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I'm working with a 3G planted tank and likewise trying to minimize tank
clutter. Previously I just used a 2" limewood diffuser to achieve very tiny
bubbles that would diffuse prior to reaching the surface. Unfortunately the
limewood diffuser bubble sizes don't remain small and seem to grow over a
week's time, probably due to the carbonic acid eating away the limewood and
increasing pore size.
All of the other "airstones" I've tried have produced large bubbles which
didn't diffuse by themselves. I've just started trying a Rena ceramic 2"
airstone which seems to be working very well. It produces bubbles which are
actually finer than those of the limewood diffuser, is smaller and hopefully
will be more consistent. I found that I needed to trim the little rubber lip
on the airstone top to prevent it from catching the fine bubbles and
collecting them into large bubbles.
Since my tank has less than a foot of depth I put a small acrylic container
down in the substrate in the back corner so that the diffuser could be more
hidden and have a taller column of water to work in. Seems to work since
most of the bubbles never make it to the surface of the tank and the pH is
lowered by nearly a point. The only thing visible is the airline which
should get covered by plants.
I'm using DIY/yeast in a squatty 64oz juice bottle which hides nicely behind
the aquarium and is very tip resistant.