After all my years of decorating aquariums with natural things, sometimes combined with artificial roots and rocks, I decided it was time to try and construct my own decorations. Also, I wanted to try out some aquascaping style planting, to what end I relied heavily on what I have learned from aquascape specialist, Oliver Knott, and ex-director of Tropica Plants, Claus Christensen.

01 The CaveI already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do, but sure enough, it didn’t always go quite as I had envisioned; but more about that later…

The basis of my plan was to have a cave with a kind of overhang, and roots sticking through it all, to create a realistic looking environment. I have seen this kind of aquascape/landscape in the Amazon jungle, and ever since it lurked in my mind to try and recreate it.

Therefore, first step was to find and build a construction to imitate this cave, and I eventually ended up using plastic boxes, which seemed to fit in my new 160 liter tank, and would be able to support the weight of the material I wanted to put on top. I cut up two plastic boxes and glued them together using aquarium silicone.
Straight away, my friends called it “the bat cave”. Very funny…
The next step was to cover and decorate the outside of the plastic boxes with Makemake aquarium concrete. It was the first time I tried to work with this material, and I have to say, that it was fantastic; very easy to handle and sculpt with. You start with a base layer, containing glass fiber threads for strength, and then when it has dried, you can get in to sculpting the object with the decoration layer.

While the concrete was wet, I stuck witch hazel sticks into the front, to emulate roots coming through the top. At first, I wanted to put the sticks straight through the whole thing, but that was just too crazy, as it would be extremely difficult to fit that whole contraption into the tank without breaking stuff off. Anyway, you can’t see that the sticks aren’t connected because of the plants.02 The Cave

The final modeling step was to build a kind of barrier to keep the aquarium soil from spilling down. I decorated the barrier with a few rocks, and pebbles and sand of varying sizes, to make it look kind of natural in the places where the java moss might not cover completely. Underneath, I silicone-glued some sticks and roots; again to make it look natural and exciting.
There was one thing, however, which absolutely did not look natural, and that was the exposed side of the cave. It looked like what it was: amateurishly molded concrete!
Then, my friends called it “Gollum’s cave”… great friends, eh…!?

I racked my brain trying to come up with ideas of how to maybe imprint the concrete with rocks and/or branches, but as fortune would have it, I had just accidentally pushed a newly bought, artificial rock on to the floor where it shattered into a hundred pieces; so I simply siliconed some of the pieces on to the side, fitting them like a clumsy jigsaw puzzle, where they eventually looked natural enough. This is not something I would actually recommend doing, but talk about getting something good out of a bad situation, eh!?

03 The CaveThis had all taken about a week to build, and finally I could get to decorate in the tank itself. With the cave structure in place in the tank, allowing space for the tubes to the external filter (through the glass – great stuff), I stuffed the empty space behind the cave with filter material, so I didn’t have to fill it up with aquarium soil; only a sufficient layer for the plants to have their roots in. I fitted the two big, artificial roots on top of the cave, and then decorated witch hazel branches of all sizes to complete the setup.

I already knew that I wanted small pleco catfish to live in the tank, so I placed 5 small catfish breeding caves under the overhang, out of sight.

From there on, it was all about the plants. I chose various types of Java moss for the overhang and on the big roots, where I attached them either with ultra-thin elastic thread, squeezed into place or silicone-glued.

On top of the cave, I used Eleocharis acicularis "mini" to make up a grassy area, around the base of the cave I planted Hemianthus callichitroides “Cuba", and in the background I used Microsorum pteropus "narrow", strapped on to sinking, artificial bits of root with plastic strips.

I nursed the tank for about 4 weeks, before putting fish in - water changes almost every day, and, of course, CO2 and fertilizer; and slowly but surely the plants grew and covered the areas I had envisioned, to a level somewhat better than what I had dared hope for.

Nowadays, I think the tank still looks great, and there is not very much work to do, other than removing some algae from the glass - in the tank, I have a couple of Crossocheilus reticulatus to take care of the other types of algae. My other fishes are: Hypancistrus zebra, Hypancistrus sp. L260, Hypancistrus sp. L471, Hemigrammus filamentosus, Hyphessobrycon amandae, Dicrossus foirni, Apistogramma sp. “Abacaxis” and Apistogramma megaptera.

My friends still call it “Gollum’s cave” to try and vex me, but I know they’re impressed with the result – so much that they have started to build stuff with Makemake themselves…

05 The Cave

Sorry, this website uses features that your browser doesn’t support. Upgrade to a newer version of Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or Edge and you’ll be all set.