Friday, December 18, 2009

North American Discus Association 2010 Show

Planted tanks and discuss go together like peanut butter and jelly. There's almost no more colorful, majestic freshwater fish than the discus, and seeing a school of them swim through some of Takashi Amano's aquascapes is breathtaking. I've even considered keeping some...that was until I saw the rigorous water changing schedule required to keep them healthy. My plants (and algae) keep me busy enough. A fussy $50+ fish that requires a daily water change? Maybe when I'm retired.

If you have the time and dedication to care for these gorgeous fish and live near the Dallas area, you may be interested in the 2010 North American Discus Association (NADA) Show that will be held on June 10-13 of this year. For $45, you get a discus show, an auction, and a slew of speakers discussing everything from Discus 101 to Diseases and Sickness. Heck, for $45, forgo the hundreds you'd spend on the fish and live vicariously though others for a few days!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Question: Aesthetically pleasing equipment worth it?

You're looking at the brand new Fluval Edge aquarium kit. Recently released, the kit is innovative in a number of ways. Although lots of people have been poo-pooing the practicality of the design, I think Fluval is really onto something. It's rare that a traditional equipment manufacturer incorporates such advanced design aesthetics and brings something like this to the market. I feel like some in the aquarium equipment industry have really sat up and taken notice of ADA's success with its high end line of rimless aquarium tanks and minimalist glass equipment. Of course, the aquascape inside a tank will always be the main focus, but just like any good painting, a decent frame can do wonders.Yeah, it may not have the best lighting, but when has that stopped us?

So what do you think? Would you spend $129 (Edit: The price has dropped a bit from this already to $119) on the Fluval Edge when an equivalent traditional tank, filter, and light would probably cost half that? How much weight do you put in your equipment's appearance?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2009 AGA Aquascaping Contest Results

My apologies for running behind on announcing these; you've probably all seen them by now, but in case you haven't, definitely go check out the entries to the 2009 AGA Aquascaping Contest. The best in show tank (above) is just amazing. The dangling branches are a really creative touch, although I'm not sure how the whole tank looks from a normal viewing angle, since there has to be some sort of structure above to hold those in place. The driftwood is placed in such a perfect manner that it looks exactly like roots of a dying/dead tree. Honestly, I think this aquascape would be just as impressive without the branches dipping in, though a little unbalanced. What do you think? Will you be trying this new method?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Spot of Bad Luck

It seems like I've been having nothing but bad luck lately with the aquariums. I came home from Thanksgiving with the family only to spot the remains of a brownish puddle on the floor by the big aquarium. Sure enough, I opened up the stand to find the auto-doser jug was absolutely empty. Turns out the tube that ran from the pump to the top of the aquarium had fallen off and fallen behind the stand (it was only held on by a suction cup) and without all that height to slow down the pump, 30 days of fertilizer slurry (yeah, I had just topped it up a few days before I left) emptied onto my floor over the course of two or three days in one minute intervals. I guess it could have been worse...but all those fertilizers wasted and a big stain on my floor now have taught me not to trust a single suction cup again.

Just two weeks earlier I bought a brand new Marineland heater for the big tank (exactly like the one in the photo above), since the one that I had in there was damaged in the move. After a few months of doing weekly water changes without a heater, I had gotten too used to just siphoning the water out. In the middle of my first water change since getting the heater, I heard some weird popping noises and saw an unfortunate leaf being cooked on the outside of the heater glass. I had forgotten to unplug it before I drained the water down and it had gotten so hot it had cracked the glass. The brand new heater was thoroughly fried, but the cracks in the glass were nearly invisible. Luckily, I didn't tempt fate and unplugged it and took it out to examine it. Sure enough, just handling it, it fell apart. Needless to say, I bought a Theo heater that's supposed to offer some protection against running dry, but I'm also going to be much more careful in the future. Heaters are one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment in an aquarium (as Jestep found out recently), so be careful with them!

Sometimes small accidents this hobby can be a real drain on the wallet. I'm just glad I haven't had a near catastrophe, like a leaking tank! (knock on wood)

Monday, November 09, 2009

CAPA 2009 Aquascaping Contest Results

The aquascaping contest results season is here, and hot on the heels of the IAPLC top 27 video is the results from CAPA, a French aquascaping contest (not quite sure what the acronym stands for, but I'd guess one of the A's is aquascaping). There are some repeats from the IAPLC 2009 top 27 results, but there are also some very nice tanks that we haven't seen yet (like the one above, I love the depth!). Like the AGA aquascaping contest, the CAPA is divided by tank size, so each class has a set of winners. You can view the top 3 of all classes, the Under 70L category, the 70-250L category, and the Over 250L category. Plenty of great aquascapes to spark your imagination!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Updated IAPLC 2009 Top 27 Aquascapes Video with Ranks

Spent the afternoon playing around with Picasa's built in movie maker and I put together this video of the top 27 aquascapes from this year's International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest. The aquascape in position 20 is missing, but all the rest are there, in high resolution glory! I hope the soundtrack and pacing is a little better than the other IAPLC 2009 video I found. You can watch a HD version, in a bigger format on YouTube. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

International Aquatic Plant Layout Contest 2009 Video Emerges

This video of some of the top tanks in the IAPLC 2009 just popped up on the forums lately, and although the quality isn't the best, it shows a glimpse at some gorgeous tanks. A word of caution about this video: the transitions are fast, violent, and frequently nauseating. Someone had a little too much fun with their video editing software. I'll be posting some full resolution pictures of the top tanks shortly.

UPDATE: I've put together a slightly less harsh version, with ranks and in order. Watch it here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Eheim Classic Cleaning Tip

Just a quick tip and word of warning for those of you who own Eheim classic canister filters. When I was cleaning out my Eheim 2217 and 2213 this weekend, I made the mistake of cleaning off the sludge and slime around the impeller and the impeller magnet. I plugged it back in and wow, it was loud. It seems the sludge and slime in there created a natural lubrication that kept it quiet. So when cleaning out your Eheim, resist the urge to clean out this sludge or you'll probably have a very noisy filter afterwards!

In order to fix the issue, I took some Vaseline and rubbed it around the impeller shaft and magnet. I plugged it back in and the noise was greatly reduced. With time, the sludge will build up again and it'll go back to its old dead silent running, but at least I know now to never clean it out again!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

LED Planted Aquarium Lighting: Part 2

In the first part of the series on LED lighting in the planted aquarium, I discussed whether or not LED lighting would work for growing live freshwater plants, and if so, why hasn't anyone made a fixture you can buy yet that isn't $1,000+. Now if you're either brave and the DIY type or have some deep pockets and want to give LED lighting a try, but need that extra justification to give you a push, here are some quick pros and cons of LED lighting in the planted aquarium:


First, the pros, and there are lots of them. You'll find that most come with some caveats though.

The first one that jumps into many people's minds is their lower energy consumption. Most high powered LEDs (the sort you use for growing plants) only use 2-4 watts of electricity and pump out anywhere from 100 to 300 lumens (for comparison a 70 Watt metal halide bulb produces around 5000-6000 lumens). So depending on the size of the aquarium and the quality of LEDs that you buy, you could see a slight drop in power consumption. However, this drop is not huge, contrary to popular belief. If power saving is your main qualification, I'd lean more towards T5 fluorescents (these usually put out about 2000 lumens for a 24 watt bulb).

Another benefit of using LEDs is that they don't emit quite as much heat as high temperature metal halide lamps do. Again, there have been misconceptions about LEDs thinking that they don't create much heat at all. Regular low powered LED's don't really, but high output LEDs do. Substantial heat. So much that you need heat sinks and fans to keep them cool. Granted, they don't get quite as hot as metal halide lamps, but they require more robust cooling systems than any fluorescent fixtures. And heat is critical determinant to how long an LED lasts, which brings me to my next point.

LEDs last a long, long time if they are treated right. This is a huge benefit over fluorescent bulbs that dim or shift their spectrum and need to be replaced every 8-12 months. I just shelled out $70 for two new bulbs for my 2 x 96 Watt CF fixture and will need to do so every year. LEDs should last the life of your aquarium (or at least 50,000-100,00 hours) provided their temperatures are controlled. You see, the lifespan of an LED is directly linked to its operating temperature. The hotter they run, the sooner they burn out. This is why heat sinks and cooling fans are necessary.

Another big difference between bulb type lighting (fluorescent and metal halide) and LEDs is that LEDs do not require fancy reflectors. They emit all of their light in one direction via highly efficient internal reflectors, and therefore eliminate inefficiency due to light bouncing off the reflector and back into the bulb or off into the room instead of into the tank. If you are putting together your own DIY fixture, this means that buying a reflector isn't always necessary (depending on your LEDs) and can save on costs and space a bit.

LEDs are small, and produce a lot of light in a very small space. Only metal halides pack as much light in a small space. Try lighting a nano tank to levels that qualify as high light with a flourescent and you'll see why this is awesome. In order to be high output, fluorescent bulbs need length...and that won't work on a tiny tank (except spiral CF bulbs). You can't really put a 70W metal halide over a nano tank either, unless you're planning on boiling some water. This small space footprint also brings up another benefit of LEDs, although it is purely aesthetic.

LEDs produce that ever-illusive shimmer effect. You know, the glimmer in the water that sun casts that just looks so awesome. Until LEDs, only metal halides could do that, since they were the only other point-source (meaning all light is emitted from a small area) fixtures available to planted aquarium keepers. As stated before, metal halides don't really work over smaller tanks for obvious reasons. Now those of you with smaller tanks can bask in the shimmering glory as well!

Finally, LEDs can produce exactly the wavelength of light needed by plants. There are very specific wavelenghts that plants use for photosynthesis, and if you didn't care much about how the planted tank looked to the human eye, you could buy LEDs that only emitted these wavelenghts. Of course, that wouldn't look very pretty...or natural, since it would be only red and blue light. But the point is you can control the wavelengths present in your lighting, instead of a wide range produced by other types of lights.


There are a few cons to LED fixtures, the largest being cost. LEDs are just too expensive still to use for large aquariums and provide the light necessary for plant growth. At approximately $10 an LED, not including controllers and cooling systems, the costs quickly add up. It's easy to see how commercially produced fixtures like this one sell for $700-$1000. Eventually, the costs will come down as high output LEDs are put into more and more applications, but for now, we're stuck with paying for this new technology.

Another downside of LEDs is that they still produce a large amount of heat. They aren't the ideal solution for aquariums that are highly sensitive to heat, or in hot climates where keeping the tank cool can mean running a chiller or blasting the air conditioning. They don't quite reach the temperatures of metal halides though.

And finally, considering there are only a few large commercially produced LED fixtures available, if you want to light a smaller tank, or if you can't afford the large fixtures, you'll probably have to make your own using parts bought online. This requires soldering, wiring, and constructing a housing that can effectively cool the LEDs. It's no small undertaking, but it is possible and fairly straightforward.

Final verdict: If you have a small tank (too small for most fluorescent tubes and metal halides), some electrical DIY experience, and don't mind putting together a cooling system, a small LED fixture is probably your best option for high output lighting.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fluval G Series Press Release

It's not often a brand new filter comes on the market, but the Fluval G series seems even more rare. It's a filter that's been under design for the last 2 years and will finally be available October 31st. Now, beyond looking pretty slick, how exactly will this filter be better than the old standbys for the planted aquarium? Not all the details are known yet, but what stands out is the Hydrotech Performance Monitor system, which apparently can hold up to 48 days worth of data and show different water parameters in graph form over time. Exactly what parameters will be available aren't known yet (temperature, conductivity, flow rate, and salinity have been cofirmed so far), but I'll be praying for a pH monitor and maybe (if this is even possible) a general hardness (gH) and carbonate hardnes (kH) monitor. That would be awesome since it would essentially allow you to figure out your CO2 levels over time.

I don't think it'll be an auto-dosing, CO2 regulating and diffusing wonder machine, (the high tech planted tank community is still too small to support that) but it's certainly a step in the right direction!

Read the full press release here and visit the G Series website for more information.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

LED Planted Aquarium Lighting: Part 1

Power compact (PC) fluorescents, T5 fluorescents, and metal halides (MH) dominate the planted tank hobby. All three are more than adequate for growing plants and all three are a step up from incandescent lighting (which probably won't grow you much more than algae) and regular fluorescents. But in the past decade, a new aquarium lighting technology has been making technological advances that could soon put it above your aquarium. Light emitting diodes (or LEDs) promise a lot of light in a tiny space and all using less energy. So what's the deal with LEDs? Can they grow plants? Are they cheaper/better than the alternatives? Can I buy an LED aquarium fixture?

LEDs are seen as the future of aquarium lighting. These aren't the same dim LEDs you'll find in moonlights or household electronics (usually 1 watt or less). The best those can do is "supplemental" lighting. We're talking high powered LEDs, LEDs so bright you can't safely look at them (typically 3 or 4 watts). These LEDs are actually excellent for growing live aquarium plants. Unlike fluorescents, which produce light at a whole handful of wavelengths (some of which may not be useful to plants and actually can cause cyanobacteria and algae to thrive), LEDs can be much more precise and target the exact wavelength of light that plants need, maximizing their efficiency. Therefore, the traditional (and pretty inaccurate) watts per gallon measure can't really be applied. You can get the same results with a much lower wattage of LEDs, saving money on electric bills.

But why haven't we seen LED lighting fixtures burst onto the planted aquarium scene if they'd be ideal for growing aquarium plants? Well, primarily, the reason is cost. You can get LED fixtures for growing live plants, but they cost an arm and a leg. And another leg. The 60 inch Solaris LED fixture (now discontinued, but one of the first mainstream LED aquarium fixtures) used to retail for around $3,000. Prices have been coming down a lot lately, but they're still mainly only for the deep pocketed aquarium keeper. If you can afford them though, they seem well worth it. Check out the new epro LumenAqua and the product demo video (below) on YouTube. Go ahead, watch it, it's worth it. I'll wait.

Chances are, after watching that, you either bought one (and I'm extremely jealous), or checked under your sofa's cushions, hoping to find a few hundred dollars. We'd all love to have something like that one day right? So why are they so expensive? Mainly because the high intensity aquarium lighting market is so small, and because the technology is still relatively new. It's also advancing at light speed (sorry, pun intended). So for a manufacturer to produce a product that makes a profit with such low volume, it's gotta be expensive. Until the hobby gets much larger (which it will, but it'll take time), or the price of the LEDs drops (which it is), these units will be fairly expensive.

Then, there are other issues, like a recent lawsuit that disputes key patents used in LED fixtures for aquariums. These kinds of legal issues can take years to resolve, and in the meantime, the technology is in limbo. While some manufacturers of LED fixtures may be waiting for the lawsuit to blow over, DIY hobbyists are not.

Several DIYers have made their own LED lighting fixtures for the planted aquarium using parts purchased online. It's relatively easy, and can be a cheap alternative. However, at anywhere from $4-10 an LED, plus costs for heat dissipation fans and heat sinks, and wiring, and controllers, the larger the aquarium the less feasible this becomes. Right now, DIY LED fixtures for aquariums are best suited for smaller aquariums, where PC, T5, or MH just won't work.

So if you're a handy DIY type with a smaller tank or able to spend $1000 on a light fixture, LEDs will work just fine in a planted aquarium. Just be sure you're getting high powered LEDs meant to replace aquarium lighting, and not "supplemental" LED fixtures.

But the question remains: Are LEDs right for you? In the next part of the series on LEDs, I'll discuss the pros and cons of LEDs as aquarium lighting to help you better decide whether or not they're right for your aquarium.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Another Droolworthy ADA Aquascaping Gallery Video

Another amazing ADA gallery visit video has surfaced, and let me tell you, it's another 4 minutes of awesomeness. Like the last video, it's shots of all the aquariums set up in the ADA gallery in Niigata, Japan, but this one is a bit higher quality. You get to see plenty of aquascaped planted aquariums, a few glimpses of a salt water aquarium, and some really neat nano aquariums. I especially love the emergent ferns in the tank at 3:25 (not to mention the spotless sand foreground and gorgeous Roseline Sharks). All I can say is it must take a lot of work to keep each one of these aquariums that clean and immaculate! Be sure to check out the thread for some still photos of the visit as well.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Kirua's "A Stony Heart"

Been a while since I've done an aquascape of the week feature (maybe I should change it to just "Featured Aquascape") but with the recent revealing of the IAPLC results, it means entry photos will begin surfacing around the web. This beautiful aquarium placed 97th in the world, which out of the 1000+ entries is a pretty big honor. This tank really deserves it. I love how the hardscape forms the center of the tank, and the play with light and dark areas really adds to the visual interest. Congratulations Kirua! More information on this tank can be found here.

Stay tuned for the IAPLC contest top 10 tanks, I've been hunting around for them and will post them as soon as I find them!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Starting an Iwagumi Aquascape

There's a lot to like about iwagumi aquascapes. Their simplicity is calming and beautiful and there's something special about watching a school of fish hover over a "field" of grass. Starting your own iwagumi aquascape, especially your first, is likely to lead to the exact opposite feelings: lots of pulling out of one's own hair and frustration as your aquascape is consumed by every algae known to man. Why? Well iwagumi aquascapes usually rely on only 1 or 2 species of plants, usually carpeting plants like dwarf hairgrass or HC, which don't grow particularly fast or soak up a lot of nutrients. Let's imagine a typical beginner mistake starting up an iwagumi aquascape.

When you first start an iwagumi, chances are you have some rocks, and a species or two of carpeting plants. You probably have a CO2 system of some sort, and pretty powerful lights and a fertilizing schedule. The aquarium probably looks pretty barren, aside from a few sprigs of plants strategically placed. Fast forward 3 weeks and you probably have a mess of algae that has covered your rocks, plants, and even substrate, suffocating the remaining carpeting plants into submission.

What happened? You created a perfect environment for algea. When you set up a tank, it's critical for your aquatic plants to establish a dominance, soaking up all the nutrients they can. If you don't have enough plants, algae moves in and will smother everything, thriving on the excess nutrients your plants aren't using.

So how can you avoid this when you set up your first iwagumi aquascape? The key is fast growing stem or floating plants. Add as much of these as you can, without shading out the carpeting plants. They are excellent at soaking up excess nutrients and some even release chemicals that retard the growth of algae (called allelochemicals). They don't have to disrupt your pefectly planned iwagumi layout, simply float them in your aquarium for the first few weeks, or until the carpeting plants have a chance to take hold and spread. Also, hold back a bit on fertilizing until your plants really start growing, and fertilize in proportion to the amount of plants you have in the aquarium. Gradually up the fertilizing, keeping track of algae and reducing it if you see the algae starting to crop up. This helps swing the balance in favor of your aquatic plants, and algae won't have as much of a chance to gain a foothold.

Some plants that work particularly well at keeping algae at bay in the early weeks of a newly set up aquarium are Hornwort, any hygrophila species, or any floating plant (although these can quickly become a pain to get rid of since they grow so quickly and tend to hide in everything--I'm looking at you duckweed!).

If algae does get out of balance, the best thing to do is reduce your lighting period, reduce fertilizer dosing if you are dosing too much, make sure your CO2 is steady and wait. As long as everything is balanced, your plants should be able to outcompete the algae and your iwagumi will be back on track.

Good luck!

*Photo by Mikhail Sharonin of Russia, who placed #435 in this year's IAPLC contest

Monday, August 03, 2009

APC Tank of the Year Contest Announced

Aquatic Plant Central has recently announced a brand new 2010 Tank of the Year contest, complete with some pretty substantial cash prizes ($350 for first place). The contest is open until January 31, 2010, so you have plenty of time to plan, set up, and photograph an aquascaped tank, even from scratch. Aquariums will be judged on originality, cleanliness, difficulty, and composition along with bonus points awarded to a popular vote winner. This sounds like an awesome opportunity to start from scratch and get a brand new aquascape going. The 46 gallon is looking a bit tired after the move...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Jorge Oliveira

This aquascaped aquarium is a simple, but stunning work from Jorge Oliveira. Great use of the Golden Rule and a V shaped aquascape. For more information on the aquarium, including plant species, lighting and fertilizer specs, and hardscape pictures, check out the thread here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Planted Aquarium Mishaps

I'm sure we've all had our share of mishaps when it comes to keeping aquariums. Mixing glass, water, and electricity is a recipe for disaster. I thought this thread about aquarium mishaps was pretty interesting, and I'll share my biggest mishaps to date.

First of all, I've come to the realization that heaters, submersible or not, are probably the most dangerous piece of equipment in an aquarium. They're often glass, and sometimes non-submersible. Combined with electricity...well, it's a bad mixture. Most of the time it's as simple as forgetting to turn the heater off when you do a water change. The heater turns on, heats up much to fast (since it's supposed to be "cooled" by water) and either burns up or, even worse, when you refill the tank, cracks the glass when it comes into contact with water again. Some heaters are designed with an auto-off switch to prevent this. I've killed at least two heaters this way. Luckily, it's fairly easy to notice, given the smoke, steam, and possible fireworks. One of mine just burned up before I raised the water back up, but the other shattered when it contacted the water. Luckily, my fish (and me!) got away without any injuries. I've vowed to never buy cheap heaters again, and always, always use a GFCI outlet or power strip (which should probably added to the 10 Items a Planted Aquarium Keeper Can't Live Without list).

Another mishap occurred when setting up my pressurized CO2 system. I bought a regulator with a bubble counter and filled it with water. I screwed the cap on tight and everything was great for about 2 weeks. Then I noticed that my water level was dropping more than normal between water changes, and the bubble counter was often full of water. It had an integrated check valve, so I wasn't worried about my regulator being damaged. However, I then realized that the floor of the stand underneath the tank was literally mushy and soaked. I examined the CO2 setup for leaks and realized that on the back side of the bubble counter, hidden out of view, was a nice big crack that must have been slowly spreading since I screwed the cap on. Each night, when the CO2 went off, water would siphon back and drip out through the crack. My stand is pretty funky inside now, and the particle board that got wet is deformed and expanded. Let's just say the floor inside isn't exactly flat anymore. I ordered another bubble counter and was extra careful screwing it in.

A few more minor mishaps:

  • I've accidentally overfilled my tank while doing a water change and watching TV at the same time. I suddenly had a waterfall in my living room! Don't multitask while filling your aquarium back up.
  • I've accidentally run my Eheim filter overnight with a kinked hose. Woke up wondering what the funny burning rubber/plastic smell was, till I realized it was my fish tank. The Eheim took it like a champ though, and still works fine.

I count myself lucky that I've avoided most major mishaps (no cracked tanks, major water damage, etc).

What about you? What planted aquarium mishaps have you had?

Monday, July 20, 2009

How to Move an Aquarium Part 2: Moving Day

My apologies for being a bit late on this, but moving is one of the most stressful life events, and all the planning in the world can't prepare you for everything. It took the internet company 2 weeks to sort out the internet to finally work at the new place, so my blogging has been limited.

Just as a recap, this is the story of moving my two aquariums, a 10 gallon and a 46 gallon bowfront, both fully planted. The goal was to move them without messing up the aquascape too much and without completely emptying the aquariums, while keeping all fish alive.

On moving day, I brought out the plastic tubs and a siphon tube and siphoned out about 5 or 6 gallons of the tank water into it (less for the 10 gallon). Then I caught each fish one by one and put them into the water in the plastic container. This was easily the hardest part of the whole day. I nearly ripped up each and every plant to try to catch the fish. The hardest by far were not the Otocinclus catfish as I had expected, but the Rummynose Tetras. They had a distinct ability to swim under the carpet of Blyxa japonica and would not come out without poking and proding. Once I had all fish in the plastic tub, I put some plants in with them to provide cover and oxygen. I also put the container's lid on to keep it dark and prevent as much stress as I could. You have to be careful though, since a sealed container will eventually run out of oxygen and the fish will suffocate. Only leave the lid tightly on when absolutely necessary.

With all the fish safely ready for transport, I turned my attention to draining the remaining water. I made sure to turn of and disconnect my canister filter, CO2, and lighting and packed them up separately. Using my Python, I drained the water down as far as I could (about 1/2" of water left above the substrate).

I packed the stands, tanks, and plastic containers into the rented van and trunk of my car with the help of a friend and made sure they were well secured and padded. The last thing I needed was for the plastic container to become a permanent home. I used glass covers to keep the moist air inside and a spray mister to make sure the plants didn't dry out. I carefully made the drive over to the new place with all pieces and fish arriving safe and sound. Now it was time to set everything back up.

I had planned out where I wanted each aquarium to go in the new place, so this wasn't hard. I set it up and began to fill it with tap water, along with dechlorinator. While it was filling, I took a bowl and began scooping some of the water from the plastic tub into the tank. That way the water parameters would be a little bit closer to the old tank. I was only moving across town, so the water was the same as the tap water in my old place, but if it's very different, you'll want to use as much of the old water as you can to mitigate the difference.

Once the tank is fairly full, you can start catching the fish in the tub and putting them back into the tank. Watch them carefully for signs of distress. The temperature should be roughly the same. Too great a difference could kill them. Reconnect all your equipment, top off the tank, and you're back in business!

Quick Tips:

  • You're going to be sweaty, stinky, and gross after you move a tank. Don't plan on any social events after!
  • Catching fish with lots of plants and driftwood is a nightmare. Try to remove whatever you can without affecting the aquascape too much.
  • If you run into problems catching fast little fish, keep at it. Eventually they will get tired and slow down. Just try not to harass them any more than necessary, since it will stress them out. Having a friend to help with another net is priceless!
  • Keep your filter full of water so the bacteria inside can survive the trip.
  • Set up the tank as soon as you can at the new place. The less time the fish spend in the temporary plastic container the better. Certainly don't keep them in there for longer than 6 hours, or you may need to add a temporary bubble filter or change out some of the water to prevent fouling.

Overall, the whole process was fairly easy. No fish or plants were lost and everything is getting back to normal. The key here is patience and planning. I didn't move both tanks on the same day along with all my other furniture. That would have been just plain crazy. I would recommend planning plenty of time to move an aquarium, and then double it. It always takes longer than you expected, especially if you have expert hiders like the tetras! Good luck!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Aquarium Moving Write Up Coming Soon

I just wanted to post a quick note that I have finished moving successfully (no fish, plants, or equipment were lost!) and I will post an article on the move, but it's going to be a bit delayed since I'm dealing with some internet issues at the new place so my connection is a bit sporadic. Hopefully I'll get it fixed soon and have a full write up of the next part of the aquarium moving series done soon as well.

Friday, June 26, 2009

2009 AGA International Aquascaping Contest Open

The deadline for submitting an application to the 2009 IAPLC has come and gone, but don't worry, you still have a chance to make it into the second prestigious annual aquascaping contest, the AGA International Aquascaping Contest. You have until September 15th, 2009 to get your aquascapes in order and submit an application for a chance to win a number of cash prizes. You'll find the entry form and the 2008 entries (the picture above is the 1st place winner in the "Large" category for 2008) on the AGA website. Below is the release from AGA. Good luck!


Hello Fellow Aquascapers,

It's that time of the year again! The AGA's annual aquascaping contest opened on June 15th for submission of entries and was recently announced on the AGA's website. As in the past, all information including guidelines, entry forms, and other pertinent information regarding the contest is provided on the website,

For the contest to be a success, we are again looking for some volunteers to help with the work load. The quality of the contest each year depends on the level of participation from dedicated volunteers around the world. This year is no exception. Of particular importance is finding some people to volunteer for posting of information on websites both in the United States as well as internationally. If you are involved with an internation forum or club, please consider helping out by posting announcements to the forums you frequent. We're also looking for someone with some graphics design experience to create some cool graphics for the contest.

If you would like to get involved, please email me at

I look forward to seeing the aquascapes again this year!

Bailin Shaw
Aquascaping Contest Chairperson

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

DIY External CO2 Diffuser and Inline Heater

I love DIY projects. There's just something way more satisfying when you complete something yourself. I was pretty excited when I found these DIY project ideas on Instructables, an external CO2 diffuser and an inline heater using a water filter housing. The idea is simple and aside from having to purchase a heater with an external thermostat (so you don't have to open up the CO2 diffuser every time you want to adjust the heater temperature) looks to be pretty cheap and effective. I'm all for removing equipment from aquariums since no one likes have a nasty looking heater spoil their aquascape, and placing it inline after your filter can even make it more effective. Once I'm recovered from my big move, I might have to give this a try. Great job thewhite!

Monday, June 22, 2009

How to Move a Planted Aquarium Part 1: Planning

Moving an aquarium is a daunting task, but moving a fully planted aquarium is monumental. Although it may be a lot of work, it is entirely possible without ripping everything up and giving away your fish. How do I know? I've done it before, and I'm about to do it again. Yes...I'm a little bit crazy.

Last time I moved was in June 2006. Back then I had three aquariums, a 20 gallon long, a 10 gallon, and the largest, a 29 gallon tank. I only moved a few miles away, so it wasn't all that bad. The tanks were small enough to fit in the back seat of a car (even the 29 gallon) which made it much easier. The move went very well, and I don't think I lost a single fish.

I'm moving again on July 1st, and once again I've got to figure out how to move my planted aquariums. Since then I've upgraded to a 46 gallon bowfront (seen above, please excuse the iPhone photo, my camera is already packed!) and kept the 10 gallon. Both are heavily planted and happily inhabited by fish. The most important part of this whole process is the planning. Thinking through exactly how you are going to complete the move and issues that might come up will save you time, and possibly some lives.

How will I transport the fish and keep them alive? I tried this technique back in 2006 and it worked so well I'm doing it again. I have two large plastic tubs I bought at Target for about $10 each. I'll fill these up with tank water and some plant clippings to provide cover and rudimentary filtration/food for the short trip. Then I'll catch all the fish and put them into the tubs. Sounds easy right? Wrong. This is probably the hardest part of all.

How will I transport the tanks?
Well there's no way I can transport a fully filled 46 gallon tank that approaches 500lbs. That would be a disaster even for the smaller 10 gallon. So instead, I'm going to drain out as much water as I can from both tanks, putting enough into the fish tubs to keep them happy (but also not too much that I can't lift them). Here is where the Python comes in handy. I'm able to drain all but about 3/4 an inch above the substrate level, which has 2 benefits. First, it keeps the substrate wet which keeps colonies of beneficial bacteria alive, and second it makes the tank much lighter. To keep the plants from drying out, I'm planning on taping a garbage bag over the top (plastic wrap for the smaller tank) and using a spray-mister. The 46 gallon and stand definitely don't fit in my back seat, so they'll have to be moved the same day I move all my larger furniture, for which I've rented a cargo van.

What about the filters? Pressurized CO2? Right now I have two Eheim canister filters, one for each aquarium. I'll simply use the shut off valves provided and disconnect them, keeping them full of water for the move. This ensures the beneficial bacteria inside won't completely die out (as long as the move doesn't take too long).

For the pressurized CO2, I'm going to shut it off and disconnect the regulator before moving it. The most important thing is to properly secure the CO2 tank. I've heard plenty of horror stories of improperly secured CO2 tanks falling over and opening in a car.

Other important things to remember:

  • It's summer, so keeping everything out of the direct sun and cool is important. I wouldn't do this in winter, the changes in temperature may be too severe for fish and plants.
  • Lift the tanks slowly and evenly. Twisting or torquing the tanks excessively can lead to cracks.
  • Use plenty of padding when putting the tanks in a vehicle and drive carefully. Make sure to tie them up so they don't move around.
  • Figure out where you are putting your aquariums in your new place ahead of time. You don't want to have to repeat this process later! Consider the floor (can it support a large tank?) and also the proximity to a water source. You can buy a 100ft long Python, but it's much easier to use a 25ft or 50ft. Power outlets are also an important consideration.
  • Luckily, I have no stairs or tight corners to deal with, but if you do, make sure your tank will fit without having to upend it, or this method won't really work for you (horrible images of being showered with muddy substrate while trying to hold up a tank come to mind).
Supply List:

  • Large, sturdy plastic tubs with lids (like these)
  • Python
  • Towels to clean up the inevitable mess and pad the tank during the move
  • Fish net to catch the fish
  • Plastic garbage bag or plastic wrap (depending on the size of the tank)

Will everything go according to plan? Not likely, but it still helps to minimize the risk of something unexpected popping up mid-move.

The next part of this series will be documenting the move day prep and process (with pictures). Look for it once I get settled in at the new place!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Aquascaping Topic: Hours Per Week

These last few weeks of hunting for a new apartment have squeezed my schedule and I finally got a chance today to give my aquascapes a good trim, which took the better half of two hours. Overall, I tend to be on the low end for hours per week I devote to aquascaping. Usually I spend anywhere from an hour to two hours per week on my 2.5 tanks (one is less than a gallon).

I think many people have an inflated sense of how many hours per week it takes to maintain a decent looking aquascape. How many hours per week do you spend on your aquascapes?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Uttoshii's Island Layout

Here's another great aquascape using Myriophyllum matogrossense. I seriously need to get my hands on some of this stuff once I move and re-scape my 46 gallon tank. Uttoshii has used driftwood and sand to his advantage to create a really nice island type aquascape. The tank is only 6 weeks old, so I'm eager to see what it looks like when it matures a bit more. Great job Uttoshii! Read more about the tank here.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Common Aquatic Plant Deficiency Diagram

One of the biggest parts of growing aquatic plants is being able to "read" them and evaluate how healthy they are. Learning all of the signs of nutrient deficiencies can be confusing though, so a picture is worth a thousand words. Zapins over at APC has done exactly that and created a handy diagram showing what common aquatic plant deficiencies look like. I have to say this is a really excellent diagram that I will undoubtedly be using in the future. Nice job Zapins!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Aquascaping Topic: Emersed Growth

I've finally thrown in the towel on the last of my emersed grow out containers, since the bulb burnt out and I didn't realize it, and all my dwarf hairgrass in it died. I have to admit, when it works, growing plants emersed is much faster and less intensive than a grow out tank. Not having to dose fertilizers, worry about CO2, or plants that wont stay planted is fantastic. It does have its drawbacks though, since my HC was overrun with some sort of slime mold, and before that it was infested with little bugs. The transition from submersed to emersed and back again can be tricky as well. What about you? Have you ever tried to grow any plants emersed? Do you think it's worth it?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

ADA International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest 2009 Countdown

If you're lucky enough to have an aquascape you've been preparing to enter into the 2009 International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest (also known as the ADA aquascaping contest), you'd better hurry up and get your final pictures taken! The deadline to enter this year's contest is May 31. Remember you can apply online directly at the IAPLC website as well. Good luck to those who have entered, and even if you don't have a tank you are submitting, you can browse the previous year's top entries for some inspiration for next year:

-ADA International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest 2008 Top 10

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

-ADA 2007 Aquascaping Contest: Top 10 Rankings

-ADA 2007 Aquascaping Contest: Top 27 Aquariums

-ADA 2006 Aquascaping Contest: Top 10 Rankings

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Pele's "Oshun"

It's been a while since I've seen an aquascaped aquarium use plants so effectively to make "hills" of green. The way Pele has trimmed and propagated these plants is simply amazing. I have yet to get any of my stem plants to grow this dense and lush. This is also a fairly small tank (about 30 gallons) but it looks much larger, helped by the use of plants with small leaves. The red Ludwigia in the center-right forms a perfect focal point as well. For more information on this tank, check out the thread.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Nico's "Douce Ambiance"

First off, I love the plant on the top right. Not sure what it is, but the fluffy, feathery leaves are very interesting and remind me of a stand of pine trees. Nico has also done an excellent job using hardscape here, with the gnarled driftwood looking simply amazing (be sure to check out the additional photos in the thread for some sweet "ground level" shots). With all that's going on in the foreground, center, and back right, the back left feels almost neglected!

Gotta love that hill too. I wonder if that's built up substrate or just an illusion using the Glossostigma over rocks and hardscape? And all this in just a 17 gallon tank! It easily looks double that size. Excellent job Nico!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Aquascaping Topic: Most Dreaded Algae

Algae is to the aquascaper as weeds are to the gardener. It's a never ending battle to keep your hard work from being consumed in a gooey, smelly mess. Granted, we'll never be 100% victorious, since some level of algae is natural, but it still we do everything short of using chemicals (and some people even use these in a desperate last ditch attempt) to try to get the upper hand.

While most aquascapers and planted aquarium hobbyists have probably encountered nearly every type of algae in their careers, we all have a particular type of algae we dread the most. For me, it used to be Cladophora sp., but now, I just cannot seem to kick this black brush algae (BBA). It's sprouted up all over the place and despite having my CO2 high enough to make my fish gasp it doesn't seem to want to go away. So what type of algae do you dread the most?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cladophora algae

Causes: Introduction via new plants, possibly Marimo balls
Prevention: Avoid introducing Cladophora by thoroughly cleaning new plants
Eradication and control: Manual removal, reduce lighting, patience & luck
Alternative eradication and control: Flourish Excel overdose

Cladophora sp. (often called Clado) is an aquascaper's worst nightmare. It's very branchy and often forms tangles of thin strands, making fluffy "clouds." It also as a pungent musty odor and is fairly brittle. It spreads via tiny strands which break off when disturbed, then anchor in plants (particularly plants like moss, grasses, and ferns that collect a lot of debris). It is ofte
n confused with Hair Algae, which is, well, more like hair growing on fixed surfaces.

Unlike other algae, cladophora is more like a plant, so it thrives when your plants thrive. It also isn't spread by airborne spores, but direct transmission from tank to tank. Most often, it is introduced via a new plant or contaminated equipment. The filaments can be very small (smaller than a hair) and can easily be missed in a clump of roots or stems. Some claim that Marimo moss balls, which are a form of Cladophora, can cause it, but I remain a bit skeptical that they can change form so dramatically.

The best way to prevent cladophora is to clean all new plants and anything you put in your tank that may be contaminated with tiny strands of Cladophora. Rinsing won't get rid of Cladophora, as it is often tangled in roots, leaves, or stems. The best way is to do a quick bleach dip. Preventing this nuisance algae from getting into your tank is by far the best way to ensure you never have to deal with the labors of removing it. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you already have a bad case of Cladophora algae in your aquarium, you'll need some luck, and a toothbrush. Start by manually removing as much as you can with your fingers, trying to minimize the amount that gets set free floating into the water by being gentle. Then use the toothbrush to "comb" out any remaining strands, twirling the toothbrush to wrap the algae around the brush. Remove as much as you can. Manual removal is really the best option. Repeat often (every few days). There are no known algae eaters that will touch this stuff.

I also found that reducing the lighting levels helped. The slower the plants grow, the slower the Cladophora grows, and the easier it is to manually remove. Generally it seems that at lower light levels, plants can outcompete the Cladophora. However, blackouts don't seem to work at all. The worst is when it gets into moss. There's almost nothing you can do but throw out the moss.

Flourish Excel overdosing is also rumored to work, but I found that all this did for me was make the Cladophora more brittle. Try it out, but it doesn't seem to be a miracle cure.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Jason Baliban's "Wainapanapa"

Inspired by the black sand beaches of Maui, Jason Baliban created this awesome aquascape from photos taken on his vacation. I love the "eroded hills" look here, and it perfectly matches what you'd see by the ocean. The round pebbles fit well too and add lots of visual interest. Check out more pictures including pictures of the beaches in Maui that inspired this aquascape in this thread.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

HR 669 and the Aquascaping Hobby

Today is a very important day. No, not because I received some Ranalisma rostrata in the mail, but because if a bill currently in hearings in Congress is passed, I won't be able to buy plants from fellow hobbyists, or even keep them at all.

You may or may not have heard of HR 669, also known as the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act, but it will significantly affect the aquascaping hobby if it becomes law. Ultimately, it prevents importation, trade, and transportation of a selection of nonnative species in the US. Not all nonnative species will be outlawed, but any deemed dangerous to local ecosystems. There has been a lot of wild and crazy stuff reported about HR 669 (no your nonnative species of dog will not be destroyed) but if it does become law, it will seriously impact the species of plants, fish, and shrimp available to the hobby today.

For hobbyists, it means a drastically reduced selection. We would be limited to plants not banned, which will mainly be native plants (like Didiplis diandra). We would be able to keep the plants we have but would have to be able to prove we had them before the law was enacted. We also wouldn't be able to trade or transport these species between states. That means no more buying or trading aquatic plants from fellow hobbyists. For fish and shrimp, the same rules would apply, except that breeding the animals (whether intentional or not) would also be illegal. Clearly, this legistlation would take a lot of the fun out of the hobby and severly impact the numbers of people who currently enjoy it.

For those in the industry of supplying these plants and animals, and the products to care for them, this law will effectively put them out of business. Think of your local fish store and how many species would be considered nonnative. Probably over 90% if not all of them. Coupled with the hobbyists who will have lost interest in the hobby no longer purchasing pet supplies, the entire industry is in for a harsh and rapid reduction in size. This is why they've been lobbying so hard against HR 669.

I understand the aim of HR 669 and I certainly support restrictions on nonnative wildlife to prevent damage to local ecosystems. However, a balance needs to be reached. Outlawing the posession of plants and animals that almost every hobbyist owns is not going to help the problem, and may even make it worse. What happens to all those illegal species when people discover that they are breaking the law? I can assure you that not all of them will be disposed of properly.

You can find more information on the bill, including the full text, which I encourage you to read (it's not that dry, and has some very important information), a site against HR 669, and a list of things you can do to make your voice heard on HR 669. Today only you can also follow the Congressional hearing on HR 669 via a live blog.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ripariums: Riverbank Aquascaping

You may have heard some of the buzz surrounding ripariums, or "riverbank" tanks, which has been growing on aquascaping forums and websites lately. It wasn't till I saw Hydrophyte's Riparium Supply website that I started getting really excited. Not only are the ripariums on the site beautiful (see above and below) but they provide a really attractive alternative for growing out aquatic plants and are a fresh new approach to aquascaping (err..maybe ripascaping?).

The whole concept of a riparium is that you are simulating the bank of a riverbed or pond, without actually creating any physical dry ground (that would be a paludarium). So you get to grow your aquatic plants emersed in hanging planters, which means they grow much faster. Not only that, but aquatic plants often have very different forms when grown emersed, which means you often get completely different leaf shapes, growth patterns, and even flowers!

The best part: you can still keep fish and use your normal aquarium equipment. You can even still grow plants submerged. CO2 isn't needed either, since there's plenty of it in the atmosphere. You can also keep new animals, like freshwater crabs, amphibians, and reptiles.

You'll need some additional hardware to pot and hang the plants, but that's it. If I had an extra tank and wasn't moving in a few months, I'd definitely try this out. If you'd like to give it a whirl, check out Hydrphyte's blog for more information and updates. You can also buy some riparium hardware from the Riparium Supply store.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Radek Baszak's "Up the Scarp"

A few days late due to vacation, but better late than never! This little aquascape is so visually interesting. Radek Baszak has done a wonderful job selecting and arranging plants with contrasting textures to create lots of interest, as well as that awesome rock formation. I don't know if it was many hours of teaching the fish to "stay!" or just waiting for them to be in the right place at the right time, but they are perfectly posed as well. For more information on this tank, Mr. Baszak, and the rest of his tanks, take a look around his website.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Aquascaping Answers: El Natural

Each week in Aquascaping Answers, I do my best answering your aquascaping and aquascaping related questions. Just leave your question in the comments section!

Well, this is the long overdue Aquascaping Answers that I've been too busy to write for a while now. Sorry if you left a question and were disappointed, I've copied them down and will try to get to them all eventually!

Unfortunately I have decided that I shouldn't spend a whole lot of money right now, and I don't think I will be able to handle dosing fertilizers every day or every other day (I'll forget...). But, there's hope! An El Naturale tank. I know that they typically use no filters, but I have already purchased my Eheim Classic 2215. My sense tells me that I could still set up an El Naturale tank, but I may have to dose Nitrogen (which is easier and cheaper than everything else in addition!), to replace the ammonia which the bacteria would be eliminating. My setup would be a 46 gallon bow-front with a DIY 96 watt PC fixture (about 2 watts/gallon) with the Eheim 2215 and a soil substrate... Is this feasible? Would I have to dose Nitrogen? How heavy should my fish-load be? Thanks for helping me get started in the planted tank niche with a beautiful tank!!

I would become fully familiar with the differences between an El Natural tank and a higher-tech Dutch or Nature Aquarium aquascape. They're very different styles, in almost every way. If you'd like to grow fast growing, high light plants, I wouldn't settle for an El Natural. On the other hand, if you are perfectly content having a "set it and forget it" tank that you can pay attention to whenever you have a spare minute every couple weeks or so, and that won't necessarily rival Amano's tanks, El Natural may be right for you. Pick which ever one you think you would enjoy more.

If you are only worried about dosing and remembering to dose fertilizers, build a simple and cheap DIY fertilizer auto-doser. It doesn't cost more than $30-$50 and you'll never have to worry about forgetting a dose again, except that is till it runs out of mix (no wonder my algae was coming back with a vengance!).

For details on an El Natural and whether or not you should dose nitrogen (I highly doubt you'd need to) I'd suggest buying Diana Walstad's book or checking out the El Natural forums on Aquatic Plant Central. The rest of the tank specs sound fine, and I'd stock it only slightly heavier than a normal tank.

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.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Renaud's ADA 2008 Layout

This week's aquascape is a really fantastic layout from the 2008 IAPLC (ADA) contest, where it ranked 176th. The "canopy" of plants is just amazing and must have been quite hard to accomplish, but it is certainly stunning. Combined with a unique orange sunset-like background, the green of the Hemianthus micranthemoides in the canopy really stands out and is just fantastic.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Norbert Sabat's 2008 ADA Layout

This aquascape is Norbert Sabat's entry to the 2008 IAPLC (ADA) Contest, with which he ranked 145th. I love the open grassy feel of the entire aquascape, with great use of different grassy plants. I like the overall "mound" shape too. I think the only thing I'd change is the driftwood on the left side; maybe a less "heavy" piece would be a little less distracting. Find out more about this tank here, and more about Norbert Sabat in this interview.

Monday, March 23, 2009

IAPLC Nature Aquarium Photography Lesson

The International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest website has just posted a great lesson on how to take contest-quality photos of your aquarium. There are some great tips on how to use a basic point and shoot digital camera for photos, as well as more complex SLR cameras. Applications to the contest, which is the largest and most prestigious in the world, are now open, so get your camera tripod set up and get to work!

Aquascape of the Week: Reca's "O Fogar da Ayama"

When I saw this aquascape over on the Aquascaping World forums this morning, I knew it had to be the Aquascape of the Week. It's a veritable wall of green, but Reca has skillfully used different leaf shapes and textures to break up the monotony. Nothing jumps out at you, there are no bright red plants, but it's infinitely deep. It's one of those aquascapes that you need to look at for a long time to take it all in, there's just so much interesting stuff going on! Nice job Reca! You can find his blog here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

iPhone and iPod Touch Apps for Planted Tanks

As an owner of an iPhone, I decided after seeing rumors of a Seachem application to search around for cool applications that may benefit planted tank owners. There aren't many, but they are pretty cool, and most are even free. I picked out the two most useful I could find here.

Dose - Free

This handy app is meant to be used with Seachem's products, and can help you out with a wide range of calculations. It's got 3 main options, Reef, Plant, and Gravel. Reef and Plant both deal with dosing for these types of tanks. Gravel will tell you how many bags of a Seachem substrate you'll need to fill your aquarium to a certain depth given the width and length (which is really cool, though maybe only a one time use tool).

The plant section in particular will tell you how much of each Seachem product you need to add to achieve a desired amount in your aquarium. Although only really helpful if you are using Seachem products to dose, I know a lot of people do, so this can be very helpful.

AquaNotes - Free

This one is really cool, and if you have a Neptune Systems AquaController III and the AquaNotes software (you can buy them over at MarineDepot), you can monitor and control your aquarium remotely from your iPhone. You can see temperature, pH, and a whole host of other measurements. You can also remotely turn on or off your CO2, lights, or almost anything else connected to your aquarium. This would be really helpful for going on vacation to keep an eye on your tank so you don't come back to an algae-ridden mess, or worse, a dead tank. Although the application is free, the AquaController III and AquaNotes software will run you about $375.

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