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
in rockwool pot
good root system
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.
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…
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.
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.
shrimp cleaning the plants
Bloody Mary shrimp
view from right
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.
New Bloody Mary shrimp in the Shrimphaus
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.
interloper or male shrimp?
on the slate
five days later
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.
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.
Mountain top shrimp
In Bucephalandra caterina
Down the mountain
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.
Tsp / 500 ml
g / 500 ml
9.6 K, 15.2 NO3
2.8 K, 6.9 PO4
MgSO4 ⋅ 7H2O
4.9 Mg, 19.4 SO4
12.9 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.
four plants per bunch
curtain of vallis
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.
newly planted – side view
45 day update – side view
newly planted – front view
45 day update – front view
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.
Overgrown by Marsilea
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.
New Hobbit home
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.
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.
row of 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.
Adding more parva (front view)
Adding more parva (side view)
Cryptocoryne parva vs. Cryptocoryne 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!
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.
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
View from left – centre row
Second row back
View from right – centre row
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
6 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.