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NFC: Re: I thinks this is another contest entry

Very Good article , Bill --- Should be required reading for novices
....................(:-)        Charles
-----Original Message-----
From: robert a rice <robertrice at juno_com>
To: nfc at actwin_com <nfc at actwin_com>; Theduuz at aol_com <Theduuz at aol_com>
Date: Wednesday, January 13, 1999 11:10 PM
Subject: NFC: I thinks this is another contest entry

>A bit o the Green in a coldwater tank
>By Bill Duzen
>A lush, green, full Garden of Eden unfolds before you.  Placidly,
>gingerly swaying in the gentle, cool currents, green stems abundant with
>greener leaves open, filling the panorama.  Twisting, turning,
>intertwining trunks tower upwards.  Slipping through the massing strands
>of green, their colourful bars providing perfect camouflage, a group of
>beautiful cardinal tetras swims, shoaling peacefully amongst the fronds.
>The almost tea-coloured water and green background brings out every line
>in their pattern like never before.  Meanwhile, a bright yellow Nannacara
>female escorts her brood tenderly through the foliage, a shoal of pygmy
>Corydoras, small and meek, swim comfortably among the blades.
> This underwater jungle is not beneath the flows of some abstract
>tropical stream, but in a glass box atop a dresser.  This is a small,
>twenty-gallon, garden.  It is home to almost a dozen plant species, each
>holding its own niche, and several fishes.  The fish are less important
>than the plants, providing food and carbon dioxide for the plants and
>breaking the monotony of the gentle sways.  Nonetheless, they are a
>fascinating, beautiful part of the aquarium.  Plants overtaking fish in
>the priorities of the aquarium is the essence of the Dutch Aquarium;
>Ironically, my fish have never been healthier since they have become the
>background decoration, nor the plants since they have become the focus.
> My interest in planted aquaria grew out of a desire to create a more
>natural setting.  I had been working with ways to minimise filtration.  I
>also wish to minimise the absurdly unnatural amounts of nitrate and other
>biological wastes not handled by conventional filtration.  Typically,
>water changes manage these.  However, water sources are often rather high
>in nitrate, as well as phosphates.  Moreover, I had some new and unusual
>dwarf fishes I wished to display at their best, and possibly breed.
>These include an unidentified pair of Apistogramma, a pure white pair of
>A. cacatuoides, Amandae Fire Tetras, and several others.
> I decided to do away with the plastic plants in my aquarium, and replace
>them with live ones.  The fish really did not seem to care at first. Then
>I ran into every planted-tank keeper's three worse nightmares.  The
>plants turned to mush, the water turned quite green, and I lost several
> My original plant choices were typical.  I chose plants that looked like
>what I envisioned water plants to look like, lots of stems with little
>leaflets all over them.  These plants were cheap, and came in bunches, so
>I got many of them for one low price.  Fortunately, I avoided a more
>classical mistake, and did not plant them in bunches.  Each stem was
>given its own spot in the gravel bed.  This was perhaps my only right
> The plants I chose, Elodea and Hornwort, are typical culprits for these
>problems, and probably responsible for driving more would-be plant
>keepers back to plastic than any other.  Their tiny leaves, which I once
>found so attractive, often drop off when first planted.  Like most
>people, I had added additional lighting to the tank to help the plants.
>The decomposing leaves provided a perfect source of nutrients.  The added
>light cinched it, and an alga bloom occurred.  The algae began producing
>toxins, limited available oxygen, and died off, adding more nutrients to
>the water.  Culminated, these did in some of the fish, which naturally
>only helped this vicious cycle even more. . . far from the peaceful
>serenity I had envisioned.
> Far be it for me to give up. . . .  If I didn't like challenges, I'd
>keep goldfish! I stopped, and re-evaluated what I had done, examining my
>mistakes.  Then, I tried again.
> For my second try, I decided to try some low-light plants for the first
>tier.  With any luck, this would minimise the algae bloom, since less
>light would be used.  Most people recommend planting heavily from the
>start, which is sound advice.  Recently, one of my plant tanks suffered a
>minor disaster -- it was left in the care of someone else for several
>weeks, during which it turned to a pool of slime.  I was forced to
>restock it at once, having to move in a few more weeks.  The entire
>venture cost eighty dollars, and that was not even a full restock.  For
>this reason, I find it more realistic to stock gradually, despite the
>problems it may cause.
> The plants chosen were primarily Cryptocornes.  These are broad-leaved,
>shade loving, variable plants.  Typically, they are seen in black plastic
>pots filled with an itchy fibrous material.  There are three very good
>reasons for removing both the pots and potting:  one, plants just plain
>grown and do better in the gravel bed than in the fibre.  Two, the fibre
>may be hazardous to the occupants of the tank.  It certainly is to my
>skin!  Last, and more importantly, there most likely are multiple plants
>in the pot.  Many of these pots had as many as six plants in the basket.
>At five dollars a basket, that works out to eighty-three cents each,
>cheaper than a bunch of Elodea, and a fairer choice.
> The Crypts were planted each in the gravel bed.  As the tank had
>contained fish, and the gravel already contained a light amount of peat
>moss, mulm in the gravel was not an issue.  For fresher tanks, I have
>used laterite with great success and would greatly recommend it.
> As the Crypts grew and spread, other broad leaf plants were added.  If
>leaves died, these were easily removed.  Damaged leave and stalks were
>readily culled before planting.  Of course, this was minimised as the
>plants were much simpler to inspect prior to purchasing than finer leafed
>choices.  Plants such as Amazon Swords, Melon Swords, and so forth were
>added for the second tier.  These plants are far from shade lovers.
>However, they did well in the water with the tanks traditional lighting.
>As they grew and took root, the lighting was increased.  A minor alga
>bloom occurred.  However, this one was much smaller than the first, and
>easily handled by increased water changes.
> Later, other plants were added.  These, too, were broad leafed, more a
>function of tastes than anything else.  Java Fern, also bought planted
>and separated into well over a dozen plants, was the next addition.
> At this point, I had a tank full of larger, broad leafed plants.  The
>fishes were quite happy, and began to show preference for the livening,
>growing forest about them over the plastic jungle they previously
>enjoyed.  At this point, I had quite a mass of plants filtering the
>water.  Moreover, some of the fishes had begun picking at the leaves and
>stems, as well as the algae that grew over them.  The fish were getting a
>more natural food, and their water had begun to become cleaner, more
>natural.  Unfortunately, I was not happy just yet.
> I had a well-scaped tank, full of broad-leafed plants.  It just did not
>look as nice as I thought it could. The larger amazon sword had begun to
>grow outwards, coming to dominate the tank. Most of the aquascaping was
>low, but very full and quite attractive.  But, it could still be better.
>Therefore, I began adding some taller plants.  Red Ludwiga was planted
>intermittently throughout the tank.  It quickly began to multiply,
>filling out the tank.  Three types of Hygrophilia were added, Jungle,
>Giant, and normal Green Hygro.  The Jungle Hygro rapidly grew upwards,
>breaking through the surface of the water.  The Giant and Green grew
>throughout the tank, easily being trimmed down to create multiple plants.
> These grew and filled out the tank.  Within a few weeks, the tank began
>to take on a much more pleasant look.  Other bunch plants were gradually
>added, including pond penny and Elodea.    The Elodea, unsurprisingly,
>did not make it very long.  The other bunch plants were rapidly able to
>outcompete it.  Its fragile leaves became damaged by the fishes, and the
>plant eventually dwindled downward.  The entire tank bottom was rapidly
>covered with plants.
> Occasionally I removed various plants for one reason or another.  They
>were either becoming too dominant, overtaking ones I wished to keep
>growing, or beginning to die off.  The Cryptocorne began to go through a
>cycle.  Every so often, it would be completely outcompeted, and die off.
>Small leaves would then struggle up through the gravel  in new areas,
>flocking up a new stand.  Eventually, they found spots to their liking in
>the tank, and became stable there.
> I have always been active in the Native Fish branch of the hobby.  I am
>frequently found waste deep in some swift moving stream or remote pond
>searching for one of our native jewels or another.  This offered a great
>opportunity to me; I became able to collect some of my own native plants.
> Milfoil, a common pest plant in many ponds, was the first plant I found.
> Eel grasses, fairy hair grasses, small lilies, Cabomba, and several
>other natives or introduced plants I have never been able to identify
>found their ways into either my planted tank, or others.
> Plants are readily collected.  Many stem-centred plants, like the
>Elodea, Cabomba, and so on, were readily collected simply by breaking
>them off in the water.  The bottom is then stuck in the gravel, quickly
>taking root.  Other root-based ones, such as Eel Grass or Lily's, are
>more difficult to collect.  Occasionally, they can be found, in smaller
>forms, floating in dense patches.  These were either displaced by an
>animal, or simply runners that have broken free prior to taking root.
>If not, they are simply dug up in shallow and replanted at home.  It's
>important to take fewer of these than stem-based plants.  It's unlikely
>that any one collector is likely to damage a group of these.  However, a
>bottom of a lake torn bare in one spot with earth and stones displaced
>looks quite ugly.  These plants also reproduce more slowly, requiring
>more time to recover.
> All plants, regardless of origin, though especially the "wild caught"
>ones, are well cleaned before planting.  This typically consists of
>running them under tap water until they are relatively clean, removing
>any visible problems, such as snails, planarians, and so on as I am going
>along.  Generally, I have found that a tap water rinse is adequate,
>though for especially soiled or problematic plants, I will typically use
>a potassium permanganate solution.  This is either available from a
>chemist, or in some medications in one form or another.  It also has the
>added advantage of killing off protist and bacteria, including algae and
>cyanobacteria, as well as the wealth of animal life likely to lurk.
> The fish have become happier ever since I have changed over to the
>planted aquaria.  The only filtration in the tank is an undergravel
>filter with powerhead.  With the varying thickness of the gravel bed, and
>density of roots in it, the filter is hardly doing much beyond moving
>water.  The plants are the primary filtration for the tank.
> Water changes, something I wished to minimise, have become more
>important than when the tank was fish only.  Despite the heavy plantings,
>there is still plenty of nutrition available for algae.  Given the heavy
>lighting, nutrients must be kept in cheque by water changes to prevent
>small blooms.  These blooms are no longer flagellate algae in the water,
>but cyanobacteria in the gravel bed and against the glass.  The bacteria
>are also left uneaten by the Ottocinclus in the tank, wisely so.
>Cyanobacteria, or blue green "algae" produce a number of various toxins.
>Some of these toxins are strong enough to kill an adult human in even
>small doses!  Fortunately, the algae seldom release these toxins into the
>water in significant doses, nor do we frequently get the proper types of
>algae to kill ourselves.  This problem is best dealt with by keeping the
>plants growing strongly and heavily, keeping up with water changes, and
>manually removing the algae if it does become a problem.
> I have only run into two other serious problems that affect the fishes,
>both related.  One is heat, and the other low oxygen content.
>Fluorescent full spectrum or plant lights are relatively inexpensive and
>the best bet for growing plants.  However, two watts per gallon tend to
>heat the water a bit. In a larger tank, this probably would not be an
>issue.  In my smaller plant tanks, the water warms rapidly.  The heated
>water holds less oxygen than cooler water.  Therefore, I have chosen to
>add additional lighting and keep the bulbs higher above the tank.
> Almost two years later, I have let my first plant tank reach its own
>equilibrium.  Aside from the water changes, turning the lights on,
>occasionally removing algae, and feeding the fish, there has very little
>maintenance for the tank.  The tank, even with my relatively slow
>addition of plants, was able to reach an equilibrium in a matter of
>months.  I have moved on to planting my other tanks.
> Now, I have an underwater garden, growing peacefully and serenely.  The
>tetras swim placidly, occasionally even laying eggs.  The Ottocinclus
>have bred countless times, and the Nannacara still spawns regularly.
>Robert Rice
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