They say Cryptocoryne lutea ‘Hobbit’ is a small crypt, but saying it and seeing it are two different things.  This is a really small crypt!  The original idea was to have a small plant to go in front of the Lobelia cardinalis ‘Dwarf’ to hide the rooty lower stems of the Lobelia without covering up the pretty bright green higher foliage.  The ‘Hobbit’ is listed as a maximum height of 5 cm which sounded about right, but now I think that’s too small.  The ‘Hobbit’ adapted to submerged growth easily, but after a good number of months still ranges from 2-3 cm in height.  Further, the dark brown/purple coloration of submerged form ‘Hobbit’ gets lost against the dark colour aquasoil making the ‘Hobbit’ hard to see.  To top it all off, the ‘Hobbit’ became overrun by the Marsilea hirsuta carpet, which is about as tall as the Hobbit and spreads much more aggressively.

I like the ‘Hobbit’ but I don’t think it’s fit for the original purpose in the spot.  Accordingly, I decided to try the “next size up” in crypts, Cryptocoryne parva.  That left open the question of what to do with the ‘Hobbit’ so I’ve moved the Hobbit to the front and centre of the tank.

Cryptocoryne species have a reputation for ‘melting’ if they get traumatised.  In this case they shed all their existing leaves and make it a do-over with fresh growth.  I’m hoping that doesn’t happen with these transplanted Hobbits.  The aquasoil only very loosely holds the roots such that there wasn’t much root tearing, and the replanting procedure was more a nestle-in-place rather than putting them in a hole and covering them with dirt.  I’ll keep them free of Marsilea invasion and the new venue has more illumination as well since it is more centrally located under the light and isn’t generally overshadowed by any of the taller species:  Lobelia, Ludwigia and Lysimachia.

I picked up two pots of Cryptocoryne parva from Pro Shrimp as produced by Aquadip with the idea of putting in a crypt a little larger than the Cryptocoryne lutea ‘Hobbit’ in front of the Ludwigia palustris ‘Dwarf’.

The pots arrived promply and in excellent condition.  It was straightforward to remove the rockwool growth support using pinsettes, and I was then able to tease apart the two substantial plant masses into many smaller plantlets for individual planting.

My first thought was to plant the parva amongst the pre-existing Marsilea hirsuta and C. lutea ‘Hobbit’, but that rapidly proved impractical so instead I removed a substantial portion of the marsiliea which really was growing a little rampantly out of control, and I transplanted the ‘Hobbit’ to the front-centre of the aquarium to clear the ground for the parva.

The parva planted easily in the cleared ground and made a neat row right across the front of the aquarium.  There’s still a lot of cleared space behind the parva which I’ll leave open for now.

Cryptocoryne parva vs. Cryptocoryne lutea ‘Hobbit’

Emersed growth form C. parva vs. submerged growth form C. lutea 'Hobbit'
Emersed for C. parva vs. submerged form C. lutea ‘Hobbit’

For a long time, C. parva was the smallest available cryptocoryne but that changed in recent years with the introduction of C. lutea ‘Hobbit’ to the trade.  Here’s a comparison of the new C. parva emersed form plantlets with C. lutea ‘Hobbit’ plants that have been growing in the fully adapted submersed-form for at least three months.

The adapted ‘Hobbit’ is a dark brown/purple colour which is a strong contrast with the bright green colour of the emersed-form ‘Hobbit’.  The new parva is a similar bright green, but I expect the parva to stay roughly this same shade of green.  The maximum height of parva is listed as 10 cm, whilst the ‘Hobbit’ is listed as growing to 5 cm and indeed the new parva is already as tall as the ‘Hobbit’.  The eventual side-to-side comparison of the two will be interesting so hopefully the ‘Hobbit’ will emerge from its transplanting relatively untraumatised.

After two week holiday – no maintenance yet

We took a two week holiday and left the fish and plants in the Fireplace Aquarium on their own recognizance.  I did an 80% water change the day we set out, gave the fish a little extra food flakes, turned off the CO2 gas and otherwise left things as they were.  The fish, plants, fish and snails were all fine.  No casualties, and in fact everything was looking pretty good upon our return.  I had expected a huge algae problem to scrape off, but that was also fine.  Turns out these things are pretty robust.  You can buy “slow release” holiday food but I do not recommend doing that; for a couple of weeks, if everything is healthy when you leave, things will be ok upon your return.  Coming back, I gave the fish a slightly larger portion of food, did another water change, turned the CO2 back on and resumed EI fertiliser dosing.

Newly planted Cryptocoryne lutea 'Hobbit'
Before: emersed leaves cut off

Jurijs Jutjajevs’ (of Tropica) has a “pro tip” for avoiding ‘crypt melt’ and getting Cryptocoryne species more rapidly adapted to submerged growth in an aquarium:  cut off all the emersed form leaves when planting.  It’s quite a dramatic thing to get your new plants in from the vendor and then immediately cut all the leaves off, but I gave that a try with Cryptocoryne lutea ‘Hobbit’ and it’s time to report the results.

In the ‘before’ picture you can see the stumps of the newly planted row of ‘Hobbits’ to the immediate right of the Lobelia cardinalis ‘Dwarf’ and to the left of a mature row of fully adapted submerged form Hobbits up against the glass.  The idea is for the new plants to focus energy on developing submerged form leaves straight away since there are no residual emersed form leaves left.  Another upside is not having to clean up the decayed form of the emersed leaves as the plant transitions.

Cutting off Cryptocoryne ermersed form leaves really works!

Pre-trimmed Cryptocoryne lutea ‘Hobbit’ six weeks after planting

Jurijs’ tip worked beautifully!  The newly planted row of Hobbits have in just six weeks grown fully adapted submerged form leaves and are already more than half the size of the Hobbits planted six months ago that had the emersed form leaves left on.  The new Hobbits have adapted so well and so quickly that it’s hard to visually pick them out behind the row of older Hobbits.

Non-pre-trimmed Cryptocoryne lutea ‘Hobbit’ six weeks after planting

When the emersed form leaves are left on at planting, there are at six weeks a few fully submerged form leaves present, but most of the plant is still trying to give it a go with emersed form leaves.  That might be a good strategy in the wild where water levels might fluctuate above and below the plant, but it won’t work long-term at the bottom of an aquarium.

Great tip for all Cryptocoryne species (except Cryptocoryne parva)

Jurijs says the tip works for all species of crypts except for Cryptocoryne parva.  Parva doesn’t change its leaf form between emersed and submerged growth, so there’s no need to ‘help’ it transition.

Special note:  also don’t try this with Cryptocoryne species grown in tissue culture form.

disposable CO2 gas cylinder
Clarke 600 g disposable CO2 cylinder

I ran out of CO2 gas today for the Fireplace Aquarium and swapped out the old CO2 supply cylinder for a new one.  I get 600 g CO2 at a time in disposable cylinders used for MIG welding, and sure enough, the empty cylinder weighed 1200 g and the new cylinder weighed 1800 g.

End of tank dump

I few weeks ago, I noticed the CO2 bubble rate had increased substantially due to increased flow rate through the regulator on the CO2 tank.  Regulators are the first step in controlling aquarium CO2 and regulators work best when the pressure inside the CO2 tank is constant.  Most of the time is this easy because inside the cylinder the CO2 exists in both a liquid and gas phase in equilibrium, and so long as there is any liquid CO2 at all, the equilibrium maintains a constant pressure in the tank of around 860 psi.  When the CO2 is running out, however, there comes a point when there is no liquid remaining in the tank at which point the pressure of the gas phase CO2 gradually drops as it is exhausted.  Single stage* regulators “notice” the pressure in the supply cylinder is dropping and attempt to compensate by opening more fully, however they inevitably over compensate resulting in increased gas flow even though the source cylinder is at lower pressure.  In some cases this failure of regulation can happen quickly and dramatically and can “dump” all the remaining CO2 gas into the aquarium, poisoning the animal residents (the plants won’t be bothered however).

With my set-up the regulation failure is not so severe, and can be easily mitigated by awareness a problem might be coming and by adjusting the flow through the regulator down a little on a daily basis until the cylinder runs out gas completely.  I get more than three months of constant pressure CO2 and then a couple weeks of manageable instabiliy at the end.  I’ve set a 3 month reminder for myself to remind me when to start carefully monitoring the end of this new cylinder.

*Dual stage regulator alternative

A dual stage regulator is designed to maintain constant flow even if the source pressure changes and can avoid the end of tank dump that can happen with single stage regulators.  Dual stage regulators are much more expensive than single stage, can be easily and erroneously confused with “dual guage” regulators, and don’t seem to be designed for the disposable CO2 cylinders I like to use.

Golden creeping Jenny in an aquarium

Also known as ‘moneywort’, the golden form of creeping Jenny came up in the weekly sales email from Aqua Essentials and even though I know impulse buying isn’t a good way to go with a planted aquarium, I was looking for a plant that gets to around 30 cm and the golden colour sounded appealing (and who doesn’t like 40% off list price?) so I picked up a pot.

The first surprise was the large amount of emersed leafy growth – six inches.  I don’t have any experience with this plant so wasn’t sure whether the emersed growth would simply rot away when submerged in the aquarium, in which case prophylatic vigorous trimming might be in order, or whether as a marshy plant the emersed growth would be ready for full submersion.  I decided to trim off any obviously rotted portions and the lower leaves near the roots so I could plant the stems to good depth, but otherwise to leave the emersed growth in place; this can always be trimmed off later after planting if not doing well.

The second surprise was that after prising away the rockwool growth support, there were nine quite vigorous looking individual stems.  The catalogs never tell you how many individual plantlets to expect from a single pot and nine is on the high end in my experience.  With a good amount of stems, planting in a row up against a side wall of the aquarium aiming for a “golden curtain” type of effect seemed feasible, so starting at the back on the left side I planted in a forward row as close to the tank wall as reasonably possible.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this new plant behaves.  The Fireplace Aquarium has developed into a multi-coloured live plant display with various shades of light green, dark red, blue/green, dark green, darkish purple and whitish foliage, and now hopefully golden yellow.

How to avoid crypt  melt

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.

Continue reading “Planting Cryptocoryne lutea ‘Hobbit’”

MOAR CATFISH!!!

Otocinclus catfish
Otocinclus catfish

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.

Ottos keep plants clean

12 day update and all the new ottos are doing well.  I think they do a pretty good job of polishing the green algae off of the lower levels leaves of both the Ludwigia palustris and the Lobelia cardinalis ‘Dwarf’.

Fireplace Aquarium top down view during water change
View from the top during a water change

Unusual view* down into the Fireplace Aquarium during a major water change.  On the top of the mountain on the right is Bucephalandra caterina, with newly installed Anubias barteri nana ‘Pinto’ further down.  The flopped over red plant is Ludwigia palustris mini ‘Super Red’ with bright green Lobelia cardinalis ‘Dwarf’ just below it.  The low green carpet at the front is Marsilea hirsuta.  Very difficult to see are a few dark brown fronds from Cryptocoryne lutea ‘Hobbit’ at the front edge on the left side and a few sprigs in the lower right corner.  The built-in air lift tube from the underground filter system is the central whitish cylinder.  At the back from left to right are the drop checker, the heater and the powerhead.  

*It’s unusual because there’s not much overhead clearance between the top of the aquarium and the bottom of the chimney breast so it’s a little tricky getting a camera in there.

Planting Anubias barteri nana ‘Pinto’

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.

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.

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

Anubias barteri nana 'Pinto' attached to hardscape
Secured with monofilament 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.

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.

Anubias nana ‘Pinto’ two month update

It’s been two months since the Pinto got installed in the Fireplace Aquarium and the plants are doing well.  There are some new leaves on these slow-growning Anubias, mostly with a very strong white colouration, presumably supported by the older, more green leaves lower down.  The fractured green/white pinto pattern is interesting.  I had some concern the plants would get colonised by green spot algae, but so far there is no sign of trouble.

The plants haven’t worked themselves loose at all and there is some noticeably new root structure, particularly on the left side plant which also seems to have larger leaves, perhaps because it gets more light facing in towards the centre.  The monofilament line is still in place but is nearly invisible now.