Monday, January 26, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Desperator's "Carnival in Vietnam"

Continuing the recent theme of brightly colored Dutch style aquascapes (I swear it's the dreary New England weather getting to me), this week's "Carnival in Vietnam" is aptly named. The collection of colors and leaf shapes and sizes just works so well together. Definitely check out the other pictures of this aquascape over on Aquascaping World.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Green Aquascaping

Recent articles in the Guardian and Practical Fishkeeping on the environmental impact of keeping fish as a hobby highlight an important issue. Keeping fish may be doing a lot of environmental harm. But there are some ways to mitigate the environmental impact.

Inspired by these articles, I began to think of ways the average aquascaper could make important changes to be more green. Several popped up immediately:

  • Buy fish and plants locally through other hobbyists. - This helps eliminate shipping species across the globe, and reduces the demand for aqua-culture facilities, adding to pollution. Your selection may be more limited, but often times you'll find species you may have never found in a store.
  • Reduce the energy consumption of your lights. - This can be difficult, but if possible, reduce the length or intensity of your photoperiod. Opt for less light demanding and maintenance intensive plants. Or, switch to more efficient lights. LEDs are much more energy efficient and are just emerging as a viable alternative. Also, remember that in general, the smaller diameter the fluourescent tube, the more efficient it is.
  • Reduce the energy consumption of your heater. - Turning your heater down a few degrees can save a bunch of money, and as long as your fish can tolerate the cooler temperatures, is great for the environment. Just be sure to do this gradually at no more than a degree a day to prevent stressing the fish. Locating your fish tank away from windows or drafty areas can also substantially reduce the amount of energy your heater consumes.
  • Reduce the energy consumption of your filters and pumps. - Lighting and heaters are often the largest consumers, but pumps run continuously so these must also be energy efficient. Buying an energy efficient filter should be a top priority. Eheim pumps often use 1/2 the energy of other pumps and filters, making them a truly green alternative!
  • Make/grow your own fish food. - Processing and shipping fish food can use a lot of energy, so making your own, or growing a live food source is both cost effective and better for the environment. Live food sources often replenish themselves as well!
  • Compost any plant trimmings you don't replant. - Instead of creating extra trash and having them hauled off to the landfill, compost trimmings to create potting soil.
  • Buy dry fertilizers in bulk. - Shipping around all that water weight takes energy, so buying dry fertilizer powders and mixing them at home is cheaper and better for the environment.
  • Turn down your CO2 injection. - I know, this can be scary and contrary to popular opinion, but there's only so much CO2 your plants can use. Back off on your CO2 injection (if you have it) until you notice signs of algae or slow growth. Also, make sure your diffusion methods are efficient to ensure as little as possible of the CO2 is escaping into the atmosphere.
Following some or all of these simple tips will help reduce your energy consumption and help to both save you money and reduce the overall environmental impact of your aquariums.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Aquascaping Answers: Cheap Lighting

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

Some more good questions this week, so I'll dive right in:

What about a post for beginners trying to find an affordable way to light their planted tank? Lights can be rather expensive and all the options are daunting. Can screw-in type compact fluorescent bulbs be used?

Yes. It's not quite as efficient as compact-fluorescent tubes, but it will work, and can be much cheaper. Just make sure to get the right spectrum light bulbs!

What fishes (or other organisms) can be beneficial to your tank and what fishes should you try to avoid? (for example what fishes will eat the leaves, root up the plants or pollute the water?)

There are many fish that don't really work well with planted tanks. For starters, there are fish who eat plants in the wild and should not be kept with them unless you want your plants all torn up. Some of these include Silver Dollars, some loaches, Rummynose tetras, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a bunch. Also, most cichlids and goldfish cannot be kept with plants except maybe the hardiest plants (anubias, java fern) since they will rip up/eat most plants. I'll try to come up with a comprehensive list in a new post!

What about an article on using Leaf Litter in Aquascaping? Or, aquascaping a Coldwater aquarium?

These are great ideas. The principles would probably stay the same as aquascaping a regular planted aquarium, however, you'd have to select species of plants that would grow well, or aquascape without plants at all (it can be done!).

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, January 19, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Jacek Debski's Moss Tank

Hope everyone had a good weekend! This week's aquascape is a special one, since it's primarily a moss aquascape. All different types of aquatic moss come together to make a very unique looking tank, and by incorporating driftwood branches, it looks like an overgrown forest. I've always wanted to start a moss only aquascape, and this aquascape is the main reason! For more information on this tank, see this thread (in Polish).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Creating a DIY Fertilizer Auto Dosing System

I always thought creating your own DIY system to auto-dose fertilizers would be complicated and expensive. Turns out, it's not at all. The best part is, my aquarium has been doing so much better since I added this system, mainly because I don't forget to add fertilizers anymore! Total cost of this system is about $30-50 and an hour or two. It's a perfect weekend project! Here's what you will need:
  • A plastic container, clear. I used a "dry-goods" container, but any container that holds liquid and is large enough will work.
  • A powerhead or pump. This should be small enough to fit inside the container you've got but also strong enough to pump liquid into your tank (especially if you will be storing the fertilizer tank under the aquarium as I did). It also should have an intake on the bottom.
  • Tubing to fit your powerhead outlet. Only a small length is needed, a few inches max.
  • Airline tubing.
  • A plastic dropper (as found in Seachem liquid fertilizers).
  • A digital timer, or any timer with the ability to be set to 1 minute intervals.
First, start by modifying your powerhead. Attach the tubing from the outlet of the powerhead to the modified dropper. The dropper I've used fits perfectly over the tubing once the large end is cut off and creates and "adapter" from the large tubing to the airline tubing. I used a clamp here to prevent the tubing from coming loose from the powerhead, but it's probably not necessary. This step may take some fiddling around to find the right diameter tubing, but it should be relatively standard (I believe I used 1/2 inch tubing). Forgive the "stripes" (dried fertilizer solution) on my powerhead in the photo, it's been in use for a few months now!

Then, hook everything up (airline tubing to dropper-adapter), place the powerhead inside the plastic container and fill it with plain, de-chlorinated water. Set it up exactly as you would if you had put fertilizers in it. Make sure the airline tubing opening sits above the water line in your tank or you may unintentionally start a siphon and have a big mess! Alternatively, you can use an in-line check valve, however, my powerhead wasn't powerful enough to push the fluid past it and all the way up to the top of the tank.

Most timers have a manual override which we'll now use to simulate a minute run. Plug your powerhead into the timer. Just watch a clock and run the pump for a minute on and then turn it off. Mark the side of the container with a line. This indicates 1 dose. Keep doing this until the container is empty or nearly empty. This is the most tedious step and requires the most attention, since the more accurate your measurements are, the more accurate your dosing will be.

Now count how many doses you have and this is how many days you can run your auto doser before having to refill it. Mine ended up being about 28 days worth. Then, just use this number of days to calculate how much fertilizers you would dose in the same period, and add it to the container. Do not add phosphorous to the mixture if you are adding any type of iron fertlizer! This is because they will react. So I just dose nitrogen, potassium, trace elements (including iron), and Flourish Excel in the auto doser, and phosphorous separately. Add de-chlorinated water, mix it up a bit, and hook everything up again and you're good to go! Set your timer "on" time for 1 minute before the "off" time. Doesn't matter what time of day, though most people will tell you that right before "lights on" is best. Every day, the timer will turn on for 1 minute and dose 1 days worth of fertilizers to the tank. Just remember to check on it now and then to make sure everything is working as intended.

This is probably the best DIY project I've ever done in terms of impact. Makes keeping a high tech aquarium so much easier!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Aquascaping Answers: Algae Free

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

This week's questions both deal with common misconceptions. The first is probably going to be a bit of a let down, but at least you know you aren't doing anything wrong!

When you're working with CO2 setups with proper fertilizer dosing, can you eliminate algae? When I see pictures, I never even seen specs of green dust algae on the glass. Is this because of the good tank balance or are people putting their best foot forward and cleaning up the tank prior to photo shoots?

When you see pictures of an aquascape online for a competition or just for show, most of the time you won't see any algae at all. This is achieved through proper fertilizer dosing and lighting, but also via manual removal and maintenance before the photo is taken. It is almost impossible to create an aquarium setup without algae. Algae is natural will always be present. Dosing correctly and keeping your tank in "balance" will keep algae in check and minimize (but not eliminate) it. Often, manual algae removal is required as that last extra step to make a balanced tank really sparkle. I don't know anyone who doesn't scrape down the glass now and then. It's just a part of keeping a planted aquarium. Keeping a well balanced aquarium just means you have to do it much less often.

Could you post some more info on stocking Planted Tanks? Like, not recommended fish/algae eaters, but post what bio-load of fish Planted tank are good with?

There are many differing opinions on stocking levels for aquariums, it's best to do, but the general rule of thumb is about 1 gallon for every 1 inch of fish. Some fish are dirtier than others though, so you'll have to adjust this slightly. Also, remember to determine the gallons per fish based on the full size of the fish, not what size it is now! For planted tanks, this rule relaxes, but only slightly. I wouldn't push it much beyond this stocking limit, even with lots of plants. So if you have 25 inches of fish to house, I wouldn't try to cram that in anything smaller than a 20 gallon with lots of plants.

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, January 12, 2009

Guest Post: The Reef Tank

I've written a simple aquascaping basics guest post over on The Reef Tank. It's designed to translate the basic aquascaping principles for planted tanks to reef tanks and try to move away from the "candy stand" look, so it may not be of much use for most of you, but the rest of the blog is worth checking out if you dabble in salt-water aquariums as well!

Aquascape of the Week: Roy Deki's 46 Gallon

Along the same lines of last week's aquascape, Roy Deki's 46 gallon tank is bursting with life. He's managed to pack many different types of plants together in a Dutch style, and each and every plant just seems so healthy. To be able to mix fast growing stem plants with mosses and crypts and anubias and not have the slower growers consumed by algae is particularly difficult (as I'm finding out first hand!). For more pictures and info on Roy's tank, check out his entry to the 2004 AquaBotanic Contest.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Aquascaping Answers: Negative Space as a Focal Point

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

Since I was away for the holidays the past two weeks, we only have one question this week, but it's a good one:

Can negative space be an effective focal point in an aquascape? What about driftwood - not the plants attached to the driftwood, but the driftwood itself (e.g., if you had an interestingly knarled piece)?

Yes, negative space can be a focal point in an aquascape, but it is difficult to do correctly. This is due to the fact the the focal point must stand out in some way and be different than its surroundings. So in order for negative space to be an effective focal point, the space must be surrounded by plants and hardscape. One way of doing this is creating a "trail" type aquascape, where there is a small trail through a dense thicket of plants. Here, the open space of the trail can be the focal point.

Driftwood can also be used as a focal point. Again, it's more difficult to do, but in this past year's ADA Aquatic Plant Layout contest, the fourth place aquascape does it well (see the picture above). You can tell the aquascaper went to great lengths to make sure the driftwood wasn't too overwhelming with moss and the use of light. Often, using driftwood as a focal point is done when recreating a scene similar to a submerged forest or a dense jungle.

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, January 05, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Oliver Knott's "Resting Place"

Truth be told, Oliver Knott is the one who got me into aquascaping. I saw pictures of his aquascapes and was just mesmerized by the textures, colors, and vibrant life they exuded. This aquascape is no exception. Although a bit overgrown by strict standards, it works well here, and the overall effect is stunning. The tank literally seems to explode with life. For more of Oliver's awesome aquascapes, visit his Pbase site.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Video: How to Set Up a Pressurized CO2 System

Setting up a pressurized CO2 system for the first time can be a bit daunting. For any of you that were lucky enough to get a pressurized CO2 system for the holidays, I came across this excellent video on how to set up a pressurized CO2 system from Green Leaf Aquariums which goes through all the basic steps. Although regulators may vary, the basic steps in the video will be the same for most systems (for example, not all regulators need the working pressure adjusted). Just be sure not to screw on the bubble counter cap too tightly, or you may crack the plastic (as I did, and woke up to a puddle on the floor under the tank!).

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