AGA 2010 – Day 2 Speakers

November 14th, 2010

On Saturday, the Aquatic Gardener’s Association’s convention continued with a great line-up of speakers.

Jason Baliban – Photography & Aquascaping Contest Preparation

AGA 2010: Jason Baliban

Jason Baliban had the unlucky spot of having to wake and speak first thing in the morning to groggy attendees about photography. Nevertheless, he did a wonderful job discussing both beginner and advanced topics. Jason gave several tips for shooting aquariums using point-and-shoot cameras: turn off the flash, use manual settings, try the different built-in white-balance modes, try different zoom levels, etc. For me, I was very interested in some of Baliban’s more advanced photography methods.

Jason Baliban's Strobe Setup

He used several slides to demonstrate how he’s used photographic strobes to light his aquascapes, rather than simply piling lots of aquarium lights over a tank. This is a little bit of an expensive way to do it, but if you already used strobes for portrait or product photography, they’re a great way to get a tremendous amount of light over the tank. There were lots of questions from the audience during Jason’s talk, so he didn’t get to spend too much time on his advanced Photoshop tips, but he did show a tip where he added a small amount of blue light to the surface of one of his aquascapes to give the water a slightly cooler, crisp look. I’m going to try that one of these days. I’ve seen much of his presentation before at the last Aquafest convention, but am always impressed by Baliban’s ability to evolve his technique and offer a few new tidbits of information.

Claus Christensen – How to Make the Plants Happy & Avoid Algae

AGA 2010: Claus Christensen

The second speaker was the world-renowned Claus Christensen, former Tropica executive, who is now spending most of his time traveling the world looking for new aquatic plants for the hobby. This sounds like somewhat of a dream job for many of us hobbyists, who enjoy exploring nature for possible aquarium plants. In this talk, Claus took us along on several of his trips to places like Brazil, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Thailand where he collected new plants, but also surveyed and recorded the conditions for several plants already in the hobby.

River in Claus' Talk

One of the main threads of his presentation was to emphasize that plants rarely grow in optimal conditions in nature, so there’s often little point in trying to 100% mimic those conditions in our aquariums. Instead, most plants grow where they do in nature because they just so happened to be able to survive, out-competing plants for that particular swath of a river or bank. In the analysis of his data, he noticed that the mineral content of most plants where plants are found vary greater in the nutrient content, yet often times the same plants exist in these varied conditions. He did find, however, that pH and kH readings seem to be the most important measurements for determining whether or not plants would be present. To demonstrate many of these points, Claus showed several plants with tremendous adaptability, but the Crinum in particular seems to tolerate a wide range of conditions in Thailand. He showed one locality that he visited on several trips, and in some cases the Crinum were several meters under muddy water, other times, they were nearly completely dried up, and everything in-between. Of course, the Crinum uses its onion bulb to sustain through the different times. Finally, at the end of his presentation he showed a new packaging method Tropica is employing. They will be selling tissue cultured plants, still in culture cups, directly to the stores.

Tropica Tissue Culture Product

The benefit of this distribution method are that the plants will be completely sterilized, thus lasting longer on the store shelves. Plus, they will be able to be packaged with growing information, pictures, and for U.S. buyer, will be easier to import to other countries.

Michael Kane – The Secret Lives of Amphibious Plants

AGA 2010: Mike Kane

Unfortunately, I missed most of Dr. Kane’s presentation, but the pieces I did catch were very interesting. Mike Kane is an assistant chair and professor at the University of Florida, specializing in tissue culture with a passion for aquatic plants. He led the tissue culture workshop on Friday afternoon at the convention. During his talk, he described some of the research he’s done on figuring out what triggers an aquatic plant to grow submersed verses aerial leaves. The presentation was definitely above my head in many places, but I gathered that a hormone called ABA is responsible for triggering the change in leaf form for the Myriophyllum plants he was testing. Overall, it was an very informative presentation.

Karen Randall – Modern Aquascaping Design

AGA 2010: Karen Randall

Karen Randall is a mainstay at the Aquatic Gardener’s Association, and gave another great presentation at this years convention. In her talk, Karen drew from her tremendous experience as an aquascaping judge to describe several tips for how to do well in an aquascaping contest. In the beginning, she described the important design principles of thirds and various ratios when setting up a scape. Then, she progressed to sight-lines, which should run in a variety of fashions through an aquascaping in order to guide the viewers eye to the focal point. Open space, pathways, and fish selection are also important things to consider. She warned folks from including too many gimmicks in their scapes, such as waterfalls, fake backdrops, statues/figurines, etc, which often detract from the overall impression of the aquascape. Karen finished her presentation by showing several aquascapes up on the screen, and asking the audience to give their feedback about things they liked and dislikes, as a teaching tool to demonstrate the principles she talked about earlier.

Ghazanfar Ghori – Cryptocoryne

AGA 2010: Ghazanfar Ghori

Ghazanfar Ghori is GWAPA member who was invited to be a speaker about Cryptcoryne, as he has gradually grown into a expert and master cultivator of rare crypts. Ghazanfar’s began his presentation by giving a brief background of the Cryptocoryne genus, which consists of 55 species, with only 8-9 being commercially cultivated in the hobby. He then proceeded to go through the various habitats that Crypts are found, including freshwater, hardwater, and blackwater areas. C. ciliata is the most widely distributed plant in the genus that has adapted to grow in a variety of conditions. After showing pictures of several species in their native habitats, Ghazanfar discussed keeping these plants in captivity. Primarily, he keeps his plants in emersed setups, which are merely aquariums filled with potted plants. The pots are filled with a 50/50 mix of sand and ADA Amazonia for his freshwater setup, while his blackwater tanks typically only use a moss substrate. Having seen Ghazanfar setup in person, I can vouch for his ability to successfully maintain and propagate these plants.

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AGA 2010 Contest Results

November 14th, 2010

After the banquet tonight, the Aquatic Gardener’s Association announced the winner’s of their aquascaping competition. I took quick shots of every winner, and am listing them below. Do you agree with the winners? You can view all of the entries on the AGA website.

2010 AGA Contest Results


2010 AGA Contest: Small Honorable Mention

2010 AGA Contest: Small 3rd Place

2010 AGA Contest: Small 2nd Place

2010 AGA Contest: Small 1st Place


2010 AGA Contest: Paludarium 3rd Place

2010 AGA Contest: Paludarium 2nd Place

2010 AGA Contest: Paludarium 1st Place


2010 AGA Contest: Medium Honorable Mention

2010 AGA Contest: Medium 3rd Place

2010 AGA Contest: Medium 2nd Place

2010 AGA Contest: Medium 1st Place


2010 AGA Contest: Biotope 3rd Place

2010 AGA Contest: Biotope 2nd Place

2010 AGA Contest: Biotope 1st Place


2010 AGA Contest: Large Honorable Mention

2010 AGA Contest: Large 3rd Place

2010 AGA Contest: Large 2nd Place

2010 AGA Contest: Large 1st Place


2010 AGA Contest: Extra Large 3rd Place

2010 AGA Contest: Extra Large 2nd Place

2010 AGA Contest: Extra Large 1st Place

2010 AGA Contest: Best of Show

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AGA 2010 – Day 1

November 13th, 2010

The first day of the Aquatic Gardener’s Association 2010 convention began with a field¬† trip to Florida Aquatic Nurseries (FAN).¬† FAN is the top supplier of aquatic plants in the United States, and have hundreds of plants under cultivation across two locations in south Florida. We began the tour strolling through several green houses filled to the brim with emersed aquarium plants. The largest plants in these greenhouses were often the sword plants, which were in full bloom.

FAN Greenhouse

Anubias and Cryptocoryne were the other two very prominent plants in the greenhouses. Outside, rows of cement ponds contained lots of submersed plants, many that were throwing up flower stalks in the Florida sun.

Cement ponds at FAN

One of the most impressive of these flowers for me was the Hydrotriche hottoniiflora, which had a beautiful cluster of yellow flowers on each stalk.

Hydrotriche hottoniiflora Flower

Another plant that was really neat to see was the Echinodorous sp. ‘Vesuvius’ fully emersed and flowering. After seeing it I think Vesuvius may be an even better paludarium plant than an aquarium plant. It’s quite unique looking! During the tour, we also learned about a new hairgrass FAN is hoping to soon put into production. This plant is about 4″ taller, but the leaves are a bit thicker than the other Eleocharis we have in the hobby, similar to how a Lilaeopsis looks.

Echinodorous sp. 'Vesuvius' Emersed

FAN also is a major player in the water lily market, winning international awards for the hybrids over the past few years.

Lily Flower

After touring through their two locations, FAN was kind enough to have the whole group there for lunch, during which they ran a slide-show presentation with more information about their award winning lilies.

Jeff Senske Hosting Iron Aquascaping Competition

Following lunch, many attendees signed up for a tissue culture workshop, which I hear was very informative. Since I have already done a similar workshop with GWAPA members, I decided to take the afternoon off. The convention activities resumed later in the evening with the Iron Aquascaper Competition, hosted by Jeff Senske and ADG. This year’s competition pitted Houston aquascaper, Luis Navarro against ADG’s own Frank Wazeter. Both contestants were required to use the materials at hand to aquascape an ADA 60-P aquarium.

Frank Places Driftwood

Frank started by setting up a driftwood hardscape, along with a bright sand foreground.

Luis Prepares

Luis, on the other hand, chose to plant his foreground, and use rocks as his hardscape. It’s always fascinating to watch other people aquascape, to pick up tricks from them. This was the first time that I saw someone use a paintbrush to level out the sand in the foreground. I’ll have to try that myself on my next scape.

Iron Aquascaper Competition

After about an hour, the two contestants finished their scaping, and began filling the aquariums with water.

Frank's Tank

Frank's Aquascape

In the end, Luis Navarro was the unanimous winner of the competition. Congrats Luis!

Luis' Tank

Luis' Winning Aquascape

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