A diffuser you won’t break

Most people love a bit of convenience right? I mean look at how popular supermarkets are. Convenience and cheap (nice combo). Outside of supermarkets that lovely combination isn’t so common. But today, I’d like to show you a CO2 diffuser that is.

Tropica 3 in 1 Diffuser.


This rather excellent piece of kit has a diffuser, non return valve AND a bubble counter, all in one neat little package. Made of hard plastic, you can drop it and it’s unlikely to break like glass one’s. If the diffuser plate becomes dirty, we sell replacements so you can do a quick swap (more convenience). CO2 tubing easily pushes onto this diffuser (more convenience). So you can see it really is a great bit of kit with…a lot of convenience :)

Here’s what David Kearsley had to say about it:

Not only is this one of the better CO2 diffusers I have ever used in regard to creating a fine mist of bubbles, it also includes a bubble counter and non-return value within the diffuser. This means you have only one piece of tubing from the CO2 supply to the diffuser. With regard to the fine mist this took about 2-3 days to settle down and since I have not seen any further large bubbles.

Don’t let your bubble counter fool you…

Don’t be fooled in thinking that all bubbles counters are the same and don’t get hung up on your flow rate. 1 bubble, 2 bubbles, 3 bubbles, 4.

Let me give you an example. We have glass bubble counters and plastic bubble counters. If we add the glass one to one of our set ups, it will show 4 bubbles per second – pretty fast heh. If we remove it and then swap it for a plastic version, it will show 1 bubble per second. So which is it? It all depends on the manufacturing process of the bubble counter and this is a perfect example why you MUST NOT get hung up on your bubble counter flow rate. No one cares, and your plants certainly don’t. All they care about is are they getting enough CO2 and you’ll only know this if your drop checker is showing an approximate green colour (don’t get too hung up on that either). You’re simply looking to have as much CO2 in your tank as possible without distressing the inhabitants.

So for all you lovely hobbyists who email me and say they have 2 bubbles per second and they can’t work out why they don’t see their plants releasing O2 bubbles, now you know!

Position your circulation pump like this

To get the most out of your circulation pump and to make your water flow in the correct direction, point it in the same direction as your filter outlet. Let’s assume that your filter is on the right and points left. If you had a circulation pump you would position it on the right side so it also points left (same direction as the filter). Positioning it anywhere else or in some cases the opposite end, will cause negative flow and effectively stop most of the circulation.

Below I illustrate just what I mean. Essentially you want to increase the current around your aquarium so more water is moved and less dead spots remain. The better your water circulation the more fertilisers and CO2 are moved around, the better your plants grow.

Marine guys twigged this a long time ago, and now it’s our turn.

If you have any questions, please let me know. Ask via Twitter or Facebook preferably as others will see your question which is beneficial for all :)

Drop checker positioning

If you have a drop checker…

and you really should (assuming you have a pressurised CO2 system) then making sure you have the correct positioning is sooo important. Too many hobbyists place their drop checker in the top right or top left of their tank. Maybe this is where you have yours? And I can see why too, because if you look at any decent planted tank in a magazine for example, they have it positioned just there but only because it ‘looks right’. Remember a drop checker is a measuring tool and whilst they do look nice and aesthetically pleasing in certain areas, the correct positioning is not there.

Neutro Drop Checker

So where do you place it?

Your drop checker should be located in the bottom right or bottom left, about 2-3cm off the substrate. CO2 rises so when a drop checker is placed near the top of the tank you get a false reading (and it will appear you may have more than enough CO2). A lot of problems in a planted tank arise from insufficient CO2 levels due to not using a drop checker or incorrect positioning. Customers email me ‘but my drop checker is showing green’ and they proceed to tell me it’s located near the top of their tank. Soon as they move it down the bottom, the colour changes to blue. So, if you position your drop checker correctly (at the bottom) and you know the bromo blue solution (very important) is green, you can rest assured you have the correct CO2 levels. All you then need to be concerned about is water distribution and making sure those precious CO2 bubbles are going everywhere (and I mean everywhere) but that’s a email for another day ;)

Aquarium plants dying

Sounds familiar?

It is to me. But then I am on the receiving end but if you go onto forums you’ll see this sort of statement all the time. I often here the same reason as to why aquarium plants are dying and it’s normally due to the fact that they have algae. They’ve been told (normally by shops) they need to starve the algae. Advice like this is sooooo old school yet the message is continually advised from shop owners who in my opinion clearly don’t know what is best.

So hobbyists follow the advice given to starve their algae and totally stop the nutrients they are putting in. Algae dies back a little and plants totally disintegrate – the reason why is simply

you’ve just starved your plants to death…

My advice to anyone who is looking for advice is speak to experts, like us (and a few others) who know what is best, and not generic shops which peddle out these toxic messages. If your plants are dying you need to first work out why. First, are they actually aquatic plants? Sounds a funny thing to ask but there are still a lot of shops that sell non aquatic plants! This only adds to confusion to hobbyists who may be doing everything else right. Below are pictures of a few non aquatic plant – looks nice heh?

problem is they will last a couple of weeks then start breaking down. These plants should live in your garden or conservatory, not in your tank. So if you have a plant that looks like these (normally they come without plant labels for identification), remove them and start again.

Secondly, are your plants getting the right nutrients? I’m recommending Neutro T for non CO2 tanks and Neutro+ for CO2 infused tanks.Your plants need no other nutrients with these ferts below.

You add these ferts daily because that’s what plants want. Just like us, they want feeding every day – not so crazy is it? Feeding weekly is nuts and just marketing spiel to make it appear that the fertilisers are more economical then they actually are.

Are you providing your plants with carbon is gas or liquid form? If not, why not? Carbon is the backbone of plant growth and without it, your plants will suffer. Try Neutro CO2

Are you performing weekly water changes of at least 30%? Plants need clean water unless you want to grow algae and I’m guessing you don’t.

If you follow these very basic steps I guarantee that you will have success with the majority of plants. Some that you might struggle with are advanced one’s but we’ll get onto that at another time.

If you’re still having troubles, reply to this post and lets talk.

Not another drop checker?!

Indeed!!! I know how much you love your drop checkers and I also know how much you love your brands. After all people trust brands, especially big ones. So I would like to introduce to your the:

Fluval CO2 Indicator

So what’s different about this one? Not a lot to be brutally honest but then, who cares? It performs the job it needs to and in a planted aquarium (which uses pressurised CO2), a drop checker needs to become your best friend. You need to pay a lot of attention to it and see what colour it’s changing to.

Drop checkers work by monitoring your pH (not CO2 as most think). You see pH levels are effected by CO2 (which is an acidic gas). The more CO2 you pump into your aquarium, the more the pH drops. A drop checker shows this change by the colour reading. Yellow = too much CO2, Blue = too little CO2. Green = PERFECT!!

Your goal is to maintain a lovely green colour so change your CO2 flow rate to suit. When you achieve that magical green colour, it indicates you have the desired amount of CO2 in your water (30ppm = 30 parts per million). Plants love this level of CO2 so give them what they need.

monitor your CO2 levels with this drop checker

 

Atomiser, bubble counter and double check valve in one? Amazing!!

Here’s another YouTube clip for all you folks who prefer to watch videos. It’s one of the best diffusers on the market in my opinion, and like the Easy Aqua atomisers, it produces tiny CO2 bubbles. The Easy Aqua 4 in 1 Super Atomiser is a doddle to set up to, but check out the clip below:

It’s really simple as you can see and made very well too. I know you’re gonna love this one.

Does 4 jobs in 1!

Super duper CO2 atomiser – seeing is believing…

This is a really neat and compact atomiser which has it all. Easy Aqua produce some nice gear and this one is no exception. Below are a few details and why it’s different from a traditional diffuser. Atomisers sure are the way forward.

The Easy Aqua 4 in 1 Super Atomiser has an extremely compact CO2 plate which means that when CO2 is forced through it, the bubbles are really tiny. As a result they ‘hang’ in the water, floating around doing their business. The longer the CO2 stays in contact with the water, the more it’s absorbed. This means you need less CO2 and makes having a decent ceramic plate all the more important. Traditional (cheaper) diffusers have basic ceramic plates. CO2 can be pushed though them very easily but the bubbles are larger and shoot to the surface. This means they aren’t absorbed and you need much more gas. As the bubbles pass through a glass diffuser plate, they can make a high pitch, irritating noise. Because atomisers have a much tighter plate, you don’t get this noise.

The bubble counter is visible on this atomiser so you don’t have to worry about a separate one elsewhere in your tank. Whilst a bubble counter is important, don’t base everything on it – your drop checker is the key to your CO2 levels and if you need to increase the dosage or not. However, it’s a good indication and you know what 2 bubbles a second looks like for example.

The check valve has double safety mechanism so there really is no chance of it not working. CO2 tubing has to be connected to the atomiser by a locking mechanism in order for it to keep it in place.

All in all a great CO2 diffuser and to top it off, if you drop it, it probably won’t break. Result :)

super diffuser

Planted tank inspiration

Our good friend Mark Evans has created yet another inspiring aquascape and a beautifully presented video as well. I love watching clips like this, especially first thing in the morning as it sets the tone of the day immediately.

Mark is a hard worker. He tries a lot, experiments and this is proof of the hard work that he has put in and his dedication to the hobby. He’s doing wonders for the UK market and I hope it inspires you. If it does, tell me what you think!

Struggling with foreground plants?

You won’t be the first and certainly not the last. Foreground plants are the trickiest – not because they are harder than other plants, but just that they need a little more attention than others. The main factor to consider is their location – right at the bottom of the tank where there is the least amount of light, water movement and CO2.

If your foreground plants are struggling, think about their location and then ask yourself this question:

are you giving them what they want?

 

They want decent light, good fertilisers and CO2. If you don’t give them this, growth will be slow and odds are the plants will die off and algae grows. Point your circulation pump at them – they need to sway in the current and make sure CO2 is physically being pushed over them and getting trapped in the leaves.

Make sure you’re providing good ferts like Neutro+ because when the CO2 is being pushed over them, the ferts will be too (double whammy :))

Are you struggling with foreground plants? Let me know and reply to this post and I can help

What’s your favourite one – mine if HC :)

Can’t be bothered to do water changes?

Some of you are like this, and some are not but the bottom line is that you need to perform water changes when you keep a planted aquarium. Sounds simple right? Well I know a lot of folk who don’t perform many water changes, because…

I did a 20% water change the other week – that’s enough right?…

 

That’s not enough I’m afraid. If I’ve kept you attention, read on.

Water changes are needed to remove pollutants that plants produce – you can’t see them, but they sure are there. When plants grow, they like everything else that grows they produce waste. These waste products (organics) need to be removed, otherwise they build up, become more concentrated and then cause you problems and normally show up in algae form. In many CO2 infused aquariums, your turbo charged tank is really motoring and plants are growing like weeds, so it’s important to stress that the quicker your plants grow, the more waste they produce and this is why it is essential to:

perform 40-50% water changes every week.

It’s a bit like flushing the toilet if you catch my drift. Imagine not flushing the toilet…YUK!!

How often do you perform water changes?

When should my CO2 come on?

It’s a good idea to start your CO2 roughly an hour or so before your lights come on. The reason for this is simple.

When your lights come on, you want your plants to hit for floor running. What I mean by that is you want your plants to begin growing instantly. As the CO2 build up over the 60 minutes before the lights are on your levels begin to rise (remembering the carbon dioxide has been off for maybe 16 hours) and your plants take complete advantage of this. Good levels of CO2 and lighting (don’t forget your fertilisers) = happy planted aquarium.

By contrast, having your CO2 come on when your lights start up, you delay the growing process as it takes roughly 1 hour for CO2 levels to hit that perfect 30ppm level.

In addition, turn your CO2 off 1 hour before your lights go off. There will be sufficient CO2 in your tank for that time for your plants to continue growing.

When do you turn your CO2 on and off?

Why doesn’t my Easy Aqua Super Mist Atomiser work?

One word…

pressure

You need 2 bar pressure in your regulator for this to work as it should. Otherwise, there’s simply not enough pressure to push the CO2 out of the tightly compacted atomiser plate. Check out the YouTube clip on our website – that’s at least 2 bar pressure being run and look how fine the CO2 mist is.

Few other points to consider:

  • Some regs won’t allow you 2 bar pressure, so another thing to bare in mind (most do though).
  • You need to ensure decent connections on your CO2 tubing because the 2 bar pressure can pop off (try the Easy Aqua Double Check Valve as this has screw fittings).
  • Sometimes it takes a few minutes for the CO2 to pass from the regulator to the atomiser – don’t expect immediate results (like from glass diffusers). This is because pressure needs to build up along the CO2 tubing and then pass into the atomiser.

Lastly, use proper CO2 tubing! Air line tubing is not suitable and will definitely pop off.

Are you using the atomiser? If so tell me what you think. Maybe you haven’t decided which diffuser to choose yet so any questions, please ask :)

Damn plants won’t grow

I hear this all the time and I know it’s a big issue for you guys. The good thing is you don’t need to sweat about it as it’s easily solved. Here are my top tips:

  1. Make sure you are using a decent fertiliser which provides what your plants need. If you have demanding plants that means they need CO2 and lots of ferts (both trace and macros). Dose the ferts on a daily basis (not weekly) as you’ll get better results this way.
  2. Algae is caused due to fluctuating levels in your aquarium so keep things stable – add ferts every day, perform large water changes every week (yes every week) and keep on top of maintenance. When you slack off, algae rears it’s ugly head.
  3. Limit your lighting. The longer your lighting is on for, the more problems you may have. I suggest no more than 8 hours a day and if you’re having problems with algae, drop it down to 6 hours until it levels off.
  4. Use a liquid carbon which helps to get rid of algae. Super popular (for that reason) and if you dose according to the bottle instructions you’ll be pleased with the results.
  5. Ensure you have enough plants in your tank. Having a tank 30% planted is just not enough and creates instability (then algae…). Look to have a tank about 80% full of plants and you’ll find everything a lot easier.

What problems do you have with your planted aquarium?

Hydor Koralia Pumps

Now I’ve written about this before but it’s a subject that I think hobbyists need reminding of as it’s easy to forget. When diffusing your planted aquarium with CO2, don’t make things hard work for yourself – well at least not unnecessarily hard work. This starts by getting the right advice and using the right products, or as my builder would say:

It’s a case of having the right tools for the job

So what are the right tools then? Hydor Koralia’s are the best to perform this job. Not only are they powerful but they allow you to push all important CO2 in the right location. Failure to do this means your plants do not receive the CO2 they need, but also if CO2 isn’t getting to the right location then you can bet fertilisers aren’t either. This can only mean

algae…

So for all of you wondering why you have got algae in your tank, ask yourself this question. Do you have sufficient fertilisers and water distribution in your aquarium and is CO2 being pushed around the entire tank…? Are your foreground plants struggling? If they are, I suspect it’s because CO2 and fertilisers are not being directed onto them – point your Koralia at them so that the plants sway, then watch them grow :)

Check out our range of Hydor Pumps here.

Top 3 most popular foreground plants

What’s the easiest, what’s the best, what’s the quickest, what’s the nicest…?

We get asked all sorts of things regarding foreground plants and the answer is always the same “it depends!!”….

it depends on what you are trying to achieve, what your skills as a hobbyists are, if you’re using CO2, what your lighting levels are etc etc. So there’s no easy answer but here’s my personal top 3:

Pogostemon Helferi – probably the easiest foreground plant to grow as it will happily flourish in CO2 and non CO2 tanks. Lighting wise it’s not too fussy either and again likes low and high light. Great for beginners and upwards.

Eleocharis Acicularis – a long term favourite amongst planted aquarium hobbyists you can see why this plant became so popular so quickly. Relatively easy to grow, it looks great and reproduces quickly by throwing out runners pretty much everywhere. In a CO2 infused aquarium, it really motors and you will have a lushous carpet in no time.


Echinodorus Tenellus – a cracking plant that has been in the hobby since the mid 80s. A plant with lovely shaped leaves which when submersed become slimline and grass like so it sways in the current (very relaxing to watch). Suitable for non CO2 tanks, however if you’re looking to create a carpet effect (which most are with foreground plants) then CO2 would be necessary along with a decent fertiliser such as AE Design Aqua Nourish and Aqua Nourish+.

 

CO2 Solenoid Valve For Planted Aquariums

If you’re running a high tech CO2 tank, this means you already have pressurised gas. Your choice so far has been excellent because the merits of running CO2 far outweigh the negatives, particularly if you are after lushous plant growth. Plants really need CO2 in order to flourish.

But not everyone who runs CO2 actually has a solenoid valve.This always puzzles me because of the amount of gas wasted in money could easily be retrieved by investing in a solenoid.

If you’re wondering what a solenoid valve does, it allows gas to flow, or not to flow through it. A fairly straight forward piece of equipment that can be used with any CO2 system. When using a solenoid valve, the most common way of using it is plugging it into the timer which your lights use. The reason for this is quite simple:

your plants don’t use CO2 when the lighting is off…

So why waste it? Some hobbyists will run it 24/7 to avoid certain plants from melting like crytps but I’ve never encountered these sort of problems and as a result can’t see the reasoning for it. In addition running CO2 all day and all night can cause fish severe problems if your plants are not producing enough O2 during daylight hours. The excess CO2 can make your fish suffocate (I have seen this before).

How to fit: A solenoid valve fits inline so the set up would be simple if you were considering improving your system. CO2 tubing which currently comes from your regulator would fit into your new solenoid and be secured safely. Then, attach a new piece of tubing to the opposite side of your solenoid attach a non return valve and then further down the line, your CO2 diffuser. The solenoid has a plug attached to that and when the power is on, gas is allowed to freely pass through the solenoid and when it’s turned off (at night) the valve shuts and gas cannot pass though (therefore saving your fish and saving wasted gas).

That’s all there is to it. A very simple and effective improvement to any existing CO2 system. We have a wide range of solenoids on the website.

CO2 Regulator For Plants

If you’re a serious hobbyist and you use pressurised CO2, then you’re already heading in the right direction. Providing your plants with CO2 is a must if you want your plants to grow as nature intended – and if you want to grow foreground plants then it’s an absolute must.

In the past, it was difficult getting CO2 bottles refilled as businesses would only refill their own bottles for health and safety reasons. Frustrating but understandable. But like most things in life you can find solutions to problems and the answer was to use pub style CO2 bottles or fire extinguishers. These can be refilled easily and you can buy/rent them for very little money. So what sort of regulator should you use on a fire extinguisher? The answer is:

TMC V2 Pressure Regulator Pro with Solenoid Valve Din477

This regulator is terrific value for money as not only is it well made but also has two gauges, a non return valve and a solenoid valve which means you won’t be wasting any gas either. I do not believe in running gas 24/7 – I see little point in it and I have never found certain plants to melt (such as crypts) because of this. What I have seen is fish die due to a CO2 concentration being too high for the fish to be able to breath properly – if the CO2 had been turned off when the lights were off, this wouldn’t have happened. Regardless, the fact this regulator has a solenoid valve is simply a bonus. The key feature is that it fits any CO2 bottle with a connection size DIN 477 – this is the UK standard thread size.

So if you’re wondering if this is the right regulator for you, ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. Do I want to use a fire extinguisher or pub style CO2 bottle
  2. Do I want a solenoid valve attached to save gas (and money)
  3. Do I want a quality regulator that won’t let me down

If you have answered yes to all of the above. Click here, add the regulator to your basket and click check out.

Fluval CO2 Bubble Counter

Since Fluval finally embraced the world of CO2, things are definitely looking up and customers have never had such a wide range of products to choose from. Sometimes too much maybe!! Either way, it is great to have choice but at the same time with such selection you can miss products so thought I should mention one you may be interested in called the Fluval CO2 Bubble Counter.

This counter is neatly designed, made of solid plastic and like all the latest Fluval products comes in delightful packaging that is very eye catching. It’s very easy to use and by filling your bubble counter with ordinary tap water you can soon check and easily read how many bubbles per minute your CO2 is flowing at.

The connection pieces are at the top of the bubble counter which are easily secured on which means that even under high pressure, your CO2 tubing won’t pop off. You can use this bubble counter with any type of CO2 system which makes it rather versatile and the added benefit is that being made of durable plastic, you won’t break it.

If you are interested in other types of CO2 bubble counters please see here.

Flow Rate In A Large Planted Aquarium

With a high emphasis on flow rate in a planted aquarium I found this latest video which Mark Evans shot, very interesting.

The general idea is that you filter 10 times the tank volume of water per hour so if your tank is 100L, you would look to have a filter that filters 1000L per hour. Fairly straight forward right? But in a larger aquarium is this necessary? I always thought it was until today. Mark’s aquarium is large, 363L. Previous calculations would mean the filter/s would need to move 3630L per hour but it’s quite a lot less this time and the flow rate is 2600lp/h and as you can see from the results, it’s pretty incredible. Flow rate is much slower but with no negative impact.

Interestingly enough the CO2 is also fed into the external filter via the inlet and the results mean that you don’t have thousands of tiny bubbles floating around the tank. The diffuser is an UP 16mm Inline Diffuser – in the past these have always been plumed in on the outlet but I do like the idea of not having to look at all the bubbles…

A lot of people ask where they should place their powerheads or filter outlets in order to get the right sort of water movement and as you can see from the clip, a large spraybar is positioned which pushes the water across the tank and at the opposite side is a lily pipe positioned very close to the water surface. Now I’m not sure if this is to keep the surface polished or if it’s another reason. Maybe if Mark reads this post he could enlighten us :) What I do like to see is some water movement at the surface and it’s clear that there is a gentle ripple – this makes the water shimmer a little too along with the help of his metal halide lighting. In the past hobbyists were keen on maximum Co2 absorption and kept the surface almost still which caused nothing but problems. Dust would build up very quickly and then this could turn green blocking off light.

I also like his positioning of the drop checker. Right under the spray bar – odds are he won’t have a great deal of flow around there so if the drop checker is green there, you can bet it’s bang on for the rest of the aquarium.

All in all, you can see Mark does things a little differently to most hobbyists and this is why he gets such super results. He tries, experiments and learns and his skills are getting better and better all the time.

I would love to hear what other people think of his tank and also where they position their drop checker.

Curved Scissors For Planted Aquariums

I stumbled across a superb video that really demonstrates why certain types of scissors are better than others in the planted aquarium and this YouTube clip is a great example.

The scissors that are used in this clip look very similar to the Easy Aqua Curved Scissors. Notice that they are not actually curved but are more angled which I think is more effective anyway. Here’s a few points to consider when investing in scissors:

  1. First you need to make sure they are made of stainless steel otherwise they will become rusty very quickly and won’t operate as you want. Rusty scissors need to be discarded and you don’t want to put them into your aquarium.
  2. They need to be sharp. Poor quality scissors are often cheap to buy in the first place but also need to be replaced quickly (false economy). They become blunt and simply bend when you try to cut a thicker stem.
  3. They need to be comfortable in your hand – you may be using them a lot in a CO2 infused planted aquarium. Better to invest in a quality pair if this is a concern.

Apart from that there’s not really too much more to write about the subject. If you want the same style as was used in the YouTube clip then the Easy Aqua Curved Scissors are the pair for you.

Scissors for the planted aquarium

CO2 Bubble Counter

Bubble counters play an important role when you’re running a CO2 infused planted aquarium and for good reason too. It’s a great way of knowing how much CO2 you are pumping into your aquarium.Of course we still suggested drop checkers with bromo blue are the ultimate solution for understanding CO2 levels, but bubble counters still play an important role.

But like so many things these days you have lots of choice so which is the best?

The answer really depends on what you are running – are you pressurised or are you using yeast to produce your CO2? If you’re using the latter then you can probably stick with the bubble counter that came with your CO2 set but if you’re running pressurised then consider the Easy Aqua Bubble Counter & Check Valve. Pressurised systems which operate with 2 bar pressure place a lot of strain on equipment which is manufactured to lower quality levels. Non return valves for example will easily pop off their CO2 tubing or just not functions as they should and can leak (normally when you’re not at home…). At the opposite end of the spectrum with quality equipment you know it will do the job which it should. The Easy Aqua Bubble Counter & Check Valve falls into the category of quality. It allows CO2 tubing to be attached securely to the bubble counter and the screw ends make sure that there is no way that the tubing will pop off. So it offers piece of mind more than anything else. In addition, because the non return valve is immediately below the bubble counter there is less water lost over time. It’s common for water to migrate south with bubble counters but this isn’t possible with the Easy Aqua Bubble Counter & Check Valve.

How to fill it up?

Filling this unit is simple and we recommend using normal tap water. All you need to do is undo the top piece and hold it under your tap until the clear section fills up (fill it all the way up). Once you’re done, keep it upright then attach your CO2 tubing onto the unit, then onto your CO2 diffuser.

Final Perk

The final benefit of the Easy Aqua Bubble Counter & Check Valve is that you can attach CO2 tubing onto it without the risk of damage. Glass units can break easily especially under pressure but you won’t have this concern here. For the above reasons we have great confidence in recommending the Easy Aqua Bubble Counter & Check Valve and it can be used in any pressurised CO2 system without any problems.

If you find this blog post, why not post a link on Twitter or your Facebook page?

Which CO2 Diffuser?

There are so many diffusers on the market these days it’s probably a hard decision as to which one you should use. The problem is there’s not a great deal between them so this makes your decision even harder. So I’ve decided to focus on just one – it looks great and functions well too and it’s called the AE Design 150L Spiral Glass CO2 Diffuser.

What’s special about this product?

Delightfully manufactured it looks super in the flesh. The ceramic plate is about 2cm wide and made of sufficient quality to allow for small CO2 bubbles to pass through and then circulate around the aquarium. The overall height is about 10cm. What really works well for this product is the spiral which always captures hobbyists eyes. The CO2 bubbles pass from your regulator into the diffuser and then pass up through the glass spiral and this in itself becomes mesmerizing.  It’s hard to take your eyes off it…

As you can see, because of the spiral, it doubles up as a bubble counter which means you need one less piece of equipment. This glass diffuser is suitable for aquariums up to 150L but if your tank was a little larger, I don’t think it would cause a problem. Similarly if you have a smaller aquarium and are particularly fond of the spiral (it is nice isn’t it) then you could still use this diffuser. Remember the lower the pressure on your regulator, the less bubbles come out of a ceramic plate. The higher the pressure and bubbles come out of them everywhere.

Keeping diffusers clean:

Cleaning glass diffusers is easy – algae builds up on the plate every couple of weeks so to keep them fresh, soak them in a neat bleach solution over night, and then in the morning give them a thorough rinse under tap water for about a minute making sure it’s nice and clean (and bleach free).

For our range of diffusers, follow this link.

T5 Lighting For Small Aquariums

Small planted aquariums can be difficult to illuminate and as a result some tanks will be harder work than they should be. Getting the right sort of lighting first time round will save you time, money and hassle, so this blog post should direct you to the right place.

In the past your choice of lighting was slim for nano aquariums – some had units built into them which were nearly always insufficient (especially for growing plants) and they were also under powered making tricky foreground plants even harder. So what’s the solution without spending the earth? The Superfish Aqua Qube Light. These lights really are great and I will tell you for why:

  1. Different wattages to chose from
  2. Stylish
  3. Effective
  4. Affordable

That’s 4 great reasons. Not only that but the units are small and well made – one is 18W which is more powerful than any small T5 luminaire I have seen on the market. If you really wanted to max out then you can run 2 of the units side by side and it won’t cost the earth either. There is no reason why you cannot grow any type of plant assuming you’re running CO2…

Each unit is 28x6x6cm and finished in a silver plastic. It clips on neatly to the side of the aquarium and once you switch it on, you’ll be amazed at how much light it kicks out. To see the range visit this link.

Cal Aqua Nano Drop Checker

Most of you are pretty familiar with drop checkers and I have written about them on here before. If you’re not (do a quick search on our blog), they’re a must have product for a planted aquarium without any question of doubt. They measure your CO2 levels in your planted aquarium.

All drop checkers work in the same manner but all differ in looks and shape and the new Cal Aqua Nano Drop Checker has to be one of the smartest drop checkers I have ever seen. It’s so delicately made and so tiny at a mere 3x3cm you could easily lose it in your planted aquarium. Whilst you don’t of course want to lose it, keeping as much equipment out of the tank is the idea as it distracts from the aquascape. Any equipment in the tank should ideally be glass (where ever possible).  This drop checker comes with everything you need too – 15ml of bromo blue which means that when your solution turns green, you have the ideal CO2 levels in your planted aquarium (30 ppm). It also comes with a clear suction cup.

Although aimed towards smaller aquariums I personally think it’s suitable for all sizes of aquariums from the very small to the very large. Positioning wise, try placing it under your filter outlet – this will give you a really good idea as to your CO2 levels in your tank.

Are you using a Cal Aqua Nano Drop Checker in your tank? We would love to see a picture.

Maintenance Tools For Planted Aquariums

Without these our maintenance regime would be considerably more difficult. But what exactly do we mean by tools? Tweesers, scissors, glass cleaners, gravel cleaners – these are some of the tools you should always keep in your cabinet. Below is a selection of tools that most hobbyists should use.

When planting an aquarium, traditionally hobbyists used their fingers which although was functional was somewhat cumbersome. Today we use tweesers (curved or straight tipped) – the major benefit of this is the ease in which plants can be picked up and delicately placed into your substrate. Not only that but tweesers are also useful for picking up plants or removing debris from your tank.

Scissors are also available in curved or straight tip. Curved tends to be more popular and is very useful when trimming foreground plants – the curved section allows you to cut a better angle. Nevertheless a good pair of sharp scissors are excellent for keeping your plants in good shape. The scissors available are normally 12” long so you can reach a good distance and are very useful if you need to trim the base of any plant that is hard to reach.
Spatulas/Rakes are used primarily for smoothing gravels and substrates. Often when plants are moved about or indeed planted for the first time, substrates can become disturbed. A spatula or rake is a flat shaped and is unique in its design and purpose.
Magnetic glass cleaners are a wonderful tool that are used for cleaning algae off the inside panes of your aquarium. Algae can build up quite quickly on glass so using magnetic cleaners once a week keeps things clean. This tool is separated into two sections – a rough side on one and a smooth on the other. The rough side sits on the inside pane  and the smooth on the outside. A top tip when cleaning is to make sure no gravel gets stuck on the inside as it is easy to scratch the glass. The added benefit is that the inside piece floats so it if you dislodge it when cleaning, rather than it sinking to the bottom and you having to hook it out, it floats to the surface.

The last piece of equipment which is extremely important to a planted aquarium is a a gravel cleaner.  Although strictly it’s not used for what it was initially designed for (at least not in a planted aquarium). Rather than plunging the cleaner into the substrate it’s a better idea to hover slightly above it, only suctioning debris such as dead plant matter and fish excrement. Of course while this is being performed you are removing tank water as well. It’s really important to replace water regularly (minimum of 30% per week in a non CO2 tank), as not only is this better for the fish, but it helps to reduce any excesses that may have built up. In tanks which use CO2 these water changes need to be increased and 40-50% once or twice a week. By not performing these types of water changes you invariably end up with issues.

Lastly if you’re looking for a useful tool set, that has scissors, tweesers and a rake then I highly recommend the Aqua Essentials 3 piece tool set. It comes packaged in a neat leather case with a zip to keep your tools in one place and costs only £29.99.

Fertilisers In A Planted Aquarium

Fertilisers. The vast number of fertilisers on the market can be quite bewildering, so what is the best option? The main factor to consider is if you are using CO2 or not. If you are, you’ll need to choose a variety of fertilisers but we’ll come onto that shortly.

What you need to look for in a fertiliser for a non CO2 tank is one that will not add any macro nutrients (nitrate and  phosphate). These macros which although are essential for plants will be produced by fish waste. So buying a fertiliser with macros will just cause you problems in the form of algae. Some excellent fertilisers are Seachem Flourish, Tropica Plant Nutrition, Easy Life Profito and AE Design Aqua Nourish. All of these are particularly suitable for non CO2 tanks as they provide trace elements only. Those of you already using or are considering using CO2 it’s important to choose your fertilisers carefully because you will probably need more than one bottle. When buying fertilisers it is important to stick with one brand – by mixing them it can cause more trouble than it is worth so decide on one you like and stick with it.

With a brand such as Seachem which is very popular with hobbyists, you are given the option of using a variety of fertilisers to give complete control over the important nutrients which are essential for solid plant growth. The individual nutrients they provide are trace, phosphorus, nitrogen, iron and potassium. By using their range you can add as much or as little as you need according to what your plants require.

For some hobbyists, they are looking to reduce the number of bottles to dose to make life a little simpler. This is the primary reason why some manufacturers have designed ‘all in one bottles’. The latest product on the market is Tropica Plant Nutrition – although strictly speaking it’s not a new product but more of a rebranded one. Tropica Plant Nutrition supplies the nutrients plants easily run out of. These remaining nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) are excreted via fish. We therefore recommend Tropica Plant Nutrition for aquariums with few plants and a relatively large number of fish. It’s no surprise that this product has become very popular and for those of you who are using CO2 we recommended their + version. Tropica Plant Nutrition+ contains all the essential nutrients needed including nitrogen and phosphorus (macro nutrients) so it makes it suitable for tanks with high levels of plants relative to the number of fish.

It’s important not to be frightened by fertilisers and a common misconception is adding fertilisers cause algae – this is not the case. In the past when algae develops (and I regularly hear this), people stop fertilising. They decide nutrients are causing the problem. Starving your plants of nutrients, having a low flow filter rate and lighting on for excess periods causes algae, not the fertilisers. By making sure you do not limit the nutrients in your aquarium, you provide your plants with what they need, and as a result they repay you by looking great and growing fast. For those of you who are forgetful when dosing fertilisers I recommend AE Design Aqua Nourish and Nourish+ – these are designed to be dosed daily (perhaps when you feed your fish).

Trimming Hemianthus callitrichoides ”Cuba”

Hemianthus callitrichoides (HC) has risen to fame with it’s tiny leaves and the ability to carpet a foreground of a planted aquarium very nicely. Of course like all plants you need to provide them with fantastic CO2 levels, excellent nutrients and sufficient water movement for distribution. If you tick all those boxes you get get results.

I found this video online and actions speak better than words and felt it was a worthy post so hobbyists can not only see how feasible it is to create a carpet of HC but also the type of maintenance it needs (along with a decent pair of curved scissors).

For those of you who are not familiar with the grower of this aquarium, he’s a chap called Victor Lantos and he runs an amazing aquascaping shop in Hungary. Check it out here http://www.greenaqua.hu/

Filtration In Planted Aquariums

In the 15 or so years that I have been involved in keeping planted aquariums, filtration ideas have only very recently changed. The common perception was filtration must be slow, maybe twice the turnover of the tank  water per hour. The thinking behind this was that in the wild, water movement was relatively slow and as we are trying to replicate this in an aquarium, turnover in the tank must also be slow and consistent. Only in the last few years has this changed but it must be stressed that the new thinking comes from the high tech approach to planted aquariums where they use CO2 in order to push plant growth forward rapidly.

So what should your turnover be and what sort of filtration should be used? With beginners to this hobby, the best option is to buy the largest filter you can afford (but not so large it looks out of place). Bigger filters are able to clean your water better, they require less maintenance and you can choose which media you decide to place in them, but tank size must be a consideration. Filter flow rate should be a minimum of twice the turnover for a non CO2 tank. So if your tank is 100L, your filter must turnover a minimum of 200L per hour, but preferably 400L per hour. In a high tech planted aquarium you need to consider a filter that can turn over 10 times its volume. So using the 100L aquarium example, the type of filter you need to consider is one that turns over 1000L per hour – as you can imagine this will limit your choice and lead you towards the largest and latest Eheim filters.

There are two main types of filters available to hobbyists: Internal and External. Internal filters are inexpensive, simple and effective but are generally geared towards smaller aquariums. When maintaining them they can be a little messy when you remove them from your tank for cleaning.  Internal filters sit on the inside of your aquarium and come in a variety of different sizes. They range from the very small (max tank size 20L) up to versions suitable for 200L tanks. However they do take up space in any tank, often hold little media (just sponges on smaller types) and can be a little unsightly. Prices range from £10 and up so can be great if you’re looking for a cheaper start up – have a look at our Superfish Internal Filter range. In recent months manufacturers are investing more technology into these filters, some have built in heaters and others are able to store larger amounts of media which helps to improve water quality, but unfortunately this also means they become bigger which means less aquarium space.

Externals filters are what I recommend – the less equipment that is visible in your tank the better (the focus then remains on your aquascape). External filters are simple to set up, easy to maintain and you can run an external on most tanks regardless of their size – modern brands have flow adjusters so you can set the output speed to whatever you want. These filters are more expensive than internal filters but well worth it.  The most popular brand of external filters are Eheim. They have been the market leader for over 20 years, are reliable and have great functions particular the latest models which have electronic controls and notify you when it needs maintaining. Some also have built in heaters which is ideal for keeping more equipment out of the tank. The typical route for newcomers to this hobby is to start with an internal filter and then move onto an external filter. This was the route I went down and is a gradual introduction to the hobby but if you can afford it, consider buying an external filter from the beginning – you won’t regret it.

More Aquatic Plants = More CO2

Have you ever had a CO2 infused planted aquarium and for a while everything went just right? You had no problems, things were doing well, no algae and you felt pretty pleased with yourself :). In fact, you had temporarily nailed it and then…

algae appears

So you rack your brain, think about what has changed and what might have happened but you still draw a blank. The answer is that you have probably become a victim of your own success (or at least your tank has). As your tank matures, plants grow. This means that the increased biomass effects water distribution along with the plants requiring more fertilisers. If you have kept your CO2 levels the same as before and you’re still adding the same amount of fertilisers as before, you can begin to see why the problem has evolved. Slowly but surely you’ve been starving your plants of what they really need:

  1. More CO2
  2. More Fertilisers
  3. Better Water Distribution

The best thing to do at this stage is to give your plants a good haircut. This will bring overall levels back to where they were (when the tank was doing great). Any deformed leaves or one’s which have algae on them should be chopped off. Essentially you are resetting your aquarium and now you know better. It’s important to stress that as your tank grows you have to increase CO2, fertilisers and improve water flow. Larger plants will block water in its path and stop essential nutrients from getting where they used to. Pay attention to what your plants are telling you – observe your CO2 bubbles and see if they are getting to everywhere that they should. This is the beauty about using pressurised CO2 as you can watch the tiny bubbles move around the tank and if they’re not getting to a certain area, then you can bet fertilisers aren’t either.

In summary, it’s easy to overlook the correlation between plants growing and the effect this has on your planted aquarium. Just remember that as they grow, more demands are put on the aquarium unless you maintain the plants to a specific size (trimming weekly for example).

Have you had problems with your aquarium and overcome them? I’d love to here them.

CO2 Drop Checkers

Drop Checkers are an important piece of equipment in a planted aquarium. In fact without a drop checker how do you actually know what your CO2 levels are? They work by measuring the pH levels in your aquarium. A small amount of test reagent is placed in your drop checker and changes colour according to your CO2 levels. The ideal colour to aim for is green and if you have too little CO2 it becomes blue and too much, become yellow.

Available in a variety of shapes and sizes, some glass, some plastic but they all do the same job. The only difference is that most of them are supplied with a reagent that doesn’t work properly and as a result will give false readings. If you have a drop checker and you use tank water and an orange reagent to measure your CO2 levels, then you need to change (this is the old fashioned/incorrect way) but we’ll get onto that shortly.

All drop checkers need to use 4dkh bromothymol blue solution. This solution is the most accurate on the market and once placed in your drop checker provides accurate results. In a planted aquarium the desired CO2 level for optimum plant growth is 30ppm. When your aquarium has this amount of CO2 in it, your drop checker will turn green – this is why it’s so important. So why shouldn’t you use tank water and the orange reagent that most drop checkers come with?

Tank water contains a variety of acids and alkalines some created by fish and shrimp, others added by hobbyists in the form of fertilisers for their plants.  Therefore by using tank water in your reagent you’re adding a solution that is already changing and this is no good if you want accurate results – you need to start with a stable base level and go from there. This is where the 4dkH bromothymol blue solution comes in handy.

For more information on this subject you can visit this link.

Here’s a nice picture of a drop checker changing colour

Drop Checker changing colour

Water Circulation In A Planted Aquarium

This is something that I discuss with customers time and time again but in all honesty a lot of hobbyists don’t realise how important it really is. Water circulation in a planted aquarium is really important.

Picture this – your aquarium is heavily planted, you infuse CO2, add excellent fertilisers like AE Design Aqua Nourish and Aqua Nourish+. You have good lighting and perform regular large water changes but…you only have one filter pushing around the water, CO2 and fertilisers. And for some reason you have algae – anyone been in this situation?

The reason you have algae is insufficient water distribution. Whilst you get full marks for everything else, in a planted tank that is CO2 infused, you have to get everything right otherwise, algae grows. If you only have one filter pushing water around and you probably have wood/rocks so there will be quite a few dead spots or certainly areas that don’t get much if any water flow due to the deflection they cause. Water flow is the life blood of the system – it carries nutrients and CO2 to the plants and if circulation isn’t up to scrath, your plants don’t get what they need and algae responds. When diffusing CO2 into your tank, you literally have to see the bubbles everywhere and if they’re not in every nook and cranny, you can bet the plants will be struggling in that area.

Water circulation pumps don’t need to be particularly large, in fact some are quite small and powerful. Let me introduce you to Hydor Pico Evo Mag 650. This amazing tiny piece of equipment moves 650L of water per hour and it’s only 4.5x3x6cm which means that it can sit in your tank and barely takes up any space. It contains a magnetic suction cup so you place it anywhere and the idea is to direct it towards the areas in your tank, which don’t get enough water movement. If you have foreground plants, you would need to direct this onto them – in fact this is one reason so many struggle with them. Because they are at the bottom of the tank, they don’t get much water movement and therefore not much CO2 and fertilisers. By pointing a Hydor Pico Evo Mag 650 towards them, it will push the necessary water, fertilsers and CO2 onto your foreground plants forcing them to sway in the current (perfect!).

Ensuring you get your water movement just right, removes so much stress from your planted aquarium. If you want to see our other range of water circulating pumps then visit this link here.

If you are having problems with your aquarium, why not ask a question on this blog and I will respond.

In addition I have managed to find an excellent image of a larger planted aquarium in which world class aquascaper Mark Evans demonstrates perfectly why a circulation pump is required.

Achieving Smaller CO2 Bubbles

If you have a CO2 glass diffuser then odds are you feel like the bubbles are too big and quite often shoot straight to the top of your tank without diffusing into your planted aquarium.

Many glass diffusers do a good job, but they’re pretty cheap and as a result the ceramic plate used is not the best. Sure it works fine but the bubbles can be on the larger size than you actually want (relatively). Now if you paid, lets say £100 for your diffuser, the ceramic plate would be of a much higher quality and you probably wouldn’t be reading this post. If CO2 bubbles are tiny, not only are they less obvious in your planted aquarium but they also distribute better, after all your sole purpose of having CO2 in your tank is so that it spreads over everything and your plants absorb as much as they can.

With CO2 bubbles that are too big, they have a tendency to shoot to the surface of the tank and not get pushed around your aquarium. To remedy this use an AE Design Needle Valve. Simply insert one end of your CO2 tubing into the Needle Valve, and then insert the remainder into the other side. This would then attach directly onto your diffuser. You would now have total control of your Co2 and you will be able to produce much smaller bubbles than you were before hand. The valve on this piece of equipment is subtle and easy to use.

For a range of our CO2 diffusers you can see them here.

Inline CO2 Diffusers For Planted Aquariums

Diffusers are always changing in shape or form and up until recently there were only one or two options for moving gas from bottle to tank. Well now there’s a 3rd and it comes in the form of an UP Inline CO2 Diffuser.

Designed to work with external filters only, you attach them inline so that they sit on the outflow pipe. This is a very simple and easy way to attach a diffuser – yes you have to turn your filter off and maybe drain some liquid etc etc but once it’s up and running it means that it’s another item which can be kept out of the tank. The Co2 tube coming from your regulator also attaches to the diffuser on the top left hand side (see image).

The more equipment that stays out of the tank, the more you can concentrate on what your aquascape actally looks like.

We stock 3 sizes of inline diffusers for 9, 12 and 16mm pipe work and you can see them here.

How do you diffuse your CO2? We would love to hear…

Easy Aqua Super Mist Diffuser

Have you ever wanted better CO2 diffusion into your planted aquarium but never really got the results from glass diffusers?

Well now is the time to change to our new Easy Aqua Super Mist Diffuser. They are quite incredible and we have never seen so many small CO2 bubbles from such a small area. It’s done by creating a surface that is so compact that pressurised CO2 literally has to be forced out through the tiny pores on it. This makes your gas a lot more economical when using a Super Mist Diffuser compared to a glass diffuser. You see the smaller the bubble, the larger the surface area (relatively). Therefore if you are creating thousands of tiny bubbles compared to hundreds of larger one’s, the smaller type win hands down.

This diffuser is only suitable for use with pressurised CO2 and you also need to have about 2 bar pressure. Anything less than that and it won’t cut the mustard.