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AAA - One Year Anniversary

October 1994

I was asked recently how my 55-gallon plant tank has been doing since I wrote my first hyper-article on it last February, so perhaps it's time quickly do an update on everything. It's been slightly over one year since I started the tank.

Here is a picture of the tank as of September 1994. As you can see, it has grown a lot since the initial planting! The giant hygro on the left has blocked out all the light to the left 1/3 of the tank.

Did the Pseudo-Dupla regiment work?

The substrate heating I used was the "Dennerle" method of low-wattage cables combined with a normal tank heater. As I suspected, I only needed to turn the voltage down on the cables during one month this summer when it got above 80 in the house; the rest of the year the regulation to 77F has been provided by my Ebo-Jaeger heaters.

Instead of the usual laterite, I used some very red clay I picked up near Lake Shasta. As far as I can tell, this worked fine. There's no black areas under the gravel, the clay never clouded my water even though bits come up when I uproot plants. George Booth suggests that the main benefit of heating coils is long-term stability of the substrate; no crud has come up, and the plants have not shown any growth slowdown (apart from a few specifics I'll mention later). I paid $85 for the cables, and I can talk myself into beleiving they made the tank stable. :)

In terms of lighting, I am very glad I hung the fixture instead of making a canopy. For one thing, I was able to pull the lights back a few inches during the summer, letting the plants emerge and more sun enter from the window above. The next tank will definitely have one or two MH pendants suspended from above.

I had a small problem with my CO2 injection system. I had been using the tried-and-true net-method of bubbling into the powerhead intake. This was an inefficent but acceptible approach in my previous tanks, but in this one it was just too much. The prefilter and sump diffused the gas faster thank I could bubble it in, and I found myself replacing my cylinder twice in one month. The solution was to construct a gas reactor, which has now been running for several months.

As for the filtration system itself, I chalk it up as a failure. I wanted to have a tank with no filter at all, just pumps to move the water around so the plants would take up the ammonia. But I have always had high nitrate levels in this tank, usually 30ppm (Tetra kit), which means that there is a lot of biofiltration going on despite my efforts. I blame the prefilter sponge, which is acting as a miniature trickle filter. My solution to the nitrate problem now is more frequent water changes, and a significantly lower fish population.

Other problems with my filter system: The 802 powerhead is wimpy. On the next tank, I'll get a real pump. My prefilter design has a few flaws, one of which being it can trap fish out of water if only half a sponge is installed, and the siphon looses its effect gradually over the period of a week. "Any day now" I'll be putting a check valve in my siphon so I don't have to snake in an airline tube every week

Fish

The original hodge-podge of algae-eating (or not, as the case may be) fish is now replaced with four C. siamensis (purchased from Albany Aquarium), one remaining "thai flying fox" (which I've now learned is actually the "false siamensis", Garra taeniata(?)), and two extremely fat otocinclus. ( Here is a picture of four young siamensis chasing after the old false siamensis.)

I'm also slowly getting rid of the congo tetras in favor of smaller, less destructive fish (at least for this size tank). I tried, at one point, to add in some neon tetras, but the congos immediately took this as ``Hey guys, look... Colorful red and blue live food!'' I will wait until the remaining three have been sold or donated before trying that again.

My favorite fish of the tank (aside from the siamensis still has to be the Kribensis (Pelvicachromis pulcher). I still have the male namesake of this web site, though all his compadres have since passed on. Two months ago, I finally located another female, and as of yesterday they are guarding about 20 fry. Maybe without as many competitors the fry will actually survive this time. (The follies I've had with Kribs deserve an article all its own; some time maybe I'll even write it.)

Nearly forgot to mention, I tried a few other dwarf cichlids during the year, Rams (Here's a picture of one) and some Apistogramma that were brought in an aquarium society auction. Both died, out of fear of the Congo Tetras. See the pattern? The checkerboard cichlids Crenicara filementosa are doing OK, though.

Plants

[Planting Plan]

Saururus cernuus (Lizard's Tail)
In my continuing quest to ignore nature, I still have this plant. Yes, it's one of those "no-no" bog plants. But the Dutch grew it for years. I was able to grow a nice terraced patch of it this spring and summer, but the leaves have died back and are sprouting new shoots. Is this because I turned the heat back up on the cables, or because the heat on the tank went down with the season? I'll probably never know, but I'm already propagating new plants emersed in my other tank for transplant in a month.
Hygrophila corymbosa (Giant Hygro)
It grew out of the tank. Finally cut it yesterday since it was cutting off all the light to the rest of the plants. I hesistate to do this, because in the past it's taken months to recover from being cut.
Hygro polysperma
I reduced the patch, got some of the "sunset" variety, but it never took off very well. No idea why. If I find more, I'll try it again.
Nymphaea lotus
I finally got a real one (red leaves with dark red streaks), and since the fish are mellower now it's actually throwing out leaves quicker than they nibble them off. I have a dream someday I'll have a big healthy lotus with floating leaves, and (gasp) blooms.
Echinodorus
When I took out the poor anubias patch, front row center, I planted it with pygmy chain swords of both the quadricostatus and tenellus variety (Here is a picture of quadricostatus with a checkerboard cichlid hanging out in the middle). They've gone very well. The trick to them seems to be to leave them alone until the chains snaking all over the aquarium are unbearable. Then replant. I also picked up a radican sword (cordifolius), though it's not taking off too well. When I pulled out the paniculatus during the summer, I found it had a big tuber off the side of the plant that was growing a new shoot. I sold the original (actually two plants) but kept the tuber, which is now a "medium" size plant!
Cryptocoryne aff. wendtii
They've now taken over the left 1/3 of the tank. I see occasional bits of melting, but always good strong growth and lots of runners. Leaves are now 7-8 inches long!
Valisneria spiralis
Used to grow great for me in old tanks. In this one, it's been very touchy. Maybe they don't like the heating cables. Maybe they don't like being so close to the crypts. In any case, I just had a massive die-off of my val, and now I'm looking for something else to plant there. I might try some cabomba.
Heteranthera zosterfolia
I put these in for fun, and they've now replaced the Ludwigia as right margin plant. The success has been varied, with it sometimes showing crazy green growth, and (currently) die-backs. This was voted ``coolest plant in the tank'' by my mom, when she visisted. Here is the zosterfolia at its best, with some of the Lizard's tail in the left background.
Microsorum pteropus (Java Fern)
Insane! I bought a little and tied it to a piece of bogwood, and now not only has it taken over the whole log but it has leaves that grow to the top of the tank. I definitely need a deeper aquarium next time. (Here is what it looked like when I pulled the bogwood out for cleaning in September!)
One last point: A major lesson learned was that my friendly neighborhood Aquarium Society is far happier about buying plant cuttings than my friendly neighborhood Fish Store (tm). Look up one in your area and give them a call.

Erik Olson

Want to read more? Here's my 1997 replacement tank.
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This page was last updated 29 October 1998