Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Aquascaping Answers: Water Softners

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 I didn't get any questions on last week's post (which was pretty big anyway!) so I'm going to dig up a question that I got in my email for this week:

How do you avoid a temperature change when doing the water change? I can't use tap water because we have a water softener. I can use the outside faucets, because they aren't on the softener, but then I can't control the temperature. This is an 80-gallon tank, so that's too much water to heat on the stove.

If you can't use your tap water (which I'll touch on later), the only other way is by investing in some big containers that you can fill up via the outside taps and leave inside so they warm up to room temperature (which should be somewhat close to your tank temperature). You may have to leave them overnight. You can also throw an old aquarium heater and a power head into them to speed up the process if you have an extra.

This sounds like it may be a lot of hassle to do weekly though, so I'd test your tap water and see what it looks like. You may be able to use your tap water after all. Well water and water in rivers and streams contains magnesium and calcium. A water softner just swaps out magnesium and calcium for sodium. Test pH, GH, and KH and see if it's within limits or at all similar to your tank water. I'm guessing the tank was originally filled up via the outside taps? If the water in the tank is much harder, and the tap water is softer, but within reasonable limits, I'd simply do a series of small water changes with tap water, maybe a few gallons a week, to acclimatize the fish and plants to the new tap water. Keep testing and once your tank water is about the same as your tap water, you should be ready to start doing water changes from the tap.

In the end, it's much easier to acclimatize your fish to your water chemistry than the other way around. Most fish and plants will do fine in stable water conditions, no matter if they are hard or soft. The key is to minimize large changes. 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, February 23, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Renee So's "Morning Glory"

This tank won second place in the small tank category last year in the AGA aquascaping contest and I just love how Renee has used moss to create such a unique aquascape. The moss shapes remind me of trees or perhaps even giant mushrooms. Check out more images and details of the tank at the AGA site.

Friday, February 20, 2009

UK to get Sustainably Harvested Aquarium Fish


Going along with our recent post on how you can "green" up your planted aquarium, according to Practical Fishkeeping, you will soon be able to purchase sustainably harvested aquarium fish in the UK. Called Project Mamiraua and based in Brazil, the project aims to "ensure the long-term protection of fish diversity within the reserve by encouraging the local communities to act as 'custodians of the forest'."

I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more of sustainably harvested fish in the future, since many developing countries have realized that over harvesting fisheries, which causes them to collapse, basically wipes out an important source of income. Take the Galaxy Rasbora for example. Paying a little extra for fish wouldn't really bother me either if I knew they were sustainably caught. What about you? Would you pay a little extra for sustainably caught wild fish?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Aquascaping Answers: Surface Film and CO2 Safety

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

Lots of good questions this week, so I'll jump right in:

I have seen a CO2 test by tetra in a LFS, I have also read its possible to measure CO2 with PH and hardness. What is the best and more accurate way of testing CO2?

You're right, you can get a general idea of CO2 levels from pH and KH (carbonate hardness). However this method is rough at best, since it assumes that there are no other acids or bases present in the aquarium. The most accurate way of testing CO2 levels that I have found is to use a drop checker. These are tiny glass or plastic tools that stick onto the aquarium wall and have a pocket of air separating a reagent from the aquarium water. The CO2 in the aquarium water travels through the air pocket and causes the reagent to change colors depending on the amount of CO2 present. These are generally fairly easy to make yourself, since the reagent is simply a fixed KH 4 and pH test solution mixed together, or you can buy a nice looking glass one for under $15. The only drawback of these is that they can be somewhat slow to react since the CO2 has to travel across the air pocket and into the reagent. But they are by far the most accurate method.

I have a 5lb CO2 tank. Do I need to take any safety precautions? I read the MHDS and it says that the space should be well ventilated. That is tough. What do you do? Would a carbon monoxide detector pick up CO2 before I suffocate?

If you can, I would follow the MHDS recommendations by all means. However, "well ventilated" can be a window or door to the outside. We all breathe out CO2 (and back in again) and it's present in the atmosphere, so unless your CO2 tank is in a small sealed area and your system is leaking drastically I don't think it should be too much of a problem (on a 0-4 scale it's listed as a "1 - Slight hazard"). The issue arises in a sealed or nearly sealed area where the CO2 levels can rise so far that it limits the amount of CO2 your body can get rid of. This is exactly the same thing that happens to fish when CO2 is too high. You would (like the fish) probably notice something was wrong (rapid breathing, headache). I don't think a carbon monoxide detector will detect CO2 though.

I think a more important safety measure is to make sure the tank is secure at all times with a chain or rope so it cannot tip over (causing liquid CO2 to enter the regulator and explosively decompress). This especially goes for transporting it. I've heard many stories of driving with a CO2 container not properly secured that hits something and opens the valve, instantly flooding the car with CO2. Or, even worse, if it falls over and hits something, breaking the valve off, it could become a very, very dangerous gas-propelled missile. Just be safe and realize you are dealing with a highly compressed gas in a pressurized container.

My 100ltr planted Cube has developed a surface film of algae, I tried the usual paper towel trick which does lift it but its back in an hour or so. I don't want to agitate the surface obviously but what else will work? I did introduce a new food recently so I'll stop that first. Any other suggestions?

This surface film is a build up of organic waste and proteins. I'd try reducing the amount of food you feed your fish if it's thick enough to bother you. Usually, it's just a slight film, but in bad cases it can get thick and may pose a risk to your fish since it can prevent gas exchange. The only way to get rid of it is to use a paper towel (like you've been doing) or to change your filtration so it agitates the water slightly (but not enough to waste all your CO2). One of the most effective tools to do this with is the ADA Lily Pipes. They are shaped to create a tiny vortex which sucks the surface scum off the surface. A similar effect can sometimes be achieved by placing a powerful outflow just beneath the surface far enough to eliminate ripples (or aimed slightly downwards to achieve the same thing). 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, February 16, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: ADA Tank

This week's aquascape is one of Takashi Amano's ADA tanks. The grassy, overgrown look in this tank is great and it really softens up the hardscape too. It's very simple, just some dwarf hair grass and some java ferns, but you hardly even notice. The school of perfectly posed fish finish off a wonderful aquascape. You can find more of the ADA tanks here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Aquascaping Answers: Plant Nibblers


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

Only one question from last week, and this one took a little research, so sorry about the delay! Be sure to leave your questions in the comments for me to answer next week.

I was thinking of setting up a planted tank for Spotted Headstanders. How could I help prevent them eating the plants, and what plants should I use? I want to create a jungle which is good looking and can grow back as fast as a Headstander could eat it.


I actually had to do a bit of research on Spotted Headstanders, as I hadn't heard of them until now. Apparently, they are vegetarians, snacking on algae and occasionally plants. Putting a fish in with a planted aquarium that likes to eat plants is asking for trouble, but you can minimize the damage to plants by following a few simple steps. First, choose hardy plants that fish don't normally eat. These include Java Ferns, Crypts, Anubias, and Bolbitis Ferns. They have tough leaves that can usually stand up to all but the most vicious plant eaters. You can also try very very fast growing plants, like Hygrophila polysperma, but you'll have to put a large amount in at first so the plant can "outgrow" the regular snacking. These plants also may end up looking rather tattered and beaten up with regular attacks, so that may not be desireable. Second, keep your vegetarian fish fed well. This means both conventional fish food and vegetable snacks, such as blanched zucchini or lettuce. If you keep them well fed, they will be far less likely to snack on your plants. Finally, make sure your plants have every opportunity to grow and recover quickly from any damage they recieve. If your plants are not healthy to begin with, adding a plant eating fish into the mix just compounds the issue. 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, February 09, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Foofooree's ADA Cube Garden

Yes, it's small. But this great little nano tank by Foofooree over at Aquatic Plant Central is packed with life. It's just so green. And I love the clean look of the rimless ADA tank. It barely even looks like there is a tank. Check out the full thread for a whole host of other aquascapes this tank has gone through.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Top Common CO2 Drainers in the Aquarium


So you've got your CO2 system all set up, whether it's DIY yeast powered, or pressurized, and you've even got your CO2 diffusing method set up and working great. But something's wrong. Your plants aren't growing faster, the algae is still there, and your pH isn't dropping. You check and double check your equipment and make sure there are no leaks anywhere and that CO2 is flowing fine. Chances are, all that CO2 you're pumping into your aquarium is being vented off into the atmosphere. What's the culprit? Here are the most common causes:

  1. Hang-on-back (HOB) Filters - There's a reason these filters aren't used often with high tech planted aquariums. All that water agitation involved with sucking it up and then churning it through filter media and dumping it back into the tank is sure to vent most if not all of your CO2. Try a canister or internal filter instead.
  2. Airstones - There should be no reason to have an airstone in your planted tank. The plants take care of providing any oxygen needed for fish. Using one with a high tech planted tank is sure to lower your CO2 levels. Unless this is intended (i.e. as an emergency measure when CO2 gets too high), take out the airstone! This also goes for all air pump powered figurines, etc. But if you're reading this blog you probably threw those out years ago anyway. If you haven't yet, please do, before you give Takashi Amano a heart attack!
  3. Powerhead/filter outlets - If you place powerheads or filter outlets too close to the surface of the water, they'll create turbulence which will vent CO2. Place all spraybars, filter outlets, and powerhead outlets a safe distance under the surface so you don't see too many ripples (if any at all).
It all boils down to minimizing the disturbance to the water's surface. Any excess ripples or splashing and all that precious CO2 will go up in...well, gas.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Aquascaping Answers: CFL Wattage


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

Only one question left over from last week, which I missed due to being sick. Make sure to leave me some more questions in the comments for next week!

Just one last question on using CF screw in type light bulbs - on the packaging, they give two wattage ratings, the actual usage and the equivalent incandescent wattage. Which one do I refer to? I don't want so much wattage in my little 29G tank that I have uncontrollable algae blooms!

This is confusing and is really misleading. The actual usage is the one you are interested in. You can basically throw out the "incandescent equivalent" numbers because they are meaningless. For a 29 gallon tank, I'd stick with between 60 and 100 watts of light (2-3 watts per gallon). Screw in CFL bulbs are not quite as efficient as long CLF bulbs, so take the wattage numbers with a grain of salt. They also create quite a bit of heat at higher wattages so be sure they are well ventilated. Excessive heat will shorten the bulb life.

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, February 02, 2009

Aquascape of the Week: Zeneo's "A New World"


First of all, my apologies for being silent last week. I was at home sick with the flu. I missed an Aquascaping Answers post Wednesday, so all questions from last week will carry over to this week's post on Wednesday.

With that out of the way, here's this week's aquascape. It's strikingly controlled and organized but it has a simple beauty to it. I love how everything has been kept low and close to the rocks, and how leaf size and texture has been used to bring out focal points. The natural "curve" the hardscape and plants create is also soothing. For more information, including specs and plants, check out the gallery.

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