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An Indoor Saltwater Pond

A unique aquascape created by Jeff Turner of Reef Aquaria Design.

Jeff Turner, the owner of Reef Aquaria Design, is known for creating stunning aquascapes such as the custom 250-gallon living coral reef aquarium he is working on for Adventures in Aquascaping. The S-curve of the aquarium makes it look particularly impressive.

But that is not the only unique setup Jeff has created. In a home in Florida, Jeff created an indoor saltwater pond. This pond has many of the features of a typical reef aquarium—caves made out of live rock, a plethora of reef fish and corals, a sandy substrate, etc. What makes it special is the fact that it can be viewed from above and at all angles. There are red and yellow sponges in the pond, which look even better when viewed from above.  It also has mangrove trees that are just starting to grow in their new environment.

What new setups would you like to try at home?

This video was provided by: Jeff Turner of Reef Aquaria Design,  Coconut Creek, Florida.

Posted February 15th, 2011.

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Snail Control in the Planted Tank

By Mark Denaro

I’d rather spend time enjoying my tanks than cleaning them, so it is important to have an efficient crew of workers in each tank.  For planted tanks, I need a crew that will take care of any algae growth and something to ensure that the snail population doesn’t explode.

Keeping a cleanup crew in a planted tank make the aquarist's job easier.

A lot of folks like to use snails for algae control but I’m just not in that habit.  Ramshorn and pond snails can breed at tremendous rates and mystery snails can eat leaves, so I gravitated to using various loricariid catfish for algae control.  Since pond and ramshorn snails tend to travel on Florida-grown plants, their introduction to a planted tank is almost inevitable.  In response, I also developed the habit of adding some type of botia loach that would eat the snails to every tank to keep them in check.

It should be noted that I’m using the term “botia” to represent the group.  Many of the fish that were classified in the genus Botia 20 years ago have since been moved into new genera, as the various subgenera have been raised to genus level.

I always try to size the botia to the tank.  While clown loaches are still the most popular of the botias, they’re not always the best choice for planted tanks.  They get rather large (up to 24 inches) and they can easily uproot plants as they grow.  As a consequence, I’ve tended to use some of the smaller species over the years and the yoyo loach  B. lohachata has become my favorite of that group.  It is attractive and particularly good at snail control,  but it grows to 5 inches so it’s still a little large for a lot of tanks.

As times and the availability of species changed over the years, I started adding Amano shrimp Caridinia japonica into my worker mix.  Unfortunately, many of the loaches would consider shrimp to be part of their diet, so adding the Amanos complicates the selection of a botia

Fortunately, dwarf botias Yasuhikotakia (Botia) sidthimunki, have become available in the aquarium trade again after a long absence.  This beautiful species is one of the best botias for planted aquariums.  It is a peaceful, active, diurnal species, so it has a big advantage over many of the other botias which are primarily nocturnal.  Y. sidthimunki grows to approximately 2 inches in length and consequently won’t uproot plants or pose any threat to adult shrimp.

The dwarf loach Yasuhikotakia sidthimunki tends not to bother shrimp.

Because the Amano shrimp larvae require a marine phase, their successful reproduction is not going to take place in a planted aquarium and we don’t have to worry about the dwarf loaches eating young shrimp. If you are using red crystal shrimp or any of the other species that reproduce in freshwater and want them to reproduce in your tank, you may not want to add any type of botia.

Amano shrimp consume algae and cannot reproduce successfully in freshwater, so their population will not go out of control.

Recent years have also seen the introduction of a number of interesting snails to the hobby.  Of particular interest to planted tank enthusiasts are the various members of the genus Neritina that can live in freshwater.  Similar to the Amano shrimp, these species require brackish or marine water for proper larval development and consequently cannot reproduce in the freshwater aquarium.  That fact, combined with their appetite for algae, makes them wonderful species to use as workers in planted tanks.  The botias will attack them in the same way that they will attack less desirable species, though, and this can present a challenge for the hobbyist.

If you want to use nerites but don’t want to risk population explosions of other snail species, it is important to treat every plant that goes into the tank with aluminum sulphate, potassium permanganate, or some other chemical that will kill not only snails but snail eggs that may be attached to the plants.  The aquarist must also remain ever vigilant in case any snails survive this process.  Any other snail species must be removed from the tank as soon as the hobbyist realizes that they are present.

Posted July 16th, 2010.


Keeping the Tank Looking Nice

By Mark Denaro

The tank I had available to use for this aquascape was a 65 that had originally been set up as a marine tank.  It had a really old metal halide bulb for lighting.  So, I drained the tank with the intention of setting it right back up.  Well, right about that time we got hit with bad weather so the two 100 pound bags of gravel that were sitting on my porch were suddenly inaccessible.  I had to wait for the snow to melt before I could set the tank up.

The 65-gallon Leiden-style tank in progress.

Unfortunately, I had already taken the driftwood out of another tank for use in this aquascape.  It was an old piece that was fully waterlogged so I removed the suction cups.  I thought that it would be okay to let it sit for a little while, figuring that in the worst case scenario I could weigh it down with a rock for a couple of days and then it would be fine.  Well, that was a mistake.  It was more like a couple of weeks before I was able to get the tank set up and by that time the wood was pretty dry and rather buoyant.  I was still able to hold it down with a rock but the rock will be needed for a lot longer than I had intended.  In fact, when I submitted the first pics of the tank to TFH, I got an email back asking about the rock and why I didn’t include any information about it in the article so I had to take the wood out and reshoot the pics.  As time has passed, the wood is pretty close to staying down on its own.

Another issue that I had to deal with this time was lighting.  I left the halide on thinking that it would be the best way to really boost growth in order to get the tank looking the way I wanted it to as quickly as possible due to the time constraints in getting the pictures taken for the article series.  I also left it on 24/7 for the first week.  As I said before, it was an old bulb and the spectral output was no longer what it should be so it encouraged a lot of algal growth both on the glass and on the plants.  That’s something I almost never experience so it was pretty frustrating.  If you look at pics of the tank, you can see the algae on the side glass and particularly on the leaves of the Saururus cernuus.  Another drawback to the halide is that I didn’t like the colors in the tank when I shot pics.  So, the lighting was changed to T5s that were discussed in Part 3.  That improved the look of the tank and the quality of the pictures.

A bit of algae growing on the avenue plant.

Plant growth has generally been very good, and the Gymnocoronis in particular is growing like a weed, and will grow out of the water within a couple of days of pruning.  The E. tenellus is also spreading quite well.  Surprisingly, the val pretty much went to mush so it looks like there is a hole in the aquascape right now.  That is rare but does happen occasionally.  It is coming back with a vengeance, though, so hopefully it will fill in the right rear corner by the time I have to shoot pics for the last installment of this series.  I wasn’t able to get as much Marsilea crenata as I wanted for the foreground so I may switch that out for another species in order to get that space filled in more quickly.  Even if I do that, I will still leave the Marsilea there as that really is the species that I want to have there for the long term.

Posted June 9th, 2010.

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Why Leiden Style?

By Mark Denaro

When I was asked to write a brief series of articles for the Adventures In Aquascaping column, I immediately knew that I wanted to create a Leiden style aquarium.  I have always found these tanks to be the most esthetically appealing planted aquariums and find it unfortunate that they have fallen somewhat out of favor with aquarists in the US.  Actually, I’m not sure that they’ve really fallen out of favor so much as gone unknown by folks who have entered the hobby in the last 12-15 years, as the Nature Aquarium designs have become so popular.

Although this tank has a heavy bioload, the plants act as natural filters that help keep the water quality high.

My approach to planted tanks has always been that of a fishkeeper rather than a planted tank purist.  While I believe that it is critical to the tank’s success to create a great aquascape with the plants along with driftwood and rocks, I always want to keep a full complement of fish as well.  As an example, I’ll tell you a bit about the tank pictured in the May issue, which had been set up for about 2 years when the picture was taken.

It is a 75-gallon acrylic tank (60 x 18 x 16 inches) that was lit by a 40 watt 10000K bulb, a 40 watt actinic bulb, four 27 watt 6700K CF bulbs, and 2 55 watt 10000K CF bulbs.  Obviously, that is a lot of light, especially for a tank that is only 16 inches tall.  The Egeria najas in that tank grew a minimum of 4 inches a day so the tank required pruning at least every other day.  The fitration was accomplished via an internal power filter that turned approximately 160 gallons per hour.

The fish community included large schools of cardinal tetras and narrow wedge rasboras Trigonostigma espei and smaller schools of marble hatchets, red phantom tetras, and checkerboard barbs.  There were also four marble angels, a pair of kribensis, three L177 plecos, two whiptails, and two farlowellas and I’m probably forgetting something.  All in all, there were approximately 125 fish in the tank.  In addition to the fish, there were about 30 Amano shrimp in the tank.  Now, that’s a very heavy bioload and a very small filter.  The key to making it work is the tremendous growth rate of the plants (the plants are the primary filter) combined with extremely careful feeding.

A tank set up at that stocking level is definitely not suitable for the beginning or intermediate hobbyist.  I’d been keeping planted tanks for around 25 years when I set that one up.  A few other things you should know about that tank are that it had laterite mixed with the gravel and that liquid plant fertilizers were added daily and plant tablets were added regularly.  I was living in Dayton at that time and the tank was set up with Dayton tap water, which is essentially liquid rock with a pH of around 8.4 and very high hardness.  CO2 was never used in that tank.  The hard water really adds a lot of minerals that the plants can utilize and makes a big difference.  There are very few plants that will not do well in hard water.  Just because a plant has evolved and grows in soft water doesn’t mean that it can’t take advantage of the extra minerals in harder water.  I did not use a substrate heater in that tank as the gravel was not deeper than 2 inches in any area so I didn’t think I needed one to keep it from going anaerobic.

Posted April 7th, 2010.

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The Finished Aquascape

We would like to thank Robert Hudson for his great advice and the impressive 15-gallon shrimp tank he has created. As he said in the beginning, this is the perfect type of tank for those of you who have a smaller space or just want to experience keeping freshwater invertebrates. It is also a good tank for beginners who are hoping to start small but get all the good looks of a larger tank.

The finished 15-gallon shrimp tank.

Next month please join us as our newest adventurer, Mark Denaro, owner of Anubias Design, embarks on his own quest to create a 65-gallon Dutch-style tank!

Posted February 24th, 2010.


The Shrimp Have Arrived

As time goes on, the plants are generally growing in nicely and beginning to fill out the aquascape. My water parameters have stabilized, and I feel the time has come to introduce the stars of the show.

Choosing the right shrimp for your tank is largely based on the water conditions that you have. For example, my water is on the softer, more acidic side and Caridina species do better with that type of water. Once I chose what shrimp to order I had to figure out how many of each should be purchased. Keep in mind that, when kept under optimal conditions, shrimp will reproduce prolifically so you do not want to order too many at the outset and wind up with an overcrowded tank in the near future (unless, of course, you want an excuse to get another tank!). My TFH March 2010 column has more information about how to select the right shrimp for your own aquascaping project as well as the shrimp I chose.

Given that I ordered them during the winter months—something you may not want to try depending on how cold it gets where you live—my first priority was to warm the shrimp up as soon as they arrived. Shrimp are known to be extremely sensitive animals and must be carefully acclimated before being transferred to different water conditions. Only after I allowed the shrimp to warm up did I begin the acclimation process, otherwise I would have run the risk of shocking the shrimp with too much change at once.

As I mentioned last time, shrimp are also very sensitive to nitrogenous wastes and dissolved organic compounds. Before I ordered them I did a major water change so the water would be as clean as possible for the shrimp. However, keep in mind that shrimp feed on the biofilm and algae present in a tank, so sterilizing the tank isn’t the idea.

Although the shrimp hid for a while when first introduced, a female eventually came out and posed right in front of my camera, which brings me to a side note. Originally I used a dark blue paper background that is made for use on aquaria, but I realized that it reflected light and images, and it had water marks on it. I decided to go to a fabric store and I bought the thickest, heaviest, solid black material I could find and had it cut to match the size of the paper background. Unfortunately, once I brought it home I discovered that there were a few small spots where the material was thinner and light could pass through. Using some leftover material I had, I made a second layer of the backdrop and used binder clips to attach it to the aquarium frame. Light is no longer reflected and photographing my new arrivals is much easier.

I have also had to start trimming some of the aquatic plants and I unfortunately lost my battle with the subwassertang. As soon as I get some new subwassertang in I will clean it as thoroughly as possible (I don’t want a repeat performance) and attach it to the driftwood. Remember, preparation, persistence and patience (plus a bit of luck) all help make the aquascape come together.

The aquascape in progress.

Posted January 21st, 2010.

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The Pests Invade

My shrimp tank is coming along well (though at this early stage it still doesn’t have any shrimp in it). Since the last installment I have set up my CO2 system, which has considerably improved the growth of the plants. The Anubias, in particular, has filled out considerably and I imagine it will be a favorite place for the shrimp, since its broad leaves will offer them a sense of security. Despite the Riccia exhibiting decent growth, it is not covering the steel mesh; in fact, none of the plants completely covered the rocks or wood they were attached to (not that I expected them to yet).

I have had some difficulty with various aquarium pests that experienced hobbyists likely know well: duckweed, bladderwort, and snails. Duckweed is an interesting “pest,” since some people choose to add it to their aquarium. It reproduces so prolifically that it can cover the entire surface of the water, blocking out light from the plants below. Every time I conduct a water change I simply skim off the duckweed to keep the amount of it in check, keeping in mind that some floating plants do help make the shrimp feel secure. With duckweed, balance is essential.

Bladderwort is a rather difficult pest to conquer, given its small size. I am still working on removing it, largely by physical removal whenever I see it. Stay tuned to my column to find out who wins—the bladderwort or the subwassertang.

Snails can be gotten rid of by depriving them of their food source, which I did by eventually getting rid of the fungus on the Tambora wood (for how that happened, please see my TFH February 2009 column). Remember that the less organic waste in the tank—uneaten food, decaying plant matter, and fish waste—the more difficult it will be for the snails to survive.

Another important consideration, before I add the shrimp, is to keep the water quality high. If too many dissolved organic compounds (DOCs) are allowed to accumulate it is likely that an algae plague will take over and blue green algae (cyanobacteria) will grow. Although shrimp are algae eaters, it is better to prevent the algae plagues than rely on shrimp to clean it up; they are small animals that can only eat so much! Also, shrimp tend to be sensitive to DOCs and can be killed if there is there are too much DOCs when the shrimp are introduced.

Currently I change 30 percent of the water every five days. In planted tanks, with their many tangled roots in the substrate, gravel vacuuming is done rarely because the chance of damaging the plants is very high. Even when siphoning around plants you need to be very careful to avoid, for example, sucking up the Riccia into the siphon. Sometimes I stretch a filter bag or cheesecloth over the siphon to prevent the shrimp or plants from being taken in; it also helps prevent the siphon itself from clogging.

Once I begin to fertilize the tank I will reduce my water change schedule to once every seven days, so the plants have time to absorb the nutrients from the fertilizer. However, during that time especially, I plan to remove as much algae as possible from the Anubias. In my experience Anubias is an incredible algae magnet.

The aquascape in progress.

The aquascape in progress.

Posted December 23rd, 2009.


Concerns and Successes at Startup

By Robert Paul Hudson

Welcome to the debut of the Adventures in Aquascaping blog, a unique chronology of newly designed and created planted aquascapes and biotopes from the ground-up to maturity. My first project is a 15-gallon planted aquarium for freshwater shrimp using the following plants: subwassertang, flame moss, Fissidens sp., Java moss, Riccia, Anubias nana “narrow leaf,” and Blyxa japonica. The goal is to create a challenging aquascape design using primarily mosses and liverworts that serves as a balanced environment for the shrimp.

Bending and waving in the aquarium, flame moss makes an interesting addition to a planted aquascape.

Continue Reading…

Posted November 24th, 2009.


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