Sunday, April 22, 2007

Runners, rhizomes, and adventitious plantlets

So things are still running pretty well, I think. I did a water change yesterday with some RO to try and get the pH down a bit (it's been hovering around 7.4). I'm considering using peat to get it down below 7, but there's a reason I soaked my driftwood for 2 weeks before adding it to the tank—I don't know that I'm enthused about tannin-stained water. So we'll see about all that.

The fish are all happy. I want to take a quick moment to discuss my recent thoughts on them, though. Last week, I was bored, and I went to Petco to get some more fish and plants. In particular, I got 2 Zebra Danios to add to my temporary collection. As soon as I added them to the tank, I noticed something curious—they really stood out from the crowd. One of them is kind of a brownish gold color, rather than the striking white, silvery stripes of the Danios sourced from my local fish store. The other is bigger than the rest, but he just looks kind of retarded. Rather than a straight back from the tail to the nose, this one has kind of a "hunch back" thing going on. He doesn't really hang out with the others, and I'm not quite sure what the story there is. The Platies and plants I acquired at the same time, though, are doing just fine.

Speaking of plants, I've been trying to figure out what I have. I bought two plants at Petco out of the "assorted" bin. I thought one of them was a Valisneria, but it turned out to be a Water Onion once I unpotted the bulb. The other I picked up because I thought it might be a Rosette Sword (Echinodorus Parveflorus v. Tropica). I'm not quite sure at this point, but I know I'm going to have several more of them soon. It's sending long stems with new roots and leaves to grow baby plants every couple of inches. Neat.

While I was at the store filling up my RO bottles, I got some new rocks to fill in the empty middle of the tank (but leave some open swimming space once the plants start growing). I made a nice little cave with them, which is always appreciated by the fish, I'm sure. I also saw a little potted Micro Sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis) that looked healthy, so I got that too. It was a small pot, but once i took it out and started pulling individual plants apart, I was able to plant a good portion of the foreground (and some on the side) of my tank. After a while, I'm sure they'll fill in the area quite nicely. The Platies really seems to like it, too. I keep seeing them weaving in and out between the narrow leaves.

I'm also keeping an eye on a new little plant I wasn't counting on. At some point, I ended up with this little one-inch piece of root floating around. I was going to throw it out, but I let it stay to see what would happen. Sure enough, it started growing little roots itself, and now it has sprouted a couple of tiny leaves. So, I've put it in the gravel now, and we'll see what it turns into. Maybe another Red Wendii? Who knows.

So, that's pretty much where I'm at now. Hopefully, the water chemistry will stabilize soon, and I'll be able to start populating my tank with its more permanent residents.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Daily Blog Becomes Monthly Blog

So I meant to keep up with this thing as changes occurred while I set up my new aquarium. has happened with previous attempts at blogging, it just didn't work out. I got lazy. But that's cool because I doubt anyone has even seen this thing. I certainly didn't tell anyone I had an aquarium blog. So if you found it and came back every day, anxiously awaiting an update, then...I'm sorry, but that's unfortunate for you.

So my aquarium sat there, empty and useless for a few weeks while I did some planning and gathering of equipment. I didn't want to just fill it up and start throwing things in, so I took my time with it. I ordered most of the things i needed online because it was a lot cheaper. For instance, I bought a brand new filter for $37.99. The same one was on sale at the local fish store for $69.99. Hooray for the internet.

So here's what I picked up:
  • Coralife 96W Compact Fluorescent light strip
  • Marineland Emperor 400 Bio-Wheel filter
  • 40 lbs. Eco-Complete planted aquarium substrate
  • 25 lbs some other gravel substrate
  • API water test kit (pH, Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate)
  • API Stress Coat water conditioner
  • Flourish & Flourish Excel plant supplements
  • Various fish foods, some of which I already had
  • A couple of pieces of driftwood and rocks from the fish store
  • Some bigass gravel siphon
I put down the Eco-Complete, topped it with the regular gravel, and tried out a couple of driftwood arrangements. Next, I needed water. I had been planning a South American theme for the tank, and I wanted some dwarf cichlids that require a low pH. Austin water is notoriously hard, and it has a pH of about 10 coming out of the tap. I considered getting a Reverse Osmosis water filter for my tap, but it just didn't seem economical. So, I decided to buy RO water from the fish store (at 25 cents a gallon, I'd say it's a fine deal). I mix it with about 50-60% regular tap water, and I end up with a pH around 7. Cool.

So I added the water, set up the filter and heater, and made sure everything was running correctly. On one of my water runs (I have two 5-gallon jugs to transport from the store), I picked up a few plants that seemed reasonably hardy. I aimed to keep the South American thing going on, but that has gone out the window at this point (at least for plants). I got a Corkscrew Valisneria, a bunch of Water Sprite, and a Red Wendtii.

Once everything was stable, it was start to start the water cycling process by adding some fish. I got 4 Zebra Danios and 4 Platys. Their job is simply to create waste, resulting in ammonia. A couple of days later, I tested the water. Sure enough, ammonia! Then, a few days later, Nitrite! Just like the web sites said. Hooray for the internet.

It's been about a week and a half since I first added the fish. A few days ago, I noticed 2 fish missing. I found one of the Platies shriviled up on the carpet (an apparent suicide), but I have yet to discover the absent Danio. Weird. In a bout of boredom, I ran to Petco to pick up some replacements. I got 2 new Platies and 2 new Danios, and 2 new plants (a Water Onion and something that I haven't yet identified).

Everything seems to be doing well. The fish are all healthy and active, showing no ill effects from the rising levels of toxins around them. The plants are surviving, too, showing new roots and maybe some new leaf growth. I changed about 10 gallons of water (50/50 RO) when the Nitrites started getting a little high, but everything seems to be going as planned. I expect that the nitrifying bacteria will continue to multiply, and I'll probably see the Nitrates start to rise over the next few days.

I'm still planning the plant situation. It looks like there are lots of cheap plants (even after factoring in 2nd-day shipping) online, but there's usually a minimum order that will result in 20+ plants. That just seems a little excessive for right now, so maybe I'll just pick up one or two whenever I see something intriguing at the fish store and build things that way. Once the water is stable, I'll trade in my "disposable" fish for some more exotic varieties, such as Bolivian Rams, tetras, and various catfish. And then...I'll just maintain. Feeding, fertilizing, gardening. Maybe some of the fish will breed. Maybe things will just balance and take care of themselves, and I'll have a nice decoration in my apartmetn that I can come home and stare at after work.

So that's where I'm at now. I've got Ammonia at about 0.5 mg/L, Nitrites are a little less than 1.0 ppm, and everything looks good.

Once things stabilize, I'll start updating this with any changes that are made. Neat.