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.

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