Aquarium Re-think

As in previous winters our gardening activities have been hampered by inclement weather, so work has been done to aquariums instead. They tend to get rather neglected in the other seasons of the year.

We decided to redo our most recently set up aquarium, which we had tried as a soft-water tank. This had been an almost complete failure as we had hoped to grow soft-water Cryptocoryne species and Crystal Red Shrimps. Probably, due to lack of water changes the shrimps never bred, and in the end the Crypts faded away. We were left with a few Pygmy Rasboras and small Tetras and a collection of mosses. The substrate we used was a man-made Japanese material believed to be made from paddy field clay and the tank had been filled with rain water from our shed roof. The original bog-wood features were reused and many of the attached mosses have re-grown well.

We stripped out everything and put an inch (2.5cm) of garden soil in the bottom followed by about three inches (7.5cm) of normal aquarium gravel. We then filled with Essex tap water.

Our good friend James had decided to close his tropical fish shop, Wayside Aquatics, after thirty years and to reduce the number of his own aquariums. He very generously donated several unusual Cryptocoryne species which are ok in hard-water. These were two clones of C. affinis plus hudoroi, cordata, usteriana ‘Red’ and pontederiifolia. A couple of weeks after planting up the aquarium he also gave us a good number of Neocaridina heteropoda shrimps in red, yellow, orange, blue and ‘Rili’ which have red at each end and clear in the middles. Mixing the varieties is undoing all the good work of selective breeding and the results of interbreeding may be a disaster, but we will see. I have recently counted over a hundred babies from about 1mm to 4mm long. We are only going to have Ottocinclus cat fish in this tank, as they are said to be baby shrimp safe.


Getting Soft in Our Old Age? (Part 2 Sword Tales!)

Happy New Year reader.

What a beautiful day for New Year’s Day 2013. The sunshine drew us outside to make a start on mulching our perennial and rose beds, with our own homemade compost. In two sessions today we have completed about half the job.

Anyway, back to the second half of the aquarium story. This time instead of asian tanks it is South American ones, or at least mostly from the Amazon area.

For quite a few years we have been running a fairly purist, four foot aquarium planted with Echinodorus or Amazon Sword Plants and a few other plants from the region. The tank is stocked with fish from the same area, including Engler type Guppies and various Characin species including several Tetras, Cardinal Tetras being in the greatest number. Amazon sword plants tend to need more light than Cryptocoryne species so we run three T8 fluorescent tubes. In addition they respond well to CO2 and feeding, producing colourful new leaves in succession.

This tank had suffered a bit from neglect over the 2012 three main gardening seasons, especially because the CO2 had not been kept going at times. We have now pulled it back fairly well.

Our third big project of the winter has been an attempt to seal a five foot long, two foot deep aquarium that had been empty for at least five years following a hisory of leaking. The tank was built about forty five years ago and was quite unconventional. The bottom of the tank is  a sheet of stainless steel, with the edges turned up at right-angles. Onto this has been welded a mild steel aquarium frame. It was then glazed with putty. The problem was the stainless steel base flexes easily if there is any movement in the base it is stood on.

The tank had been in two other peoples homes when I got it over forty years ago. I constructed what I thought was a sufficiently rigid stand and further sealed the bottom stainless steel to glass seams with melted tar. It was fairly well behaved for many years until we drained it following intolerable leaking. The problem of doing further work to the various glass to glass and metal seams was lack of access to some areas as large rock features were built into the design on its initial set up, here.

Following the two Crypt tank projects we cleaned out this tank of gravel and soil and then attempted to seal the seams which could be accessed, using more modern sealants. Normal aquarium silicon sealant was used glass to glass, vertical corners with a black mastic used on the glass to metal seams at the bottom. In order to have no glass lids between the lights and the water it was necessary to encase the mild steel top frame of the tank in strips of glass to protect it from rusting.

Above this is a hood constructed of 4mm mirror built onto a wood and hardboard frame, which is hinged onto the wall at the back and has counter balance weights on cables through pulleys to take the considerable weight of the mirrored hood.

The tank leaked rather worryingly for a day or two but further applications of mastic and resin adheasive to the outside combined with swelling of the ancient dried out putty and the water drips ceased.

I went on line again looking this time for Echinodorus and ordered quite a few exciting looking new ones. The tank has a long way to go especially before we can put any animals into it as it has been showing high levels of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. This we think is because we used a quantity of recycled gravel which had been used as a substrate in a lizard tank. Although it was washed repeatedly it seems it wasn’t enough as the readings are exceedingly high. We are having to do daily partial water changes to lower the dangerous readings. After three daily, partial water changes the plants are looking happier at least!

I will post again when there is more to report on these projects.

Getting Soft in Our Old Age? (Part 1 Tales of the Crypts)

We haven’t fancied gardening much in the cold and damp, since finishing our leaf collecting. Besides the leaf tower is full anyway.

We have therefore done some intensive, indoor aquatic gardening, over the last few weeks.. I have kept tropical fish and aquarium plants for approximately fifty years continuously. However interest has waxed and wained, over the half century.

Linda suggested, when driven in doors in early November, that we do something else with an unheated tank with a huge filter running, and only one small, hardy Golden Rudd in it. The fish was put in the pond with its siblings and the tank emptied and cleaned. I have long been interested in a genus of tropical aroid plants called Cryptocoryne, some of which make slow growing and very attractive aquarium plants. We decided to make the tank into an Asian biotope, using Cryptocorynes almost exclusively.

We followed the advice of our close friend James, who owns and runs Wayside Aquatics, an immaculate bijou aquarium shop near us. He suggested we do a natural low-tech tank as a good way of growing Crypts, following the latest thinking. This involves a one inch layer of soil, low in organic matter, in the bottom of the tank. The ideal soil, apparently, is that produced by moles in their mole hills, or worm casts. Not having the patience to collect worm casts to cover an area of four square feet one inch deep, we searched out mole hills. We found some via another good friend, Mark, who is the gardener at Hutton Hall. He hadn’t seen any mole activity for months, but as if by magic, mole hills started appearing in the big lawn, there and then. He accused me of supernatural powers! Over the soil layer goes one inch of washed 2-3mm diameter gravel. Modest lighting was provided from one 1″ fluorescent tube and gentle circulation from one external Ehiem canister filter. A heater thermostat was added to maintain the tank at around 75°F .

Having set up the tank I was away, trawling the internet for Cryptocorynes. I ordered a sizeable collection from Germany, via eBay and others from three British online aquarium suppliers, as well as some bought straight from James. Would you believe it? – when they all arrived, I didn’t have room for them all, in the four foot tank.

We quickly decided on a tank in our bedroom, which had been empty of anything but cold water, since it was last used for raising tree frogs to froglet stage. This tank was hastily cleaned and had the remainder of our mole hill soil topped up with Wickes’ top soil added, plus gravel,as before. This time, as an experiment, we decided to add a CO2 system, we had redundant from an earlier project. This way we could see if the growth was better or different with additional carbon.. This tank is only three foot long and also has one fluorescent tube lighting and a slightly smaller external Ehiem filter and a heater thermostat.

A few weeks have now elapsed and despite some of the Crypts doing their famous trick of leaf melt, the great majority are settling in and producing new leaves, albeit frustratingly slowly. Some of them had an excuse for behaving badly, having been up to four days in the post, during the colder period of our early winter, not ideal for sensitive tropical aquatic plants.

A few shrimps and fish have been introduced to each tank, having waited four weeks or so to allow the chemistry of the water to settle to a stable and safe condition. Longer was probably advisable but it’s hard not putting a few animals in new tank set ups. We now have to wait patiently for the plants to grow and hopefully create a delightful living picture.

Well done if you’ve read this far!

Linda and I wish visitors to our website a happy and healthy New Year.