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Aquatic Plants Out of Water

February 21st, 2008

When I got back from Florida last year, I started a small emersed setup in my office to keep some of the cryptocorynes we bought there. First, an emersed setup is one that allows you to grow your plants terrestrially, or out of the water. Really, all that is required is a light, a closed container to maintain proper humidity, and some sort of fertilization plan. It’s not much different from starting seeds or a lite version of hydroponics.

Emersed Setup

Why would any planted aquarium keeper want an emersed setup? There are many reasons, but one good reason is to more quickly grow out enough plants to start a new aquascape. It’s also a good place to store plants that you want to keep, but don’t want in your current aquascape. Or, you can use one to flower your plants for get seeds, or just simply to see what the terrestrial version of a plant/flower looks like.

Dome and Emersed Tank

I started with a simple seed-starting tray and dome (above) from the hydroponics store. Make sure to get a high dome so that there’s room for your plants to grow vertically. Just recently, I transferred all of my plants from that dome/tray setup into a 10G aquarium in order to gain even more height.

Moss Pot

I use mostly coconut-fiber pots filled with a mixture of leaf compost and ADA Aquasoil. This is especially good for most cryptocorynes, but works for other plants as well. Then, after planting each plant, I lightly cover the surface of the soil mixture with moss. Mosses have a natural anti-fungal agent that helps to prevent your plants from being overwhelmed with white-fuzzy-fungus that can easily ruin the whole setup. After that, I fill the container to a water level of about an inch below the rim of the pots. This supplies the pots with a constant water source. Finally, I’m using plain fluorescent strip lights over top, and a small powerhead to circulate water around the tank.

Emersed Tank

CO2 is not a concern because it is abundant in the atmosphere. Algae doesn’t grow out of the water, so all of your leaves will be algae free. These two things are the largest reasons many of the large aquatic plant nurseries grow their plants emersed before they arrive at your local fish store. For fertilizers, you can use hydroponics solutions, dry ferts, or even aquarium liquid ferts.

Anubias nana 'petite'

Currently, I’m growing Cryptocoryne moehlmannii, Utricularia graminfolia, and several Anubias barteri nana ‘petite’. I want to build up a nice supply of A. ‘petite’ for some upcoming aquascapes. I’m curious to try and flower the Utricularia, and I just haven’t managed to move the crypt to a tank. I hope to expand the number of plants grown this way now that I have more space in my 10G aquarium.

Cryptocoryne moehlmannii Emersed

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AHSupply 2x96Watt Canopy Upgrade

January 14th, 2008

On Saturday, I decided to install a new AHSupply 2x96W kit into the canopy over my 40G aquarium. I used to have ODNO lighting on this tank, but I wasn’t comfortable with the amount of energy being wasted to squeeze out a little bit more light from the 36″ 30W bulbs. Below is what that configuration looked like: 4 bulbs driven by 4 ballasts, over cheap shop-light reflectors.

After I removed the existing equipment, I was pretty happy with the condition of the wood. When I built this canopy, I put extra coats of finish to prevent moisture damage. It held up to the moisture and heat pretty well!

I chose to go with AHSupply’s 96W kit because they have fantastic aluminum reflectors, and the 96W bulb fits a 3′ tank perfectly. I know that T5 lighting is all of the rage these days, but I’d prefer to stick with a consistent power compact lineup so that I can buy replacement bulbs in bulk for all of my tanks.

The kit comes with a set of very detailed instructions for installing into a canopy, or building a DIY strip-light enclosure. Everything you need for either configuration is included. To start, I installed the reflectors and bulb clips into the canopy.

The reflectors come with a yellow plastic film over top of them to avoid scratches during installation. They’re a fantastic parabolic reflector that really focuses most of the light output from the bulb down into the tank. They claim that their reflectors make their setup produce 2.5X as much light as a store-bought solution.

Wiring up the ballast was very straight-forward thanks to the included wiring diagram. The hardest part was trimming the wires to length, and stripping them to use the wire nuts. After screwing down the 2 ballasts, and installing the bulbs, I was all done.

Time to fire them up — Man are they bright! It seems like they’re 10X brighter than my old ODNO lights, using equal or less the wattage. By mid-afternoon, the entire tank was pearling more than I’ve seen it pearl in years. This continued for 3 straight days, so I’ve increased my CO2 injection, and dosing amount to compensate. The fish really pop under these lights as well. I’d recommend AHSupply products to anyone looking for a DIY lighting solution.

40G - 1/14/2008

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Tip: Cleaning Ceramic Disk Diffusers

October 5th, 2007

Glass diffuserPerhaps this is old news for some folks, but I wanted to share a fantastic tip I got from another fellow GWAPA member, Ben B., for easily cleaning the ceramic disk on your CO2 glass diffuser. A little background… I run nearly all of my CO2 in-line on my tanks because it’s easy, and because I personally don’t like to put any more equipment in my tank than I need to. But, when the glass diffusers started coming out and becoming quite trendy among planted aquarists, I ordered a couple to see what the fuss was about. For the first month or two, they worked perfectly, spewing small micro-bubbles, but as algae builds on disk, these bubbles turn larger and larger, until eventually most of the CO2 is being lost from the tank before it can be absorbed into the water.

I had been using the routine of grudgingly disconnecting the diffuser, and letting it soak in a diluted bleach solution for a number of hours, before returning it to the tank. This does a great job of cleaning the disk, but I’ve broken more than a couple diffusers performing the simple task of disconnecting/connecting the airline hose from the fragile glass stem.

Enter Ben B’s brilliant solution. Every time you do a water change, pull the glass diffuser above the surface of the water. Pour enough hydrogen peroxide onto the ceramic disk that it keeps the disk submerged in the H2O2. As you’re busy trimming, scraping the glass, and filling the tank back up, that H2O2 is busy oxidizing the algae from the surface of diffuser. By the time you’re done filling up your tank, the diffuser should be good as new. All that’s required is keeping a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide near you tank — something I already am in the practice of doing. Thanks Ben!

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DIY Autodosing – GWAPA Sept 2007 Meeting

September 24th, 2007

On Saturday, I attended the September GWAPA meeting at Jeff’s house in Ellicot City, MD. In addition to having some awesome sweet/sour meatballs and two gorgeous aquascapes, Jeff also demonstrated how to make the DIY autodoser that he’s been using on his tanks for some time. Made of easily attainable materials, this provides a great solution for the lazy, forgetful, and those looking for consistency in their dosing. I’ve been using an Eheim Liquidoser for awhile, but I think I might try to put together one of these since it holds far more solution than an Eheim does. You can read a short article on how to build one of these on the GWAPA website.

DIY Autodoser

In addition to the meeting itself, Aaron and I stayed afterward to help Jeff get a good picture of his 55G tank. We’re all aspiring to improve our photography skills, so it was great to try a bunch of different techniques to ultimately come up with a nice looking shot. We used two external flashes aimed at some shadowed portions of the tank to try and even out the exposure across the whole picture. While it took us countless tries, we definitely ended up with a better picture than what we would have had without the extra experimentation.

Using flashes to add light to shaded areas

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In-Line Hydor Heater Review

January 12th, 2007

Hydor In-Line HeaterEven though it doesn’t feel much like it in Maryland this year, it’s winter time, and that means that my basement gets pretty chilly. Over the summer, I had previously pulled out a standard submerisible heater in favor of removing as much equipment as possible from my tank. I didn’t want to add my old heater back in, so I decided to try out Hydor’s in-line heater, which hooks right on your canister filter’s out-take line.

Installation couldn’t be simpler with this unit. Out of the box, there’s zero assembly to do. All you do is splice your filter’s output line, connect either end of the line to the heater’s barbs, and plug it in. The temperature is easily set using the red dial. Boom, you’re done.

Since installation, I’ve heard a few “clicks” here and there. That occurs when the heater turns on or off and isn’t audible unless you’re right next to the tank. Otherwise, it’s easy to forget that the heater is even there. The temperature of the water has been kept very stable, so it’s been doing exact what I bought it to do. I’d recommend to anyone with a canister filter who wants to avoid making an in-tank heater part of their aquascape.

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Got a UV Sterilizer: Turbo-Twist 9X

January 9th, 2007

Coral-life Turbo Twist

Thanks to some extra Christmas money, I decided to go ahead and get a U.V. Sterilizer for my 75G tank. I’ve been having a rash of green water, and a case of “something’s not right” situations in this tank for the past year, so I guess you could consider this my last resort.

After doing a fair amount of research on the web, I decided to go with Corallife’s Turbo-Twist Sterilizer. Turbo-Twist 9W BoxIt seems to be a pretty popular product, and the price was right on Amazon.com. Setting the unit up was very easy using the instructions provided. Basically, you start by just unscrewing the one end to install the bulb. After that, you twist the middle section until the two barbs face in the direction that you need to connect to your filter. Finally, splice the output line of your filter, and connect either end of the line to the input and output barbs of the sterilizer. You’re done, once you plug it in.

I was a little bit worried about the sterilizer affecting the flow-rate of my filter, but so far that hasn’t proven to be a problem. And that’s having a CO2 diffuser and in-line heater running on the filter with it. Of course, that why I bought an over-sized filter, Eheim 2028, for my 75G in the first place.

Twelve hours after hooking up the U.V. sterilizer, my tank appeared fairly cloudy, with a white, milky hue. I presume that consistuted a mass bacteria/bad thing die off after being zapped by the U.V. rays. By the second day, the water cleared, and it’s looked clearer than I can remember in recent history. I’m not entirely sure whether I’ll leave it running 24/7, or will turn it off to save the bulb-life a little bit, but I’m glad to know that I have a last resort available to rectify any extra difficult problems with my water column.

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Fixing All-glass PC Strip with AHSupply Kit

December 4th, 2006

It must have happened sometime while I was at the AGA Convention, but when I got home, I noticed that something in my 75G wasn’t quite right. Of course, it took me a week to realize that one of my two All-Glass 2x55W PC light strips was no longer working. Per the suggestion of a few GWAPA folks, I tried cleaning the end caps and connections, but that didn’t work. It seems that my ballast just plain died. I had recently replaced the 2 bulbs and I didn’t really want to jump ship to a T5 fixture, so I decided that my best course of action was to repair the unit I have. I’ve ordered bulbs from ahsupply.com for a long time, but have never actually tried one of their “bright kits” with the renowned MIRO4 reflectors. This was my chance!

Since my existing light strip was already setup for power compact lamps, it is larger than their standard single-tube fluorescent fixture. This means that I’ll continue to have enough room for the ballast inside of my strip, instead of having to mount it on the outside, like many folks have to do. Plus, their is already enough ventilation in the top of the unit to avoid having to install any fans or vent covers.

So, my first course of action was to take the strip apart. Easily enough, the unit is a two piece design. The plastic outer case is attached to the aluminum reflector, and everything else is screwed to that. So, to remove the reflector, all you have to do is pop out 8 of these little plastic pegs. Of course, I managed to break half of them, but I finally got them out.

Once opened, the ballast is wired to the on/off switch on the back of the case. Simply remove the three wire nuts, and unscrew the ground wire from the reflector.

Then, you should be able to pull the reflector away from the case, and work on it. Pretty much unscrew and remove everything from the reflector: the ballast, end caps, bulb clips, etc. Once you have just the reflector, you can begin figuring out where to put all of your new AHSupply pieces. The end caps that come with the bright kit are far better insulted than the ones from all-glass. To use them, I ended up drilling a few more holes in the reflector to feed the wires in a way that better held the end caps in place. Additionally, the ballast itself is shorter than the all-glass one, so you will have to drill new holes to mount this as well. Finally, place the new MIRO reflectors so that they line up nicely with the endcaps, and drill holes through the new reflectors and into the old reflector. Basically, I just mounted the new reflector over top of the old. It was easier to do it this way because the old reflector already mounted into the plastic case perfectly, so I didn’t have to construct any new mounts to attach the new reflectors to the case.

Now, tie down the wires using the wire clamps supplied in the bright kit and wire the new ballast to the end caps and light switch per the instructions from AHSupply. (Great instructions, btw!)

We’re just about done here. Don’t forget (like I did originally) to reattach the ground wire.

Ground Wire

Finally, put the old reflector, with all the new parts attached to it, back into the case,
Close it up
reinsert the plugs that securely hold it in place,

Insert the plugs. Locking them in place

and you’re done!

Finished Fixture

Finished Fixture (shot 2)

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The Rack

December 1st, 2006

Wire Shelving from BJsI have been wanting to consolidate some of the tanks in my office for awhile. Previously, I had them on an old bowing bookcase, a wire stand, and the floor. After seeing the current GWAPA president’s tank setup (Aaron), I decided that I wanted the same thing. So, the problem with most of these racks is that the standard ones available in your typical Home Depot or Lowes only support about 200-300lbs per shelf. A standard 20G aquarium weighs about 230lbs filled with water. So, just a single 20G would be pushing the limits.

I happened upon this shelving unit at my BJs, which holds 600lbs per shelf. There is a little bit of bowing, but I hope I’ve negated that by putting down hardboard with a layer of 1/2″ Styrofoam insulation on top of it. This should pad the tanks enough to even out any slight bowing of the shelf. The unit itself is very sturdy, and easy to put together. So far, I recommend this style of setup to anyone wanting to keep a few tanks in a small area.

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