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GWAPA: Carnivorous Plants Nursery

August 24th, 2009

On Saturday, GWAPA’s meeting was hosted by Michael Szesze, the owner and operator of Carnivorous Plant Nusery, in Derwood, MD. Michael runs an impressive local and online business, exclusively selling bog plants, with a huge emphasis on carnivorous plants. He currently has two greenhouses, filled with healthy plants.


Walking through the nursery, it could have been easy to overlooked all kinds of interesting plants. The sheer number of pots was quite staggering. Michael explained to us that carnivorous plants are pretty easy to keep provided you follow a few strict rules. Provide a nutrient-free environment, water with nutrient-free water, and don’t overfeed.

Carnivorous Plants

He pots all of his plants in a near 50/50 mixture of peat and quartz sandbox sand. For some plants he may adjust the ratio slightly, but he says that if you start with a 50/50 mixture, you’ll be able to grow just about any carnivorous plant. He collects his own rainwater, linking all of his home’s downspouts to a subterranean series of cisterns to store the water.

Pitcher Plants

Outside of the greenhouses, Michael keeps several boxes of carnivorous plants. He is able to overwinter these plants in place, covering them and monitoring the temperature under the cover to ensure that it does not reach 22 degrees F. He explained that 22 degrees F is the bursting point for most vascular plants, so if you maintain the temperature above that, your plants will be fine.

Grow Boxes

Michael recommended against explicitly feeding carnivorous plants, as enough insects will find their way to the plants on their own. He leaves his greenhouses open during the summer to allow critters to come in and fall prey to his plants. He has also effectively used carnivorous plants as a fly and pest control method on his porch.


In addition to the grow houses and boxes, Michael has maintains an attractive bog/pond area in his backyard. Many of the plants in the pond are not specifically bog plants, but he has filled the surrounding areas with the peat/sand mixture, so various carnivorous plants line the pond’s border.


Despite being a steamy rainy day, I very much enjoyed visiting this Carnivorous Plant Nursery. In addition to perusing the greenhouses and grounds, we also held our regular GWAPA aquatic plant auction. There were some serious deals to be had on plants this month!


Of course, the dangerous thing about going to places like this is that now it’s tempting to try and start a little bog to try and grow these plants. I was able to forestall that impulse at the meeting, but I could foresee a bog plant or two in my future. Comments welcome!

Business Broker

Suitland Bog

August 2nd, 2009

On Saturday, a few GWAPA members met at the Suitland Bog in Suitland, MD for a guided tour by the bog’s caretaker. We visited this bog two years ago, and thought it was time for another visit. On my previous trip, I had thought I had gotten a picture of Red Milkweed (Asclepias rubra), but was corrected by a reader that infact I had not. So, this year, I’m proud to have found it, and got the picture below!

Red Milkweed

In addition to the Red Milkweed blooming, there was also another type blooming in the bog, which is shown below. Both are very pretty pink flowers. The ranger stated that the milkweeds weren’t always present in the bog, but showed up one day many years ago. He suspects that they were introduced by birds.


Also, interestingly enough, the main attraction at the bog, the Northern Pitcher-Plants (Sarracenia purpurea), are also not native to the bog. Apparently, prior to the mindset of preserving native habitats, botanists would collect interesting plants from other areas, and transplant them into habitats they believed the plants would do well. This is exactly what occured with the pitcher-plants, which were originally transplanted from New Jersey. Currently, the ranger actually has to weed out some of the pitcher-plants to prevent them from over-crowding the natives.

Sarracemoa purpurea

Another one of the carnivorous plants in the bog, Round-Leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) has been shaded out a little bit since I was there two years ago. Only a few remain, but the ranger is hopeful that some tree maintenance in the bog will help them make a comeback.


The main attraction for me personally is the Ten-Angled Pipewort (Eriocaulon decangulare), which is a magnificant grass, and was in full-bloom. One of the reasons I’m so interested in this particular plant, is that I believe it would probably grow submerged.

Eriocaulon decangulare

It’s quite easy to distinguish an Eriocaulon from other grasses, as the flower-heads are very distinctive. Fortunately, these plants seem to be doing pretty well in the bog. The ranger told us, however, that if they didn’t actively trim and maintain the area, that the whole bog would be totally reclaimed by the forest, and would likely disappear.

Eriocaulon decangulare Flower

For that reason, I’m extremely grateful to him and his colleagues for knowing the importance of preserving this habitat, and making it available for the public to visit. I’m hoping that a few GWAPA members will be able to help volunteer a couple times a year to further this effort.

Business Broker

GWAPA: Ponds and Container Water Gardening

July 1st, 2009

Sherry Mitchell hosted GWAPA’s June meeting last weekend, where she took us around her beautifully landscape garden, which included a huge reflecting pool/pond. Appropriately, Sherry then described her various methods for successfully settings up a pond or container water garden.

Pond, Reflecting Pool

As you can see in the picture below, Sherry plants all of her pond plant in containers. Instead of using the overpriced pond-baskets, she recommends using plastic under-the-bed boxes which can be had for a dollar or two from any Target or similar store. She has a large colony of goldfish in her pond, many which she has rescued from situations that were not befitting of living creatures.


To filter the few thousands of gallons of water in her pond, Sherry uses a homemade “Skippy Filter,” which she built using designs from SkippyStuff.com. Essentially, water flows in the bottom, and is lifted through a series of filter pads before returning to the pond. The benefit of this system is that it’s comparatively low-priced, reasonable in terms of the maintenance required, and does a great job.

Skippy Filter

In addition to the filtration, she also believes in doing 50% water changes each month. The water does not go to waste, however, as she has a drain on the filter which automatically waters plants in the rest of her garden, using the nutrient-rich water from the pond.


There were a number of lillies blooming while we were at her pond. She has a well-proven system for potting her plant. Instead of using a standard aquatic plant mix, she uses a combination of Osmocote fertilizer with top soil, kitty litter (for clay), and pea-gravel to keep the other stuff down.

Sealed Planter for Water Container

She’ll use the same methods in smaller containers for growing out plants, or when setting up a container water garden. Sherry mentioned how it’s often difficult to find large containers that don’t have drainage holes. She seals those holes using margarine lids and aquarium cement on either side of the hole. From there, the container should be water tight, and ready for use!

Frog on Lillipad

This was a wonderful meeting. In addition to the beautiful outdoor features that Sherry described to us in detail, she also had a nice fishroom inside. We had another large auction, and raffled off some pond and plant supplies. I’m going to have to apply many of the principles Sherry described to my raised brick pond when I get the chance.

Business Broker

GWAPA: May 2009, CO2

June 5th, 2009

CO2 Canister & RegulatorLast Saturday, GWAPA held its May meeting, in which I gave a presentation about Pressurized CO2. The goal of my presentation was to reduce the intimidation factor for those members who weren’t yet using pressurized CO2. For many folks just getting into planted aquaria, the thought of buying a compressed gas tank at a welding/gas supply store is daunting, particularly with all of the different ways to rig your setup. Hopefully by showing off a number of different setups, and stepping through what each component does, we’ll have even more folks in the club using pressurized CO2.

In addition to the topic, we conducted another large auction. This month, plants were going for dirt cheap, with some of the most rare plants going for $2/bag. This is truly a wonderful thing about joining a local club, as you’re able to try out plants you couldn’t easily obtain otherwise for a very low price.

After the meeting was over, a few of us stuck around to help Rob, the host, aquascape his 75G tank. He had an absolutely fantastic piece of driftwood that we wanted to use, and incorporated it into the hardscape, along with some porous mossy rock. Below you can see the finished hardscape, and mostly planted tank before we filled it up.

Rob's 75G

I’m looking forward to see how this aquascape evolves as it grows in. All-in-all, it was another great meeting!

Update: Meeting notes with more information about Pressurized CO2 now up on GWAPA’s website.

Business Broker

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!

Business Broker

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.

Business Broker

GWAPA: March 2009

March 30th, 2009

On Saturday, GWAPA held their March meeting at Dave’s house. Dave, also known as ingg on the plant forums, has a basement full of beautiful tanks, and has previously been featured on the APC Tank of the Month. The topic for this meeting was a series of DIY demonstrations, showing how to setup a yeast CO2 system, a duckweed surface cleaner, and a nano-tank auto-top off system. Since GWAPA will be starting our 2.5G aquascaping contest next month, the auto-top off system was of particular interest to me. Hopefully I’ll be able to build of these in the near future.

Dave's 75G

Dave's 75G

The duckweed surface cleaner is a clever idea involving a powerhead and the top half of a soda/water bottle. Attaching the lip of the bottle to the intake of the powerhead, the powerhead creates a vacuum to suck anything on the surface down into a vortex formed in the bottle. If you put some filter floss in the bottle, all of the duckweed/trimmings will get stuck there, and you’ll have a clean surface. Pretty neat, huh?

Dave's 30G

Dave's Oceanic 30G

And of course, we had another huge auction with over 100 bags of plants present. I came away with some nice stuff including Cryptocoryne usteriana x walkerii, Lilaeopsis sp., Rotala sp. ‘Sunset’, and a couple others. GWAPA is pretty lucky to have some rare plants available in every auction. Overall, it was another fun meeting on a rainy Saturday in Maryland.

Business Broker

GWAPA: February Meeting: Lighting

March 1st, 2009

GWAPA’s February meeting was at Rick and Mary’s house in northern Virgina. Rick gave an excellent presentation about the various lighting options available for planted aquariums. He showed some charts which compared the various types of lighting (T12, T5, MH, PC, etc) and how efficient they are in terms of lumens per watt. From this, he described how the watts/gallon rule breaks down on deeper aquariums. Another member, Jim, discussed how he actually calculated the light produced in terms of lumens per square inch, which is a much better rule of thumb when comparing different light sources. Finally, Sean showed off a LED light strip that he uses, and discussed the benefits, downsides, and future of LED lighting in the aquarium hobby. Right now, it’s largely cost prohibitive to light your tank exclusively using LED lighting due to the cost of producing LEDs that can equally produce white light and light that can be used in photosynthesis. That said, when he’s replaced roughly 70 watts of PC light with a 17 watt LED strip, I’m looking forward to seeing LED technology become more prominent in the hobby.

Rick & Mary's 75G Aquarium

Rick has a nice 75G aquarium, which features a huge stand of Bacopa monnieri growing emersed, and even flowering up and out of his aquarium. After the auction, Rick demonstrated his automatic water change system, which is why the water levels in this picture are a little bit low.

Mary's ADA Tank

Mary maintains a nice ADA aquarium setup, but unfortunately had a lush foreground of Utricularia graminfolia melt about a week before the meeting. She said that it had completely covered the foreground, and was looking great for months, but then a brown patch formed, and 2 days later, nearly all of it had melted away. I’ve experienced Utricularia taking awhile to get established, but haven’t had it melt away this dramitically. Has anyone else experienced this misfortune?

Guppy, Daphnia, Shrimp, and More!

Rick and Mary also maintain an impressive rack of smaller aquariums, which they use to raise guppies, shrimp, bettas, and live food such as daphnia cultures. All in all, it was another great club meeting with almost 100 items in our auction, and a great gathering of aquarists.

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GWAPA: October Meeting at My Place

October 26th, 2008

My wife and I hosted GWAPA’s October meeting at our home. We had around 30 folks show up on a very rainy day in Maryland for a meeting about photographing your planted aquarium. I did my best to give a talk structured after this post, and hopefully the other members came away with a little bit more knowledge than when they arrived about how to get a semi-decent picture of their tank.

We also asked for nominations for the 2009 board of directors. It looks like the board will remain largely the same, with just the recording secretary slot being new. The auction wasn’t as large as some of them have been lately, but a number of relatively new plants to the hobby showed up at this meeting. A new Glossostigma, Lindernia, and Rotala all made an appearance. Hopefully they’ll soon make their rounds to more and more folks.

75G - 10/22/2008

After the meeting was over, I fished out my Jewel cichlids, and sent them to a good home with another member who already keeps some Jewels. They were wonderfully personable fish, but were too aggressive to keep with much else. In the end, I plan to tear down a couple of my smaller tanks, so I needed to find a home for them. All in all, a great meeting!

Business Broker

GWAPA – September Meeting

September 29th, 2008

On Saturday, GWAPA had another packed meeting at Kevin’s house in Silver Spring, MD. This month, over thirty folks showed up to hear about soil substrates in the planted aquarium. One of our members, Sean, is the originator of the soil substrate recipe that so many people are starting to use in the hobby. It was popularized by AaronT and others on Aquatic Plant Central, and we got to hear the soil method straight from the source.

In addition, we had another large auction — just look at all the bags of plants! I came away with a few things, such as Polygonum sp. ‘Porto Vehlo’ and Rotala verticillaris, and sold off a few things myself. We also debuted GWAPA’s new logo design, which you can see above.

All-in-all, it was another great meeting!

Business Broker

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