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Tending to the Farm

March 22nd, 2009

Before I went to Seattle, the 40G had started to show signs of something going wrong. This is the aquarium with worm casting underneath the substrate, but also the aquarium that I moved from another part of my house a few months back. Really, ever since that move, I’ve been dealing with a ton of particles coating a lot of the plants. I thought I could make it go away with regular water changes and extra vacuuming, but that didn’t seem to work. Compounding the situation, I suspected that the Bluespotted Sunfish or Banded Killifish that were in the tank might have been doing a little bit of digging around.

Ranalisma rostrata with BBA

I think the problem stemmed from not rinsing out the top-layer of the substrate when I moved the tank. Anyone who’s ever used ADA Aquasoil before knows that after awhile, parts of the substrate can degrade into mud. I should have washed away this mud when I did the move. Instead, the mud kept getting uprooted into the water column, coating the plants, and causing algae.

BGA on Leaves - Ugh!

So, in effect, that’s what I spent several hours yesterday doing. I removed nearly all of the plants from the tank. Moved the fish into my new 54G native-themed aquarium, and proceeded to empty and fill the aquarium several times in order to vacuum all of the substrate.

40G - Replanted

I can only hope that now I’m all set to continue getting great growth from this tank. The other benefit of me doing this is that I was able to rearrange all of the plants in the tank, thin some of them out, and free up a lot of room for more plants. Collectoritis here I come!

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40G – Wormstrate – After 3 Months

October 4th, 2008

It’s been almost three months since I tore down my 40G aquarium, and restarted it with a substrate based on earthworm castings produced from my kitchen scraps. From the beginning I experienced great growth, but I also had a huge outbreak of hair algae. I’m still not sure whether this was leftover algae that came in from the previous setup, or whether it was spurred along by the earthworm castings. Either way, it’s gone now, and the tank it doing great.

40G - 3 Months Since Setup

40G - Click picture for larger view.

The aquascape has changed a fair amount, as I’ve pulled out a significant amount of the hardscape I originally placed, largely to find room for a smattering of new plants that I needed to house. The Ranalisma rostrata has just about filled in the foreground. The right side of the tank is basically just a growing out space for various stems including Ludwigia sp. ‘Araguaia‘, Rotala sp.Araguaia’, Blyxa alternifolius, Rotala sp. ‘Mini Type I’, and a Limnophila species. Due to all of these plants, I don’t envision this tank ever becoming a cohesive aquascape unless I’m able to setup a farm tank to transfer some of these out. The main thing, is that I’m quite impressed by the substrate sustained growth, with zero dosing. Comments welcome!

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40G – Wormstrate – 1 Month In

August 18th, 2008

About a month ago, I tore down my 40G aquarium’s aquascape, and redid the entire thing using earthworm castings as a base substrate, with previously used ADA Amazonia as the top layer. Below, you can see how the tank has progressed over the period of 1 month.

40G - 1 Month Later

40G - Setup for about 1 month using earthworm castings.

Since setting it up, I have been doing weekly water changes, removing about 30-40% of the water during each change. I have been doing this because the tank has been having a terrible bout with hair algae. In addition, over the last week, I’ve been treating the tank with hydrogen perioxide, both to combat the algae, and as a preventative measure in case any of the fish I recently collected have any parasites. I’ve noticed a significant reduction in algae, although the problem continues. Despite the algae, I have witnessed fantastic plant growth over the last month. In particular, Ludwigia inclinata var. verticillata ‘Cuba’ has been particularly prolific. I trimmed right before this picture, otherwise it would be occupying the entire back right of the photo. Additionally, the Hygrophila sp. ‘Porto Velho’ and Ranalisma rostrata has been starting to fill across the foreground. I think I’m going to remove the Blyxa japonica from the right front entirely, as it looks out of place. Comments welcome!

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40G – Wormstrate Aquascape!

July 22nd, 2008

After my previous soil vs. earthworm casting experiment, I decided that it was time to really give one of the methods a chance in a “real” setup. For this, I decided to tear down my ailing 40G aquascape, and start anew, using an earthworm castings mixture as the base for this substrate. Following a mixture of Vladimir Simoes’ method and the soil substrate method used by many GWAPA members, I setup the tank.

Miracle Mud

Earthworm castings, Sand, 1 lb Clay

Vladimir Simoes’ method is basically just a mixture of earthworm castings and sand in a 50/50 ratio. As I did more research, I found that several of the past successful aquascapers that used this method, also used a clay source with a high CEC ratio. For this, I decided to follow much of the soil method by liquifying a pound of clay into the EC and sand mixture.

Dolomite, Potash, and Traces

Dolomite, Potash, and Traces on bottom. Aquasoil around edges.

Also borrowing from the soil substrate method, I added a handful of dolomite, potash, and CSM+B traces to the bottom of the tank prior to adding the earthworm castings mixture. The purpose of these minerals is to provide a nutrient source while the neccessary bacterial colony builds up in the substrate to make these same nutrients available to the roots longterm. Additionally, my final modification is to reuse the spent ADA Aquasoil that was in my 40G previously as the top layer of the substrate. For aethestics, I used aquasoil exclusively around the visible borders of the tank.

40G Hardscape

Basalt and African bogwood

After adding the earthworm casting mixture, and topping it with the Aquasoil, it setup my hardscape. I’ve never really attempted a “mound” style aquascape before, so I decided to give it a try. I used a combination of the porous mossy rock (basalt) and African bogwood for my hardscape. I left plenty of space behind the hardscape to plant my background plants.

40G - Just Planted

Finally, the planted scape is above. At this point, I’m not entirely pleased with the result. I need the plants to grow in a bit more, and I need the background plants to fully crest over top of the mound. I suspect that I may have placed the mound too far to the front of the tank, but am willing to let things play out for awhile to see how it looks. I basically just reused the plants that I had in this tank previously, but I did add some Echinodorus angustifolius ‘Vesuvius’, Pogostemon stellatus, and Ludwigia sp. ‘Cuba’ to the tank, removing Rotala rotundifolia and Eriocaulon sp. ‘Type 2.‘ My goal for this tank is to have a successful aqauscape while having the earthworm casting substrate provide all of the minerals needed so that I do not have to add supplemental fertilization. Comments welcome!

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Wormstrate/Soil – Winners and Loser

June 30th, 2008

I am concluding my comparison of the soil and worm-casting-based substrates. The picture below sums it all up — neither tank met or exceeded my expectations. Now, in this case, the winner appears to be the wormstrate, but in truth, there is no winner, and the biggest loser is me.

2.5G Soilstrate/Wormstrate Aquraiums

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to really conduct a fair experiment for these two tanks. I rarely dosed any Excel, and the lights themselves probably made the tanks too warm to successfully grow many plants. Factor in my travels recently, and it adds up to a lot of neglect. I’m amazed that the wormstrate was able to maintain a growing carpet of Marsilea quadrifolia. The soil tank on the other hand, saw nearly all of the plant life disappear. The only plant that really did well in that tank was Limnophila aquatica (now removed), which grows in just about anything. I want to make clear that this is not an indictment of soil substrates because I know many GWAPA members who have absolutely amazing results with soil. It’s only a failure of execution on my behalf. So, I’m tearing down the soil substrate tank, and am finally going to set up my 2.5G aquascape for the GWAPA contest. I have until October 1st to make it into something fabulous!

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Soil/Wormstrates – 9 Weeks

May 15th, 2008

It’s been a little bit more than 2 months since I setup my side-by-side comparison of soil substrate (left) and worm casting substrate (right). Both are looking kind of pathetic, but the wormstrate appears to be doing a little bit less pathetic than the soil. Admittedly, I’m not convinced that these results have much to do with the substrate, however.

Soil/Worm Substrates - Update

I still need to split out my CO2 lines to feed CO2 directly into this tank. I just don’t think that Excel cuts it in this case, even though I’ve been slightly more consistent in my dosing than I was previously. Some plants are starting to grow, however, such as the Marsilea quadrifolia below.

Marsilea quadrifolia

But, despite the growth, I think I may be missing some other vital nutrient. Many of the stem plants are starting to stunt on their new growth. Check out this pathetic looking Hygrophila polysperma from the wormstrate tank. Usually this plant grows moderately well in any conditions! It’s also possible that heat may be a factor as the 2x13W lights over each of these tanks put off a ton of warmth.

Deficient Hygrophila polysperma

The Didiplis diandre has all but died out of the soil tank, but I must say that the soil substrate is growing the fullest stem plant — Asian Ambulia. The compact growth of this stem looks almost healthy!

Asian Ambulia

It’s really interesting to see how specialized some of these plants are, where one can thrive in conditions that melt other plants. I’m not considering either of these tanks a bust (or a success) yet, but I’m definitely looking for suggestions on what I should be doing to turn them around.

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Wormstrate/Soil – 4 Weeks

April 10th, 2008

About a month ago, I setup two side-by-side 2.5G tanks with the purpose of comparing¬† substrates based on mineralized top soil and worm castings.¬† After about a month, I must say that I’m a bit disappointed. I was hoping that at least one of the tanks would have taken off, but thus far they’re both kind of sad looking.

Wormstrate/Soil Experiment

I’m unsure whether this has more to do with inconsistencies on my behalf, or whether or not there’s something with the substrates themselves. On the left, the soil tank has the best growth in Limnophila aquatica, but the wormstrate tank has better growth from the Didiplis diandre. Both tanks are experiencing algae on the glass, probably due to a lack of water changes, and inconsistent dosing of Seachem Excel for a carbon source. The Eriocaulicae sp. ‘Type 2’ seems to be melting away in both tanks, which may indicate that it is not a heavy root feeding plant.

I’m going to keep the experiment going for a few more months. I know that both methods are proven methods, so I just need to be a bit more consistent with this experiment, and see if that makes any difference. I also added some extra cherry shrimp to the tanks, and so far they’ve survived — a good sign! More updates next month.

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Wormstrate or Soil Substrate?

March 26th, 2008

About a week ago, I started a substrate experiment that I’ve been wanting to try for some time. Having always used commercial substrates, often at high expense, I’ve had a lot of success growing plants over the past few years in my aquarium. Of course, nearly all of these substrates, when used in a light-intensive+CO2 setup require supplemental dosing of fertilizers. Hence, my previous entry about automating the dosing of those fertilizers.

Wormstrate and Soil Substrate Experiment

I watched as both local GWAPA members and other enthusiasts around the world started growing beautiful aquascapes with nothing more than garden soil, and a few additives, at probably 1/10th of the cost of my ADA substrate. Not only that, but they aren’t required to dose additional fertilizers as the soil is sufficiently rich for at least a decade. In addition to these soil methods, I wanted to try something different as well — a wormstrate — that is, a substrate based on worm castings. With two empty 2.5G tanks sitting around, I decided to do a side-by-side experiment of the two natural substrate options.

For the soil substrate, I used a method designed and perfected by a local GWAPA member, consisting of mineralized topsoil, potash, dolomite, pottery clay, and an inert top layer. As mentioned, a number of GWAPA members have successfully run high-tech tanks using this method, with the only downside often being an green water outbreak at the beginning of the process.

For the wormstrate, I used Vladimir Simoes Method, which was used successfully by a number of AGA contestant tanks from Brazil. This is essentially just worm castings, mixed with sand, and topped with an inert top layer. The most appealing thing about this method is that I could use my own worm castings, produced from my kitchen scraps, creating a full cycle of food to waste to worms to aquarium to plants to compost. Can anyone else say that they made their substrate from their kitchen scraps? Nerdy, I know, but cool!

So, I setup both 2.5G aquariums within a few days of each other, fit a 24″ 55W light over top of them, outfitted each with a hang-on-the-back filter, and planted each with roughly the same number and type of plants from my other tanks. I started the tanks using water from the same established 20L aquarium, which I believe has helped me avoid the green-water cycle often experienced. The only thing I have been dosing has been Seachem Excel, since I don’t have two extra CO2 diffusers.

Over about a week and a half, I’ve seen some modest growth, zero algae, and clear water. I’m hoping that the growth will pick up, as the plants adjust to feeding from the roots instead of the water column. I’ll be sure to continue providing updates on this experiment as it progresses. My hope is to have one of these two methods convince me to redo one of my larger tanks with a natural-based substrate, so that I can further lessen my fertilizer use. Comments/suggestions welcome!

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