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Stages of the Aquatic Gardener

Contents:

  1. Non-standard aquarium methods
    by Neil Frank <nfrank/mindspring.com> (Sat, 22 Mar 1997)

Non-standard aquarium methods

by Neil Frank <nfrank/mindspring.com>
Date: Sat, 22 Mar 1997

[First half of message removed]

After reading this exchange, I reflected on some of the phases of an
aquarist. I  think many of you will see where you are in the evolution of
your hobby. I assume you are beyond the first one or two stages!

*The inexperienced novice may not be aware of the rules and may not do
things by the book.This typifies the person who has a 10 gallon start up
kit, fills it with tap water, adds dechlor and plops in a couple angels,
some neons and a bunch of livebearers. After all the fish get sick, it is
back to the store for medicine and then more fish. Their first plant might
be anacharis which often becomes food for algae.

*The informed novice gets interested in doing things "right" and does things
in a more traditional way. He or she gets a fliter to hang on the back, buys
a stip light, etc., adds the fish slowly to allow nitrofication to establish
and probably achieves a trypical healthy community tank aquarium.  A few
plants may be tried, but in the U.S., they are more likely to be plastic.

*The more experienced aquarist starts experimenting with gadgets and decides
that they don't all have to be purchased in an aquarium shop. He probably
has more than one tank, may get into fish breeding (by accident or design)
and eventually into something more challenging like breeding and raising
fish, maintaining a reef tank or more challenging still... growing plants. <g> 

*The aquatic gardener, (i.e. the aquarist who develops an interest in
growing plants) will eventually use more lighting,  discover CO2 injection,
add trace elements or even supplemental additions of macro nutrients. 
- - The first and perhaps most important discovery is that one strip light
(fluorescent) is not enough and a second strip light, a 2-bulb shop light or
supplemental window light is needed to grow many plants (other than java
fern, java moss, crypts and other plants that tolerate or do well with low
light)
- - Most will discover that plain sand or gravel is not the best way to
provide needed nutrients to plants and that they must wait for the tank to
establish (with sufficient mulm) or have to add something in it (laterite,
Hilena Initial D, plant tabs, whatever). Some will enjoy experimenting with
soil, vermiculite, kitty litter or worm poop. Depending on all the many
complex conditions in an aquarium, what appears to work for one person may
not work for another.
- - This group includes people that have plants in their fish tanks or visa
versa. Some may not have any fish at all. In all cases, the tank will have

*The successful aquatic gardener discovers the correct balance of lighting,
nutrients, CO2, etc. to grow plants without uncontrolled algae. Many people
will accept moderate amounts of algae or will deal with it in different ways
(scraping glass, use of algae eaters, etc). Although many aquarists in this
group use a lot of equipment, this is not synomomous with success. I believe
that the successful plant tank aquarist falls into many categories and there
may be a further evolution in their hobby.
- - Many plant enthusiasts feel that to be successful, plants need to be
growing at their maximum rate and that this is their definition of The
Optimum Aquarium.  This often involves the use of lots of equipment (extra
bulbs, CO2 injection, maybe controllers, etc.) A measure of success is
sometimes described in terms of the amount of plants regularly sold to the
local shops. The amount of work associated with regular prunning is
described as fun, but the fact that it might be considered to be work by
others is often not recognized.
- - Other plant enthusiasts rationalize the rapid growth of plants as a good
way to maintain high H2OQ and reduce the amount of algae. These tanks may
also be the home of happy fish, often breeding and raising their fry in the
safety and beauty of a heavily planted tank
- - The most advanced of this group are those that have some control of their
tanks... e.g. they are able to adjust their aquarium conditions not only to
grow plants, but to grow the plants they want together (and/or maintaining
specific fishes for breeding or display) instead of merely settling for the
plants (or fishes) that seem to work for their conditions.
- - A challenging form of gardening involves developing a maintaining picture
perfect aquascapes. In some cases, this can be very time consuming.

* Another category is the advanced aquatic gardener. Maybe it is someone who
already evolved through one or more of the above categories, but does not
have the time or desire to have a labor intensive aquarium. This aquarist
may choose to tone down their tank(s) so it does what they want with less
effort. It can include the person who knows how to grow a huge amazon sword
plant, but now wants it to NOT grow out of the tank. It can include the
person who wants to eliminate or reduce the weekly or biweekly trimming
associated with tank(s) that are not limited by CO2, nutrients or lighting.
Maybe the advanced hobbyist is trying to grow a specific species from a
particular group of plants (like Cryptocoryne) or just discover the
conditions that are essential for their optimum growth under water. It can
include someone who has lots of plant tanks, and he doesn't have the time to
have CO2 in all of them because of the extra maintenance involved. This
person may limit the number of "high tech" or "equipment supplemented" tanks
that they maintain. At some point, money also becomes an issue. With many
tanks, the electrical costs or equipment costs can become a significant
factor, so cut backs in appliances is considered. This can involve heaters.
In a home evironment, heaters are NOT generally essential for healthy fish
or plant tanks (The one caution are the few fish like clown loaches who are
sensitive to sudden swings in temperature and can succomb to ich.... this
has happened to me and I now try to make sure that the heaters are working
in my clown loach tank during the transitional month of Oct when my indoor
home temperature drops from 80 to 70. I personally know many aquarists who
do not use heaters.. some that maintain the temperature in the fish room,
but others who let their tanks fluctuate. In fact, I maintain several of may
tanks without heaters. Fish can tolerate fluctuations in temperature, pH,
and water chemistry. Certainly,  Fish farmers don't heat their outdoor
ponds, and except under extreme temperatures, the fish survive. The
important thing is to allow for gradual change and to avoid extremes. Fish
and especially plants are adaptable. It can include the someone that is
always pushing the envelope, building upon the successes of others, or
developing new approaches to meet a special need. I agree that "one size
doesn't fit all."
Neil Frank      Aquatic Gardeners Association         Raleigh, NC
      The Aquatic Gardener - journal of the AGA -  now in its seventh year!!


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