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.
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. 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).
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/
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.
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…
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:
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
Yep you’ve read that correctly and we are indeed stocking the smallest CO2 set for planted aquariums in the world. You just won’t believe the size of them.
CO2 is such an important element in planted aquarium we cannot stress this enough. When plants are submerged for their first time, they go from a relatively high CO2 environment to one in which it is almost non existent. This causes great problems for aquatic plants as they are adjusting to life underwater and they need carbon to survive and grow successfully. When you don’t provide them with what they need, plant growth stops and algae tends to arrive soon after.
The Colombo Flora-Grow CO2 Nano 50 Set is a great start into pressurised CO2 systems. This affordable system can be set up in minutes and is suitable for aquariums from 5L to 50L – no other set is small enough to deal with those sort of sizes. The set contains a regulator, bottle holder that can clip on the side of your aquarium, CO2 tubing and diffuser.
The bottles are 16g each and are available as a pack of 3 and can be found here.
For all other CO2 accessories visit the site by clicking CO2 equipment.