Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays!

I'm going to have to take a little break from posting as I'll be away at my family's for the holidays and won't have access to the internet to post. Expect a return to regular posting around the 1st of January, and in the meantime, have a very happy and safe holiday!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Aquascape of the Week: Junichi Itakura's 2008 ADA Entry

This is Junichi Itakura's entry to the 2008 ADA International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest and it is a classic example of a mound style aquascape. The tank placed 21st out of all the entries this year (you can see entries 1-10 and 11-20 in previous posts). I really like the use of color in this aquascape as well. If you look closely, in the foreground is some reddish tinted dwarf sag grass which really adds to the incredible array of textures and colors. Good job Junichi Itakura!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Last Minute Gifts for the Aquascaper

Ever tried to tell a loved one that you wanted a pair of ADA Lily Pipes only to get a befuddled look in return? Let's face it, those not in the aquascaping hobby won't be familiar with 90% of the products and trying to explain all the terminology can have disasterous results (you may end up with a sweater). That's why I'm composing a list of gifts that you can ask for that won't leave those buying you gifts confused.

The easiest way to get exactly what you want, whether it's
AquaSoil Amazonia or a metal halide lamp, is a gift certificate. Explaining you want Amazonia II and not Amazonia, and a 9 liter bag, not 3 is just too much information for those not familiar with aquascaping. Buying it yourself is the best way hands down.

ADGShop.com is one of the best places to recieve a gift certificate from. This place is an outlet for Takashi Amano's Aqua Design Amano products and it is guaranteed to make you drool. They have everything from the legendary ADA rimless ultra-clarity tanks to high quality fish food. Their customer service is top-notch as well. When a delivery of AquaSoil I had ordered never arrived, they shipped out another package immediately. Finding how to buy a gift certificate is somewhat tricky though, so be prepared to send along this page.

If a gift certificate is not your style and you want friends and family to be able to give you something physical, you can ask for the
2009 ADA Calendar or 2008 International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest Book which contains the fantastic entries to the contest this year. Both available from ADGShop.com, these are awesome gifts for any aquascaper, and won't break the bank (both are under $20).

If you want something more practical for the everyday aquascaping expenses, you can't go wrong with a
Drs. Foster & Smith gift certificate. They have almost anything any fish-keeper could need, including live fish and live plants from their LiveAquaria.com Website! Yes, it's true, you really can get live plants and fish from Santa.

Finally, if you live outside North America, check out
AquaEssentials UK. They have ADA products, and plenty of other accessories and tools you won't find elsewhere to keep you busy. They even have a wide selection of live shrimp! Gift certificates are available, with world-wide shipping available.

So have a Happy Holiday and hopefully you'll find one of these gifts under your tree (or in your email!).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Aquascaping Answers: Kelvin Ratings and Green Dust Algae

Alright, time to answer some aquascaping questions! I'll dive right in:

I was doing some research on the compact florescent bulb lighting system on my freshwater planted aquarium. (20 gal). I found out that I have this bulb. SmartPaq Daylight 10000ºK Actinic 460nm 40W I read online that this bulb is likely structured for a salt water reef tanks. Apparently actinic light is supposed to benefit corals. Other sources seem to suggest a K rating closer to 6700 for fresh water plants. Is this salt water bulb harming my plants? Would I get more results out of a 6700 bulb The best bulb available that I cant find is a 10000k/ 6700k 40 watt bulb. Will this make any difference? Thanks

First of all, you are not hurting your plants by using an actinic bulb. However, it's probably not doing them any good either. That's because plants use specific wavelengths of light for photosynthesis. These wavelengths are not produced by actinic bulbs, so yes, you would get more results out of a 6700K bulb. As to what Kelvin rating creates the best growth for plants, that's not the measurement you want to look at. Kelvin just approximates the color the light appears to the human eye, and not the wavelengths produced (though they do often correlate roughly). Therefore, it's much more helpful to get a spectral output graph for the bulb in question. Bulbs that match up with the wavelengths used for photosynthesis will probably be better for you plants. The differences may be too small to notice though, so if you can't find a spectral output graph,
just go ahead and buy a light in the 6700K-10000K range and it should put out the approximate wavelengths needed. That dual 6700K/10000K bulb sounds perfect. For more reading on the subject, check out my article Understanding Full Spectrum Aquarium Lighting.

My tank is relatively clean, free from algae, but I do get green dust algae on the glass. It stays off the plants, but I can't seem to keep it off the glass. Any recommendations? I don't believe I'm over feeding and I've cut my lights back a few hours. Is it just a matter of more regular water changes?

Ahh, the dreaded green dust algae. This one plagues even experienced aquascapers. What causes it is still not certain. Otherwise balanced tanks often experience it, so I wouldn't worry too much about reducing lights and feeding just yet. I'd try your hand at removing it. It's actually a zoospore, and this is important to keep in mind when trying to minimize the green haze it creates on aquarium glass. The usual tactic, scraping it off the glass with an algae scraper, won't work all that well, because this algae can swim. It will just swim right back onto the glass and re-attach itself. Weird, huh? So there are two ways to combat it. There's the not-so-patient method which involves scraping down the glass while doing a water change and sucking up as much of the algae as possible as you scrape it off. This has mixed results, but if done thoroughly and repetitively, should work. The patient method is to wait 2-3 weeks and not scrape it at all. This allows the algae to complete it's lifecycle, at which point it will turn into a thick jelly-like wrinkled substance. After 2-3 weeks, it will either drop off on its own, or you can safely scrape it off, sucking up the remains. Most people report this method to be most successful and the green dust algae does not return. I've managed to keep it in check with regular scraping and water changes and a handfull of Otocinclus catfish, but it's still there. I'm not that patient to let it grow out! Good luck!

Ask a question about aquascaping, keeping aquatic plants, plant-friendly fish, lighting, CO2, fertilizing, or any other aquarium plant related question in the comments to this post, and I'll answer them in next week's edition.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Aquascape of the Week: Justin Law's Secret Garden

First of all, my apologies on being a day late with the aquascape of the week, the holidays are wreaking havoc on my blogging schedule! I promise I'll have the answers to the Aquascaping Answers questions up either later today or tomorrow.

Anyway, I've decided to feature another one of Justin Law's outstanding aquascapes. This one, called Secret Garden, really lives up to the name. It's overgrown, but just enough to give it that "this was once nicely trimmed" feeling. The driftwood also works very well here, creating interesting lines, and the rocks are present but not obtrusive. For full details and more pictures of this tank, visit Justin's CAU page on this tank.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Aquascaping Answers

Judging by the number of emails I get with questions about aquascaping or keeping plants, you have questions. Instead of answering them directly, I've decided to open it up and allow others to benefit from the questions and answers. So here's how this will work:

Ask a question about aquascaping, keeping aquatic plants, plant-friendly fish, lighting, CO2, fertilizing, or any other aquarium plant related question in the comments to this post, and I'll answer them in next week's edition.

Also, if you know an answer to a question posted, feel free to answer it! That way we can share information and experiences.
Finally, I'm looking for a name for the series. I've tentatively picked Aquascaping Answers, but if you have any better ideas, leave a comment!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Aquascape of the Week: Takashi Amano's ADA 26

This is a classic from Takashi Amano's ADA. I don't actually know the specific name of this tank, other than the designation of "ADA 26" but it sure is beautiful. I've had a look through the Nature Aquarium World books and haven't found it, so I'm going to stick with "ADA 26" unless someone else can find a proper name. The shape of the layout here is so dramatic, and the contrast of colors and leaf shapes is amazing. The natural "valley" in the middle of the layout draws attention while the bright green on one side and the red on the other keep the eyes busy. I personally love sand-foreground tanks, and tried one myself, but it's just a pain to keep clean in a long term tank. This aquascape proves without a doubt that Amano is a master at the art form.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Aquascape of the Week: Stephen Chong's Bamboo Forest

This week's aquascape is an amazing little tank called Bamboo Forest by Stephen Chong. I was amazed recently with an entry to the ADA aquascaping contest at how aquascapers are starting to not only mimic landscapes, but also specific types of trees. Stephen does an excellent job here of capturing the look of a bamboo forest. The choice of plants is excellent and the dense bushy growth mimics how bamboo really looks in the wild. Feel free to browse Stephen's other aquascapes, there are plenty of excellent ones!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

AGA 2008 Aquascaping Contest Results

This is the season of aquascaping contest results, and shortly after the ADA contest ended, so did the Aquatic Gardner's Association (AGA) Contest for 2008. This contest is divided up by tank size with separate categories for biotope aquascapes and paludariums. Each category has a top aquascape, and these are shown below:

Small (<70l)

Medium (70L-200L)
Large (200L-400L)
Extra Large (>=400L) & also Best In Show



It's been a great year for Peter Kirwan from Ireland, who placed in both the ADA contest and won 1st prize in two categories (Small and Large) of the AGA contest with his amazing aquascapes. For more of the aquascaping entries, check out the AGA 2008 results. There are some other great tanks that didn't take the top prize but are just as nice to look at!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Aquascape of the Week: Luis Carlos Galarraga's Colorful Island

It took a lot of self control not to pick one of the fantastic entries from the 2008 ADA contest, but I figured since I just featured them and all of you probably drooled over them enough already, it was time for something new. This aquascape comes from the 2008 AGA (not to be confused with ADA) Aquascaping contest and is the work of Luis Carlos Galarraga from Brazil. This layout is a classic "mound" layout and the colors are beautiful. The different shades of green and red and gold come together to form what looks almost like a bouquet of flowers. The Harlequin Rasboras placed perfectly over the middle of the mound add depth and interest. The whole aquascape leans more towards the Dutch style, with its use of vivid colors and textures, but maintains a Nature style base. For more specific info on the aquascape, including tank size, lighting, and plants, check out the entry page on AGA.

Friday, November 21, 2008

ADA International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest 2008: Entries 11-20

These just keep getting better and better. This year, I really feel like entries 2-20 are just as amazing if not more amazing than the grand prize winner. Here are entries 11-20 in the 2008 ADA Aquatic Plants Layout Contest. There are some really unique aquascapes in these, the most amazing (to me) is the 12th place entry. It looks and feels exactly like a tundra landscape in the summer, complete with fir trees, a flock of birds, and scrubby grasses. Click on the image for a larger version. Here's the post with entries 1-10 of the aquascaping contest.





Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Glossostigma Themed Aquascaping Contest

Over at ADA Thailand, they've posted some pictures of the results of their themed aquascaping competition called Beautiful Glosso. All of the aquascapes contain Glossostigma elatinoides, which is an old favorite of Takashi Amano for a carpet-like ground cover. The tanks are also all smaller sized tanks. There are some very interesting nano aquascapes here, worth a look! You can also check out the winning aquascapes for 2007's nano aquascape competition.

I've personally found that Hemianthus callitrichoides (HC) is a slightly better ground cover for smaller tanks, since the leaves are smaller and it requires slightly less maintenance. One thing to note about both ground cover plants is that eventually, they will begin to grow on top of themselves, killing the older growth and uprooting the remaining plants. This causes "bubbles" in the carpet to form. I haven't yet found a way around this other than to rip up the carpet and start over. Luckily, this usually doesn't happen for at least 8-12 months, depending on the growth rate.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Aquascape of the Week: Justin Law's Walking Aoyama

This week's aquascape is called Walking Aoyama by Justin Law. It's quite a contrast from last week's aquascape, and is more of an iwagumi style. The most striking thing about this aquascape, for me at least, is the elevation. To get the substrate to stay in hills like that is extremely hard but very very rewarding if managed. It emulates a grassy hillside and is very relaxing to look at. Hemianthus callitrichoides (HC) makes up the majority of the plants in the aquascape, with some moss hiding here and there. This aquascape actually inspired me to make my own iwagumi style layout using HC and rocks, and let me tell you, it isn't easy! For more pictures, visit Justin's Walking Aoyama photo album.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Aquascape of the Week: Luis Navarro's 75 Gallon

Starting a bit of a new feature with a weekly aquascape chosen by me for it's beauty and inspirational qualities. This week's is a 75 gallon tank designed and created by Luis Navarro. The main design element of the tank is the open sand foreground and the low maintenance plants. There are no stem plants in this tank, but lots of crypts, moss, and anubias. The overall effect is a mesmerizing and truly beautiful aquascape that blends aspects of the Dutch and Nature aquarium styles. For more information on the tank, check out the journal here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

ADA International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest 2008: Top 10 Tanks

Here they are, the top 10 aquascapes in this year's ADA Aquatic Plants Layout Contest. Click on the images for a larger version. I must say, there are some absolutely stunning aquascapes in this bunch. Several are quite unique too, including position 1 and a really really long aquascape in position 7. I'll be posting some more tanks later. Enjoy!


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

2008 ADA Aquascaping Contest Winner

Pictures of this year's ADA Aquascaping Contest 1st place aquascape have been posted on CAU along with an interview of the winning aquascaper, Mr. Cheng Siu Wai. The aquascape is called "Danxia" and is quite unique. Check out the interview as well. Although the English translation is a little rough, it's still worth the read!

Expect the rest of the top 10 aquascapes to surface soon.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Diana Walstad's "el Natural" Approach to Planted Tanks

I've covered two other major schools of aquascaping for planted tanks before, but both of those are relatively high-tech, and high maintenance. For those of you who either don't have the time, patience, or just the wallet for a high-tech Dutch or Nature style tank, or for those of you who have been burned out by one, there is a third school.

This third school, often referred to as "el Natural," and sometimes Natural Planted Tanks (NPTs), is based on a low maintenance, low-tech approach pioneered by Diana Walstad. Outlined in her book, Ecology of the Planted Aquarium: A Practical Manual and Scientific Treatise for the Home Aquarist, the approach has several basic tenets:

  • Regular potting soil, capped by small gravel is used as substrate
  • No filtration is needed, aside from a powerhead for water movement
  • Lighting is low, 1-2 watts per gallon, and is often supplemented by sunlight from a window
  • No fertilization or CO2 is used, only liberal fish feeding
  • Water changes are done only ever 6 months or so
  • Plants will act as filters and fish will act as fertilizers, creating a balanced ecosystem
The end result is a tank that looks very different from any Dutch or Nature style aquarium, but that requires almost no maintenance, while maintaining a lush planted look. The types of plants available to someone starting an "el Natural" fish tank are somewhat limited, since lots of plants require high light and fertilization, but algae is rarely a problem. Unlike Dutch and Nature style aquariums, there is no set school for plant placement or composition of hardscape. This approach is also not designed for someone who likes to rescape their tank every few months, as moving plants around is difficult to do without disturbing the potting soil underneath the gravel. The natural soil substrate is probably the most volatile part of an "el Natural" style fish tank, and there are lots of do's and don'ts explained in Diana's book. However, once you get it set up, an "el Natural" style tank can be perfect for someone who is tired of dosing, testing, and re-dosing every day or for someone who just doesn't have the time for a high-tech aquarium.

For step by step pictures to setting up an "el Natural" style tank, check out Step by Step: Setting Up a Walstead Natural Planted Tank by Betty Harris. For more of Diana Walstad's tanks, check out her gallery.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

ADA Launches New Aqua Journal Online Website

Aqua Design Amano has recently launched a brand new English website called Aqua Journal Online. The website contains tons of useful information, including articles on Aqua Soil (which seems to be the focus for this first "issue" of the website), setting up a new Nature Aquarium, and some galleries of Takashi Amano's tanks. One of the best features, available under Suikei Data, is the ability to look at Amano's tanks and then be able to see the tank data, including size, lighting, filtration, plants, and more. Some of the sections aren't finished yet, but it looks very promising and there's already enough reading to keep you busy for a few hours, so go check it out!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Growing Plants Emersed

In a previous article, I discussed what the difference was between submersed and emersed growth. Now, I'll show you how to set up your own emersed growth pots so you can experiment on your own. I've been growing HC, dwarf hairgrass, and moss emersed without problems. Stem plants probably won't do so well using this method, as they are much harder to convert. For quickly growing pre-made carpets though, this method can't be beat.

First, you'll need a shallow container. I use plastic Rubbermaid shoe-boxes available at most big stores like Target or Wal-Mart. They are the perfect size, since you'll want to cover your container with plastic wrap. Larger containers will also work, but may be harder to cover and keep sealed. Fill the container with about 1 inch deep of regular potting soil. Po
ur water in until the soil is just submerged but thoroughly wet. Then, take your plants and just put them gently in the soil. Once you have all of your plants planted, use plastic wrap to cover the container. You'll want a tight seal so the moisture doesn't evaporate. It might be necessary to use some tape to keep the plastic wrap from coming off. This will create a nice humid environment for your plants to transition to emersed growth so they don't dry out.

Once you have your container all set up, you can either put it in a sunny window or underneath some full-spectrum lighting. I chose to put it under a strip of lights (see above). Each week, just lift the plastic wrap up and using a spray-mister, mist the plants to replenish any lost water. Lifting up the plastic also allows new air to enter, replenishing any CO2 the plants have used. No fertilization is necessary, since all nutrients should be present in the potting soil.

Once your carpet has grown in, just gently lift the plants out of the potting soil, rinse them off to remove any extra soil in the roots, and plant them in your aquarium. It might be best to stick with one type of plant per container, since I tried HC, hairgrass, and moss all in one and they all grew together (see above). It makes it a bit difficult to separate, but very cool looking!

This method should work well for all mosses, most grasses, and most other carpet plants, like Hemianthus callitrichoides and Glossostigma elatinoides. Mosses in particular have very different emersed structures and can be quite cool looking. It's almost tempted me to start a palaudarium! Good luck.

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