I’m really liking the look of Cryptocoryne lutea ‘Hobbit’ in the front of the Fireplace Aquarium and it might be nice to put in a second row but it has taken this slow growing crypt more than four months to really get going. Is there a way to speed up the transition from the emersed growth form of the plant as received from the shop to the submerged form it will take in the aquarium? I previously noticed Jurijs Jutjajevs’ “pro tip” to simply cut all the emersed form leaves off and only plant the roots and crown of the plant. Leaves that have already been removed can’t melt. I wasn’t brave enough to try that last time, but this time, BRAVERY UNLOCKED.
Originally there were five or six otocinclus catfish in the Fireplace Aquarum as part of the algae cleanup crew. These are cute but sensitive little critters and I suspect that early unstable tank water parameters contributed to the gradual yet early demise of all them except one. Ottos are social and like to be in groups so it didn’t seem right to have just the one remaining. Today the local fish store had a restock on ottos so I picked up five more. They acclimatised well (no casualties) and have definitely upped the peppiness level in the aquarium. They seem to enjoy playing in the current from the powerhead because they could hide out in the more sedate regions of the tank but instead they’re upfront and active.
Filed under “I know I’m going to regret this”, even though the Anubias nana ‘Snow White’ was a disaster, I’m still enamoured of the concept of a white(ish) plant adding some colour contrast. I’ve been kicking around the “only partially white” Anubias nana ‘Pinto’ option, and when I saw they were down to their last pot at Aqua Essentials, I impulsively pulled the trigger and picked it up.
Anubias barteri nana ‘Pinto’
As may be common practice, there were two distinct plants in the single rockwool pot. Sourced from Dennerle, the ‘Pinto’ varietal similar to both the pinto horse and pinto bean is primarily white, but speckled with another colour, in this case green. Interestingly, there were several sproutings of leaves along the length of the rhizome, with leaves at the base nearly completely green, progressing to more primarily white farther along. Conceivably, having at least a few leaves properly able to provide photosynthesis may support the more decorative rather than functional whiter leaves at the top. The ‘Snow White’ varietal didn’t have this option with no green aspect to any of the leaves at all.
Anubias ‘Pinto’ on the mountain
Anubias barteri nana ‘Pinto’
As with the other epiphytes, I planted the ‘Pinto’ by simply wedging it into cracks/crevasses in the “mountain” sculpture. These plants came with an impressive root structure so I’m hoping they’ll grab on successfully. I was originally looking for Anubias nana ‘Pangolino’ which would have considerably smaller completely green leaves, but that was impossible to source in the UK, and although I was initially concerned the ‘Pinto’ leaves looked out of proportion relative to the nano-scape size of the Fireplace Aquarium, now that it’s planted I’m starting to appreciate the look – if you get a showy plant, let it be showy!
Securing ephiphyes with fishing line
Two days later and the Pinto on the right was waving around pretty good from the water current and when I looked closer there was a zebra thorn snail up against the base of the Pinto using its shell to pry the plant out of its niche. I don’t think this is intentional behaviour, just something I’ve seen them do before when plants aren’t wedged in really well. This wasn’t a problem with the Bucephalandra caterina, but it definitely was with the Anubias nana ‘Snow White’… maybe the snails like messing with Anubias?
I reset the Pintos but a few days later the one on the right had worked loose again, likely because it’s right in the main current coming off the powerhead. Time for stronger measures.
Much more secure
The usual advice when planting epiphytes is to secure them to hardscape by either tying them down with thread or using aquatic glue to fix them in place until their root systems can grab on. I’ve been resisting that because I expected it would be difficult to reach into the tank and sort that all out. I gave it a go though and it wasn’t nearly as tricky as I thought it was going to be. I did a major water change to get the water levels down so to not have to work underwater, then looped some monofilament fishing line across both of the Pinto plants. The mountain sculpture has lots of convenient hooks and crags for holding the line in place. This should give the Pintos a fair chance.
Today I shifted the location of the CO2 diffuser from the left wall of the tank to behind the moutain and underneath the powerhead. The atomised CO2 gets sucked up directly into the flow and actively pushed around the tank. Previously I had the diffuser on the opposite side of the tank hidden under the plants and whilst it seems sensible to put the CO2 where the plants are, because the flow pattern is circular, that puts the plants “upstream” of the diffuser last in the queue – the water has to do a full circuit to get back to them and by that time all the microbubbles have already reached the surface. Those plants can still benefit from the dissolved CO2 of course, but they won’t get any microbubbles trapped under their leaves. The diffuser is also now hidden behind the mountain, which is good, and is shaded by the powerhead to reduce algae growth on the diffuser, also good.
While I was moving things around and doing a cleanout I also took the opportunity to clean the diffuser by removing it from the tank while still active, layering on a few drops of liquid carbon, and letting that go for 10 minutes or so. Back in the tank this increased the CO2 flow rate from 120 bubbles per minute to 130 bubbles per minute, so that worked well.
The fish seemed pretty happy about the whole thing but it will take a few weeks to get an opinion from the plants and algae.
Notes: Cute video of a 5-banded barb swimming through the tunnel under the mountain. The plant growing on the mountain is Bucephalandra caterina. The carpeting plant at the base of the mountain is Marsilea hirsuta.
After spending some time thinking about how to deal with the top-heavy mature form of Lobelia cardinalis ‘Wavy’ even after a very aggressive trimming, I decided to pull it out and replace it with a (hopefully) smaller form: Lobelia cardinalis ‘Dwarf’. There are still challenges with aquatic plant supplies so when I got notified by Aqua Essentials these were back in stock I picked up two pots straight away.
Emersed-form Lobelia cardinalis ‘Dwarf’ in rockwool
Lobelia cardinalis ‘Dwarf’ individual plants
These dwarf lobelias are grown in emersed form in rockwool by AquaFleur in the Netherlands. When they arrived they were larger than I had expected and carefully prising away the rockwool with pinsettes revealed three good-sized individual plants per pot. You’re never entirely sure how many individual plants will come in each rockwool pot – the catalogs tend not to list this information – sometimes it’s one plant per pot, and other times a good many.
The pinsettes made planting easy. There’s a perspective shift when looking through the aquarium acrylic walls at an angle and although I thought I was planting these towards the front, the side-on view showed they are actually about halfway back, which is fine. The Lobelia cardinalis ‘Wavy’ adapted to submerged-form growth almost immediately, so I’m optimistic the dwarf form will as well.
Lobelia cardinalis ‘Dwarf’ – front view
Lobelia cardinalis ‘Dwarf’ – side view
The fish were very interested in checking out the new situation…
Nothing has really dramatically changed in the Fireplace Aquarium but I feel the green spot algae has been growing back quicker than it used to. I was having to give the tank walls a credit-card scrapedown every three or four weeks, but now it seems up to every other week. I tried increasing the dose of liquid carbon (a.k.a algaecide) from 1.0 ml per day to 1.5 ml per day, without noticeable effect other than using up 50% more EasyCarbo. For sure though the hours of daylight are increasing rapidly now and even though the aquarium is 4m from the window, it is a south-facing window and bright all day long. I’ve reduced the lighting supplied by the Tuna Sun LED light by reducing the period of full intensity light in the aquarium daily lighting sequence by 2 hours per day, so we’ll see if that helps. I have long suspected that I’ve been providing more light than necessary so let’s give this a go. I’m also going to knock the liquid carbon dosing back down to the original 1.0 ml per day.
Managing CO2 flow rate satisfactorily is particularly difficult for smaller aquariums; it’s very easy to have the CO2 come blasting out, but a nice steady well-controlled bubbling takes some work. The usual combination of regulator and needle valve can work, and adding in a secondary flow restrictor between the two can be a big help.
Mott porous metal flow restrictors
Plastic flow restrictors that work “well enough” can be had for as little as £5, but I’ve always been enamoured of the porous metal flow restrictors from Mott corporation. A metal disc has hundreds of microchannels fabricated into it such that the gas has to squeeze through to the other side. By controlling the size and number of the channels and the shape of the disc, any desired flow rate can be achieved for a defined gas supplied at a defined pressure. I managed to score the pictured one from Ebay.
Fireplace Aquarium Mott flow restrictor
Mott calibrates the flow rate against nitrogen gas with an input pressure of 30 PSI which is a typical regulated gas output working pressure. The one I got is calibrated to 10 SCCM (standard cubic centimetres per minute) which is to say, 10 ml. CO2 is less viscous than nitrogen, so this restrictor outputs a flow of 12 ml / minute CO2. I find that for the 8 hours per day the CO2 is flowing through the aquarium (controlled by a solenoid on a timer) I need a flow rate of 6 ml / minute CO2, or maybe slightly less, so this is the perfect flow restrictor for this set-up. Given an input flow rate of 12 ml / minute CO2 the needle valve has no trouble at all comfortably getting the flow rate down by the remaining 50% needed. With the new restrictor in place adjusting the needle value smoothly moves the flow rate up and down, with none of the twitchiness exhibited with much higher input flow rates.
On the recent discussion of seach engine optimisation using the Screaming Frog web-spider tool there were some visual representations of the structure of the Fireplace Aquarium site. These do a nice job of illustrating the higher-level structure, but don’t convey a good sense of the internal connectivity of the various pages. Browsing the interwebs on the topic I came across an interesting implementation by Kiran Tomlinson, done while a PhD student in Computer Science at Cornell.
Below is a view of the Fireplace Aquarium site generated using Kiran’s app that shows the direct linkages between resources. Pages are blue spots, images or any other internal non-page resources are green spots, and anything external is shown as a red spot. The graph is zoomable and slideable and you can hover over the individual nodes to show which resource they represent and highlight direct connections to other resources. Try click-dragging any one of the nodes to see what happens.
Time lapse sequence following major aquarium plant trim
Major trim and replant
8 days post-trim
20 days post-trim
34 days post-trim
About a month ago I revised the layout of some of the aquarium plants. I didn’t like the look of all the stemmy/rooty bits of the Lobelia showing up against the front wall of the aquarium so I planted a row of dwarf Cryptocorynes in front to grow into a low cover. The problem though was the lobelia were already crowded against the front. When one of the lobelia plants came loose it was an opportunity for a do-over and I removed all the lobelia except the smallest plant closest to the left side and replanted lobelia trimmings taken from the removed mature plants in a line a bit farther back from the front wall. Some of the ludwigia was also looking a little ratty with heavy algae cover on some of the lower leaves so I did a pretty aggressive takedown there as well.