Sunday 1 April 2018

Aquarium Floating Island Planter

Yeah, its been a while since i last posted on this blog... i figured it would be a good time to update it with a project that i tried out a year ago. I only got around to writing up a guide for it recently. :)

The majority of plants that we use in our aquariums can be grown both emersed and submersed, hence there are many online guides on paludarium and riparium setups, using containers, sponges or foam walls attached to the sides of aquarium tanks.

That got me thinking... maybe i could create a sort of floating platform for those plants to grow emersed too? This would allow the floating plants to be easily shifted around and transferred from tank to tank. 

As i researched further, i discovered that there are already lots of ready-made floating island planters available online for ponds and hydroponics setups. Just google "floating island planters" to see all the various interesting designs.

But so far i haven't seen small scale versions done for aquariums yet, so i decided to just DIY a few to try out. Here were the steps i took to make my own aquarium floating island planters...

I use 5mm thick foam mats that are typically used as under tank foam bases, and then cut out 5-6cm diameter foam discs with a compass circle cutter.

Then i drilled a few evenly spaced holes into the foam discs.

Next, i prepared the plants by separating them into individual short stalks and removing the bottom leaves, so that they can be inserted into the drilled holes.

In this example, the plant i'm using is Staurogyne repens... a popular aquarium plant that grows well both submersed and emersed.

Stick all the stalks into the foam disc, make sure the bottom sections of the stems protrude from the foam disc.

Put into a container of water and test to make sure it floats.

Now repeat with all sorts of other plants... here i use nice plants like Rotala indica and Hygrophila pinnatifida.

Once done, just place them on the water surface of your aquarium. Provide ample sunlight and nutrients. You now have a variety of floating plants!

As these plants grow, their extensive water roots will also grow out too. You can easily move them around or shift them from tank to tank.

Emersed plants tend to grow faster and healthier, without requiring additional Co2 injection and without all the pesky algae issues.

These plants will help to soak up excess nutrients and provide an additional layer of lush aquascape on top of the tank.


Monday 18 April 2016

32 Litre "Bucephalandra Garden" Tank

This started as a side project to consolidate some of the bucephalandra variants that i've been collecting. It gradually evolved into an opportunity to try my hand at aquascaping a simple layout based on these types of plants.

I noticed that many of the bucephalandra tank photos online tend to be rather dark and shadowy (perhaps its the type of lighting or camera effects used?), so i figured it might be a nice change to showcase a bucephalandra tank that has a brighter tone instead.

Initially i wanted to leave the sand area in front open with plans to keep a group of dwarf corydoras fishes... but i'll probably end up just filling up the space with more plants as i collect them.

Currently there are around 15+ varieties of bucephalandra in this tank. All their individual rhizomes are tied to small pebbles which are then partially buried under the sand and hidden, so it looks as if the plants are just sitting on top of the sand. This method also allows for easy shifting and relocation too.

I guess the top-down view could be reminiscent of what the plants may look like submersed along the edges of a jungle stream...

Its a low-tech setup, based on a 2ft low-profile crystal glass tank (L60cm x D30cm x H18cm) illuminated with just an old generation Up Aqua Z-Series Pro LED light set and filtered by an Eheim Ecco Pro 130 unit. I dose Tropica Specialized fertilizer weekly to maintain a steady nutrient supply.

Cherry shrimps, horned nerite snails and zebra otocinclus help to keep algae in check.

One of my favorite variants, Bucephalandra sp. "Elegant Blue".

Another interesting addition, Bucephalandra sp. "Mini Skeleton King".

Looking forward to collecting and adding more plants soon! :)

Sunday 27 March 2016

64 Litre "Hidden Paths" Tank - Week 60 Update

Its been almost a year since the last update of my 64 Litre "Hidden Paths" Tank, here is what it looks like now...

The overall layout is still more or less the same. As time went by, i gradually separated and transferred out the various Bucephalandra sp. plants to another tank. In their place, i added in more Anubias sp. "Petite" to fill in the foreground areas, along with other variants like Anubias sp. Coffeefolia as mid-ground cover. Most of the grey volcanic rocks were also removed because the plants ended up covering them anyways.

Paracheirodon axelrodi (aka Cardinal tetras) were swapped in a while back to add some dashes of red and blue colors to the tank.

A closer look.

View from the substrate level.

So far this tank has stayed relatively low maintenance. The usual routine involves just feeding the fishes every 2-3 days, weekly 20% water changes (sometimes bi-weekly if i'm busy) and some occasional pruning of old leaves every month or so.

Algae is kept under control by the resident population of cherry shrimps and horned nerite snails. The snails really make a big difference by constantly eating algae on the tank glass and plant leaves, this ensures that everything is kept sparkling clean. I keep around 12+ horned nerite snails in this tank and haven't needed to use an algae scraper for more than a year.

One thing to note is that while anubias are naturally slow growing and thus assumed to be low demand in terms of nutrient requirement... its usually when the tank has only a few of them. In a tank with higher density of anubias, especially the larger leaved variants, their combined nutrient uptake can actually be surprisingly high.

In the case of my setup, i found that i had to start dosing additional fertilizers once the plants density started to fill up more than 70% of my tank's base area. Just simply feeding the livestock was no longer sufficient. Without additional fertilizer supplements, the anubias leaves tend to progressively turn yellowish and develop holes. Once that happens, it means their nutrient reserves have run out, hence the need to dose both macro and micro fertilizers to support further growth.

Overall, this concept of a low maintenance modular planted tank went according to plan and worked quite well over a long term period. My next project will probably involve setting up a much larger tank layout. Most likely it will incorporate the ideas and plants from this tank too.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Aquarium Plant Treatment & Quarantine

Time and time again, i've read aquarists posting on forums about finding algae, parasites, pest snails, worms and other critters invading their tanks shortly after startup... and when asked if they treated or quarantined their plants beforehand, often the answer is no.

When i started out in the hobby, i also encountered numerous algae and pest outbreaks in my tanks too, and had my share of fighting uphill battles trying to solve multiple tank problems. This eventually prompted me to practice treatment and quarantine procedures for all new plants that i buy.

I have been receiving a number of queries on this topic, so for information sharing and reference purposes, here is an example of my current on-going aquarium plant treatment and quarantine setup...

My procedure is split into 3 stages:

Stage 1 (Plastic container on the left)

After the new plants are rinsed and washed thoroughly under running tap water, they are put into this container. The container is dosed with anti-snail chemical treatment (to ensure that pest snails/critters and their eggs are all eliminated, i usually overdose up to 10x the recommended dosage). Currently i use ISTA snail remover (any other anti-snail treatment can be used too, just have to try various dosages and see what works). The plants sit submerged in this container for up to 24 hours.

After this time, the plants are inspected closely. If any pests are still observed to be alive, i dose more chemical treatment and let the plants soak for another 24 hours. This is repeated until no more pests are observed.

Once the treatment is complete, i rinse the plants thoroughly in running tap water.

Stage 2 (Plastic tank in the middle)

Next, the plants are put into this tank which has a small hang-on filter running on it. I dose anti-algae and anti-parasite treatment to weaken and inhibit any algae and parasites that may be hitchhiking on the plants. Currently i use Easy Life AlgExit and Seachem Paraguard. As there are no livestock in this tank, i also overdose the treatments up to 2-3x the recommended dosage.

The plants will usually stay in this tank for up to 7 days and receive a regular light schedule and fertilizer dosing. If any traces of algae are still observed on the plants, i will extend the treatment period and dosages accordingly.

Once the treatment is complete, i rinse the plants thoroughly in running tap water again.

Stage 3 (Plastic tank on the right)

This is the holding quarantine tank. All new plants that have completed the anti-snail/critter, anti-algae and anti-parasite treatments will be put into this tank. This tank also has a small hang-on filter running on it, along with activated carbon to help adsorb the residual traces of previous chemical treatments.

The treated plants will usually stay in this tank for up to 7 days (sometimes longer if they are not required for use yet). Regular water changes are done in this tank as well as receiving a regular light schedule and fertilizer dosing. Algae eating shrimps (ie. cherry shrimps and yamato shrimps) are also present in this tank to help clean up any leftover algae that may still be on the plants.

Once the full process is complete, the new plants will be added to my main tanks.


Yes... it does seem like a very long and tedious process (and it definitely is!), but over the years of trying various methods, this procedure has kept my main tanks mostly algae and pest free so far... it might not be 100% (certain algae or pests do still slip though in some tanks when i'm not careful or diligent enough), but at least the chances of any outbreaks are heavily reduced.

Alternatively, for those who have the budget but no time (or patience) to treat and quarantine plants, it might be better to just spend more and purchase good quality tissue-cultured plants (ie. from brands like Tropica or Dennerle) which are guaranteed algae and pest free from the start. :)


Recently had a chance to take a snapshot of how i do anti-pest and anti-algae chemical treatments on multiple plants at the same time. In this case, a batch of bucephalandra variants which i wanted to keep separated and labelled, so that they don't get mixed up...

I basically utilize small plastic containers commonly used to store sweets and tidbits (usually sold at houseware stores or sundry shops) to hold each group of plants. The transparent containers allow me to monitor their treatment progress and observe the condition of the individual plants more closely. This helps to make the overall process alot more manageable and organized.

Sunday 30 August 2015

Monday 20 July 2015

Limnopilos Naiyanetri (Thai Micro Crab) - Update

I've been keeping a small group of thai micro crabs in one of my planted tanks for the past 2+ months, and during that period i only saw them appear a handful of times.

So i decided to transfer them to another tank with a more suitable layout that allows them to be observed easily, yet still replicating a dense plant environment for them to hide and feel safe.

This is their new "home"...

I converted the 10 Liter nano tank situated inside my tank cabinet into a thai micro crab habitat. Clumps of java moss were added to create a latticework of plant strands for the micro crabs to climb around on and forage for food. They share the tank with a few golden clams and some cherry shrimps.

This setup seems to be working well as i noticed the micro crabs are much more active in this tank, and yet i can still view them quite easily.

I even managed to get some nice close-up macro photos and a video of them too:

These thai micro crabs are really unique creatures when you can see them in such close-up detail... but due to their incredibly tiny sizes, unless they are viewed through a macro lens or magnifying glass, most aquarists would probably never get to observe and appreciate them to this extent.

Hopefully the macro photos and video here can provide a nice detailed glimpse of these interesting creatures. :)

Sunday 19 July 2015

Live Foods - Microfex / Dero Worms Culture

Back in May 2015, i managed to obtain a starter culture of microfex (aka dero worms) from J'adore at the Aquatic Quotient forum.

Microfex are similar to tubifex but they are much smaller in size, hence easier for smaller fishes and fish fry to eat. In addition, they are hardy and can consume all sorts of food, so their care and maintenance is relatively simple.

I set about experimenting with different methods to culture the microfex as live food for my fishes. The starter culture i got was perhaps 20-30 worms, a small ball of them measured around the size of a pin head.

Here is the initial starter culture ball of microfex worms (it is sitting on a Hikari sinking wafer of less than 1cm diameter for scale comparison):

This is the size of the culture after approximately 1 month of growth:

You can compare the difference in density and size of the worm culture based on the same sinking wafers in the container.

For reference, here is a close up macro photo and video of a small ball of microfex worms:

How To Culture:

During the early stages of my microfex culture experiments, i divided the starter culture into a few separate containers to test different water parameters and feeding techniques, eventually i settled on a setup which worked for my space and feed requirements.

Part of my methods are based on accumulated info from other keepers and research documents online. Here is the link to a detailed research document on laboratory mass culture of dero worms:

My latest culture setup is based on a 1.5 liter plastic jug (bought from Daiso), i choose it because the volume is sufficient for maintaining a good sized culture, doesn't require much space to keep and is still easy to carry around to do water changes with its narrowed flow lip and handle:

No filter or air stone installed (based on the research document findings) and no substrate added (to make maintaining the container and harvesting the worms easier).

Feeding the culture is just a matter of periodically adding fish or shrimp food into the container, the microfex will automatically crawl towards the food and start feeding on it. Each time i feed a combination of algae or sinking wafers/pellets equivalent to the mass of the worms. The worms usually finish eating that amount of food within a day.

Maintenance and water changes is simply pouring out the container water (usually when it gets stinky) and then replacing it with clean dechlorinated tap water. I usually change 90% of the water every 2-3 days (pouring out the old water through a fine brine shrimp net to catch any free swimming microfex, which i then return back into the container). The majority of microfex will clump up at the bottom of the container anyways, so its quite easy to manage.

During the water change process, i usually take the opportunity to also pick out some microfex to feed my fishes. I use a pair of small tweezers to pick up a ball of microfex...

... and then swish it around in the tank. The microfex will scatter and start swimming in the water column. Its time for the fishes to start hunting!

Final Thoughts + Tips:

Based on my experience culturing microfex so far, i've found that the speed of their population growth depends greatly on the amount of food they consume. They reproduce by fission method, a young worm grows from one end of an adult worm and they eventually detach to form 2 worms... so more food = more growth = the faster they multiply.

Therefore if you want to grow the population fast, just supply them with more food. But therein lies the issue of water quality, more food = more waste. Although microfex seem to be highly tolerant to poor water conditions (even when i left my microfex cultures for almost a week without food and the water turned super stinky, they still survived), their reproduction rate will stall significantly.

So there will be a limit to how many worms and food (aka bio-load) a container can handle based on its water volume. If you are looking at just feeding your fishes live microfex every few days as a treat, then my 1.5 liter container culture example as mentioned above is a simple, space saving way to do it.

But if you want to culture more microfex to feed more fishes on a daily basis, then you'll need to increase the container size and water volume accordingly, so that it can support a much larger population of worms and the increased amount of food required to sustain them.

Co-culturing daphnia or moina with microfex is also a good technique, i add a small amount of moina into my microfex cultures and they filter feed on the suspended bacteria created by waste production from the worms. This enables the culturing of two varieties of live food in one container (do note that with moina in the container, the overall bio-load can overload very quickly due to the speed at which they can multiply, so you'll need to keep a closer eye on the water conditions to avoid a crash).

If you do get the opportunity to obtain some microfex to start a culture, do give it a try. Your fishes will love snacking on these wiggly critters! :)