CO2 Dump!

October 20th, 2008

CO2 Canister & RegulatorAfter the catfish convention auction, I came home and started acclimating the new bristlenose plecos that I got. I putting them in a 20L quarantine tank, and when I turned around I noticed that none of the sunfish or killies that usually swarm the front of the tank were there. Eventually, I spotted a few of the sunnies dug into the Ranalisma rostrata, and a few others swimming awkwardly at the water surface.

Immediately, I knew what had happened; the CO2 tank ran out, and dumped a ton of CO2 into the aquarium all at once. Right away, I pulled out my Python hose, and did a 50% water change. I also borrowed an air pump from another tank, and threw an airstone into the 40G. At that point, all I could do is wait and hope that I wasn’t too late.

I’m happy to report that despite some really dire looking fish, nearly all of the fish survived as of today. I only have one sunfish confirmed dead, and all killies are accounted for. I was lucky.

So, now the question is what can I do to prevent this from happening again? Well, two things come to mind:

1. I could add a pH controller to control the solenoid on my CO2 tank. If the tank suddenly started dumping, the pH controller would shut off the flow of CO2 once the pH dropped below a certain level. Unfortunately, this is not the cheapest solution.

2. I could attach a low-pressure regulator to the regulator I currently have. This would detect the low pressure that causes a CO2 dump, and vent that gas to the room, instead of the aquarium. The downside to this is that I already have a 3-way manifold on my regulator, which is pretty heavy. I’m not confident that the low-pressure regulator could support that weight.

So, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. At this point, I should have at least 6 months to decide before this could happen again. It’s not even a guarantee that it will happen again. That said, I don’t want to take any chances. Does anyone else have any alternative suggestions for what I could do to prevent this from happening in the future?

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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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Algae Disaster!

June 22nd, 2008

Admittedly, I’ve been milking my Nova Scotia pictures for all the blog posts I can get out of them. Let me fill you in on why that is. Exhibit A (for algae), see below:

Algae Filled 40G

Apparently, it was a bad decision for my to hang some house plants above my tank. At the time, I figured that they would help with high humidity levels, and add a nice accent to the room. Well, what I didn’t realize is that the hanging baskets leaked. I instructed my “tank watcher” to water the plants while I was away in Nova Scotia. Well, apparently, much of that water dripped through the fertilizer laden pots, and straight into my 40G tank.

Algae on the surface

Multiply that by 2 weeks worth of time, lots of light and additional dosing, and I came home to algae soup. I literally filled a quart container with just algae. I did a huge water change, and am still pulling quite a bit of algae from the tank. I’ll probably end up just tearing the whole thing down, and redoing it. It’s time for a new aquascape anyways! At least the fish don’t seem to be affected by the algae bloom.

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Auto-dosing Fertilizers – DIY Style

March 24th, 2008

DIY Auto Doser In my last post, I explained how I tested for two weeks to determine the proper amount of fertilizers my 40G tank needed to sustain healthy plant growth, and eliminate algae. With that knowledge in hand, I have now automated my dosing routine on this tank using a few readily available items to build a DIY auto-doser. I cannot take credit for this innovation, as I was following Jeff Ucciardo’s design, who adapted it himself from various designs posted on Aquatic Plant Central.

Building an auto-doser is really quite easy. You only need a container, a powerhead to move the solution from the container to the tank, some airline tubing, a check valve, and a digital timer that is accurate to the minute. You’ll also need some sort of a syringe or pipette to convert the output of the powerhead down to the size of the airline tubing.

For the container, I bought a clear container from the kitchen department of IKEA. A container that is taller will be better than one that is short and fat, as the tall and skinny containers will allow you to more easily differentiate how many days worth of solution it can hold — more on that later.


The powerhead you use has a few basic requirements — it needs to fit in the container, is best to draw water from the bottom so that it will run even partially emerged, and should be strong enough to pump from wherever you plan on storing the unit into the tank. I used the 606 Mini-Jet from Aquarium Systems, and have it set to the lowest setting.

Pipette Sawed Off

To attach the airline tubing to the powerhead, I found that a pipette from Seachem’s fertilizer bottles fits perfectly over the powerhead output if you saw off the large end.

As in any case where you have tubing running into your tank, you definitely want to install a check-valve in the airline tubing to prevent a siphon from forming, and overflowing your aquarium out onto your floor — always a bad thing! I used an inexpensive check-valve from Tetra.

Check Valve

All said and done, I spent $2.99 for the container, $16.99 for the powerhead, $1.99 for the check-valve, and $9.99 for the Intermatic digital timer. I had extra tubing and pipettes on hand, but figure about $35 to build one of these.

Once you have all of your basic components assembled, you need to establish how much solution your powerhead moves every minute, thus figuring out how many total days worth of solution your container will hold. To do this, fill the container with water, and set it exactly where you want it to be next to the tank. This is important because the powerhead will pump different amounts of water depending on the height/distance it is pumping. Now, run the powerhead at 1 minute intervals, using a marker to mark the water level on the container at each interval. Once deplete of water, count the number of marks — that’s how many days you can automate your dosing with a full container. For me, it worked out to exactly 14 days — how convenient!

Now, armed with the previously knowledge of how much I should dose over the same period, I calculated my solution amounts. I put in 100mL of Seachem N and K, and 50mL Seachem Flourish, Iron, and Excel. It’s important not to mix P with Iron in the same container as they interact, so for now, I will have to dose Phosphate separately. Also, for the first time, err on the side of caution, and dose slightly less than what you’d expect. You can always increase it later.

It’s been running for 4 days flawlessly so far, so I’m hoping that this will further help me keep my nutrient levels exactly where they need to be in this tank. I’ll continue to do a few tests to confirm that it’s on target, but I’m looking forward to not having to worry about dosing except for once every two weeks.

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Figuring my Ferts

March 22nd, 2008

Recently, after not quite being able to figure out what was going on with the fertilizers and algae in my 40G, I went on a meticulous 2-week testing schedule, where everyday I tested the levels of the two macro nutrients I suspected were out-of-balance, nitrate and phosphate.

DATE N (ppm) P (ppm) Changes:N P K
Day 1 5 .5 0 (WC) 0 (WC) 0 (WC)
Day 2 7.5 .5 15mL 10mL
Day 3 7.5 .5 10mL 15mL 10mL
Day 4 5 1 25mL 5mL 10mL
Day 5 7.5 1
Day 6 2.5 .25 30mL 20mL 20mL
Day 7 10 1
Day 8 5 .5 10mL 15mL 10mL
Day 9 7.5 .5 10mL 20mL
Day 10 7.5 .25 20mL 10mL
Day 11 7.5 1.0
Day 12 0 .5 30mL 15mL 20mL
Day 13 7.5 1.0
Day 14 2.5 .25 30mL 15mL 20mL
DATE What to add
Day 1 4mL Flourish
20mL Excel
4mL Iron
2.5mL N
2.5mL P
Day 2 10mL Trace
4mL Excel
4mL Iron
Day 3 7mL K
4mL Excel
4mL Iron
Day 4 10mL Trace
4mL Excel
4mL Iron
2.5mL N
2.5mL P
Day 5 7mL K
4mL Excel
4mL Iron
Day 6 3mL Flourish
4mL Excel
4mL Iron
Day 7 Water change

I dose my 40G aquarium using Seachem’s full product line of aquarium fertilizers, minimizing my costs by only buying 2L bottles of fertilizer solution, which usually last me some time. Up to this point, I had been following Seachem’s recommended dosing chart, which for a 40G aquarium calls for the dosing schedule on left.

What I essentially confirmed, when comparing the two charts, is that I was vastly under dosing my aquarium, particularly the macro-nutrients. Over the course of my experiment, as I adjusted my dosing levels according to the test results, hair algae disappeared from the tank. The plants really took off, and were looking much more healthy than before, especially plants such as Blyxa japonica that feed mostly from the water column. Although I didn’t document my trace and iron dosing levels, I found that the uptake of N and P are most definitely limited by the availability of those nutrients, as well as K. This was particularly evident between days 9 and 11, as the nitrate levels stayed roughly the same, even without dosing N. By increasing the dosages of the other nutrients, eventually, nitrate went to 0ppm, and I resumed dosing it.

The knowledge learned in this two week test is going to be invaluable going forward with this tank. More to come on that in my next post…

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Melanotaenia praecox Photos

March 13th, 2008

I just wanted to share a few shots of my Dwarf Neon Rainbowfish, or Melanotaenia praecox. I have a school of 13 fish in my 40G tank right now, and they’re great for photography, as they tend to hover in place against the current. The school I have right now is mostly females, and I haven’t had any fry survive, probably due to the Apistogramma that are also in the tank.

Melanotaenia praecox

Here’s a close-up of one of the males in the tank. These fish are still relatively young, and haven’t fully developed the steep forehead that’s common among adult rainbowfish. The males seem to develop a slightly more pronounced arc than the females do.

Melanotaenia praecox

Below is one of the females, identified by the yellow in her fins, whereas the males fins have a reddish hue. The iridescent blue tint of their scales are even more intense and shiny in person, than in these photos. If you haven’t kept these fish, they’re perfect for planted aquariums, and wonderful community fish — just make sure to keep them happy by having schools of 6 or more.

Melanotaenia praecox

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Pitbull Pleco – Parotocinclus jumbo

March 11th, 2008

A few weeks ago, I stopped by my local fish store on the way home from work, looking for some regular Otocinclus to help eat some algae in my 40G tank. Unfortunately, the store was out of Otos, but the owner recommended a curious little fish called the Pitbull Pleco, or Parotocinclus jumbo.

Pitbull Pleco

Of course, with the reputation that pitbulls have, I wanted to be sure that this little fish would not be a mean killing machine if let loose in my aquarium. So, the owner kindly helped me lookup more information on the fish, and as it turns out, the name is a bit of a misnomer. The fish was originally named after a pitbull due to the fact that its eyes are more on the top of it’s head, rather than on the sides, similar to the canine.

Pitbull Pleco

Satisfied, I promptly bought a half dozen of them, and brought them home. Once accustomed to my heavily planted 40G aquarium, these plecos are really quite attractive fish. They’re roughly the same size as an Otocinclus, and according to many sites only, they will not grow too much larger. In fact, they really look like a different colored Otocinclus, especially when hoisted on the glass, as seen below.

Pitbull Pleco

So, the next important question was whether they would actually eat any algae. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to find the answer to this question, as they went straight to work, clearing the glass, rocks, and leaves of any of the spot, dust, diatom, or similar algae. They seem to leave alone the hair and fuzz algae, but that’s what I have Amano and cherry red shrimp for.

Pitbull Pleco

All in all, I would recommend the Pitbull Pleco to anyone looking for a similarly sized, but different algae eater, than the Otocinclus. They’re attractive, peaceful fish, that seem to group together, and do a fine job keeping the glass and hardscape clear. They seem to tolerate similar water parameters as most corydoras, making them ideal for 90% of the aquariums out there. Highly recommended!

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40G Aquascape – Updated Picture

March 5th, 2008

Here’s an updated picture (click picture for larger view) of my 40G aquarium. If you remember what it previously looked like, you’ll notice a profound change in the plants present. For starters, I removed most of the Micranthemum umbrosum, replacing it with the Limnophila aquatica, and just a hint of red with some stems of Ludwigia arculata.

40G Aquascape - March 5, 2008

Additionally, the Didiplis diandra and Rotala rotundifolia in the back-right are much more pronounced, while I’ve significantly hacked back the Eriocaulon sp. ‘Type 2’ in the right midground to better transition from the grassy foreground to the plants in the back. I’ve also cured most of an algae outbreak that I had in this tank, after finally putting into practice some of the tips I mentioned in my algae presentiation.

Blyxa aubertii

Once I did that, the Blyxa aubertii lost many of the hair-algae strands attached to its leaves. One of my favorite things about the various Blyxa plants is the cellular pattern on each leaf, as you can see above. Overall, I’m pretty happy with how the 40G aquascape is coming along, but I’d love to hear any of your comments or suggestions.

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