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.
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.
Anubias nana ‘Pinto’ after two months
Anubias nana ‘Pinto’ after two months
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.
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.
Looking for a replacement epiphyte for the failed Anubias nana ‘Snow White’, I’ve plumped for Bucephalandra caterina. There just isn’t much availability for aquatic plants in general in the United Kingdom recently, and the availability of Anubias and Bucephalandra varieties seems extraordinarily poor especially for the smaller size varietals. I managed to score two pots from Pro Shrimp, as grown by Aquadip, and they arrived today.
Species and varietal names are not very well defined for Bucephalandra with several hundred types known (or claimed). There’s some question as to whether Bucephalandra caterina is (or is not) the same thing as Bucephalandra ‘Mini Needle Leaf’.
Bucephalandra caterina pots are each their own individual plants
I was expecting each pot to be composed of a number of plantlets that could be easily teased apart and planted separately, like the Cryptocoryne lutea ‘Hobbit’, but this was not the case. Once the rockwool was removed from the roots it was clear that each pot was its own defined thing that was not obviously subdividable. I suppose I should have expected that from a plant that grows from a rhizome, but I was thinking of the Anubias nana ‘Snow White’ tissue culture pot where there were many individual plantlets even though Anubias also grows from a rhizome – that might be a difference between growth in pots vs. in tissue culture. I thought about cutting the Bucephalandra in half with sharp scissors, particularly the one on the left that sort of looked like it had a semi-obvious point where it could be divided, but in the end decided to plant them ‘as is’.
Did you arrive at the Fireplace Aquarium by way of a search engine like google or bing? How search engines choose which sites to show and in which order can be influenced by ‘search engine optimisation’ or SEO. An important aspect of SEO, in addition to having interesting and informative content, is having the technical aspects of a website sorted out such that the website facilitates the content instead of getting in the way. Currently, I’m working on the following pieces:
No broken links, missing pages or ‘404’ errors or other obvious sources of user frustration
Informative meta descriptions for web pages so search engines don’t have to guess what to say
All images have an ‘ALT’ text description to aid the visually impaired and help search engines understand the messages images are conveying
Verifying that search engines know about all the different pages they might decide to index using Google Search Console (or similar)
Add headings that match questions Google searchers have asked* and provide helpful answers to those questions.
How to use Screaming Frog for SEO
A really great tool to help accomplish the above is the Screaming Frog SEO spider. You download and run the app**, then point it at your website where it then ‘crawls’ all the interconnected pages exactly like the search engines do, collecting information you can query in a user-friendly way. For example, you can click a button to see a list of all the broken links in your website (or ideally, see that there aren’t any broken links). Similarly you can query which pages have meta descriptions, which images have ALT descriptions, and what those descriptions say. It’s also easy to generate a list of all the web pages, and indications as to which can be indexed by search engines, and then to compare that list with pages actually indexed by google or bing etc. Where the search engines have missed some pages, you can point the engines to those pages specifically.
How to make a Screaming Frog sitemap
One of the cool things you can do is to generate visual sitemaps, either based on the directory structure, or the route in which the SEO spider crawls the site, and see those as either a tree graph or force-directed graph. The graphs can be exported in either SVG or HTML format; unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t play well with SVG, so I converted the SVG saved output to PNG using Gimp and you can see two versions of the results below.
Making the sitemap is easy. Launch up Screaming Frog and type the base address of the website into the ‘Enter URL to spider’ address bar at the top, press ‘Start’ and wait for the scan to complete. Then select your visualisation of choice from the Visualisations menu. Once the visualisation comes up, have a play with the settings by clicking on the small gear icon in upper right corner of the visualisation window. When it’s looking how you want it to, click the diskette icon to the immediate left of the gear icon to bring up the save screen, pick where you want the visualisation to be saved, select either ‘svg’ or ‘html’ format from the dropdown menu at the bottom right of the save screen, and then press ‘Save’.
*Real world example: I clicked the ‘Performance’ tab in my Google Search Console and found I was getting queries for “screaming frog visual sitemap”. I then did a google search for “screaming frog visual sitemap” to see what people wanted, and the search result page helpfully said:
People also ask:
How do I make a screaming frog sitemap?
How do you use a screaming frog for SEO? [really, that’s what they ask]
So I made level 2 headings corresponding to those two questions, and then (hopefully) provided some helpful answers. If you found these answers were helpful, you could thank me by linking to my site from your website, ideally with a “do follow” link. 😀
**Screaming Frog is a UK-based outfit (which is nice) and provides their SEO spider free of charge for use with smaller websites (less than 500 URLs). They claim versions for Windows, macOS and Ubuntu, however, I develop Fireplace Aquarium on a Chromebook running Debian linux (the testing repository) and much to my surprise (and delight), the Ubuntu .deb file installed using gdebi without incident and seems to run just fine under Debian.