The Marsilea hirsuta has been a wonderful carpeting plant, but it first went into the Fireplace Aquarium nearly 27 months ago and has started to become problematic.  Over long periods of time the marsilea can build up into a mass, I think as newer individual stems try to outgrow the existing carpet layer, so there had been a gradual creeping upwards.  Since the marsilea grows as single leaves at the end of a stem it can’t really be trimmed effectively.  It is possible to pull out interconnected strands as the plant propagates using runners, however, that tends to drag up surrounding marsilea where it is impossible for the uprooted material to be effectively put back down on the surface.  Still, two-plus years is a good run!

Removing aquarium plants can make a huge, but temporary, mess

(Pro tip:  don’t worry about it)

Pulling up the marsilea also released a huge pile of floating debris of all sizes.  Part of what might be happening here is that debris becomes trapped between the layer of carpet leaves and the substrate, being very difficult to remove whilst the carpeting plant is in place.  In my experience, even though so much rubbish suspended in the water column looks dramatic, it does not adversely affect any of the animal life, and indeed the fish, shrimp and snails seemed quite unperturbed.  I followed the uprooting with a large water change (80%+) which cleared quite a bit of suspended debris out, but even so things were pretty opaque.  Not to worry and no special measures needed though, the fine debris inevitably clears itself in a day or two.

Looking for replacement (aquarium) carpet

I’m going to let things settle for a bit and then probably put in some new carpeting plants where the marsilea was.  One consideration is that since the carpet will be inconveniently behind and underneath the mountain, regular trimming will be difficult or impossible.  That means some of the fast-growing carpets that need regular trimming to stay nice such as dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis parvula) or Monte carlo (Micranthemum tweediei ‘Monte Carlo’) would not be good choices.  I’m also shy about plants that can get very leggy under lower light conditions.  One possibility would be to simply replant some fresh Marsilea hirsuta, or its smaller relative Marsilea crenata.  I’m also toying with giving Littorella uniflora another try, where the compare/contrast between growth under low tech (no injected CO2 gas) and high tech (with injected CO2 gas) conditions might be interesting.

The goal is to get epiphytes such as Anubias or Bucephalandra to grow emersed in the open-topped Shrimphaus exposed to normal room humidity.  There is a lot of internet opinion, most of which says “forget it”, but some people have managed to make a go of it.  My first try was Anubias nana ‘Coin’  which died gradually over a number of weeks as the submersed rhizome rotted away, but what didn’t happen was the leaves all instantly drying out, which lends some confidence.  I’m going to keep the rhizome out of the water going forward and inspired by a report of success with Anubias coffeefolia, I plumped for a pot of that.

Anubias coffeefolia has interesting leaf texture

The leaves of Anubias coffeefolia have a striking resemblance to those of the terrestrial coffee plant (naturally), and even though Aquadip lists this plant as ‘caffeefolia‘ you understand what they mean.  The plant arrived from Pro Shrimp in great condition, apart from one or two dead leaves which I trimmed off.  Removing the rockwool revealed a very healthy-looking root system.

Continue reading “Planting Anubias coffeefolia (emersed)”

The initial concept for the aquaduct of the Shrimphaus was for water flowing over slate with epiphytic plants and mosses clinging to the slate under the water with leaves growing up out of the water.  That didn’t work out very well.  The underwater rhizome of the Anubias nana ‘Coin’ slowly rotted away, killing the plant.  The Christmas moss and the Bucephalandra pygmaea ‘Bukit Kelam’ didn’t look brilliant either.  Which leads to the new concept for emersed plants in the Shrimphaus…

Riverside planting
Riverside planting

Emersed plants on land

Whilst leaving a channel for water flow, land is built out of black lava rock on the slate shelf.  The lava rock is very porous and wicks up the water so staying continuously wet.  The epiphyte Anubias coffeefolia (replacing the Anubias nana ‘Coin’) and the Bucephalandra have their roots down amongst the lava rock staying wet, but the rhizome and leaves of both are in the open air.  The Christmas moss is simply placed on top of the lava rocks without any attempt at “planting”.  I have tried to keep things moist topside with irregular (when I think about it) misting to try to transition the plants gradually to standard indoor room humidity, but I’m not sure that’s actually necessary.  The wet lava rocks and moss will perhaps provide some degree of elevated localised humidity.

Continue reading “River run”

Following on from the disastrous experience of adding new cherry shrimp to the Fireplace Aquarium I decided to give the shrimp their own aquarium with no predatory fish!  I built them their own customised Shrimphaus and after a couple weeks of equilibrating the water chemistry and biology I added some Bloody Mary shrimp sourced from Pro Shrimp.  They all arrived alive and in good shape.

Drip acclimatising new shrimp

Shrimp can go into shock when their water parameters change suddenly, so it is recommeded to get newly arrived shrimp used to the new water slowly by adding the new water dropwise over several hours to a temporary shrimp holding container.  When the holding container is full, remove half the water and continue the drip.  After three of these cycles the shrimp will be essentially in the new water and can be safely added to the aquarium.  The acclimatisation setup was easy to rig and went smoothly.  The shrimp never appeared distressed and when added to their new home went off exploring straight away.

Shrimp keep plants clean

I had noticed the beginning of some type of black algal growth on the plants but the shrimp went after that and cleaned it all up.  In this low-tech set-up the plants will grow slowly so shrimp keeping it nice could be important.  Amano shrimp are well known for devouring algae and it’s nice that the cherry shrimp behave similarly.

Bloody Mary shrimp colouration

Although both Bloody Mary shrimp and cherry shrimp are the same species, Neocaridina davidi, and both are red, they are red in a different way.  With traditional cherry shrimp the shell (carapace) is opaque and contains the pigmentation, whereas with Bloody Mary shrimp the carapace is transparent and the interior of the shrimp is a smoothly pigmented red colour.  Apparently this comes from a heritable mutation common to Bloody Mary shrimp, Black Rose shrimp and Chocolate shrimp.

One, maybe two, of the shrimp are much paler in colour than the others.  Are these still Bloody Mary shrimp?  They have the transparent carapace and pinkish undertones so seem similar.  In some shrimp females tend to be much more strongly coloured than males, but that isn’t well known with Bloody Mary shrimp.  We’ll see how these all develop over time.

yellow goldenback shrimp hiding in marsilea
Hiding in marsilea

Neocaridina davidi are small freshwater shrimp and very popular for tropical aquaria.  These come in many different vibrant colours, most commonly a bright red usually referred to as ‘cherry shrimp’, but they can also be blue, orange, chocolate, white, black, green and several with alternating block patterns of colour.  Looking some something that would be easy to spot, I picked up seven bright yellow goldenback ones from Pro-Shrimp.  As is usual in the trade, there are no official designations and other names for these include Yellow Shrimp, Yellow Sakura, Yellow Fire Neon, Super Yellow etc.

I wasn’t sure how well live shrimp would travel in the cold weather, but they all arrived in just fine condition.  Although neocaridina can live in just about any type of water conditions, they can go into ‘shock’ when those conditions change so there is a drip acclimatisation method for getting them gradually used to new water chemistry.  I confess to having done a somewhat abbreviated version of this with maybe some slight trauma, but haven’t noticed any casualties.

I thought these bright yellow shrimp would be easy to spot, but when they’re hiding they are not!  There are lots of great hiding places in the Fireplace Aquarium including a quite dense carpet of Marsilea hirsuta on the right side.  Word is shrimp can be quite shy for days or even weeks after being introduced to a new environment.  Usually I don’t see any at all but I did at one point several days after adding them see three at the same time so I’m pretty sure they’re mostly in there somewhere.  None of the fish or the amano shrimp either have ever taken any notice of the new yellow shrimp arrivals.

I wanted to get some more liveliness in the Fireplace Aquarium, but I’m cautious to not have excessive bioload in the tank where adding more fish could be questionable.  Shrimp are the perfect choice since they are ominvores and graze on detritus/biofilm without adding much (any?) bioload.  Neocaridina are reputed to be prolific breeders so we’ll see what happens to the population even though I’m taking no measures to attempt to optimise the water conditions for shrimp breeding.

Fish ate all the yellow shrimp!

Well crap!  At first it looked like everyone was getting along, but then I noticed some very suspicious tear-the-shrimp-apart behaviour from the barbs particularly.  I did then see what I think was a shrimp being torn apart; I think the barbs start it and then the rummys join in once the shrimp is pulled into the open.  Now there are none left; I’m pretty sure they’re not simply hiding.

I think this is a size thing.  The neocaridina as received were quite small, on the order of 1 cm or maybe even a little less, which I suspect triggers the “this is food” instinct in the fish.  The amanos however have always been completely unbothered by the fish, but they are also quite a big bigger.  Even the smaller male amanos are probably getting up towards 2 cm where I guess they can take care of themselves.  I might try some neocaridina adults to see if that flies.  Consensus on the interwebs seems to be that other than the completely benign otto catfish, all other fish are a risk to shrimp in at least some degree.

The newly planted vallis seemed to be doing poorly with the leaves suffering structural damage and since vallis is thought to be sensitive to damage from liquid carbon I stopped the daily dosing of EasyCarbo.  Stopping the daily liquid carbon is something I had been thinking about doing anyway, on the grounds that with injected CO2 gas the “carbon” part definitely wasn’t needed and I was never really sure whether the daily low dose EasyCarbo (1 ml / 40 L) was suppressing green spot algae at all.  That said, I did notice what seems to be increased aggressiveness on the part of the algae in the weeks after stopping the daily liquid carbon.  What do to?  I would like to give the vallis a fighting chance to get established…

Low phosphate does not prevent algae

Despite a lot of misinformation in the popular literature, reducing phosphate is not a way to control algae, in fact, the low phosphate will adversely affect the plants in the aquarium reducing competition for algae.  In any event, with estimative index fertilisation, none of the major fertiliser components, including phosphate, are ever limiting and it’s well established that “excess” fertilizers do not promote algal growth in aquaria.

Can high phosphate prevent algae?

There are some tantalising anecdotal reports that high phosphate can prevent algae.  I have been dosing weekly phosphate to 3 ppm, but I’m going to give 7 ppm a try and see if that has any kind of noticeable effect.  Since it was time to mix up a fresh batch of macro fertilisers, it was very straightforward to boost the phosphates by adding just a little more KH2PO4.  My current macro mix is made up to a total of 500 ml and dosed 10 ml per day on Saturday, Monday, Wednesday into a 40 L water volume tank.

Macro MixTsp / 500 mlg / 500 mlWeekly ppm
KNO32.75 tsp16.5 g9.6 K, 15.2 NO3
KH2PO41 tsp6.6 g2.8 K, 6.9 PO4
MgSO4 ⋅ 7H2O6.5 tsp 33.15 g4.9 Mg, 19.4 SO4
K2SO43.75 tsp 19.125 g12.9 K, 15.8 SO4

Overall, this works out to 25.3 ppm K, 6.9 ppm PO4, 15.2 ppm NO3, 4.9 ppm Mg plus whatever is in the tap water used for water changes, which also probably contributes a few more ppm phosphate.

My wife suggested planting something “long and grasslike” so I straightaway thought of vallis.  There are several species of Vallisneria commonly available and I plumped for Vallisneria asiatica as sold by Aqua Essentials.  This is the second smallest vallis (Vallisneria torta being the smallest), and is listed as growing to 30 cm with pretty corkscrew twisted leaves that add interest.

I ordered two bunches, each of which came with four individual plants ranging in size from 18 to 23 cm.  These looked like they had been repacked from the original grower which I suspect was AquaFleur since the Aqua Essentials website picture is a match for the one in the AquaFleur catalog.  The idea is to make a “curtain of plants” up against the left side of the aquarium and whilst this was the original purpose for the Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, the lysimachia has proved to be too floppy to hold its upright position. I can say that upon planting the vallis, the otto catfish were immediately interested.

Vallis is considered a very easy plant to grow in aquarium, yet also has a reputation for being sensitive to liquid carbon. Initially I kept going with 1ml per 40L daily Easy Carbo I had always been using, but when the vallis showed signs of distress I stopped the treatment.  Stopping the daily dosing of liquid carbon is something I had been thinking about anyway for a while so this was a good excuse to try something new around fertiliser dosing.

Vallisneria asiatica fourty-five day update

After fourty-five days in the Fireplace Aquarium there have been some significant changes in the vallis.  Several of the plants towards the back have melted completely away.  Others have had some partial melting as well.  That said, there also appears to be some significant healthy looking new growth particularly in the front plants. Now that I look at it more closely, I think all of the original leaves are going to melt and be replaced by new, darker green, more solid leaves.  Vallis does not grow emersed, so this is not a transition from emersed to submerged growth, yet different water parameters may have much the same growth state transition effect.

Vallis is reputed to like a lot of light and the plants at the back tend to get shaded by the fast-growing ludwigia.  I did cut back the ludwigia quite drastically recently (it doesn’t mind that at all) so there will be a few weeks with essentially full illumination across the tank which will give the vallis an opportunity to do some consolidation and maybe build some new-growth height.

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.

One week update

Well… “I’ll leave it open for now” didn’t last very long as a concept.  I picked up three more pots of parva, and because Pro Shimp was sold out (I got the last two pots), this time the parva was grown by AquaFleur and sold locally by Aqua Essentials.  I thought these new parva pots weren’t quite as nice as the first two:  a little smaller and showing some touches of raggedness, but still good.  The new parva plantlets filled in some of the thin patches in the front row and let me extend the planting back into the empty space behind.  Whilst that was happening, I removed all the leggy Lobelia cardinalis ‘Dwarf’ and replanted the tops to fresh things up, which will also mean more light for the parva.  The new parva looks smaller in the aquarium because it was a little smaller, but also because I made an effort to plant it a little more deeply than the parva in front.  AquaDip claims a maximum height of 10 cm for the parva, whilst AquaFleur says 5 cm.  We’ll see how that shakes out in time.


Cryptocoryne parva vs. Cryptocoryne lutea ‘Hobbit’

Emersed growth form C. parva vs. submerged growth form C. lutea 'Hobbit'
Emersed form 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.

20 week C. parva vs. C. lutea ‘Hobbit’ update

After 20 weeks the parva has filled in nicely, but hasn’t gotten any taller – the leaves curve over so even at a length of 5 cm the height of the parva tops out at 3 cm.  The ‘Hobbit’ lists as being smaller than the parva and whilst this is true in terms of leaf length, the Hobbit leaves stand up straighter and also have an overall height of at most 3 cm.  Cryptocoryne parva has thin green narrow leaves – the emersed and submersed forms of parva look nearly identical – whilst the Hobbit has a wider bladed-shaped leaf in dark olive-brown.  These are both pretty great small crypts; personal preference might be the decider here rather than height and of course, you can have both!

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.