All posts by Richard

I'm a massive planted aquarium fan sharing my knowledge. I've added stacks of information over the years on this blog and it's all 100% planted aquarium based. Crazy heh? If you've had a question, I can almost bet I've answered it on here so search through the posts before you ask. Check out the Ask Dr Richard section too.

How We Hold Our Aquatic Plants

As you know we’re a serious shop which specialises in the planted aquarium – a life long passion of ours. Plants as you might expect are very important to us and have always intrigued us due to the variety and the types of species available. But there are lots of other plants retailers in the UK, admittedly they’re not specialists, but they ‘hold’ plants. The definition of ‘holding’ plants varies enormously and you may have visited these shops before, a metal halide on the ceiling and lots dead or poor quality plants floating about. Some are much better (not many) but you get the idea.

We’re in business because we love what we do and strive to be the best. So why do some aquatic shops not look after their plants and why don’t they care? They lose money every time a plant dies but for some reason this makes no difference. Even in the current economic climate few retailers are able to hold plants for longer than one week without them deteriorating or dying – the end result means chucking them straight in the bin. Of course the question should why are they not worried about throwing away money and why are they holding their plants in a tank anyway with no CO2 and fertilisers anyway? Because they don’t really care….

It is perfectly feasible to keep plants looking great in aquariums, providing you know what you are doing, but there is also a better way. Have you ever wondered how Tropica and Aquafleur keep and grow their plants?  The answer is hydroponically – it’s much easier. But shops will not embrace this way which is a shame as they would have so much more success, and if they really loved their plants they would care.

I find this really sad because I love plants and want to make sure they look their best at all times, particularly as they will be sent in the post and customers rightly have even higher expectations of plant quality when they are buying online – because you can’t see the exact plant you will receive. Some shops will take advantage of this situation and maybe send a plant which shouldn’t be posted in the hope that the customer won’t be bothered to complain but we’re different. You expect the best and when shopping with Aqua Essentials, and that is exactly what you receive, the best. So how do we achieve and maintain this standard? The answer is a simple one, and incredibly no other shop in the UK, holds aquatic plants like we do. That’s right, no other shops in the UK, and possibly in the world. Intrigued? Read on…

We spoke to the growers of Aquafleur and Tropica plants and asked about their systems. We wanted to know all about humidity, temperature, air movement, nutrients and so on but the biggest question was how to replicate their conditions in our own warehouse. Because if we are serious about plants, which we are, why wouldn’t we want to keep plants the same way as the growers? Makes sense doesn’t it?

After taking on their advice, we invested in a climate controlled environment in which all plants are held hydroponically. This means that the pots are kept in nutrient rich water but the leaves are kept out of the water. The humidity is high, so we invested in equipment that creates humidity. We also needed to make sure that there is plenty of air movement so intake and extraction fans are used – this makes sure plants receive fresh air and oxygen. Temperature has to be specific for aquatic plants so, we’ve invested in equipment that maintains a specific temperature at all times. But the message is not what we have invested in, it’s the dedication we make to ensure your plants (which is essentially what they are) are kept in the very best condition. Our plants don’t have algae, they don’t have snails but do have the strength to survive in the post for incredibly long periods of time because we have replicated as close as possible the growing conditions of the plant farms we buy from.

We want you to feel safe and secure that you’re buying the best. We’re proud to be the first aquatic retailer that has replicated plant farms in Europe and we wanted to share this news with you. In the future we will be holding at least 3 times the amount of plants we currently stock which is pretty exciting – this means you’ll be able to get a wider range from us along with better stock levels meaning if you have an idea for a planted tank and specific plants, odds are you’ll be able to get them from us and know that they are being held in the very best environment, just like the growers.

If you have any questions about the way we hold aquatic plants, ask a question on this blog 🙂

Shipping Freshwater Shrimp

We love our shrimp at Aqua Essentials and when we send them in the post we make sure they are healthy, lively and of a certain size. What most people are surprised at is what size shrimp should be sent in the post and why.

When we send ours, we don’t look to send adults. We aim to send juveniles and the reason for this is very simple. Smaller shrimp are far more adaptable that larger shrimp. Think of it this way – imagine a shrimp which has spent all of its life in one aquarium. This could make it roughly 2 years old. Then compare it to a younger shrimp that is still growing and may have only been alive for 5 months – which do you think will be more adaptable?

The answer is a juvenile shrimp.

So if you purchase shrimp from us (and we hope you do!) expect shrimp of about 10mm is size or so. This means your shrimp will travel better to their destination and then adapt much more easily into their new home.

For our range of freshwater shrimp please click here.

Freshwater Shrimp Molting

If you keep freshwater shrimp (and many of you do) you will have seen shrimp exoskeletons which are the shell of a shrimp. Molting is necessary for shrimp to grow and during this process, they can be very vulnerable. Their new ‘skin’ is relatively soft and therefore after they have shed their skin, they tend to hide for 48-72 hours so that they can allow their shell to harden up. Depending on how much the shrimp is eating there is a direct correlation between number of molts and food eaten.

However, not all molts go to plan. It is still very common for freshwater shrimp to die in a an aquarium when trying to molt and this can be for a variety of reasons but predominantly bacterial disease. The shrimp will attempt to molt but will not be able to shed its skin and it therefore becomes trapped and dies. Many hobbyists have often wondered about how this happens and why and chose to feed a wider range of foods to overcome the problem but it still didn’t have the effect hoped for. This can be easily overcome thanks to a wonderful new product…

Genchem Beta-G which is a unique powder that should be added to your shrimp tank every week. This will stop any molting problems in the future enabling your freshwater shrimp to grow at the speed they wish without any risks.

Economical too, you only need to use 1/5th of a spoon which comes with Genchem Beta-G, so expect this product to last a couple of years 🙂

Freshwater Shrimp Food

When keeping freshwater shrimp, it’s essential that you feed them food that is appropriate for them. Shrimp (unlike humans) are not content with eating 2-3 meals a day – in fact they are quite the opposite and graze constantly. As soon as they have finished what they are eating, they’re off to find more food. Ultimately this is what makes them ideal for use in the planted aquarium where algae can often be found.

With many tanks though, there isn’t enough algae to keep them sustained particularly if your breeding colony of shrimp in increasing in numbers and as a result you have to supplement their diet. This is a good idea anyway as algae is OK for them, but it doesn’t contain everything they need.

Genchem Biomax is a unique shrimp food in the respect that it has been designed for 3 different sized shrimp.

Size 1 is suitable for baby shrimp as the pellet size is very small and can be handled easily by these young shrimp. It’s really important to feed baby shrimp more regularly than adult shrimp, especially when they are very young. If they do not have sufficient food regularly then can easily die. Don’t over feed this product but underfeed either.

Size 2 is suitable for juvenile shrimp – I would consider these 4-8mm in size. The pellet size of this food is larger than Size 1 and as a result is more attractive to shrimp of an appropriate size.

Size 3 is for adult shrimp – this food is the largest out of all 3 and ideal for shrimp of 10mm and upwards. This food contains selected nutrients which will also encourage breeding.

By using all 3 sizes of Genchem Biomax in your shrimp tank you will ensure that all of your shrimp feed on appropriateate sized food and also get the best nutrition.

Improving White Banding On Crystal Red Shrimp

If you’re passionate about Crystal Red Shrimp (CRS) like us then you know all about banding and how the clearer the white banding is on the shrimp, and the fuller it is, the higher grade your CRS. Genetics play an important role within CRS and the better genes the parents have the higher the chance of having CRS with quality banding. But if your CRS doesn’t look quite as good as you hoped it to, is there anything that can be done?

You can help those ‘genes’ by providing an excellent diet in particular Genchem White Pellet which is a shrimp specific food designed for improving banding. We’ve been using this food for about 2 weeks now and have been very pleased with improvements so far. The white banding on our CRS is clearly more defined and it seems thicker and fuller. The CRS take readily to it as well, almost as if they know it’s going to improve their colour 🙂

Like all Genchem products they have more than one function and in this case by feeding Genchem White Pellet, it will help improve moulting.So this double fold effect is a win win. Your shrimps will improve in colour and the moulting is easier.

Saving Young Freshwater Shrimp

Shrimp breeding is on the whole pretty easy stuff. Give them the right sort of water parameters (by using a substrate), some time and plenty of high quality shrimp food and before you know it, your shrimp are pregnant, holding roughly 50 babies underneath them. They are wafted with O2 all day until they are ready to be released into your aquarium.

That day comes and it’s hard to see the shrimps as they are so small but what’s really sad is that the majority of these shrimp will not make it into adulthood for one simple reason – they won’t consume enough food as their immune system is not strong enough.

With a low immune system, young shrimp can become very weak, very quickly and as a result perish as they don’t have enough energy to eat. This doesn’t need to be the case anymore if you introduce Genchem Polytase. This simple and effective powder is designed to be dosed once a week and by doing this it strengthens their immune system enough for the young shrimp to pull through. You’ll be amazed and how many more shrimplets you see in your aquarium in a very short period of time.

You can use Genchem Polytase with any type of shrimp which you are looking to breed. Not only that but if you ever have nitrite or ammonia in your tank this product will also help reduce it. So it really does have a 2 fold effect.

For more freshwater shrimp products please click on this link.

 

Ammonia In Fish Tank

Ammonia in a planted aquarium can be a common problem especially if your tank is new or if you have upset the substrate in some way – you may have over fed your fish too as that can cause a spike. For the first few weeks of a tank cycle you may well see some Ammonia present in your tank water. Assuming you have no fish in your tank (which you shouldn’t do as the first fish should go in after 6 weeks), there’s no need to worry. Just let the nitrogen cycle take it’s natural course and your ammonia will disappear after it converts to nitrite and then nitrogen (which is harmless). But what about those of you who have put fish in too early or for some other reason like over feeding or disturbing your substrate and you have ammonia? Follow the steps below and you can’t go far wrong:

Step 1 – act fast. Ammonia is the number one killer of fresh and coldwater fish. If  ammonia is present your fish won’t last long. The reason why ammonia is so toxic is that it works by binding directly onto the oxygen particles in your water, so essentially it starves your fish of oxygen so when they breath, they’re gasping for oxygen. This is why their gills are pumping.

Step 2 – Use Seachem Amguard immediately. This is an excellent product which will bind the ammonia and render it harmless meaning that your fish will not suffer. Oxygen is then freed up so your fish can breath normally.

Step 3 – Use Seachem Stablity. Another excellent product which helps to convert the ammonia into nitrite and then nitrate (end goal) quicker than any other product on the market. Use this at the same time as Seachem Amguard for best results.

Step 4 – Monitor your ammonia using Seachem Ammonia Alert. This is a permanent test that you place on the inside of your aquarium and it reads your ammonia levels 24/7. Therefore there will be no question of doubt if you have the toxic ammonia or not.

Once you follow these steps you can relax and your fish will be happy. Don’t forget that we offer Express Delivery so if you need your goods fast then we offer a next day delivery service.

detoxifies ammonia in fish tanks fast

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.

The Planted Aquarium Market Today…

I thought I would write a post from a different angle in order to stimulate more responses from hobbyists. I used to be an avid aquascaper, producing aquascapes regularly in order to improve my skills. Today I have a lot less time to be aquascaping even though that is what my business revolves around (kind of ironic isn’t it?!). Most of my time is taken up dealing with the everyday running of the business, providing advice and assistance to customers and ordering goods, sourcing new products etc. But I’m trying to make a bit more time in my day so I can dip my arm back into the water and start scaping. I’ve even got a brand new ADA tank and cabinet which sits empty and looks very sad at the moment…

But the point of this post is to reach out to you guys and find out what you think of the planted aquarium market today. Recently the International Aquascaping Contest took place where hobbyists from around the world were invited to send in pictures of their planted aquariums in order for them to be judged and compared to other competitors. Now this is always a great competition and the standard continues to rise every year. I rarely agree with the winners and often think many of the lower ranked scapes are much better but, beauty is in the eye of the beholder (something for another blog post…). But what really got me about the results was the number of British scapers who submitted their aquascapes and were listed in the top 1000 – I could count them on one hand and found that actually quite sad (in a melancholic way). So I’ve been racking my brains thinking about and wondering why more UK scapers don’t actually scape. Perhaps it’s one of the below:

  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of skill
  • Lack of inclination
  • Lack of time
  • Lack of money

Is it any of these or is it something else? What I do know is that aquascaping skills are not sufficient and photography skills need to be right at the top too if you’re going to win any decent prize. Have a look at top UK Scaper Mark Evans – some of this tanks are truly incredible and he won the top British award. Check this out:

A truly incredible position and rightly deserved too. Mark’s photography skill is as impressive as his aquasapes and this helps to enhance his scapes. If his photography skills were not where they were today (and lets say he had a poor quality camera), I wonder how this would have effected his aquascaping? Maybe he would have been forced to discover the art of photography in order to pursue his passion of planted aquarium and maybe that’s what more people need to do in the UK…?  Camera technology improves all the time and the price comes down but sometimes if you see the lights and camera equipment involved that Mark uses, it can look rather daunting.

So I asked this same question on Twitter and @pfkeditor tweeted back – Brits like to critise and not get involved. I think there’s a lot of truth in that and wondered if that would ever change. In order for us to improve as a nation we have to be more encouraging and less critical. Yes it’s easy to criticise particularly sat on your sofa with the laptop next to you. But this isn’t helping our unique hobby and we need to be more encouraging to everyone, let people make mistakes and we can all learn together. Lets face it you don’t even need that much money to get you going either. You can buy a small tank and maybe 6-7 pots of aquarium plants, lighting, filtration and a CO2 set and you’re away. What you do need is drive and determination because if you’re going to make a go of it, you’ll need lots of drive, you’ll have to be able to take criticism and move on.

I would really love to hear what you guys think about this subject. What is is that holds you back. What would make you consider entering competitions and why do you think other hobbyists are a little camera shy?

Heating Aquariums – Go Inline…

I thought I would touch upon a post that one of our contributors Luis made when he wrote about heaters for planted aquariums. They’re an essential price of equipment and something that you really need to rely on too. After investing in a lot of your hard earned cash on aquatic plants and fish the last thing you want is your heater to let you down. So first you have to invest in a quality heater. That’s easy and this particular blog is about the Hydor External Heater – a quality Italian product made with a patent that is brilliant.

The Hydor External Heaters as you’ve probably guessed sits on your external piping so after the water has passed through the filter, it then runs through the heater and back into your aquarium (see image below).

They’re not the smallest heater in the world by any stretch at approximately 30cm x 6cm x 8cm but they are the only external heater that I have ever seen. With Nature Aquariums, keeping as much equipment out of the tank is the goal and this products is perfect in that respect. Years ago, heaters were always on the inside and you had to try and hide them behind plants or other equipment but no longer is this the case.

Where should you place it?

You can fit your heater anywhere on the outflow pipe of your external filter piping. When fitting it, try and keep it in your carbinet – this ensures everything looks neat and tidy and also if you ever spilt water from your aquarium, it wouldn’t get wet.

So it all sounds pretty good right? What’s the catch?

Well there’s not really any catch. They do need to be kept at a minimum angle of 45 degrees due to the heating element inside (which is where the secret lies). If you try and run the heater at 90 degrees the unit will over heat and then stop working – this is where stories on the internet have popped up and hobbyists have kept them lying down. If you keep it at a minimum of 45 degree you won’t have an issue. Ideally you want it vertical – this is the best way to heat your water up as it stays in contact with the heating element for longer and therefore keeps your water at a more stable temperature.

Accuracy

The Hydor External Heaters are the most accurate out of all heaters on the market. You can set the temperature to half a degrees accuracy. Perfect for anyone who specifically wants a certain temperature.

What size piping?

There are three models available today. 12mm 200w, 12mm 300w, 16mm 300w. All operate in the same way and dimension wise almost the same.

If you have found this post useful, perhaps you could tweet this post or maybe share it on Facebook. And if you have any questions, just hit the reply button.

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?

Three aquarium items that you should not get second hand

With the economic downturn we are all looking for savings to be made, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

One is that looking for savings is a good move, the other is that cutting corners where it involves safety is not.

Below I list three items that you should get brand new, they usually go wrong quickly and have a high fail rate.

Heater

Why shouldn’t you get an aquarium heater second hand? With so many offers online for second hand items, the aquarium heater is one that you should get new. Many aquarium heaters fail, either they get stuck on the one position or they fail to heat up the water. Both will kill all your livestock.

Many fish keepers spend hundreds if not thousands on their tank, on substrate, lights, rocks, fish, etc, yet many people do not think twice about buying a heater second hand.

Aquarium water treatment or conditioners

Do you actually know what is inside a open bottle? Would you buy juice from a shop if the bottle was already open? Same with aquarium products. Don’t bother with half used bottles. First many products have a use by date from the date they were open, and you do not know when they were open, secondly you do not know what else is mixed on it, and last the savings you may made will not matter if something goes wrong. Buy from a reputable shop and have peace of mind.

External Filters

Many filters rubber rings have a usable life, same as it happens to your car, many items wear off after a while, and they need to be replaced. Would you like to come home and have half the tank water on the sitting room floor?

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.

Flow Rate In A Planted Aquarium

I’ve written about this before and no doubt I will continue to write about it in the future. Flow rate in a CO2 infused aquarium needs to be high – it has to be in order to move around the fertilisers and CO2. What you want to see is your plants moving, swaying in the flow and if they are all doing that, then you’ve probably nailed it. But actions speak better than words. Check this short YouTube clip out by Mark Evans – notice the powerful flow rate and also the excellent plant growth (the fertiliser he uses is Tropica Plant Nutrition+)

What’s the flow rate like in your planted aquarium? Anything like Mark’s?

Contribute To Our Blog?

Are you a writer or maybe you just fancy doing some writing on the subject of planted aquariums? We are opening up our blog to hobbyists just like you. With the importance of fresh content on blogs, we are inviting anyone who fancies writing on the subject of planted aquariums. It can be about anything you like but must revolve around this wonderful hobby. Perhaps you have had some experiences you would like share with others or maybe you are a long term hobbyist and want to say a few words about how keeping a planted aquarium has changed over the years.

We believe this planted aquarium blog is the most active in the world which makes it pretty special. It also means you get high readership which is a bonus too! We’re not committing you to anything though, you can write when ever you like and will be provided log in details so you become a Contributor. The only aspect that needs to be considered is commercial sensitivity – you can’t say certain products are rubbish or don’t work for example.

If you are interested in any way, leave me a comment and I’ll get right back to you 🙂

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.

Water Changes In A Planted Aquarium

Getting water changed right saves you big time – in fact it’s so important I often wonder why hobbyists don’t pay more attention to it and look to see how water changes really help. Rather than reach for a bottle which helps get rid of algae, I advise

reach for you bucket…

Organics build up very quickly in an enclosed aquarium and when you put your plants through their paces (i.e. make them grow quick) just like anything that is alive and doing a lot, they get rid of waste. This waste needs to be removed with water changes and if it’s not tends to help algae to grow. So a simple solution right? Do water changes but the big question how much. Some of you may be quite surprised at the amount that you need to do and I’ll start off by saying 25% once a week is not enough no matter how big your tank is, that is unless you want algae. Assuming you don’t, here’s the routine:

Week 1 – 40% daily (yes every day for the full 7 days)

Week 2 – 40% every other day

Week 3 – 40% every three days

Week 4 – 40% every four days

You can probably see a theme developing here and this regime will provide great results for you no matter what. When you get to week 7 your regime will stick at 40% every 7 days and that won’t change. If you do find yourself with less than desirable algae in your tank then increase your water changes again. Don’t forget you’ll need to dose your ferts daily with these water changes and another good reason why we recommend Neutro Fertilisers for your plants.

It’s worth noting that this is only for CO2 infused tanks (that’s pressurised CO2 and not liquid carbon tanks). This is a tried and tested method and for those of you who are thinking, ‘I might just try and get away with doing less, or that’s a lot of water to throw down the drain’ then good luck! You can change your routine if you want but it’s not the answer – this routine hasn’t been plucked out of the air, unlike some hobbyists thinking around the subject…

It takes dedication, hard work and plenty of elbow grease to make a high tech CO2 tank work and it’s more than feasible too. The big question is whether you are up to it.

For changing water quickly and easily I recommend the Superfish Aqua Syphon Set.

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.

Problems In Planted Aquariums

We deal with a lot of problems on planted aquariums – after all that is what we specialise in so naturally we expect to deal with a lot of the same issues. One issue that crops up over and over again is the way people deal with problems. Now it was Einstein who defined insanity:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

and it’s so true…

Many hobbyists keep doing the same things and expect to get different results – which after reading the above makes you insane. Now of course this is an exageration, we don’t really think you’re mad but it’s  making people aware that they need to try something different if their planted aquarium is not going the way they expect. Lets look at an example of yellowing leaves. Customer notices some of the leaves on their crypts going yellow and thinks that’s strange but ignores it hoping it might go away.

Now yellowing of leaves normally indicates a nutrient deficiency so the remedy – add more nutrients.

Next couple of days the situation is no better, in fact it’s worse. More leaves are yellowing and no more fertilisers are being added. This fictional story happens all the time and I encourage you to do something different if you’re not getting the results you expect. In this situation if you added more fertilisers you would notice a positive difference. Leaves would begin to look better.

So next time things aren’t going your way in your planted tank, think about what Einstein said and then, do something different :), oh and add some ferts too

Plants For A Planted Aquarium

The exciting part and the one reason that you became interested in this hobby. These wonderful aquatic plants make your aquarium come alive with lush colours of green and red. Now the difficult part of choosing what plants to grow!

It’s important to do your homework before you choose which plants you keep in your tank. By doing some research you save yourself both time and money. Many hobbyists make the mistake when they go into a fish shop and are amazed by certain plants that look beautiful, may be a lovely red colour or a certain shape or size. They take them home and gradually they deteriorate. You’re left puzzled and confused as to why they didn’t grow and flourish.
Not all plants are suitable for aquariums. I’ve been in countless shops that sell non aquatic plants, so no matter how good your conditions are these plants will always fail. Shops only sell these plants because they know as soon as they are placed in your aquarium they begin to die – they hope rather than do your research you will come back and buy some more. I’ve never understood that concept and surely it’s better to educate customers so that they come back and buy a much broader variety of plants as their skills expand. So just beware of what plants are aquatic prior to purchase.

There are a huge amount of plants available for people in this hobby. There are 3 major growers of plant in Europe and they are Tropica, Aquafleur and Dennerle. Most plants will have labels on them indicating different requirements from a plant. They always state their Latin name, what size they grow to, their lighting requirements and normally where you should place them in your tank. Some will have other information on the labels such as how easy they are to grow. As you are at the early stages of this hobby, it will be best to opt for plants that are easy to grow. These types of plants will not require lots of light (this is key!) and normally flourish in the most basic conditions. A very small sample of these plants are:

Crinum Thaianum, Echindorus Parviflorus, Java Moss, Lilaeopsis Novea-Zealandie, Marsilea Crenata, Micromanthemum Umbrosum, Microsorium Pteropus, Nuphur Japonicum and Vallis Spiralis.

There are many others that are suitable simply check the label and marry that up against your tank set up. If a plant requires high light you can be sure it needs CO2 – this is typical of red plants. View the range of plants here.

Most plants are grown in pots – make sure they have roots. When you get them home remove the pot and rockwool carefully and split into about 6 plants. Tall plants must always be planted at the back of your aquarium are are ideal for covering up filters or heaters. Medium sized plants are most suitable for the midground and small plants are typically suited for the front of the tank to avoid obstructing the plants behind. Foreground plants often the most sought after because of the way they look and grow. They also spread rapidly given the right conditions and can really transform an aquascape.

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/

CO2 In A Planted Aquarium

Knowing whether or not to use CO2 in a tank is a choice that many hobbyists go through. And the short answer to this is simple, it really depends how much time you want to spend on maintaining your tank. There is no doubt that in order to grow some plants successfully, you will need CO2. At the same time, there are many plants that do very well with limited or no CO2 input.

There are three types of CO2 available on the market – Pressurised, Fermented & Liquid.
Pressurised is the most stable type available to hobbyists, where gas is stored in a pressurised bottle. This is attached to a regulator which in turn has a bubble counter and diffuser attached to CO2 tubing. By using a pressurised system you are giving yourself ‘gas on tap’ so this means you have total control over CO2 input. This is very important because  CO2 (when used properly) creates stability in a tank. Systems  such as the D-D Complete CO2 set costs £127.99. You may also wish to consider a disposable bottle system (where the bottles are literally disposed of when they are empty) or a refillable bottle system (only suitable when you can actually get bottles refilled easily). Either way don’t be frightened of CO2 – it’s very easy and safe to use contrary to scare stories.

Fermented systems are a great introduction for hobbyists who are looking to try out CO2 for the very first time and costs from £25 and up. They provide a cheap set up specifically geared towards hobbyists looking for a cost effective solution for their planted aquarium.
The set up for all fermented systems (or DIY as it is sometimes known) is almost the same. Each brand of system uses a combination of yeast and sugar provided in sachets they are mixed together and then placed within a container which allows fermentation to occur and CO2 to be produced (see image above). CO2 tubing is attached to the container which has a diffuser attached to the end. This sits in the aquarium and the gas is forced out of the fermenting chamber and is diffused into the tank. We recommend this type of set up, but it does require cleaning (due to the fermentation process) and CO2 levels can drop off, and are changeable according to the room temperature (this effects the fermentation rate).
The last option which is the most simple is a liquid form of carbon. Available by manufacturers such as Seachem, Easy Life and the AE Design label, it offers a product that provides a liquid carbon source (roughly 25% strength of pressurised CO2). The liquid carbon is packaged in a bottle and dosage is very simple but must be done daily. Another major advantage is that it works as an algaecide – it is well known for ridding many types of algae in the aquarium such as hair algae.

It is quite common for liquid carbon to be used in conjunction with DIY CO2 or pressurised CO2 systems, almost like a complimentary product.  Either way when you are growing plants, it is important to have at least one source of carbon in your aquarium so at a bare minimum use a liquid carbon.