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GWAPA: April 2009 Meeting

April 26th, 2009

GWAPA’s April meeting was at Ghazanfar Ghori’s house in Virginia. Ghazanfar has been GWAPA’s president several times, and is probably our club’s best known member due to his wonderful aquascaping ability. He currently maintains two tanks, an ADA 90-P and a 215G .

Ghazanfar's 90P

This was quite an eventful meeting for GWAPA, with several things going on. For starters, we officially kicked off our 2.5G aquascaping contest by handing out all of the equipment. After the meeting, I did some rock collectiing with a couple other members to try and prepare for the contest. We also had a large group order arrive in time for the meeting, in which I got another 20 Amano shrimp to hopefully help me quell an algae problem in my 40G tank.

Ghazanfar's 215G

For our topic, Ghazanfar talked about growing aquatic plants emersed. He has an extensive Cryptocoryne collection, of which most are grown emersed. If interested in crypts, definitely check out his blog: Kryptocoryne. During his presentation, he showed how to successfully grow the plants emersed, and what should be done to transition plants from submerged form to emersed form.

GWAPA's April Auction

Finally, after the talk, we held another large auction. I came away with a few plants that I may use in my 2.5G tank, and in my pond. All in all, another great meeting!




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Maryland Aquatic Nurseries

April 19th, 2009

On Saturday, me and my friend, Cavan, took a trip up above Baltimore to Maryland Aquatic Nurseries, a wholesaler of aquatic and wetland plants, who also has retail hours on Saturdays. I had been there before, but recently I have become more interested in native plants that may be suitable in the aquarium. After looking through their stocklist online, Cavan and I decided it was worth the drive up their for a local “collecting” trip.

Greenhouse

We were lucky to go before the true start of the pond season, as one of their staff members was gracious enough to spend a good 45 minutes helping us find the plants we were after. Sometimes, this even included “weeds” that were growing in the same pots as something else they were selling. Normally, they would just discard these contaminants, so we were happy to take them off their hands.

Rotala rotundifolia flowers

They fit at least a dozen greenhouses, with 4-5 being walkable, and the rest being flooded with water, having pots sitting in them. We started through the walkable greenhouses, searching for plants on their stocklist, as well as, keeping an eye out for a suitable weed. When we ended up in the back flooded greenhouses, Cavan took off his shoes so that he could wade (ankle deep) to see what was growing in there. While the temperature outside was quite comfortable, those flooded greenhouses were like saunas, and were quite uncomfortable to spend too much time in. That didn’t stop gambusia and tadpoles from thriving in them, however (in addition to the plants).

Flooded Greenhouse

It was quite apparent that lilies and lotuses are such popular pond plants, as they fully occupied several of their greenhouses. In addition to pond plants, the nursery also has a number of bog plants, including several different types of pitcher plants.

Pitchers Plants

We ended up coming away with more plants than we could fit into our tanks. Several of the plants we bought in pots, such as Mentha aquatica and Ranunculus flammula, while others were weeds, including Potamegetons and this Gratiola virginiana.

Gratiola virginiana flower

Now the fun part begins. I’ve planted all of plants we got throughout my aquariums, and will evaluate whether or not they’ll grow submersed for long periods of time at our normal aquarium temperatures. After that, we’ll have to assess whether they are desirable for aquascaping. I’d like to encourage everyone to check out their pond centers to think outside of box about what plants should be grown in your aquarium. Chances are, you’ll find something interesting that you’d never otherwise find in the aquarium hobby.

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Houston Plant Fest (2009)

April 13th, 2009

This past weekend I flew down to Houston to attend Houston Plant Fest, a planted-aquarium weekend put on by the Nature Aquarium Society of Houston (NASH). The event kicked off on Thursday evening at Houston Aquarium Warehouse, a local fish store and importer who caters much of his store to the planted aquarium hobby.

Houston Aquarium Warehouse Tank

Daniel, the owner of the store, brings in many smaller fish which are perfect for an aquascape where you don’t want the fish to overpower the environment around it. I saw some of these Paraguayensis Tetras (Aphyocharax paraguayensis) and had to buy a small school for my 50G aquarium. It was simple enough to get them back home in my checked luggage without any loses.

Paraguayensis Tetra

On Friday morning, two vans arrived near our hotel at 5:00am to take us on a 3 hour trip to the San Macros River. The river runs through the middle of the college town, where huge stands of Hygrophila polysperma, eel grass, Hydrocotyle, Cabomba, Ludwigia repens, and Texas wild rice all live. It was bittersweet to see Texas wild rice in its own remaining habitat, as development along the water has brought it to endangered status. Clearly, we didn’t collect any of this.

San Macros River

In some areas of the river, Cryptocoryne beckettii is purported to grow, but we didn’t see any during our trip. As an introduced exotic, the local government has been very dedicated to trying to eradicate it so it does not further diminish the Texas wild rice population.

Fields of Cabomba

That evening, we all returned to Houston to gather at The Fish Gallery in town to eat and appreciate their beautiful gallery of aquariums. They also have a retail store attached to the gallery in which they tailor to the higher-end aquarist.

Fish Gallery

On Saturday, we all filed into Aquaruim Design Group’s gallery for an aquascaping presentation by Mike Senske. Mike and Jeff Senske are long time hobbyists, and are well known for their beautiful aquascapes in the ADA and AGA aquascaping competitions. ADG is one of the few stores in the U.S. that carries and distributes ADA aquariums and products, so the Houston folks are quite fortunate to have them in their backyard.

Mike Senske and Luis Navarro

Mike aquascaped an ADA 90P aquarium, which will now be displayed in their conference room. The scape was a wood-based scape using two beautiful pieces of driftwood that they found locally. They filled in the rest of the scape with plants easily available in stores. Overall, it was a good presentation.

Finished ADG Scape

From there, we went to one of the NASH member’s homes to enjoy some Texas-style BBQ, and just talked plants for the remainder of the evening. Sunday, we all had flights to catch. It was a great weekend spent with fellow hobbyists. These little excursions really help to keep the hobby fresh, and energize me to try different things in my aquariums. Thanks for a great weekend Houston!

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U.S. Botanical Gardens Production Facility

April 7th, 2009

After our tissue culture workshop on Saturday, one of the attendees offered to take a few of us on a tour of the U.S. Botanical Gardens Production Facility where she volunteers. I have been to the U.S. Botanical Conservatory downtown in the city, but the production facility is a set of more than a dozen greenhouses which support the conservatory and other federal initiatives.

Greenhouse

Simply put, this tour was a plant geek’s heaven! The size of the greenhouses are tremendous, and the vast quantity and variety is probably beyond compare in the country. The only thing I noticed they were missing was a large aquatic plant section, but that’s more than forgivable.

Flower

They had one greenhouse entirely dedicated to houseplants. Why would a place like this waste space on plants you can pickup in any hardware store or garden center? They provide a service to congressman who need plants for their offices. Each office is allowed to pick out up to six plants per year. If they kill more than that, they’ll have to get their own plants!

Orchid

Just like at the conservatory downtown, the premier greenhouse at the production facility is their orchid room. I’m not someone who knows a lot about orchids, but some of the other members in my group were pretty bowled over by the species they saw in this room. One of the volunteers told us that this facility is one of two in the country that is legally permitted to grow out restricted orchids if they are confiscated by growers or poachers possessing them illegally.

Tree Frog

The facility does have to use pesticides to control pests from taking over their greenhouses. They mentioned that they often see the notorious D.C. cockroach, which is several inches in length. Aphids, bacteria, funcus, and others give them trouble just like in any garden. Of course, some favorable intruders take up residence as well, such as the common tree frog above.

Succulent

One of their other greenhouses consisted entirely of succulents and cacti. Of all of the areas, this greenhouse by far had the most bizarre looking plants. These cacti were so specialized to their environment, that they looked other-worldly. Some looked like rocks, plastic, wax, etc. Really neat plants!

Crypt wendtii emersed

Of course, I did finally find a few aquatic plants. I remembered that they had some Cryptocoryne in the gardens downtown, so I knew that they must have some in the greenhouses. Sure enough, we found several pots of lush Cryptocoryne wendtii, both red and green varieties. We also saw some Anubias species, and a couple of other water plants.

Sundew

Another greenhouse had bog plants, including many varieties of sundews (shown above), venus flytraps, pitcher plants, etc. With so many carnivorous plants in one place, I did wonder if they have to add flies to the greenhouse, or if they artificially feed them. Unfortunately, I never got to ask that question.

Flower

We noticed in one of the other greenhouses that the majority of the plants had either purple leaves or flowers. Before we could ask, our volunteer explained that purple is Michelle Obama’s favorite color. Therefore, for an upcoming event involving past and present First Lady’s, they are preparing a slew of purple plants to transplant into the White House garden, and other beds.

Plant

The shear variety of plants in this facility was astounding. I took far more pictures than I can narrate in a single post. Therefore, the rest of my post is made up purely of some other pictures I took there. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed my visit of the U.S. Botanical Gardens Production Facility.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Tissue Culture Workshop

April 5th, 2009

On Saturday, I attended a local workshop on doing tissue culture in your home. The workshop was organized by a local GWAPA member, but was conducted by Dr. Carol M. Stiff of Kitchen Culture Kits, Inc. The nice thing about her workshop was that she custom-tailored it to have an emphasis specifiBAPcally on culturing aquatic plants, in addition, to things like orchids, house plants, and more. You may be asking why tissue culture is at all relevant to the aquatic plant hobby. There are, in fact, a number of reasons:

  1. To propagate large quantities of otherwise slow to grow species.
  2. To propagate rarer species so that more hobbyists can try them.
  3. To preserve plants for long periods of time without keeping them growing in an aquarium or emersed setup.
  4. To discover new variants that may popup when using various growth hormones.
  5. To clone identical copies of those variants if they popup.
  6. Just for the fun of trying something new.

Since cloning has such a high-tech connotation, let me walk you through some pictures from Saturday which demonstrate how feasible it is to do tissue culture in your home.

Tissue Culture: Preparing Solution

First, you need to mix up the sterile solutions from which the plant cuttings will be suspended and gain their nutrition. These solutions contain some trace and macro nutrients, sugar, plant hormones, and agar as a thickening agent. The pH should be adjusted using vinegar and baking soda to between 5.5 and 6.0 degrees.

Tissue Culture: Filled Jars

Put 3 tablespoons into suitable jars, and sterilize them in a pressure cooker or microwave to ensure that no bacteria or fungus could contaminate your mini-environment. By the way, food coloring is used to visually seperate solutions with slightly difference ratios of ingredients. For example, some plants do better with 1ml/L BAP hormone (blue jars), while others do just fine with none (green).

Tissue Culture: Inserting into Jar

In make-shift sterile hoods made from PVC pipe and garbage bags, we sprayed down the area with isopropyl alcohol. The plant cuttings themselves are sterilized in alcohol, then bleach, and rinsed in water. From there, we further dissected the plants into smaller pieces, suitable for culturing.

Tissue Culture: Preparing the Specimen

In the end, we placed the sections of plant into the agar-filled jars, sealed the jars with plastic wrap, and labeled them. At home, I’ve placed the jars under modest light, and will soon find out if I’ve been successful or not.

Tissue Culture: Finished Jars

We cultured Proserpinaca palustris, Staurogyne sp. ‘Porto Vehlo’, two types of orchids, an African violet leaf, and a few other plants that attendees had brought to try. Overall, it was a very enlightening class, and I hope to try some of the techniques we learned on my own.

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54G – Two Months

April 2nd, 2009

It’s been roughly two months since I converted my 54G aquarium into a native plants/fish tank, and thus far it’s been a bit of a bumpy road, with a few bright spots here and there. I’ve been having some algae issues due to very high nitrate levels leeching out from the ADA Aquasoil. I’ve never had problems like this before with Aquasoil, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now.

54G

Despite having a bit of algae, the hairgrass is really starting to carpet the aquarium. The rocks are pretty well coated in fuzz algae, but I’ve recently started dosing more macros (N/P), and it has improved a little bit. Right now, I’m seeing better plant growth than I’ve seen in awhile, so I’m confident that given a little more time, I’ll be algae free.

Hairgrass with Algae

All of the bluespotted sunfish and banded killifish are in the aquarium now. They’re an interesting group of fish. Sometimes, I’ll look in the tank and it’ll look like an overcrowded zoo. Other times, I’ll look and not a single fish is visible, as they’ve blended themselves in-between rocks or in the hairgrass. I don’t see anyone getting beat up, so I think I’m okay in terms of fish load.

Bluespotted Sunfish

The killifish seem to especially like to dart in and out of the hairgrass. They’re also the fish that are more likely to accept commercial pellets, whereas the sunfish are hit or miss with anything but live blackworms. (About half of the sunfish will eat pellets, but not vigorously like commercially raised fish.)

Banded Killifish

Overall, I’m happy with the direction of this aquascape, but I am looking forward to warmer weather so that I can go out and collect a few of the plants I ultimately want to feature in this tank. Comments/critiques welcome!

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