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.

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.

Vallis is considered a very easy plant to grow in aquarium, yet also has a reputation for being sensitive to liquid carbon, so we’ll see how these do where I’m still going with 1ml/40L daily Easy Carbo.  I can say that upon planting the vallis, the otto catfish were immediately interested.

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 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 gauge” 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’.