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Mark Stephens

Contents:

  1. Stephens Plant Tank
    by mstephens.520-at-postman.gsfc.nasa.gov (mark stephens) (13 Dec 91)
  2. Stephens plant tank: the plants
    by mstephens.520-at-postman.gsfc.nasa.gov (mark stephens) (16 Dec 91)
  3. Stephens Plant Tank II... comments welcome
    by mark.stephens-at-gsfc.nasa.gov (mark stephens) (Thu, 15 Jun 1995)

Stephens Plant Tank

by mstephens.520-at-postman.gsfc.nasa.gov (mark stephens)
Date: 13 Dec 91
Newsgroup: alt.aquaria,rec.aquaria,sci.aquaria

_______________________
Introduction

This is a write up of one person's experiences in setting up a so called 
"plant tank".  A plant tank is a freshwater aquarium devoted to growing 
plants as the "main course".  I would hesitate to say that fish come 
second as, for me, an aquarium is not complete without fish and they 
derive a great benefit from living with healthy, actively growing 
plants.  If I may be so bold as to make an analogy:  The plant tank is a 
reef tank of the freshwater aquarium world.  Many of the same features 
may be found on both: strong lighting, trickle filters, very pure water 
requirements and a small number of fish per volume.  I hasten to add 
that I consider a reef tank the harder of the two to maintain, 
especially considering the "fleshware" is so much more expensive in the 
saltwater arena.  

This posting is the first for this tank and contains sections about 
History, Tank & Stand, Electrical, Filtration, CO2 Injection, Lighting, 
Heating, Substrate, Water, Fertilization, Plants and Fish.  The later 
two are to be expanded in a later posting as well as "The first two 
weeks, a blow by blow account" and other thrilling stories.

I hope that this gets folks interested in this aspect of our hobby.  It 
may have the opposite effect in that, as you read this and perhaps other 
plant tank posting, you will gleam that it is not a cheap way to set up 
a tank.  But to jump ahead a little: I drive frantically home from work, 
feed the cats and dog, and run up to the bedroom to plop myself down in 
front of the tank.  Typically I don't eat until my stomach growls at 9pm 
or so.  Gee,  what's it gonna be like when I put some real fish in 
there?         

                mark stephens                 13 Dec 91


_______________________
History

I have had various aquaria in the past.  In my heyday, my bedroom during 
high-school housed two mated pair of FW angles... my grandfather, when 
visiting, would complain that it was like sleeping in a pet shop.  Up 
until 6 months ago, I had a 20H gal at work and a 30XH gal at home.  The 
fish bug bit me hard one day when I was staring at a tank at the 
Aquarium Center, outside of Baltimore MD.  It was a full Dupla setup, 
terrific plant growth and great looking fish.  And I said to myself "I 
could do that".  Well I did (hopefully!) and the plant tank I have set 
up is more wonderful and complex than I expected.  And, I might add, 
more expensive!  (For the uninitiated, Dupla is a company specializing 
in plant tank equipment, they make some of the most expensive & 
effective stuff for this, as of now, small market.)

Due mainly to this group, and especially to George Booth and Vinny 
Kutty, I became enamored of the idea of growing luscious plants in an 
aquarium.  I am an avid organic gardener: vegies, perennials, anuals, 
bushes, shrubs and trees; perennials are my favorite.  I have taken one 
year of landscaping plant materials identification and design.  Lets say 
I that, until the fish bug hit, gardening was my number one leisure 
occupation.  What better way to extend landscaping design to the 
aquarium hobby than a plant tank?

Books about plant tanks were purchased, mainly "The Optimal Aquarium" by 
Horst & Kipper (Aqua Documenta) and "Hobbyist Guide to the Natural 
Aquarium" by Andrews (Tetra Press).  "The Optimal Aquarium" (hereafter 
"TOA") is the better of the two; both, however, advertise their 
respective wares.  As a reference I already had "Aquarium Plants" by 
Rataj and Horemean. After reading these and the net postings, I became 
more than enamored, I became possessed.  The plant tank demon ruled my 
life and pocket book for four months.  Any newsnet publishing was 
snapped up in a microsecond.  I boooored my colleagues at work with my 
progress or lack thereof.

At least one of those months was deciding just what to do.  I know I 
needed more room for the fish in the 20 & 30 gallon tanks.  This was by 
design.  Only problem was the fish grew too damn fast so I needed a tank 
bad and I started thinking 55 gal.  Trouble with a 55 gal is that it is 
typically 12" wide, just like my 20 and 30.  Large plants look 
compressed in such a small width.  A 75 gal was the same length as the 
55, about the same height but had an extra 6" in width.  The 75 gallon 
was the ticket.

OK, purchase the tank... which I did.  OK, build the stand, no design 
the stand and then build.  This I also did.  OK now what?  Soon after 
putting the aquarium on the stand (hey it fits!), I went to my first 
meeting of the "Potomac Aquarium Society" and happened to chat with a 
guy there who ask me innocently "what kind of gravel are you gonna put 
in there, I know of some really nice stuff from the local streams around 
here...".  Oy, wish I hadn't heard this as now I just had to have that 
gravel.  I have never been enamored with "pet shop" gravel, especially 
the type they want you to put in a plant tank: 1/8" in size (that's OK) 
and bone white (not OK).  Not to mention the cost.  

Finding and taking the gravel from a stream took what remained of month 
one and a week of month two.  The tank was finally set up with water and 
gravel.  The only plant life was a cut leaf philodendron root I stuck in 
the tank on a lark. This situation lasted about a month.   

Do I really need carbon dioxide?  Usenet can be blamed for pushing me 
over THIS particular cliff.  So now the question was, "How to do it 
cheaply?".  The answer is, "You don't... mostly".  My gas tank is a 
refurbished CO2 fire extinguisher purchased from the marketers of the 
same, my regulator is made for beer homebrewers and my CO2 bubble 
counter is a mason (caning) jar.  CO2 goes right up the canister filter 
intake.  The cost of this simple, excess fish holder tank was climbing.

One of course can not have plants with out lights.  I started down the 
florescent path by purchasing four Triton bulbs.  Why Triton?  Hey, you 
have to start somewhere, and I have never had any of these high powered 
bulbs before.  I jumped off the metal halide (MH) cliff after reading 
all those postings about florescent verses MH.  To my mind MH won hands 
down in the same way florescent wins over incandescent:  high initial 
cost offset by low maintenance/operating costs.  And the MH are much 
brighter.

After a wedding and a Thanksgiving, I could spend time on the plant 
list.  Next to planting, this is for me was the best part of setting up 
this tank.  Lists from Vinny, George and "TOA" were poured over and a 
planting scheme derived.  The day after Thanksgiving, I drove from the 
D.C. area to Newark, Delaware to visit Mike Trzonkowski (MikeT) the 
"Plant Baron".  MikeT has some nice plants and I was glad I drove the 2 
1/2 hours to pick 'em out (especially after reading George's description 
of his partly frozen shipment!). I also purchased some algae eating 
fish.  So, last Friday I found myself finishing up the planting around 
9pm.  Looked like a mess. Leaves were going every which way, so much so 
that you couldn't tell that there was a carefully laid out plan.  Of 
course, they look much better now.

The tank has been planted and up and running for two weeks now (Friday 
the 13th).  All is going well.  Some hair algae is on the older, mainly 
dying leaves.  Older leaves on the crypts have melted down to goo.  
Every plant has at least one new leaf, most have 3 to 5!  Roots going 
everyWhichAway.  Colors are vibrant, fish look happy.  Only blight on 
this was the CO2 poising event which killed the original 5 algae eating 
fish two days after initial planting.  I have posted this sad tale and 
will tell more below.

In a nutshell, I am thrilled.  I'm also holding my breath for about a 
month, then I'll know if some measure of success has been achieved.  
What I have now I call Phase I:  the setup could be left as is and all 
would be OK.  Phase II includes a trickle filter and MH lights (not in 
that order!) and will hopefully take things beyond just OK!

Now, on to some specifics.


_________________
Tank & Stand

The tank is a standard 75 gallon measuring 48" long by 18" wide by 21" 
tall.  The tank came with a glass cover and a strip light. It was 
cheaper this way than just purchasing the tank alone.  I would have 
preferred a higher tank, say a 90gal, but the only place to put the tank 
in my bedroom had the floor joist running the wrong way.  Height is what 
makes a tank weigh more per square foot and the 75gal still had about 
700 lb to distribute over 18x48 square inches.  A tad more than code, I 
believe. The tank is to be left uncovered and the strip light I'm 
turning into a "moon" light by reflecting it's rays off the wall behind 
the tank. 

The stand had to take into account that the joist ran parallel to the 
length of the tank.  Given that my basement is full of woodworking 
equipment, a store bought stand was out of the question.  The design I 
came up with involves using 4x4 pine posts as the legs and 2x4s as the 
tank supports. Each piece was planned by about 1/4".  The 4x4 posts were 
dadoed at the top to accept the tank supports, and at the bottom to 
accept a bottom support rail and feet running perpendicular to the 
length of the stand.  These feet caught at least two joists to better 
distribute the weight.  The cabinet beneath the tank is enclosed on the 
sides by 1/4" laun paneling.  The front doors, also of laun paneling, 
slide in groves sawed into the rails.  The doors can be lifted out of 
the grooves to give full length access to the cabinet interior.  I left 
the stand unfinished, which could prove a mistake but if there is one 
thing about woodworking I hate and that's finish work.  I did sand it 
down for pete's sake!

The stand is held together with bolts and it can be unbolted and taken 
apart.  It is very, very steady, doesn't look bad and fits in to the 
unstained (but polyurethane) trim work in the bedroom.  AND it cost a 
whopping $25, not including my 4 days of labor!  Of course, the 
planer/joiner cost $1,500 but whose counting.

I know this is a very sketchy and I will be happy to mail the plans 
out... either e-mail in a Macintosh based format or snail mail, 
especially if you inclose a stamped and addressed envelope!  The stand 
could be done with just a table saw, a dado head ("Mr. Dado Head") and a 
drill.  The planer/joiner just makes things fit together nicely and 
makes one hell of a noise.


_______________________
Electrical

I took a cue from the Booths and spend time wiring up a gang of 
electrical outlets.  It is basically five plastic "device" boxes screwed 
to a 2x4 which in turn is screwed to the stand.  Four such device boxes 
contain two devices: a switch and two plug receptacle.  The switch 
controls "it's" plug.  Unfortunately, the "combination" device, 
consisting of a switch and a plug, costs over $7 apiece whereas the 
separate switch and plug cost $1 for both.  The combination device would 
have been the ticket except for the cost.  The other device box contains 
a ground fault interrupt (GFI) two plug receptacle.

What I have is one device box which is not GFI protected,  followed by 
the GFI device, which protects the three remaining devices.  I also 
added a cheapy florescent light (under $5 bucks) to illuminate the 
cabinet interior.  An idea from the Booths and a good one too.

An Eheim canister filter is connected to the non-GFI protected circuit 
and everything else to the GFI protected outlets.  This is also based on 
net wisdom in that if the GFI trips say due to a power surge (?), I 
still have filtration whereas the more prone to failure components 
(lights, heaters, etc.) provide protection for me and my fish.  


__________________
Filtration

Phase I includes an Eheim 2217 canister filter.  It is filled, from the 
bottom (intake) up, with ceramic noodles, course Easter egg basket 
lining (eebl), fine eebl and filter fluff.  It was turned on soon as the 
philodendron root hit the water so that it has been on for about a month 
before plants and fish hit the water.  The filter is not as quiet as I 
had hoped.  A bedroom, at least MY bedroom, has a demanding level of 
quietness.  With the cabinet doors closed, the Eheim has a slightly 
annoying hum/rattle.  The rattle is less than the hum.  The Eheim's on 
my other two tanks keep the water free of ammonia and nitrites and clear 
the water up toot de sweet, and I expect the same from this one.

The filter sits below the tank in the cabinet.  The filtered output 
water is pumped through the spray bar provided with the filter and is 
directed the length of the tank from left to right at the top; i.e., the 
bar is suction cupped to the left hand wall of the tank at the top.  The 
intake is at the right back corner.

Phase II will include a home brewed trickle filter.  I have the Quite-
One pump and a local plastics catalog and some ideas.  This will be the 
last major work remaining on the tank after the MH lights go up.  I 
might add that the trickle filter itself is not a problem to build, it's 
just a bunch of boxes (or partly bucket, as someone recently posted!).  
The problem is the brakeless siphon overflow box.  It is the more 
complicated device to build and I'm still working on how to do it.

I can't wait to get a sump, I've never had one!  Sumps must be 
wonderful.  You can dump things into them like water and fertilizer.  
You can put heaters in the sump.  You can put powerheads in a sump and 
run CO2 gas reactors.  But best of all, a sump keeps the water level in 
the tank constant and that I like a lot.

A further note:  There will be NO air pumps used in anyway in this 
tank... the hummmmm would be more than I could bear.


___________________
CO2 Injection

Like the Booth's, I also (ha! just after a week), feel that CO2 is a key 
element, if not THE key element, in a plant tank.  I not going to go 
into the CO2 "story", but basically it does two very important things:  
It provides a readily accessible source to carbon to the plants and it 
keeps the pH stable.  In effect, CO2 is a pH controller.  The value of 
the pH depends on the amount of carbonate hardness (KH) and the amount 
of CO2 dissolved in the water (measured in parts per million or ppm).  
The only drawbacks to CO2 is that it can kill and it is a costly 
component to the tank; right up there with a trickle filter (well, cost 
only, I've never known a killer trickle filter!).  

As I found out, too much CO2 leads to CO2 poisoning of fish and a 
drastic drop of pH.  I've posted the tale, but suffice to say you need a 
good way to control just how much CO2 is getting into the tank, and the 
regulator will not provide that fine a control.  You need a needle 
valve.

Here's the setup: a CO2 tank, a regulator with two gages (one for tank 
pressure and one for line pressure) and a needle valve for fine control 
of the rate of injection.  The tank weight is about 60-70lb and holds 
20lb of liquid CO2 at about 900psi.  My tank is a refurbished fire 
extinguisher and is therefore painted a lovely (really!) bright red.  
Attached directly to the tank is a two gage regulator from a beer home 
brew store (I also brew beer, and, ah, well, I drink it too).  A 
polyvinyl hose, purchased in a hardware store, is fitted to the 
regulator's nipple and leads to a mason jar bubble counter.  A bubble 
counter is a cheapy way of judging the amount of gas by counting the 
number of bubbles emitted per second.  A more precise way would be to 
install an inline flow meter.

The mason jar bubble counter was made from a quart size canning jar.  It 
not only allows me to count bubbles, but to go from the larger diameter 
supply hose down to air line hose size. Holes were drilled into the 
metal top to accommodate a 3/8" outer diameter (OD) cpvc pipe fitted 
with a 1/2" hose as a gasket (the jar top actually cuts a bit into the 
polyvinyl hose) and a 1/8" (?) rigid plastic tube for air hose 
connections, also with a gasket of silicon air hose.  The jar is filled 
half way with water to cover the end of the cpvc pipe.  CO2 is supplied 
into the bubble counter at 5psi thru the cpvc pipe.  This pipe bubbles 
gas into the water and the gas is output at the top thru the 1/8" rigid 
tube.

The silicon air line hose is fitted to the 1/8" tube and leads to the 
Nupro needle valve.  From the needle valve the silicon air line hose 
leads up to the tank and the end is wedged into the Eheim filter intake 
strainer. 

The needle valve is a Nupro "S" series and is a tiny piece of hi-tech 
workmanship, expensive too.  It really does allow for fine control over 
the flow of the gas.  I tried a typical air hose valve and it was just 
impossible to get anything other than mostly FULL ON or OFF.  So much 
for the $1 solution.

And all this CO2 stuff really works!!!  I have the bubbles coming out at 
about 2 bubbles per second.  Every 30 minutes the Eheim belches and a 
half second after that the spray bar spews CO2 into the tank.  How much 
CO2 is actually being absorbed within the filter itself, verses spray 
bar spew I don't know specifically.  You can watch bubbles of CO2 in the 
tank get smaller as they waft in the flow.  Currently I can get between 
10 and 20 ppm CO2 injected into the tank by adjusting the needle valve.

Phase II will include a gas reactor.  I'm going to build a mason jar 
(wide mouth variety this time!) reactor to be followed by an acrylic 
version later.   The mason jar will be similar to the bubble counter 
except it will have a water flow in and out powered by a 250 liter per 
hour powerhead.  CO2 will come from the bubble counter mason jar.  I 
have a vague idea as to how a gas reactor works and the mason jar is a 
inexpensive way of getting a handle on the problem.  The inside of the 
jar will have Bio-Pack plastic bio-balls and a margarine container 
trickle "plate" at the top.  All of this is unbuild and I may change my 
mind during the building process!  I'll report how well this works in a 
later posting.

Two words of warning about CO2: The first was related above regarding 
too much CO2, the other is this:  Take a sledge hammer to the brass 
fitting on the top and you have a regulator bullet going in a direction 
opposite to a 70lb rocket fueled by liquid CO2 trying to get to room 
temperature.  NOT a pretty picture.  Tails have been told of tanks 
trashing whole sides of buildings.  Gees, this thing is in my bedroom!  
And pointed out toward the street, I might add.  

Warnings aside,  CO2 is not scary, in most every restaurant there are 
tanks connected to soda dispensers and I have not read in the Washington 
Post about a CO2 tank which trashed some Burger King on Independence 
Ave.  Respect it though.


_______________________
Lighting

Phase I has two shop lights resting on the surface of the tank giving a 
total of 4, 40W bulbs of the Triton species.  It is working fine and the 
plants bubble oxygen a few hours after lights on.  It is a viable 
solution to lighting the tank.  The bad part is that the shop lights hum 
quite annoyingly.   They were only about $10 apiece but you get what you 
pay for.  The typical $20 ballast for two florescent bulbs are worth the 
price and labor as they tend to be much, much more quite.  

The use of florescent lights is temporary until my MH arrives and I can 
design and build the light canopy.  I ordered from "Aquarium Lights, 
Inc." their two bulb light kit consisting of a 2'x2' sheet of reflective 
metal with a MH socket in the middle.  A wire leads from the socket to 
the ballasts.  

The MH canopy, as of today, will be suspended above the tank by about 
12".  It will contain two 175 watt bulbs.  The actual canopy will be 
only about 3' long and angled at each end as the tank is tucked under 
the 50 degree eve of a shed dormer (i.e., the roof slopes).  At a 12" 
gap between tank and canopy, there was not enough room for a 4' fixture. 


______________________
Heating

Nothing special here.  I drew the line at Dupla heating cables for 
>$100.  Heating is composed of two 150W Accu-temp heaters.  Currently 
they are in the tank, once I have a sump, they will be moved into that.


______________________
Substrate

The gravel is taken from a stream near the Sugarloaf Mountain area in 
Maryland.  It is overall a medium brown composed of white quartz to 
black slate with the bulk being some type of very soft stone.  The 
gravel was sieved between 1/4" hardware cloth and 1/8" window screen.  
It's shape is flatly rounded and holds plant roots very well.  How well 
it will do over time, especially in regards to packing down into 
concrete, I don't know.  During washing, it simply refused to come 
clean.  Apparently, the gravel was so soft that the mechanical action of 
washing was rubbing small particles off to produce an almost opalescence 
cloudiness.  The gravel did pass the hydrochloric acid test in that no 
foam was produced when gravel met acid and this means no lime (and no 
rising pH values).

I did not sterilize the wild gravel and probably should have boiled it.  
Past experience in gravel/soil sterilization have been most unpleasant 
smelling and might have something to do with my taking a chance on not 
having a fine crop of killer snails or other vermin.

As I didn't have quite enough gravel and didn't want to go back to the 
stream yet a fourth time (it's a long story), I mixed 50/50 some gravel 
with builders sand I had handy.  The sand was also sieved through window 
screen to take out the really fine particles.  

The gravel/sand mixture composed about 1/4 to 1/3 of the total 
substrate.  Two packages of Duplarit-G, about 1000mg of laterite and the 
two blue "initial root growth" tablets provided with the product were 
mixed into this mixture.  The amount of laterite was enough for a 100gal 
aquarium, but I felt it would do no great harm to add 25% more and I 
didn't have a real good use for the excess.

This was placed into the bare aquarium followed by the rest of the 
gravel layered on top.  I'm not sure of the weight of the gravel but it 
was enough to cover 4 to 5 inches of the bottom of the tank.  The gravel 
was sloped from left (high) to right (low) and from back (hi) to front 
(low).  I've never kept a tank long enough for the gravel to become 
level.  I look forward to the experience.

By the way, I will definitely use wild caught gravel again.  It was 
worth the effort as its visual texture and range of colors are very 
pleasing to behold (ohhhhh, spare me).  It is too bad that aquarium 
stores do not carry more handsome types.  In my D.C. area, the most 
common type of gravel is the too large "pea" size stuff, a tad bigger 
than 1/4".  It also does not come in a very dark color.


_______________________
Water

The water I used to fill the tank was produced from a Kati/Ani de-
ionizer unit.  It produces virtually salt free water and can actually be 
used to desalinate sea water.  It removes nitrates, phosphates, chlorine 
and hardness causing salts like calcium chloride or calcium carbonate.  
Makes a damn fine cup of coffee.  With a total hardness of less than 1 
dH (< 18 ppm), salts must be added back in.  I purchased chemical grade 
sodium bicarbonate and calcium carbonate to add.  

The de-ionized water will be used for evaporation makeup.  For water 
changes, de-ionized water mixed with sodium bicarbonate and calcium 
carbonate to make up carbonate and total hardness of 4-5dH; soft water.  
With the CO2 injection to an amount of 15-20 ppm my pH should be about 
6.8-7.  Note that these are ball park figures and are not exact.

After the water and gravel had sat for a month, the carbonate and total 
hardness (Tetra kit) were about 4 dH (72 ppm).  It has remained at 4 dH 
so I don't think my wild caught gravel is doing a Lake Malawi thing.  
Still, it was a surprize.  

I plan to change the water in 5gal increments, this is not quite 20% but 
I can make and transport 5gals easily.  I may do this on a weekly or 
bimonthly bases or I may do it whenever the nitrates build up to a 
certain value.  I'll just have to see how things go and monitor the 
phosphates and nitrates to get a feel for how rapidly toxins build up in 
the tank. 


_______________________
Fertilization

I'm following the Dupla plan with Dupla laterite in the  (see above), 
Duplaplant tablets and Duplaplant-24 drops.  The tablets provide 
fertilizers which do not oxidize in water very fast.  They are added at 
tank setup and for each water change.  The drops include trace elements 
which do oxidize rapidly and need to be replenished on a daily bases.  
At first, it sounded strange to add these drops every day for plants, 
but most of us are doing it for fish in the form of flakes anyway.  
After two weeks, I see no signs of deficiency.  (Two weeks is too soon!  
Month one to two will be the "acid" test.)

Currently, I'm adding 5 drops of the Duplaplant-24 every morning.  I may 
cut this back to 3 after month one.  I also plan to use the tablets at 
half strength at each water change.


_______________________
Plants

Ups, you'll have to wait on this one.  I'm actually at work and thought 
I had copied the plant list to the transport floppy.  Sigh.  I'll post 
first think Monday.


_______________________
Fish

Ditto above.  I am yet remembering the scientific names but here is what 
I have:  3 Black Mollys, 5 Otoclinclus vitatus (pygmy sucker catfish), 1 
Clown plecostamus (Pekoltia vitallas ?) and 1 "Yo-yo loach".

The "Yo-yo" loach is there due to an infestation of George's "Pond 
Snails From Hell" (thanks George!).  The mollys, otos and Mr. Clown are 
all on algae patrol.  So far there are no snails and algae is being kept 
under control.  

Of course I want more fish and my initial fish list was way too big as I 
was trying to stay within the 2/3 fish per gallon (1cm per liter, hope 
these figures are correct, this being one that I never can remember 
correctly).  The permanent residents will be the 5 otos and Mr. Clown 
(or Ms.) to be followed by a pair of Pearl Gouramies, neon tetras, fire 
tetras, lemon tetras, a herd of Corydoras hiastus (sp) and a pair of 
Rams.  I would like to add some Apistogaramma asizzii (horribly 
misspelled) but don't know if I can "get away with it".  Don't know if I 
can "get away with" the above either!  (Anybody know how to catch a 
loach without tearing up the tank!  I may have to build a fish trap.)

The approach to adding fish is to go slow and watch the toxins and watch 
for algae buildup.  Most of these fish are coming from the 20H and 30XH.  
The 30XH holds two mated (I believe) angel fish which are getting a tad 
aggressive, esp against the Pearl gouramies.  Mr and Ms Gouramie will be 
the first to be moved into their new home followed by the remaining 
neons (who are becoming juuust the right size for angel snacks.)

Xref: milton alt.aquaria:10357 rec.aquaria:9048 sci.aquaria:2687
Path: milton!ogicse!uwm.edu!zaphod.mps.ohio-state.edu!sol.ctr.columbia.edu!mstephens.520-at-postman.gsfc.nasa.gov

Stephens plant tank: the plants

by mstephens.520-at-postman.gsfc.nasa.gov (mark stephens)
Date: 16 Dec 91
Newsgroup: alt.aquaria,rec.aquaria,sci.aquaria

I could have worried excessively over what plants to get and how to 
plant them.  But with some landscaping experience behind me I knew that 
there are certain cardinal rules which will inevitably come in to play:
  1)  Reading is fine but growing is a better way to understanding the 
      requirements of your plants.
  2)  The initial planting will need to be revised, possibly more than 
      once.
  3)  You will be surprized at the growth of some plants previously 
      noted for their small stature.  (And planted with this in mind... 
      see number 2!)
  4)  Some plants will die or at least malinger for awhile.
  5)  There is a high probability that you will like the results so just 
      do it!

I have grown aquarium plants before but never on this scale.  I have 
seen some of these plants in stores without knowing anything more than a 
name and a type (bunch, show, etc.), sometimes not even the name.  My 
major reference is "Aquarium Plants" by Rataj & Horeman and it is still 
avaliable.  A tad out of date so it makes the scientific matching game 
more challenging.  Other references and plant lists from others on the 
net were used to get a handle on just how many plants were needed to 
fill the bottom of the tank.  

I started by devising a wish list of plants, including names, height and 
growth characteristics.  I have never had a wish list be fulfilled and 
this one was no exception.  Since I knew I would be purchasing from Mike 
Trzonkowski of Delaware Aquatic Imports, I used his list as a major 
guide as to what I could get.  A few plants that I thought he just MUST 
have were included and substitutes noted.  A final list was produced 
along with a planting plan.  Both were done on a Macintosh using Canvas 
(planting plan) and Excel (plant list); it's just the way I do things.  

The planting plan had the following elements:
  1)  Since I was unfamiliar with most of the growth characteristics, I 
put the tall ones in the back and short ones in the front.
  2)  Try to accommodate the shading requirements of the plants by 
having them overshadowed by larger growing plants, or not overshadowed!
  3)  Cheat on 1 by bringing some medium tall plants to the front.
  4)  Accent plants (Barclaya, Echinodorous osirus, Red tiger lotus, 
..) were to be placed in the middle.
  5)  Try to get some leaf shape and color contrasts.

The plan attempts to be a tiny bit artsy-craftsy... how well it will 
succeed only time will tell.  This is after the second rearranging.  
Starting from the left, the filter spray bar points left and down such 
that the flow disturbs the surface a tiny bit (just enough to get it 
circulating but not enough to cause turbulence).  The Aponogeton 
rigidifolius is intended to grow up and over the water surface.  The 
Barclaya is probably misplaced, being too close to the E. osirus (Eo) 
and the Norphalia stricta (#1).  The E. osirus should become a monster, 
with a wingspan of 2 feet.  I hope it will be open for the lower 1/3 as 
the Anubias and Crypts need some room and, even given that, they may not 
get enough light.  The C. pontederiifolia (#7) used to be between #10 
and #11 but was not doing well and I liked the E. grisbachii more.  The 
Aponogeton ulvaceus is hemmed in by the hydros (#6 & 8) and the bog wood 
(the "*"s).  The intent was to let it lean out of it's spot and over the 
wood.  What I suspect may happen is that it will dominate 1/3 of the 
tank and drive the E. peruensis (Ep) out of the picture.  The Hygros 
will have to leap for the surface.  Of course, there may be a huge gap 
next fall as this plant goes dormant.  All of the bunch plants will be 
allowed (encouraged) to grow out of the water;  I think just stems along 
the back of the tank with the more forward stems being clipped.  Depends 
on their neighbors!  

Whew!  I would be happy to have some of these plants overrun others.  It 
means the tank is a happy tank and that I get to use the overrunees in 
another tank!  Actually, there was one landscaping feature I did not 
consider, and I blush to reveal it:  The major viewing for gardens is 
typically done from, say, a 45 degree angle from above;  for aquariums 
it is straight on.  I would have staggered bunch plants with some of 
their neighbors a bit more but no harm had been done that a replanting 
can't take care of.

List in hand I drove from Takoma Park, MD (D.C. area) to Newark, DL.  
Plants, algae eating fish and an 18" piece of African bog wood ("it 
sinks!") were obtained and the booty brought home and installed.  
Planting followed the usual procedure of having the gravel and 
decorations in place and the water drained to about 1/2 the tank.  Boy 
did it take a while.

Below is a schematic of the tank (48" x 18") followed by the plant listing. Number  
and two letter codes found on the schematic are in the first column in 
the listing.  Bunch and spreading plants have numbers while the more 
individualistic specimens have letters.  The "*" denote the bog wood 
location.  I hasten to add that this is just an approximation and may 
contain a few mistakes.


..................................................
  1  .  2    .    3    .   4  .   5   ***     6  .
    .      . . .       .      .       ***......  .
..........       . . .    .  . ......*** Au   ....
Ar       Nb  Nb     Na.   . Ac Ac  Ac****   .    .
Ar   Bl        Eo   .   7   .  ****** ***** .  8 .
Ar...        Nb  ... .      .  . *****  ******....
     ............      ...  Nl  .......Ep Ep Ep  .
            .             . .           .. .   Ep.
   9         .   10        .   11       .    . ...
              .           .            .  12     .
..................................................

Na   Anubias afzellii            1     rosette     
It was in poor shape and as such, was free. All old leaves have been 
trimmed, tiny new leaves just sprouting.  Think it will make it.

Nb   Anubias barterii            3     rosette     
Very nice but small plants, each has a new leaf or two.  Produces very 
small streams of fine bubbles.

Ac   Aponogeton crispus          3     bulb     
The plants have grown at lease two if not five new bright green leaves.  
Older leaves turn a rusty light brown red.

Ar   Aponogeton rigidifolius     3     bulb     
It's suppose to have 10-20" strap like leaves and no floaters!  So far 
each plant only has one or two light blood red leaves.  Not an 
enthusiastic grower.

Au   Aponogeton ulvaceus         1     bulb     
When it grows up it should have 10-20" wonderful wavy wide leaves.  It 
started as a rather large corm (about 1.5" max width!) and I'm 
anticipating naming it the ulvaceus from hell.  Currently it has seven 
leaves, about 6" tall, and should be eyeing the Hydro for Lebensraum.

5    Bacopa caroliniana         12     bunch
The color is dark green, with fleshy leaves.  It's growing well and I 
may expand it's territory.

Bl   Barclaya longifolia         1     rosette
Leaves should be 10" tall and a beautiful red/green.  It's a difficult 
plant to grow and I'm not expecting much.  One must have challenges and, 
given that is has no leaves yet and few roots, looks like I've got one.

3    Cabomba (yellow)           12     bunch
Wonderful plant, has grown at least 6-8" with the tallest now about 2" 
below the top of the water.  I believe it is C. caroliniana.

sfc  Ceratopteris pteroides      1     floater
One of the water sprites, it came as a planted specimen and I'm training 
it to be a floater.  It is very confused at the moment, but as soon as 
it figures out which side is up I'll be pulling plants out of the tank 
by the handful.

7    Cryptocoryne pontederiifolia        6     rhizome
I got talked in to this one as a replacement for C. bullosa.  Should be 
about 10" high with bright green leaves.  Rataj sez it's a good grower 
but you could have fooled me (I wrote this down as C. pontedifolia).  
Each plant is putting out one (count it) new leaf.  Root formation 
leaves something to be desired and I find floating plants every now and 
then.

10   Cryptocoryne becketii var large     6     rhizome
Leaves get a max of 10" high, "good beginner plant" and I agree.  Only 
the largest oldest leaves melted down.  Root growth is very good and I 
expect it to start spreading soon.

10   Cryptocoryne becketii var small     6     rhizome
Leaves in this variety are only 6" high and I placed it right in front 
of it's bigger clone.  Otherwise, ditto above.

 9   Cryptocoryne wendtii var. jahnelii 12     rhizome     
8" leaves, tall, "good beginner plant".  I agree.  Almost all the old 
leaves have melted down and been removed.  Each plant has an average of 
five deep red/brown leaves.  It also should be thinking about spreading 
soon.

 2   Didiplis diandra                   20     bunch
I failed to realize that the black stems were rotting stems.  Before I 
did an overhaul, its stems were producing roots down to the gravel right 
above the ucky, icky, rotting parts.  It has had a reprieve with a cut 
and replant, but if it doesn't do well I'll let the N. stricta and 
Cobomba take over.

11   Echinodorus grisbachii              6     rosette
(=latifolius Andrews) Wow, one of my surprize favorites.  Lime, yellow 
colored leaves, it's the brightest plant in the tank.  It is the 
spreadiest plant around, each crown producing about 5 new plants of 
various sizes.  This plant is way beyond thing about spreading and has 
moved into conquest of the tank.  Highly recommended.

Eo   Echinodorus osiris                  1     rosette
New leaves are bright blood red, older leaves are just blood red.  I got 
a small one and, after pruning the older (algae covered) leaves off, it 
has 5 left.  Perhaps this is the one case for getting a "show" size as 
it's role in life, shading the crypts, will not be realized in a while.

Ep   Echinodorus peruensis               4     rosette
(=parviflorus Rataj) Each has at least 5-8 new leaves with the newer 
ones having a beautiful red color in the veins.  It just started 
producing what I consider to be leaves which will reach full length.  
Also highly recommended, very clean algae free leaves.

12   Echinodorus tenellus                5     rosette
I wanted more but got a ridiculous small number.  Its starting to spread 
but needs more light.  I'll move this to another tank and let the 
grislies (E. grisbachii) fight it out with the E. peruensis.

 6   Hygrophila polysperma              12     bunch 
What can I say,  grew like a weed and is reaching for the top.

 8   Hygrophila polysperma "Sunset"      3     bunch
Smaller than the normal H. p.  It has beautiful pink/red variegated 
leaves which I ended up liking 'cause at first I was not sure.  

root Microsorium pteropus                1     rhizome
Small new frondletts are sprouting on the stalk and are attaching to the 
tree root.  I got three "stems" each with a very old leaf attached.  

 1   Normaphilia stricta                 6     bunch
(=Hygrophila s. or "Giant Hygro") Love the big leaves and seen from the 
top they are a stunning lime green with red veins.  Highly recommended.

Nl   Nymphaea lotus "Red Tiger Lotus"    1     rosette     
A very tiny, tuber with a plantlet attached to it by a short stem.  The 
crown is actually removed from the tuber.  Not growing very well and 
what leaves it came with and managed to grow I blew away with the filter 
spray bar.  I have faith, but I'm not holding my breath.

 4   Rotala macrandra                   12     bunch
(=rotundifolia Rataj) Wow, pink/magenta, how DID I get talked into this 
one?  I hid it behind the A. crispus in hopes of toning it down some.  
It is growing but not as enthusiastically as some others.

root Vesicularia dubyana                1     clump 
Until I redid the tank, it was actually attaching to the tree root.  I 
wrapped it around the root about 1/3 from the water surface.  Perhaps it 
will grow out of the water.


    mark stephens                                    16 December 1991


Stephens Plant Tank II... comments welcome

by mark.stephens-at-gsfc.nasa.gov (mark stephens)
Date: Thu, 15 Jun 1995

Stephens  Plant Tank  II                                   12  June 1995
or true confessions of a plant tank owner.

My first plant tank is now 4.5 years old... and looks it!  Like others have
found, this CO2 canister filter injected, metal halide lit, non-undergravel
heated, 75 gallon glass tank has seen better days.  Of the 25 species of
plants originally placed in the tank, mostly four are  remaining:
Hygrophila polysperma, Anubias barterii (?), Cryptocoryne wendtii (with
possibly C. becketii mixed in) and Nymphaea lotus "Red Tiger Lotus".  I'm
sure there are other odds and ends in there.  The H. polysperma fills most
of the tank.  Fish are fine... when I can see them.

It's time for a tear down.  There are several reasons for doing this.  The
two main ones are that it's in the bedroom where it gets hot during the
summer and I would like to add heating cables.  Eventually, once my
microcontroller development is near complete, I'll start adding pH and
heating controllers, but at first, it's back to the manual techniques.
I've also made some observations and mistakes over the years and I'd like a
chance to correct/apply to a new tank.

In no particular order:
1)  I've stopped toping off with deionized water as the deionizer is in the
basement and the tank is on the second floor... five gallons a week with a
slow deionizer and all those steps.
2)  The canister filter is an Ehiem, which is a very nice filtration
system, but it is the size of a small trash can... heavy and awkward and
again a trip to the basement to clean.  So guess what?
3)  The homemade suspended hood was designed to fit under a sloping gable
roof.  The MH bulbs are crowed in the middle and don't light the ends of
the tanks very well.  Why this unventilated behemoth hasn't caught fire...?
4)  Floating plants.  They look nice when there are a few of them but they
can cover the top in less than a week. Leave 'em for a month and they
become a fish death trap.
5)  The injection of CO2 into the canister works very, very well.
6)  The "wild" caught gravel from a local stream  still looks nice.
7)  There are very low nitrates despite the gunky filter (<1ppm).
8)  The anubias were supposed to be small and grow slowly.  I've made five
cuttings and all are now 12-18" tall.
9)  The plants were supposed to be more compact with those twin MH suns.
All the bunch plants reach the top in a week or so.  The polysperma in the
outside lilly pond was very compact, red and never got near the top
(granted it was 6" deeper).  It just looked better.
10)  I've never had a more entertaining tank in my life.


So.  What to do different?
1)  Get a trickle filter for one.  Correct if wrong, but I'm assuming that
the overflow box captures most of the gunk and is fairly easy to clean.
I'd like to get away from filtration systems which basically filter the
water thru the captured gunk ("UGF syndrome").  The idea of a settling tank
has appeal too.
2)  Redo that horrible hood.  Keep the MH and add four fluorescences giving
three separate controllable light sources.  Add a fan to keep cool.  Hope
it all fits.
3)  An automatic water exchanger would be a great time saver.
Unfortunately, the new location does not permit connection to the house
water & drain.  With a sump, two hidden garbage cans and two small pumps, I
should be able to rig up something easier to deal with.  The
microcontroller plays a part here.
4)  Add a heat coil.  I'm leaning toward the higher wattages.  In which
case I might get the Dupla coils with my own transformer circuit.  At first
this will be a low wattage coil (by limiting the current) with the notion
of adding a microcontroller later.
5)  Wash all the gravel (a definite July/August activity), use Dupla
laterrite again.  I'm up for other additives but the threads on vermiculite
et. al. seem a tad unsettled yet.
6)  Enjoy the tank again!


I have a 30XH (which will also be "plant tanked" after the 75er) to stuff
all the fish in.  I plan on adding an auxiliary 30 gal. garbage can to
increase the total volume.  It won't be pretty but it should only be there
a month or so.  The existing plants get a vacation in the lilly pond.  I'm
really not looking forward to being host to all the different types of
algaes I experienced in the first plant tank.  BUT I know they can be
conquered eventually.  On the other hand, I am looking forward to seeing
how different my experiences may be.

Comments are most welcome, esp. on what trickle filter and overflow box to
purchase.  I don't want to make my own but don't want them to be noisy or
have all those reef tank bins and shoots.  Keep in mind that this is
somewhat half baked!

mark stephens

______________________________________________________________________
Mark Stephens                        |   In constraint,
NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center   |   is
code 522, Greenbelt MD  20771        |   freedom.
______________________________________________________________________



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