Monday 30 December 2013

108 Litre "Puddle Garden" Outdoor Balcony Pond - Week 3 Update + Koi Sanke Swordtails

Its been around 2 weeks since my initial post on the "Puddle Garden", all the plants have grown fast and filled in very quickly within that time.

Its now starting to become more like looking down into a dense forest canopy...

The Hygrophila Difformis and Ludwigia Repens bunches have grown so much that they now fill substantial sections of the base area. 

Bacopa Caroliniana have started to develop a reddish hue on its new leaves, most likely in response to ample sunlight.

Limnobium Laevigatum (aka frogbits) keep growing fast enough that i have to remove a portion every few days, or else they'll start to cover too much of the surface and shade the other plants.

Cyperus Haspan continue shooting long stems upwards, we'll have to see at which point they start to develop their characteristic emersed mop head of flowers.

Got abit bored with not being able to observe much of the Boraras Brigittae, as they are very small and slim fishes, when viewed from above i could only seeing tiny shadows moving around, not very interesting... they are much nicer to view in an aquarium instead, so i shifted them back to my planted tanks.

After much deliberation, i decided to just go ahead and get some Xiphophorus Helleri var. Koi Sanke (aka Koi Sanke Swordtails)...

These fishes have vibrant colors with nice koi sanke style body patterns, and they look superb when viewed from above.

Due to their larger size (compared to Boraras Brigittae), i'll have to do more regular water changes to maintain water quality and hopefully the established dense plant mass can help handle and process the increased bio-load too.

After an extended period of drip acclimatization, i introduced them into the container pond.

I guess for those without the space for large ponds to house real Koi fishes... these specially bred Swordtails could be an interesting alternative. :)

Tuesday 17 December 2013

108 Litre "Puddle Garden" Outdoor Balcony Pond

This is my latest balcony water garden project which was started a few weeks ago...

Its basically made from a re-purposed fiberglass tank and wrapped with artificial grass to make it abit more "garden" like. Though compared to actual ponds, this is more like a puddle... hence the project name. :)

The concept is to cultivate pond/marginal plants and allow them to grow above the water with emersed leaves and flowers, while at the same time creating a self-sustaining aquatic ecosystem in the water.

For this particular setup, there is no substrate used and the plants are not potted in soil, they are all simply tied to pieces of wood, this makes it easy to move them around anytime without creating a mess. All the plants used were chosen based on their fast growth characteristics and ability to grow without soil. When such plants are grown in a soil-less hydro-culture method, the plant roots adapt to drawing nutrients directly from the water column, thereby cleaning the water more efficiently than if they were potted in soil.

There is no filter as i don't have an electrical point at the balcony area, so i'll have to rely on a higher plant density to perform the bulk of the natural filtration. I also decided to use a solar powered pump with a fountain head to provide abit of circulation and surface agitation during daylight hours.

Due to the filter-less setup, i maintained a very low bio-load by just adding a few Boraras Brigittae to help eat up any mosquito larvae or bugs that may breed in the water, and a group of Neocaridina Heteropoda as plant cleaning/algae management crew.

During this initial period before the water garden's ecosystem is fully established, the fauna are fed very lightly twice a week to maintain a balance in water quality and nutrients for the plants. Once the ecosystem is mature, there will be much less feedings required.


Here are the water garden stats:

Tank Size: L90cm x D60cm x H20cm (Fiberglass Tank)
Substrate: None

Filter System: None
Filter Media: None
Water Feature: Solar Pump
Temperature: 29-30°C (Day) / 25-26°C (Night)

Lighting: Natural Sunlight (Shaded Balcony)
Co2: None
Fertilizer: None
Fan/Chiller: None

Water Change Regimen: 20% Weekly

Water Parameters:
Tested using API Freshwater Master Test Kit
pH = 6.8
Ammonia = 0 ppm
Nitrite = 0 ppm
Nitrate = 0-5 ppm

Hygrophila Difformis
Bacopa Caroliniana
Ludwigia Repens
Cyperus Haspan

Limnobium Laevigatum

Boraras Brigittae
Neocaridina Heteropoda


I'm currently trying out a small solar powered pump which operates when there is sunlight (there is no battery storage capability in this model, but i may upgrade it soon).

As this solar panel didn't come with a mount, i just used an acrylic A4 stand to prop it up at the right angle to catch the sunlight, along with some clips to help secure the attached cord to the pump.

The solar pump is rated at 180 l/ph, but in reality the actual flow rate depends on the amount of sunlight that the solar panel receives. As the balcony is somewhat shaded, it only gets partial sunlight so the flow tends to be more of a trickle. Its still good enough to provide some gentle surface agitation and abit of ripple effect though, which helps reduce the buildup of surface film.

Here is an example of how it works in an overcast afternoon:

I've tried placing the solar panel under direct sunlight on a clear bright sunny day and the pump flows faster with more water height, but due to my balcony placement i can't mount it that far outside, so i'll just have to work with the lower water flow.

One factor that i noticed in an outdoor balcony pond setup is the much wider fluctuations in water temperature (compared to indoor tanks), in the day the water temperature averages around 29-30°C... but at night it can drop to as low as 25-26°C, which i guess is due to the direct exposure to much cooler outdoor temperatures.

Plant-wise, i was expecting slow growth since there isn't any fertilization or Co2 injection... but it seems the combination of naturally fast growing pond/marginal plants and natural sunlight was enough to encourage surprisingly fast and healthy growth. An example is the Ludwigia Repens that i added recently, it took less than a week for the bunches to grow up and above the water line.

Here is a photo of Cyperus Haspan, most aquarium keepers buy these from shops and add them into their tanks because they like the unique look of it, but its actually a pond/marginal plant. These plants will naturally grow long stalks up to 3ft above the water and sprout emersed leaves and flowers.

Some of them have already begun to send up stalks in the above photo.

I'll probably add more varieties of plants in the water garden, and hopefully see them grow emersed forms and flower soon. :)

Saturday 23 November 2013

64 Litre "Forest Edge" Tank - Plants Pearling

Managed to record a video of the plants pearling during the daily photoperiod...

Flow was switched off temporarily for the purpose of the video, this makes it easier to capture the pearling effect, otherwise the released oxygen bubbles would tend to be swirled about by the current.

Pearling usually starts a few minutes after the lights are on, mostly from the background stem plants. Blyxa Japonica also pearls but starts abit later. Even the Eleocharis sp. 'Mini' and Anubias sp. 'Petite' also pearl too, but at a much lower rate, their bubbles tend to slowly accumulate until a larger size before releasing to the surface.

I've recently received a few queries about my setup, so here are some of my latest equipment settings for reference (some have been adjusted since i started the tank in my earlier post):

Lighting: Up Aqua Z-Series Pro LED Z-20 (1 set / Old version / 180 x 0.06W LED)
Light Duration: 8 hours (10am-6pm)
Pressurized Co2: ANS Co2 System + ISTA Inline Reactor / 1bps / ~30ppm
Co2 Duration: 7 hours (9.30am-4.30pm)
Carbon Supplement: Seachem Excel / 2ml daily
Fertilizer: Tropica Plant Growth Premium Fertilizer / 1ml daily
Fan/Chiller: None

Temperature: 29-30°C (Day) / 27-28°C (Night)

Water Change Regimen: 20% Twice Weekly

Friday 22 November 2013

64 Litre "Forest Edge" Tank - Week 16-17 Update

More updates...

Week 16

Background plants grew surprisingly fast, expected them to take 2 weeks to recover, but instead within just a week they grew back with a vengeance!

Looks abit messy and wild with the uneven growth of the background stem plants, need to trim some more to shape it.

Week 17

Did some additional fine trimming over the week, looks much better now.... keeps the tank looking brighter too.

All the plants are growing fast and very healthy... the Blyxa Japonica is starting to grow very dense so i'll need to trim them soon too.

Eleocharis sp. 'Mini'  has now fully covered the front section of the tank and creating a nice carpet, very well behaved and grows to only 2-3cm height (haven't even needed to trim it so far).

Green fuzzy algae on the wood seems to be pretty much the same, it looks like the combination of Neocaridina Heteropoda and Crossocheilus Siamensis are helping to keep it in check.

Thursday 7 November 2013

64 Litre "Forest Edge" Tank - Week 14-15 Update

Some quick updates...

Week 14

Rotala sp. 'Rotundifolia' and Micranthemum Micranthemoides getting overgrown again!

Week 15

Decided to chop the background plants all the way down...

Tank looks much brighter now... hopefully this will give me another 2-3 weeks of rest from plant maintenance. :)

Wednesday 6 November 2013

64 Litre "Forest Edge" Tank - Clithon Corona

Transferred a Clithon Corona (aka Horned Nerite Snail) over from one of my other tanks, it has actually been shifted around various tanks for more than 6+ months now and its still chugging along grazing on algae, so i guess this is one tough little chap...

I've had annoying issues previously with female nerite snails laying lots of unsightly white eggs everywhere in my tanks... but i think this particular one is male (hopefully!), as i've not seen any eggs laid in any of the other tanks it has been in so far. :)

Just one lone (and tiny) snail isn't going to make much difference in algae management, but its got a nice shell pattern, so i'll just consider it as one of the tank's more "decorative" residents for now.

Sunday 27 October 2013

64 Litre "Forest Edge" Tank - Crossocheilus Siamensis

Introduced a pair of Crossocheilus Siamensis (aka Siamese Algae Eater / SAE) into the tank... i picked the smallest ones available at the shop, each only around 3cm in length.

Abit light in color at the moment as they are still juveniles. After exploring for a while, they started to settle down and nibble on some green fuzzy algae, so i guess that's a good sign.

Hopefully their smaller size would allow them more time to help out in algae maintenance... before they grow too large and lazy. :)

Saturday 19 October 2013

64 Litre "Forest Edge" Tank - Week 12 Update

A combination of overseas travel, projects, work... and lots of procrastination, meant that i didn't get around to do any tank maintenance for more than 2 weeks.

As expected, the Rotala sp. 'Rotundifolia' and Micranthemum Micranthemoides quickly grew up to the top, then proceeded to keep growing across the water surface forming a dense canopy and started to overshadow the other plants.

Due to the lack of water changes, a noticeable layer of oily film built up on the water surface too, creating a "rainbow" effect on the surface reflection.

The whole tank started to look rather dim, though the fishes and shrimps seemed to like the shaded environment. :)

Time for a proper trim... proceeded to chop off the overgrown tops.

I also noticed there was one bunch of Blyxa Japonica in the front which grew so much that it was blocking the view... so i decided to just remove it.

Uprooting established plants like these will always tend to cause abit of a mess, so i used a pair of tweezers to just pull the base crown of the bunch a little, let the dust settle, then pull it out abit more each time. With abit of patience, i got it out neatly without clouding up the water.

To fill in the gap, i relocated a few Anubias sp. 'Petite' and spread them out to cover that area.

Notice in the above photo, the Anubias sp. 'Petite' have already grown roots which established in the soil substrate. When relocating them to another area, it'll be better to just snip off the longer roots to allow for easier placement and positioning. The roots will grow back out and establish again in time.

Here is the tank after some plant maintenance... and a much needed water change.

Now just waiting for the other plants to fill in. :)

64 Litre "Forest Edge" Tank - Algae Control

So far, i've been allowing a thin layer of green fuzzy algae to grow on parts of the twisty wood, but on closer observation, i've noticed that there are actually many other types of algae growing and competing with each other for space on the wood too.

In one particular spot, the algae has a noticeably different growth (probably a different algae species), it is more filamentous and seems to be growing much larger and faster. I felt that it detracted from the overall look, so it was a good opportunity to document my method to remove it.

This algae was really tough to remove by hand and it was securely attached to the wood, and i can't remove the entire wood structure to scrub it off easily (i wasn't keen to kick up the substrate and create a huge mess)... so i decided to do a spot treatment on it using Seachem Excel.

I used a syringe with a long applicator needle and 2ml of Seachem Excel (non-diluted), switched off the canister filter, then injected the solution directly onto the bunch of algae. I let it settle into the algae for a few minutes, then switched the canister filter back on to resume flow in the tank.

Here are the results:

Very effective... after 24 hours, there was almost no more trace of the algae. :)

Monday 7 October 2013

64 Litre "Forest Edge" Tank - Week 10 Update

Its been 10 weeks since i started up my 64 Litre "Forest Edge" Tank and the tank glass and lily pipes are still relatively algae-free so far, seems like this setup is still maintaining a good balance in its parameters.

Although there is no algae in the glass lily pipes, there is some algae forming in my filter hoses (finally have a reason to do some filter cleaning), but i noticed something interesting...

The input hose has noticeably more algae than the output hose.

Initially i thought that it could be due to Co2-rich water flowing out from the inline reactor suppressing the algae growth, but when i checked the output hose inside the tank cabinet, i could see that the section of hose connected before the Co2 reactor also has noticeably less algae too.

It seems that the water being drawn in through the input hose has excess nutrients to feed the algae, but after it is processed in the filter, the water coming out has less excess nutrients for algae, hence the distinct difference in algae growth between the 2 hoses. I've never seen this effect in my other tanks before.

The only thing that i could think of that might have caused this phenomenon is the placement of a small 100ml bag of Seachem Purigen in the canister filter (this is the first time i'm using this product)... so it could be a direct result of the Purigen absorbing excess organics from the tank water.

I guess this demonstrates how tank water can be effectively filtered to create a noticeable change in water conditions, just by observing the difference in algae build up between the input and output hoses. :)

- Update!  -

After some discussions and suggestions from fellow aquarists at the AquaticQuotient forum, the brown stuff in the hoses are likely bacteria colonies breaking down organic material or mulm (instead of algae), which also matches the current observations.

Thursday 26 September 2013

64 Litre "Forest Edge" Tank

This is my latest aquascape project that was started in August 2013, it was planned as a layout with twisty wood and rocks as hardscape, along with various plants to recreate a forest edge look.

I managed to document the process over time so that i could track the progress of this project. This is also an opportunity for me to share the trials and tribulations of developing the aquascape.

Here are the tank stats:

Tank Size: 60cm x 30cm x 36cm (High Clarity / Low Iron Glass)
Substrate: ADA Aqua Soil New Amazonia (Powder Type)

Filter System: Eheim Ecco Pro 300 + 13mm gUSH glass intake / VIV glass lily pipe output
Filter Media: Seachem Matrix + Purigen
Temperature: 29-30°C (Day) / 27-28°C (Night)

Lighting: Up Aqua Z-Series Pro LED Z-20 (60cm)
Light Duration: 8 hours (10am-6pm)

Pressurized Co2: ANS Co2 System + ISTA Inline Reactor / 1bps / 30ppm
Co2 Duration: 8 hours (9am-5pm)
Carbon Supplement: Seachem Excel
Fertilizer: Tropica Plant Growth Premium Fertilizer / 1ml daily
Fan/Chiller: None

Water Change Regimen: 20% Weekly

Water Parameters (Cycled):
Tested using API Freshwater Master Test Kit
pH = 6.6
Ammonia = 0 ppm
Nitrite = 0 ppm
Nitrate = 5-10 ppm

Initial Setup

I decided on a sloped triangle layout with a path under the twisty wood, my plan was to use a variation of plants to create the path (rather than using sand), along with an assortment of grey colored rocks to provide some accents in the scape.

Once the hardscape was arranged, i proceeded to spray the soil substrate with water to make initial planting easier. I choose Eleocharis sp. 'Mini' as the main carpet plant. Echinodorus Tenellus and Cryptocoryne Parva were used as the mid-ground transition plants.

After initial planting, i filled the tank slowly using a bucket of water propped up on a ladder, hooked up to an air line tubing with flow control valve. The water was slowly trickled into the tank to minimize disturbance of the ADA soil substrate.

As the tank was filling up, i planted Rotala sp. 'Nanjenshan' and Rotala sp. 'Wallichii' as the fast growing background plants for soaking up excess nutrients during the start up stage.

Halfway filling the tank, the twisty wood started to float up... even though i had actually used the same piece of wood submerged in other tanks before, i made the mistake of removing it to put in storage and i forgot that once dried, the wood needs to be pre-soaked again in order to sink! :)

So i had to resort to the time honored method of keeping wood submerged... weigh it down with a big chunk of rock.

Note that the above photo was taken less than an hour after the tank was filled up... no clouding and no mess, a slow and steady filling of the tank can indeed achieve full water clarity from day one. :)

I didn't tie any moss on the twisty wood as i wanted to preserve the original detail of the wood texture instead. I was also hoping that nice green fuzz algae will eventually grow on it (yes, i actually want that algae!) to help create a natural aged look on the wood.

I cranked up the Co2 injection higher to give the plants a boost (notice my drop checker showing a bright yellow color)... no fauna in the tank yet, so no problems with elevated Co2 levels.

In this setup, i only used one set of the Up Aqua Z-Series Pro LED lightset, even though it is only 20+ watts and works out to only 1.2 watts per gallon (wpg), which many would consider as "low" lighting, this is actually more than sufficient for a tank during start up as the plant mass is still relatively low.

I have actually tried using 2 sets of these lights in other previous setups before but it eventually resulted in lots of unwanted algae growth... whereas when i switched to just using 1 set, the plants still grew well, but the algae receded and ceased to become an issue. So i've learnt my lesson and i'm now very careful to only use the appropriate amount of light to match the amount of plant growth and mass.

A portion of Seachem Matrix bio-media with established beneficial bacteria from my other existing cycled tanks was transferred to this tank's canister filter, so it helped to really speed up the cycling process. I left the tank to completely cycle over the next 2 weeks.

Week 2

Tested the water conditions and it was fully cycled by the 2nd week, thanks to the earlier addition of "seasoned" bio-media.

A group of Boraras Brigittae, Otocinclus Cocama and Neocaridina Heteropoda were introduced as the resident tank fauna.

I also added some Rotala sp. 'Rotundifolia' in the background to complement the current plants too.

All of the plants were growing and pearling with no algae issues... the rotala plants in the background grew very fast, so trimming them was a part of the regular weekly maintenance.

Echinodorus Tenellus looked nice and grew fast too, but became rather invasive as it had a tendency to shoot long runners across the tank, which made controlling where they grow rather tricky. It ended up looking like a network of white lines crisscrossing the substrate, so i planned to remove them and replace with something else.

Week 3

One day i was browsing online and chanced upon photos of aquascapes using just cryptocorynes, somehow i got inspired to change my aquascape mid-way into a "crypt tank", so i proceeded to pull out all the middle and background plants, and replaced them with various cryptocoryne plants (ie. c. wendtii,  c. x willisii, c. albida etc).

I figured with the slower growth characteristics of cryptocorynes plants, it could become a low maintenance tank that didn't require as much maintenance too.

Now just need to wait...

Week 5

After 2 weeks of staring at cryptocorynes growing just a few leaves, it felt abit like watching paint dry... actually, paint dries faster than the growth of these plants!

I finally realized that i didn't have the actual patience to run a crypt tank (kudos to crypt tank owners for their incredible patience!), so i re-scaped it again and put back the fast growing plants.

This time around i changed the plant selection slightly and used Micranthemum Micranthemoides, Rotala sp. 'Rotundifolia' and Rotala sp. 'Wallichii' as the background plants, and Blyxa Japonica as the mid-ground transition plant.

I particularly like the fact that Blyxa Japonica is actually a stem plant, so it is not as invasive and stays exactly where i plant it. It looks great and is much easier for aquascaping.

Although the Eleocharis sp. 'Mini' carpet has been growing steadily so far, it'll still need more time to carpet the foreground area.

The shaded "path" under the twisty wood was still empty, as i still have not yet figured out what plants could be used to fill that area.

Week 8

Over the course of a few weeks, the Eleocharis sp. 'Mini' carpet started to spread very fast (most likely the roots have established properly and a critical mass of growth was reached), noticeably increasing its volume of new runners daily.

I felt that the Rotala sp. 'Wallichii' looked abit out of place in the background and tends to be abit messy during trimming (due to the fine needle-like leaves scattering about everywhere when cut), so i replaced it with more top cuttings from the Rotala sp. 'Rotundifolia'.

The shaded "path" is now carpeted with Anubias sp. 'Petite' using my super glue + pebbles method. Although its a rather unusual plant choice to create a carpet, i've found that it suits the shaded nature of the area and allows me to easily arrange them to shape the path.

Boraras Brigittae all active and colored up nicely, exhibiting a nice deep red sheen.

Otocinclus Cocama and Neocaridina Heteropoda busy grazing on the twisty wood covered with nice green fuzzy algae (which was purposely allowed to grow to add a naturally aged "look" to the wood).

And of course... every tank journal must have the obligatory "shrimplet spotted" photo! :)

Overall, i think this tank developed quite well over the span of 2 months. I'd consider the plants around 80% filled in at the moment, so its now a matter of maintaining healthy growth (and lots of trimming) to progress towards completing the aquascape.

Interestingly... i haven't experienced any significant algae issues so far yet (probably the balance of lights, Co2 and nutrients are currently just about right). I've not even had the need to clean the tank glass during all this time!

Hopefully this aquascape can still be maintained in good condition (and relatively algae-free) for the rest of the year. :)

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Anubias 'Petite' Carpet - Super Glue + Pebbles

In my recent aquascape project, i was looking for ways to fill a section of the tank substrate area that is under perpetual shade, this meant that i had to use plants which could tolerate lower light conditions. In addition, i wanted something that could be shifted around easily without messing up the substrate and clouding the water.

I had good experience with Anubias sp. 'Petite' in my other planted tanks as they exhibited nice compact growth in a wide range of tank and light conditions, but so far i have only attached them to wood pieces as accents or to fill small gaps between rocks.

The idea to use them as an actual carpet plant popped up as it was time to harvest a bunch of new plantlets from my existing plants, so i worked out a plan to weigh them down with small pebbles, yet still keeping their rhizomes above the substrate.

I wasn't too keen to use thread or fishing line to manually tie tiny plantlets to tiny pebbles (too much fiddly tying work and eye strain!)... so i used super glue instead. :)

Here is the method i used:

I split the harvested Anubias sp. 'Petite' plantlets into separate bunches, then prepared a tray of small dark-grey pebbles (around 5-10mm in diameter, from LFS), along with "jelly type" super glue (from Daiso).

The "jelly type" super glue has a thicker viscosity than normal super glue (there is a percentage of resin content in it), so its much easier to use when gluing plantlets to objects.

I have used this glue in my other tanks before and it has been safe for the flora and fauna so far. Though if you happen to keep particularly sensitive fishes or shrimps, it might be a good idea to just try a small amount in a spare tank to test first (and have peace of mind) before using it in your main tanks.

Select the pebble size to match the plantlet size. Trim away longer roots from the plantlet to facilitate easier attachment.

Apply a few tiny drops of super glue, use as little as possible or else the excess could smear out and create an unsightly layer of visible residue.

Find the widest surface area on the plantlet rhizome and attach it to the pebble. Hold them together securely for at least 15-20 seconds.

Repeat the process for all the plantlets, you'll now have a nice selection of Anubias sp. 'Petite' plants that can stay submerged on their own. :)

Just place them anywhere on your substrate and they will sit on it without floating, use a pair of tweezers to push them slightly into the substrate to hide the pebble bases, but still keeping their rhizomes on top.

As you an see from the photo below, when grouped together the Anubias sp. 'Petite' plants make for a nice carpet of plants.

Note that these plant will naturally grow roots into the substrate over time, so they'll be able to get additional nutrients though the soil and it also helps establish them more securely on the substrate too.

As the plants grow, just harvest more plantlets and glue them on pebbles, then arrange them to gradually create a nice carpet effect.

This is what they look like after further propagation and adding in more plantlets...

Here is what they look like in my current aquascape.

I guess with enough care and patience, it could actually be possible to eventually carpet an entire tank with Anubias sp. 'Petite' too! :)