Monday, December 7, 2009

Planted aquariums

On two occasions this past summer I biked down to the local lake with my clients and dip netted for pond animals to pique their curiosity.  Though I got a lot of damselfly larvae, leeches, worms, ostracods and daphnia, the gammarus amphipods were my main target (I have tried and gave up on keeping them before).  I brought them back to my aquaria where they have proven to be more resilient than I thought.  Due their low numbers, I doubt that they have been able to reproduce yet, and they are still vulnerable to the blender-like blade of my aquarium pump (I should sew a sponge cover over the intake).  But they have survived for over three months so far in very healthy condition. 

In an effort to fortify their diet with more natural and abundant fare, I decided to buy fast-growing aquarium plants.  Which of course required that I then provide the plants with proper growing conditions.  I took the incandescent and a flourescent lighting fixtures from two standard 10 gallon aquarium hoods (which I already had) and placed them on one ten gallon tank over a plate glass lid.  I plugged them into a digital outlet timer that is set to come on at 7:00am and turn off at 8:30pm with a "siesta" from 12:00pm to 12:45pm (I read this inhibits algae growth somehow).  The natural daylight schedule is also supposedly good for the plants, which I guess need to sleep too.  The timer also makes maintenance a snap.  I use one on my other tank at home, and I think the fish really do benefit from a dependable schedule. 

As I learned more about growing aquarium plants, this endeavor began to take on a life of its own aside from the original purpose of supplying food for my amphipods.  It is a lot of fun.  On the Internet, The Planted Tank is very useful for gaining more information.  But back to my planted aquarium, I bought several different plants that are either fast growing or interesting: 
  • Egeria densa (anacharis)
  • Cabomba caroliniana (cabomba or fanwort)
  • Anubias (anubias)
  • Limnobium laevigatum (Amazon frogbit)
  • Lemna minor (duckweed)
  • Salvinia minima (water spangles, a floating fern)
  • Taxiphyllum barbieri (Java moss)
  • Aegagropila linnaei (marimo or algae ball)
The anacharis and cabomba are my super fast growing submerged plants.  I hope they perform well so I can prune them and distribute to my other tanks.  The anubias is a typical plant looking plant.  It looks very nice, but grows slow.  The frogbit, duckweed, and water spangles are all floating plants.  They are supposed to grow well, but I mostly just like they way they look.  I have had the Java moss for over three years, it grows in a tangled mat and is impossible to kill.  I bought the marimo ball the other day because it was huge and I like marimo a lot.  It grows slow and looks uber cool suspended in the water current in a crude sling fashioned from plastic water plants. 

The only animals that I am aware of in the aquarium are several common small snail species, no more than a few small gammarus amphipods, and about five three ghost shrimp (Palaemonetes spp.) that I bought to keep the plants clean.  Suffice to say, the only animals I can keep in a plant tank cannot be big voracious vegetarians.  No crayfish.  Time will tell how successful this setup is, but so far I am well pleased.

Regarding a planted aquarium, there is much talk of the difficulty of particular plant species, and of getting specific growing conditions/ water parameters right. But this misses the point that in general, plants are very adaptable and forgiving. One of the main reasons I decided to grow aquarium plants is because they can grow fast and create a lush appearance. This is what wetlands are good at. If one plant type fails under the growing conditions you provide, use another one that will grow for you. Any body of water outdoors will have growing plants nearby. Why? Because nature found the right match between plant species and environmental conditions. All you have to do is the same thing. Light and heat, water and air, nutrients.

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