If I ever don’t say yes to a free tank, bury me. She sent me the address, put the tank on the curb, and blocked me. To a normal person, that would have been a sign. To me? You could kidnap me if you dangled enough aquarium silicone on a stick. I showed up, got the tank, and saw there were a few shells in the bottom. I’m thinking I scored some free decor.
Then, I’m almost home and hear something clicking and moving around in the car with me. Turns out a small hermit crab lived in one of the shells and waited the whole time to come out and say hi by climbing onto my leg in the middle of traffic. Several near wrecks and panicked Google searches about unplanned crustacean parenthood later, I’m grumbling and buying two more crabs and a bigger tank. As I’m checking out, the cashier is relieved I’m taking one of them because “the bigger one was mean, escaped a lot, and gave the maintenance guy a scar on his thumb.”
Not trying to tell you how to do your job, ma’am, but that would have been nice to know before I spent $6.25 on a non-returnable mob boss to live in my hallway. But in my hallway is where Matthew McClawnaughey now resides, alongside his roommates Jude Claw (the OG stowaway) and Frank Seanatra. Matthew is indeed a gifted escape artist and rules the household. They’ve been nice to me so far. If they ever figure out how to feed themselves, though, I think I’ll be wearing concrete shoes.
As far as plants go, my home security system is the knowledge that it takes a lot of skill to traverse the jungle. If they manage to make it past the giant cat palm, wall of herbs, or the army of cacti, then get through the house without running into a planted tank, I feel like they’ve earned a shot at taking my TV. There are plants everywhere. I almost want to put a low-light one in a closet for when guests come over and think, “Aha! I’ve finally found a part of the house without a plant!” Only for them to open the door to get a towel and be met with a pothos.
More tank details:
I like experimenting with different tank pieces and seeing what works.
- Betta tank - 10 gallon glass tank; substrate is Fluval Stratum. The lighting (Aqueon) is actually a few smaller LED’s that came already wired in the tank’s lid and is working surprisingly well. Plants: foxtail, hornwort, Cabomba, and some Anacharis I’ve just let float because the betta loves it.
- One of the cycling tanks: 20 gallon long glass tank; substrate is just very fine, cheap aquarium sand. (I really wanted to see if I could get a planted tank going in sand and nothing else.) Light is NICREW Classic LEDPlus Planted Aquarium Light. So far, nothing has died as long as I use fertilizers or root tabs and make sure the thicker section of the sand doesn’t act up. Plants: duckweed, a tiny Amazon sword, a java fern (narrow), some java moss, Rotala rotundifolia, and a few Vallisneria. This originally was going to be an axolotl tank, but it’s kind of small for an adult one. We’ll see what happens. Maybe it’ll be the axolotl’s baby crib.
- The community tank: older, 30 gallon glass tall hexagon tank; substrate is Seachem Flourite. This is the problem child because deep tanks are a pain and I haven’t gotten better lighting than the older light that came with it, yet. (this was a Craigslist find and repair) The light is actually so old I can’t even find what kind it is, which is proof that java ferns can survive just about everything. I can still get a few different species of java fern going in it and there’s an Aponogeton ulvaceus bulb slowly growing in the back, but carpeting plants have laughed at me.
- The frog tank is slowly being transitioned from fake plants to real plants. I’m trying not to nuke the bacteria by taking out all the gravel at once, but eventually I’ll have Fluval Stratum in there, too. Currently deciding which plants I want to add in there other than the very tough moss ball.
In short: if you’re looking for tried and true plant and animal enthusiasts with a lot of species and a lot of tricks, we’ve got you. We love the hobby and want to help you love it, too.
And that’s all she wrote (literally). Got an idea for what you’d like to see next? Hit us up. We’ve got a lot of awesome stuff coming your way.
Potential future topics include: carpeting plants; plants for tanks with fish that kill plants; fixing/patching cracked and broken aquariums; keeping a fish tank when you have a cat; betta fish basics; dealing with/identifying algae; snails; rehabbing an old aquarium you found on Craigslist; why bigger is better with beginner aquariums; lots of help with lighting…and plenty more.
The gecko mansion (first old tank I ever refurbished; I built a door and stained/woodburned the frame with stylized geckos and part of the emblem from where they come from in New Caledonia):
Matthew McClawnaughey with Jude Claw in the background - head of the crab mafia
The betta tank (feat. Nightcrawler hunting a snail in the front. He likes turning the floating plants into a hammock)
Some of my non aquarium plants. The lilies are going crazy right now.
Xeno the crested gecko who is very sweet but not very bright:
The 30g tall tank I got for free
One of the cycling tanks I’d initially decided was going to be an axolotl tank but since it’s only 20 gallons it would only work when it’s small. Debating changing it up, but here it is now. The black thing is a 3D printed cave someone on Etsy makes for axolotls. You can actually see into the cave from multiple sides of the tank, which is pretty cool.