I've previously covered how to make DIY Aquarium Lids out of glass, but glass lids are less practical for larger tanks or configurations where you want a lid that has multiple cutouts for your equipment. I used a panel of twin-wall polycarbonate to make a custom lid for my 40 gallon breeder aquarium (shown above).
Twin-wall polycarbonate is used for roofing panels on greenhouses, so it is designed to allow good light penetration. It is also far more durable than glass. Polycarbonate sheets won't crack or shatter if they are dropped or bumped. They also will not bow or bend like sheets of acrylic, which makes them an ideal material for covering larger aquariums.
Constructing the DIY Aquarium Lids
I started with a 2' x 4' sheet of polycarbonate, and used a table saw to cut it down to the dimensions of the top lip of my 40 breeder aquarium: 35" x 17". Then I used a handheld hacksaw to make the cutouts for my incoming water line and my Aquaclear 70 HOB filter. Finally, I added "handles" to the front edge using clear Command hooks. The hooks allow the lid to be lifted off the tank easily for maintenance.
This video by Jadren Aquatics has more good information about making DIY aquarium lids out of polycarbonate panels:
Choosing live plants for your aquarium can be difficult when you're just getting into the hobby. There are dozens of species to choose from. Many require high light levels or, in some cases, carbon dioxide injection. To make selection even more complicated, many stores sell plants that are not truly aquatic.
Knowing what plants will thrive in your aquarium as a beginner can save you a lot of headache. These 5 beginner aquarium plants are all hardy enough to tolerate relatively low light and less than ideal water parameters.
Java fern, named after the Indonesian island of Java, is a slow growing aquatic fern that is widely known as one of the best beginner aquarium plants. Microsorum pteropus will tolerate low light quite well, so you won't need to go out and spend a lot of money on a high output light fixture. There are several varieties of java fern available in the hobby, including "narrow leaf", "needle leaf", "Windelov", and "trident".
To cultivate java fern in your aquarium it is best to attach the rhizome (the stem that the roots emerge from) to a rock or a piece of driftwood. Burying the the rhizome in soil or gravel will usually cause it to rot away and die. For this reason, java fern can even be grown in a tank with no substrate! This makes it an excellent choice when setting up a bare bottom quarantine or breeding tank.
#2: Anubias (anubias barteri)
Another slow grower, anubias is a genus of aquatic and semi-aquatic flowering plants native to Africa. Anubias barteri is one of the most common species in the aquarium hobby and can be found in multiple varieties. Like java fern, anubias tolerates low light very well. It also doesn't need to be planted in a substrate.
#3: Cryptocorynes (cryptocoryne wendtii)
Cryptocoryne is a genus of aquatic plants containing dozens of species. Crypts come in a variety of colors, sizes, and leaf shapes. There are hardy green varieties, such as Cryptocoryne wendtii, and also varieties that have brown, red, or even pink foliage.
Unlike the first two plants on this list, crypts need to be planted in a substrate for their roots to develop. The good news is they can usually be grown in a basic sand or gravel bed under low to medium light. While they are somewhat slow growers, crypts will send out small runners (baby plants) that can be uprooted and replanted, or allowed to form a carpet.
#4: Vallisneria (vallisneria spiralis)
Also called tape grass or eel grass, vallisneria is an aquatic grass that can grow quite long - in some cases up to 6 feet - if left untrimmed. Vallisneria can be planted in a standard gravel substrate, or a soil base capped with sand or gravel. When it has enough light and nutrients, it will send off lots of runners and start to form a tall forest of underwater grass.
The tank shown above is a "dirted tank", which is a great way to get rapid and healthy vallisneria growth. This method was popularized by Diana Walstad, whose book, Ecology of The Planted Aquarium, is a great resource on aquatic plants.
#5: Guppy Grass (najas guadalupensis)
Named for its utility as a hiding spot for baby guppies, guppy grass is easy to grow under low light and does not need to be planted or attached to anything. It grows into floating bunches that provide cover for small fish and will branch off into a tangle of thin stems and leaves. Like all the plants on this list, it does not require CO2 injection for successful cultivation, and is not too picky about water parameters.
Fish thrive when fed live foods often, especially when they are young. Live baby brine shrimp are a highly nutritious food for fish fry; full of protein and nutrients that dry flake food just doesn't offer. Newly hatched brine shrimp are very small, measuring less than 1 mm. Fish of most species are able to eat them within their first week of life. Additionally, fish love brine shrimp. Almost any fish will eat them live or frozen.
The photo below shows a newly hatched and strained batch of baby brine shrimp.
Hatching Brine Shrimp
Brine shrimp eggs are actually dormant cysts. They can stay viable for years if they are stored in a cool, dry container. When exposed to warm salty water, they re-hydrate and begin to hatch. Hatching baby brine shrimp is pretty simple. Below is a list of the materials you'll need to start your own hatchery.
The optimal container for hatching brine shrimp has a tapered or conical shape. A very cheap and reliable option is to use an inverted plastic soda bottle. A 1 Liter bottle will work for small batches but a 2 Liter is more efficient. The photo below shows a 1 liter water bottle being used to hatch brine shrimp.
Another option is to purchase a specially designed brine shrimp hatchery like this one. This may be a good option if you want something sturdy that can be used for a long time.
2. Aquarium Salt
Brine shrimp, as the name implies, require a brine solution to hatch. The typical solution is about 1.5 tablespoons of salt per quart of water, or 25 parts per thousand of salt. Although you don't have to use aquarium salt, I like to use it because the large crystals are easier to work with without making a big mess. A large container is not very expensive, and will last a long time if you are just using it for this purpose.
Hatching brine shrimp requires an air pump to tumble the cysts in the water and keep the solution oxygenated. You don't need an air stone. Just position the airline tubing so that the bubbles are coming out at the very bottom of the container.
4. Brine Shrimp Eggs (Cysts)
There are several different brands of brine shrimp eggs available. For the most part any brand that advertises a high hatch rate (80-90%) will work. The San Francisco Bay brand is popular and a good choice if you are just trying to hatch them for the first time. However, its more economical to buy a large container, like this one.
Once you have all the materials, you can set up your hatchery and mix up the water, salt, and brine shrimp cysts. There are many different DIY brine shrimp hatchery designs out there. This one by Solid Gold Aquatics is a good beginner tutorial.
In my experience you don't need to add anything to the water besides salt. This includes dechlorinator. The cysts are completely encapsulated and chlorine in normal tap water concentrations shouldn't affect your hatch rate.
The optimal temperature for hatching is 77-80F. Since brine shrimp are attracted to light sources, you can use a lamp with a CFL or incandescent bulb to keep the solution warm, or submerge the bottle in an aquarium that is already at a nice warm temperature. I have found that temperature is more important than constant light for high hatch rates.
Harvesting Brine Shrimp
When you are ready to harvest your newly hatched brine shrimp, you should remove the air line and allow the solution to settle for 5-10 minutes. The unhatched cysts will sink to the bottom of the container, and the empty shells will float to the surface. This will leave the live baby brine shrimp swimming in the middle of the solution. Then use a pipette or turkey baster to suck up the wriggling orange cloud.
At this point you can squirt the salty brine shrimp solution directly into your aquarium, but it is better to strain the shrimp out of the salt water using a coffee filter first. You can use either a fine metal mesh or a paper filter for this purpose.
Once you have strained the shrimp into a filter, you can transfer them to some dechlorinated tap water or aged aquarium water before feeding them to your fish. Any leftover baby brine shrimp can be frozen into cubes and fed over the next few days.
The video below shows live baby brine shrimp being fed to my celestial pearl danio tank. You can see just how quickly the fish devour them.