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Update at Four Months

From: booth-at-hplvec.LVLD.HP.COM (George Booth)
Subject: [F][PLANTS][$$$][WORDY] SST Update
Date: 18 Feb 92 23:13:01 GMT
The Super Show tank has been set up and operating for 4 months. The following is an update on how the hardware is working and how the plants are responding. Since I consider the tank arrangement and plants mature at this point, this is the last posting about the SST. I will, of course, continue to post "Key Learnings" (as our marketing folks are wont to say) about this tank and our other tanks.

Sorry for the length, but that's the way I am.

Concept

We are very happy with the open top style of tank. The view from above with the floating and submerged leaves really is exceptional. Casual maintenance is greatly facilitated, expecially removing leaves caught in the skimmer and floating on top. The pre-filter pad is easy to remove for cleaning and feeding is a snap. It's too bad our other tanks are acrylic - the top plates would not be very attractive if they weren't covered by a hood.

The only drawback is glare from the suspended metal halide light. You can't actually see the bulbs, just the bright white reflector inside the fixture. To counter it, I wear a baseball cap when I sit in front of the tank. I might look into making a smoked plexiglass border around the edge of the fixture, just large enough to block the glare. I would only do this to preserve my self-esteem, since a certain spouse claims I look nerdy in a baseball cap and giggles when she sees me in it.

Hardware

Tank and Stand

We're very happy with the tank and stand. Algae is easy to remove from the glass with a razor blade. With the acrylic tanks, a soft pad and a lot of elbow grease are required. We've gotten used to the distortion the thick glass causes at oblique angles. The stand hasn't collasped, so what else can you say?

Electrical

We still like the "control panel" (switches for pumps, cabinet lights, etc). We've had no trouble with the GFI (although we will probably bypass it when we go on vacation to avoid any spurious tripping).

Lighting

We really like the metal halide lights. The intensity and color rendition are excellent. Having "point sources" allows any surface ripples to cast natural looking shadows on the plants and gravel, mimicing sun light. We've adjusted the "siphon breaker" holes in the trickle filter water returns to produce just the right amount of ripples to enhance the effect.

We did experience infant mortality with one of the two bulbs at about 3 months. Hamilton warranties them for a year, so it was replaced "free of charge". Of course, we had to pay shipping to return the old bulb (so they could verify it was broken) and to send the new bulb to us, but I guess you can't consider that a "charge". Funny how it cost $2.40 for me to ship it to them, but it costs $7.90 for them to ship it to me. Must be a California export tax or something.

When we put the new bulb in, we compared its lux value against the older bulb and tracked its brightness over time with our Turbo Lux Meter and Bun Warmer. The initial loss was quite dramatic - I'll post more details at a later date.

I was going to post the lux values for the tank, but my memory has failed me. I think we have around 15,000 lux at the surface under the bulbs and from 1000 to 4000 lux at the gravel. I'll check this and also post more details. Anyway, the plants seem to like it :-)

Heating

The heating coils are working fine (as far as I can tell). We have noticed that they can't quite maintain 81.8 F on colder nights and are going to reinstall the Ebo-Jaeger auxiliary heater.

My hypothesis about the coils not keeping the tank warm enough at night is that they do not provide enough heat to quickly raise the water temperature. The MH lights will heat the water to about 82.5 F after they are on all day. This causes the temperature controller to turn off the coils sometime before the lights go off. When the coils are off for a while, the gravel will loose heat to the water and the glass bottom of the tank. Once the coils come back on, they slowly reheat the glass and gravel, but it takes so long that the temperature of the water continues to fall for awhile, then very slowly comes back to the correct level. The controller does not compensate for this large delay or lag. Maybe the new microprocessor controlled version does, but we'll never know (to much $$$ :-).

Filtration

The water quality in the tank is excellent (nitrates, phosphates, O2, ORP, pH, etc). Whether the good quality is due to the technology (substrate heating coils, Dupla BioKascade media, metal halide lights), due to the excellent plant growth (because of heating coils and MH lights) or simply because we clean the two filter pads more often is up for debate. I would favor the Clean Filter Pad Theory.

Nitrates in this tank are less than 3 ppm (less than 0.75 ppm N * 4.4). The 100g tank runs 8-12 ppm with the equivalent bioload, the same trickle filter (with generic bioballs) but with an Eheim 2217 that doesn't get cleaned as much as it should. Since the trickle filter pads are the only mechanical filtration, we need to change the prefilter pad about twice a week and the drip plate pad about once a week. We are actually changing less water in the SST than in the other two tanks (100 liters versus 150 liters) and are getting lower nitrates. We are planning on removing the Eheim from the 100g tank for a while to see if long term detritus decay is causing the higher nitrates.

CO2 Injection

Working great. Wouldn't be without it. We have a 20 pound tank on the system, which should last for about 6 months.

Environment

Substrate

The gravel/laterite combination is working fine. We can see the bottom of the gravel through the bottom of the stand and there are just a few roots from the E. osiris actually getting down that far (3.5" of gravel). When we move plants, none of the laterite is disturbed and there is no cloudiness. We have not noticed any large pockets of mulm when we gravel vacumm what gravel we can reach. There is also no visible mulm on the surface of the gravel. As far as we can tell, there are no anaerobic areas at the bottom of the gravel (black areas), so the heating coils must be creating enough oxygen circulation.

Hardness

KH is kept around 4 degrees and GH around 3.5 degress by adding sodium bicarbonate and calcium carbonate. This has worked out very well and is about 1/3 the cost of Dupla KH+GH tablets.

pH

pH is maintained at 6.80 +/- 0.05 by the CO2 controller.

Fertilization

We are adding Duplagan water conditioner and Duplaplant fertilizer tablets at each weekly water change and 5 Duplaplant-24 trace element drops each day. Iron is steady at 0.15 ppm and the plants are growing like gangbusters.

Plants

               Plant List for the 90 gallon Super Show Tank
               --------------------------------------------

  ......................................................................
  .Ns   .Lr Lr Lr Lr .      Hs        .        .Hp Hp .    .  Hz   Hz  .  
  .   Ns. Lr Lr  Lr  .  Hs        Hs  .    As  . Hp Hp. Ab . Hz  Hz  Hz.  
  . Ns  .   Lr Lr Lr .        Hs      .       .Hp Hp  . . . .  Hz Hz Hz.  
  .   Ns . Lr Lr  Lr . . . .          .  As   . Hp Hp.         . Hz Hz .  
  . Ns   . . . . . .         .       . . . . . . . .    Ac        . . ..  
  . . . .         .           . rr .              .       . . . . .    .  
  . Lp .    Al    .      Eo   .rrrr.   Aa  Aa  . .  .    . Bm Bm .     .  
  . Lp .          .           . rr  .          .      . . . Bm Bm . Ak .  
  . Lp .   Al     .   Eo      .     .  Aa  Aa  .      . rr.  . . ..    .  
  . Lp .        .  .          .  An .         .   Bl  .rrrr.       . . .   
  . . .    Al  .     . . . . .      .    Aa  .        .rrr .  Bl  . Hv .  
  . A? .      .   An        An     .  Aa     .        .      .    . Hv .  
  ......................................................................

       As  Ammannia senegalensis         Eo  Echinodorus osiris      
       Ab  Anubias barcon                Hz  Heteranthera zosterifolia
       Ac  Anubias coffeeafolia   (floating) Hydrocotyle verticillata 
       Al  Anubias lanceolata            Hv  Hydrocotyle vulgaris
       Ak  Anubias kumbaensis            Hp  Hygrophila polysperma
       An  Anubias nana                  Hs  Hygrophila salicifolia
       A?  Anubias sp.                   Lp  Ludwigia palustris
       Aa  Armoracea aquatica            Lr  Ludwigia repens
       Bm  Bacopa monniera               Ns  Nomaphila siamensis
       Bl  Barclaya longifolia           rr  rocks
Since the last update, we have slightly rearranged the tank and removed a few plants that didn't like the conditions or didn't contribute to the overall aesthetic. The E. cordifolius was too big and distracting; it would do better as a centerpiece in a less densely planted tank. The various crypts did not seem to like "warm roots" and weren't really needed anyway. The lotus bulb was in the same category - it's now in the 100g tank. The Rotala macrantha was also removed since it detracted from the A. senegalensis (same color and general appearance, just smaller). The new arrangement still provides the same feeling as the last one, but looks much less busy and more integrated (i.e., the plants seem to complement each other better).

The Echinodorus osiris has become a monster and is definitely the centerpiece of the tank (although placed correctly off-center to follow the "Golden Rule"). It is still producing about 1 new leaf per week, but the new leaves are now 4" wide, 8" long and are on 12" petioles (for the dimensionally challenged, the top of the leaf is at the water surface in a 24" deep tank). The new leaves are a deep burgundy color that gradually changes to a dark green over time.

We finally got some Barclaya longifolia bulbs and have had them for about 2 months. One is sort of a dud and has produced about 8-10 smallish, 2" long green leaves. The other is another story. It started very slowly and after 3 weeks or so produced a couple of leaves about 1"x6" that looked just like the pictures. Since then, it has decided it likes us and currently has at least 20 1"x10" leaves with two or three new leaves per week. The leaves are on short petioles, unlike pictures in the Rataj book (due to the bight lighting, no doubt). There are 6 flower stalks at this time, ranging from an 18" stalk with a flower blooming on the surface of the water to a 9", 6", 2", 1" and a 1/2" stalk just starting out. This plant is very impressive. What started out as a little 3/8" diameter bulb now has a golf ball size rhizome. I *like* it.

The Ammania senegalensis grows fairly fast but only slowly forms new branches that we can replant. We now have two stems with some new shots starting on the second stem. This also is an impressive plant. It looks a lot like Rotala macrantha, but scaled up about three or four times. It has a 1/4" dia. stem with thin, 3-4" red-orange leaves growing opposed every 1/2" along the stem.

The Armoracea aquatica has divided into 6 or 7 plants and makes a beautiful green carpet about 2" high in the middle of the tank. It is being used to visually separate the E. osiris and B. longifolia and provide a forground for the A. senegalensis. This is an outstanding foreground plant if you can find it, gorgeous emerald green with fountain shaped leaves growing out of a small base. They don't cover the gravel like E. tenellus, so scavenegers and other fish can still get to food lodged underneath them.

The Heteranthera zosterifolia has taken on the characteristics of a weed. We need to cut about 2/3 of the mass away every two weeks or it will over take the tank. That's OK, though, since the local fish shop buys the excess from us and it seems to die for everyone else so there is a constant demand :-) And when it's properly trimmed, the bright green rosettes are an exceptional background.

We have not experienced any algae plagues in this tank. We do have a wonderful variety of non-plague type algae, but it is easy to keep under control.

The various algae eaters keep the short little hair algae trimmed back, so that is no problem. Medimum and long hair algae can be found among some of the plants, but is easily removed with a toothbrush by winding it up like spaghetti. A word of warning: Karla objected to the taste of the algae in the strongest possible terms, so I wouldn't recommend using your SO's toothbrush.

Just like our other tanks, older leaves, especially Anubias, collect red brush algae (small, grey-black tufts). Since the plants grow very fast, we simply remove any leaves so affected.

This tank has produced a tough strain of "green dot" algae, probably due to the high light intensity. Our other tanks will get little green dots on the front glass, er, plastic, that takes a lot of rubbing to remove. In this tank, it grows in slightly larger patches on older leaves of some of the plants like the Anubias, Amoracea and the E. osiris. It doesn't seem to be a problem unless you look real close and believe that there should not be any algae. I think that algae is a natural result of a healthy plant tank, so *I* don't have a problem.

At this point, we consider the plants in the tank mature and the arrangement pretty much stabilized. Now it's time to sit back and enjoy our efforts and perfrom the bi-weekly harvests.

Fish

We now have 5 discus in the tank, two wild type and three flavors of turquoise. The wild type ("Axel" and "Tefe") were in the tank for about two months before the three others ("Lo Fat", "Jake" and "Elwood") were transferred from the 100g, so they are the dominant ones. We don't expect any kind of courting activity for a year or so. "Lo Fat" was being picked on in the other tank and looks kinda sickly; we hope he perks up in this tank. He was purchased locally and was supposed to be a Lo Wing Yat ("Sunny") Full Color Turquoise direct from Hong Kong. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. He *was* very pretty at first ...

Note: I don't know how to identify dwarf cichlids, so you'll have to bear with my fish store nomenclature for the rams described below.

Of the 16 rams we purchased, 5 are still around. We originally had 4 "gold" rams and 6 "butterfly" rams from the usual stock that is typically found laying on the bottom of fish store tanks (you know, the long-finned mutants that are so genetically hosed that they don't survice long?). We found some with normal finnage, but all have gone the way of the dinosaur. The last one we saw alive looked like a swimming head. We would have put it out of its misery, but it is impossible to catch fish in a densely planted tank, so we have to let nature take its nasty course.

Shortly after buying the initial 10, we found 6 more "wild" rams at a local store that weren't quite as colorful and had a more oval shape than the first rams. Of those 6, 5 are still alive and kicking. These may be geneticaly closer to a true wild ram, since they actually act like cichlids and not some kind of French Poodle that only eats "Gourmet Doggie Woggie Filet Mignon" in a can. They eat anything offered. They watch for us and wiggle for food. They have gotten much more colorful and appear to be courting. There is 1 large dominant fish, a couple of smaller fish that have staked out territory under the A. lanceolota, and two left-overs. They could be spawning, but we'll probably never know. I would attempt to classify them as males and females based on the observed behavior, but I just went through "Gender Diversity Sensitivity Training" and I don't want the Gender Police all over me.

Mr. and Mrs. and Mr. and Mrs. Pearl Gourami are doing fine and getting beautiful coloration. We thought the natual color of the MH lights would not show them up as well as typical aquarium lights, but we were wrong. We were also wrong about them being "upper half of the tank" fish - they are where ever the food is! It's been a while since we last had Pearls, so I guess we forgot.

Of the 12 otocinclus we bought, we have only seen at two the same time recently. Either they hide well or they have been sucked into the skimmer box. Since I have actually found two or three slowly dissolving in the skimmer box, I favor the later hypothesis.

Of the six Corydora trilineata we purchsed, I have seen four at once recently, so they are probably still around. Also, the E. siamensis (Siammese Algae Eater) is still happily grazing algae bits off the various plants.

Conclusion

So, the big question - was the SST worth the $3500 (very conservative estimate) that we paid for it? Yes.

I don't think that expensive technology is required to grow plants (I can hear more than a few heads nodding out there). If you see the video, you will realize that the 85 gallon Rainbowfish tank has the most impressive vegatation and it is very low tech except for CO2; it even has an UGF!

The cost of the SST was worth it to us because (1) we had the money available to do it and (B) we now have a range of technologies with which to experiment. We may find that, long term, the technology DOES make a difference; we are seeing very low nitrates in the tank for an as yet undetermined reason. We may find that the technology allows a tank to "work" for a much longer period of time between teardowns. But, that will take years to tell.

And, best of all, we will not be second guessing ourselves forever, sayng "If only we had tried heating coils".

There are many experiments yet to be run. Can we grow B. longifolia in the 100g tank (no heating coils) if we have good stock? We will probably have good stock very soon, based the rate the thing is producing flowers. Are canister filters "nitrate generators" just like UGFs, if for no other reason than people won't clean then every week? And on and on.

I now pass the "killer tank" baton to the next enthustiast.

Be lucky,

George

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